Chronicles of the Pax: Caladon (1)

“Well, not to put too fine a point on it, you’re a fucking idiot.”

An abrupt bark of laughter erupted from Charles’s mouth in reaction to the slight, feeding into a mirthful snicker as he saw the sour look spread across his brother’s already grim features.

“First rule of Tyrisians, when in doubt, insult someone.” Charles retorted, his generous mouth still bearing the ghost of his earlier mirth. “Honestly Lloyd, do you even hear the sort of shit that comes out of your mouth these days?”

“Blasphemy!” Lloyd retorted, the sour look rapidly fading to righteous indignation on his finely boned face. He drew his slender frame up, raising his arm slightly and opening his mouth in preparation for a blistering denunciation.

“Challenge.” A bored voice spoke from behind Charles’s broad frame. Charles rolled his eyes, turning slightly and fixing his younger brother with a look of incredulity.

“Tyris Fuck, Samuel” Charles blustered, irreverently invoking the name of The God again. “Do we have to go through this shit every time Lloyd feels the urge to preach?”

Samuel pushed back his unruly auburn hair and studied his brothers. Lloyd, blonde and effete, features too fine to be called anything but pretty, his mouth working as his mind sought to find a way around the ancient ritual. Charles, stocky and hirsute with beads of sweat standing on his broad, rubbery brow. If not for the house crest sewn to the jackets of both youths, nobody would ever think that the two were related. Samuel returned the irritated glare of his brother, stepping closer to the arguing pair.

“Considering what’s happening in there, and considering the seeming desire of the Mamono around here to take further and further liberties in the following of the Pax, one would think that the example should at least be set in form…” Samuel paused to glance at the closed door behind him. “…if not practice.”

“Fucking Mamonos.” Lloyd spat. “The only example they need is a closed fist!” He smirked with self-righteous assurance at that last, assuming a swagger that was made comical by his light frame. Charles turned at that, looking his brother up and down.

“Uh huh.” Charles replied, “I would just love to watch you enforce that on an Ogre, Lloyd. Are you sure father didn’t engage in Continuance with an elf by mistake when you were sired?”

“Your head’s as thick as your waistline, Charles. Everyone knows Elves are extinct.” Lloyd’s blue eyes bulged upon realizing the insult, his voice coming out in an unmasculine shriek. “Do you cast dispersion as to my genetic lineage? Are you…”

“Oh will you shut the fuck UP?!” Samuel groaned. “Challenge is issued by Right of Blood and in the absence of an arbitrator is deemed to be irreverence without breach of the Pax Deus, thus do we beg The God’s forgiveness, and long may His arm be stretched in benevolence upon this house, Amen.”

“Amen.” The two other youths intoned the closure to the ritual, their lack of piety hidden by another bout of muffled shrieking emanating from the closed door. A Mamono servant raised its head from where it was ostensibly drawing dust from a curtain. Charles shooed it from the hall with a short, barked order. The Taurean Null lowered its thick, androgynous features and shuffled with clear reluctance away from the trio, digitigrade hooves clopping against the slate flooring. Seeking further target to vent his frustrations, Charles began to swear and bluster at the closed door.

“He’s gonna do it to death in there again, lads. I don’t like the Fleshmarket so much that I’ll relish another trip down there to dispose of the evidence.” Charles shuddered, clearly disturbed by the memory. The shrieking intensified, overlain by a rhythmic grunting and the unmistakable moist slapping of frantic coupling. Charles’s mouth curled in a moue of extreme distaste. “By The God, the thing is barely twelve years old, if it’s a day!”

“Ah Charles, the beast whisperer himself…” Lloyd said mockingly, clearly undisturbed by the matter. “Though I can’t abide our brother’s tastes, I also don’t see why we don’t just throw it out with the remainder of the garbage once he’s finished.” Lloyd brushed his sleeve, as if to demonstrate his nonchalance.

“Did they throw out your brains with the garbage at the seminary this year, Lloyd?” Samuel asked his blond brother incredulously. “Beast or otherwise, you ruin Mamono fillies, you’ll have the whole pack screaming for blood.”

“But Sam, they’re animals.” Lloyd insisted, his voice that of an indulgent schoolmaster instructing a small child.

“Sure. Just like the pack that sacked House Rhunfel last year.” Samuel hissed in his brother’s face. “There is not a single resonant in this house, Lloyd. Centuries of tradition, Father’s temperance and the unmistakable peace brought by superior firepower are the only things which stop the Mamono from swarming this House like ants on a dropped cake.” Samuel stopped, his eyes searching the hallway in hope that his outburst was not heard.

“The might of The God would fall upon them with quick wrath, should such a thing be attempted.” Lloyd countered, though a quaver in his tenor voice belied his uncertainty.

“A huge comfort that would be once every Human within a league was raped, slaughtered, eaten, and nailed to the side of one of their kraals, assuming they’re lucky enough for it to occur in that order.” Samuel replied grimly.

“Being a touch dramatic don’t you think Sam?” Charles scoffed.

“Fine, some might be converted and taken as thrall, but the bulls would still want their fun, and Mamono certainly cleave to their own where the choice is offered, you can’t deny THAT.” Samuel rebutted.

Charles opened his mouth as if to reply, before spinning abruptly as the door swung open. The muscular youth who emerged glistened with exertion, his even, white teeth bared in a satisfied grin.

“Took you long enough, Jeremy.” Charles muttered, his eyes darting past his eldest brother to the room behind him. “Is it…”

“It’s fine, and don’t think I didn’t hear your mewling out here. Be good fellows and deal with it, will you? I’m for the baths.” Jeremy brushed past his younger siblings, clearly expecting compliance with his presumptive command. Charles’s mouth worked as his mind tried frantically to salvage a little dignity from his brother’s imperious exit. Samuel, however, was already entering the room, and his short grunt of disgust brought both of his brothers’ attention back to the task at hand.

The Mamono adolescent was a small thing, or at least it appeared so, its body curled up in a foetal ball, wracked with shaking sobs. Blood ran from the juncture of its legs, over the curve of a thigh, bruised with rough finger marks. Its tail, matted with blood and semen, tucked quivering between its legs. Lloyd hovered near the door, breathing shallowly, as if the copper and musk scent of blood and rut would somehow contaminate him. Samuel threw a glance over his shoulder at his brother, approaching the rumpled and stained bed with slow, deliberate movements. Never taking his eyes from the figure on the bed, he cast his voice back towards his brother.

“Lloyd, stop being such a Godforsaken pussy, come over here and help.” The figure started at the new voice, large dark eyes blinking away streams of tears to focus on the new face before it. A trickle of dark blood left a guilty trail on the rumpled linen as the unwilling occupant sought to flee from this perceived new threat. A pathetic mewl escaped its lips, speaking of terror and pain.

“Come on now girl, let’s get you home.” Samuel entreated, stretching his hand forward. The young girl gave a harsh little growl, baring small, sharp teeth. Samuel withdrew his hand. “Charles, going to need your help on this one.”

Charles approached slowly. Bending down so his head was level with the mattress, he placed both hands on its edge.

“Not give hurt, little one… Take away from stone house… back to mother-love” He murmured soothingly. The Mamono blinked, uncurling slightly.

“Lie” it whimpered, in a high, quavering voice.

“Not lie. Give Promise. Promise by Maou-Mother.”

Lloyd gasped from the doorway at the invocation of the Demon Lord. “Heres…”

“Finish that denunciation and I’ll knock your fucking teeth out, Lloyd.” Samuel hissed, “Little mite’s probably Just had a Tyrisian sigil smacking her in the face while Jeremy split her in fucking half. Do you really think she’d believe a promise made in His name?”

Lloyd shook with suppressed anger, but remained silent. Edging over to a cupboard, Samuel took out a blanket and placed it over Charles’s shoulder. Not taking his eyes from the shaking girl-child, Charles wrapped his arm in the blanket and stretched it towards her. She growled again, grasping at the blanket-clad appendage and attempting to bite. In one smooth motion, Charles flipped the remainder of the blanket around her body and scooped her into his arms. Her struggles were brief, and soon her growls were replaced by wracking sobs. Samuel and Charles hurried from the room, Charles holding the wolf-child gently, even tenderly. Samuel grabbed Lloyd’s arm, spinning his brother to face him.

