Eyes in the Dark

“Gnat!”
Rustle, rustle.
“Oy, Gnat!”
Rustle, rustle, rustle.
“GNAT!”

“Coming!” shouted the boy. Apt nickname, he thought. Even though he hated it more than anything else in the castle. Chancing a glance at his reflection in one of the many tarnished silver bowls he’d been polishing, he took a moment to straighten his dirty brown hair. A pair of dark eyes stared back at him. He wore a scraggly pair of linen trousers matched with a moth-eaten linen shirt. Silver polish stained the fabric all up and down the front. His cracked leather shoes flopped about, at least two sizes too big, as he darted down the winding staircase from the kitchen into a lounge.

“Gracious boy, are ye deaf?” grunted a fat man lounging on a sofa next to the roaring fireplace. “If it weren’t for me, ye’d always be late.”

“Don’t know why you trouble yourself so,” said a lanky man with a bushy mustache sitting across from him. “He’s just a servant.” He twirled his mustache thoughtfully. Gnat wondered if maybe he could transplant some of that jet-black mustache onto his balding head. He nearly chuckled at the thought.

“Sommat funny, boy?” asked the fat man. Gnat shrugged. “Ye got one more thing to do before the Baron’s got ye cleared to go to the Smithy.” He pointed to a tankard and pewter plate with a dry piece of bread on it. “Take that to the dungeon, prisoner on the lower level. And be quick about it!”

Gnat snatched the tankard and plate in his unsteady hands and nodded. “Yes, milord. I’ll be quick about it.”

The man just grunted and turned back to his comrade. Gnat turned and made his way quickly out of the room before he allowed his sour mood to bleed into his expression. The dungeon. Ugh. He hated the dungeon. Dank, cold, miserable. Hardly ever used. Much bigger and deeper than it needed to be, at least he thought so.

Carefully, Gnat clutched at a torch he’d removed from the wall and made his way down. He prided himself on not tumbling down the stairs, having descended several levels into cloying darkness.

Then he remembered. “Ugh!” He’d forgotten to ask which level the prisoner was on. He could either go back in shame and contritely ask which way to go, or find it himself. “Can’t go back now,” he sighed, and trudged onward. His torch flickered in the darkness and stifling quiet, met only with the slow trickle of water dripping down from somewhere.

…?

Gnat paused. Thought he heard something? Where? A scraping sound? Someone shuffling around?

“Hey!” Gnat called out. “Anyone there?”

A quiet moan answered. It came from somewhere down the hall! On this floor!

“Yes!” hissed Gnat to himself. Lucked out. He darted over to the source, turned the corner, and skidded at a dead-end. The cells were all locked, but he couldn’t spot anyone inside any of them. Unless…

“Hey, is someone in there?” Gnat asked, peering through the bars.

A small shape, huddled in the corner, stirred.

“…who…”

Gnat gasped. It was a girl. A very young girl, possibly his age. “Um, I’ve got something for you. They sent me from upstairs.”

The girl didn’t move. Was she even still breathing?

“It’s not much,” admitted Gnat. “Some bread and fresh water.”

The girl gasped and sat up suddenly, propping herself up on shaky arms. She glanced his way.

Gnat bit back a cry. Nearly dropped the plate.

The girl’s eyes were glowing.

Glowing.

Monster!

She’s a monster!

There’s a monster in the castle!

The boy took a step back as the girl’s eyes met his.

Glowing eyes!

Electric blue. Bright as little moons. Set against coal-black.

“…water…”

The girl trembled, unable to stand. She held out one shaky hand for the tankard.

“…please…”

The weak pain in her voice gripped Gnat’s heart. Monster or not, how could she be a threat to anyone? He approached with trepidation and carefully reached through the bars to set the tankard down inside the cell.

The girl crawled over to the tankard, peering down at it. Gnat caught the reflection in the water. Cool, electric blue shone back at him. The girl dipped part of her sackcloth sleeve into the water, pulled it out, and sniffed it. She gasped, snatching up the mug, and began desperately chugging the water. Her unceremonious gulps echoed down the hall, but as frantic as she drank, she took care not to spill even a drop. She even licked the inside of the tankard after she finished, to catch any stray droplets.

At last, she finished, gasping, clutching the tankard for dear life. Briefly, a look of pure ecstasy shone in her dazzling eyes. And then, she burst into tears.

“…Thank… you…” she coughed out in between sobs.

“You’re… welc…” Gnat started to say, but trailed off as he observed the girl sucking on the moist part of her sleeve that she’d dipped in previously. “How… how long has it been since someone gave you anything to drink?” he cautiously asked.

The girl shook her head, focusing on sucking as much as she could from her sleeve to further slake her thirst. After a moment, she paused, sighing sadly. “I don’t… remember…” she finally replied.

Gnat approached and peered more closely at her. Cracked skin, parched, bleeding lips. A red, swollen tongue licked the moist sleeve. Gnat bit his lip. “This is no way to treat anyone, monster or not…”

“Monster…?” the girl asked, glancing up at him.

Bewilderment creased Gnat’s features. “Monster. It’s… uh, it’s what you are.”

Terror briefly clouded the girl’s eyes. They dimmed noticeably for a moment. “What… I am? No…” she shook her head. “Not a monster…”

Was that defiance in her eyes? Her glowing eyes? No. Couldn’t be. Could it be… “You don’t know?” Gnat finished the thought aloud. “You don’t even know… you must have become one in here somehow…”

“I’m not a monster!” cried the girl, fresh tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m not evil… I’m… I’m not…” she cried softly.

“They taught us monsters were evil,” said Gnat. “All monsters. Anyone against the Chief God, are supposed to be evil.” Gnat began pacing as he thought it through. “But you don’t look evil to me. In fact… what Baron Lester is doing to you seems more evil to me than that.”

The girl merely sobbed quietly. Her shoulders shook with the effort as she hunched on all fours, her head nearly resting upon the floor. Tears fell from her eyes to the cold stone.

Gnat nibbled on his lower lip. What to do? OH! Such an idiot! “Uh. I have something else for you,” he stammered. The girl raised her head and met his gaze. Her eyes remained dewy with tears. The small droplets interacted with the light of her irises, casting mesmerizing prismatic light every which-way. She glimpsed the bread in his outstretched hand.

“Woah!” muttered Gnat as the girl tried to reach for it, only for the shackles on her matchstick arms to bite into her wrists, holding her back. She cried out in pain and shrunk away.

“…please…” she moaned.

Gnat cursed. “You’re shackled on top of being caged? Why?!” he cried. “Here,” he softened his tone and held the bread through the bars. The plate wouldn’t fit, so he held out the bread for her as far as he could. She inched towards him and carefully plucked it out of his hand.

As before, the girl sniffed at the bread first, and gently squeezed it for texture. She then cast aside all pretense and desperately tore into it. Soft, gentle moans escaped her throat as she ate, and, as before, her eyes shone with delight briefly after finishing.

“Thank you…” she offered gently, pinching crumbs from her face and licking them off her finger.

“I don’t get it,” Gnat wondered aloud. “If you haven’t been given anything for so long, how have you survived down here?”

Wordlessly, the girl shuffled over to a dark corner and dabbed her shirt against the wall. Gnat peered carefully at it. Water! A very small amount trickled from the ceiling, moistening the stones there.

“More when it rains,” said the girl, pausing to cough to clear her hoarse, dry throat. She began sucking on her sleeve again.

“That’s pretty smart,” admitted Gnat. “But what have you been eating? Dare I even ask?”

The girl pointed a bony finger at another wall. It too appeared moist, but slimy. He poked his torch through the bars. A kind of lichen grew there, spotty in coverage, having been picked at several times.

Gnat’s mouth hung open as he turned to the girl. “You’ve been eating cave mold?”

She nodded.

“I can’t… I can’t… no.” muttered Gnat, heat flushing his cheeks as indignation and anger boiled his blood. “I can’t let this go on. From now on, I’m going to bring you something, every day, if I can.”

“Even if I am a monster?” the girl asked meekly.

“If I don’t, then I’m the real monster here,” said Gnat, sadness choking his voice. “I can’t linger any further, though. But before I go, what is your name?”

The girl lowered her shining eyes to think. “I… I can’t…” she sniffled. “I can’t remember what…”

The girl didn’t even remember her own name? By all that he thought holy…

“My grandmother…” she added softly, “She called me Ennui.”

“Ennui?” Gnat scratched his head. “That’s kind of odd. Why? Did she think you were lazy?”

Very briefly, a smile flickered across the girl’s face as her eyes lit up. Literally. She nodded. “She said I didn’t even cry when I was born. I just kind of… laid there. So, she called me Ennui.”

“Well I’m not calling you that,” Gnat told her. “How about… uh… Enna?”

“Enna…” her parched lips tasted the word. She nodded. “Yes.”

“Right, Enna,” said Gnat. “I’ll be back tomorrow,” he promised.

“Wait…” Enna called out as Gnat turned to leave.

Gnat paused and looked back.

“What is your name?” the girl inquired with a tilt of her head.

“Gnat,” he replied, then winced. “But don’t call me that, it’s what the Baron and his cronies call me. My name is Gath.”

“Gath…” said Enna softly. “I will wait for you, Gath…”

Gnat tore his eyes from her, a strange feeling tugging at his heart as he ran back up the corridor. He’d heard monsters tempted men with seductive wiles, but this felt like something different.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Ey, watch what yer doin, boy!”

Gnat shuddered, withering before the heat of the furnace before him. Huge mitts cocooned his scrawny hands. A pair of heavy iron pliers trembled in his left, and a ball-peen hammer tapped against a large metal buckle held unsteadily by the pliers. Took Gnat a moment to remember the buckle was his project. For a moment, he felt displaced, as if observing his action as a dispassionate third party. He’d bumped into the blacksmith while flipping the buckle over to hammer the other side.

“S-sorry sir,” Gnat muttered ruefully.

“’Sorry,’ don’t hammer buckles, kid,” grunted the burly smith. His massive, grimy arms gleamed with perspiration and were stained black from soot, grease, and matted hair. His hammer clanged loudly against the sword in his grip, its blade glowing dully with heat. He lifted the blade for a moment to inspect it, and happened to glance at the buckle Gnat tinkered with.

Gnat gulped, bracing for a harsh reprimand. He shook his head, trying to chase off images of Enna. He counted himself lucky the piece of metal still even looked like a buckle.

“Huh,” the smith chuckled. “Not bad, gotta say. That’ll keep the pants on some poor sod as he soils himself facing off with one of them monsters.” He patted the boy on the head, nearly knocking him off his feet. A rare gesture. “Keep it up. Need ‘bout thirty more o’ those.”

Gnat’s mouth hung open as the smith returned to his hammering. He’d actually impressed the man? How? Gnat held up the buckle close to his face, and, sure enough, the metal appeared to be hammered almost perfectly even. No dents or weak spots. Almost professional-grade craftsmanship. He set the buckle aside and began on the next.

And the next.

And the next…

Gnat couldn’t believe it… Normally the clash of darkness against the burning furnace watered his eyes so badly he could barely see. Today, however, the metal jumped out at him, his eyes spotting irregularities in the metal with near-mechanical precision. The hours melted away as he worked tirelessly, some unseen force lending him unbidden stamina.

Carefully, now. Gnat peered down at the metal, working the uneven spots out of the buckle’s frame. He held a goldsmithing chaser hammer to work out the finishing details, and even added a curving flourish on the outer edges with a tiny chisel.

“Here, let’s have a looksee then.” The smith held up the dripping buckle from the bucket of water beside Gnat. A whistle escaped his lips as he inspected the smooth curves and delicate flourish. He raised an eyebrow as he stared down at Gnat. “Ye been holdin out on me, kid?”

“Sir?” gulped Gnat.

“Gonna save this one fer a special occasion,” he muttered. “Ye usin’ a chaser? Where’d ye learn to hammer like that? Certainly not from me!” the smith chortled.

Gnat scratched his head absently. His shoulders ached from the effort. How long had he been at it? Oh. The smith asked him a question. “Uhh… books, sir,” he replied lamely. “Books in the keep.”

“Huh,” shrugged the smith. “I’d ask ye to slip me one, if I could read ‘em!” he laughed heartily. “Alright, go fetch yerself somethin tasty from the baker. Fer once, ye earned it.”

Gnat caught a gold coin flipped from the smith’s hand. Wait…

A gold coin?!

A whole gold?!

“Th-thank you, sir!” sputtered Gnat.

The blacksmith laughed again. “Yea, yea, not gettin’ soft on ye. Gonna expect more ‘o this, boy! Ye just raised the bar!”

Gnat gulped again.

“Go on, shoo! Gotta close up!”

The smith shooed Gnat outside. The boy needed no further encouragement. He went right up to the baker’s shop and showed him the coin. The baker, a mid-sized man, bald, with a huge belly, took one look at it and nearly slapped Gnat.

“Gahh, who’d you rob this time, runt?!” he cursed.

Gnat shook his head fiercely. “No, sir! I earned it!” he frantically indicated the smith, who trotted down the street, a pleased grin spread wide on his face. On his way by the baker’s, he tipped his hat.

“This isn’t a day’s wages, kiddo,” the baker insisted. “But money’s money. What’ll it be?”

Suddenly a wide range of choices assaulted Gnat’s eyes. He’d only ever been able to afford crusty bread, same as what he’d offered Enna. “Uhm, I…”

“Here,” sighed the big man, plopping a basket in front of Gnat. He began loading it with rye, pumpernickel, honey oat, and all manner of selections of mouth-watering bread the boy had never heard of, still warm from the oven. “And if I find out you took these with stolen money, you’ll never eat here again.”

“No, sir!” stammered Gnat. “Th-thank you sir!” He darted out of the shop, steadying the basket, and made for the keep. Metal jangled in his pocket. As he approached the gate, he fished down inside. More money?

No… not money. Something much more precious.

He’d completely forgotten. His mind had wandered to Enna again, trying to find a way out of her predicament. He held long, thin nails with hooks and small indentations on them. Strangest nails he’d ever seen. Did he really make these?

Wait a minute…

They weren’t nails.

Lockpicks!

Quick, put them away!

The guards almost saw him. That would have ended everything! Must… be more careful… He snuck through the keep to his tiny room and secreted the basket away, keeping a few quarter loaves for later.

Gnat emerged from his room to make his rounds and finish up his chores. He groaned at the mountain of polishing that awaited him in the morning. Oh well. It wouldn’t be too long now.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Enna?”

“Enna…! Where are you?”

Darkness. Choking darkness. Stifling silence. Pressing in around him. Gnat struggled to breathe. His ears rang incessantly in the void. Gnat reached out, feeling for the walls. Where were they?! Nothing! He could barely feel the stones under his feet. So much open space. Didn’t make sense! Why had his torch gone out?

Soft loaves of bread weighed in his hand. Useless unless he could find her. He should have marked the passage! Where could she be?

“…”

There!

“…gath…”

She said his name! But where was she?

“Enna!” Gnat bellowed, his cry lost in the hungry silence. Didn’t it echo before? Gnat took off running.

“…please…”

“…help me…”

Skidding around the corner, he finally stumbled upon a crack in the wall that gave way to a slice of moonlight. Shrouded in one of the cells, a crumpled form lay.

“Enna!” Gnat wheezed, out of breath as he held out the bread for her.

The light in her eyes faded out from her lifeless face as Gnat stood helpless.

Gnat’s blood turned to ice.

“ENNA!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gnat gasped, sitting up. A tattered bedsheet clung to his sticky body. He was drenched in sweat, burning with feverish panic. A dream. The wooden bedframe creaked as he gripped it in attempt to steady himself. Just a dream. Ugh. How much of yesterday had been a dream? It all felt so real. He didn’t even remember going to bed.

What in the God’s name was the matter with him? Gnat cursed under his breath. Why was he worried about the welfare of a monster? Wait, hang on. She was real, right? He hadn’t dreamed up the whole day, had he?

Gnat thought about it for a moment. He’d spent almost his whole life depending on others. Baron Lester’s men had arrested him as he attempted to steal from a caravan. Someone spoke up for him at a crucial moment. Instead of throwing him into a dungeon like he had Enna, the Baron turned him over to Horace and other men to train him in menial labor. He was permitted access to the library, where he’d been tutored on the ways of the Order, in hopes that he might join the army someday. He learned of monsters and the threat they posed to humanity.

But, when was the last time someone needed him?

Gnat thought about it. He wracked his drowsy mind for an answer. He found none. No one needed him. Sure, his absence might be cause for annoyance for a little while until some replacements could be found to take up his duties, but that was all. No one’s life depended upon him. He had no family. Nobody would care if he ran afoul of bandits and bled out against the cobblestones.

But this girl…

Gnat could not help but wonder if, had he not found her that night, would she have died?

Her lifeless face blinked across his vision. He shuddered and stood up. Pulling on his pants and shirt, and ensuring the bread remained hidden, he tiptoed outside into the hall, fetched a tankard, and filled it with as much water as it could hold, then made his way into the dungeon.

“Enna!” Gnat called. Ugh. This felt eerily familiar. But this time, he gripped his torch tightly. “Enna!” he shouted. Where could she be? He descended another flight of stairs.

“…”

There!

Gnat paused again. This happened before. No, no, not again… He remembered the way! He took off running, and within seconds, slid around the corner towards Enna’s cell.

“Enna!” he called to her.

The crumpled form in the corner did not move. Gnat’s blood chilled. He cursed, his breath hissing against the cold. “This better not be another nightmare… Enna!!”

She moaned softly.

Gnat gasped. “Enna?”

Her mass of black hair parted as she lifted her head. Twin pricks of electric blue shone back at him, flickering as she blinked.

“…gath…” she spoke softly.

“Enna,” Gnat sighed with relief. “I brought you more water… and lots of food!”

Enna’s eyes brightened, quite literally. She crawled over to him and strained to reach the tankard. As before, she dipped her sleeve into it before beginning to guzzle it.

“Hey there, slow down… you’ll need a bit to wash down all this bread!” he giggled like a young girl and held out one section of the pumpernickel loaf he’d purchased earlier.

Enna glanced up at him, her eyes shining brightly. She carefully plucked the bread from his hand and bit into it. “Mmmm…” she cooed gently, her eyes fluttering half-closed as an expression of rapt ecstasy overtook her. She held back her ravenous hunger as long as she could, to savor the flavors, but hunger soon took hold, and she devoured the bread.

Gnat held out a chunk of honey oat barley. “Try this next?”

Enna’s eyes glittered with tears as she received the bread and forced herself to slowly partake. She took a sip of the tankard, tears drifting across her cheeks as her head tilted back. A sound that seemed like a mixture of sensual delight and choked sadness emanated from her. Gnat’s voice failed him. He held out another piece of bread. Fresh rye. She took it slowly, having finally calmed down, but Gnat still found no words to offer her.

Such a simple thing.

Such a simple little thing.

The offering of food to someone hungry.

Gnat’s heart swelled, the ice melting from his veins. Someone needed him. Someone appreciated him. He wondered if this was how fathers felt when doting upon their children. Or watching over them as they overcame a disease. How could they manage it? This tumultuous onslaught of emotion! Gnat feared it might be the death of him.

“You came back…” Enna cried softly, not bothering to hide her tears.

Gnat smiled bashfully. “Said I would…”

“No one ever comes back.” Enna shook her head.

The smile faded from Gnat’s face. “What do you mean?”

“Don’t remember Mother,” Enna said, coughing to stifle a sob. “Grandmother used to tell me how she worried whenever Mother left, that she might not come back. And when she birthed me, she… she didn’t…”

Enna cried.

Gnat grabbed wildly at the bars of the cell, rattling them, cursing at the lock. “Blast all of the… wait…”

The girl looked up at him, wiping tears from her eyes. Her eyes begged the question.

“I recognize this metalwork,” Gnat remarked as his fingers traced the bars. “I work for the guy that built these bars! Or at least… someone that he trained under. It’s the same technique.”

“What…?” Enna asked softly.

“It’s weird, right?” the boy chuckled, fishing for the lockpicks in his pocket. He thrust one into the lock. “Earlier today, I was able to spot minute details in the metal as I hammered it. Almost like I could shape it with my mind. Never felt anything like it.” He slipped another pick inside and began to work the lock.

Enna watched, enrapt, having forgotten her outburst. She nibbled on the bread, jumping slightly as the lock snapped open. Gnat laughed triumphantly.

“Yes!” he cried. “Amazing! It’s like I could see inside the lock! I’ve never felt anything like this… Did you cast a spell on me or something?”

Oops. Shouldn’t have said that.

Enna recoiled, retreating from Gnat in terror, forgetting even her water as she pressed herself into the furthest corner of the cell. The twin lights of her eyes went out. She must have closed them firmly.

“Enna! I’m sorry!” moaned Gnat. He slowly opened the door and knelt some distance away from her. He held out his hand. “I didn’t mean it… I just thought… maybe it’s nothing…” his arm slumped down to the stones. “It’s just… I thought I felt different today. Maybe it’s just because I… made a new friend.”

One light reignited in the corner. “Friend?” peeped the girl.

Gnat nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! I don’t care what you are. I just… I need a friend… I don’t have anyone, you see? We’re the same… like that.”

The second light did not reappear, but the first remained lit. “Alone…”

“Yes… I mean, people talk to me, but only to give me orders.”

“Orders?”

“’Gnat, wash those dishes! Gnat, fetch me more wine! Gnat, thirty more to meet your quota!’” Gnat did his best to imitate his overseers, but failed to reproduce their underlying menace.

Enna got the idea. Her light went out as she closed her other eye. “I’m sorry…” she moaned sadly.

“Eh?” Gnat cocked his head. “You’re sorry? Why? It’s even worse for you. Right? I mean, people yell at me. But no one talks to you at all.”

Both eyes opened. Enna relaxed slightly, nodding as she tugged her hair out of her face. Gnat gasped softly; at last, he was close enough to her to get a better look at her appearance.

Enna’s figure was nearly nonexistent. She wore sackcloth that consisted of an empty potato sack with holes cut out for her head, arms, and legs. Sleeves had been haphazardly sewn on for her arms, but her legs remained bare. One of the sleeves tore at the hem, exposing her right shoulder. Her bones practically stretched the thin skin against them, and her skin had faded to an eerie slate grey.

Enna’s hollow face captivated Gnat all the same. She bore the face of nobility, with high cheekbones, full lips, and a defiant jaw. Lack of nutrition rent sallow divots into her cheeks. Her puffy lips contained cracks that oozed, and dark circles framed her eyes. All of this framed by voluminous, wiry black hair springing from her head in a black corona around her face, continuing down her back, so long that it that fell to her waist.

“Water…?” the girl implored gently.

Shaken from his reverie, Gnat handed Enna the tankard. The girl finished off the remaining contents, sighing her contented little sigh; her cracked lips curved into a smile briefly.

Gnat’s voice caught in his throat at the sight of Enna’s slight smile. She glanced up at him in alarm, so he did his best to smile back at her. He needn’t have tried so hard. He returned a warm smile of appreciation that appeared to stir her heart momentarily.

But Enna winced and looked away.

“Wait, what’s wrong?” sputtered Gnat. “It’s the first time I’ve seen you really smile…”

“…hurts…” the girl mumbled.

“It hurts to smile?”

Enna nodded, keeping her gaze averted.

“Do… do you mind if I come closer?”

The girl said nothing, but she did squeeze herself even more tightly into a ball. Gnat quietly approached, bracing himself for… what, exactly? He couldn’t stand the sight of blood or disease. Briefly he worried she might be suffering from something awful. But as he drew near, he couldn’t find anything, on the surface anyway.

Enna’s skin looked clear to him, albeit an unnatural bluish-grey. Chalking that up to being isolated in darkness for years, he continued looking over her. She smelled faintly of soil and slightly sweet, like nectar? This puzzled him, and set his mind at ease at the same time. No foul smells meant no disease. Probably. Maybe.

Gnat marveled at Enna’s hair. So thick and voluminous, yet hopelessly tangled and frizzy, catching in sticky clumps from being laid upon and tossed about for so long. It was jet black, so black that in dry sections, it absorbed his torch light. The moist sections were glossy and slick. Briefly, Gnat imagined what she might look like all cleaned up. A stunning beauty, slender and shapely, having eaten her fill and recovered. Her hair tumbled across her shoulders, soft, glossy, black waves framing her face and cascading down her back. Lightning-blue eyes piercing the hearts of all who gazed upon her noble, high-borne face.

Gnat sighed softly, his cheeks coloring as shyness crept into his face. He averted his eyes.

Enna sensed this and looked up at him. “What…?” she asked softly. “Are you… well?” she timidly inquired as a shackled hand reached up to him.

In his surprise, Gnat caught her hand before she touched his face. She reacted, trying to pull away, but Gnat’s shock at the state of her arm held her fast in his grip. “By the Gods…” he cursed softly, turning her trembling wrist over to inspect it.

The rusty shackle clung bitterly to the girl’s arm, ringing her flesh with ugly black, purple, and red. A sickly-sweet coppery scent assailed Gnat’s nose. Blood… “Enna…”

Enna made a soft whimper but said nothing.

“You’re in misery but asked me if I’m well?”

Fresh tears welled up in the girl’s shining eyes.

New purpose surged within Gnat. “Let’s get these off of you,” he offered. “Do you want me to take them off?”

Enna slowly withdrew her hand and gazed down at the shackle. “It’s… my… my…”

“Your…?”

“My punishment.”

“For what?” asked Gnat, appalled.

“For doing something I shouldn’t,” she admitted.

“Please tell me?” prompted Gnat.

Enna opened her eyes and looked right into him. Nearly through him. “Why?” Her simple question conjured many others in Gnat’s mind.

“Because something similar happened to me,” the boy explained. “But no one threw me in here. They could have, but…”

“No,” interrupted Enna.

Enna’s eyes remained on him. The longest her gaze stuck so far. Gnat fidgeted. “No?” he asked.

“Why do you care?”

Gnat sat back on his haunches. Enna’s gaze remained on him. Followed him. This wasn’t some curiosity. It was a soul-seeking, destiny-changing, heart-moving sort of question. He needed to choose his next words carefully. Very carefully.

Gnat gulped. Enna’s gaze never wavered from him. She remained curled in her fetal position, but, save for a few blinks, her eyes burned steady holes in his mind. Pinpricks of light in the darkness. Questions probing the unknown. Calls for help in an empty world. Gnat’s heart bled at the sight.

Images appeared unbidden before him. He saw it, the caravan, loaded with food and supplies and bound for Baron Lester’s castle. The Baron’s niece, Alexi, had just announced her betrothal to a neighboring realm. A celebration was to take place in commemoration of her decision. Wagons and carts trudged up the pathway to the castle every day that week. Well-defended wagons and carts. The Baron loved his niece, and took her safety and security seriously.

Gnat stood by the side of the road, watching them go by, as his hollow stomach ached. He coughed softly at the dust the wheels stirred up. He held his nostrils together against the rank stench of the sweaty horses and unwashed men cracking whips to urge the steeds forward. Soldiers with steel spears and sturdy shields walked apace, their armor dusty and their tabards fraying and brown from their journey.

But at least they had something to look forward to at the end of their path. Gnat had nothing. No path. No duty. No purpose. Just another street urchin annoying merchants and travelers. He peered this way and that, looking for an opening in the soldiers. Nothing! He bit his lip in frustration at their efficiency. There had to be something. Someone. Just one of the soldiers too tired to keep his eyes on the path. Maybe one who started celebrating early, having palmed a jug off of one of the carts with an advance of his pay.

There.

He heard a sigh. A groan. One of the merchants covering a gap where a soldier should have been. He held a sword unsteadily in his left hand, and mopped his brow with a rag in his right. Gnat had to be quick. He took off down the alley to a spot where the caravan would need to round a curve, creating a blind spot in the line. As the merchant came into view, Gnat waited for the man to mop his sotted brow, and made his move.

The boy darted beneath the cart, carefully moving along with it, keeping pace. He turned his head and reached up. A trick one of the other urchins taught him. Carefully pull down an unsteady floorboard in the wagon. Reach in, and grab what you can. Gnat tugged down a board, and it snapped off in his hands.

Stifling a gasp, he looked around, continuing to walk with the wagon, hoping no one heard that. Luck remained on his side. He carefully stuck the board somewhere above the wheel well, and poked his head up into the opening he’d made.

His mind reeled.

Food!

Food everywhere!

Fresh apples. Ripe oranges. Berries. Had to reach and… what was in the box… oh! Salted pork! His hands gripped soft, moist heaven. Tugging some meat out of the enclosure, he began to munch upon it. His tongue quivered with delight; such a treat had not once graced his wildest imagination. Quickly thirsting from the salt, he grabbed at an orange and bit an opening into the rime. Fresh, tart juice burst into his mouth, mingling with the pork. He quite nearly swooned at the sensation. The wagon creaked, turning again.

Had to be quick! They must be nearing the castle. He reached in through the opening, grabbed more meat and as many oranges as he could stuff into his pockets. The wagon hit a small rut, and Gnat heard a grinding sound.

Nah. Probably nothing. Stuffing his face full of meat, he began to look for a way out. The grinding sound worried him, so he glanced back.

The meat nearly fell from his mouth.

The plank!

Somehow it had gotten lodged into the spokes of the wheel, and one of the nails within the plank had scraped a spiraling shape into the axle. There was nothing he could do but watch in horror as the axle split. The cart tilted as the wheel rolled away, and the floor of it opened up over top of him.

Food!

Food! …everywhere. Oh no!

Gnat struggled, but pork was heavy. Especially when an entire sow’s worth was sitting on his chest. Fruit and barrels rolled everywhere as the entire cart fell apart on top of him. Weight increased, but he never felt afraid. To die amongst a mountain of food didn’t seem like a bad way to go. But for the pain in his leg and ribs, he might have fallen asleep.

But the shouting, that did wonders for keeping Gnat awake. In sadly no time at all, the men cleared the mess off of him and had him in irons. They took all the food from him and forced him to walk alongside a soldier the rest of the way up. At least they couldn’t take the food he’d already eaten. Silver lining.

Once at the castle proper, the Baron, a tall, sinewy man, stormed out to greet the caravan. Or what was left of it. Apparently, from the cursing and shouting of the men, and the Baron’s icy replies, Gnat had managed to startle several horses and cause damage to over a dozen wagons, not to mention the one he personally wrecked.

It would be the gallows for him for sure.

Or maybe the dark dungeon. For eternity. That was also an option.

But then he saw her. The Baron’s niece, Alexi. Golden blonde curls, lightly tanned face, moist, pink lips. And sapphire eyes. She approached in a ruffled bell of a gown of pastel pinks and blues, fanning herself with a gloved hand and lacy, folding fan. The entire entourage, Baron Lester included, fell silent at her arrival.

She asked someone what happened. No one answered.

It took Gnat a moment to realize the girl had asked him.

He looked up at her radiant beauty and words failed to form in his mouth. She didn’t smile. She merely repeated her question, and trailed it with a, “Why?”

“I… I was hungry,” Gnat lamely replied, his eyes falling to the dusty ground.

“So, you thought to lash out at me for my celebration?” Alexi asked, nonchalantly.

Gnat gasped, summoning the courage to look up at her. He shook his head fiercely. “No! That’s not true!”

“How dare you address the lady in such a manner?!” shouted one of the soldiers. Judging from the marks on his tabard, he was in charge.

“Quiet!” snapped Alexi, her head turned to him, deep blue eyes narrowed in irritation. “My uncle will deal with you shortly,” she promised brusquely. She regained her composure to look back at Gnat. “’No,’ you said?” she prompted him.

Gnat swallowed, the pork he’d eaten sagging like a lump in his gut. “I didn’t mean any harm, miss. Honest! I was just going to borrow some food and leave…”

“You mean, ‘steal.’” Alexi corrected him.

Some of the men chuckled and whispered to themselves.

“Quiet!” hissed the girl. To Gnat, she demanded, “Answer me.”

“Yes, my lady…” cried Gnat.

“If you cannot be honest in what you do, your life means nothing,” the girl told him. There was no compassion in her words. But no anger, either. Gnat struggled to read her.

“Been hungry for so long, miss…” sobbed Gnat. “Saw the wagons… knew there’d be food. Didn’t think you’d miss it… I’m tiny… I don’t eat much…”

Alexi did not avert her gaze or wither from his words. She stood her ground, and no one dared intervene. Not even her uncle. “And why do you not work for your meals like everyone else?”

“Everyone…?” Gnat looked up at her. He said more with his eyes than he dared with his lips.

Those standing around understood the implication, based on the quiet gasps. Alexi did not falter, however. “If, by your implication, you mean me, I assure you, I have pledged my life to our cause. The safety of the realm, and, by extension, your safety, hinges on my betrothal to Lord Camden.”

She had a point, Gnat begrudgingly admitted. “Are you going to kill me?” he figured he’d ask.

Alexi shifted her fan to the side and rested her hand on her hip. “Is that what you want?”

She’d asked in such a businesslike manner, Gnat wondered for a moment if she’d mocked him. But none of her previous mannerisms suggested fondness for that sort of cruelty.

“No, my lady,” said the boy.

“What do you want?” she pressed.

“To not be hungry, my lady.”

“Are you willing to work, as I do? As we all do?”

Gnat looked up at her and nodded. “Yes, my lady.”

Alexi returned to fanning herself as she turned to the baron. “That’s settled, then. Put him with the rest of the staff. Train him.”

“And what of the mess he made, my dear?” Baron Lester inquired gently.

Raising an arched eyebrow, Alexi turned back to the mangled caravan. “So, you’re telling me, a scrawny boy like him, managed all of this destruction, by himself?”

No one answered.

Alexi stared icy daggers at the captain of the caravan. “Well?”

The captain harrumphed, but said nothing else.