“Thanks for the help” he drawled, voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now if it’s not too much trouble, tell the Centaurs to prepare a carriage.”

Lloyd’s eyes were full of venom, but he turned and started down the stairs to do as he was bid.

A carriage was waiting as they entered the courtyard of the keep, two centaurs adjusting the final straps across their chests and bodies, while a thick-bodied Taurean woman checked the traces. Charles quickly bundled inside, murmuring “Thanks Jessie” to the Taurean by way of greeting. Her eyes followed the husky youth as he disappeared into the dim light within.

“Still holding a candle, Jess?” Samuel asked Jessie as he approached the carriage. “You know he can’t…”

“A girl can dream though.” Jessie sighed.

“Hey, not long now and you’ll have seen out your contract. As brilliant a stable mistress as you’ve been, your herd’s going to be sorted for at least two generations. Father will lament the task of trying to find someone to fill your shoes… er, metaphorically speaking.” Samuel said, trying to spur encouragement within her.

“Mmm, and I’ll have to fight with the rest of the girls for the limited affections of the bulls… I hope they’re as gentle as him.” Jessie murmured, her gaze still longingly fixated on the open door of the carriage.

Samuel shook his head sympathetically, before doing a double-take at the centaur null in the left hand trace. “Dom?” he exclaimed in surprise.

“Master?” the centaur replied, turning its head and regarding him with dull eyes.

“What are you doing here? Your servitude ended last month!” Samuel exclaimed.

“Herd took bounty, told Dom it smelled of humans. Told Dom there was no place for human-stink in herd.” The centaur shrugged its shoulders. “Where else could Dom go?”

Samuel walked to the front of the carriage, reaching up, he gripped the null’s bicep. “Their loss. As long as our line continues, there’s a place for you here. I promise.”

A small smile of relief ghosted across the null’s otherwise blank face. “Dom thanks Master for his kindness.”

Samuel squeezed the null’s arm briefly before climbing atop the carriage. Opening the hatch, he called down to Charles. “How’s she doing in there?”

“She’s in shock, how do you think she’s doing?” Charles spat back.

“Any markings on her?” Samuel enquired, ignoring the venom.

“You taking the piss?!” Charles exclaimed incredulously.

“Clan markings, deadshit. Where the hell are we going?” Samuel said, exasperated.

“Well she’s not Were, even Jeremy’s not that stupid. If I had to hazard a guess she’s from that clan of black wolves up by the north ridge.” Charles replied.

“Right.” Samuel turned back to the Centaurs. “Head towards the north ridge. Take the river road, it’s easier and I don’t want them thinking we’re sneaking up on them.” He looked at the sky, “Plus, we don’t have too much day left, I don’t fancy facing a wolf pack in the dark.”

The centaurs started out at an easy trot, Samuel looking back at the keep as they exited the iron gates. House Caladon, his family’s estate for twenty five generations, bathed in the sun as they moved through open fields. Workers, both Human and Mamono, toiled around them, stopping to watch with mild curiosity as the carriage clattered past. Samuel spotted a heavyset man standing over and berating a prone Mamono. Weresheep, from the look of her. Samuel stood up in his seat and smacked a hand against the brass bell to the side of the carriage. He saw the man straighten at the sound. As they passed, Samuel fixed him with a stern look.

“Remember the Pax, Patrick!” he commanded. The man, glowering, turned and walked away from the weresheep, which was quickly helped to its feet by a nearby null. Samuel called out to the carriage. “Charles, remind me to have father audit Patrick’s holdings when we get back.”

“Just have the fat fuck flogged and be done with it. Father’s sick and tired of paying injury wages because he overworks his servants.” Came Charles’s reply from the carriage.

“Jak will remember, Master” the centaur in the right trace said.

“Behave Jak.” Samuel admonished, smiling in spite of himself.

As the miles crawled away behind them, fields gave way to grassy plains, sparse forest thickening on the other side of a chuckling river. Samuel spotted Nereids peeping curiously at the carriage from the water as they passed. He fingered a ball of beeswax in a compartment next to the seat, ready to plug his ears should they think to entice him into their cool embrace. An uneasy coexistence had been established between Mamono and Human in the centuries since the advent of the Pax Deus, the Peace of Gods, but instinct was instinct.

And nature cannot be denied.

The shadows were lengthening across the mountains as the carriage approached the collection of tents which formed the encampment of the black wolves. A group of nulls bearing spears stood across the road ahead of them, their postures and expressions unreadable.

“Lords of House Caladon approach!” Dom whinnied to the nulls ahead. The nulls showed no reaction. A harsh, slavering howl rang out a moment later in response, and a huge wolf, a full head taller than the nulls pushed through their line, hackles raised and teeth bared. Even though its features were humanoid like all mamono, its defiantly jutting jaw sported a short beard, more fur than hair, melding with the wild ebon mane atop its head and back. Its tail bristled stiffly behind it, and an impressive erection tented the loincloth which was its only article of clothing.

“Ah hells.” Samuel cursed. “Charles, prime your rifle”

“Bull?” Came Charles’s response from the carriage.

“No doubt about it.” Samuel replied, unslinging his own weapon from the headboard in front of him. Standing, he pulled the arming lever and felt the hum as the intricate workings within it came to life.

“We come to return something you lost. No harm will come to you if you receive it peacefully.” Samuel said, charging his voice with as much authority as he could muster.

The bull extended his tongue past his dripping teeth, the low noise in his throat sounding almost amused, he began slowly advancing towards the carriage.

“Hold bull. We deal with your Alpha.” Samuel commanded, bringing the rifle to bear. Dom and Jak began nervously pawing at the ground with their forehooves.

“One in the leg Sam” came Charles’s voice. “He won’t stop once he charges.”

Samuel took aim and fired. A sharp sound barked from the rifle and a glittering shard traced a line of faint blue light through the air as it found its mark in the bull’s thigh. A high shriek came from his throat as he fell to the ground, clutching his leg. The nulls started yelping, and movement was seen behind them. A tall woman, regal, wearing a beaded deerskin tunic stormed through the line, stopping next to the bull. Her black ears stood straight up, their greying tips flicking with irritation. Striking the ground with an ornate staff, she fixed Samuel with a stern, level gaze.

“By what right do you give hurt to my people?” she demanded

“Madam, your bull sought to do us violence, I merely dissuaded him from such a regrettable course of action.” Samuel replied urbanely, lowering the muzzle of his rifle. Her expression soured slightly, and she barked an order to the crowd of women growing behind the line of nulls. Two came forward and helped the bull up, cooing and stroking his body as they helped him back to the tents.

“He is young. My other husbands know better.” She said. “Now, what do you bring us?”

Charles emerged from the carriage, bearing the blanket clad girl. He slowly approached the line of nulls, making sure her tear-streaked face was uncovered. A low cry sounded and a woman rushed forwards, snatching the girl from Charles’s arms. The girl wrapped her arms about the woman, black ears flat against her tiny head as she wailed into her breast. The woman paused, sniffing at the child in her arms. With a yowl, she strode up to the matriarch, her words coming so fast and guttural that Samuel could not make them out. Charles wisely backtracked towards the carriage. The Matriarch’s face went from surprise, to shock, to barely concealed fury.

“My sister’s child has been violated… This cannot be allowed to stand.”

“House Caladon offers you compensation for the injury to your sister’s child.” Samuel quickly replied. “We offer fifty goats, two oxen, and three hundred silver pieces.”

Charles sucked in breath at the figure. Samuel knew some very fast talking would be required to persuade his father to part with such largess. The wolf matriarch smiled coldly.

“A princely sum… It is rejected.”

Samuel felt like he had been kicked. A small worm of fear began coiling in his guts. The Nulls lowered their spears purposefully.

The Matriarch bared her teeth. “You two will serve as recompense” She stated flatly.

“Respectfully madam, by the terms of the Pax, as Heirs of House Caladon, we may not enter into union with Maomono…” Samuel began.

“Oh, you misunderstand. You will not be Husbands. You will service my Sisters and Daughters as they will, and should you survive, you shall service my Husbands as they will. When all my people are sated, you shall be flayed, and your hides to serve as grim reminder of the fate of those who breach the Sacred Law of Maou by defiling children.” She declared, her voice deepening into a snarl.