“How disturbing,” Alexi sighed. “If one boy can bring your company to its knees, how could you possibly contend with the threat of the monsters?” she asked icily.

“My lady…” the captain protested.

Alexi scoffed. “You’re a disgrace. Get out of my sight.”

The captain stared with pure malice at Gnat as he turned away. The boy gulped nervously.

“I leave the rest to you, uncle,” Alexi said softly as she made her way back inside.

Gnat wondered if she’d turn around on her way back in, but she paid him no further mind.

That was the only time anyone had ever shown him the slightest bit of compassion. Or was it really compassion? The girl gave him a chance, but still expected him to do his part. Was that wrong? It was the only aspect of his life that got him by. He never stopped wondering about her, long after she’d departed for Lord Camden’s lands.

Electric blue eyes gleamed at him. Filled with tears. Still awaiting his reply.

“Because you’re me,” Gnat said at last. “You’re the me that would have been, if I’d never been given a second chance. I stole before. Because I thought life wasn’t fair. But… Someone was there for me. To stop me from getting what I deserved.”

“Alexi…” whispered the girl.

Ice shot through Gnat’s blood as he gasped. “You know about that?”

“You showed me…” said Enna, confusion knotting her brow.

Gnat wracked his mind. While reliving the encounter, had he been speaking? “I… I don’t remember saying…” he sputtered. “Did I? Why don’t I remember…”

Enna shook her head. “You didn’t tell me. You showed me.” She tapped the side of one of her eyes. That’s when Gnat realized. Enna’s eyes weren’t black anymore. A milky white had dispersed through the sclera, and, if not for the glowing irises, she looked relatively normal.

“My memory,” Gnat said. “You saw it too?”

Enna nodded, tears falling from her eyes as she did so.

“How?

Enna’s gaze finally averted for a moment, but then fixed back on him. She shook her head. She didn’t know.

“I’m you?” Enna reminded him of his words. “You said, I am you.”

“Yes,” Gnat replied. “But there was no Alexi for you. I don’t know if she did it out of kindness, or duty. But without her, I’d either be dead, or… in here.”

“That… is why… you care?” Enna implored.

Gnat reached inside himself for the answer. Nothing came to mind. He honestly couldn’t explain it. “I… I don’t know…” he admitted. “Besides her, no one’s ever cared about me. When I see you… you didn’t get a second chance. But I can give you that. You deserve that!”

“No, I don’t,” Enna shook her head, gritting her teeth and lowering her gaze.

“What…?” Gnat asked gently. “Why would you say that?” He reached for her hand.

Enna withdrew sharply.

“Please tell me…” Gnat felt tears welling up in his own eyes.

“You told Alexi you didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” Enna muttered, huddling against the wall.

“That’s right.”

“But I did!” cried Enna, turning to shout at him. Her eyes shone like twin suns, the sclera having filled with inky black.

The sight nearly terrified Gnat. Nearly. Were it not for the tears falling freely from the girl’s face, he’d have thought her murderous. Or was she?

“Huh?” he asked dumbly.

“I wanted to hurt them!” Enna screamed. “I wanted them to die!” She crumpled in on herself, lightly pounding her small fist on the stony floor. Her chained shackle rattled and clanged with the effort.

“Please… tell me?” Gnat pleaded, resting his hand on her bony shoulder.

Enna twitched, brushing her hair out of her face as she looked up. “You’ll hate me,” she said, defeat choking her voice. “I’m going to lose you.”

Gnat bristled at the challenge. He shook his head defiantly. “No. I won’t. I don’t care what you’ve done. You regret it now, right?”

Enna burst into uncontrolled sobbing. Gnat gathered her up into his arms, and this time, she did not fight him. “Can’t…” she cried, “Didn’t want… Just wanted…” she tried to say as she fought her emotions for breath.

“You said I showed you Alexi?” Gnat asked her gently, cradling her body in his arms. She was light. Far, far too light. He worried he might break her fragile frame if he gripped her too tightly.

Enna nodded, her wracking sobs preventing her from speaking.

“Can you show me what happened to you?”

The girl’s sobbing paused briefly. She uncurled in his lap and sat up to face him. “I… I don’t know…” she admitted, wiping her eyes. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I trust you,” he assured her, holding her steady by her shoulders.

“Then, I’ll try,” she promised. Enna rested her thin fingers on each side of Gnat’s face. As she allowed her eyes to fall half-closed, milky white melted into them again.

Gnat gasped!

Suddenly, he was somewhere else. A home. An actual home. A warm, gentle fire crackled in the hearth next to him. The smell of burning oak and roasting chestnuts soothed his nose. He looked down, noticed fabric. Simple, white cotton pooled around him. A… dress? He reached across the hearth and carefully plucked out a chestnut.

“Ennui, don’t spoil your appetite,” an older woman scolded from across the room.

Gnat glanced her way. Of course. It worked. Enna was showing him her memories. He was observing from her point of view. For the moment, he was Enna. He calmly observed Enna’s grandmother. A stately woman that belied her simple status, she carried herself like nobility. She stood straight with perfect posture, elegant poise. High cheekbones, heart-shaped face. Ah. Enna looked much like her. Younger, of course, but Gnat could definitely see the resemblance. Her greyed hair was neat, carefully cultured, and tied in intricate knots and braids, looping in on each other. Gnat marveled at it. Must have taken hours to perform.

But she’d had help. Enna sensed him thinking about it, and snapped to a flashback of her helping her grandmother braid it. Her small, nimble fingers easily worked the strands, tugging them into beautiful knots. When she finished, her grandmother turned her around towards the mirror and worked on Enna’s jet-black locks.

Gnat looked hard and long through Enna’s eyes at her own reflection. She was young. Very young. Still chubby with baby fat, and so very adorable. Rosy cheeks set high in a cute, heart-shaped face with bright blue-green eyes, intelligent eyebrows, and tiny pink lips. Even at this age, her hair grew down her back, wavy and glossy, just as Gnat had imagined it. Enna’s grandmother kept most of it free, expertly tying braids along the sides to keep the rest of it out of her face while adding some decoration and flourish. She clipped a small lotus against the side of Enna’s left temple.

Gnat heard himself say, in Enna’s young voice, “But this one’s yours, Gram.”

“Not today, sweetling,” her grandmother replied gently. “Today’s special. It’s your birthday.”

Gnat gasped in Enna’s voice. “Oh!” she squealed. “Does that mean I get the sparkles!?”

“We’ve talked about that, Ennui,” the grandmother said a little more sternly. Just a little.

“Pleaaaaase?” begged Enna.

Grandmother sighed. “Oh, very well,” she relented.

“Yaaaay!” cheered Enna. “Sparkles!”

Grandmother reached up and slipped a key into a high shelf, opening a tiny cabinet that looked like part of the wall at first glance. She reached inside and withdrew a leaded vial stopped with a cork. Inside, pearlescent light flittered about. Carefully, Grandmother uncorked the vial and dipped in her index finger. It came out covered in glitter. Not just any glitter, though.

Young Enna didn’t recognize it. Today’s Enna didn’t even recognize it. But Gnat did.

Fairy dust.

Very expensive.

Very illegal, especially in this hyper-superstitious part of the realm. Fairies were monsters. Tiny, very cute monsters, but still monsters. Prized for their magic dust, they were often captured and sold on the black market. Skilled humans could use the dust to grant themselves temporary magical abilities, even if they had none to start with.

This revelation hit Enna very hard. Gnat felt her stiffen in his lap. The vision wavered. He calmly patted her, hugging her gently, and the vision she afforded him steadied.

“We must be careful not to tell anyone, sweetling,” Grandmother told her. Gnat felt Enna nod gently. Grandmother carefully spread the dust across her fingertips and wove a slight glamour into the air, which she directed at Enna.

Enna gasped, turning to the mirror. The spell settled in her hair, making individual strands glitter and glisten. She smiled, holding out several locks to stroke them. The glitter shone as it was lovingly stroked, its power intensifying under her gentle brushing.

“Thank you, gram!” Gnat hugged the woman with Enna’s tiny arms.

“Go sit by the fire, dear,” Grandmother patted Enna’s head lovingly.

The vision snapped back to where Enna started off. She sat by the fire, lazily munching on chestnuts, careful not to let her grandmother see, while she played with the sparkles in her hair.

A knock at the door made Enna twitch. She stopped fiddling with her hair and stuffed the chestnut she was holding into her dress pocket. Her grandmother strode up to the door and opened it.

Suddenly, the house became a frenzy of activity. Very unpleasant activity. Men in armor and uniform poured into the small house. Enna gasped, darting off into her grandmother’s bedroom. Voices traveled through the wooden walls. Angry voices. Muffled. Gnat couldn’t make them out. He huddled in the corner inside Enna’s tiny body, counting the seconds until someone came for her.

The door burst open.

“Find her! Find the girl!”

“Look under the bed!”

“Over there, in the corner! Anything?”

A frustrated man knelt right in front of a terrified Enna. She clutched her hair and dress, pressing her face into the opposite wall. Waited. Any second, now, the man would grab her.

But he didn’t.

“Nothing here, sir!”

“She must be outside,” grumbled the man in charge. “Go find her!”

All of the men trudged out of the room.

Enna started to breathe again, gasping as her tearful eyes scanned the room. Her little hands shook as she opened them. Balled-up strands of hair stuck to her sweaty palms. The glitter…

The glitter in her hair was fading. Little lights winking out.

Little Enna began to work out what Gnat already knew.

The Fairy magic… It had cast an illusion, blocking her from the eyes of the men. To them, it was as if she wasn’t even there.

Enna let out a strangled cry as she realized this. Carefully creeping over to the door, she peeked out. The men were gone. So was her grandmother. Chilly air poured into the room; the men left the front door wide open. Enna crept up to it and closed it.

Peeking into the kitchen, she found an uncooked cake her grandmother had been making for the girl’s birthday. She climbed up and poked her finger into the gooey batter, popping it into her mouth as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Gram…” cried Enna. “Gram!” she sobbed, hiding her face in her arms on the table.

The vision shifted. Time passed. Gnat wondered how long Enna had sat there sobbing. She couldn’t have been more than six or seven years old. Such an awful experience for someone so young to endure. He could feel hot tears burning into his shirt from the real Enna in his arms. He patted her hair gently, not knowing what else to do.

Gnat expected the images she presented him to fade, but she maintained the vision. Little Enna sat up slowly, wiping her bleary eyes and sniffling. She shivered; the hearth had long gone out, and a cheerless gloom hung over the darkening house. She crept back into her grandmother’s room and climbed up onto the high shelf. Her grandmother had forgotten to remove the key. It remained stuck in the wall.

Enna reached up and opened the little hidden door. Reaching inside, she found the vial with the Fairy dust inside. Tipping the vial onto her open palm, she poured out a liberal amount of the stuff, which mingled with her falling tears. The dust stuck quickly to her sweaty palm. As she corked the vial and stuffed it into her pocket, she squeezed her other hand into a fist, then rubbed both palms together.

“Please…” cried Enna. “Please help me find my gram… please…”

Enna gasped as the Fairy magic activated and overwhelmed her. Gnat cringed at the sensation, for he worried she’d used far too much. A thick mist burst from Enna’s body, filling the room instantly. Pressure built up quickly. The windows shattered, and the doors flung open as enchanted fog gushed from the house and into the town. Gasping, Enna rubbed tears from her eyes, inadvertently spreading Fairy dust into them from her stained fingers. A tingling sensation filled her eyes, and the cloying gloom of the mist parted before renewed sight. The mist carried a warming effect, and soothed the chill of the coming night.

Enna darted out of the house, her vision clear. Everyone else stumbled about, grumbling about the rapid descent of the fog as they stumbled about trying to find shelter. Enna took off towards the only place she could think of that the soldiers would have taken her grandmother.

The Castle.

The vision shifted as Enna ran through the streets. Gnat found himself standing before the gate. It was firmly closed. He pounded on it with Enna’s tiny fists.

A side door opened and a soldier stepped out, coughing and flicking his hand this way and that in a vain attempt to peer through the mist. He looked in Enna’s direction but shrugged and went back inside. Enna darted in after him.

“Idiot!” yelled another man as mist poured into the room. “Keep the door closed! This fog’s unnatural! There’s magic at work here…”

Then men looked around, but just as before, none of them saw Enna. She made her way through the gate room and slipped out the back, into the courtyard, which had already filled up with more fog through the portcullis. Darting through the courtyard, she searched for a way inside the castle proper.

“Oi, who goes there?” shouted a man with a long pike guarding the main entrance.

Enna froze.

“Come on, then. Make yourself known!”

The girl gulped but said nothing.

“What are you shouting at?” his comrade called.

“Thought I heard something.”

“This mist has us all on edge.”

“That it has. Got something to take my mind off it, then?”

“News from the front.”

“That’s the ticket.” The first knight turned away from his post to chat with the other. Enna crept closer. They spoke of civil unrest from neighboring lands and encroaching demon realms from further off. None of this made sense to little Enna, so she carefully opened the door behind the chatting knights.

“OI!” shouted one of them. For a split second, he spotted the girl as she darted inside.

“That’s the granddaughter!” the other cried. “How did she get here?”

The knights rushed into the hall but Enna had too much of a head start, and already propagated enough of the mist to conceal her passage. The mist, filling out before her, seemed to spread with a mind of its own, preferring certain passages through the halls. Enna followed it and it led her to the entrance of what Gnat recognized as a trial chamber. The guards drew their swords at the mist’s approach.

“Hark!” cried one. “Sound the alarm! The mist has reached the inner halls!”

The doors burst open and soldiers piled out. Enna backed away and pressed herself against a wall as they charged past her. The mist made its way into the room beyond. Enna followed it, carefully weaving her way through the men.

There!

Enna spied her grandmother standing in front of a podium, her arms shackled to the plinth. Baron Lester stood next to a judge presiding over her. Various other men were also in attendance, having stood with looks of concern as the mist spread into the room.

“Is this your doing?” Baron Lester demanded of Enna’s grandmother.

Gram said nothing.

“There is no point in denying it,” the Baron pressed. “The court has already reached its verdict.”

Gram stared defiantly at him and shook her head. “You have always feared the unknown, stifling yet another source of knowledge along with many other opportunities to come your way.”

“Your impetuous use of evil magic in my lands cannot be tolerated, surely you know this,” the Baron replied. A slight tinge of irritation showed in his voice, but he maintained control and spoke calmly, despite his harsh words.

“You accuse me of evil, yet you keep your own pet wizard by your side to use as you see fit,” Gram countered, staring pointedly at a man behind the Baron, who stepped into Enna’s view.

Black, slicked hair, thick moustache mingled with a stately beard lent the man an imposing presence as it matched well with his dark, violet robes and golden inlays. “Just as magic can be easily corrupted by monsters, so too can monsters be taught to fear power they have taken for granted.” The man spoke with a deep baritone, his imperious voice filling the room.

Gnat swallowed hard. He recognized that man. Grand Magus Desmond Volus, a wandering mage who harbored a deep mistrust and distaste for monsters and demons. He enjoyed rooting them out where they lived and turning their own mamono energy against them, while remaining aloof and unaffected by the allure of the monsters themselves.

No one knew how.

As such, monsters avoided him at any cost.

Champions of the Order regarded him as a hero. Others saw him as heaven-sent, a guardian of the Chief God and not fully human. Powerful and dispassionate, his word was obeyed without question.

But Gnat knew better. No man could be heaven-sent and yet still harbor such hatred in his heart. He’d heard the stories. Men and knights would talk about how Lord Volus could poison the spirit energy of a monster’s life mate, turning him against her. The resulting shock brought endless suffering upon the monster and could be lethal. Often times, other monsters would rush to her defense and drive his magic away, but not before a great deal of suffering took place.

There was no doubt in his mind. Lord Volus was evil. Pure, heartless evil. Gnat was fearful of monsters just as much as the next person, but no one deserved Volus’ poisonous brand of wrath. No one.

Enna’s vision continued, bolstered by Gnat’s thoughts.

The Baron sighed. “We knew someone was practicing forbidden arts in town. That is why I sent for Lord Volus. No need for a bloody witch hunt when he can trace the source in a matter of hours. So, I will ask you again. Is this mist of your doing?”

“It does not appear so,” Volus answered first.

The mist pooled at their feet. The men trembled; nervous shouting ensued.

“Order!” snapped the judge. “There will be ORDER in this room!”

“Calm yourselves,” Volus’ deadly voice rang out. “It is mere Fairy magic.”

His cold, intelligent grey eyes scanned the room, resting on Enna’s location.

The girl gasped, moving to the wall to hide. But the wizard’s eyes followed her!

“There,” he pointed, his robe sliding down his wrist, revealing many baubles and rings upon his hand.

The soldiers approached a terrified Enna. Her grandmother looked in her direction. “Ennui, run!” she hissed.

But Enna’s legs wouldn’t move. She looked down and cried at the sight. Vines wrapped around her feet at the twirling of Volus’ fingers. She couldn’t tell if they were real or not, but they sure felt real enough. She held out her hand to stave off the men.

The soldiers paused and backed off. “Great God!” one of them shouted, swinging his sword at the mist. “There’s something else alive in here!”

Volus sighed with impatience and tossed a small pouch at one of the men. “Use this!”

The knight caught it and flung the contents at Enna.

“Noooo!” cried the girl, coughing and sputtering. The dust scattered all over her, dissolving her illusion like acid.

“You beasts!” hissed Gram. Power surrounded her, shattering the chains binding her and knocking everyone back. Most of the men found themselves on their haunches. She picked up a sword from the ground. With it, she pointed at Baron Lester. With the other, she held a ward active against Volus.

The mist began to dissipate with Enna’s control having been lost. The men paused in their advance, eying Gram’s sword warily.

“Let my granddaughter go,” she ordered.

Enna cried out. The vines crawled up her legs.

Gram glanced back at her. That momentary distraction was all Volus needed.

Power slammed into her, knocking her off her feet and into the far wall, where magic reshaped the metal in the beams into massive shackles that firmly held her by her wrists, feet, and neck. The sword clattered to the floor.

“Impressive,” Volus said approvingly. “Very impressive. Under different circumstances, I would be interested in making you my apprentice.”

“Go to Hell,” cursed Gram.

“Eloquently put, my lady,” Volus chuckled. “We each make our own Hell. I’m do hope you will enjoy yours.”

“What should we do with her?” Baron Lester asked.

“I sense a great deal of demonic energy having tainted her magic,” said the mage. “I count myself surprised she has retained her human form for so long. It certainly does not appear she has become a monster. But it is only a matter of time.”

“But what should we do? To the stake like we would a witch?” pressed the Baron.

Gnat’s blood ran cold. Enna shivered in his arms.

“No,” countered Volus. “If you kill her, I fear she would merely escape Hell like the rest of the monsters that plague our lands. Remand her into my custody. She will need to be properly exorcized before being put to rest.”

“Nooooo!” screamed little Enna. “Please! Don’t hurt Gram!!”

“As for this one,” muttered Volus, pensively stroking his beard as he approached the girl, “There may yet be hope for her. Seal her in isolation. Iron. Iron is the way to expunge Fairy magic. Shackle her in the deepest chamber you possess. I trust you are capable of managing this on your own? I have quite the task with this one here.”

Raising his hand, Volus commanded the metal to choke off Gram’s air until she passed out, and then released her. The soldiers bound her and carried her off, with Volus and his sweeping, black cloak right behind them.

The vision blurred as soldiers set upon little Enna. She stuffed her hand into her pocket for the vial of Fairy dust, but one of the men grabbed at it as well. He held tightly, but the terrified Enna summoned all of her strength and more. The vial cracked and shattered in her hand, forcing a yelp of pain from her.

Soldiers quickly doused the released Fairy dust with the powder Volus gave them. The last of the glitter darkened before Enna’s teary eyes. Her hand throbbed, dripping blood. Some glitter remained, but most of it had escaped and been destroyed.

The men dragged her away.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Enna sobbed, shaking in Gnat’s arms as the vision melted away. Her hands fell from his face where she’d been holding him. The boy blinked his eyes against the darkness. “So that’s how you got thrown in here…”

Enna’s skeletal frame shook with sobs. “I wanted to hurt them… I knew I could… I wanted to kill them. All of them. I wanted them to die.

“But they used that dust on you,” Gnat said. “Probably iron powder. That could dispel Fairy magic.”

“No… it wasn’t enough…” sniffled Enna, gazing up at him. “I could have fought through it. But the magic. It was like… it didn’t want to.”

“Didn’t want to what?”

“Didn’t want to hurt them.”

Gnat’s face paled in shock. “Wait, what?”

“That man…”

“Volus?”

Enna shuddered. “Yes. His magic was cruel. His magic hurt Gram. I wanted mine to do that. To hurt those men. But it… the magic… didn’t want to.”

Gnat scratched the back of his head pensively. “Huh. Well, Fairy magic is pretty defensive in nature. I’ve studied it a bit. You can cast illusions and scare people, but that’s about it.”

Enna shook her head. “No… it was something else. When I tried to hurt them, the magic just… left me. Even though I felt some of it go into my cuts.”

For some reason, Gnat had the urge to check Enna’s hand to make sure it healed properly. Surprisingly, when he turned it over, he found no evidence at all of the injury. Strange.

“He was wrong about Gram,” sniffled Enna. “She wasn’t evil. He was evil. He could hurt her with his magic!”

“This is so strange,” admitted Gnat. “My tutors taught me monsters were ravenous, pitiless wretches that tempted men into abandoning their faith and corrupted entire realms with their dark magic.”

“What did they say about Fairies?”

“Tiny childish monsters, cute in appearance, but troublemakers that used their spells to lure men into their realm and feast upon them.”

“That’s wrong,” Enna said.

“I agree, and I wanted to learn how to stop them, so I studied about—”

“No!” interrupted Enna, clutching Gnat’s shirt. “What you learned… that’s what’s wrong!”

“Huh?”

“My Gram told me stories,” Enna explained. “About how Fairies lived before monsters even existed. They do have their own little realm, but they live peacefully there! Some of them later learned how to be monsters. But they don’t hurt anyone! The monster ones just changed the games they play…”

“Changed how?” Gnat asked, fascinated.

“Umm…” Enna blushed slightly. “I don’t actually know. Gram wouldn’t tell me. She said, ‘I’ll tell you when you’re older.’ She said that a lot about monsters. No amount of my begging would get her to tell me.”

“Somehow, I doubt I would be able to get the historian to tell me, either,” sighed Gnat.

“So…” Enna squirmed, still curled in Gnat’s lap. “Do you hate me now?”

“What?” Gnat asked, taken aback. “Of course not! Wanting to do something bad and actually doing it are completely different!”

Enna said nothing, her eyes difficult to read as milk and ink swirled within them.

“Do you… still want to?”

“What?”

“Hurt them.”

Enna sighed, averting her mysterious eyes. “For a long time, I did. But then I realized, there was no point hating them. They don’t care if I hate them or not. I doubt they even remember I am down here. So, I gave up hating them. I just wish…”

“Wish what?” Gnat prompted.

“I wish I knew what happened to Gram. I wish I could stop Volus.”

“Do you want to hurt him?”

“No…” sighed Enna. “That’s what he expects. He needs to learn, there is a better way.”

Gnat gazed at her in shock. “Enna, that’s incredible…” he said softly. “I don’t think I’d ever be able forgive someone like that.”

Enna looked up at him. “Down here with nothing, it just became too hard to hate. It ate away at my insides. I wasn’t able to do it anymore. If it weren’t for Gram, I would just try to forget that man.”

Neither of them spoke for a little while.

Finally, Enna asked again, “So you don’t hate me?”

“No,” said Gnat firmly, squeezing her shoulders for effect. “I think you’re amazing.”

Milk swirled into Enna’s eyes, washing away the ink. She smiled slightly, tears threatening the corners of her stunning eyes. Her hands rested on Gnat’s arms. Suddenly, the boy felt nervous. He realized, actually realized, he had a girl sitting in his lap. Their faces were nearly touching. Had been for a while, but he hadn’t noticed, so keen on following her vision. He’d never been this close to a girl before. He wondered if he should let her go.

“Thank you…” he heard her say.

And then she kissed him.

Gnat’s eyes flew open. Wide open. Enna’s eyes slowly closed as she pressed her lips into his. Her arms encircled his shoulders. Poor Gnat had no idea what to do. He tried mimicking her action. He wound his arms around her shoulders, nearly losing his hands in her hair. She was so tiny! Her thin body nearly disappeared in his embrace, but she definitely made her presence felt as she gently pressed against him.

Strange sensations filled Gnat. His chest tightened. His skin flushed. His eyes drifted closed on their own. The smell and taste of Enna filled his mind. Belying her trembling body, she tasted… warm. Gentle. Like the bread he’d offered her earlier. There was a slight coppery taste as well, a touch of blood from her cracked lips. He didn’t mind.

Someone needed him.

Someone needed him.

The thought of it both delighted and terrified Gnat. He decided to push aside the terror and enjoy the delight for the time being. Their lips drifted apart, but the delight remained. Enna smiled despite the pain of doing so.

“Thank you…” she said again.

Enna slowly removed herself from Gnat’s embrace, idly scratching her wrists. Gnat looked after her, feeling oddly empty at having her withdraw. “For what?” he asked.

“You… you understand,” she said simply, yet her tone carried profound meaning. “Like Gram.”

For the umpteenth time, Gnat found himself shocked. This girl, who he didn’t even know before yesterday, equated him with the only other person in the world that ever cared about her. His mind struggled to accept it.

“I only hope I could grow up to be someone like her,” he admitted finally.

Enna giggled. Actually giggled! “Oh, she’d adore you,” giggled Enna.

Ahh. Her soft giggle. Something so simple, it banished the darkness and rebuked the gloom of the room and outlying dungeon. Oddly enough, it did so literally, not just metaphorically. Gnat glanced around in wonder, able to see much better than he had only an hour ago.

“Are you alright?” Enna asked him, noticing his reaction as she scratched her wrist where the shackle held it.

Gnat cocked his head quizzically at her. “Am I alright?” His eyes chanced upon her wrist. “Wait, why are you scratching your wrist?”

Enna stopped. She shrugged. “Because it itches.”

“Let’s get them off you, then,” Gnat offered.

The girl looked uncertain about that. Gnat reached for her hand, and she let him take it. He turned Enna’s hand over to check, and sighed.

“What is it?” she asked.

Hot anger burned behind Gnat’s eyes. Enna sensed it and recoiled from him. “Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s just that… Enna, these shackles aren’t designed to come off.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean there’s no keyhole. I need a hammer and chisel to break them off.”

“Oh…”

“Enna, do you understand?”

She stared down at her hands. “Well, yes?”

Gnat shook his head. “I don’t think you do. They never had any plans of letting you go. They were leaving you down here to die.”

Enna thought about that for a moment, letting it sink in. “I wish I could say I was surprised,” admitted the girl.

“But you’re not angry?”

“I lost the strength for that a long time ago,” she sighed.

“I guess I’ll have to be angry for both of us, then,” offered Gnat.

Enna looked up at him and shook her head. “No. Hating those who hate won’t stop the hate.”

Again, Gnat marveled at her composure. But what she asked seemed impossible. “Ugh, Enna. I don’t know if I can. Injustice makes me angry.”

Enna’s stare pierced Gnat’s very soul. “Did you get what you deserved when you ruined the caravan?”

“No, not really,” Gnat ruefully admitted.

“Why not?”

“Because Lady Alexi stopped them.”

Enna nodded with a slight smile. “So, be Alexi.”

“I’ll… I’ll try,” Gnat promised.

Enna smiled.

Then she kissed him again.

All at once, Gnat’s anger left him. Enna was all that mattered. If he could learn to fight injustice with compassion, he would do it. For Enna. His mind reeled with the acceptance of the challenge, but his heart swelled in response. He gently brushed Enna’s face as the kiss ended and stroked her lower lip with his thumb. She winced slightly at the slight pain this caused.

“I have to go,” Gnat said sadly. “But I’ll come back tomorrow with a hammer and chisel to get these off of you. And some medicine for that lip.”

“Food?” Enna brightened.

Gnat chuckled. “Of course, food too. I have more in my room. And these left over.” He handed her a couple more segments he still had in his pockets. “Go ahead and drink the rest of the water. I have to take the tankard back upstairs.”

Enna nodded, her mouth full of bread as she sipped the rest of the water. She managed a muffled, “Thank you,” as she ate.

Gnat waved back at her as he stepped out, mildly concerned at her scratching the skin under her shackles. She hadn’t been doing that earlier. Something could be wrong. Quickly, he made his way through the dungeon passages, amazed at how well he navigated them. He wondered if, perhaps, the torch was burning brighter. Maybe. Setting it in a holder, he snuck out of the dungeon and back to his room. Thankfully, no one found his hiding spot for the food. Nibbling on a loaf, his thoughts turned to Enna, and the two kisses. Two! In one night! He feared the excitement might never let him sleep again.

But before he knew it, he drifted off.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Are the preparations complete?” Gnat heard someone say.

The boy shuddered. He knew that baritone anywhere. Yet his eyes struggled to focus. Darkness everywhere. Strange shapes drifting in and out of focus.

“Ready to begin extraction,” someone answered. A woman.

“Begin,” ordered Volus.

Chanting filtered in from all around. Gnat heard many voices, none of them belonging to Volus. He also heard struggling and gasping. Someone grumbled in pain. Another woman. She fought it. Fought it with all her strength. But she was losing. He could hear it in her voice.

Why couldn’t he see anything? Gnat silently cursed, even though he was certain no one could see or hear him. Where was the clarity he’d had earlier when going back to his room from visiting Enna?

Enna…

For a heart-stopping second, terror flooded Gnat’s mind. Could this be happening to Enna? No. This was a woman’s voice. Not Enna’s. It sounded somewhat familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.

“Do what you want to me…” groaned the woman. “You’ve taken everything from me. You cannot hurt me anymore.”

“Really?” asked Volus. He sounded genuinely curious. “Why don’t we find out?”

He added his voice to the chanting.

“Aggghhh!” cried the woman.

Why could Gnat not see?! SEE! COME ON!

The boy focused all of his strength and concentration on penetrating the haze. He wished Enna was there with him. To his astonishment, just thinking about her seemed to help. He looked around.

But Gnat had not the faintest idea where he was.

Artifacts, potions, magical instruments of every kind lay strewn across several wooden tables. A woman looked to be chained to the wall. No, a table. No wait, come on! SEE! There! It was a rack. Her arms and legs were pulled taut with ropes and chains, almost to the point of being ripped out of their sockets. She wore dirty grey linens, but not even the grime of sweat, blood, and oil, along with shoddy rags, could hide her natural beauty. She was gorgeous, with flowing violet hair that had been cut haphazardly many times. Her wine-red eyes shone with tears. An exceptional figure, with voluptuous breasts that pressed the fabric out and up, captured Gnat’s attention.

This was no normal woman. She was a succubus. But succubi were extremely powerful monsters! How did Volus capture one? And why was he doing this to her? Dull, unnatural light glowed around her. Intricate designs shone against the rack, scrawled out in a strange pattern around the succubus’ body. Runes of some kind?

“Again,” drawled Volus.

The chanting resumed.

“AHHHGHHH!” screamed the succubus as the runes intensified. They looked to be… bleeding? No. Melting. But not the runes themselves. Something was melting into them. Something coming from the succubus. Gnat stared and tried to see what it was.

Suddenly, Volus ceased chanting and stiffened. The others’ chanting tapered off, giving the woman a much-needed respite. One of the other men turned to Volus.

“My lord, what is it?” he asked, concern creeping into his voice.

“We are being observed,” said Volus, sharply.

Gasps and murmurs spread across the room.

A chill ran up the side of Gnat’s neck.

“What?” asked a woman. “How?”

Volus said nothing at first. He peered carefully around the room. Slowly, his gaze inched closer… until… it locked on Gnat.

Malice, mixed with dispassionate curiosity stared right at him.

Pure, electric terror arced through Gnat’s mind.

“There,” said Volus.

Gnat gasped!

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Ackkkk!” the boy gasped, sitting up so suddenly, he nearly passed out again. Gnat ran his fingers through his hair, soaked with cold sweat, just like the rest of him. He blinked several times, trying to clear his mind of the dream.

Ugh.

So far this has been a really good week. But the nightmares were killing him. Slowly clamoring out of bed, Gnat made his way to the window and peeked outside.

Darkness.

Crickets chirped. A cool, gentle breeze brushed the boy’s face. Gnat peered down below, somewhat surprised by how well he could see in the night. Must have been the full moon and clear skies, but even they jumped out at him with startling clarity. He shrugged and stepped down.

What to do? He only briefly thought about going back to bed. The prospect of more terrifying nightmares banished that thought straight away. Despite the bad dreams, Gnat felt surprisingly rested. He decided to get a head start on his chores.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Unfinished silverware lay tarnished in a pile, stacked higher than Gnat remembered. He shrugged and got to work on it. Such a dull and tedious task, but not without reward. The paste given to him to polish the silver brought the dishes and utensils to a gleaming shine. Like with the metal at the smithy, Gnat’s keen eyes picked out even the smallest smudges and drew his attention to them, so he could wipe them away.

The boy finished polishing in record time. He stood to stretch, feeling a few bones in his back popping from the effort. Felt good. The kitchen would be next. He figured he had at least an hour or two before he needed to get to the smithy. The castle was just now starting to wake up.

Gnat increased his pace. If he could finish up quickly enough, he might be able to sneak some food and water to Enna before he left. The thought of her smile warmed his heart and boosted his spirits. He slipped into the kitchen and found it empty, save for one maid, a young redhead named Cari.

Cari yelped in surprise as the rattling of dishes startled her. She peeked over the pile of dirty dishes at Gnat. “Gosh, you’re here early,” she remarked. “I’m usually the only one who comes in before the cook.”

Gnat shrugged, bringing soapy water to the washing tub. “Couldn’t sleep.”

“Hmm,” Cari hummed. She peered at Gnat, making him uneasy.

“What?” he asked of her green-eyed stare.

Cari giggled before slapping her hand over her lips.

What??” Gnat demanded, resisting the urge to join her giggle as embarrassment colored his face.

Cari giggled again. “Sorry!” she laughed. “But I can’t…” she nibbled on her lower lip. “I gotta know, who is she?”

Embarrassment froze into shock. “Huh?”

“The girl!” pressed Cari.

“W-what do you mean?” stammered Gnat.

Cari poked him playfully. “You’re glowing, silly. You’re positively radiant!”

“Wha?” Gnat frantically checked his reflection in the sudsy water. Were his eyes glowing? Oh no! He’d be executed for sure!

Cari laughed out loud. “No, no!” she giggled. “That’s not what I mean! Not… literally. Silly!” The girl twirled around the room, her uniform puffing out as she spun, and her straight reddish hair fanned out around her. “You’re in looooove!” she crooned, pointing at him and crossing her arms over her heart as she smiled dreamily.

Love? What?? “Uh… that’s… that’s not…” Gnat sputtered.

Cari approached him, leaning towards him to stare with her hands on her hips. “Admit it. You met a girl. A girl you like.

Gnat gulped. He nodded. Not like he could hide anything from her. Oh man. He was so screwed. Within hours, the whole castle would know about Enna. None of the maids could keep their lips from spilling every secret they knew. It was one of the most irritating aspects of them that kept Gnat’s mind off of them himself.

“Ah ha!” Cari chuckled triumphantly. “So, who is she? Spill it!”

“I can’t tell you…” Gnat started to say.

“Ohh yes you caaaan~~!” sang the girl. “Tell meeee, or I’m never gonna stoooop~!”

Gnat groaned loudly. “Ugh. Can you keep a secret?”

Like catnip in front of a kitten. Cari shuffled over to him, nodding eagerly.

“Please, it’s really important. I could get in a lot of trouble for this.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” Cari swore, her hand splayed over her chest, giving Gnat her most theatrically sincere look.

Yeah, right.

Never one skilled at telling lies, Gnat decided to color his story as close to the truth as he could. “I caught her eye while working at the smithy,” he said slowly. “Bright eyes, dark hair, really pretty. And she seemed to like what I was making. We talked for a bit. I… I think she likes me…”

“Is… is she nobility?” Cari whispered.

“I think so,” Gnat said. Actually, wasn’t far from the truth, either. The girl seemed to have the facial structure for it, if she weren’t so emaciated.

“You’re right,” murmured Cari. “You could get into so much trouble. You both could. Mingling with people above your station. Scandalous…” she giggled. “What’s her name?”

“She didn’t tell me,” Gnat said. Technically also true.

Cari gasped. “Yeeees~!” she sang softly. “She does like you! If she had told you her name, she would then have to dismiss you. But this means she can speak to you again, because… teeeeeechnically~ you don’t know she’s nobility. You can’t be punished.”

“Please, Cari,” begged Gnat. “Don’t screw this up for me.”

The maid shook his shoulders gently. “Don’t you worry. You go off with this girl, make her looooove you~! And when you’ve married her, come back and free me?”

There was something of an earnest plea in the girl’s sharp, green eyes. Gnat nodded. “If you keep my secret.”

“Deal!” chirped the girl. She turned to leave.

“Cari,” Gnat called after her.

The girl paused and glanced back at him. “Mmm?”

“Have you anything for chapped lips?”

Cari tilted her head quizzically at him. “You look fine to me.”

“But… if I’m… uh… working at the furnace all day, and all dried out…”

“Ohh~!” giggled the girl. “You’re worried she might kiss you unprepared! Here, try this.”

She handed him a small stick of something that looked like wax. “What… do I do with this?” Gnat asked dumbly.

“Dip one end in water, and then rub it in,” explained the girl. “Don’t use too much, or you might end up looking like the girl!”

Gnat blushed, especially as Cari giggled at him. “Th-thanks…”

Cari swept out of the room. “Good luuuuck~!” she called on her way out.

Boy, was Gnat glad that was over. He got back to work, attacking the dirt and grime on the dishes. Within only a short while, he’d gone through a good portion of them. The cook tiredly strode in, skidding to a halt at the sight.

“Oy,” the ruddy-faced woman called out. Gnat looked up from the dishes. “How long you been here, boy?”

Gnat had actually forgotten. “Uh, I’m not sure, ma’am. I couldn’t sleep, so…”

“So, thought to busy yourself then? Good lad…” she said, a rare complement. “Well, run along then, and if you see that girl, Cari, tell her to STOP running around like a frenzied bee.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Gnat nodded, and skipped out, carrying a tankard full of water. “I’ll bring this back,” he promised.

The cook waived him off. Gnat darted down the hall, doing exactly what the cook had been irritated with Cari for. He made his way to his room and fetched some more bread from his stash, secreting it away in his pockets. Carefully, he snuck his way towards the dungeons.

Gnat ran into a couple of close calls. Horace seemed to be searching for him. No time for that, now. Gnat ran into the dungeons and flew to Enna’s side. Fear swept over him at the sight of her lying on her side motionless, her eyes closed.

Kneeling by her side, Gnat’s mind relaxed at the realization she was merely sleeping. Not wanting to disturb her, he set the tankard down and laid the pieces of bread beside it. His hand brushed a lock of hair out of her face, but he dared not touch her further, or he knew he’d be late for the smithy. Tearing himself away, Gnat ran out of the dungeon.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

At the smithy, as before, Gnat worked tirelessly, but did not create any amazing pieces like he had that first day. They were all above-average, though, which earned him a handful of silvers. He offered to help the smithy close up, which shocked the man into distraction. Gnat used the opportunity to pocket a chisel. As they finished closing up, Gnat grabbed a hammer while the smith wasn’t looking. Too big to fit in his pocket, he had to stuff it between his legs under inside his pants. The cold, hard metal was horribly uncomfortable, but he had to be careful.

The smith waved as he departed, leaving Gnat to carefully trot back to the castle without dropping anything. A sense of urgency tightened Gnat’s chest. Quick as he could, he made his way inside the castle, avoiding strange looks from the guards at his quirky gait. Gnat edged towards the door, but paused as he overheard something troubling.

“What’s that ye heard?” asked Horace from around the corner.

“Mamono forces have stepped up their attacks on the western front,” said a man who’s voice Gnat didn’t recognize. “Reports from Camden’s men stated the monsters acted desperate.”

“Oi, why the western front?” Horace grumbled. “What, are they after his wife?”

Gnat stiffened. Alexi. She was in danger? Besides Enna, she was the only other person he really cared about.

“Who knows what those bloody monsters are after?”

“Ehh… makes ye wish Lord Volus were here,” Horace sighed. “They’d never try anything like that with him around!”

Gnat heard enough. He slipped into the dungeon and disappeared.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Enna?”

“Gath,” replied the girl with a smile. She’d eaten all of the bread and drunk most of the water.

Gnat cringed. Why hadn’t he brought more?

“Something wrong?” she asked him. Her eyes were dark again, but her irises shone as always.

“I should have brought you more to eat,” he sighed.

Enna’s brow furrowed for a moment, but then she shrugged. “I’ve eaten more in the past two days than I have in three months. I’ll live,” she assured him, smiling slightly.

“I didn’t come empty, though,” Gnat said with pride. With a clang, he dropped the hammer and chisel on the ground. “Let’s get those shackles off.”

Enna gulped nervously. “Will it hurt?” she asked timidly.

“It might,” cautioned Gnat. “But I can’t stand the sight of them on you anymore. Please, trust me?”

The girl paused to consider that, then nodded. “I trust you.”

Her words gave Gnat pause. She trusted him. A chill spread through his body briefly, replaced shortly with warmth. She trusted him… He picked up the hammer, holding it steady in his hand. Gnat picked up the chisel in his other hand, and guided Enna to lay her hand on the stone floor.

“Hold still. I don’t know how many hits this will take,” he said.

Enna looked away, holding her arm still. Gnat placed the chisel between the bolt and shaft, aiming for the weakest point in the metal. Locking it in place as best he could, he brought the hammer down on it.

CLANG.

Enna yelped in fright.

CLANG.

“Come on,” grunted Gnat. He briefly worried that he might not have enough strength for this. One glance at Enna biting her lower lip was enough.

CLANG.

“Mmph…” Enna coughed.

CLANG!

CRACK!

“Got it!”

Enna glanced down at her hand, marveling that it was still attached. The bolt and screw holding the shackle together had broken. The metal clasp still hung to her arm, though. Gnat touched her other arm.

“Let’s get both off at once alright?”

Enna nodded unsteadily, trying her best to relax.

CLANG.

She yelped again.

CLANG.

CLANG!

This time, the girl chanced a glance at her friend. Gnat caught her gaze and nodded, bracing her for one more hit.

CRACK!

“There…” wheezed the boy in relief. He dropped the hammer; it clattered to the floor noisily. Gently, he reached for Enna’s hands, but still couldn’t pry the rusty shackles open wide enough for her hands to slip free.

“Oh, for the God’s sake!” he cried. “They’re rusted through!”

“It’s no use,” moaned Enna.

“Don’t you dare give up!” urged the boy. “Here, try this,” he offered, grasping both halves of one of the shackles in an attempt to pry them open. “Try to slip out!”

Enna struggled, her raw skin bleeding against the cold, dirty metal. For once, Gnat found himself grateful for her being so thin. “I almost have it…” she hissed with effort. “Pull!”

Gnat shouted out as he poured every ounce of strength into the task.

Enna’s hand slipped free.

“Yes!” cried Gnat. “Quick, let’s do the other!” he yelled, grasping the other shackle before giving himself the chance to relax. The metal in this one creaked slightly, requiring much less effort.

At last, Enna was free.

Gnat fell back on his haunches, his eyes on Enna.

Enna stared, dumfounded, at her wrists. Tears fell silently from her eyes as she tested the skin, wincing at the slight burning pain. It was a good pain, though. The pain of hard-wrought effort. Scabs had formed on the area, some of which she’d scraped open with her escape. Blood. Not much, but… Wait. She had some on her hands, too. It wasn’t hers. She glanced at Gnat, but his attention remained on her. Enna’s eyes fell to his hands.

Enna took his hands in hers, turning the palms up. His fingers bled from the struggle. Sniffing back her tears, Enna dipped her sleeve in the remaining water in the tankard and dabbed at the small wounds on Gnat’s hands.

Gnat observed her actions in a hazy state of euphoria. He’d broken her out. Set her free. If she could leave the dungeon, that is. Her touch sent warmth into his hands, which spread into his bones and tightened his chest. She managed to take the sting out of the wounds and stop the bleeding.

Gnat realized something at that moment. The blood hadn’t bothered him. Normally he would have retched, possibly fainted. But perhaps the thrill of victory helped him overcome it this time. He gently took the wet sleeve from Enna and guided it to her own wrists. She paused to let him attend to her.

So soft. So warm. So gentle. Enna’s skin defied Gnat’s expectations. He’d thought to feel something clammy and sticky, but her hands were buttery smooth and comforting, like velvet. The angry scabs marred her wrists, and she still looked painfully thin, but besides that… Gnat’s thoughts drifted away as he chanced to imagine what she might look like after recovering. He’d done so before. But this mental image of her felt so much more alive. He imagined her with her glossy black hair, swaying around, framing her face, tapering off all the way down to her hips. Her body filled out the… no, have to imagine her in something other than sackcloth. But what to… oh.

Alexi.

That would work. Gnat imagined Enna in Alexi’s ruffled bell dress. His heart skipped a beat. Enna’s shapely hips and slim waist accentuated the gown much like Alexi had, yet Gnat imagined Enna’s figure with even greater potential. Her bosom gently pushed the ruffles out in front further, her slimmer waist curving into an hourglass, accentuating her hips. She smiled coquettishly behind her little lacy fan.

“Gath?” she said softly.

Gnat blinked, shaking away the daydream. “S-sorry.”

Enna tilted her head, her gaze showing concern. “Is something wrong? Your face…”

Ugh. He was probably blushing like crazy. Somehow, some of the image seemed to stick, though. Enna looked healthier than she had yesterday. Her eyes didn’t look as hollow, and her cheeks looked puffier. Angry cracks still bled into her lips, though.

Oh!

“I just remembered, I have something else,” Gnat said suddenly. He held up the item Cari lent him.

“What is that?” asked Enna.

“Some medicine for you,” said Gnat gently, dipping it into the water and leaning close to her. “Hold still?”

When had Enna’s eyes turned white again? Gnat nearly lost himself in them at this close distance. But he resolved himself to his task and gazed at her lips. Not that they weren’t just as distracting. He kept imagining her fully healed. Carefully, he touched the object to the corner of Enna’s mouth. Holding her lip steady with his thumb, he gently stroked the surface with feathery touches of the balm. Enna’s lip began to gleam with the balm, sealing the small cracks. He repeated the process with her upper lip, and, as he finished, her eyes captured his attention again.

“Gath…” she whispered, pursing her lips. “That feels…”

Her gaze faltered momentarily; a look of pure pleasure misted into her eyes. Enna’s arms slid around Gnat’s shoulders and drew him to her for a kiss.

Gnat sucked in a breath. He hadn’t been prepared for this. The balm worked far better than he’d hoped. Enna’s lips melted into his like flowing silk. Drawing her closer, he felt her tilting her head for a better angle. The tip of her tongue touched his briefly.

The boy nearly twitched. The contact jolted him like a shock. Heat and yearning replaced it, and he returned the gesture, touching the tip of his tongue to hers. They held that position for what seemed like hours; their lips molded together, their tongues touching at the tips.

Incredible.

Gnat could barely begin to describe his feelings at that very moment. He no longer cared about his fantasy of Enna in Alexi’s dress. He just wanted the Enna in his arms. The tightness in his chest ached as his heart swelled, beating against her chest, in time with hers. Her warmth melted into him, spreading through his body, sweeping him away in a wave of euphoria.

When Enna slowly broke the kiss, Gnat instinctively tried to resume it. Were it not for the girl’s eyes focusing on something else…

“Who…?” she asked, barely audible.

Gnat sucked in a breath and turned. He heard a yelp across the hall. A pair of green eyes. He knew those green eyes.

“Cari?”

The redhead gasped and turned to flee.

“Cari, wait!” cried Gnat, leaping up to give chase.

The girl shrilled with fear as she darted through the tunnels, frantically waving her torch about. Gnat found his night perception to have increased another notch. He’d even forgotten his torch. He cut off the maid easily. The surprised girl stumbled and crashed into a wall.

“Cari!” Gnat cried, running up to her.

“No, stay back!” shouted the girl, waving her torch in front of him.

“Cari, it’s me,” Gnat held up his hands. “I couldn’t hurt you even if I wanted to.”

Cari boggled at him. “Gnat…?!” she sputtered, trembling. “What… what are you doing here? Who was that… in the cell?”

An awful weight sank into the pit of Gnat’s gut. She’d seen Enna. What could he do? He figured he had two choices. Concoct another crazy story or… just level with her.

Oh hell.

“Gnat, what is going on here?” pressed Cari. She looked down at him, still wary, ready to dart away at the slightest sound.

“Cari…” said Gnat slowly. “Can I trust you? Seriously… trust you? Like, with my life?”

Cari’s eyes widened. “Why?? What have you done?”

“Cari…” the boy grumbled. His gaze fell to the floor.

“What do you mean?”

“Can I or not?!” cried Gnat, glaring up at Cari suddenly, his brow knotted in anger.

Cari yelped, agape at his expression. She nodded solemnly.

“My life… depends on this…” Gnat told her. “And so does hers…”

“Who’s?” Cari blinked. “’Hers?’ Oh… so… you mean…”

“I didn’t meet a girl at the market.” Gnat’s gaze burned into Cari’s eyes. “I met her here.”

“Oh…”

“So can I trust you?”

Cari gulped and nodded. “I don’t want to see anyone get hurt, but if she’s a prisoner…”

“You’ll see why,” said Gnat ominously. “Just promise not to run away when you do.”

Gnat took Cari’s hand. It felt cold and sweaty, like his. It also trembled with fright. Still, he led her, through the darkness, to Enna’s cell. As they stepped inside, Gnat looked around. Enna wasn’t there.

“Enna?” Gnat called out. “Someone found us, but I think we can trust her. Please come back…”

Cari gasped. “There!” she pointed back at the entrance of the cell. Enna stepped forward, into the cell, as if coalescing from pure darkness; a mournful specter. She kept her gaze lowered. No light cast from her eyes. She remained a silhouette in the shadows until Cari lifted her torch.

“Cari, this is Ennui, but I call her Enna,” Gnat explained softly.

Enna said nothing; her gaze remained on the floor.

“Enna, meet Cari. She’s a maid in the castle, in the service of Baron Lester, like me.”

“N-nice to meet you, Enna,” Cari said, trembling next to Gnat. She offered an unsteady hand to the girl. “She… she doesn’t seem scary…” she said with a weak smile, the cracks in her voice betraying her true impressions.

And then Enna looked up at her.

Cari gasped!

“Cari?” Gnat turned as the maid jerked from his grip and plastered herself against the far wall.

“M-m-m-mon…ster…”

Gnat sort of laughed at her reaction. “Uh… yea… I had the same reaction when I saw her for the first time. But she’s not going to hurt you.” He glanced back at Enna as he searched his mind for something soothing to say, but Enna’s wounded expression choked him.

Enna said nothing, her eyes somewhere between the floor and adjacent wall, a look of utter hopeless despair crossing her features. She stiffened as Gnat gently grasped her shoulders, and turned away from him.

“I’m sorry, Enna. I…” choked Gnat. “I should have been more careful…” He glared at Cari, who’s freckled face was white as a sheet. “Can’t you see she’s not evil?” he pled.

“B-but…” stammered Cari, “All monsters are evil!”

Enna cringed as if she’d flayed her.

Gnat embraced the girl tightly. “Not Enna!” He buried his face against her shoulder, bracing her from Cari’s prejudice the only way he knew how. “Never Enna…”

Cari shuddered, detaching herself from the wall as she thought things through. “Wait, so this was the person you were all aglow over in the kitchen?”

Gnat didn’t answer. He just held Enna, gently rocking her back and forth.

“I heard about this… how people can become infatuated with…”

“Stop!” hissed Gnat. “Just… please… stop.” He grasped Enna by her bony arms and turned her to face Cari. “Look at her. Look at her.”

Cari gulped. Enna’s eyes did not meet hers.

“When I found her, she was maybe a day or two from starving to death!” Gnat said, his voice tight with frustration as he held up the girl’s emaciated arm. “Shackled to the floor, licking the wall for water, and eating bits of cave mold to survive!”

Cari glanced at the wall and saw for herself the scraped lichen. Her eyes fixated upon it. Her lips parted in awe.

“No one had given her anything for weeks,” Gnat grumbled, gritting his teeth. “If you ask me, that makes us evil. How could anyone treat her like that, monster or not?!”

“How…how long has she been here?” Cari asked timidly.

“Ever since they raided her home and abducted her grandmother,” Gnat said. “Those thugs carted her off just for having some Fairy dust around.”

Cari paused to consider that.

“Do you think that deserves life imprisonment?” demanded Gnat. “We don’t even know where her grandmother is!”

The redhead thought about that. “What? Shouldn’t she be here?”

“Lord Volus took her,” spat the boy. The man’s name soured his lips like poison.

Cari shuddered. “That man gives me the creeps,” she admitted. “They say he devoted his life’s work to ending the threat of the demon realms and the monsters spreading them,” she explained. “But he seems awful dark and menacing himself, to me. I only saw him once, though.”

“Does Enna look dark and menacing to you?”

Enna looked at her. Ink black eyes with coronas of electric blue shining within.

“I… I feel like she’s… looking right through me…” shivered Cari.

“But is she menacing?” pressed Gnat.

“Umm…” Cari bit her lip. “She’s dark and creepy… but… No, I don’t think so…” she admitted at last.

Gnat sighed, shaking his head as he stroked Enna’s hair. “I think she’s just as scared of you as you are of her.”

That seemed to put the maid at ease. “What? Really?” she let out a nervous giggle.

Cari approached Enna, who stiffened at the gesture. Gnat held her gently, offering his support. Cari, who stood a few inches taller, knelt to her level. “I don’t understand…” she said softly. “Do you want to hurt me?” she asked Enna.

Enna slowly shook her head.

“Why do they hate you so?”

“Because they do not understand,” Enna broke her silence with an eerie response.

Cari yelped and fell back onto her bottom. She giggled nervously again. “Wait a second,” she said, getting back up to peer at Enna. “Is that my lip balm?”

Enna’s hand rose to touch her lip. Smooth. Moist. Healing. She nodded.

Cari grinned coyly at Gnat. “Aha. I knew it. So, uh… what were you doing when I saw you…?”

Gnat blushed.

Cari’s grin intensified. “Ha!” she giggled, the tension in the room beginning to fade at last. “And she hasn’t sucked out your soul, right?”

“She wouldn’t do that!” protested Gnat with a sputter.

“Well, all right, then,” nodded Cari. “I believe you.”

“You do?” gaped Gnat. He glanced at Enna and noticed her blinking in disbelief.

“Uh huh,” said Cari, her coquettish grin making a comeback. “I know what young love looks like. Had it myself a few years ago.”

“…Love?” murmured Enna, glancing at Gnat.

Gnat’s heart pounded so hard in his chest, he feared it might escape. “Uh… well… ummm…”

Cari giggled uncontrollably. “Oh my gosh, you two are adooooorable~!”

Even Enna cracked a smile.

“So…” Cari said, her smile fading. “Um… Friends?”

She held out her hand like she had before.

Enna looked over at her, piercing the maid’s unsteady gaze with her own. She tentatively reached out and touched Cari’s finger. Slowly, the two girls interlocked fingers. “Friends…” said Enna.

Gnat’s heart swelled at the sight. At last… an ally. They had an ally.

“I’m… not going to turn into a monster doing this, am I?” Cari asked. Gnat couldn’t tell if she was kidding.

Enna merely shrugged, testing the texture of the maid’s hand.

“All right, then, um… what kind of monster are you?” Cari asked with a timid smile.

Enna slipped away and averted her gaze. Cari glanced at Gnat.

“We don’t know,” Gnat told the maid. “Enna didn’t even know she was a monster until I found her.”

Cari gasped slowly. “Oh, my goodness… I’m so sorry…” she plastered her face with her hands. “Gnat said Fairy dust, so I just thought…”

“Don’t call him that,” Enna said suddenly.

“Wha?”

Enna turned to face her, a determined glint in her eyes. “He doesn’t like it. His name is Gath.”

Cari nibbled on her lower lip. “You really do care for him, don’t you?”

“His name is Gath,” repeated the girl.

“Gath,” nodded Cari.

“Remember,” warned Enna, a tinge threateningly.

“I’m sorry,” Cari offered. “I shouldn’t have doubted you.” She turned to Gnat. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Keep all of this a secret,” Gnat said straight away.

Cari smiled and nodded. “Of course. But other than that?”

Gnat considered her offer. Then his eyes brightened. “I can’t always bring her food. They keep me so busy. We can both bring her things.”

Cari’s eyes also brightened. “Oh! Of course! I could bring her something better to wear as well. Though…” she sighed, “All I have are maid’s uniforms. Still better than that sackcloth, however.”

“I wonder if she could pass as one of the maids…” Gnat wondered.

Cari shook her head ruefully. “Maybe, once she filled out a little, if it weren’t for those eyes.” She glanced Enna’s way. “Most people’s eyes don’t glow in the dark.”

“Or switch between black and white,” sighed Gnat.

Enna just looked at them both, her inky expression difficult to read.

“All right, bring her a uniform you think will fit,” Gnat said. “And some food if you can. I should be able to buy some meat tomorrow.”

Cari scrunched her pretty face as she thought about that. “No… wait. You said she’s gone without food for a long time? It’s a wonder what you’ve given her hasn’t made her sick. We need to start slowly. Build her back up. Let’s bring her soft food, like fruit.”

“Chestnuts?” Enna said suddenly.

Cari giggled. “I don’t know if I can find those this time of year! But I’ll try,” she promised. “My very own monster friend…” she sighed. “This is kind of exciting!” the girl giggled again as she skipped out of the room, picking up her torch. “I’ve got to get back. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t dooooo~!”

The maid darted off down the hall, giggling as she went.

“I hope we can trust her,” sighed Gnat. The boy twitched as he felt Enna touch him. Her slender fingers tilted his chin her way.

“For now…” she said softly.

Gnat’s heart flipped inside his chest. “Enna?”

“Gath… please, tell me,” she implored.

“What do you want to know?” he asked, feeling ready to pledge his life to her if she asked it of him.

“What troubles you?”

The boy gulped. Enna still held his chin gently in her right hand’s fingertips. Such a simple question. Why did it bother him so? Bother him… Something did. He trembled, leaning in to embrace Enna.

“How… did you know? I’d forgotten…” he shuddered against her.

“Your light, retreats within,” her lips spoke against the side of his neck, her breath warm on his skin.

Enna’s cryptic words touched his soul, even though he failed to grasp their meaning. His light? He was pretty sure he didn’t cast any light. But he knew exactly what information she sought.

“I had a dream,” he told her. “Two dreams.”

“Bad?” she asked, holding him gently by his shoulders. Their noses were nearly touching.

“Very bad,” he admitted. “First one was… about you. I was bringing you food and water, but I was too late. You… you died before I could reach you.” He trembled at the memory.

“Gath…” she whispered, touching her forehead to his. White milk began to swirl into her eyes. “You saved me,” she reminded him.

“I-I know,” stuttered Gnat. “I don’t get it, myself. You’re safe. You’re not going to starve, now. But I’m scared, Enna. I’m scared I’m going to lose you…”

This time, Gnat kissed her.

Enna drew in a deep breath, her eyes falling closed. Her lips melted against him, her embrace tightening around him. All of Gnat’s fear, loneliness, and uncertainty poured into that kiss. He could feel it drifting out of him and towards her. She drew it in, away from him, casting it aside, replacing it with her gratitude, warmth, and affection.

Gnat embraced Enna tightly. If this was monster seduction, he didn’t care. He wanted to be with her. Needed her. Wondered how he’d ever gotten by without her. The brief thought of being without her terrified him. Tears streaked his cheeks.

Enna sensed Gnat’s sudden uncertainty and drew it in, away from him. He could feel it leaving him, feel her shouldering his burden, as she cast her own life into his hands. Gnat could feel it. She needed him as much as he needed her. This couldn’t be monster magic. Cari was right. He was falling in love with Enna.

No, no… That ship already sailed. When? Yesterday? Lost in the kiss, he found he didn’t care. When he finally released Enna, Gnat found he felt much better. A new resolve had formed within him. He would do whatever it took to ensure this girl’s freedom. Then, he would follow her. Wherever she wanted to go.

“Gath…” breathed Enna.

Gnat marveled at her. She looked better too. Much better, in fact. The cracks in her lips sealed and were halfway healed. The dark circles around her eyes faded and changed, giving her eyes a smoky look instead. As he looked at them, milky white and electric blue, stirred something in Gnat’s body that he felt embarrassed and a little guilty just thinking about. His eyes moved to the rest of her face, noting how her cheeks were filling out.

Gnat gently stroked Enna’s cheek. “Enna,” he replied softly, “I think Cari’s right.”

Enna smiled slightly and waited for him to finish.

“I think I love you.”

A tear drifted down Enna’s cheek and made contact with Gnat’s thumb. “My heart has been yours for some time now,” she admitted with a warm smile. “I feel like far more time has passed for us together than should be natural.”

Gnat laughed briefly, wiping his face. “I know what you mean.” He embraced her again. “I wish I could hold you forever.” Gnat sighed as he rested his head against her shoulder. “It’s funny… I read a book in the library about a couple in love, and thought it was awfully silly how they acted.”

“But we are doing that now?” Enna laughed softly.

“Yeah,” chuckled Gnat. “Doesn’t seem too silly anymore,” he said as he released her and stroked her arm.

“Gath?” asked Enna.

“Yes?”

“What did you see in your other dream?” Worry flickered in Enna’s eyes.

Gnat hated to worry her, but also did not wish to hide anything from her. “I dreamt of Volus,” he grimaced.

Enna sucked in a breath, but her eyes remained white. “Tell me…”

Gnat began to recount the dream, but Enna interrupted as he was describing the laboratory. “What is it?” he asked her.

“I’ve seen it!” cried the girl.

A horrible, sickening chill gripped Gnat’s body. Those three words carried profound meaning. A question he’d been asking himself had just been answered.

It wasn’t a dream.

It was real.

“You’ve… you’ve seen it?” could barely ask.

Enna nodded ruefully. “In my dreams as well. I’ve heard screams, seen magic, but I can’t… can’t see what is happening…”

“Enna, you saw my memories before,” Gnat suggested, “Can you see the dream with my eyes?”

The girl swallowed noisily. “I don’t know if I want to.”

“Deep down, you do.”

Enna sighed. “You’re right,” she admitted. “I need to do this. I need to see who he is hurting.”

Gnat nodded and gently rested her hands on the sides of his face, like before. He continued his story, but he only progressed a little further when Enna screamed. She tore herself away from him as if burned. Screaming, Enna’s hands covered her ears, then her temples, trying to blot out what she’d just seen. She scrambled about the room, writhing in agony.

“Enna!” bellowed Gnat, lurching to try and catch her.

“AGGHHHH! NOOOOOO!” screamed Enna. “It can’t be!! It can’t be!!!”

“What is it?!” cried Gnat. He managed to snag the edge of the filthy sack she wore and pulled her to him. She did not fight him, collapsing helplessly against him instead. He sat against the wall, gathering her up in a little ball in his arms as she sobbed uncontrollably.

“Enna, I don’t understand…” Gnat said helplessly, stroking her hair. “What did you see?”

Despair and agony choked Enna’s voice, but she managed to rest her hand against Gnat’s face. The dream image flooded his mind, taking him back to the moment he’d seen the succubus chained to the rack. The image froze, giving him time to study her. She looked beautiful. Impossibly beautiful. Even in her ragged state. But what could have upset Enna so? He peered carefully. There was something familiar about…

Wait…

Gnat’s blood turned to ice.

No…

Can’t be… Enna’s voice echoed in his mind. Can’t be!

The impossible, youthful beauty masked her identity to Gnat at first. But there was no mistaking those high cheekbones and heart-shaped face. Couldn’t be? It was.

The succubus was Enna’s grandmother.

The image faded as Enna’s hand fell away from Gnat’s face. She sobbed despondently. For a brief moment, disbelief held Gnat suspended in an icy cloud of dark thoughts. Then he chanced to look down at Enna. The ice in Gnat’s blood melted quickly, replaced with hot, poisonous anger.

“That… that beast… That barbarian!” hissed Gnat. “What in the hell does he think he’s doing?! Saving the world from monsters? HE’S THE MONSTER!” he screamed, clutching Enna close. “I’ll kill him,” he swore. “I’ll KILL HIM! I’ll find the bastard and kill him!”

Enna’s sobs paused at those words. She uncurled in Gnat’s lap and faced him with her bleary eyes. Gnat’s anger throbbed, but ebbed as she did so.

“No…” she said sadly.

“’No,’ what?” Gnat asked, bewildered.

She stroked his face gently, smiling through the tears. “Hatred feeds hate. Hating him can’t stop him. He is too strong. His hate is too powerful.”

Gnat gawped at her in shock. “Enna? That’s your grandmother… what he’s doing to her is unspeakable! How… how can you… I mean… You forgive him?”

Enna squeezed her tearful eyes shut. When she opened them, they were inky black. “No,” she stated firmly. “But if you somehow stopped him with hatred and anger, he would just start again at another time. We must show him another way.”

“I don’t understand,” admitted Gnat.

Enna closed her eyes again briefly. “I know… I can’t explain it. Yes, I want to see him hurt. But he understands that already. He does this because he does not know any other way. My heart wants revenge. But all my instincts tell me that is not the way. I… I can’t explain why,” she said, fumbling for words. Her eyes fluttered halfway closed as Gnat hugged her gently.

“If you say there is another way, we will find another way, but the fact remains… We have to save your grandmother.”

Enna turned her inky-black eyes onto him. “Yes.”

Gnat sighed. “If only I knew how,” he said bitterly. “I’m just a nobody…”

Enna cupped his face gently, a flicker of white leaking into her inky eyes as she shook her head with a slight smile. “No, you’re not,” she said, softly kissing him. “Not to me.”

Gnat hadn’t been prepared for the rush of exhilaration the kiss afforded him. His hopelessness waned; courage bloomed by the touch of Enna’s love. He let her hair drift through his fingers, noting how it looked less dirty and frizzy than before. Thoughts and plans began drifting around in his mind, slowed only by… how tired he realized he was.

“Enna…” sighed Gnat, nuzzling her shoulder. He wondered if she’d mind if he fell asleep like this.

“Please don’t leave,” the girl pleaded, clinging to his shirt, as if reading his mind.

“I doubt anyone would notice if I wasn’t in my room,” the boy admitted. “Besides, no place I’d rather be…” he murmured, drifting off in her embrace.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Darkness. Gloom.

And… warmth?

How strange.

Gnat looked around. But he could not see anything. He heard voices, though.

“My lord,” prompted a woman. “We have reached the limit of her psychocognitive endurance.” A pen tapped on paper. “If we proceed any further, the subject will expire.”

“Very well,” drawled a familiar baritone. “Recall the absorption runes.”

“Yes, my lord,” the woman acknowledged. Her soft footsteps receded. A door, heavy cast-iron from the sound of it, opened and closed.