Charles grabbed his own rifle from the carriage, and with a grunt of exertion, joined his brother atop it. “Madam,” he boomed, “The range on our weapons far outpaces your spears and bows. I do not seek more violence this day, but we will defend ourselves, be so warned!”

The matriarch laughed mirthlessly. “Humans and your machines… You cower behind them like prey in burrows. But you are not the only ones who can strike from afar. Maou has given us Her blessing…” She raised her staff in the air.

Four nulls, flanked by two robed figures, carried a large woven basket to sit before the matriarch. A black, rune-covered cloth concealed its contents, until the matriarch drew it away with a flourish. Samuel and Charles both swore as a large, glittering crystal was revealed. The two robed figures began chanting, and Samuel felt an icy chill crawl up his spine.

“Sam… I… Can’t… Move…” Charles gasped, and Samuel felt his own muscles locked to immobility.

The matriarch laughed again, “This Demon Stone is blessed with a spell of Pain. We will let you taste of it before your repentance begins”

A sudden flash of memory flickered through the shrieking fear which gripped Samuel. Childhood histories… The Greatest War… A picture of a great gemstone… Not of Demon, Not of God…

…The Logos of Resonance…

Something ‘clicked’ in his mind, and he knew what it was they carried.

“Wait! If you value your lives, please sto…” Samuel started to shriek, as the crystal exploded, shredding the surrounding wolves and sending Dom and Jak screaming and rearing in their traces. Samuel and Charles both tumbled from the carriage, and a nebulous stream of energy arced towards them, seeming to pause above the youths, before slamming into Samuel, arcing and crackling where his body met the ground. Samuel screamed as every part of his body burned with cold fire. Letters, numbers, and strange symbols inscribed themselves along his vision, and his mind shuddered away from their immensity. His sanity under assault by this maelstrom of power, the small, detached part in his deepest mind noticed a pattern. A repeating formula…

A word?

V3R1T45”, the power commanded.

“Veritas?” Samuel gasped, barely clinging to consciousness. Further glyphs seemed to slam themselves into his mind with the same tone of utter authority, forcing his shattered psyche to accept them.

ASSUME

AWAKEN

CLAIM

CONFIRM

CONFLICT

The whirling maelstrom of symbols seemed to pause, as if in thought. Before dispassionately ramming home a final Word.

CONFLAGRATE

The sky opened, and a lance of fire touched the centre of the wolf encampment.

And Samuel saw no more.

He was moving…

His whole body screamed in pain…

A voice… Calling him…

“Sam? Sam? Can you hear me?”

Samuel opened his eyes, Charles’s worried face filling his field of vision.

“You’re an ugly fucker, you know that?” Samuel drawled, groaning as awareness returned to him. He was lying on one side of the carriage, his brother sitting opposite.

“You cunt! I’d smack you a good one if I didn’t think you’d just died on me” Charles choked, pulling his brother to him in a crushing embrace.

“Owowowowow, Charlie, sweet mother of fuck, my most of me…” Samuel gasped.

“Sorry… Sorry…” Charles murmured. The sound of rapidly approaching hooves became evident. Charles grabbed his rifle and peered through the window.

“Heh. Looks like we’re to have an escort.” He chuckled.

A shouted challenge was heard, and Samuel recognised Dom’s voice responding. It sounded very, very stressed, far removed from its usual monotone.

“Good old Dom,” Charles remarked, “Jak wanted to cut its traces and run, and Dom threatened to cut its tail off in its sleep if it did.”

The figure of a Centaur Woman was seen behind the window’s curtain, and a mailed hand pulled it aside.

“Captain Shireen”, Samuel acknowledged the Centaur’s rank, pulling himself to a seated position.

“Young Masters, word of the conflagration at the north ridge reached the keep. Thy father asked us to retrieve thee.” Shireen looked to both young men.

“Thank you Captain. Would you do the honour of accompanying us back? Dom and Jak seem a bit strung out, and surely your protection will give comfort to all our hearts.” Charles entreated. Shireen’s plated breast swelled with pride as she ordered her fellow Centaurs to form up around the carriage.

“Is she… Prancing?” Samuel asked incredulously, listening to the sound of hooves on the road.

“It doesn’t take much to make a Centaur happy.” Charles drawled. “Play to their honour and pride and you could probably get them to roll on their backs like a Neko.” He paused. “I don’t think you need to mention that to the Captain though.”

Samuel grinned, “Dunno Charlie, I might need a favour from you one day.”

“Fuuuck youuu” Came Charles’s laughed response.

“How in the Holy Name of The God did it come to that?” Lord William asked incredulously. Samuel paused from shovelling dinner into his mouth to address his father.

“Well, to be honest, we should have expected it… Canids aren’t that susceptible to bribery.” Samuel answered vaguely.

“Tyris be good, I return from the outer settlements to find that yesterday my youngest sons were very nearly killed by a pack of wolves… I won’t pretend I’m not toying with the idea of retribution for the threats made towards my house, but the Matriarch was right in one thing, the violation of a child is a vile Sin in the eyes of both Human and Mamono. You’ve seen the perpetrator executed, I assume?” Lord William demanded. Lloyd looked very hard at his dinner, Charles seemed to be studying the ceiling intently, and Jeremy was burning twin holes in the side of Samuel’s head with his gaze.

Forming his hands into the sign of the Sunburst, Samuel intoned “I plead the Peace of Tyris”.

Lord William seemed to ponder that for a moment, before returning to his own food with a murmured, “I see.”

Seeking to change the subject, Jeremy asked “So what kicked off that conflagration?”

“The God’s protection upon His Favoured Humanity, no doubt, casting the magics of those beasts back in their teeth.” Lloyd intoned righteously.

Samuel suddenly felt sick to his stomach.

A knock sounded at the door. One of the Kikimora servants paused in clearing empty plates and went to answer it. Approaching the table, she bowed demurely.

“If it please my Lords, Sister Superior Magda seeks audience.” Her voice was quiet, her eyes downcast and her soft ears held down in deference.

“Thank you Lani, do show her in.” Lord William replied with a wave of his hand. Bowing again, the Kikimora went to open the door, soft brown tail sashaying from her maid’s skirt as she moved.

Lloyd immediately stood as the wimpled figure entered the room, flanked by four veiled acolytes. All bore Tyrisian sigils on heavy chains about their necks.

“A High Priestess… This must be important” Jeremy murmured to Samuel. Samuel grunted in response, still not trusting his temper with his brother… Or his still-churning stomach with words.

Lloyd went to his knees before the Sister Superior. “All Glory to the Most High. Praise Eternal to The God.” He intoned. The Sister Superior turned her hands outwards, and he kissed her palms reverently.

“You’ve been missed, Lloyd.” Magda drawled slightly. “The sisters keep asking me when we are going to get our bonnie blue-eyed boy back.”

Lloyd stood, blushing furiously as he bowed and returned to the table. His father raised an eyebrow and grinned slightly.

“J-Just doing my part in the Rituals of Continuance, as is my duty.” Lloyd stammered.

“I’m sure.” Lord William replied evenly. “Will you eat with us, your reverence?” he asked, addressing Sister Magda respectfully.

“Thank you, no.” Magda replied.

“As you will, how can House Caladon assist our Holy Mother Church?” Lord William enquired from over the top of his wineglass.

Sister Magda approached the table and turned to face Samuel. “Samuel of House Caladon, by the Authority of The God Tyris and our Holy Mother Church, we command you to present yourself for inquisition, and should you be found wanting, you will be given appropriate absolution for your Sin.”

“Absol… What? If this is about those wolves, my sons were defending themselves under clear protection of the Pax. Who is his accuser, and what is his Sin?” Lord William demanded, rising from his seat.

Samuel felt his arms turn to lead, his ankles to jelly.

“If you insist on my disclosure, I would request that your servants leave this room.” Magda said calmly. The four Kikimora made noises of protest, clustering around the head of the table.

“We do our duty to our masters!” the one known as Lani said defiantly.

“Bless you girl, but will you and your cousins go for but a moment? For me?” Lord William entreated the Kikimora gently, placing a gentle hand atop her wrist.

“I-if master wishes it, we will go.” Lani conceded, a faint blush colouring her cheeks. The Kikimora shuffled from the room with clear reluctance. Sister Magda took a seat at the foot of the table, and her four acolytes took position at the corners. Facing outwards, they spread their hands, and intricate glowing sigils began tracing themselves through the air.