Gnat struggled to see. He focused. Strained. He was rewarded for his efforts by soft light filtering through the gloom.

“Perform a post-check before the next cycle,” instructed Volus. “Matthias, bring in the donor.”

“Yes, my lord,” answered a young man who must have been Matthias.

Gnat really needed to know what was going on. Come on… All he could see was faint, grey fog.

Suddenly, a feeling of gentle warmth spread through his chest. He sensed Enna’s presence. The warmth drifted up into his face, and he felt heat extending outward, burning away the fog. His vision cleared.

He stood (or floated?) inside the lab. The succubus, Enna’s grandmother, still laid helpless in her restraints, but her entire body appeared… paralyzed? She lay completely limp, her head rolled to the side, a trail of saliva oozing from the corner of her mouth. For a heartbreaking moment, Gnat feared she’d died. But, no, her eyes flickered. She lacked the strength to struggle, but had not yet passed on. Her red eyes glassed over, her spirit nearly broken.

Gnat’s vision wavered. He couldn’t bear to look at her. Tearing his gaze away, he inspected the rest of the room and observed a man wheeling in someone chained to a smaller rack. A man. Beaten and haggard, with rough, unkempt hair and a lopsided beard, he looked to have endured several sessions himself, having been a captive for months, possibly years.

“Good evening, Odon,” boomed Volus, towering over the broken man. “We have a lovely treat for you today.”

Odon weakly looked up and spied the limp succubus. He shuddered against his restraints. “N-n-nooo…” he groaned.

Two other men picked Odon up by his armpits and, unshackling him from the small rack, chained him to a bigger one mounted on the far wall. This rack held a head-strap that wound around the man’s forehead, locking his head in place. The man on his right pulled his shirt off, ripping it by its seams. Besides the scars and bruising, he looked relatively healthy and quite fit, just weakened.

“Is the collector prepared?” Volus prompted, holding up a syringe filled with a dull purple liquid.

“It is, my lord,” said the man on Odon’s left.

Volus said nothing else; he just jammed the needle into Odon’s thigh.

“Aghh!” cried the man as the liquid flooded his system.

“Is he responding?” asked the man on Odon’s right.

“Urk…” retched Odon. His body began to convulse, first by twitching, and then waves of shaking, until finally, he projectile vomited in the succubus’ direction. Revolting ooze dripped off of her legs, but she did not react in the slightest.

“Hmm…” muttered Volus.

“How was he able to resist?”

“Perhaps the potency diminishes over time?”

“I believe you may be correct,” Volus replied, turning with a swish of his cloak. “Come.”

One of the men attended Volus. The other remained by Odon. Gnat elected to follow Volus. They descended several winding staircases, passing no windows. Gnat could not tell if they were in a tower, or even above ground. They passed room after room filled with arcane equipment, alchemic laboratories, and focal chambers so thick with magic that the air within rippled. Still more rooms contained devices that Gnat could scarcely guess their purpose.

At the end of one of the halls, they turned towards a corridor that Gnat easily identified. A detention block. Most of the cells were empty, but one, which a guard stood beside, was their destination. The guard wore a very peculiar garb that appeared to be plates of reflective metal coated with ample amounts of wax. He nodded at Volus and grasped the handle for a stone door leading inside the cell. The guard struggled with it, for it was at least two feet thick, and coated with copious amounts of wax on the inside.

Gnat peeked inside.

He nearly leaped backwards before he realized he wasn’t really there.

A screaming hiss deafened his ears, but he paid it no mind. The vision of the woman inside the cell shocked him too much to care.

She was gorgeous, despite her monstrous form, and the fact that she’d been roughly chained and abused in the cell. Lime green hair tumbled around her tawny face and sultry upper body. A torn veil hung across the lower half of her face, lending mystique to her slanted, pink eyes. Eyes that were narrowed to slits in abject fury.

“VOLUSSSS!” cried the girl, reaching a starkly human hand at him, her tapered nails dripping acid.

“A pleasure, Aylet,” Volus replied, his voice charmingly theatrical as he chuckled at her. “How fare you, this fine eve?”

“Grraahhhh!” screamed Aylet, thrusting her long, curved, chitinous tail at him. It fell short, its wicked stinger jamming into the wax floor, where it froze and stuck.

“I see,” Volus stroked his beard pensively. “I hope you don’t mind—we need another sampling of your particular brand of perfume.”

Aylet gasped as a massive pair of forceps clamped down on her tail, yanking the stinger out of the floor and holding it still. The girl hissed and thrashed, but could not free her tail. She swiped with her claws, attempting to fling droplets of venom at the men. A few landed on the guard in wax armor, but the armor’s coating seemed specifically made for that purpose. The venom slid off him and fell harmlessly to the floor.

“Have you quite finished?” Volus asked her as he stuck a collection tube onto the end of her tail. “You’ll only injure yourself again. How is the leg, by the way?”

Aylet cringed, favoring one of her front legs. Gnat spied a nasty crack in the chitin that had only partially healed. “Better than you will be when I free myself and make you my slave!”

“Won’t that be grand?” chuckled Volus as he pulled the tube off of her stinger, having captured a generous amount of her venom. “Excellent,” he remarked, tilting the tube this way and that before placing a wax cork on it.

“Volusssss!” cried Aylet, struggling against the forceps.

“As much as I realize you cannot bear to be parted from me, I must attend to other duties,” sighed the sorcerer. He stepped out of the room. The guard released the girl and withdrew quickly.

“See that she receives medicine for her wound,” Volus instructed. “And extra meat as a reward for her contributions today.”

“Yes, my lord!” the guard saluted, as he pushed the door closed.

“I WILL FIND YOUUUU!!” screamed Aylet before her voice disappeared behind cruel stone.

“They are rather vocal the first few weeks,” muttered the man beside Volus.

“Indeed,” agreed Volus. “Take this for processing.” He held out the vial.

“Still rather pleasing to the eye, though,” the man chuckled as he reached for the vial.

Volus stiffened, retracting his offer. “What did you say?” he demanded, his voice lowering dangerously.

The man blushed, shaking his head. “N-nothing, milord.”

He regretted it immediately.

Volus lifted the man into the air and held him suspended as he peered closely at his face. The sorcerer observed him for several seconds. Finally, Volus dropped him unceremoniously.

“Report for reconditioning,” Volus ordered. “Now.”

The man sighed. Two guards appeared at his side as if summoned by telepathy. They escorted the man away. A third guard stood by Volus, awaiting instructions.

“Begin another purge,” Volus commanded. “Perform full inspections.”

“As you wish, my lord!” the guard stated at attention, and departed quickly.

Gnat’s mind swam. So much to take in! His vision faltered momentarily, and Volus noticed. The sorcerer began to look around as fear took hold of the boy.

“Don’t be afraid,” Enna’s voice echoed softly in Gnat’s ears. “Think of us.”

Gnat nodded mentally. He focused on their first kiss, and how he felt when he embraced Enna. His jitters settled. Volus’ gaze swept over his location, but kept moving. He hadn’t seen him. The sorcerer turned and headed back the way he’d come, not pausing, even as acolytes darted to and fro, casting spells that swept the halls with churning magic.

Gnat followed Volus back into the torture chamber. Enna’s Gram still laid limply in her restraints, barely breathing. Odon jammed a fresh needle into the waxed cork and sucked out some fresh venom. This time, the purple liquid gleamed, practically glowing.

“Let’s try this again, shall we?” Volus said dispassionately as he jammed the needle into Odon’s thigh.

This time, a completely different effect came over the man. His struggles ceased immediately as he fell limp, but his breathing quickened, and his skin began to flush.

A woman stepped into the room. “Milord,” she interrupted. Volus glanced at her wordlessly. “Post check complete. We are ready to begin the next cycle once the subject has been reinfused.”

“Excellent timing,” Volus commended her. “Lysette, care to observe?” He indicated Odon.

“Urgghh…” grunted Odon. “What… what was… in that…?” he gasped.

“Fresh Girtab venom.”

“Not… not again…” Odon sucked in a breath to scream, but exhaled sharply, lacking the strength to fight. The loincloth in front of him began to lift up on its own. A man beside him pulled it away.

Gnat shuddered at the sight. He’d seen a naked man before. Even a naked woman. But he’d never seen anything like this.

The man’s limp phallus throbbed, having swollen much larger than was normal. Gnat wondered how often he’d been forced to do things like this… The boy found he could not avert his gaze. Odon’s phallus jumped in size and length with each beat of his heart. The blood vessels within bulged and pulsed. The man’s face flushed and sweat beaded on his naked skin. Gnat glanced at the succubus to check for a reaction.

Nothing.

They’d robbed so much strength from her that even her succubus nature failed to stir.

But what about Lysette? A mature, attractive woman. Human, but still. Gnat glanced at her.

The woman tapped on her clipboard, scrawling on it with a fountain pen. “Interesting,” she remarked dispassionately, her intelligent eyes scanning Odon for his reaction. “How much did you give him?” she asked Volus.

“Five CCs,” replied the sorcerer.

“Up three from last time,” Lysette noted. “But less than half of the dose you gave him less than an hour ago. My lord, it appears our efforts at preserving Girtab venom are, as of yet, a failure. My apologies.”

“Recommendations?” the sorcerer asked as Odon grunted.

“We’ll need to run more tests,” Lysette replied. “Glacies’ frost appears to be ineffective. A pity, as it is far easier to store than my next recommendation.”

“Which is?”

“We’re going to try to keep it hot, this time. The Girtab is a desert creature, after all. For that, I will require Ignis flames, or, perhaps, the whiskers of a Hellhound.”

“Have you considered Dragons?” Volus asked her, a curious eyebrow raised at Odon.

The poor man’s cock had swollen to massive proportions. It was wider than Enna’s fist, and almost as long as her arm. Every ounce of his strength focused upon it. His eyes bulged from their sockets, riveted upon the limp figure of the succubus.

“Dragon fire is far too volatile,” said Lysette, shrugging. “It would likely incinerate the container, and spoil the venom.”

“I see,” sighed Volus. “Very well. Requisition what you will. A Hellhound will not be easily obtained, however.”

“Then, let us hope the Ignis flames prove useful,” replied Lysette. “Oh, I do believe he is ready.” She indicated Odon with the end of her quill’s feather.

“So he is,” agreed Volus. “You may begin,” he instructed the main beside Odon.

The man tugged down a metal contraption hanging from the ceiling, one of many. This one was multi-segmented, allowing it to conform to a variety of shapes and sizes of… well, cocks. Gnat could feel himself blushing, then shuddering as that cold metal clamped down and conformed to Odon’s inhuman erection. It even contained clamps that captured his sack and separated the testes. With a few clicks and snaps, the man locked the device in place.

Next, the man picked up a long rod with a hook on the end. Gnat shivered at what he intended to do with that. But, thankfully, he only used it to retrieve a device from the ceiling above the succubus. Gnat noticed a tube linking it with the contraption hooked up to Odon. The man positioned the secondary device near the succubus’ face.

“Ready, my lord,” announced the man.

“Begin.”

The man swirled a basic rune into the air near the contraption and then pushed it into the device. Immediately, the metal came to life, beginning to vibrate and move, stimulating Odon’s arousal. Odon jerked momentarily, before the Girtab venom’s paralysis took hold again.

“Time to wake up, my dear,” Volus spoke to the succubus. “We can’t have you leaving us so soon, not when we are so close to our goal…”

“Go…to…Hell…” breathed the succubus, barely able to glare at him.

Odon grunted roughly.

A droplet of something fell from the device above the succubus’ face. She paid it no mind. But another landed on her cheek. And another. They remained in place for a moment, then began to thin out and trickled onto the corner of her lip. Her tongue tested it briefly, then slipped between her lips to catch the others on her cheek.

“Damn you…” she hissed, then turned her head to the device and opened her mouth to catch the next few. But it was only pre-release. She strained to catch what came.

She needn’t have bothered.

Odon gasped, shuddering.

Suddenly, a gush of seed burst from the device and spewed directly into the succubus’ waiting mouth. She couldn’t help herself. She swallowed greedily; the Girtab-induced orgasm pouring so much that it spread over her face in a throbbing, gushing flood.

“Mmmmnnnnn…” moaned the succubus as she strained against her binding. Seed splashed onto her face, neck, shoulders, and dripped between her breasts. Volus wasted no time. He reinstated the absorption runes as Lysette idly took notes.

Gnat retched. Morbidly curious, he kept watching, but the sight of it sickened him, the images seeping into his mind, corrupting his soul. His hold on the vision began to waver.

Volus stiffened and looked around.

Lysette picked up on this and also scanned the room. “My lord, the Observer has returned?”

“Indeed,” warned the sorcerer.

Terror flooded Gnat’s mind. Help! Enna!

Gnat’s world spun.

The vision collapsed.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Enna!” cried Gnat. His mind struggled, disoriented. He could feel her presence. The warmth of her body. The slightly sweet, earthy smell of her scent. But she said nothing. “Enna?” he struggled to sit up.

Enna sat in a cross-legged position, having held Gnat’s head in her lap. Her inky eyes stared straight ahead, unblinking. She didn’t even appear to be breathing.

“Enna!” shouted the boy. “Ennaaaaa!” he shook her by her shoulders. His mind reeled with panic. What could he do?! He had to do something!

Struck with inspiration, Gnat kissed her. Drawing her into a one-sided embrace, he deepened his kiss, gently inserting his tongue past her lips. The moment his tongue touched hers, Enna gasped!

Life shot back into her eyes. She realized what was happening. Her eyes slowly closed, enjoying the moment, before Gnat gently released her.

“Gath…” she whispered, trembling. “What… what happened?”

Gnat stroked her hair with trembling hands, smiling weakly at her. “I don’t know. You were just staring ahead. I’m not sure where you were, but you weren’t here.”

Enna sighed, clutching him weakly. “I thought true evil had been banished from this world. I no longer believe that.”

“Even after you’d been locked away down here and forgotten?”

Enna shook her head, smiling slightly. “Even then. Ignorance is not purely evil, only borne from it.”

Gnat took a moment to consider her words. He nodded, finding himself in agreement. “Want me to tell you what I saw?”

The girl shook her head. “This time, I watched through your eyes.” She sniffled, wiping a tear from her eye. “Poor Gram… it’s… it’s all my fault…” her voice broke, threatening a flood of tears.

Gnat gently cupped her face in his hands, focusing her gaze upon his. “No, Enna, how could you think that?”

“Because… if I hadn’t asked… for the sparkles… that day…”

Gnat thought back to the memory she’d shared with him. The sparkles… His eyes brightened, and he grinned. “No, see, she saved you! With the sparkles. Don’t you remember? The guards came into the room, but they couldn’t see you! It’s not your fault—she was trying to protect you!”

Enna whimpered but said nothing.

“And she succeeded!” Gnat said triumphantly. “What happened later may have been a teensy bit your fault,” he admitted. “You did try and storm the castle by yourself.”

Enna couldn’t help but let out a bittersweet laugh at that remark.

“That was really brave, by the way,” the boy complimented. “I don’t know how you managed it. I would have been too scared. But what your grandmother did, studying Fairy magic, that was her choice. It was a risk that she took. As for what’s happening to her now, that’s not her fault, and definitely not your fault.”

Enna sniffled and hugged him. “Thank you…”

“We can’t rest, though,” Gnat said, holding her gently at arm’s length. “We learned a lot just now.”

“Yes.” Enna agreed.

“My biggest question is this: Don’t succubi have such powerful charms that no one can resist them?” asked Gnat. “If your grandmother is a fully matured succubus, and it sure looked that way, why was no one affected?”

Enna averted her gaze a moment to think. Then she looked right back at Gnat. “Remember right after Volus and that other man stole venom from Aylet? Volus told him to go get reconditioned.”

“Because he made a joke?” Gnat scratched his head.

“Maybe,” Enna theorized, “But I think it’s because of what he actually said. He said something about Aylet being pretty.”

“Ohh, right,” Gnat remembered. “But the joke too. Did you notice, everyone else had no emotions whatsoever, except maybe Odon. He was just terrified.”

“And Volus ordered a purge,” remarked Enna. “They must have magic or something that prevents them from feeling anything.”

Gnat retched. “Ugh. How does anyone live like that?”

“They’re scared.”

The boy looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“They’re scared of us,” Enna emphasized. “I don’t know what they were trying to do to Gram, but that magic, that prevents them from feeling anything, it’s helping them study her. Us. Don’t you see? They’re scared of us.”

Gnat slid out of her arms, so he could pace around to think. “Come to think of it, you’re probably right. I’ve been studying the Order’s laws, or, at least, what little the historian will let me read. Monsters, and people accused of helping monsters, are treated very badly. But they aren’t… experimented on… I thought. Volus shouldn’t even be near one. And I have a feeling he has a lot more than Aylet and your grandmother there.”

“What are we going to do?”

Such a simple question, with a not-so-simple answer.

“Research,” Gnat said after pondering his choice of answers. “I’m going to the library when I get the chance. I’ll study Volus’ methods. Maybe find out where he is. Then we just have to figure out how to get to your grandmother.” Gnat scratched his head, thinking. “Hmm. Do you remember that spell she cast on you? The sparkles? We might need it.”

Enna frowned, shaking her head. “No, I don’t think it was the sparkles. It was the dust itself. The magic she wove into my hair. I was able to use it to hide. And then, later, I used it to make the fog.”

“Riiiight,” Gnat remembered. “Wonder if we can get more. Hmm. I’ll try to research that too.”

“Please, be careful,” implored Enna. “I can’t lose you too…”

Gnat grinned at her. “You won’t. I’d better go get started on the day, though, or I’ll be missed.”

Enna sighed, nodding dejectedly. She perked slightly as Gnat gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before running out, then darkness settled in.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“THERE you are!” squealed Cari when Gnat emerged into the kitchen. She quickly nabbed him and ran off into a cupboard, closing the door and sealing them in.

All sounds dropped away. Only the rattling of some bottles broke the silence, and when they settled, all Gnat could hear was his own breathing. And Cari’s. Gnat gulped, looking up at her, for she was a few inches taller and a little older. He’d never been this close to her before.

She was pretty.

Really pretty.

A peppering of freckles spread out over the bridge of her nose and into her cheeks, beneath sharp, cunning, green eyes. Red bangs, swept halfway over one eye, lent the girl a precocious look, topped off with pouty lips that often rested in a coy smile. She smelled of cinnamon and yeast from the kitchen.

Gnat’s heart did a flip in his chest. If he hadn’t been able to take his mind off Enna, Cari would have him wholly ensorcelled by this time. “C-Cari?” whispered Gnat. He gulped again, his eyes wandering to her fluffy maid outfit. He wondered if Enna could disguise herself in one. It certainly would hide her frail figure.

Cari cleared her throat quietly, resting upon a barrel to level their gazes. Gnat realized he’d been staring at her chest. Her modest bosom pleasingly filled out the top of her apron. But suddenly, her eyes were now at his level, and she leaned forward, her coy smile capturing his attention.

“So, did you two enjoy each other?” Cari asked smugly. One curvy eyebrow lifted in inquiry. The rosy blush in her cheeks made Gnat wonder if she noticed him staring at her.

“Uhm… wh-what?” sputtered Gnat.

“Come on,” giggled Cari softly as she nudged her fist against Gnat’s shoulder. “You can tell me.”

Gnat sputtered and stammered and… said nothing coherent. Cari sighed and batted her eyelashes at him, which… really… wasn’t helping!

“We um… we talked…”

“And…?” Cari leaned close.

“We uh… slept…”

Cari gasped, sitting upright, her hand over her plump lips. “You slept with her!” she giggled, winking at him. “Scandalous…” she squealed, squirming on the spot.

“No!” protested Gnat as loudly as he dared. “We just… dreamed…”

“You dreamed together~~” cooed the girl, fanning herself as she theatrically averted her gaze. “How romantic…” she sighed wantonly. Gnat noticed the blush in her cheeks deepening as her imagination ran wild. “Ohh you’re blushing~!” she giggled.

“Speak for yourself,” grunted Gnat.

Cari gasped in theatric shock, wagging her finger at him. “Well I can’t help it,” she pouted. “I just love a steamy romance… even better if it’s forbidden!”

Cari giggled, but her voice caught as Gnat’s gaze fell. Depression loomed over him. This was all fun and games to the maid, wasn’t it? The weight of destiny rested upon Gnat’s young shoulders. He shuddered, his need to help warring with his insecurities. He felt Cari’s hand rest on his shoulder. It helped. A little.

“I’m sorry,” she offered, her blush having retreated, replaced by a sorrowful smile. “What really happened?”

“We shared a dream,” shuddered the boy.

“I take it, from that look, it wasn’t a pleasant dream?”

“No, it was awful.”

Cari pursed her lips in thought. “But, I thought you two looked happy together.”

Gnat met her gaze. “It’s not that,” he told her. “We saw her grandmother, locked up, being tortured.”

The maid bit her lip, cringing. “W-where?”

“I don’t know.” Gnat shook his head. “But it was Volus.”

Cari shivered in the stuffy little room. “Ugh. That man…”

“I have to rescue her, Cari,” pleaded Gnat. “She means everything to Enna.”

“You?” boggled Cari. “Little Gnat, versus the most powerful sorcerer in the lands?”

Gnat gritted his teeth, balling his hands into fists. “I know how crazy it sounds, but I have to try!” he hissed through his teeth.

Cari fidgeted and finally sighed with a nod. “All right. How can I help?”

Gnat nearly fainted. “Wha? You want to? Seriously?”

“If this is anything like those romance novels,” sighed Cari, “You’re going to need help from the plucky maid. And I’m probably going to die. But that’s all right. You two are what matters.”

Gnat shook his head vigorously, grasping Cari’s shoulders. She was actually quite slim beneath the fluffy dress. “No!” Gnat stressed the word. “I won’t let anything happen to you, either.”

Cari smiled sadly. “Oh Gnat. Sorry. Gath. That isn’t how this works.”

“Then we change it,” the boy said with determination. “Nobody dies.”

The maid nodded, trembling. “All right, Master Gath. Do you have a plan?”

Gnat couldn’t tell if she was teasing him or not. Oh well. “Is there any place in town where you can buy Fairy dust?”

Cari pressed her finger into Gnat’s lips. “Shhh!” she hissed. “We can’t talk about that here. Meet me outside the pantry after breakfast, all right?”

Gnat nodded, and stiffened, glancing at the door. “Someone’s coming!”

The door burst open to reveal a very irritated Cook.

“I might’ve known! Gnat and the maid,” she harrumphed. “I knew you two were acting odd yesterday. Get out of there and get to work! And don’t let me catch you smooching in here again!”

The two of them scrambled out, offering their “yes’m’s,” as they scurried about their duties.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

After what seemed like hours, Gnat finally finished, and snuck into the pantry to meet Cari. He looked around, but found no sign of her. Turning to leave, he nearly knocked her over as she dashed in.

“Gna—err, Gath!” squealed Cari. “I’m so sorry,” she gasped, attempting to catch her breath. “Got here as quickly as I could. Did you wait long?”

“Just got here myself,” said the boy. “But I can’t stay. I need to get to the smithy. I’m going to be late… Need to get Enna this food.”

Cari stopped him, gathering the items he’d been carrying. “I’ll bring them to her. Here, take this,” she offered, slipping him a scrap of parchment. Looked like an address.

“Dust,” said Cari. “Bring money. Lots.” She shuffled the items into her apron pockets. “Go, go!” she shooed him out.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Bugger all!”

Uh oh.

Gnat poked his head into the smithy’s shop.

“Where’s the thriced-damned thing got to?”

“S-sir?” asked the boy.

“Bout bloody time!” grunted the smith. “Where ye BEEN, boy?! We’re behind on quota, and me best hammer ‘n chisel have gone and walked off!”

Oh no.

Gnat forgot to return the hammer and chisel!

“Sir, do you… want me to help look for them, or get to work?”

The smith tossed up his massive arms in frustration. “Seven hells with it, just get ta work.”

So, work he did. Gnat poured his mind, body, and soul into it. Enna’s life, his live, and Gram’s life all depended upon it. Maybe Cari’s too, since she’d decided to help. Gnat wondered if it was wise bringing her into this. She seemed to know what she was getting herself into, and had resigned herself to a grisly death. Gnat shuddered. He refused to allow that to happen.

By the end of the day, Gnat’s muscles ached, and sweat pooled off his skin. He looked at himself, wondering if he might end up looking like the smith if he did this for a living. The smith snapped Gnat out of his daze.

“Oy,” he interrupted, dropping his forceps down on the anvil. “Bloody hell…” he whistled.

Oh.

Gnat lost track of how many buckles he made. He had quite a pile here.

“Definitely been holdin back on me,” the smith remarked. “What’s got into you these past few days? Oy. Whatever it is, I could use a pinch meself. An ‘o these things engraved?”

Gnat shrugged. “Didn’t know if you wanted me spending time making those.”

“Ye got a point there, alright, here, take this, ye earned it. Not a bad day, considerin’. If only I could find me hammer…”

Several silver coins fell into Gnat’s hands. He hoped it would be enough.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, wiping his brow.

“Keep it up, and ye’ll make a good living in this town.”

The two bade each other farewell. Gnat stopped by the baker to get a snack. Something light and cheap, before heading out to the address Cari gave him. He needed to hurry. Night was falling fast. The seasons were getting colder, the days shorter. Urgency drove Gnat to walk faster.

Too fast. He’d gone past it. Blast!

Turning around he made his way back, but someone stood in his way between two buildings. He apologized and tried to go around, but the man blocked him.

“Going somewhere, kid?” the obvious hooligan chuckled.

Ugh. Didn’t have time for this! Annoyance brushed fear aside and Gnat turned to go the other way. But, no. One of the hooligan’s companions blocked the other way.

“Hey, not so fast, we’re just getting to know each other, right?”

“Just let me go,” Gnat grumbled.

“Oy, I thought you said it was a girl,” grumbled the second man.

“Couldn’t tell, too dark,” countered the first man. “Oh well, I can hear that coin purse rattling from all the way over here. Sounds full.”

“No, please,” begged Gnat. “I need this for medicine…”

“Wah ha ha!” the second man guffawed. “’Ow many buggers have used that excuse this week?!”

“At least three, I reckon,” the first man chuckled. “Hand it over, boy, and we’ll forget we saw you, deal?”

Gnat bristled. He hated bullies more than anything else in the world. Volus most of all. “I said, ‘no.’” he said defiantly.

“Why is it always the knife? I don’t understand,” muttered the first man, advancing on Gnat with his dagger. “Guess I’ll be giving you a new hole to breathe out of.”

He thrust the blade at Gnat.

Huh?

The man’s movements seemed… slow. And obvious. Gnat stepped out of the way.

“Oof!” grunted the hooligan, stumbling into the wall.

“Quit toyin’ around,” grunted the other, charging at Gnat.

Again, the man’s attack came at him in slow-motion, and clumsily. Gnat stepped out of the way and stuck out his foot.

“What the—” the second man cursed, tripping over Gnat’s foot and crashed into some crates nearby.

“Bugger all!” cried the first, swinging at the boy.

Why were they so slow? This time, Gnat just reached and grabbed the dagger out of the man’s greasy hand as it slowly arced down, and then kicked him in the stomach.

“Urk!” he grunted, backing away as Gnat pointed the dagger at him. “Ugh! This kid’s got training!”

“Can’t see flippin’ anything!” the other guy complained, digging himself out of the mess.

Odd. Gnat peered down the alleyway with ease. What the Hell was wrong with these idiots? The second man flung his dagger at Gnat and missed, hitting the other guy in the arm instead.

Now, fully panicked, the two men ran off in different directions. Gnat scratched his head. That had been the downright strangest mugging attempt he’d ever seen, much less experienced firsthand. He chalked it up to them being drunk and continued on his way.

“Nice work, kid,” someone said from nearby.

Gnat glanced around. A woman’s voice. Elderly. There, in the window on the second floor of the houses lining the alley. Gnat checked the piece of paper. Ah. This was the address. “Thanks,” he said. “Uh… I know it’s late, but I’m here to buy some…”

“Hush, now,” the old woman snapped, then closed the window’s shutters. Gnat wondered if he’d offended her somehow. He sighed, feeling defeated. He was about to turn away when the door next to him opened. The woman reached out to snatch him inside.

As before, her action came in slow motion. He could have dodged her hand easily, but he didn’t sense any malice. In fact, he got the distinct impression she was trying to protect him, so he allowed her to pull him inside. Quickly, and without lighting any lamps, the woman guided the boy upstairs and into her loft.

Gnat blinked rapidly on the way up. For some reason, he could still see. Past experience taught him that halls like these were nearly pitch dark without lighting at night. It was dark, sure. But he could still see.

The woman led Gnat into her flat and closed the door behind him. The crisp scent of incense tickled his nostrils, while his ears were treated to the sounds of gentle chimes from several wind chimes hanging from the ceiling. Plush rugs from the Mist Continent tickled his toes between the straps of his sandals. Vivid paintings depicting ancient battles drew his eyes. Amazing. There was something in the woman’s flat for each of the five senses. He saw dates in a bowl next to the hearth and surmised they probably delighted the last of his five, the tongue, as well.

“I’m not certain if you were wise to sneak here in the witching hours, or completely foolhardy,” sighed the woman as she drifted into the next room. She came back with a basket of freshly baked bread. “Hungry?”

Gnat balked at the offer. “Begging your pardon, nothing’s free in this life, how much?”

The woman chuckled. “A streetwise young man, are you? If only that weren’t so true.” She set the basket down on the table next to Gnat. “You’re right, of course. But money is not what I ask.”

“What, then?”

“Tell me of your Mamono,” the woman said suddenly.

A shiver of fear streaked up the boy’s spine. The way the woman looked at him pierced his soul. Realization struck him. Her gaze felt much like Enna’s. “How…?”

The woman chuckled again as she took a seat on the sofa. She withdrew a long, thin pipe from her robes and attached a small cigarette to the end. She lit the cigarette’s tip with the snap of her fingers.

Magic…

“When I was younger, I could spot a young man touched by mamono energy and pick him out of a crowd. With the Order tightening its grip, and my getting on in years, this has become a touch more difficult. But you… oh, in you, it is as plain as day.”

The woman inhaled a deep draw from her pipe. She calmly blew smoke, awaiting Gnat’s reply.

“Can… I trust…” he started to say.

“An interesting question,” she replied. “Can you trust family?”

“Family?”

“If you have indeed been touched by a Mamono, that makes us closer than friends. It makes us kin.”

“What… Mamono did you know?” Gnat asked uneasily.

The woman waved her hand, gesturing around the room. “Look around you. These works of art? They are mine. I created them… with the help of a dear friend of mine. A Leanan Sidhe.”

Gnat gasped. He recognized the name. The Leanan Sidhe were famous for… well… making people famous. The humans they interacted with became inspired to create great works of art, and this woman was no exception. Her paintings, depicting battles spanning aeons, took his breath away. In one of them, a sprawling battlefield hosted the armies of the original Demon Lord and the assault against the Chief God’s armies. Another painting depicted the famous succubus assaulting the Demon Lord’s stronghold and claiming victory. Still another showcased the Goddess assaulting the new Demon Lord’s fortress and being defeated. Each painting leapt out at him, and he could swear the sounds of battle stirred within them.

Gnat felt he could stand there staring at them for days. “She felt as you do now,” said the woman. “The works satisfied a yearning in her heart, but it was not enough for her.”

“What happened?” Gnat asked, tearing his eyes off of the imagery.

Smiling knowingly, the lady replied, “What always happens. A man entered her life. She bade farewell to me and went to be with him.”

“I’m sorry…” Gnat swallowed a lump in his throat.

The woman waved it off. “Don’t be. I’ll live with the treasures she helped me create until the day I die. That man did me a favor, to be honest. The more work I produced, the more voracious the Sidhe’s appetite grew. Had it lasted much longer, I would have worked myself to death.” She chuckled. “But I don’t blame her. She simply had no self-control. A typical problem, with those Fairies.”

“I’ve never seen any of these paintings before,” Gnat remarked. “I thought Leanan Sidhe made you famous?”

The elder chuckled, waving off that notion as she puffed from her pipe. “I had no interest in any of that,” she confided. “I was satisfied to have made a new, exotic friend and to surprise her with my inspirations. Besides, when the hammer of the Order fell, it was all I could do to keep the little rascal hidden.”

“Do you miss her?”

“Frightfully,” sighed the lady. “She left me a healthy supply of her dust to keep my inspiration alive, but, sadly, without Lyssa herself, the dust lost much of its potency.”

A heavy weight dropped into Gnat’s gut.

“What’s the matter, young man? You look as if I’d just told you your best friend was dying.”

“She could,” Gnat said, trembling. “If the Order catches her. I’ve got to get her out of there…”

“Tell me about her?” the lady asked gently.

Gnat nodded and described Enna as best he could. As the words tumbled from his mouth, he felt his heart swell in appreciation of her, despite how wrong the words felt. No matter how much the boy concentrated, he felt he’d never be able to do her justice. His thoughts focused heavily on her eyes, how they looked inky black with electric blue irises, yet changed to milky pearlescent white whenever Enna smiled and felt comforted.

The woman listened, enrapt, as Gnat described this. Midway through his description of Enna’s hair, she rose up, and, motioning him to keep going, she plucked a tome off of one of her shelves to compare notes. As Gnat trailed off, the woman laid the book in front of him, turning it around so that he could see a picture of a very young girl.

Gnat gasped…

It was an oil rendition the woman had painted… of Enna! As a young girl. He marveled at the likeness and lifelike nature the woman captured. Gnat half-expected the tiny Enna to start speaking at any moment.

“Enna…” sighed Gnat.

“What did you say?” the woman asked suddenly.

“Oh, s-sorry, it’s what I call her,” Gnat explained. “Her grandmother used to call her Ennui.”

The lady sighed, closing the book slowly, carefully. “Ah… yes. That’s Kalenda’s daughter, to be sure.”

“What?”

“Her mother, Kalenda, gave birth to her amidst several complications,” the elder explained. “Despite the midwives’ efforts, and my medicines, she passed away with her daughter in her arms, shortly after the delivery. Tragic, yes, but there was something remarkably strange about it.” The woman sat back against the sofa to puff on her pipe as she thought about it.

“What do you mean, strange?” Gnat pressed, somewhat put off by the woman’s callous depiction of Enna’s mother’s death.

“She never cried.”

“Huh?”

“Enna, as you call her, never shed a tear as a baby. I never understood that. Very peculiar. Babies often cry, especially newborns. They seem to never stop. But this girl? She just… laid there. The midwife feared her stillborn, but she was healthy pink and already trying to speak. Besides that, though, she just laid there, limply, lazily. Hence Kendra’s nickname for her.”

“She cries now…” said Gnat softly.

“I imagine she does,” sighed the woman. “After that horrible incident with her grandmother as her last memory, and then, her transformation sometime after that.”

Gnat wondered about that. Did the woman mean Enna or her grandmother, Kendra? He hadn’t told her about Kendra’s transformation, so he assumed she meant Enna. “So… based on what I’ve told you, what is Enna? What did she become?”

“That’s what puzzles me,” the elder remarked, rising slowly. She replaced the book on the shelf and picked out another, much fatter tome. Flicking through its pages with one who has had much experience, she rested the book down on the table, but held it away from Gnat. “Hmm…” she hummed as she flicked pages.

“Did you find anything?” prompted Gnat.

“No, and that troubles me,” the woman said darkly. “Did she tell you how the transformation began? Does she know?”

“No, but I think I do,” said Gnat. “When she caused all the ruckus trying to save Kendra, a vial of Fairy dust broke in her hands. The glass cut her hands, and some of the dust mixed with her blood. Also, earlier, she rubbed some into her eyes by mistake.”

“Ahh, very astute,” the elder complimented him. “That would do it, for certain. You remember her story well, then?”

“That’s just it…” said Gnat, scratching his head. “When we tell stories to each other, we relive them as if we were there. I was there, reliving it, as Enna.”

The woman stared at him with her cool, grey eyes, enrapt as before. “Fascinating… She has developed powerful magic.”

“Magic?” breathed Gnat. “Is she becoming a Fairy?”

The woman chuckled, shaking her head. “No, my boy, it doesn’t work that way. A human can become a human-type monster, and, in some ways, be transformed into all manner of things, petite or monstrous. A Fairy can become a monster, but she will still be a Fairy. An Elf can become a Dark Elf, but she will remain an Elf, all the same. A human cannot become an Elf, or a Fairy, for that matter.”

“Oh, right,” sputtered Gnat, feeling dumb.

“You are not altogether wrong, however,” the woman countered. “An infected woman tends to take on the transformation of the species that infected her. A werewolf will change a human into another werewolf, for instance. In Enna’s case, however, her exposure was unique.”

“Sounds just like a Fairy got her, though?”

“Perhaps, except that the dust Lyssa gave me has lost much of its potency, like I said earlier. It no longer brings about great inspiration. And, while not all Leanan Sidhe are monsters, I am rather certain Lyssa was one of them. The way she took to that man…” she sighed wistfully. “But never mind that. Mamono power does not dissipate nearly as quickly as Leannan Sidhe charm. It is likely your friend received a concentrated, albeit small, dose.”

“So, then what?” prompted Gnat.

“What did the men do with her after they caught her?”

“They threw her into the dungeon, in isolation.”

The woman pondered that for some time. “Hmm. Mamono essence shapes and molds itself around a woman’s desire, and her transformation will reflect that. Exposed to raw Mamono essence, most women become succubi. However, if your friend’s desire was wholly focused on something else, other than companionship…”

“See…”

“What was that, now?” the woman asked, her attention sharply focused on Gnat.

“It was dark… she needed to see…” Gnat muttered softly, as if in a trance.

“Go on,” urged the woman.

“Darkness. Lies. Deceit. Mistrust. See…”

Gnat shuddered and snapped out of it. “Woah. What was that?

“Incredible…” mused the woman. “Your connection to her is strong. Very strong.”

“It… it is?”

“Oh yes,” the woman nodded. “I observed your tussle in the street earlier. Fancy moves, for someone so uncoordinated.”

Gnat shrugged. “They were slow, and drunk.”

“And much, much stronger than you.”

“Maybe…” gulped the boy.

“Tell me,” asked the woman, waving her hand through the air. Her magic extinguished the lights in the flat, one by one. “How well can you see these pages?” She laid the book out in front of him.

A girl, a monster girl, was described on the pages of the book. She had black hair, long and thick, like Enna. A fluffy tail with the same color and texture blended in with her hair, making it look even longer. And her skin looked the same shade of slate grey. But that was where the similarities ended. She had only one eye on her face, large and red, and many tentacles surrounding her, each with its own eye.

“That doesn’t look much like Enna,” he remarked.

“But you can read the pages?”

“Well, yes,” Gnat said, wondering if that was a trick question. “It’s a journal entry about a Gazer.”

The elder relit the lamps and candles, forcing Gnat to blink a couple of times. “Very strong, indeed,” she said.

“I don’t understand?”

“I darkened the room, so that the only object I could discern was the tip of my pipe, glowing with embers.”

The realization hit Gnat like a sack of cinder blocks.

He could see in the dark. Perfectly.

He remembered, now. The last time he visited Enna, he didn’t even bring a torch. He knew his way around without so much as thinking. The men from earlier, they remarked about how dark it was. Gnat hadn’t noticed. He could see perfectly. Better than perfectly, in fact.

“Her magic is powerful,” said the woman, snapping Gnat out of it. “For her to maintain night vision in you, without even thinking about it, is remarkably similar to this Gazer here.” Her fingertip tapped the page next to the picture of the Gazer girl. “The power of a Gazer is in her eyes. And, from what you’ve told me, your friend’s eyes are remarkably expressive.”

“So… she’s a Gazer?” Gnat struggled with the discrepancy of the image.

“No,” the woman shook her head. “They are similar, but the differences are too stark for them to be the same species. I presume she lacks eyestalk tentacles?”

Gnat giggled in spite of himself. “I think I would have noticed those…” he said, looking back at the Gazer image. “She looks awfully scary,” he said.

“They say, ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ my boy. The love Gazers feel towards their beloved is no less powerful than yours.”

“If you say so,” mused Gnat, scratching his head. “So, she’s not a Gazer, then.”

“No, in fact,” pondered the woman, “She has inherited aspects of the Gazer, mixed with abilities you might see in a Dark Mage, and the dark arts of the Kunoichi.”

Gnat’s mind spun attempting to take it all in. “What do you mean?” he sputtered. “What is she?”

“I do believe you have encountered a new or previously undiscovered type of monster,” said the woman.

And then, Gnat’s world went completely upside-down. He sat down, hard, doing his best to stay conscious. How he managed not to faint escaped him. A new monster?! How could Enna be a new monster??

“I see you are taking this seriously,” remarked the woman. “Good. If the Order hates anything, it’s surprises. The news of a new species of monster will strike them hard.”

“I have to leave the city with her,” Gnat announced.

“Where will you go that they cannot find you?”

Gnat shook his head vigorously. “I’m not running away. I have to…” he trailed off.

“Have to what?” prompted the woman. “Come on, boy, out with it. I’ll let you know if your plan is well-conceived or not.”

Gnat closed his eyes firmly, balling his hands into fists. “I have to rescue Enna’s grandmother.”

That struck a chord.

The woman sat up straight, holding her pipe aside. She stared right at Gnat, her grey eyes burning holes in his head. “Rescue? Kendra’s alive?” she exclaimed, some of her youth returning in her urgency.

Gnat nodded. “In poor health and a very bad situation, but alive.”

“How could you possibly know that?”

The boy looked back at her, premature age weighing heavy in his eyes. “Because I can do more than just see in the dark.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Good heavens, child,” breathed the woman. Gnat’s story obviously shook her to her very soul. “Kendra… alive… and changed into a succubus? And in the custody of that atrocious man…”

Gnat took a step back. Angry magic seethed around the woman, rippling the air between them just like he’d seen in Volus’ sanctuary. “There’s more,” said Gnat. He waited until the woman’s attention refocused on him. “Volus. He knows. I think he’s on to me. The woman with him, Lysette, called me ‘The Observer.’”

“The Observer,” repeated the elder. “Curious. Enna’s power has surpassed my own. I cannot even begin to calculate her potential. Clearly, Volus is concerned. He thinks you are a powerful mage. This may work in your favor.”

“How?” boggled Gnat. Volus feared him?!

“A man of his stature would never anticipate a scrawny thing like you having that kind of power,” chuckled the woman. Gnat blushed hotly, suddenly feeling self-conscious. The woman chuckled again at his response. “Oh, I mean no disrespect. Some of the world’s greatest mages started out as you are now. The Chief God Herself takes pride in discovering and anointing younglings before anyone else takes notice of them.”

“But this power isn’t mine,” countered Gnat. “It’s Enna’s.”

“Make no mistake,” the woman shook her head. “While her power is impressive, your intuition and capabilities are astounding on their own. Were they not, her power would have driven you insane.”

Gnat gulped.

“A Mamono’s true strength lies not in her own power, but in the bond she shares with her husband.”

Now, Gnat was going to faint.

Any second now.

White spots flickered in his vision. The ground left his feet.

His face felt so red, any hotter and he’d catch fire.

Come on. Faint already. Get it over with.

He remained stubbornly conscious.

“Hus…band…?” shuddered Gnat.

The woman looked down on him, haven fallen on his haunches. She smiled with compassion. “My dear boy,” she offered gently, “You are her match. Were it not, you would not share her power, nor her desires. While you might consider yourself too young to fill your head with these notions, the fact remains. The bond has been forged between you.”

“B-but… I don’t… marriage?!

The woman pursed her lips, thinking. “Oh dear. I forgot. The Order does not teach these notions to its youth. You still believe monsters, those slavering, ravening beasts, enchant their marks with their magic and carry them off to caves and hovels to devour them. Sound about right?”

Gnat nodded slowly.

“And does Enna strike you as one of these?”

Gnat shook his head.

“Have you kissed her?”

Gnat gulped and nodded.

“How did she react?”

The boy tried to speak, but his voice came out as a kind of squeak.

“Ah,” smiled the woman. “To feel that first spark,” she sighed wistfully. “To have found your kindred spirit, your faithful companion. She will always be there for you, never leave you or betray you. This kiss binds that dark commandment passed down from the Demon Lord. They are not that unlike, she, and the Chief God, you know.

“Love. Love is their answer. No more shall the Mamono hunt humans for sport or blood. No more shall pain and misery rule their thoughts. Indulge they shall, in the pleasures of the flesh. Feast upon the love of men until one day, their match crosses their path. And like the striking of a match against sandpaper, a burning flame ignites within. And that flame, from that point onward, burns for one man. One only.”

Gnat trembled at the woman’s knowledge of the Demon Lord and her will. He realized at that moment, it was likely this woman the soldiers were trying to find that fateful day, not Enna’s grandmother. But, based on Enna’s behavior, the woman’s philosophy made sense.

Gnat’s mind recalled the moment he learned what Volus did to her, and how his anger burned within him like a raging inferno. And then, how Enna rebuked him, shaping his anger into something else. A new goal. One that, if ultimately successful, would lead to peace. Not death.

“I think I understand…” he said softly. “But… that’s what Enna feels for me?”

“She is of a type I do not truly understand,” the woman admitted. “But all Mamono are equal, whether they or the men they encounter like it or not, in their need for a single man to love and to love them back.” She squared her eyes at Gnat. “Are you prepared to do this for yours?”

Ironclad resolve braced Gnat’s answer. He nodded.

“I am.”

“Then, in the eyes of the Mamono, you are already her husband.”

Gnat’s heart practically stopped. It did beat, but very slowly. Each beat, however, felt like the crashing of torrential waves against a cliffside. “But… what about in her eyes?”

The woman looked on Gnat with warmth at his selfless question. “She may not understand it herself, quite yet. She was not born a Mamono. Do not rush her. Soon enough, her need for you will blossom. When it does, just be there for her.”

Gnat nodded. “I will.”

“She has chosen well,” remarked the woman fondly. “I will help you in any way that I can.”

Gnat breathed a sigh of relief. “I need Fairy dust.”

The woman considered that. “For what purpose?”

“Enna and I need to escape the castle and start looking for Volus.”

“While I am not opposed to lending you Lyssa’s dust,” said the woman, “I suggest you strengthen Enna’s innate power. If she is as capable as I believe, she will not need the dust.”

“How… how do I do that?”

“Just… be there for her,” the old woman said. Gnat thought he perceived a slight wink as she turned to another room. The clinking of small glass objects drifted in from the other room.

The realization of her words struck Gnat like another sack of cinder blocks.

Her need will blossom.

Be there for her.

Gnat shuddered all over. He felt a strange tightening in his chest that squeezed hungry ice through his veins. A strange sensation between his legs occurred as well. He gulped. Was it even appropriate to be having these feelings about Enna? He barely knew her! But, at the same time, he felt like he knew her better than anyone. Ugh! So strange! He shook his head violently.

“Take great care with these,” the woman said as she emerged back into the room. She held up two vials of faintly glowing substance within. The dust continuously shifted between every pastel color of the rainbow. “Whatever you do,” warned the elder, “Do. Not. Get. Caught.”

Gnat accepted the vials. Very, very carefully.

“This much dust is worth enough to buy half of the city on the black market. Do not be tempted.”

“All I care about is Enna,” Gnat replied truthfully.

The woman smiled. “I believe you.” She patted him on the shoulder. “Treasure her. In her, you will find true acceptance. The stronger she becomes, the stronger you shall, as well. Go. Go now. Fly to your wife.”

His wife.

Gnat’s heart flipped in his chest.

He made for the door, but paused, looking back. “I didn’t catch your name.”

The woman averted her gaze briefly. “Lyssa called me Lamara,” she replied. “In one part of the Fairy Kingdom, it means Lover.” She sighed. “It is the only name I choose to keep.”

“Thank you, Lady Lamara,” Gnat said, bowing as best he knew how, based on watching the statesmen address Baron Lester.

“Do you wish to know the name your wife’s mother gave her?”

Gnat paused at the door.

“Kiyanni.”

The boy smiled. “I think she prefers Enna. The name I gave her.”

“She would.”

Gnat departed into the night.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

All the way to the dungeon, Lady Lamara’s words kept echoing in Gnat’s mind.

In the eyes of the Mamono, you are already her husband.

Go now. Fly to your wife.

Do you wish to know the name your wife’s mother gave her?

Kiyanni.

Gnat spun the name around in his mind. Kiyanni. The family sure had a thing for “K” names, that’s for sure, he thought with a grin. Was she Kiyanni to him? Or Enna? He shook his head. He would let her decide.

“Enna?” he called, rounding the corner.

She was seated on a stool. Gnat’s heart thudded at the sight of her. She turned with a smile, his name on her lips. “Gath,” she said warmly.

“Woah,” breathed Gnat as he stepped into the cell.

Cari had been busy.

A stool, chair, and tiny table had been set up for Enna to use, as well as an unrolled set of sheets to rest on. A lamp rested upon the tiny table. Unlit. She didn’t need it, after all. But Enna herself… oh, Gnat could have stared for hours.

Gone was the sackcloth. Enna wore one of Cari’s uniform aprons. Strange heat stirred inside Gnat at the sight of her in a maid’s outfit. Cari had even washed her hair and braided it. There had been so much of it, the maid used three braids to manage it all. Two long pigtails and a slightly longer center ponytail.

“Oh,” Enna murmured, smoothing her hands over the apron. “Cari gave me one of the smaller ones that didn’t fit her anymore. It still feels loose.” She squirmed against the unfamiliar fabrics. Gnat stepped closer to her and gently tucked her chin up to get a better look at her.

Cari must have washed the girl’s face, too. Her skin, still a shade of grey, contained more color than before, at least, and the dirt and grime had been washed away. Her lips shone with a fresh application of the maid’s gloss, and the cracks had nearly healed.

“You look amazing,” said Gnat, gently stroking the corner of her eye. A moment ago, ink and milk swirled together, but as he touched her, the milk overtook the ink.

“You think so?” Enna beamed, standing up and coiling her arms around him.

To answer her question, Gnat embraced her and kissed her.

Enna inhaled sharply, returning his embrace tightly. Her smooth lips melted into his mouth, and the tips of their tongues danced around within. A steaming hunger filled Gnat as he held her, and he wondered if she felt the same way. He held her tightly, wishing he could cling to her forever. Briefly, he worried about bruising her, but she held him in a bone-cracking bear hug as well, so he paid it no further mind.

“You do…” Enna whispered against his cheek as their kiss drifted apart. “I’m sorry…”

Gnat held her gently at arm’s length. “For what?” he asked with a silly smile.

“I feel… I don’t know what I feel,” the girl admitted. “I’m acting strangely.”

“There’s nothing strange about wanting to look pretty,” chuckled Gnat. “Unless I start saying that.”

Enna giggled, her tension fading. “Pretty… is not what I would say to describe you.”

“That bad, huh?”

Enna gaped at him, blushing fiercely. “N-no! I… I mean…”

“It’s all right, Enna,” laughed Gnat. “I understand,” he said as he held one of her braids in his hand. Her hair felt incredible… glossy, sturdy, sleek, like strands of silk all tightly woven together. He briefly wondered why nobody made ropes out of hair. They sure would chafe his hands less.

Enna gazed at his hand as he stroked her hair. Her cheeks retained their blush. “We… we weren’t sure what would look acceptable,” Enna said as her eyes traced Gnat’s fingers. “She tried to think of something you would like.”

“Do you like it?” Gnat asked her. Enna blinked at him, hesitating.

“Um… I don’t know, I mean,” she stammered. “I appreciate Cari’s work, but I have nothing to, um… I don’t know what looks good,” she said finally, sighing.

“Well, you have such amazing hair, you’ll have plenty of time to try different styles,” said Gnat.

Enna smiled shyly and hugged him.

“Oh, I brought some more food and… woah,” Gnat whistled. A little box next to the chair held hunks of bread and salted meat, and in one corner, stacked tankards with more water. “Good grief! How did Cari get all this stuff in here? Huh… meat. So much for starting out slowly…”

Enna’s eyes narrowed slightly in concern. “She said something about commotion in the castle,” she explained. “Many soldiers gathered, and then left in formation. They were heading to the western front.”

Gnat stiffened. “A friend of mine lives near there,” he said, his voice tight with worry. “This isn’t good. I kind of think we need her help if we’re going to find Volus.”

“Alexi?” asked Enna.

“Wow, you’re sharp,” remarked Gnat. “I guess she isn’t really a friend, but…”

“But she helped you when no one else would,” said Enna softly, her fingertips lightly brushing his arm.

The contact sent tingles up Gnat’s arm and down his back. “Yes. I’d probably be dead were it not for her.” He caught Enna’s hand and patted the back of her wrist. “Got a surprise for you.”

“Hm?” Enna tilted her head to the side slightly.

Gnat blinked, tearing his gaze away from her. His whole body felt warm, now. Every single move the girl made fascinated him. Her very being enthralled him. He began to wonder if Lady Lamara’s words were true. Wife? He glanced at her as he fished into his pockets, and was rewarded by a gentle smile. His heart trembled; Gnat dared not think about that! What if she didn’t feel that way? She might push him away. The thought terrified him.

Before he let the terror show on his face, he tugged the two vials out and held them behind his back. “So, I met someone today,” Gnat explained. “A friend of your grandmother.”

Enna’s attention piqued. She leaned forward, her eyes imploring. “Who was it?”

“Woman by the name of Lady Lamara,” said the boy. “Cari told me to meet her,” he added, omitting the run-in with the hooligans. For now, at least. “She taught me a lot of things, and… gave me these.”

Gnat held out the vials of Fairy dust.

Enna gasped! Her hands flew to her lips in shock. Tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh… Gath… how… how did you…”

Gnat set them down, very carefully, on the table. He then stepped over to Enna and slipped an arm around her shoulders. “Enna, I have a plan… a plan to get you—us—out of here.”

“Grandmother?” Enna asked, her face very close as she turned to him.

“I swear to you, we’re going to find her, and we’re going to save her,” Gnat swore. “But I’m going to need your help, and probably Cari’s.”

Enna nodded firmly. “Anything I have is yours,” she vowed. But then her gaze faltered. “Though it isn’t much…”

Oh no, none of that.

Enna’s eyes flew open, then fluttered closed, as Gnat kissed her again. A brief kiss, but sizzling hot.

“Please, Enna,” implored the boy, “Stop doubting yourself. You saved my life today.”

“Wh-what?” the girl yelped, backing away from Gnat. “What happened?”

“Enna, how dark is it in here?”

“What difference does that make? Are you all right? Are you hurt?” Enna asked, her voice rising an octave as she bridged the distance again and began to pat him down, looking for injuries.

The tenderness of her actions nearly closed Gnat’s voice off. But he forced himself to keep talking as he gently grasped her wrists to stop her. “It’s pitch dark, Enna. I didn’t bring my torch, and your lamp isn’t lit.”

“What?” she murmured, looking around. “But there’s light everywhere.”

“No, Enna,” Gnat shook his head. “Don’t you understand? You can see in perfect darkness. Look, there’s no shadows.”

Enna slipped away from him and paced around the room, looking at everything. Like, really looking. She glanced up at him, bewildered. “I don’t understand?” she sputtered. “Where is the light coming from?”

Gnat approached her and cupped her face in his hands. “From you, Enna.” He gently stroked the lids of her eyes with the tips of his thumbs. “Your eyes. Your beautiful eyes.”

The girl melted in his touch, her eyes fluttering halfway closed as she smiled dreamily. She leaned in for a kiss. Heat seared into Gnat, and he knew he would likely not finish the story if he did not stop her. Gently, he broke the kiss.

“I was looking for Lady Lamara’s home, when two men stopped me,” explained Gnat in a husky whisper as Enna nuzzled his cheek. She paused briefly, stiffening and her embrace tightened. “They attacked me, but I fought them off, and it was all because of you.”

Enna pulled back slightly so she could look him in the eye. “How was that because of me?”

“Because I can see in perfect darkness too.”

“Because of me?”

Gnat wondered why she thought it more incredible for her to be responsible than to have found out he could see in the dark too. “Yes, Enna, because of you,” he said softly, kissing her cheek. “I couldn’t barely see my hand in front of my face when I first came down here, and I was carrying a torch. Now, I don’t even need one at all. And it gets better…”

Enna did that head-tilt thing again that Gnat found so adorable.

“When they attacked me, I could anticipate their assaults,” Gnat explained. “And I could avoid them. Easily. I even took the knife right out of one guy’s hand. I still have it, even…” he suddenly remembered, withdrawing the knife from his pocket.

Enna stared at it. She and Gnat examined it together. A crude thing, just a sharpened piece of metal wrapped around a small stick with lots and lots of twine, and then the makeshift handle wrapped in strips of old leather.

“You took this right out of his hand?” Enna asked softly.

“I did,” nodded Gnat. “It was easy. Every time he and his friend tried to attack me, their bodies slowed down. It must have been you protecting me.”

“H-how?” stammered Enna. “I remember feeling a little nervous with Cari, but nothing like that!”

“Lady Lamara, she said I was linked to you,” Gnat said, carefully. The conversation was beginning to turn to a direction he wasn’t sure how to deal with. “She said being with you lets us share power.”

“How, though? I have not cast any spells…” Enna mused, glancing at the vials of Fairy dust. “Not like… before…”

“Don’t you understand?” Gnat grasped her by her shoulders. “It’s you, Enna. The power isn’t coming from the dust. It’s coming from you.”

“From me…” the girl repeated, as if struggling to believe it.

“What’s more,” added Gnat, “She said you have great power. Power she can’t measure. She said eventually, you won’t even need the dust, once we strengthen your power.”

“I’m glad you brought it, all the same.”

Gnat nodded. “If anything, Cari might need it, if she’s coming with us.”

Enna said nothing for a while, then her gaze met Gnat’s. “What did you mean a moment ago, about strengthening my power?”

Uh oh.

Heat flooded Gnat’s face. Enna’s warmth seared into him. When did she get so warm? His heart pounded in his chest. Her eyes narrowed in concern, and she feathered her fingertips over Gnat’s forehead. Ack. That wasn’t helping! It was making it worse! Now his face tingled as well as burned!

“Is it dangerous?” the girl asked timidly. “Could you get hurt? Maybe we shouldn’t…”

Her eyes lowered a little. Her mouth turned up in a slight frown. Those lips… so soft… so pretty… ugh. Gnat couldn’t help it.

He kissed her.

Enna’s eyes shot back up into his before slamming shut. Her arms coiled around him in embrace, her fingernails skimming through his hair. She hummed softly, her voice gentle and content. Such tenderness was like kindling for Gnat’s heart. He briefly recalled Lamara’s words about a matchstick and sandpaper. He now knew what she meant. Such fire burned within him, pulsing out through his arteries from the throbbing inferno beating in his chest. The fire spread through him, returning as a hungry ache in his veins, only to be reignited in his fireball of a heart.

He needed her. Needed her. Desperately. He briefly recalled nearly drowning once in the river near the castle town. How his lungs nearly filled with water, burning in their strain to take in air. It filled his entire being.

This need now… was worse. Much worse. Gnat’s mind became feverish as well. He timed his breaths with Enna’s. Every puff of her breath from her nose he inhaled. His arms wandered lower, gripping her braids. One hand held one of them tightly. The other explored her back, skimming her figure through the gown. As he explored her body, Gnat began to feel it.

Power…

Hot, heady, sweet. Power… She was breathing it into him. The sweetness he smelled. Was that it? She practically exuded it. And it was becoming stronger the longer he kissed her. He breathed it in. Deeply inhaled it. It filled his lungs and spread, through his fiery heart, through his body. Such a strange, yet wonderful, sensation.

Power…

Enna’s power coursed through him. His vision sharpened. He could begin to make out individual specks of dirt on the stones. Pockmarks in the mortar between the bricks. Splinters sticking up out of the desk. Hmm. Gnat tried to mentally make a note to sand that down so Enna wouldn’t get a splinter later.

Enna…

Gnat’s mind coasted on a cloud of her essence. All of his thoughts were of her. Was this what being a newlywed felt like? He imagined proposing to Enna. Two versions of the image presented themselves in his mind. On the one hand, Enna beamed with joy and flung herself into his arms. In the other, she gaped at him for his presumptuous attitude, crossed her arms, and turned her back to him.

The thought of that gave him pause. Gnat very gently attempted to break the kiss. But… what was this?

Enna wouldn’t let him.

Gnat realized she’d been getting stronger, too. She held him tightly, her hands meandering over his back just as his had done on hers. He tried to say her name, but he found that difficult with their lips locked. He tried again.

“Enna…” Gnat gasped.

“Mmmmnnn…” sighed Enna.

This wasn’t going to be easy. Carefully, turning his head to the side, he began to break the kiss. Enna shifted her stance to stay with him. It took several tries, but eventually, she understood, and broke away, though only just. Their lips were still nearly touching.

“Gath…” she said, her voice deep and wanting. She rested her forehead against his as she gently caught her breath, softly panting.

“Enna, I…” Gnat tried to say, but one look in her eyes and he nearly lost himself again. The beauty within stole the breath from his lungs. In the swirling, milky pearlescence, Gnat saw a glimpse of Heaven. Bright discs of electric blue gleamed in twin seas of opaline radiance. It even whited-out her pupils, and within, a dazzling, psychedelic display of every shade of pink, blue, and green danced within.

Her lips touched his.

If they started again, he knew they would not stop.

“Enna, I must ask you…” his voice strained against need.

“Can it not wait?” she breathed into his lips.

“It was something Lady Lamara said… Something I must ask if I am to honor you…”

“You already honor me,” Enna replied, brushing her lips against his cheek.

“She said…” Gnat gulped. Enna’s tongue was tracing his cheek. She wasn’t making this easy! “She said the Mamono… or monsters, I guess… well…” he stammered, trying to force the words out, “They seek to settle… on one man…”

“Is that what she said…” Enna whispered, kissing and tracing his jaw with her tongue.

Cut to the chase, Gnat.

Just tell her. You’re not going to be able to fight her off much longer.

“She said, in the eyes of the Mamono, I was already your… your…” he sputtered, her tongue and lips on his mouth. “Your husband…” he finally managed to say.

That gave Enna some pause.

“…What?” she asked softly.

“It’s their culture,” Gnat said, holding her gently by her shoulders. Great, glorious heavens! Lamara must have been correct. The power transfer had already begun. Her face had filled out somewhat just from their kiss. Her eyes gleamed. Her lips shone. A bright rosy blush spread across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. She looked positively radiant. Her jet-black hair served as a gorgeous contrast to her smooth, light grey skin.

“Culture?” Enna prompted.

Gnat blinked, snapping out of it. Wasn’t easy. Enna’s beauty threatened to force his voice back down his throat and draw his lips back onto hers, where they belonged. “In… In Mamono culture, I would apparently be recognized as your husband already. But! I would… never presume that without asking you, so…”

Enna gasped, her hands flying to her mouth as Gnat fell to his knees before her.

“Before… we get any closer… I have to ask you… to preserve your honor…”

Enna just sniffled.

“Will you accept me as your husband?”

Time… Stopped…

Sounds fell away.

Gnat couldn’t breathe.

Didn’t matter.

Why? Well, if she said no, there was really no reason to keep on breathing. He couldn’t live without her. He couldn’t believe what he’d just asked. He hadn’t known this girl a week, and was already asking her to marry him!

The cave wall dripped some water.

That was all Gnat could hear.

Drip.

Splat.

Patter.

Drop.

Wait. Those sounds were a bit too close to be coming from the wall. They were right in front of him. He chanced to glance up. Would Enna be beaming? Or would she have her arms crossed in indignation?

Neither.

Her eyes gushed tears, and they were falling freely onto the ground in front of Gnat. Her hands still covered her mouth. Suddenly, she dropped to her knees, leveling the height between them. She threw her arms around him.

“Gath!” she cried, wailing and laughing at the same time. “I’ve been yours since the first time you gave me water!”

Gnat’s heart leapt up into his throat. Idiot! If he’d asked her sooner, this awfulness would be over already! Well. Actually. This didn’t feel so bad. He gently hugged Enna back. He had to be sure, though.

“So, your answer is yes?” he asked timidly.

Enna pulled back, leveling her gaze. Her tearful gaze. She did not bother to wipe the tears away. “Only if you accept me as your wife,” she offered, her voice choked with emotion.

The next two words would change Gnat’s life.

“I do.”

Enna nodded, barely able to reply, “Then my answer is yes!”

Their lips met forcefully. A mind-numbing shock of passion shot between them, having sealed their vows. Gnat finally understood, somehow, strangely, able to process what just happened dispassionately, like a someone else watching. It only worked for a moment, though, before Enna’s passion overtook him.

Enna gasped, spreading her hands over Gnat’s back. She found a hole in his tunic and slipped her hand inside. Gnat nearly buckled at the gentle, hungry touch. Such a soft hand, against his rough body. There wasn’t an ounce of fat on him. Some of that came from lack of food, but mostly from hard, grueling, manual labor. Enna’s hand explored what it could find, but she soon began tugging at the rough cloth to get at more of him.

Gnat broke the kiss briefly to let her pull the shirt off of him. He thought he’d find it cold and chilly in the dungeon cell, but, all he could see, hear, and feel was Enna. He was back in her arms in an instant. Her nimble fingers massaged him, finding every muscle, every bone, every rough spot, and every scar from lashings and accidents. She systematically memorized his body with her hands. Her husband. She partook deeply of him, skimming his sides, his waist, stroking his arms, and running her fingers through his hair. Oh, how he loved when she did that.

Gnat found his hands also exploring, trying to figure where this huge gown ended and she began. There was… so much of it! It frustrated him to no end. When Enna’s fingers dipped down behind him and stroked his lower back, he stiffened. He’d never felt so alive in his entire life!

“Enna…” he groaned, tugging on her gown. She gently withdrew from their kiss and helped him stand. A knowing smile on her face, she led him to the unrolled bed and sat him down upon it. She then reached for her apron and tugged on it, pulling it up as she withdrew her arms from the fluffy sleeves. More and more of her slender legs became visible. The skirt rose up her thighs, up, and up, and… stopped. Enna giggled.

Gah! That tease!

“Gath!” she squealed, her voice muffled within layers of fabric. “I’m stuck!”

Gnat leapt to his feet and took hold of the gown, attempting to lift it up. It was definitely stuck. “Wait… a moment… what is this?” he muttered. Oh. Her hair braids, wound together stiffly, were caught in the neckline. “Just a moment, I’ll have you out of there…”

Gnat tugged the ties apart holding Enna’s hair braids together and wove his fingers through the silky strands to part them. His fingers absolutely delighted in the texture… Pure, silky, glossy, heavenly. He worked each of the three braids apart, and her silky hair slid down into the gown.

“Try it now?” Gnat suggested, taking a step back.

Enna grunted with effort, and finally, managed to pull the gown up over her head and drop it on the ground with a triumphant sigh.

Oh…my…goddess…

Gnat was not prepared.

What happened to the skeletal waif?

She wasn’t here.

In her place, a dark goddess stood, her voluminous hair falling in around her after having tumbled through the gown. She shook her head and hair tumbled all around her. Thin and slender, Enna stood completely nude, her figure having filled in tremendously in the scant few days he’d known her. Her hair was so long, thick, and wavy, she could hold it in front of her and completely cover herself, for it fell all the way to her thighs. Her figure had filled in to a very pleasing hourglass; her hips widened, accentuating the curve of her waist. Her breasts, plump and filling in, remained aloft, their perkiness defying gravity. Dark grey nipples, with a touch of rose, stood erect, facing directly forward.