“Now we may speak freely. The inquisition is also called to confirm Samuel’s awakening as a resonant…” Sister Magda began.

“Reson…” Lord William gasped, eyes like saucers as he gaped at his son.

“Honestly father, we were just getting to that…” Charles assured his father placatingly.

“If I may finish…” Sister Magda cut in, “And his Sin? Well, Mass murder is the charge brought by the Lilim ambassador. The event which occurred at the black wolves encampment was… spectacular to say the least, and the Higher Mamono wasted no time in investigating.”

Samuel pushed his chair back… The air was too close… he couldn’t breathe…

“So the wolves…” Charles croaked.

“Annihilated.” Sister Magda said plainly

Samuel stood unsteadily. “I didn’t mean… I didn’t know…” he stammered.

Charles’s voice sounded in his mind. “Not give hurt little one…

Lie.” Accused the ghost of the dead wolf child.

A wracking sob shook Samuel’s body, his eyes swam… he couldn’t see…

Lie.” Her innocent voice sounded again.

Samuel stumbled, and he vomited upon the stone floor before collapsing.

Lie…” The small, sad voice followed him into blackness

“How are you feeling?” Sister Magda asked gently.

“How can you ask me that?” Samuel retorted harshly. He was sitting in a high backed chair, arms and legs shackled to the heavy wood. His brothers and father stood to one side of the room, and the four veiled acolytes to the other. A bookish Oomakude sat coiled around a complicated looking contraption, out of which a steady stream of paper flowed. Her hair was tied back and a pair of thick glasses perched on the end of her nose. Her mandibles flexed and clattered as her legs and arms flew across the nightmare of buttons before her.

“The Clerk is prepared, Sister Superior, the following will be an inquisition on record.” The Oomakude’s thin voice echoed in the empty room.

“Don’t take this personally Sam” Lord William urged, “You know the forms must be obeyed”

“If we could hurry this along?” A honey-dripping voice sounded from behind the chair. Samuel strained his neck to see a stunningly beautiful woman standing just behind his left shoulder. Crimson hair spilled over her delicate shoulders, her luscious form clad in an exquisitely tailored business suit. Black wings, sparsely furred with red to match her hair sprouted from her lower back.

“I would request you respect the Traditions of your hosts, Ambassador.” Lord William said sternly. So this was a Lilim then, the most powerful order of succubi ever born from the Hells.

“William! I’m shocked at you, and we used to be such good friends…” She drawled, her tongue touching her teeth briefly.

Lord William spluttered a bit, eliciting a crystalline peal of laughter from the Lilim

“The… Unusual nature of this incident does require a certain deviation from protocol though.” Sister Magda conceded. “Samuel of House Caladon. You stand accused of Murder of the black wolf tribe of Maomono, in entirety and without clemency, by use of resonant power. How do you answer this Sin?”

“I… I cannot answer. I don’t know how… How I…” Samuel tried to formulate a statement.

“And there’s the rub, Ambassador.” Sister Magda broke from her formal tone. “Samuel was awakened to resonance without warning, in a hostile environment, in a manner most out-of-keeping with Human Traditions. We have read Charles’s testimony on the matter, as well as the statements of the Null Centaurs Jak and Dom. My question is, how did this tribe manage to find themselves in possession of a resonance matrix? By decree of the Pax Deus those are to be held under the guardianship of the Magisterium when located.”

The Lilm looked slightly uncomfortable at that. “That is still under investigation.” She stated flatly.

“I’m sure.” Sister Magda replied drily. “Charles of House Caladon. What possessed the wolves to attempt to use magic on the matrix?”

“I don’t know, reverence. They seemed to believe it was a Demon Stone enchanted with a spell of Pain” Charles replied.

“It would have given their shamans a nasty shock when they tried to divine its nature…” the Lilim conceded

“The God preserve us… Are we truly dealing with a case of blind stupidity?” Sister Magda sighed in exasperation. “The claims brought by the collected testimonies stand as thus. The Wolf Matriarch is accused in absentia toten of threatening the persons of the Lawful and Acknowledged Heirs of House Caladon, in breach of the Pax…”

“Surely her Motivation…” The Lilian began.

“Abhorrent as the act was, as Matriarch she knew that innocent blood could not pay for such a Sin. Her Bloodlust is no excuse, and should she have been ignorant of that fact, the blame lies with the Council of Matriarchs. Or do you suggest them a feral outpost?” Sister Magda rejoined.

The Lilim shook her head. “No, she was acknowledged and recognised.” She replied

Sister Magda nodded in acknowledgement before continuing. “She is also accused of the illegal possession and improper use of a resonance matrix, resulting in the undocumented awakening of a Human to resonance without the authorization of the Magisterium.”

“Are you honestly laying counter-charges against a charred corpse?” The Lilim asked incredulously.

“The forms must be obeyed, and as you said earlier, we would all do well to have this moved along.” Sister Magda replied. “Do any dispute these charges?”

“None remain… thanks to me…” Samuel whispered.

“The clerk will disregard the previous statement. The accused has not yet been found guilty of the Sin.” Sister Magda quickly snapped, the Oomakude nodded, pulling a ratchet and reversing the paper a small distance. “My Lords, as you are the wronged in these charges, what redress do you seek?”

“Death!” Jeremy quickly cried, seemingly overjoyed to have a clear exit.

“STRIKE THAT.” Lord William commanded, looking gloweringly at his eldest son. “Jeremy will remain silent for the remainder of this inquisition as he has no part in the proceedings… Unless he would care to give us reason to think otherwise…” Lord William’s voice was as hard and as cold as glacier ice. Jeremy’s face blanched and he shook his head vehemently.

The Oomakude quailed and looked to the Lilim, who nodded. She pulled the ratchet again, retracting another length of paper.

Lord William stroked his greying beard before speaking. “If my sons had been harmed without cause, I would want vengeance. If they had been forced to fight, I have faith that they would have done so with honour… This… This is beyond retribution. Let no charge stand.”

Charles nodded his agreement.

The Lilim stepped forward, “I call the Speaker for the Dead.”

A door opened and a mist flowed across the floor. Floating above the ground entered the grey form of a Lich, unclad apart from a leaden torque at her neck, upon which were engraved runes of power. Her black eyes touched on all in the room. She stopped, hovering in front of Samuel, mist lapping at her dainty ankles.

“I call upon the spirits of the wrongful dead. All who bear witness will judge… and be judged in turn.” Her hollow voice intoned. Samuel saw movement, noticed Jeremy inching towards the door. His father’s hand clamped like a steel trap upon Jeremy’s shoulder.

“You will not stand by your brother, boy?” Lord William hissed. Jeremy swallowed visibly.

A section of the mist began to glow with an eldritch light, and two figures began to take form. Hand in hand, they stepped forward, one, a wolf-woman, the other, a girl-child of similar appearance, with a face Samuel could never forget. Guilt and grief slashed at him like the claws of a mantis.

“N-No…” he sobbed, “I didn’t want… I begged you to stop… why wouldn’t you stop… I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…”

Seemingly uninterested in Samuel’s grief, the Lilim addressed the apparitions, “Do you know me, Shades?”

We know you, Daughter of Maou.” Came the whispered reply.

“How did you meet your end?” She asked, almost ritualistically

A bright and burning light fell, and then there was nothing.” The shades reply came again

“Do you recognize this man?” the Lilim pointed at Samuel. The shades turned to face him. Unable to turn away, Samuel met their unblinking visages with reddened eyes.

“Yes… House Caladon-heir. He is chained.” Came their sibilant reply

“Shall I remove his shackles then?” asked the Lilim.

“Not chains of metal, chains of time… they stretch from centuries and wrap around his tongue and his feet and his manhood. We cannot hate him for being chained.” The shades said mysteriously.

“The shades refer to the Rites and Traditions of Humanity, something we Mamono find difficult to understand, even in life.” the lich’s hollow voice murmured by way of clarification.

The Lilim nodded, rolling her eyes in covert agreement with the Lich’s statement.

“But we can Love one who made a promise to Maou, and kept it.” The woman-shade whispered, smiling at Charles.