Gnat’s eyes continued caressing her body, traveling down, past her tiny navel, to between her legs, where a barely-perceptible tuft of hair stood vertical, leaving the rest of her womanhood bare for his appreciative gaze. His eyes traveled back up to her impossibly beautiful face, nearly giggling at her blushing, bashful expression. His arms spread wide, beckoning her to a steamy embrace.

Enna nibbled on her lip bashfully, slipping eagerly into Gnat’s embrace. Her hands continued their journey down Gnat’s back, and his hands, finally unencumbered by her gown, met her bare skin. She sighed a shaken, trembling sigh, spreading kisses across his cheek and down the side of his neck.

Gnat’s mind fell away. The closest he’d felt to pure bliss was that night, reaching into the wagon, and finding salted pork. Enna’s bare skin felt like freshly brushed silk in most places. In others, warm and velvety. He tested her curves, skimming her waist as she liked to do with him. Such slender curves… Gnat wondered how such a delicate thing like Enna could possibly even exist.

His wife.

Enna had become his wife!

Gnat buried his hands, well, actually, his whole arms, into her hair, breathing deep of her sweet scent. He throbbed against her, pulling her against him, not realizing until her hands dipped lower that the throbbing was between his legs.

Lightning bolts of lust assaulted Gnat all at once, relentless in their hunger. How long had he desired Enna like this? He found himself being lowered onto his back. A vision of perfect loveliness hovered above him. Enna’s hair pooled around her body, tumbled off her shoulders, and tickled his face. She smiled, tugging it aside, where it fell like a curtain next to their entwined bodies.

“May I?” Enna inquired gently, plucking at the tie of Gnat’s pants.

Gnat nodded, so she proceeded. The tie opened, and she took each side in between her index finger and thumb of each hand, and pulled them apart.

“Ohhhh…” cooed Enna as Gnat’s erection slipped free. Her fingers trembled, so she busied herself with grasping Gnat’s pants and carefully tugging them down his legs. Gnat beamed up at her and her adorably cute concern for him, being so careful. She individually unhooked each of his sandals and set everything aside in a neat pile, before slowly crawling back up his body.

“Enna…” sighed Gnat, the sight of his dark goddess sliding her lustful figure up his body nearly made him come apart right there!

Enna’s fingers drifted closer and closer to Gnat’s throbbing manhood. Her slow, cautious movements were driving him wild! “Is… this… all right?” Enna asked shyly, her fingertips barely touching.

“Yes, Enna,” groaned Gnat, for she touched him the moment he’d said yes. Her lithe fingers curled around the hard girth, squeezing a gasp out of him. He’d been erect before, sure. He’d grasped it before. But nothing prepared him for this. Enna’s slender, gentle fingers coaxed far more desire from it than even the strongest grip he’d ever used.

“So hot…” remarked the girl, her fascinated eyes riveted to its tip. “I can feel your heart beating inside!”

“Enna…” hissed Gnat. She looked up at him in alarm. “What… do you want to do…?” he asked her, his urgency increasing.

Enna blushed fiercely, the rosy color spreading down her neck and into her chest. “Um… I want… I want to…” she lowered herself, brushing her sensitive breasts against his thighs, and her lips near the tip of Gnat’s erection.

“I’m yours, Enna…” Gnat managed to say through gritted teeth. A droplet of clear essence formed at the tip. Enna tilted the erection towards her mouth and licked it off. She tested the taste momentarily.

“Mmm…” she cooed. “So sweet…” she sighed, opening her mouth and lowering herself onto it.

Gnat’s mouth widened, his voice and breath cutting off. Enna’s small, soft, moist, hot mouth… descended on him, enveloping him, devouring him. She somehow managed to take all of it, stretching the back of her throat to accommodate this. Her lips brushed the base of him, and… and then…

Enna closed her mouth on him. Filled in every porous crevice in her mouth with flesh and tongue.

“Agghh…” gasped Gnat. “Yes, Enna…”

He could feel her trying to smile around him. He tried to tell her what to do and found he could not. He hoped her Mamono instincts would kick in and…

They did.

Enna raised her head up, slowly, stroking every inch of Gnat’s manhood with her lips and tongue as she did so, and then slowly went back down, capturing him again. She repeated the action. And again.

“Yes… Enna… just… like that…”

Enna smiled around him again and began a rhythm. She tilted slightly so she could watch him, reaching up to guide him in tilting his head up. Gnat got the idea and propped himself up. She wanted to watch him. And he wanted to watch her. It wouldn’t be long now. He’d wanted her for so long… and for much of that time, not even known it.

A hot feeling began traveling up inside him, moving closer to the tip. It came fast. Faster than he’d ever felt it before. It was almost upon him!

“Enna… I… I love you…” he said softly.

Enna paused at the words.

Too late.

Gnat grunted loudly, burying his hands in Enna’s thick hair as he exploded inside her mouth. Thick jets of hot seed sprayed into the back of her mouth.

At first, Enna twitched, panicking. Her hands gripped Gnat’s hips.

But then, her Mamono hunger registered what this was.

Spirit Essence.

Sustenance.

“Mmmmmnnnn!” moaned Enna lustfully as she swallowed, running her tongue up the underside with each pulse of it, in time with it, encouraging more and more to release. She caught and suckled every drop. When it tapered off, she lowered her head to the base of him, clamped her lips down, creating suction in her mouth. Pressing her tongue into the underside again, she slowly rose up, sucking the remnants out and swallowing hungrily.

But she still wasn’t done!

One more time, Enna lowered herself, her hand coiling around the base, tilting it down, so that the underside ran against her teeth. Gently, she rose back up, her eyes on him, raking the tender flesh against her teeth.

“Enna…” hissed Gnat. His manhood throbbed, releasing a few more droplets onto her waiting tongue. She smiled, suckling the tip, sitting up at last, and testing the texture with her finger, suckling on that as she ingested the rest. Tilting her head back, she allowed her full head of hair to tumble back behind her as she thrilled in the ecstasy of what she’d done. Mamono energy thrummed within her, distorting the air around her slightly in response to her power.

Gnat marveled at her. He could feel a magical connection to her beckoning to him, so he accepted.

Gnat gasped!

Suddenly, he could feel what Enna felt. See what she saw. Her body throbbed in delight as if she’d also had an orgasm. Her mind also floated on a cloud of wonder, filled with thoughts of Gath and her love for him. He’d saved her! Given her food and water, pushing past his prejudice at the sight of her. She would never forget that. And she would love him forever.

Gnat’s body thrilled with Enna’s warm thoughts, his manhood jumping back upright. He stroked her waist and thighs, reaching up to grasp her under her arms. Enna looked back at him and smiled.

“Let me love you, now?” Gnat offered.

Enna smiled seductively, lowering herself onto him, chest to chest. Her soft breasts pillowed against his hard ribs. His manhood throbbed impatiently against her smooth tummy. “On one condition,” she said softly, gently kissing him.

“Anything.”

“Stop calling yourself Gnat,” she said firmly, but gently.

The boy gasped, grasping her arms, but found himself trapped beneath her body. “Wh-what?”

“I told Cari your name was Gath,” Enna said pointedly. “Now I must tell you the same. You are Gath. You are my husband. You are Gnat no more.”

“As you wish, my love,” Gath replied.

Enna smiled wide and kissed him.

“Then I am yours.”

Gath found himself able to move her, then. He still held her in place, though. “Would you like to hear your name? Lady Lamara told me.”

Enna smiled again and shook her head. Her hair tumbled around, cocooning them both. The sudden closeness of her thrilled Gath to his core. “I am Enna. I am your wife. What I was before does not matter.”

With that, Gath flipped Enna over, rolling them both around until he rested on top of her. Gently, carefully, he tugged her hair out from under her, so it would not get caught anywhere and cause her pain. He chuckled softly as he worked at the task.

“Where did you get so much hair?” laughed Gath as he pooled it to the side of her head.

“It is for you,” cooed Enna, “As is all of me.”

Gath beamed appreciatively down at her, scattering her hair around her. It looked like a royal headdress, splayed out like that. She was royalty. His queen. His goddess. He lowered down to her, resting his chest against hers as she had done a moment ago. His hands spread her arms to the sides, stroking the soft skin on the insides of her upper arms and bringing one wrist up to his lips to kiss.

Enna blushed and smiled, offering her connection again. Gath accepted. All at once, he could feel everything she felt. Every burning sensation left over from one of his kisses. Every tingle from a gentle caress. His lips lowered to one breast. He felt Enna’s breath catch in her throat as he suckled the plump nipple, gently raking it between his teeth.

“Nnnnn…” moaned Enna. “Gath… yesss…”

His erection throbbed between her legs, but, with a wicked grin, he resolved to torture her as slowly as she’d teased him. His lips moved to her other breast, feathering his tongue around it before gently bopping it with the tip of his tongue. Enna giggled beneath him, her breath catching again as he suckled and nibbled. She managed to wiggle her arms free and dug her lithe fingers into his hair, gently raking his scalp.

“Ohh Enna…” groaned Gath roughly as his tongue trailed the space between her breasts. He could swear they were swelling up as he worked on her. Moving downward, he traced her love line, wiggling his tongue deep into her navel.

Enna cried out at this new source of pleasure. “Gath!” she yelped, giggling. “That tickles! Ahhh!” she laughed as her firm tummy twitched against his wicked tongue. The sweet taste of her skin delighted him. Power… He could taste her power, and he craved it. To fill himself with her just as he was prepared to fill her with himself.

Soon. Yes. Soon

Touch. Taste. Move slowly. Tease her… Yes…

“Gaaaath…” moaned Enna. “I need you…”

“All in good time,” he murmured softly, kissing the inside of her thighs.

“Nowwwww…” cried the girl.

“Oh, all right, then,” Gath relented. “Have it your way.”

He kissed her.

Not her lips. The deep, hot, wet center of her.

“Gaaa…!!” choked Enna, unable to even say his name properly. Her back arched and her hands clutched his hair frantically. He glanced up at her, noting her back taut as a bow, her breasts arched skyward. He wanted so badly to squeeze them, but the slender girl was surprisingly strong. He needed both hands to hold her thighs and hips to keep her still.

Gath thrust his tongue past her folds as he traced her clitoris with the tip of his teeth. Enna cried, shaking beneath him, honey oozing from her core. Such sweetness, the power she released. Gath licked it up hungrily. With each lick, he craved more, but he forced himself to progress slowly, using their link to sense what enticed her the most.

For a time, he found her clitoris to be the most sensitive. The most, of course, being relative. Every inch of her body, especially her womanhood, screamed for attention. But that spot especially. As her pleasure intensified, and her soft moans became louder cries, he found her need deepening to another location deep within her. He shifted his body, inserting a couple fingers, trying to find it.

“Gath…?!” cried Enna. “What are you… aaaaghh!” she nearly screamed.

There. Found it.

“Goddess!!” screamed Enna. “I… I can’t…!”

Gath’s head throbbed maintaining the connection with her. She was nearly senseless, at this point. But it was a good throbbing. An ache that threw fuel on his own hunger. His fingers encountered resistance. Her maindenhood. It felt thin, easily broken, but he didn’t want to hurt her. Her Mamono instincts, he felt through his link with her, told him it had to go. He would do it quickly. But first, he dug in, reaching for what she craved, and giving it to her.

“Gath…” gasped Enna. “Going to… ahhhhnnnn!”

Gath held her in place with his hand buried inside, and crawled up her body, resting his head briefly against her forehead. Her mouth hung open as her body teetered on the edge of climax. He kissed her forehead and slid back down, thrusting his tongue deep inside, and pinched her clitoris firmly.

“AHHHH…Mmmmmnnnn”

Enna’s body buckled, and then released. Gath closed his eyes firmly, to process the sensation without climaxing himself. Sweet goddess! How was he going to make it?! He could feel it welling up inside him… NO! Gods damnit! Not yet!

Something distracted him. Enna’s honey flooded his mouth. Oh… yes… ohhh…

Gentle warmth spread through Gath’s body as pure, lustful, raw power entered him. He glanced up, finding Enna’s head tilted back, her throat arched as her body had been. Such a lovely throat. He wanted to kiss that next.

“Gath…” moaned Enna as she came back to him. “My love…”

“Did you enjoy that?” Gath asked her with a sly smile.

Enna giggled fitfully. “I thought, for a moment, I’d die…”

“The night’s still young.”

She gaped at him. “When did you become such a tempter?!”

Gath shrugged. “It’s your fault, I suppose.”

Enna glared at him in mock anger. “Oh, is it?”

“Yes…” murmured Gath as he kissed that lovely neck. “My love, are you ready for more?”

“More?” squealed Enna. “Yes!”

Gath sat up, aiming his erection for her. He paused. “I’ve never…”

Enna smiled, shaking her head, gripping her hair to catch some stray strands that clung to her sweating face. “Me either. But I can’t stand being without you… I need you so badly… Don’t be gentle.”

Gath nodded, stroking her tummy, resuming his connection with her. He slid the head of himself inside, nearly passing out at the rush of pleasure this caused. He nudged her maidenhood. Paused.

“Take me,” pleaded Enna.

Gripping her shoulder with one hand and her hip with his other, Gath impaled her to her fleshy depths.

“AGGHHH!” cried Enna. “YESS!”

A flash of red pain shot across Gath’s vision from his connection with Enna. It hurt her. Terribly. But she loved it. Giving herself to him. Her girlhood. He couldn’t take it. It was too good.

“Enna…” grunted Gath as he exploded inside her.

“OHH!” gasped Enna, unprepared for the sudden rush inside her. “I feel it!” she cried. “Yes! Gath!”

Gath clung to her desperately, pumping more and more into her, far more than he thought he had. When he finally stopped, one look at her lustful gaze, oozing with hunger, brought him right back to a head. She said only one word to him.

“More.”

Gath began thrusting, his own seed swimming around him, systematically being devoured by Enna’s depths. The sensation was nearly overwhelming. He gazed at her as he thrusted her, rocking her body against the sheets. Something felt… slightly amiss. He had connected with her, and felt what she felt, but was she feeling what he felt? He searched for their connection and strengthened it.

“Wha?!” cried Enna. “What is this??” she gasped. “I… I can feel! I feel… you… as you!

Ahh. There. Got you. Now you will feel double the torture, also.

“What did you do to me?!” Enna cried. “It’s… it’s… incredible… I can see myself! Thrusting into… me! Is this what you felt when I… aaaaaahhhhnnnn…”

Heh. Gath grinned smugly. She now felt what he’d been fighting so hard against earlier. As unprepared as she was, she was going to come way before he did.

“Gath, you devil!” hissed Enna, her body arching as it had before. Gath wound his hands around her arched waist and pulled her up to his level. “You knew this would…. Nnnnn…”

He cut her off with a kiss. Desperate mouths and tongues danced as hearts pounded like drums, threatening to burst. Enna’s body shook, unable to scream, as her orgasm took control. Gath devoured her voice, holding her mouth still as she screamed into his throat. Her cries tasted nearly as sweet as her honey!

That was it! Her body, dancing against him. Her screams, pouring into him. Her sex, milking him. He seized up, holding her tight, and burst within her. His turn to grunt into her mouth. She moaned back at him, exchanging her power for his spirit energy. The two forces clashed, amplifying each other in a glorious burst of power, bathing them both in serenity and ecstasy.

Gath held his wife tenderly, unsure of how long they remained sitting up, still connected, and in each other’s arms. Carefully, gently, he laid them down, side by side, and tucked her hair out from under her. Holding the mass in his hand, he let it flutter over them, covering them like a blanket. The softest silk, warm, sweet with her scent.

Gath and Enna drifted off to sleep, still entwined, still connected, and still sharing their bond.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“You cannot stay here!”

“What are they doing!?”

Cries and shouts, clanging metal. The sounds of battle. Desperate fighting. Gath focused, and sensed Enna with him. Leaning on her strength, he focused again, and the vision cleared almost immediately.

Oh… my…

A grisly battlefield lay before him. Bodies of the slain, mostly monsters, littered the field. Human men and women also lay in multitudes, but they did not appear to be dying. They twitched, moaning, but the blood on their bodies, if there was any, did not appear to be theirs. Some of the women were partway through a transformation process. They were turning into monsters before Gath’s very eyes.

Still, the men and women fighting under the banner of the Order fought valiantly. Behind the front lines, stood a woman Gath recognized.

Lady Alexi.

“INCOMING!” bellowed one of the men. An Ogre or some type of Oni, Gath couldn’t tell, had hurled a cannonball into their midst. Except the cannonball was alive. A Hellhound! The woman roared with hunger, slashing her claws and leaping to and fro, incapacitating men and women by the dozens. Gath watched in amazement. That single Hellhound looked to be easily capable of taking out the entire regiment.

Except… Something stopped her.

A blast of lightning struck the woman from out of nowhere. Every man, woman, and monster within a fifty-foot radius found themselves airborne, knocked senseless by the blast of raw magic. Gath, unaffected by the blast, peered at ground zero, wondering if that had been sufficient to kill the hellhound.

Except she was no longer there. Gath looked around. Had she been incinerated? No. Impossible. Hellhounds were practically invincible. Where did she go, though?

“There’s an opening in the front!” cried a captain. “My lady, we must retreat!”

Gath’s attention snapped to Alexi. She gritted her teeth in anger and frustration.

“Very well,” she relented. “Send in the second battalion to cover the retreat. FALL BACK!”

Alexi and her company retreated swiftly to a fortified location in the hills. The monsters did not pursue. They tended to the wounded instead, and helping the newly transformed back behind enemy lines. Several of the monsters congratulated the Ogre, but she kept scanning the hillside, calling loudly for her friend, the Hellhound.

“Takasha!!” cried the Ogre. “TAKASHA!!”

Gath looked around, his heart aching at the sound of the Ogre’s frantic cries. He felt Enna beside him, though he could not see her. As he thought of her, the vision melted away. He awoke to find the warmth of her body entwined around him.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Enna…” Gath whispered.

“Mmm…” cooed the girl, embracing him tighter. She did not open her eyes, but her lips curled into a contented smile.

Gath found the two of them entwined, still connected. He wondered if his manhood had even bothered to deflate all night. Soft, silky hair cocooned them both. Ugh. He really didn’t want to get up. Ever. Again. Never before had he felt so comfortable and so… loved. Enna’s sweet, earthy scent surrounded him, and her warmth embraced him. Was she still dreaming?

Gath stroked her bare arm lazily, visions of what they’d done the night before resurfacing in his mind. His manhood throbbed inside her, protesting the stillness. Enna’s heart beat all around him. Slowly. Gently. All for him. He kissed her gently.

“Ohh…” sighed Enna as her eyes drifted open. “Good morning…”

“Wish I could wake like this every day,” Gath told her, stroking her cheek.

“I want that,” Enna said softly.

“It will happen, but first, we have work to do,” Gath said as he brushed her cheek with the back of his fingers. “But, when we have finished, your grandmother will be free.”

Enna sighed happily. “We can buy a house together in neutral territory, or far beyond the front.”

“And your grandmother?”

Enna smiled coyly. “I do not believe she would wish to live with us. She would never tolerate the noise we make…”

Gath laughed softly, especially at the bashful blush that spread over Enna’s cheeks. “Maybe it’s fortunate we were down here, where no one could hear us…”

Enna giggled fitfully, and then louder as Gath tickled her. “Gath!” she squeaked. Fingers danced over her tummy, swirling around her navel. “Eek!” she giggled. “That tickles!”

“I can’t get enough of you…” murmured Gath as he nuzzled her neck, holding her close. His erection throbbed inside her.

“You… you will be missed if you… remain much longer…” panted Enna, her body quickly responding.

“I can’t help myself…” Gath said huskily, rising up on top of her as her hair pooled around them. “I need you…” he groaned, beginning to thrust.

“I’m yours,” offered Enna, nibbling on her lip. “But we must be quick!”

“Yes, my love.”

Enna squealed with delight, her drowsy body reeling from the sudden onslaught. Gath’s gentle voice calling her his love only coaxed her flames to burn hotter. She tightened around him, her mind dancing within their link. Gath felt it too, how she stirred beneath him, grasping his arms and coaxing one hand to her face, and the other to her breast. She curled her legs around his waist to steady herself.

“So kind… so caring…” cooed Enna. “But you can go faster. I won’t break.”

Gath did not need to be told twice. Enna yelped as he lowered himself to her, increasing his pace. His groggy, misty mind swirled with feverish hunger. He craved to feel Enna’s body arching against him, her muscles straining on the brink of orgasm. He rammed her fiercely, delighting in each and every one of her cries she made with each push.

“Gath…!” gasped Enna. “Yes!”

Her body began to arch. Gath coiled his arms into the arch, pulling her to him, lifting her to him.

“Enna…” growled Gath, burying his face in her neck. “Come with me!”

Enna’s mouth hung open, her breaths coming in sharp gasps. Her body shook with the force being used against her, held steady in her husband’s lean arms. Her sex tightened, approaching the brink.

“Yessss…” sighed Enna, clutching Gath tightly, burying one hand in his hair, and her other against his bottom. “I come with you… for you…” she cried softly. “Mmnnn…”

Gath’s kisses spread over Enna’s throat, feeling her heart pulse beneath his lips. A rush traveled up his manhood, pausing at the tip to swell. Lust, hunger, and love danced within his body like arcs of electricity. He held it as long as he could.

Enna released upon him, her body trembling in his embrace.

At last.

Gath let himself go. He burst within her, infusing her with his love and his essence. Pulse after sticky pulse, he delivered copious offerings to his love. His queen. His goddess.

Gath held her tenderly. Each time he relaxed to release her, his manhood throbbed again, releasing a little more for her. She rested limply in his arms, basking in the sensation of nothing but him.

Finally, his manhood utterly spent, Gath withdrew and he tried to stand.

“Oof…” the boy grunted, falling down on his haunches.

Enna giggled at him.

“Here, let me help you?” she offered, standing. Or trying to.

“Ack!” she yelped, falling down on her haunches.

Gath let out a guffaw. “Good thing this bedroll is here. Our bums would turn purple otherwise!”

“Together?” asked Enna, holding out her hand.

“Together,” nodded Gath. Hand in hand, they carefully stood up on shaky legs. “Urgh. I feel like I’ve run a marathon.”

“I’m sore in places I didn’t even know I had,” Enna admitted. “Does it bother you?”

Gath shook his head. “Not a bit.”

“It is a good soreness,” Enna said with a smile, helping Gath into his pants. Her brow knotted in concern as she tied the waistline together. The fabric seemed a little tight. “I think you need to lay off the sweet rolls, mister.” She poked his stomach.

Her finger met hard, chiseled muscle. “Oh…” she murmured, her cheeks flushing.

“What’s wrong?” Gath asked, blushing slightly at her tease. He felt his stomach, noting how hard the surface felt. Outlines of a six-pack showed through slightly. “What the??” he gasped, patting himself down all over. It was everywhere! His figure had changed somewhat. Tightening up. Bulking up. He stared at himself in amazement.

And then he looked at Enna.

Gath nearly fainted.

“Wh-what?” Enna asked, bashfully covering herself with her hands.

Gently, Gath brushed her trembling hands away and took a breast in his hand. The plump globe, which, before, he could completely cover with one of his hands, now rested gently in his palm. Enna’s eyes fell to her chest and she yelped.

“Oh my!” she cried. “How… how long did we sleep?!”

“I really hope it was just one night,” Gath said, whistling at Enna’s stunning figure. He couldn’t imagine how that could be possible, though. She appeared to have aged straight into her prime, her hips and thighs fleshing out, widening to offer a small gap between her inner thighs to showcase her beautiful womanhood. The small tuft of hair remained, refusing to cover the rest of the smooth, glossy skin. Enna’s firm tummy remained well-defined, framed by a slim, curved waist, that opened up to a beautiful, full bosom with plump, firm breasts that filled in and fitted Gath’s hands perfectly. He could see actual muscle and smooth curves on her arms, now, rather than bone. Her neck also fleshed out, something he’d noticed last night while kissing her. He could no longer see the tendons rudely protruding. Her full cheeks, accentuating her high cheekbones, shaped her face wondrously, her plump lips fully healed, and no traces of the sallow, baggy shadows remained. And her eyes… oh her eyes…

Enna’s slightly slanted eyes were now perfect, lustrous pools of desire. Full milky-white after their lovemaking, her irises shone like electric beacons, her warm gaze piercing Gath’s heart and caressing it. And her hair… oh her hair…

Enna’s hair curled around her face, draping over one shoulder, while at the same time, tumbling down her back and resting against her hip. A silky, glossy jet-black, the rippling tresses felt like heaven to touch.

“Is—is something wrong?” Enna looked at him in concern.

“There’s… there’s no words…” breathed Gath. “Look through my eyes. Look at yourself and see the way I see you.”

“All right,” nodded the girl. Her eyes fell half-closed as she linked with him.

Then, she gasped, her shaky voice threatening a sob.

“This…!?” gasped Enna. “This is what I look like?”

“It is what you are to me,” Gath said softly.

Enna tested several expressions as she gazed at herself through Gath’s eyes. She smiled. She pouted. She winked. She twirled, her hair flying all around her. She examined her backside, and as Gath’s eyes meandered over her bare skin, he could feel something pressing out into his pants.

“Uh, Enna,” Gath winced, nudging her with his mind.

“Oh?” Enna asked, releasing the link and returning to her own mind. “What’s…” she noticed. “Oh…”

“We haven’t time to quench it again,” sighed the boy. “Maybe a distraction? Let me see myself through your eyes?”

Enna nodded with a smile. “Go ahead.”

Gath forged the link.

His jaw nearly hit the floor.

Woah!

He no longer looked like a slave mongrel. He had the physique of a knight in training. Someone who swung swords and axes and cudgels all day long, and possessed sturdy legs from long hours upon a horse’s back. His hair was a mess, probably thanks to Enna and her massages. His scalp tingled at the memory of her lithe fingers dancing through… no! Stop thinking about that! His manhood had nearly relaxed, and here it was, jumping back up again.

Unfortunately, he also noticed what Enna encountered. His waistline had thickened—not with fat, but with lean muscle. She’d barely had enough twine to tie off his pants. And the hemline hung high on his calves. He must have grown an inch or two overnight! He reached down and yanked the hem apart, and the fabric fell to his ankles. Eh. Good enough. So strange to do this from another person’s point of view, though. He could still move his body, and, in the back of his mind, he could see, but his conscious view filtered in through Enna’s eyes.

Gath marveled at how she drank him in with her eyes. How each scar, each muscle, she appreciated one by one. Quite literally, she loved every inch of him. He turned around slowly, a rare opportunity to view his backside. He had to coax Enna’s eyes off of his bottom as he blushed with embarrassment. He felt Enna’s body gasp sadly at the lines of scarring on Gath’s back, from lashings courtesy of Horace and the other lords of the castle.

“It’s all right, Enna,” Gath’s voice bounced off the wall and into Enna’s ears. “They don’t hurt.”

“But why would they do that to you?” he felt himself ask in Enna’s voice. So strange a sensation.

Gath recalled his vision back into his own mind and stepped over to her nude form to comfort her as he knelt to pick up the maid’s gown.

“It’s their form of discipline,” explained the boy. “They don’t know any better. Here, lift up your arms.”

Enna complied, and tried to ask a question, but the fluffy gown muffled her voice. With much wiggling and squirming, Gath managed to tug the gown back down onto her body. She squirmed about as her head poked out, shifting her curves around to fit into the places they should go. Forcing himself not to look at that for fear of stirring his desire again, Gath worked at her hair, tugging the mass of it out from beneath the gown.

There. Finally. So much hair!

Gath took a step back to examine her.

Wow…

Enna’s body filled out the gown beautifully. He reached forward to tighten the tie around her waist to accentuate that a bit more. Nodding his head appreciatively, he proudly stated, “Perfect.”

Enna smiled warmly, running her hand through her hair.

Hair… uh oh.

“Hmm,” Gath sighed. “I don’t have time to do anything about that hair. I’ll send Cari back down in a bit. He struggled to pull on his linen tunic. The seams threatened to tear against his newly-defined muscles. “Definitely… got to get some new clothes today…” he grunted, shaking his torso to coax the fabric into position. If he wasn’t so sticky! His fault. Sex will do that.

“All right, I’m off,” Gath wheezed, leaning in to offer Enna a peck on her cheek. He darted out.

And then trudged right back in. Enna smiled coyly, holding up his sandals.

“Did you forget something?” she cooed.

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” he reached for them. Enna pulled them away, giggling.

“You missed!” she giggled.

“Enna… I’m going to get in trouble!”

The girl giggled, dancing around the room.

“I’ll get lashed again…”

Enna gasped! Her cheeks flushed and she quickly knelt to help him into the sandals, all while crying, “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

Gath helped her up when she finished and silenced her cries with a steamy kiss.

And then he was gone.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Gath!” hissed Cari, intercepting him at the entrance to the kitchen. She led him to a broom closet and locked them both inside. “Wherehaveyoubeen?!” gasped the girl.

“I… spent the night with Enna,” Gath admitted.

“You can’t keep doing that!” the maid squealed softly. “You’re going to be missed, one of these days!”

“Cari,” Gath rested his hands on her fluffy shoulders. “Nobody cares about me besides you and Enna.”

Cari blushed, glancing away. “Did… did your voice change overnight or something?” She fanned herself, keeping her gaze averted.

“No… well, uh… maybe? I don’t know,” sputtered Gath. What else had changed?

Cari’s eyes darted up to glance at him through the corner of her vision without turning her head. A smile crept up her lips. “You… you took the plunge this time, didn’t you?”

Gath’s turn to blush. “What do you mean?”

“Mmmm…” cooed Cari, swaying gently, her gaze wistful.

The door swung open.

“I knew it!” bellowed the cook. “You two, again!” She smacked Cari with a very large, wooden ladle.

“Ack!” shrieked the maid, shielding her face from multiple assaults. “Please! I’m sorry!”

Gath watched it in slow motion. Just like before. The cook’s face, normally pudgy but not horribly unattractive, twisted in frustrated rage. Why was she so angry? This was just a slight tryst, or the beginnings of one, at least in her eyes, right?

Something else was wrong. Gath peered closely.

“She lost the one she loved,” Enna’s voice echoed softly in his mind.

Gath jolted at the contact of his beloved’s voice. The connection… it must have strengthened far beyond what it had been before. Not only could Gath see in the dark and avoid attacks. This was something new.

He had to do something. The cook was about to seriously hurt Cari. Gath reached out and caught the woman’s wrist.

“What in the…?” hissed the cook.

“Please, stop,” Gath implored gently. “She did not mean any offense.”

“How DARE you touch me?!” the cook fumed.

“You miss him horribly,” Gath told her.

The rage leaked out of the cook’s face. “What?! What did you say??”

“Anton. Your Anton. Serving in the war. You wanted to run off with him, stealing away in cupboards and broom cabinets just like this.”

Cari gaped at him. He held the cook’s wrist with one hand, and silenced her with an arresting gesture from the other.

“How could you possibly know…?” The cook trembled, a tear forming in one of her eyes.

“You knew it was impossible, but you did not care,” said Gath, soothingly. “Love conquers all. But sometimes… Death can scorn fate, carving far deeper wounds than a sword. Wounds that you’ll never heal on your own.”

The cook’s lip trembled, but she said nothing.

“But fate adapts. What would Anton say if he saw you now?”

“H-he…” sputtered the cook.

“He would tell you to stay strong. Another man will come your way, and you must ready your heart to receive him. That man bears wounds that only you can heal. And he will bind yours with a sweet balm. That is what Anton wishes for you.”

The ladle clattered to the floor. Fat tears welled up in the cook’s eyes, and she fled from Gath’s side. Cari’s breaths came in short little gasps.

“What… in the name… of the god… was that?” she whispered shrilly.

“I… I don’t know…” muttered Gath, staring down at his open hands. “It was… I looked at her…” he tried to explain, “And I could see him. Anton. The man she loved. That was… it was something he’d been trying to tell her for years. But couldn’t.”

Cari stepped away from him, her freckles standing out against her pale, blanched expression. “You… just looked at her, and could divine her deepest, darkest secrets?” she asked, trembling horribly.

“Cari, wait…”

“Stay away from me!” she cried, fleeing from Gath as fast as her legs would permit.

Well, gosh. That went well. Gath sighed, hanging his head as he closed the broom closet. It still smelled slightly of Cari. What should he do? Enna?

“Give her time,” Enna’s voice came softly.

Time. He had some extra time. He snuck back into the dungeon, hugged Enna briefly, and picked up the smith’s hammer and chisel. Kissing Enna goodbye, he snuck back out and made his way to town.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Yer early, kid,” grunted the smith. “Just gettin’ the fires goin’.”

“Yes, sir,” nodded Gath. He snuck the hammer and chisel beneath a box of fuel where the smith would find it, and then got his materials together for the day.

“Bloody hell!” cried the big man. “Me hammer!”

Gath chuckled.

“And the chisel! I swear I looked there yesterday!” the smith picked up the tools and looked them over. “No worse for wear. Good to have these back,” he sighed. “Already at work, then? Got a feeling this’ll be a good day.”

So it was. Gath’s sharp eyes and newfound strength allowed him to work tirelessly throughout the day. And his connection to Enna kept ebbing and flowing as the hours passed. He figured she could connect with him at any time to observe, and be with him, without having to endanger herself or him. It comforted him to have her presence alongside him.

At the end of the day, Gath collected his wages and made his way to a clothing shop. Lady Lamara hadn’t asked for any money for the dust, so he still had that left over. He was able to buy a new tunic, and pants, both made of supple leather. Not enough for shoes, though. Oh well. He promised the shopkeep he’d be back.