“And we can Love one who sheds tears for a Sin unprevented, though he was chained throughout.” the girl-shade whispered, releasing her mother’s hand and crossing to Samuel, kissing his cheek with ethereal lips. “My pain is gone, my fear, a fading memory. Do not weep for me.”

“You do not hold him responsible for your deaths then?” The Lilim asked, sounding slightly shocked.

“How could we? When the light fell he was on the ground, screaming.” The shades replied. “The Magic called by our matriarch was not wolf-magic. Not born of earth and blood and wind and water. Not born of lust and love and the hunt. What befell us is her shame to bear into the long sleep.”

The Lilim seemed taken aback by this “…Nothing further.” She finally murmured to the Lich, who nodded, speaking a soft word and waving her hand. The shades began to dissolve into mist, but Samuel saw the girl look towards his brothers and meet the eyes of Jeremy as she faded. Her look was rapacious, bestial… Hate was in those eyes.

“May I take leave?” the lich asked. “My husband awaits me and I would not suffer a night alone unnecessarily.”

“With my thanks.” The Lilim replied, inclining her head. The lich cast a brief spell, fading into the mists which surrounded her, and out of sight.

“Well.” Sister Magda said.

“Well indeed. Who do we charge? And with what?” the Lilim exclaimed

“Neither party seeks redress, there’s not much else to be sought… Though I did notice you didn’t ask the shades anything about the resonant matrix.” Sister Magda replied.

“I told you, Human, that is…” the Lilian began

“I know, I know… under investigation.” Sister Magda said politely. She paced the room a few times, her sandalled feet echoing against the stone. “I say as far as the inquisition goes in this matter we chalk it up to… An Act of God.”

“Now who’s not taking things seriously?” The Lilim rejoined drily.

“My Lady,” interjected the Oomakude timidly, “it is legitimate. There are seventeen precedents where the Pax allowed the inquisition to be resolved as an Act of God, with no charge standing on any party”

“Wha… Truly? Fine. Let’s be done with it, I’m bored anyway. Call it off.” The Lilian waved her hand dismissively. She strolled up to Lord William, planting a kiss on his cheek. “Always lovely to see you William… Ooh.” She exclaimed with surprise, as if seeing Lloyd for the first time. “This one’s pretty, isn’t he?”

“Get thee behind me, demon!” Lloyd hissed with revulsion.

“Not the first time I’ve been asked to do that, lovely, if that’s what you’re into…” the Lilim drawled. “Can I have him?”

“Only if you want to start a war.” Sister Magda laughed, “He’s not much of a Paladin but he’s definitely something of a… favorite around the High Temple.”

Lloyd was making strangled noises at Sister Magda’s blunt assessment. The Lilim gave another crystalline peal of laughter and patted Lloyd’s cheek, “Bishounen are indeed a national treasure… If you ever fall off that high horse, you know where we are.” She said, before heading towards the door. She stopped, turning slightly. “William, Magda, I daresay this will be the last you’ll see of me. I return to Pandemonium tomorrow. Sometimes I think it’s sad you humans live such short lives… Sometimes.” With that, she exited the room.

The Oomakude set to packing away the weird contraption, handing one roll of paper to Sister Magda with a dextrous pair of rear limbs. The device seemingly miraculously condensed down into what appeared to be a large briefcase. Her work done, she too skittered from the room, pretending not to notice Lloyd’s shudder of revulsion as she passed him.

Lord William gave a great sigh, the weight of the proceedings seeming to have taken their toll on him. “Can you unshackle my son now, Reverence?” he asked wearily.

“In but a moment, William. There remains yet the recognition.” Sister Magda said, kneeling down in front of Samuel’s seated form. “I would know you, Samuel.” She said, not ungently.

Samuel’s emotions, already stretched near breaking by the inquisition, were an angry snarl within him. He looked petulantly at the High Priestess. “You’re a little old, reverence, but you don’t strike me as the sort of woman who needs to restrain a man to engage in the Rite of Continuance with him.” He spat.

Lloyd gave a wordless yell of protest, too incensed to form a denunciation, and Charles did his very best to suppress a burp of laughter behind a forced coughing fit. Sister Magda smiled slightly, before slapping Samuel firmly across the face. “Nothing so common dear boy, and I’ll have you know I’ve had better men than you between my thighs in my time. Now pay close attention…”

Samuel felt her will building, and glyphs of light seemed to spring up before his eyes. Intuitively he knew their meaning.

REVELATION

He gave an involuntary cry of pain as what felt like a white hot brand was pressed to his forehead. A mirror was fetched, and there, above his astonished eyes, sat a word in glowing letters.

V3R1T45

“Veritas?” Samuel gasped. “What is it?”

“Not quite, but it’s a convenient analogy. Get used to that, by the way, your life is about to become full of convenient analogies. And not What, but Who. And Who, is You.” Sister Magda remarked with a wry smirk.

“Me?” Samuel queried.

“Yes boy, don’t make me repeat myself. Every resonant is unique, and their work bears… a signature, if you will. This is yours.” Sister Magda explained. “Now, do as I did. And be gentle with an old woman, will you?” she mockingly entreated.

Samuel focused on the memory of those glyphs, felt them ‘click’ into place somewhere in the deepest recesses of his mind. Looking at Sister Magda, he ‘willed’ the concept to be manifest.

REVELATION

Sister Magda’s eyes narrowed and her lips pursed into a moue of discomfort. Sure enough, as she raised the wimple from her forehead, there sat a series of symbols.

3LY51UM

“Elysium?” Samuel asked.

“Again, a convenient analogy, although one I admit I have used on rare occasion to my advantage to gain the upper hand in church politics.” Sister Magda said, pulling her wimple back down to her browline. “Symbols are powerful in their own right, but as a resonant the power of a symbol is sometimes defined by the meaning people give it… But you’re not here for a lecture” She stood, grunting slightly with the exertion. “Let’s get you out of there.”

RELEASE

The shackles about Sam’s legs and arms released with a metallic ring, and he scrambled from the chair, moaning and stretching. Sister Magda rubbed his upper arms with motherly affection. “Three things before I let you fall into bed, boy. First. The Name of The God is Forbidden. NEVER use it.”

“But I’ve invoked the name of Holy Tyris since I was little…” Samuel began.

“Never use it boy. Are you dense? Do you not grasp the difference between saying and using?” Sister Magda flicked his forehead. Samuel nodded as comprehension dawned.

Samuel swallowed. “Why?”

“Short answer, you’ll die. Regardless of the means, Using the Name of God is invariably fatal.” Sister Magda replied simply. “Second. Whilst the Power is yours to call upon by right, do not succumb to the Sin of Pride by assuming your works are of your own making. That which we control is beyond and without us, and is used at Its pleasure.” Sister Magda continued.

“Glorious are the Blessings of The God.” Intoned Lloyd from the side of the room.

“That they are, but I know you weren’t too busy staring at Sister Abigail’s breasts to have forgotten your histories Lloyd. Not of God, and Not of Demon, remember?” Sister Magda chided. Lloyd blushed at the admonition.

“Third, and I pray Lord William assist with this. I shall need suitable quarters for my girls here for a few days, and a proper escort to return me to the Chancel of The Sun.” Sister Magda stated, looking at Lord William.

“My people are yours to command, reverence, but why are your acolytes remaining here?” Lord William inquired.

“They are to perform the Rite of Continuance.” She answered evenly.

“Your Reverence… With respect, Charles is in the midst of the Abstinence of Seasons, Lloyd is already pledged to the Faith Militant and thus forbidden from partaking of the Rite outside Temple grounds, and Jeremy as Heir Apparent does not engage in the Rite without that his partner is ordered by the Court of the High Lords.” Lord William objected in confusion.

“You misunderstand, My Lord. Only one of your sons will participate in the Rite.” Sister Magda replied. Charles gave a low whistle as the meaning became apparent.

“Samuel is to take them all to bed.”

Steam drifted lazily from the surface of the water as Samuel leaned back in the keep’s opulent bathhouse. Nearly half the large room was taken up by a gargantuan tub, cleverly kept clean and hot day-round by an ingenious system of pipes running deep into the earth. His mind whirled with all that had occurred. Even with the shade of the wolf-girl’s kiss still lingering on his cheek, and the hot water laving his body, he felt soiled… He wondered if he would ever feel clean again. He closed his eyes, trying to relax and let the day’s stress melt from him. A soft sound intruded, and he cracked one eye to see one of the Kikimora standing before the tub, clad in a short linen tunic.

“Mika.” Samuel said in acknowledgement “Is something the matter?”

Mika shuffled her feet slightly, ears flicking nervously. “I-I know how hard today has been on you, Master… I thought… Maybe… You… Might want me… To wash your back?”

Too emotionally exhausted to properly think of the ramifications of that offer, Samuel broke into a relieved grin. “Mika, that sounds wonderful.”

Her little smile was like the sun coming up. It was a funny quirk of the Kikimora, Samuel reflected after regaining his composure, as Mika stripped herself of her tunic revealing her naked body. Give them the impression that they’re doing something helpful, and they’re absolutely overjoyed. Samuel scooted forward in the expansive bath to allow Mika to sit behind him. Her small, soft hands took a washcloth and began gently running it over his shoulders and neck. Submitting to her ministrations, Samuel moaned involuntarily as he felt the strain lift from his shoulders. Mika’s delicate hands reached forward and began washing his chest, the washcloth having been covertly lost. A tiny voice of concern muttered in Samuel’s mind, but he was too tired to give it heed. He felt her small, pert breasts press into his back, nipples hardening as they rubbed against his bare skin.

That got his attention, and he could feel his body beginning to respond to Mika’s undeniably alluring closeness. “Mika..” Samuel began.

“Shhh…” Mika whispered in honeyed tones in his ear, her breath hot against his neck. “You need to relax, and I only want to help you…” her silken hands rubbed lower… lower… Samuel’s breathing quickened and his body screamed for the touch that was so close… Oh so close now…

“Sister Magda will switch you to within an inch of your life if you do, Sammy-boy…” Came an urbane drawl from somewhere in front of him. Mika gave a small scream, jerking herself back from him. Samuel’s eyes snapped open. Jeremy stood before the tub, his powerful body unclad and a smile of vague amusement on his face.

“Jeremy, what…” Samuel began. Jeremy’s eyes hardened, flicking to Mika.

“Out.” He commanded.

“Now just one min…” Samuel protested.

“Don’t make me repeat myself, bitch.” Jeremy grated, and Mika sprang from the tub, lightning quick, whimpering in sheer terror as she fled the bathhouse, too scared to even grab her tunic.

Samuel fixed Jeremy with an even stare. “Feel better?” he snapped, voice dripping with poison.

“Oh shut your whining, you know I’m right. They would have had you Seasoning for at least two months if you’d fucked her. Not to mention nobody would be able to use the bath until they were sure your… issue… had been purged.” Jeremy replied nonchalantly, clambering into the tub. “Still… Ahhhh… All’s well that ends well, right Sammy-boy?”

“How can you even say that, after everything that’s happened?” Samuel spoke in a low, shocked tone.

“Oh are you still banging on about that bitch and her kennel?” Jeremy said in exasperation. “It was never going to stick.”

“You could have fooled me! You looked like you wanted to crawl into the nearest arach-hole to hide!” Samuel spat back.

“If that wisp had pointed at me and spilled her gravy, Father would have been forced to respond, that was the only thing I couldn’t be sure of. He’s still got some iron in him though. He knew it, and he knew that I knew it, but he played the bluff.” Jeremy mused.

“What in Tyris’s name are you on about?” Samuel asked incredulously

“The whole thing was a farce.” Jeremy drawled. “The Lilim couldn’t be seen to just handwave such a catastrophic event… Nice work by the way, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous… And Our Holy Whore Church just had to be there to wave their dicks in front of the Nobles… Well, so to speak.” Jeremy laughed at his own joke.

“Who are you?” Samuel quavered, shocked at his brother’s casual blasphemy and cold dismissal of the carnage.

“Now Sammy-boy…” Jeremy began

“Don’t call me that!” Samuel roared, surging to his feet “My brother calls me that! I don’t know who you are! Tyris fuck Jeremy! The Feral hunts? That I can overlook, they cause as much trouble to the Mamono as they do to us. The Holstaur girl you ravaged and then dumped in the meadow? That was cruel, but no crueler than any number of landholders…” He knew he should stop, but he had the bit in his teeth now, and plowed ahead. “Then you move into complete bugfuck territory when you choked that Harpy to death and then bullied poor Charlie into smuggling the corpse to the Fleshmarket… He still has nightmares about that, by the way… then yesterday… What you’ve done is beyond the pale. I don’t know what you’re becoming, but you’re not my brother…”

Jeremy lashed out with a foot, knocking Samuel over into the water. He came up spluttering, to be met with Jeremy’s green eyes staring unblinkingly into his.

“Don’t you say that Sammy-boy…” Jeremy said in a low, lethal tone. “I’ll tell you what I am. I’m a man of the Blood of the High Lords. I’m a man who is born to reign. And I’m a man who remembers what these… things we surround ourselves with truly are. Monsters. Bred from birth to exterminate our entire race, by Lust or War.”

Samuel wanted to Hurt him… Wanted it with his teeth and his bones and his balls… The Logos responded, flashing the Sigils before his vision. He held them down…

“Back away, Jeremy…” he hissed. “I know the Sigil of Pain now, and I’m just itching to try it out… Just you give me an excuse…”

Jeremy backed up, but his gaze remained unconcerned. “What a gift you’ve been given, Sammy-boy… You’ll make a great asset to this House…” He smiled, with all the warmth of a feeding shark.

Disgust roiling in his guts, Samuel clambered from the bath, the specter of his brother’s nonchalant whistling following him down the hall…

Lloyd pulled at his mail shirt. Newly crafted, it chafed him, even through the thick gambeson he wore beneath it. Seeing Sister Magda approach, he signaled the house militia to form up. Kneeling before her, he offered a hand to help her mount the placid palfrey whose reins were held by a bored-looking retainer. She took the assistance with a smile, settling in the saddle.

“Lloyd!” he heard a voice from behind him. Lloyd turned, seeing Samuel approaching, his face a tumult of emotion.

“You’re leaving?” Samuel asked, and Lloyd felt a pang of guilt that he had not bid farewell to his youngest brother.

“There’s less than a month before I’m bound to report back to the Seminary. It’s only a year before I take Holy Orders and I wouldn’t mind getting a head start.” Lloyd replied simply.

“Best make a decent goodbye then, Lloyd.” Sister Magda said from her saddle.

“Reverence?” Lloyd asked confusedly.

“Samuel will be called before the Magisterium, as is tradition with all Resonants. It may be years before he returns.” She replied, sympathy in her eyes.

“How… When…” Lloyd began.

“Just now. It’s why I came to look for you and Charles.” Samuel replied, kicking at a stone by his foot.

“I… I hope that you bear me no ill-will, with all that’s happened over the last few days.” Lloyd ventured.

“Lloyd, no…” Samuel replied, taking his brother by the shoulders. “I’m glad you’re my brother, and our Holy Mother Church better be thankful that such a dedicated man is giving Her his vows.”

“That she is.” Sister Magda replied, her face a mystery.

Lloyd pulled his younger brother into a rough embrace, before releasing him.

“Lloyd, before you go… What do you think of the Mamono, truly?” Samuel asked softly, as if afraid of the answer.

“They’re animals. The faithful should avoid consorting with them… But they have the protection of the Pax, and one cannot go against the Will of The God.” Lloyd gave a rare smile, “Plus, Compassion is a virtue, no matter the recipient.”

Lloyd pulled himself into his own saddle, reaching down to grip Samuel’s shoulder. “The God be with you, Samuel.”

“And with you, brother.” He heard from behind him. Choking back tears, he ordered the company to move out.

Thwack!

Charles wiped the sweat from his brow, setting another log atop the block and splitting it with his axe.

Another roar of boisterous laughter came from the corner of the keep, where a band of centaurs were vigorously drinking.

“How many barrel’s that make, Jess?” He inquired of the Taurean who stood against the rail of the stable, coiling a rope.

“Twenty-six by my count.” Jessie answered, her eyes alight with amusement. Charles laughed.

“Father’s going to regret his generosity. I think he forgot how much Centaurs can drink.” He mused.

Jessie smiled, before turning her head to follow movement heading towards the band.