On his way back to the castle, Gath briefly wondered if Cari had visited Enna to check on her. Poor Cari. She looked awfully frightened at Gath’s show of power. Who wouldn’t be? It nearly frightened him.

Slipping quietly into the dungeon, Gath made his way to Enna’s cell. “Enna?” he called out.

Silence greeted him.

Ugh. Was she angry too?

Timidly, Gath poked his head around the corner and into the cell. Enna was not angry. She was not there. A shrill of fear shot up the side of Gath’s neck. He called out to her using the link.

Enna?

“Gath, I hear you.”

Where are you?

“With Cari.”

Something troubled him about her terse replies. She wasn’t normally like this. Gath made his way out of the dark dungeons and towards the servant quarters. The maids’ rooms were a bit further down the hall from his. He peeked inside them. Cari was not there, and neither was Enna. Hmm…

Gath considered reaching out to Enna again, but if she kept replying tersely, something might be wrong. He decided to search the area for her. Luckily, they were not far. He heard voices coming from up a winding staircase that led to a boarded-off section of the castle. He could make out the voices if he tried, but he decided not to eavesdrop, and began walking up the stairs instead.

The female voices tapered off as Gath’s footsteps echoed up the staircase. Midway up, he found the two girls huddled together on one of the steps. Cari stiffened and clutched Enna for support at the sight of Gath.

“Hi, Cari,” said Gath softly.

Cari whimpered but said nothing.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” Gath offered. “I was… just frantic for something to do to stop the cook from hurting you. She was just… so… angry. I wracked my mind as to why, and suddenly I just… knew. I was just trying to protect you.”

“There, you see?” Enna said gently. “Just like I told you.”

“You’re linked to him, though,” protested Cari. “You probably told him what to say.”

“Actually,” Gath scratched the back of his head with embarrassment, “She didn’t say much at all. I thought she was upset with me, to be honest.”

Enna giggled softly.

Well, that was a relief. At least one woman in his life didn’t hate him.

“R-really?” Cari trembled.

“Yes. I asked her where she was, after I got over my shock that she wasn’t in the cell.” Gath gently reached out to stroke Enna’s arm. “All she said was that she heard me, and that she was with you. That’s it.”

“See, he’s not so scary,” Enna said, patting Cari’s arm.

Cari relaxed. A little. Her bleary eyes looked up at Gath. “But you can read people’s minds now?” she asked timidly.

Gath and Enna exchanged glances. “I’m not sure, to be honest,” Gath admitted. “I didn’t read the cook’s mind. I just looked at her… and I could… see.

“See?” prompted Cari.

“I think what he means is,” Enna tried to explain, “You try to keep a secret in the dark, right? Hidden. Well, we’re getting good at seeing in the dark. Literally, and figuratively.”

“How…how good?”

“I can see in total darkness,” Gath told her. “I’d be able to race up these steps without needing that torch,” he said, indicating the lit torch burning by Cari’s side. “I can see just fine in the dungeon without one, and in the dark streets in town.”

“That’s amazing…” Cari whispered, her fright beginning to taper off. “But… can you see inside me?”

“I don’t get your meaning?” Gath scratched his head.

“My secrets.”

Gath blushed. “Uhh… I would not try to, unless I needed to, or you wanted me to.”

Cari pondered that for a moment.

Gath turned to Enna. “Enna, is it all right for you to be out here?” he asked gently, a hint of anxiety bleeding into his voice. “If you were caught…” anxiety took hold. “I—I don’t know what I’d do…”

Enna smiled, resting her hand on Gath’s knee as he knelt down next to her. “I see well enough around corners and through corridors to avoid being noticed,” she explained.

“But, Enna…” protested Gath. Her slim, warm finger pressed against his lips as she shook her head.

“Gath,” she said firmly. “Trust goes both ways. I trust you unconditionally. Now, you must learn to trust me.”

The forcefulness of her words squashed Gath’s protest like a pesky insect. He nodded, his appreciation of her swelling in his chest. The vision of a weak, feeble, fragile girl melted in his mind, reshaping into a seductive, powerful young woman. Relief washed over him. He leaned in, embracing her.

“I give you my trust, Enna,” he said.

“You two are adorable,” giggled Cari. “I think Enna’s voice changed too.”

Both Gath and Enna glanced at her, confused.

“Ad~mit it!” cooed Cari, her nervousness fading into singsong. “You two went at it allllll through the niiiight~!”

Both of them blushed.

“I knew it!” giggled the maid.

Gath glanced downstairs. That had been what the cook said. Cari glanced down there nervously, but both of them shrugged it off.

“How romantic…” she sighed. “Wait, you were in the dungeon weren’t you?”

Gath nodded.

“Nevermind that, how scandalous!

“We sealed our vows to each other, Cari,” Enna protested, blushing fiercely.

Cari gasped! Her hand splayed out over her chest. “You eloped?! Nevermind, nevermind. Definitely romantic.”

“Something like that,” Enna said, grinning smugly.

“Details, I need de~tails~!” sang Cari. “What did he do? Did he get on one knee?”

“Both knees.”

Cari gasped. “Oh my! And what did he say!?”

“Girls!” Gath covered his face in shame. “There’ll be a time for this, but it isn’t now.”

“Way to ruin the mood,” grunted Cari, crossing her arms over her modest chest.

“So, here’s the plan,” Gath started to explain, glaring at Cari.

“Wait!” chirped Cari. “Is it safe to talk here?”

Enna’s gleaming eyes scanned the area and she nodded. “No one is around.”

“Gosh, that’s just cree~py…” muttered Cari.

“Like I was saying…” Gath grumbled, sighing as the two girls tried focusing their attention on him. Cari was a bundle of jumping beans. Enna was just… Enna. Beautiful. Arresting gaze. Distracting. His manhood stirred just looking at her. He cleared his throat and focused on the space between the two girls. That would work.

“The plan is to save Enna’s grandmother, Kendra. She’s being held at a stronghold under the command of Lord Volus.

“That’s the objective,” Cari corrected him. “And Enna already told me that bit.”

“Don’t interrupt,” Gath pointed a finger at her, but she only giggled. Sigh. “Fine. The plan is, we head to Lord Camden’s lands. Specifically, the territory near the Western Front. We know Volus is nearby.”

“How?” Cari prompted.

“Visions Enna granted me,” said Gath. “We know from observing his actions that he needed a Hellhound. Just so happens that a rather ferocious Hellhound attacked the Western Front last night, and someone captured her. I’m hoping someone on the Front knows about it. This is where we split up.”

“Split up?” Cari and Enna both asked at once.

“I dare not take Enna onto the Front itself. The men and women there will be on high alert. They’d attack her on sight.” He offered Enna a compassionate smile. “But the Mamono on the other side will recognize her as one of their own. I hope. She should be able to question the monsters there on what Volus is up to. And, even better, talk to that Ogre.”

“Takasha’s friend?” asked Enna.

“Yes,” nodded Gath. “I have a feeling that, even if the ones in charge refuse to help, she will not. Remember how desperate she sounded, looking for her friend?”

“I do,” Enna affirmed. “I just…”

“Something wrong?”

“I can’t bear to be away from you.”

“Aww…” cooed Cari.

“It’s alright, Enna,” Gath said gently, his arm around her shoulders. “Our link, remember? I am always with you.”

Enna smiled and leaned into him, touching her lips to his.

“Gosh… oh gosh…” stammered Cari, fanning herself. “I think I’m melting…”

Gath chuckled and Enna giggled. They both poked playfully at the maid.

“Ow!” she protested, giggling as well.

“In all seriousness,” Gath called the meeting back to order. “I will need to stay with Cari, assuming she wishes to join us.”

Cari nodded vigorously. “Are you kidding me? This is the most exciting thing to ever happen to me. I’m all in.”

“Now, once we have at least one proper lead,” Gath continued, “We will go to Volus’ stronghold. I have seen the inside of that place before. I just need to have another look around, in a vision, to scout out a weak point for us to sneak in. We get in, we rescue Kendra, and we get out.”

“What about the others?” asked Enna.

“The longer we stay, the bigger the risk of us becoming permanent residents.”

“We must rescue the others! We can’t just leave them…”

Try as he might, Gath just could not resist those shining, pleading eyes. He reached in and tugged her face closer to plant a kiss on her forehead. “All right,” he agreed. “We rescue as many as we can. But we must be careful. Volus is no fool. He will have safeguards in place to stop the monsters from running amok.”

“You don’t think he’ll see us coming?” Cari asked with a small voice.

Enna’s eyes narrowed in determination. “He won’t see this coming.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Cari led Gath and Enna to her room. “You’ll need to leave before the first shift wakes,” she told them. “You can sleep on the floor,” he indicated a soft-looking rug to Gath. “Enna can sleep beside me.”

Gath and Enna exchanged glances and made a move to protest.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Cari held up her hand to shut them up. “I’m not having two Mamono newlyweds getting frisky in my room. I need to actually sleep. You know, the activity we poor humans need to do to get ready for actual WORK the next day?”

“We’ll be quiet,” Enna said softly.

“No!” Cari’s hands, balled into fists, rested on her hips firmly. Were it not for her deep, rosy blush, Gath and Enna might have taken her seriously.

“I… I need her,” Gath said suddenly. His arm snaked around her waist. “It’s almost… painful being apart.”

Cari rolled her eyes. “You two are such a cliché.”

“It also helps my visions to have Enna next to me.”

“And he needs my power to ensure Volus doesn’t notice him.”

Cari blinked. “Wait, what? Volus can see you spying on him?”

“He looked right at me, once,” Gath recalled with a shudder. “I have to concentrate to see unhindered on my own. But if Enna is with me, lending me her strength, it feels much easier.”

“Ugh,” groaned Cari. “Can I trust you two to keep it clean? I can’t, can I?”

“We’ll try to behave,” Gath said feebly.

“Fine, but if I catch you two nekkid in the morning, I’m tossing ice water on you both!” Cari tossed a pillow at them. “Just have the one spare. The other is mine.” She harrumphed and flopped onto her bed.

The maid grumbled to herself, not even bothering to remove her apron, and just turned on her side, away from Gath and Enna.

Gath turned to Enna to find her grinning salaciously. He felt her hand against the front of his pants. He called out to her over the link, instead of speaking.

Enna. You might want to at least wait until she falls asleep!

“I know, I just… I need you too. I’ve needed you all day.”

Gath shuddered, shifting his weight as his manhood swelled up, pressing out into the leather.

“I love the feel of this leather on you…”

Her voice, echoing in his mind. So close. She was inside him. Not just breathing into his ear. Well, she was doing that, too. But her voice was in him. His erection quickly hardened, becoming painful in its leathery prison. It couldn’t lift up all the way. He wished he’d tugged it up before becoming almost completely hard.

Cari mumbled something.

Enna’s hand froze, splayed out over the indentation of Gath’s pants. Gath’s eyes fluttered closed and he shifted his vision out of his body and over to Cari. The girl’s eyes were gently closed, and her breathing came regularly. She was fast asleep already.

So much for not being able to get any sleep.

Enna bit her lip to stifle a giggle as she continued her seduction. Gath carefully untied her apron in back. The gown loosened. Enna gazed at him in concern.

“Ice water.”

Worth it.

Enna smiled, nodding in consent. She remained on her side, stroking Gath’s pants with one hand. She lifted up her other hand to assist him in tugging it into the gown. Gath straightened Enna’s hair, noticing Cari hadn’t styled it. He began systematically pushing it down into her gown to assist in removing the garment.

So much hair!

“Should I cut it?”

Don’t you dare.

“You don’t mind?”

I love every part of you. Don’t change a thing.

Enna blushed, rubbing him as her clothing loosened. Carefully, slowly, her head disappeared down into the gown as she squirmed her way out of it. Gath held the gown, and Enna shifted her way out. She had to stop touching him for a moment, and in that moment, he ached for lack of attention.

Finally, Enna appeared out of the skirt, fully nude, and grasped the empty gown, lying down beside Gath and spreading it over herself. Gath aided her by grasping her hair and tugging it out of her way as she laid down. He took a moment to sit up and pull off his tunic. Enna clutched the empty shirt to her face, inhaling his scent. Her eyes flew to his waist as he undid his pants. His erection sprang out from inside, slapping him in the gut.

This time, Enna was unable to stifle her giggle in time.

Cari stirred.

Oh no!

Gath squirmed into Enna, hiding with her under her fluffy gown. While it did cover them, four bare legs peeked out from beneath the skirt. If Cari turned over and opened her eyes, Gath and Enna would be in big trouble.

Thankfully, she did not.

Gath kicked off his sandals. Enna tugged on his pants, helping him squirm out of them.

At last, they were both flesh to flesh.

This time felt a little different. Gath had grown an inch or two, just like he thought. With their toes touching, Enna’s head only reached up to his neck. She did not seem to mind, and nuzzled him affectionately, touching her lips to his sensitive throat. His manhood pulsed, throbbing against her flat tummy. The tip probed her navel. Based on the way she was licking his throat, she loved it.

Time to find out if he was right.

Gath bridged the connection to her.

He bit his lip. A loud groan nearly escaped him. He could feel Enna’s body as if it were his own. The connection pulsed even more clearly this night! Her skin tingled everywhere his body contacted it. A pit of fire burned in her womb from having his manhood pressing against her. She felt loose between her legs. Slick. Like spilled fuel ready to ignite. Gath longed to strike the match within her.

Patience. They had all night. He wanted to feed her as much power as he could tonight. Her hand coiled around his erection. He stiffened; not from her touch, but to how her touch felt from her perspective. To Enna, Gath’s manhood was the center of his power. A massive focus, capable of channeling endless sustenance, and it throbbed for her. Only for her. Her body thrilled with the notion. Gath shifted his hips, dragging it up her abdomen.

“Gath…” Even her mind’s voice trembled with desire.

Gath grasped her shoulders firmly, pulling her up to eye level. His manhood slipped down her body, dangerously low. The tip was already low enough for sexual contact. The length, however, arched directly into her slit.

Enna bit her lip. Hard. Her eyes swam with lust, staring forcefully into Gath’s. Her breasts pressed against his chest. Firm. Plush. Swelling. Nipples hardening. She shifted her position, raking her nipples across his hard, flat chest.

Gath forced himself not to groan. He instead grasped the back of her head, filling his hand with hair. Gripping it. Roughly. He tugged her head back this way, exposing her throat, which he mercilessly attacked with his tongue and lips. He took care not to make any noise, other than the soft gasping Enna made.

“Gath…” Enna moaned in his mind. “Don’t be gentle.”

But I must, my love.

“Don’t be gentle!”

You’ll scream.

“So, devour my screams. They are all for you.”

Gath embraced Enna tightly, crushing her breasts against his chest, forcing them to rub against him roughly.

“Yes! Like that!”

Gath tilted her head back to his level, finding Enna’s eyes misted over with passion. He kissed her, forcing his tongue inside, holding her head firmly against him.

“Ahhh! Yess! I offer you myself. Take what you will.”

Enna’s sultry voice in his mind drove Gath into a frenzy. Clutching her tightly, he shifted his hips back and forth, teasing her with his burning lust. His erection slicked over her sex, over and over, never entering, only teasing. Before she could protest, Gath pulled on her hair again, harder. Her head tilted back, arching her neck, then her chest and breasts slipped up and into his face. Gath planted his lips on one nipple, forcefully suckling and biting her, delighting in her taste. So sweet. So smooth. So warm. Her heat flooded through him. He attended to each breast in loving detail.

“Ahhhhnnnn…” Enna’s voice moaned in his mind, losing cohesion as pure lust took hold.

Enna. I revel in your taste. In your love. I bathe myself in it.

“Mmmmm… yessss…”

When you scream, still your voice and project your need into my mouth as I kiss you. But through your mind, shout to the heavens. Spare me none of your love.

“Nnnnn… Yes, I shall.”

Enna’s breasts glistened with Gath’s efforts. He pulled her back down to eye level, uncurling her body back into him. His erection slipped between her legs. Her eyes pleaded with him. No more waiting. Her thighs trembled with anticipation.

Gath pressed his lips into Enna’s. Crushed her breasts against his chest. Held her head in place by gripping her hair tightly. Enna’s eyes fluttered closed. She felt herself being shifted down slightly.

Their kiss suddenly deepened. Enna’s mind swirled. Her body grew weak. Gath was entering her. He pushed her down, inch by inch, impaling her on him. She quivered in his tight grasp, unsure of what to do with her hands. She could feel him smiling against her lips. That devil! Yes. Her devil.

Slowly, she descended, maintaining their kiss, until she needed to tilt her head up a little to keep connected. Her insides shifted around, opening up for him, moving in and around, pulsing around him. His meaty erection throbbed and pulsed, having finally buried itself completely. Gath’s and Enna’s minds darted in-between each other, experiencing their lustful actions from each other’s perspective, back and forth, a lustful dance, as their bodies began to move.

Carefully, gripping Enna tightly, Gath began thrusting, using only his hips. They laid side-by-side. This way, Gath avoided bouncing Enna around too much. She clung to him desperately, which also helped. They shared breaths for as long as they dared, before having to break the kiss, or risk passing out.

“Your breath is my life.”

Enna?

“You may breathe for me as long as you desire.”

So, they wouldn’t pass out?

“You will not hurt me. Don’t be gentle.”

Well, that settled it. Gath attacked Enna’s mouth, devouring her passion, curling his tongue around hers. He then straightened it and began thrusting into her mouth in time with his hips.

“Yes!”

My love. I swell for you. I need you. I cannot imagine how I survived so long without you.

“Your absence weakened me, my love. Without you, I would have wasted away…”

Never again.

“Never again.”

Hot seed surged within him. Gath tightened his grip on her.

Enna…! I come for you!

“And I… for you… Hold me tight! Do not let go!”

Enna tensed in Gath’s arms, her orgasm cresting. A scream began forming in her throat. Gath clutched the back of her head, burying his hand in her hair, and squeezed her chest.

Enna screamed.

Gath devoured it. Hungrily. Like a predator, he groaned, supping upon her passion, leaving her breathless.

Enna went limp in his arms, trembling with release.

Gath exploded within her.

“YESSS!!” screamed Enna in his mind. “Pour your soul within me! Fill my womb with your sweet, hot life. I feel your love. I float upon it. On a cloud, with you, safe from misery and despair. Ahhhhnnnn…. It’s pouring inside of me. Yessss! There is so much… were you holding back on our wedding night? MORE! There’s more! YESS!! Ohhhhh…”

Gath’s mind reeled at the forcefulness of Enna’s demands. She hadn’t jested. Each and every word pierced his heart, beckoning more to release within her. He kept coming, and coming, and coming. Her tummy began to soften from the sheer volume of it!

Gath never did feel the end of it. He fell asleep in her arms, still releasing.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“RAAAAAGHHHHH!”

Gath winced. Thankfully, the woman’s outburst brought the scene into instant, perfect clarity. Oh my. What clarity.

It looked like a dungeon cell similar to the one Volus had placed Aylet, the Girtablilu. Massive, dull silver chains from many directions held a furious Hellhound. Gath instantly realized how they’d gotten their name.

The woman was beautiful. Breathtaking. In a dark, terrifying sort of way. A lascivious figure, rippling, sinewy muscles, massive breasts, all gleaming with perspiration as she struggled to break her bonds. Terrifying claws on her front paws and hind legs scrabbled against the stone, tearing at the chains. But her efforts failed to even scratch the thick metal.

She resolved to glare angrily at Volus, who stood opposite her, next to the door. Her eyes, inky black like Enna’s when upset, held bright red orbs and slitted pupils. And, trailing on the outer edges of her eyes, livid red-orange hellfire.

Gath’s heart ached at the sight of her. While her figure appeared as that of a mature woman, her eyes looked young. Far too young to have to endure this.

“FOOLS!” cried the girl. “YOU HAVE YET TO REALIZE YOUR ERROR!” she bellowed. “These pitiful bonds cannot hold me. And when I am free, I will make you MINE. ALL OF YOU!!”

Gods above.

The woman’s voice was loud enough to raise the dead. On a neighboring continent. They say, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Well, this was the living persona of Hell’s fury. And on top of it, it was an angry woman. Double whammy.

Volus cleared his throat noisily. “Have you quite finished, my dear?”

“Heh… heh… heh…” the Hellhound chuckled ominously. “I’m just getting started.”

“I do admire your spirit, you know,” Volus told her. “Very impressive. You are a marvel of divine intelligent design. Possibly too much of a marvel. They say not even the gods above and below could control your kind.”

“For once, we agree,” replied the Hellhound, a terrifying grin spreading over her lips, exposing teeth that could skin a mammoth in seconds.

“For what it’s worth, I have no intention of hurting you,” said Volus, stroking his beard. “Too much.”

The Hellhound roared with laughter. “Foolish human. You could not hurt me if your pathetic life depended upon it. I welcome your pitiful attempts.”

“An admirable attitude. I commend you.” Volus nodded to her. “You may begin the extraction. Do be careful. This specimen was quite difficult to procure.”

“Understood, my lord,” said a man.

“Extraction protocol!” a woman announced. Sounded like Lysette.

Suddenly, all the chains went taut. The Hellhound grunted, straining as her arms and legs were yanked apart. The metal collar around her throat stretched her head straight up. Still, she struggled as if channeling the raw power of Hell itself.

“Before you waste your effort, my dear,” Volus said to her as something lowered to the side of her head, “Those chains are made of a special adamantium alloy.” The sorcerer chuckled. “In fact, they were even more difficult to procure than you. Have you ever heard of the Fenris Wolf?”

The Hellhound ceased fighting and trembled. So, she had.

“These are the chains designed to bind her.”

“Heh… heh…” chuckled the Hellhound. “She escaped.”

“Only because some fool freed her.” Volus straightened his robes. “Enjoy your stay, my dear.”

“VOLUS!!” growled the Hellhound. “I’m going to… aaagghhh!” she suddenly cried.

Gath blinked in the vision, trying to focus. He felt Enna’s power flow into him, sharpening his eyes. He looked closer. Oh…

Oh, how awful.

The extraction machine had managed to somehow clip the flames from her right eye and store them. She writhed in her binds, screaming and cursing, but Lysette paid her no mind, carefully extracting the other from her left eye.

“Well, that was notably time consuming,” sighed Lysette, her voice lacking any traces of empathy or remorse. “You know, this would go a lot quicker for all of us if you would just stop fighting.”

“When I am free,” said the Hellhound, this time more softly. More dangerously. “I will escort you to Hell myself.”

Lysette sighed, tapping her quill on the page. “Isn’t your kind supposed to abhor the slaughter of humans?” she asked, trying and failing to stifle a yawn.

“Never said anything about killing you…”

“Hm. Indeed.”

“We will enjoy… the pleasure of each other’s ‘company’ for all eternity…”

“Extraction Protocol complete,” announced Lysette, ignoring the hound. “Clear the room. Begin analysis of samples titled ‘Hellflame Alpha,’ and ‘Hellflame Beta.’”

The chains loosened as Lysette and her engineers and scientists filed out of the room. It sealed off, leaving the Hellhound in total darkness. Sort of. Her presence itself exuded dull light, and Gath had no problems seeing in total darkness anyway.

Finally relaxing, somewhat, the Hellhound slumped in her bonds, balling her paws into clawed fists. The flames next to her eyes were beginning to fill back in. Slowly. Angry tears formed beneath the girl’s eyelids, hissing and evaporating as they came in contact with her hot flesh.

“Takasha.”

The girl went rigid, her head snapping up, red eyes scanning the room. “Who said that?!” she demanded. “WHERE ARE YOU?!”

Gath was just as surprised as she was.

“You… could hear me?”

“OF COURSE I CAN HEAR YOU!!” The girl’s deafening cries shook the room.

“You needn’t shout,” Gath said gently. “I am not going to hurt you.”

“MUCH?!” growled the Hellhound.

“Not at all. Takasha?”

“WHERE DID YOU HEAR THAT NAME?!”

“From an Ogre, desperately searching for her friend.”

“Gisele…” the hound choked on her collar.

“That’s a lovely name. As is yours. Takasha. There is power in that name. Assuming it is yours.”

“And if it is?” growled the girl.

“It suits you. A name worthy of a goddess.”

Takasha slumped in her chains, her body suspended from the floor. “Why have you done this to me?”

“I have not.”

“What?” she hissed.

“This is not of my doing. Volus is my enemy.”

“If you were his enemy, you WOULD NOT BE HERE!”

“I go where I please. Volus cannot stop me.”

“Who… who are you?” she grunted.

“I am The Observer.” Seemed fitting.

“Heh… heh… heh…”

“I would not consider your position an amusing one, Takasha.”

“And WHAT would you make of it, LITTLE VOICE?!”

“You are not the only captive here.”

“WHAT?!”

“Please, Takasha. While they likely cannot hear me, I am certain they can hear you.”

“I do not care,” Takasha spat.

“You want him to hear you?”

The Hellhound said nothing for some time. Gath waited patiently. Finally, she growled, “What do you want?”

“I want to free you.”

“HAH! If you freed me, I would make you my slave.”

“You cannot even see me.”

“BAH! Trifling matter.”

“Takasha, I am not actually here.”

“Then HOW do you plan to free me?”

“To free you, I must first find you.”

“How are you here, if you cannot find me?”

Gath thought about that a minute. He wasn’t sure himself. “I observe by focusing on an individual.” Truth. “My gaze pierces any known obstacle.” Also, true, so far. “But I cannot see where you are being held.”

“Yet you know of others here,” she grumbled.

“I have observed many here. I cannot find them. It is frustrating, to say the least.”

“What do you want from me?” the hound groaned.

“Tell me what you remember from the battle.”

“I spied the leader of the Order’s pitiful brigade. Asked Gisele to fling me to her,” Takasha explained. “For a few seconds, ahhh… glorious battle! And then, a flash of yellow. The next thing I knew, I was here. Chained. Dark. Alone. AND ANGRY!!”

Gath pondered on this for a good, long while. The bolt of lightning had instantaneously transferred Takasha to this cell? Or had she been unconscious for a time? How had the engineers managed to chain her up? He couldn’t imagine her being cooperative for that.

“OBSERVER!!” bellowed the hound.

“You were sent here immediately? Or did you faint?”

“I DO NOT KNOW! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT!?” she screamed. Tears flowed from her hot cheeks, many of them reaching the ground before the heat of her face burned them away.

“Help is coming, Takasha. Do not despair.”

The Hellhound merely grunted, “Find Gisele. She will not understand. She will blame herself.”

“I shall. Farewell.”

Gath broke the link.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Gath woke with a tremble, his very soul weighed down and weary with despair. Yes, he had told Takasha to take heart, but if Volus and his minions could capture a Hellhound, what hope was there? Hellhounds were supposed to be unstoppable. Feared by the gods above.

A horrifying thought permeated Gath.

Was Volus a god?

A god in mortal form?

Was that even possible?

Nothing shook the man’s resolve. Nothing. Not even a screaming Hellhound mere yards from his face. But would a god, aligned with the Chief God, willingly torture human men along with monsters? Forcing human men to expend their spirit energy to sustain monsters. Gath shuddered. If Volus was a god, he was a rogue god. A fallen god? No. Gath only knew of one Fallen God, and she resided in her own realm with hordes of her own unique brands of monsters. While she was not allied with the Demon Lord, she did not exactly oppose her, either.

So, what was Volus?

Gath’s mind feverishly strained with the paradoxical question. He wondered if the answer would come to him before he needed it.

“Mmm…” Enna cooed softly in her sleep.

Oh, Enna. Her light, sweet scent filled Gath’s nose. Her nude figure clung to him, her womanhood still enveloping his thick, throbbing love for her. He gently stroked her arm. His heart swelled with pride at the gentle, sleeping figure of his beloved. She looked even more beautiful now than she had yesterday. Her breasts pressed in on each other, weighing down with their full volume. Had they gotten bigger yet again? Gath’s finger traced the curve of her waist, sliding down into the slim valley, before rising up on the hill of her hip. Such a pleasing shape.

A screech nearly sent Gath to his feet, naked and erect and everything.

“MICHAEL!”

Enna’s eyes flew open. She nearly leapt to her feet as well.

Gath poked his head out of the mess of hair and fabric. “Cari…?”

Cari suddenly sat straight up, her gown drenched with sweat. Her clumped, red hair covered her face. “Ugh!” she groaned. “Hell of a nightmare,” she complained, tugging hair out of her eyes. She glanced down at the rug. “Ahem.”

What?

Oh.

Ohh…

Uh oh.

“Please, puh~lease tell me you two are not naked down there,” Cari said drowsily.

“Uhh…” Gath stammered.

Enna giggled underneath the gown. Gath punched her. She yelped.

“Gods!” cried Cari, gaping with indignation. “Did you two have hot, sweaty sex IN MY ROOM?!”

Gath cringed. She sounded like Takasha.

Hmm. Cari the Hellhound? Wonder what that would look like.

“Remember what I said about ice water?” the girl reminded him, her voice deadly sweet.

“You mentioned something about being kind if we were quiet?” Gath said weakly. Enna said nothing, she just moved in closer to him. Problem was, his manhood had just about snuck out of her, and her shifting towards him sent him right back inside her. All the way. Gath sucked in a breath, glancing at her shape beneath the gown.

“Oh my gosh, you two are still doing it!” cried Cari. “You never stopped!” she grumbled, jumping out of bed. Her drenched gown clung to her slender figure. Gath smiled sleepily at her. She actually looked pretty sexy, all things considered.

“What are you grinning at?” she demanded. Then, she looked down at herself. Her figure outlined easily in the wet fabric clinging to her sticky skin. It wasn’t indecent by any means, but… She gasped anyway. “Why you!!” Cari cried.

She ran into another room. Oh boy. Here it comes. She came out, but not carrying a bucket.

“Lucky for you, the ice water hasn’t arrived yet,” she grumbled, rubbing her eyes. “Do you always get up this early?”

“For the past few days…” Gath replied sheepishly.

Cari glanced at him, then Enna’s figure, then him again. She rolled her eyes. “OH I GET IT. You want me outa here so you two can start the day right. RIGHT?”

Gath shrugged nonchalantly. His grin gave it away.

“Oh, for the love of the Goddess.” Cari threw up her arms. “I’ll give you a couple minutes to get dressed. And THEN. If you have to ‘start the day right’ together, GET YOUR OWN ROOM.”

“Cari…” someone’s voice echoed from another room. “SHUT THE HELL UP!”

“Ooop…” Cari’s hands flew over her mouth. Her embarrassment only lasted a couple seconds before she glared at Gath. “Get out.”

Cari turned and left.

Gath pulled the gown away from Enna, revealing a girl giggling uncontrollably. Her breasts bounced captivatingly against her chest as she laughed. She sighed, misty eyes looking over at him.

“Do we have time to…” she glanced down at their connection.

“Afraid not,” groaned Gath. He slowly pulled out of her, his manhood sticky with her honey. “Ugh. This is never going to fit,” he grumbled, trying to pull on his pants.

“Let me help?” offered Enna.

Uh oh.

Enna smiled and leaned down, grasping the massive erection, and quickly took him in her mouth.

Gath gasped! “Enna!” he hissed. “Cari is gonna kill us!”

“She’s all talk.”

“Enna…” grunted Gath. “Oh Enna…”

“Yes. You know you need this.”

“Yes… I need you…” his voice was quickly becoming rough. He’d been inside her all night. This would not take long. He hoped. There was no way he was going to be able to stop Enna now.

“You’re right. I’m not going to stop. Not until you release for me.”

“Enna…” gasped Gath. Her tongue was curling around him! Her soft, plush tongue… like moist velvet, stroking with its own rhythm that differed from her head movements.

“Your heart is beating faster, beloved. Are you ready to give me what I seek?”

Gods above! Enna’s voice, dipping into that sultry tone, felt far more wanton and lewd than when she actually spoke with her lips. And it drove him mad with lust.

“You enjoy when I tease you with my mind?”

“Yes… Enna…” he grunted, holding her head beneath the gown. His inability to even see her heightened the sensation. Hot seed bubbled up inside him, rising up… reaching a head.

“There. I feel it. I feel it swelling up inside you. Just let it come…”

“En…na…” gasped Gath, his head falling back. He exploded in her mouth, his body jerking with each spurt of release. He’d needed this all night, ever since falling asleep. Enna held him by his waist, tightly, steadying him as he emptied himself. She drank every drop, suckling as she had before, and doing that thing with her teeth that nearly made him come again.

“You two decent yet?” Cari asked, bursting into the room. Enna had just finished, and was sitting up, her bare back to Cari as she licked her lips. The gown pooled around her waist and mixed up with her tangle of hair. Gath’s expression, though, was one of pure, unrestrained bliss.

“Sweet Goddess!” hissed the maid, dashing out for her life.

Gath knew he would pay for that later. But right now, he couldn’t care less. The sight of Enna’s satisfied smile, licking her plush lips, was making him hard again.

Enna giggled, shaking her head. “No, as much as I would love more…” she chuckled, tugging his pants in place, and forcing Gath’s manhood back down where it belonged. For now. She reached over, plucked his shirt up off the floor, and helped him into it.

“Your turn, love,” Gath said, helping Enna up. The gown slid from her sultry figure, so he picked it back up, but in the process of untangling her hair from it, he chanced a glance at her body.

Big mistake.

His manhood pulsed in his pants. My gosh. If he’d shown this Enna to his past self, he wouldn’t have recognized her.

Enna’s body had filled out even more, all traces of her malnourishment gone. Her breasts filled in further, with no space in between them now. They would definitely attract attention, no matter what she wore, even this fluffy gown. Her legs fleshed out, becoming lean and strong. A clear indentation showed along her thigh, displaying her toned muscle. Her legs looked sculpted, not flesh. Gath’s manhood throbbed painfully. Blasted thing was never satisfied! Just like Enna!