“Is that Samuel?” She asked. Charles turned to follow her gaze, seeing his younger brother striding towards the Centaurs, his face like a stormcloud.

“Captain Shireen!” Samuel yelled. The centaurs turned as one to regard the young man, and began drunkenly catcalling.

“CAN IT, YOU SLUTS!” came a slurred female voice, and Captain Shireen emerged from the band, her hoofsteps slightly unsteady.

“Oh shit…” Charles cursed, and began heading towards his brother.

“What can I do you for, Young Mas…*hic*…ster?” Shireen drawled, towering above Samuel.

“I want to know why your herd banished Dom.” Samuel demanded.

“Izzat what you’re so worked up about?” Shireen whinnied, dropping an arm about Samuel’s shoulders. “C’mere… D’you know how far we move in a day?”

“No, but I don’t see wha…” Samuel rejoindered

“Further’n you two-legged little hotties’ve got numbers for.” Shireen said simply. “Now I know you’re as smart as you are pretty, so you know how long Nulls live.”

Samuel nodded, clearly still not comprehending.

“Dom’s getting slow… It can’t keep up… It’s been in a stable for ten years… It’s gettin’ frightened by crazy things, can’t sleep unner th’open sky and weird shit like that.” Shireen slurred, gesticulating with her ale mug.

“It stood firm against the wolf pack!” Samuel protested.

“An’ it brought fuckin’ honour to our entire herd for it!” Shireen exclaimed loudly. “But it’s got one, maybe two years before the Great Herd in the Sky calls it home. We knew it’d come back here if we kicked it out. And we knew you’d be the sort to take it in. At least here it’ll die happy.”

Charles couldn’t help but smile. He saw Samuel’s face go from anger to chagrin as the realization of his mistake hit home.

“I’m sorry Captain. I didn’t know.” Samuel apologised.

“Bah. M’just glad we got to clear the air… Now howzabout a kiss?” Shireen entreatied, pulling Samuel closer.

“Aaand that’s my cue…” Charles muttered. “Sam!” he yelled, “Come here and help me with this!”

“Coming!” Samuel replied, ducking under the centaur’s sloppy embrace. She pouted slightly, before taking another drink and heading back to the band, who immediately launched into a lewd ballad involving a centaur and a young farmhand.

“Thanks for that.” Samuel said, grinning as he approached where Charles was waiting.

“No problem” Charles replied. “Now seriously, grab that cord of wood and bring it over here, we’re going to have a lot of drunk horseflesh to keep warm tonight.”

Samuel grabbed the wood and followed Charles back to the block. “What was that about?” Charles asked. “If Dom was bugging you so much you could have asked me, I could have told you, without the risk of you getting molested by a drunken centaur.”

Samuel shuffled his feet. “She was convenient…” he began, before outlining to Charles the encounter he had with Jeremy in the bath. Charles swore.

“Fucking Jeremy… Has all the right information right in front of him and as usual comes to the most bugfuck answer…” Charles grated.

“What?” Samuel started in confusion.

“The Pax, Sam. It’s killing us. Humanity I mean.” Charles said sourly

“What are you talking about? Birth rates are up, people are living longer, there hasn’t been a single reported transmutation in any major holding in the last three years, there have been five new Baronies awarded in the last ten… Have you and Jeremy been having Continuance with Cheshires on the sly or something?” Samuel exclaimed incredulously. Charles swore again, pinning the axe into the block with a mighty blow.

“And that right there is what I’m talking about!” Charles yelled. “You called it Continuance! Off the top of your head and without thought!” He took a deep breath, attempting to regain his composure. “Do you know what marriage is?” He asked.

“Sure… That’s when a High Priestess is elevated to the Brides of Tyris…” Samuel began.

“That’s what it is now.” Charles interrupted. “Less than a millennia ago it meant something different. It used to mean when two people came together in love, and forsaking all others, cleaved to each other, and raised a family together.”

Samuel’s face contorted in confusion, “But that’s ridiculous! How could humanity prosper with two people breeding with only each other? It’d be a genetic nightmare!”

“Never forget, the Pax was made out of necessity.” Charles replied. “Humanity and Mamono brought each other to the brink of extinction, and it was only the Rites and Traditions of the Pax which let us claw our way back.” He sighed. “But now… Now it’s changing us… Tell me, how did you feel when you performed the Rite of Continuance for the first time?”

Samuel blushed slightly, “It was… Nice… Pleasant… But it’s a duty, Charles. We do it because it’s in our genes to, and the Rite makes sure the best traits are passed down the next generation.”

“How fucking alien is that?!” Charles exclaimed. “No wonder the Mamono look at us like we’re half mad. You know what Continuance used to be called between couples? Making Love. We’ve taken the ultimate expression of Love and turned it into a damn numbers game…”

“You’re tired, Charlie. You don’t know what you’re saying.” Samuel entreated. “The Pax saved us. Every child knows it.”

“It saved us, true… But we’re changing. Fast. If I could look out through the eyes of my grandsons at the world, I doubt I’d recognise it.” Charles mused morosely. Shaking his head, he chuckled. “Sorry Sam. You’re right, I am tired. You’d best be getting to bed. Rite or not you’ve got four young ladies who are going to be coming into your room tomorrow, and you’d better keep this House’s reputation for virility standing.” He mocked, clapping Samuel on the shoulder.

“There is one more thing…” Sam murmured. “I’m Resonant now, which means I have to present myself before the Magisterium.”

“What? When?” Charles exclaimed in shock

“They want me on a ship leaving at the end of the week, which means the latest I can leave is the day after tomorrow.” Samuel said glumly

Charles pulled his brother into a crushing embrace. “Then you be fucking safe and come back to us, Sam.”

Samuel returned his brother’s embrace. “I will. Don’t let Jeremy ruin us.”

Charles barked with mirthless laughter. “This is my home. I’m not fucking going anywhere.”

“Then do me a favour.” Sam asked, pushing Charles back and looking him in the eyes. “The next time he engages in monstrosity, and a pack comes looking to tear out his guts… Let them.”

Charles nodded gravely, and watched his younger brother turn and walk back into the keep. As he passed from sight Charles fell to his knees, bitter tears cascading down stubbled cheeks. Jessie wordlessly came to him, putting a soft hand on his shoulder in comfort. Charles took her hand, and stood, his reddened eyes seeking hers.

“Jessie…” he whispered.

“Yes?” She replied, before her mouth was covered by his eager lips. Feeling her own hunger swell within her, she threw her arms about him, stumbling as they both fell into the hay of an empty stable. Pulling back from her, Charles cupped her face in his hands.

“Even if I’m damned for it… Even if The God ends it all tomorrow… Let me see that Love is not a lie?” Charles begged.

“Yes… Oh… Oh Please Yes…” She gasped, her passion spilling over. Her hands flew to his shirt, pulling it off and over his head. Charles returned the favour, gasping with surprise when her generous breasts came into view. With trembling hands he fumbled at his trousers, and Jessie in turn scrabbled at her own waistline, and in moments they were both unclad. Charles took his manhood in hand, and in a distant part of his mind, remarked that he had never been harder. Lust in her eyes, Jessie spread her sparsely furred legs, opening herself to him.

With haste born of passion, Charles entered her, gasping with pleasure. Jessie cried out as her maidenhead parted effortlessly before his throbbing cock. Charles looked at her with concern and she soothed his worries with fervent kisses. Each movement brought new ecstasy as they clung to each other, whispers of passion punctuated by kisses, hands exploring each other with joy. All too soon, Charles felt his seed rising within him, and he cried out in that most exquisite of agonies as he pulsed within her, emptying himself into her eager womb. Jessie in turn, joined her voice to his as the sensation within her brought her to her own climax, her hoofed legs locking about his waist as her body was wracked with orgasm.

They spent some small time in tender caress, their eyes filled with wonder, as if seeing each other for the first time. Soon enough, Charles felt himself recover, and with a wry smile, Jessie pushed him onto his back. Straddling him, Jessie reached down to put him inside her once more, easing their lovemaking into a slow, tender rhythm. Charles took one of her large breasts to his mouth and Jessie moaned as the pleasure swept through her.

“Let’s take our time with this, dear heart…” She entreated him.

“We have so much of it” he replied, his voice thick with emotion, “The rest of our lives in fact…”

Samuel hung the cool, wet towel about his neck. Taking a long, refreshing drink, he looked in the mirror of his bedside table.

“Three down.” He remarked to himself. The day had definitely been strenuous, and he was thankful for Charles’s advice of bed the night before. His mind drifted to their conversation, and he mused on the three girls he had just coupled with.

The First, a statuesque blonde, had been remarkably utilitarian, keeping almost detached from the proceedings and calmly directing his movements until the sensations of their coupling overwhelmed her, where she had promptly flipped him onto his back and ravaged him with a passion he thought reserved for Mamono. But when they were spent, there was nothing special there. A shared camaraderie perhaps, but no mystical bond.

The Second, a willowy redhead, had shaken with nerves, and it was up to him to calm her with slow movements and gentle caresses. And as she cried out he felt a fondness for her, but it was as for a younger sibling, not a shared passion.

The Third, a sensual ebon-haired beauty, had taken his breath away. Her grace had brought him to the edge of ecstasy and beyond, and yet it was as if a gulf existed between them, as both sought their own pleasures in the act, caring little for the other.

“Charlie’s been reading too many stories…” Samuel mused, as a knock came at the door.

“Are you prepared, Milord?” the bubbly brunette at the threshold enquired, smiling a trifle naughtily.

“Please, sister, do come in.” He answered, bowing slightly at the waist. She entered gracefully, closing the door behind her and crossing to him. Sliding arms about his waist, she tilted her head to kiss him gently. Samuel slid his hands to the ties of her simple shift, and with a soft whisper it fell to the floor. She slid her hand down his body, removing the towel from about his waist. Feeling his tumescent member prodding her stomach, she let out a delighted laugh.

“The House of Caladon certainly doesn’t lack for Stamina!” She remarked, before pursing her lips. “Still…” she mused, pulling what looked like an ivory pin from her hair.

“What’s that?” Samuel murmured, exploring her body with his hands.

“Insurance.” She remarked simply, jamming it into his buttock.

Samuel cried out, pushing himself back from her. He felt his heart begin to race. Something was wrong here… Something was wrong… With Her!

He called upon the Logos within himself and felt it answer.

REVELATION

Her form shimmered as the image of the bubbly brunette disappeared. In its place was a witching beauty, bearing short, pointed ears, lightly furred legs, and a broad, fluffy tail. Her eyes screwed shut and her mouth gaped, revealing needle-like canines.

“Oooh! That was unpleasant you naughty boy! Points for picking it up though. Can you believe a High Priestess practically delivered me into the bedchamber of a nobleman? Unf… I could come just from thinking about it!”

“T-Tanuki!” Samuel gasped. He tried to call upon the Logos again, but he couldn’t focus his thoughts… Also his dick was throbbing like he’d been Seasoning for a half-year…

“Two for two!” The Tanuki crowed, “And I wouldn’t bother trying that trick again, you’ll be having a bit of trouble concentrating right now, I would think.” She remarked, pushing him onto the bed with remarkable strength.

“W-What… have you… done to me…” Samuel gasped, his heart hammering within his chest.

“Oh settle down, it’s only a Manticore spine.” She said flippantly. “Expensive though, the tailpussys aren’t as numerous as they used to be. So let’s not waste it, hmmm?” She crawled onto the bed, sitting on his stomach and reaching behind her for his cock.

“Why?” Samuel asked, hands scrabbling for purchase as she deftly slapped them away.

“Stop that. Regardless of what you might think this has remarkably little to do with you, your family, or this nasty little backwater barony.” She leaned forward, and Samuel could smell her sweet breath as she smiled lewdly at him. “My plans involve your dick in me for as long as I can manage, and after that I go on my merry way. Other than that, you don’t need to know. Now quit fussing, you can enjoy this, if you let yourself.”

With that, she picked herself up, lowering her moist womanhood onto his length. Samuel gasped with the sensation, and the Tanuki’s eyes fluttering as she shifted herself to better fit him in. “My oh my!” the Tanuki gasped. “This is turning… hah… out to be… ooh… a most… pleasant… unh… surprise!” She began bouncing on his cock with vigour, and Samuel fought to keep from succumbing to the passion which roiled within him. Damned if he was going to let a little trickster get the better of him! He raised his hands to her breasts, tweaking her small nipples with his fingertips, and was rewarded with a moan.

“Oooohhhh… Naughty! Don’t stop! Oooh…. I’m gonna cuh-cuhhh….” She gasped as her orgasm shook her.

Now!” Samuel thought, bringing his legs up and over, rolling her underneath him and flipping her onto her front.

“If this is unavoidable,” Samuel hissed, “Then you will know what it is to be fucked by a Man of Caladon!” he hooked his hands under her hips, raising her shapely ass into the air. Her womanhood, still dripping, stared invitingly at him, and he wasted no time in ramming himself home.

“AAAAAAAaaahhhhnnnnnn!” The Tanuki screamed “Oh sweet Maou! Yesssss! Fuck me! Fuck meeeee!” she howled as Samuel hammered at her from behind. Feeling the swelling in his loins, he gripped the closest thing to hand… Her soft, fluffy tail.

“N-Not my tail! Oooohhhh! No! I’ll go crazy if youuuu… AaahhhhhhhHhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaa!” she screamed as Samuel exploded inside her. Venom coursing through him, his rock-hard erection didn’t even subside, and he continued pounding her, one hand squeezing her tail, her dripping pussy squelching lewdly as her juices flowed down her thighs. Samuel reached forward, cupping a breast with his free hand and nipping her ear with his teeth, which sent her into another howling orgasm.

Two… Three… Four times he erupted in her, slamming her from every conceivable angle, his mouth hungry on her exposed flesh. By this point her eyes were fixed and rolled back in her head, her small, pink tongue hanging from the side of her mouth as pleasure overtook her.

With the last of his strength, Samuel stood, pulling himself from her with a wet sound.

“Bet… You weren’t… Expecting… That…” he panted.

“You kidding… I was… Counting… on it…” she replied.

He couldn’t help himself, he sank to the floor, laughing helplessly, head on his knees as he fought to regain equilibrium.

When he looked up, She was gone. Funny. The greatest passion of the day, Samuel would later muse, was with the Mamono who tried to rape him. And hers was the face he missed the most.

Jeremy’s horse crosses the plains at an even canter. Behind him is dragged the broken and bloodied body of a Weresheep that Patrick’s son had informed him could be… Problematic in the upcoming audit of his father’s holdings. Turning his horse to regard the corpse, nearly unrecognizable now, he smiles. The blood made the whispering stop, even if only for a while, and drove away the image of a small boy who screamed in terror while his mother hung unconscious in the web of an Arachne, who passionlessly pumped her swollen abdomen full of eggs. If killing Mamono was all it took to keep that, then he’d kill Mamono, The God knew there were too many of them in the world anyway. One day he would Rule by Right. His sons would be High Lords, and he would see Humanity’s true nature ascendant.

And if the people could not love him, then fear was just as good.

In the loft of a barn, Charles traces lazy circles on the broad backside of his Taurean lover as she mumbles in her sleep. Roused from dreams, Jessie stretches and turns smiling to face him. Their lips meet in tenderness. Their union was forbidden, yet both of them gave obedience now to a Higher Law, that was written in the very cells of their bodies. The birds sang, and the morning sun warmed them with gentle rays.

A great bell sounds at the Chancel of The Sun. Lloyd turns to see the Sun’s rays bathing the Temple in radiance. The God was Good, Lloyd was reminded every day. His troubles meant nothing, and if he remembered to Serve The God with all his heart, and in Obedience to the Holy Mother Church, then surely the world would work out as it should. Hearing Sister Magda’s call, he headed into the building, prepared to make the Waygate Crossing to the Cathedral Solar, to see out his final year as a Paladin Initiate.

Gulls call as Samuel finally crests the last hill and sees the Port City spread before him. He was leaving the only home he had ever known, changed beyond his wildest imagination. The future was uncertain, and Humanity’s path seemed hazy and indistinct. He pushed such thoughts away as he rode down the hill. In Magisterium he would find the answers he sought. He knew it. He had to.

As the Sun rose, it brought with it all the promise of a new day, and in their respective musings all four brothers knew the value of that promise.

For with a new day, hope springs eternal.

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