“Everything all right?” Enna asked, tilting her head to the side, her cute inquisitive gaze deepening with a slightly coquettish smile.

She was driving him crazy!

Quickly, he dumped the gown over her head. Enna yelped, barely having time to raise her arms into the sleeves. It definitely took some wiggling on her part to get the garment to settle down onto her sexy figure this morning. Finally settling it into place, Gath made the mistake of observing Enna grasping her breasts against the bosom of the gown to move them into place.

“You need me again,” Enna told him. She wasn’t wrong. She tugged her mass of hair out of the back of the gown and knelt in front of Gath.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Cari scolded, stepping in. This time, she did carry a bucket. “Just try it. I’ll splaaaaash youuuu~~!”

Gath gulped, glancing at the maid. She wore a fresh gown, her hair damp from just having been washed. Her face, freshly scrubbed, had a rosy glow, and her eyes twinkled, making her expression difficult to read. Did she really mean it?

“Come here,” Cari said, setting the bucket down and taking Enna’s hand. “You,” she said to Gath. “Make yourself scarce.”

Enna glanced back helplessly at Gath as she was tugged into the other room.

“Come on,” grunted Cari as she tugged the girl along. They disappeared into the next room.

Gath pined for Enna briefly, before sensing her residual presence alongside him. He sighed, tied on his sandals, and left. As he entered the hall, he noticed two other maids huddled together in the corner, sneaking glances at him and giggling. And they were in his way. Of course. So much for leaving before the first shift woke up. He ran his fingers through his messy hair and walked past them, trying his best to keep his gaze level, despite overhearing a few words on the way by.

“Handsome…”

“Gnat and Cari…”

Giggles.

Ugh. Gath paused, cocking his head to the side. The girls gasped and ran off. As he continued down the hall to the kitchen, he wondered how they knew to wait for him outside Cari’s room. Then he realized.

They hadn’t seen Enna. She’d been careful. They hadn’t heard the two of them together. He and Enna took special care to be quiet, to avoid disturbing Cari.

They had heard Cari. Her raucous screeching definitely reminded him of Takasha’s bellowing. Gahh… the gossip that must have been flying. Gath and Cari, wild tryst in the maid’s chambers, and having a hell of a fight afterwards.

At least Enna wouldn’t be jealous. She probably found the whole thing utterly hilarious. Her soft giggling in the back of his mind confirmed it. Gods above. He might die of embarrassment. These women would be the death of him!

With trepidation, Gath nudged open the door of the kitchen. His keen eyes pierced the darkness. Nobody inside. What a relief. He dove right in to work before realizing he needed to light the torches. Someone might get suspicious if they caught him working without a care in total darkness.

Lighting the torches straight away, Gath got to work, his single-minded efforts to clear the task helping him finish in record time. He then picked up Cari’s tasks, for she remained missing. He briefly wondered what she was up to, but no. She was with Enna. After his conversation with his wife (the thought of calling her that still sent his heart spinning,) he trusted Enna implicitly.

Quietly, the cook entered the room as Gath was finishing up. She glanced at Gath and sighed, noticing he’d taken up Cari’s tasks and pre-heated the ovens. Gath drew a breath to speak, but the cook silenced him with a gesture.

“I’ll not ask how you knew,” she said firmly, “But we will speak of it no more. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That being said…” murmured the cook. “Do not repeat the mistakes I made.”

Gath nodded. “Cari…” he started to say.

“Is notably absent,” the cook interrupted, hand on her hip. “I’ll not ask as to why, for I’m sure loose lips will reveal that soon enough. This does not excuse either of you from your duties. Make certain she knows that.”

“I will, ma’am.”

“Go on, then.”

Gath pushed the kitchen doors open, brushing past a maid on the way out.

Wait a minute.

The boy did a classic double-take.

Long, loosely waved, inky-black hair knotted into a gorgeous twisted braid crown that corralled the rest of her locks straight down her back. Her radiant eyes looked… stunning, but… human. Normal sclera with ice-blue irises. Her greyish skin had also changed to a healthy alabaster with a tinge of honey brown. She smiled brightly at him, smoothing her hands over her fluffy apron gown, ample bosom puffing out her chest.

“And who might you be?” grumbled the cook.

“I’m Enna!” chirped the girl. “I’m helping Cari get caught up. She wasn’t… um… feeling so well this morning. She asked me to apologize to you on her behalf.”

“I’ll bet,” the cook sighed, rolling her eyes. “Another mouth to feed.”

“Oh, I don’t eat much,” Enna said softly, winking at Gath across the room.

The cook happened to notice her coquettish wink, followed it, and glared at Gath. “Enjoying the show?”

Gath gasped and ran off, his mind racing. Well, not just his mind. Human Enna!? While he missed her glowing, electric eyes, he couldn’t deny her new look made his loins ache all the same. And that hair! Cari spared no effort, weaving her very soul into his beloved’s hair.

But Enna… was she crazy? Passing off as one of the maids?

“You promised to trust me, love.”

Gath’s heart skipped a beat at the sound of her sultry voice in his mind.

I do! It’s Volus and Lester I don’t trust! What if someone recognizes you?

“Do you remember how your mind’s eye could see into the cook’s past?”

Yes. So suddenly. So vividly.

“Did you notice I looked different to you just now?”

Again, yes. How did you do that?

“Our eyes, my love. Our vision pierces darkness and deception. But I discovered it also works in reverse.”

You can cast illusions? Of course you can… the Fairy dust.

“No, love. With the power you have given me, I no longer have need of the dust.”

A shiver of excitement traveled up Gath’s spine. If Enna now had this kind of power, he likely did as well. Rescuing Kendra no longer seemed quite as daunting a task.

“My thoughts as well!”

Gath’s heart swelled with pride for his beloved. Such a precious treasure! A gift from the gods themselves. He wished he could embrace her this very instant, lifting her up off of the ground and spinning her with him in a dance.

“You’re making me blush.”

Sorry!

Enna’s voice remained silent for a moment. Gath strained to listen for it. Finally, she spoke.

“I love you.”

Gath’s heart gushed with affection. He felt like a character in one of Cari’s sappy stories. Such a cliché! Those were her words. He thought about it and found he did not care. He strode out of the castle, filled with confidence, and made his way to the smithy.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Something felt wrong. Two soldiers stood outside the smithy, which remained cold, dark, and closed. No sign of the blacksmith. He began walking towards the soldiers to ask them what was going on before remembering he was just a servant that worked for the smithy for spare coins. Addressing soldiers directly could end in a harsh rebuke, at best. Irons, at worst.

“Something wrong, love?”

The blacksmith is missing. I’m going to use my sight. Our sight. Try to find out what happened. There are soldiers here.

“My power is yours.”

Gath gasped. His vision sharpened, clarity cutting into his eyes like icy, diamond edges. Every detail, every pebble, every speck of dust, stood out to him. He peeked around the corner from his hiding place in the shadows. Their secrets spilled out in front of him.

“Nasty business, those monsters. Could be anyone,” muttered one of them.

“Bloody spies everywhere. Who would have figured Conroy for it?” replied the other.

“How did they even nail him?” asked the first.

“He tried hocking an enchanted sword,” his comrade explained. “Damned thing held the soul of a monster. He swore he had no idea. Looked pretty innocent too, rusty old blade.”

“Sold it for cheap?”

“Hah. Conroy sell anything for cheap? No. He bled the woman’s purse dry. And then, when she picked it up, damned thing’s quillons moved.

The first man shivered in his armor. “It actually moved? The metal?”

“Aye, wrapped around the poor wench’s knuckles and held her like a serpent. Poor thing screamed like a pissed-off wight! Half a squad couldn’t pry the thing out of her hands.”

“Goddess…”

“That ain’t all. Girl managed to cut a couple of the men. They just collapsed, you know, moaning. When they got up, they started acting all weird. Drew their blades on their own comrades!”

Wow. Enna, are you hearing this?

“I wish I could say no…”

“Now you’re just pulling my chain,” the first chuckled. Nervously.

“Yeah, you wish.”

The two men began muttering small talk. Gath needed more. He peered into their secrets. He began with the first man. Flexing the power Enna’s mental embrace afforded him, he sent his sight forward and peered deeply at the man.

 

 

“What is the world coming to?” the man thought to himself. “If the monsters are here, my wife and child… I sent them to Lord Camden’s lands. His alliance with Lady Alexi promised us safety and security. But the Baron’s lands are to the southeast of the Western Front! How could the monsters have smuggled in something like this?”

 

 

A wave of pity for the man made Gath shudder, but this was not useful information. He turned the sight onto the other.

 

 

“Damndest thing I’ve ever seen,” the man recalled. “Even I don’t think Conroy would knowingly do this. He’s just not the type. Would have sold the thing for cheap, and boxed it up for the woman. He might look dull, but he’s not. Not really.”

 

 

Hmm, thought Gath. Conroy the Blacksmith was innocent. The boy kept the sight on that knight. Come on. Give me more. Show me your secrets.

 

 

“I’ll never forget the look on those men’s faces,” the knight unknowingly revealed to Gath. Images sprung to his mind, which Gath observed carefully. The screaming woman, filled with rage, wildly swinging her sword. She cut two men as she was tackled to the ground. One through the leg, and the other through the stomach. As they rolled off of her, their faces had melted into slovenly smiles and vacant expressions. Through the knight’s memory, Gath checked their bodies. No wounds. Their armor looked cracked, but no blood showed through. Strange, for blood certainly appeared to coat the sword, its rust falling away as blood traveled up towards the hilt, defying gravity. Or was that blood? It looked darker. Thicker. The other knights managed to bind her hands and carefully escort her to the castle, amidst her hysterical cries.
“Damned cursed swords,” hissed the knight to himself. “I thought the Order destroyed all of the bloody things.”

 

 

Gath searched the man’s secrets, trying to find a memory of where the girl had been taken. Ugh. It was useless. The knight did not know, but he suspected the dungeon.

Of course.

A chill spread through Gath’s body.

The dungeon!

If he hadn’t taken Enna out of there the night before, she would have been discovered!

“You won’t be rid of me that easily,” Enna spoke calmly, but confidently.

Gath grinned. She could be rather smug when she wanted. He sighed and relaxed the link. His vision restored to normal. Or at least, the new normal for him.

Enna?

“Yes, love?”

They took an innocent man and the woman to the dungeon, most likely. Can you find them?

“If they are there, I will find them.”

Gath nearly admonished her to be careful, remembering to trust her at the last second. He decided to tell himself to be careful instead. This power was nascent and unknown, even to the Wandering Scholar. Best to not abuse it. He decided to investigate the smithy, sneaking silently around the knights, slipping into a loose wall panel he’d found some time back. Inside, he found several spaces where grimy outlines of boxes remained. Hmm. A shipment of materials? Had the smithy unknowingly forged a cursed blade? Was that possible?

If he had, the scraps of it should still be here. He paused to think. Gath shook his head. No. The blade was rusty. A freshly forged sword wouldn’t have had time to rust through, even if left out in the rain for a night. Someone must have peddled it to him. But who? He tried using his sight, what remained without Enna, to see the secrets of the room.

Nothing.

Gath sighed. Even without working in concert with Enna, he should have seen something. He surmised the sight primarily worked on living things. Maybe, people. Wait, what was that? Gath knelt down and inspected the crate outline more closely. Fresh scrapes on the inside. Thin enough to have been caused by blades. The crate had contained swords.

But where was it? And had the smithy received more than one cursed blade?

“Gath.”

Enna’s voice sounded abrupt, not her usual soft and sultry.

“I found her.”

Well done, love.

“You need to see this.”

Enna offered her sight to him. Gath accepted, gasping softly as his perception shifted to inside the dungeon.

Two uneasy guards stood in front of a cell, much like Enna’s. Inside stood the woman, youthful but mature, about Cari’s age? Perhaps a year or two older, early or mid-twenties. In her right arm, she held the blade. Both floor shackles were clamped onto her sword arm. A third shackle cuffed her left wrist to the chains of the others, holding her free arm behind her back. She hissed with frustration, yanking her body against the chains.

Enna’s vision moved in for a closer look. The shackles on the girl’s wrist bit mercilessly into her skin, tearing it raw, and oozing blood. She did not seem to care, and struggled tirelessly against it. The sword itself still looked relatively normal, though an eerie red glow had begun to suffuse through the metal. Its quillons curved around her hand, and some of the metal had actually burrowed into her skin. There was no removing it now, short of amputation.

Enna. What is that other sound I hear?

“It is coming from over here.”

Enna’s focus changed to another cell, her sight extruding from her body the way Gath’s had earlier. Her sight moved effortlessly past the trembling guards to view the adjacent cell. A man knelt inside, chained and shackled, his face pale and sweating profusely. A horizontal slit in his armor remained from where the cursed girl had run him through the gut. He kept reaching towards the wall, the one dividing him from the girl.

Gods above. The man had lost his mind.

Enna shifted her vision to the other adjacent cell without needing to be asked. In it, the other man sat, alternating between staring at the dividing wall, and stroking his leg. A diagonal hole remained in his pants where the girl had stabbed him.

Enna…

“I don’t know what to think…” Enna admitted.

My love, I need you to do something difficult for me.

“What would you ask of me?”

Take my sight, take my strength. Take what you need, but we need to know that girl’s secrets. What is her desire?

Enna’s gaze returned to the center of the hall.

“I’ll try. Are you ready?”

Yes, love.

Gath shuddered, suddenly feeling somewhat weak and light-headed. It was a good feeling, nonetheless. He was helping his beloved. He kept his gaze with her, and marveled at how her eyes sharpened, just as his had done earlier. Enna’s gaze pierced the woman, standing there, helpless, her ragged gown in shreds, barely covering her.

“I… I see her secrets. I share them with you now…”

“Feeeeeeeeeeeeell…” a terrifyingly sensual voice pervaded Gath’s mind. “Make them FEEEEEL… Make them CRAAAAVE. KNEEEEEL. They would chain you like an animal. Make them BEGGGGGG. Everything you wish for, everything you crave, they will be YOURS. FIGHT THEM…”

Gath’s head throbbed with every word. Enna drew more and more power from him to maintain the link. He forced himself to hold on. They needed more. Less gibberish, more leads.

“Freeeeee usssss…” came the whisper. Gath could not determine if the voice was intended for him or the girl. Or Enna. “Cut FREEEEEE. FEEEEL them RELEAAAAASE on our livid EDGE. Their power shall be YOURSSSSSSS…”

Aghh… Gath staggered under the might of the blade’s will.

“Beloved?” came Enna’s gentle voice. “Should I stop?”

No! Not yet! We need to know what brought her here!

“But I sense your pain… I am taking too much!”

Take it! Just… I will… need you… tonight…

Gath practically sensed her warm smile and nod. She maintained the link, focusing back on the girl.

“Make them FEEEEEL… Submit! They will KNEEEEEL. Take their MINDSSSSS. Their PASSSSSION… Find TAKASHAAAAA…”

There! That’s it! Gath felt a second wind rush within. He gave it to Enna.

“REVENGE…. You shall have… REVENNNNNNGE… Make them FEEEEEEL… until they CRAAAVE…”

“I believe we have learned as much as we can.”

Agreed.

Gath gasped, his life force returning to him. And then some? He felt stronger than before. Interesting. Almost as if it increased every time they shared it. Like exercising a muscle.

“I feel it too.”

Just one more reason to never stop loving you.

Enna did not reply, at least not verbally. Gath felt a surge of warmth from her and smiled. He paused in concern.

Enna, we cannot leave her there. They will kill her.

“But if we free her, she will hurt many people.”

Then we take her with us.

Enna paused to consider that.

Gath suddenly realized something.

The blacksmith wasn’t there.

“I will search for him.”

Enna, are you able to do anything for the girl?

“Very little while those guards remain.”

Hmm. While Gath considered what to do about that, he snuck out of the forge and back into town. No one noticed him. He slipped carefully out of the shadows and onto the road. One of the guards glanced his way but did not leave his post. Gath began asking questions around town. Had anyone heard about what happened to the blacksmith?

Some said he was taken to the castle.

Others said he was bound for the dungeon.

One person thought Baron Lester was personally interrogating him.

Another person thought maybe he’d be exiled, then changed her mind. Monsters are evil, and anyone who treats with one should be executed on the spot. She said this without any malice in her voice. Just everyday apathy.

Gath shuddered as he walked away from her. She was young too, and running a shop. Maybe in her late twenties. How could everyone have been so wrong about Mamono? Why was the Order focused so single-mindedly on their eradication? It didn’t make sense.

Gath hoped he’d never harbored such hatred in his heart.

“If you did, I never felt it,” Enna’s sweet voice whispered in his mind. “I felt fear. Apprehension. But never hate. Even I thought Mamono were evil.”

Yes, that’s right. When I told you you’d become one, you said you weren’t evil.

“I was just as afraid as you.”

Yes. Learned a lot that day. Both of us.

Gath continued his search. He had plenty of time if the blacksmith wasn’t here. He walked to the outskirts of town, looking for signs of struggles, or rumors of anyone being exiled. Nothing. The further he got from the blacksmith’s shop, the less anyone knew about it. He wasn’t about to ask the guards. He considered probing them for secrets, but he did not wish to disturb Enna.

So, Gath moved back into the heart of town. He passed by Lady Lamara’s home, even considered stepping in to speak with her, but the townsfolk were edgier than usual today. Couldn’t risk it. He kept moving, anxiety haunting his steps. He did not much consider the smith a friend, but he could not help but feel somehow responsible.

Enna sighed in his mind.

Love?

“I could not find him. I searched everywhere.”

I’ve had similar luck. Where could he be?

“We will locate him. Together.”

How?

“Tonight. In each other’s arms.”

Gath’s heart flipped and his loins stirred at Enna’s suggestion. Not that he wasn’t quite fond of the notion, but…

I fear he may not have much time, love.

Enna was silent for several seconds while she considered that.

“Come to me now.”

Another flip. More stirring. Gath’s body began to ache for her touch. He said nothing, letting his desire carry him forward. He dodged passerby and wove through the throng of townsfolk with the grace of a dancer as he made haste to the castle. The guards at their posts did not even have time to question him as a slip of leather darted between them.

Gath did not ask Enna where she was. He did not need to. Her life force pulsed in his mind and body, nay, his very soul, drawing him to her. He wondered if he could resist the pull if he tried. An experiment for a later time. Worry and anxiety only served to add to the sexual tension reeling him in.

He arrived at Cari’s room. The door opened as he arrived without him needing to knock. Slender arms drew him within, into a desperate embrace. He kicked the door closed behind him as he melted into Enna’s arms.

Gath inhaled deeply of Enna’s scent. The earthy tinge, barely present, moved aside for the sweet fragrance of her mana, mixed with pungent odors of yeast, cinnamon, and smoked meat from having worked in the kitchen. Growling with hunger, he felt he could devour her whole. The two of them tugged on each other’s garments, having much difficulty as their bodies clung together.

Finally, Gath managed to tug Enna’s ensemble up over her head and cast it aside. He glimpsed one breathtaking view of her lascivious body before she attacked his clothes, pulling off his shirt and yanking his pants down to his ankles. Grasping Enna tightly, he leapt upon Cari’s bed and forcefully impaled her.

“Gath!” gasped Enna. “You’re… so… yessss…”

Gath’s vision pulsed red with hunger as his mouth devoured her neck and breasts, nipping fondly at her nipples. Her body shuddered with ecstasy at the hungry onslaught. Her sweetness filled him, pulsing through the room as it mixed with his energy.

“Enna… oh Enna…” panted Gath, “I need you so badly… I did not understand… until you called for me…” he gasped between breaths as he forcefully thrusted into her, rocking her body and the bed itself.

Enna giggled loudly, covering her coquettish lips with her fingers to try and stifle it as she covered his hand and interlaced his fingers, guiding it to her breast. “So much power… we needed… to view the girl’s secrets…” she sighed happily as her husband’s body crushed against her. “Take what you need. Don’t be gentle.”

Gath’s vision pulsed, his body aching. He loved when she said that. Don’t be gentle? Oh, he wasn’t going to be. Before, when he made love to her, he wished to partake of her affection and her desire in equal parts. At this very moment, Gath craved her body. Her lust. Thankful that the harder he grasped her breast, and the more forceful he thrusted her, the more she enjoyed it, Gath focused his animal instincts upon her, clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle her screams.

Instead of protesting, Enna spread her lips and licked the inside of his hand. Her tongue snaked out, capturing two of his fingers, drawing them within her lustful mouth. Hot, moist warmth surrounded his fingers as she moaned quietly. Her teeth bit down gently, and the new sensation sent a jolt straight from his arm to his loins.

“Enna!” hissed Gath. She was smiling with his fingers in her mouth! Her eyes narrowed, her neck arching, taking his hand with her as her body approached climax. She began to convulse; Gath gripped her hip tightly with one hand. She would not release his other.

“Mmmmmnnnnnn!!” Enna groaned, unable to scream with such a delicious treat in her mouth. Her body came apart, releasing against that incredible invasion pulsing and thrusting inside. Gath felt his wife climaxing around him, and his body throbbed for joy. He briefly linked with her to share this passion, but this only increased his hunger. He needed to come. Now. But he required more! More of her!

Leaning in, he managed to slip his hand out of her limp grasp, giving her no time to recover from her orgasm. Crushing her breasts against his pounding heart, he embraced her tightly, using just the power of his hips to ravish her. He did not wish to disturb her elegant hairstyle, so he cupped the back of her neck instead, tilting her face towards him for a mind-melting kiss.

“Ahhhh… mmmm… nnnn…” she tried to speak, but could not. Her reeling mind could not even speak to him through their link. Enna’s energy poured into him through the kiss and her ebbing orgasm. Her body began to tighten around him again, and, as Gath felt the surge within him, he knew the climax he was about to force upon his wife would be more powerful and ruthless than any of the one’s they’d previously shared.

“Gath!!!” she finally managed to cry in his mind. “What are you DOING to me?! I can’t… I can’t… YESSS!!”

Enna screamed into Gath’s mouth as her shouts echoed in his mind. He swallowed every cry, his soul pulsing with power. Her mana flared into his body, pushing the rest of the world away. As he squeezed his eyes closed, the surge within him overtook him, exploding into Enna, feeding her the love she craved. Her body clung to him, her thighs wrapping tightly around his waist and her arms around his shoulders.

The world spun away, replaced by darkness.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Gath found himself in a dark room. Dark? He blinked. Darkness meant nothing to him. He cast aside the notion abruptly. As he did so, the room illuminated before his all-consuming sight. Smells came with it, as well as sounds. Chains. Polished metal links. A stone chair. Sweat, a sickly-sweet scent. The coppery tang of blood. Grease. Oil.

Gath gazed at the chair and the man sitting upon it.

Conroy. The blacksmith.

At last. Gath looked around. His eyes swept the squalor of the room. There did not appear to be a door. Hmm. He approached the wall and pressed against it. His sight passed through it and into the stones, not held together with mortar. A curious sensation, to be inside a stone wall. He backed out, inspecting the design. Each stone had been carefully selected and placed so that no mortar was needed to keep them together. They fit seamlessly. Perfectly. Magic must have played a role in the room’s creation.

Magic.

Volus?

“I do not sense him, love.”

Gath held his gaze steady as he concentrated, and found himself concurring with his wife’s thoughts. Volus was not here. But something was not right. Gath looked around again, and to the best of his ability, he failed to locate a door.

The chains rattled softly. Conroy grunted.

Gath’s vision swirled around to face the man. The smith sat hunched over, bruises having swollen one eye completely shut. Nasty gashes along his lips and purple swelling on his face indicated multiple blows with blunt objects. Gath also noticed several spots on the man’s body marred with blood. Strange locations. Fingertips, insides of joints, underarms, insides of the thighs.

What could that mean?

“An expert at inflicting pain has done this.” Enna’s soft voice ached with compassion.

They were trying to get him to talk. Of course.

Enna said nothing, but Gath could feel her tears against his face.

“Conroy,” Gath said softly.

The blacksmith twitched but did not look up.

“Do… yer… worst… Said all I’m gonna…”

“I am not here to harm you.”

The man simply chuckled bitterly.

“Tell me where you are. Tell me how to find you.”

“Eh…?” the blacksmith glanced up, his face whitening when he could perceive no one there. “Bloody ‘ell? Where are ye?”

“I am with you, and I am not.”

“Cursed… sorcerers… alla’ ya…”

“I am your ally. I wish to help you. Tell me where you are.”

“Oooo… Ooo…” choked the man.

“Tell me where you are,” Gath repeated, maintaining a soft, yet firm tone.

“Ooo… ooob… oubliette…”

“Oubliette?” Enna asked in confusion.

Seven hells!

“Why did they bring you here?” a trace of panic escaped Gath’s voice.

“Wanted… t’ know…”

“Know what?” Gath pressed. He had a terrible feeling about this.

“If I was… behind… spread ‘o monster magic…”

The terrible feeling chilled Gath’s blood like poison.

“Rest, Conroy. I know where the Oubliette lies. Help will come.”

The blacksmith grunted and passed out.

Gath broke the connection.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

He awoke in Enna’s sticky, sultry embrace. Cari’s sheets tangled around their entwined bodies. He rose up off of her, his face sickly white, barely noticing the thrumming power coursing within him. He withdrew from his wife’s womanhood and sat back against the edge of the bed to think.

Enna rose up, clutching the sheet to her bare chest, and slid an arm around him to comfort him. “Gath…” she murmured. “What is it?”

“Enna, this is our fault.”

Enna recoiled from him, her face aghast, draining of color just as his had moments ago. “W-what?” she gasped.

“There’s a damned sorcerer or something similar in the castle, sensitive to Mamono energy,” growled Gath. “He or she… sensed… us. Just so happened the blacksmith stumbled upon a cursed sword at the same time. So, everyone thinks he’s the source.”

“But how could they sense us?” Enna asked softly.

For a split second, Enna’s ignorance infuriated him. She gasped in shock, cringing as if he’d slapped her. Gath instantly regretted it. How could he have been so insensitive? She’d been nothing but supportive from the moment he’d first laid eyes on her.

“Enna, I’m… I’m sorry,” he cried softly, holding out his hand.

Enna nibbled on her lip, tears in her eyes. For the first time, fear marred her beautiful eyes. Fear of him. His hand dropped to the bed and he collapsed upon it, as if bowing in supplication to her. He’d stung the dearest treasure he’d ever known, lashing out in his own frustration at the most vulnerable thing he could find.

He was a monster.

No wonder she feared him.

He nearly jumped into the ceiling at the soft touch of her hand on his bare shoulder. He dared not rise, though. But as Enna’s bare torso began to rest upon him, he slowly relaxed.

“Yes…” sighed Enna, sniffling. “You are a monster. My monster.”

“…what?” asked Gath, his voice muffled into the mattress.

“Nothing will sully my love for you,” she said softly. “And my heart swells at your selfless oath to that man.”

“Enna…” sobbed Gath.

“But please remember, I do not understand the mysteries of this love quite yet,” she continued. “I do not see how anyone could ‘sense’ it. Does such magic truly exist?”

Gath could not bear to sit up. He had no choice, however. Enna’s slender fingers curled around his shoulders, and, with surprising strength, she lifted him up to face her.

Thank the gods above she was smiling. Gath tenderly offered her an embrace.

Enna accepted. He kissed her neck on the way in.

“Did we just have our first fight?” he asked, squeezing her shoulders.

“Is this… normal?” Enna replied.

“It is in those silly books Cari reads,” said Gath.

Enna giggled, the tension releasing from her body. She melted against Gath, sighing. “I do not believe you shall be rid of me that easily, my monster.” Enna giggled again, then nibbled on her lip. “Please tell me, though. How could anyone sense our love?”

Gath released her, and held her at arm’s length. “Not our love, Enna. Our power. Whenever we are together, our power grows. Do you feel it?”

“Ohh,” cooed Enna. “That must be why I feel so much better than I did when we first met.”

“Yes, and especially after what we just did,” Gath remarked, blushing. “I was rather… forceful.”

“Mmm.”

“I… needed you. So badly,” he said softly. “The rebound of power you gave me nearly shook the walls. Anyone sensitive to it would feel it.”

Enna’s gaze shifted from misty to concerned. “If someone can indeed feel it…”

Gath nodded. “We cannot stay here any longer. We need to act. Soon.”

“The cursed girl,” said Enna, “We cannot reach her with the guards stationed there.”

“We need a distraction,” suggested Gath.

Enna smiled coyly. “I could always…” she toyed with a lock of her hair.

The thought of his wife tempting another man revolted Gath. He shook his head. “No, I can’t stand to think of anyone else’s eyes on you.”

His wife giggled. “Aww. You’re cute when you’re jealous!”

“Enna…”

“Sorry,” the girl cleared her throat noisily.

Gath brightened. “I’ve got an idea. Let’s get dressed.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

They decided to leave at different times to avoid suspicion. Gath left first, trying to be sneaky. He felt such throbbing power inside him, it distracted him so! His body throbbed from the tempestuous lovemaking only moments ago. A maid happened to glance his way as he closed Cari’s door. She giggled and ran off.

Great.

He took off, forcing himself to concentrate on the goal, not on Enna’s body. It was the most difficult thing he’d ever done. Slowly, as he walked it off, he managed to capture the excess energy and bottle it inside him. This seemed to help, but, as a side-effect, his manhood thickened between his legs. Ugh. Couldn’t be helped. At least it didn’t jump to attention.

Now, where in the hell was Cari at this time of day?

“Library.”

Thanks, love. I’ll find her. Fetch the Fairy dust.

Gath took off to the library to find Cari. He passed by several gossiping servants on the way. Groaning, he ignored them and snuck into the library. Cari was sitting by herself reading a book about monsters, her gown pooled out around her.

The girl gasped at his approach. “Gath!” she hissed. “Don’t sneak up on me, like that!”

Gath glanced at her quizzically. There seemed to be something… Nah. He knelt down beside her. “What are you reading?”

“I’m trying to figure out what kind of monster Enna is,” she whispered almost inaudibly. “I checked both encyclopedia volumes. She’s… just… not in there.”

Gath let out a long, drawn-out sigh.

“Mm?” Cari glanced at him, her green eyes glimmering with curiosity.

“You won’t find her.”

“Why not?” the maid batted her eyelashes in confusion.

“Because I believe she is a new type of mamono.”

Gath had to slap his hand over Cari’s mouth to stifle her loud gasp. At first, her eyes narrowed in irritation, but then her gaze turned coy and she kissed his hand. Gath withdrew as she smirked at him. “You lucky sod,” she whispered. “That’s incredible…”

“It’s certainly making things interesting for us,” Gath admitted, casting the maid a curious gaze. She sure was acting strange. “Put the book back. We need your help.”

Cari nodded, replacing the book with a cute shake of her hips, standing up on one leg to reach the high shelf. She stepped down, fanning herself with a smile and walked out of the library with Gath, a coy smile on her face and a bounce in her step.

“So, what’s the plan?” prompted the maid as they rounded the corner. A butler glanced their way as they passed, shaking his head. Cari blushed and glared at him on her way. “Ugh. The hell is going on?”

Gath groaned.

“Uhh, all right, you know something,” said Cari, her glare on him now.

“I think the staff thinks we’re having an affair,” he told her with a sigh.

Cari sucked in a breath. “How? How did they find out about Enna so quickly? And I was being so careful…” she pouted.

“Uh, not Enna.”

“What do you mean, not Enna?” she paused in her steps, hands on her hips.

“They think I’m having an affair… with you.” Gath said pointedly, blushing fiercely.

Enna burst out laughing in his mind.

NOT HELPING.

She only laughed harder.

Cari gaped at him. “Of all of the…” she motioned some strange gestures, her voice having left her for a moment. Rosy blush spread over her face. “Because you slept in my room?” she managed to squeak out softly.

“And the cook caught us, and, well, yes, a lot of things, really.”

“What other things?!”

“Cari, we don’t have time for this!”

The maid’s hands balled into fists, pressing into her hips. She stamped her foot. “Mister, if you don’t…”

Gath suddenly grabbed her by her apron and pressed her into a corner. She squeaked like a mouse, biting her lower lip and gazing sheepishly at him through her lashes. He glared at her fiercely. “The blacksmith is sealed in the Oubliette for a crime he didn’t commit, and I need your help to save him!” he hissed at her.

Cari’s expression became hard to read. Gath relaxed his grip, realizing he’d been holding the maid up in the air against the wall, her feet dangling a couple inches off the floor.

Giggles.

Gath groaned. Enna… Wait. That wasn’t Enna. He turned around. Three maids were watching him, blushing, their hands over their lips.

“You were right!” one of them squealed to her friends, and they all ran off in a fit of giggles.

“Oh, for the love of the gods,” cursed Gath.

A hand rested gently on his shoulder. He turned, thinking it was Enna.

“It’s all right,” soothed Cari, a gentle blush coloring her cheeks. “I don’t mind. It’ll die down eventually. What do you need me to do?”

This time, Gath checked around to ensure no one else was watching. “I need you to prepare a bit of food and drink for the guards in the dungeon.”

Cari’s eyes widened.

“I don’t want you to hurt them,” Gath stressed. “Just knock them out for an hour or two. Can you do that?”

“Umm…” thought Cari. “I don’t have the ingredients. I can make the food, but not a sleeping draught.”

“Leave that to Enna.”

“All right,” Cari smiled. “But why are there guards in the dungeon?”

“You haven’t heard?”

Cari shook her head.

“I guess we’re the hot news right now, not a new prisoner,” grumbled the boy. “There’s a girl inside who picked up a cursed sword.”

The maid gulped, her blush vanishing. “Wh-what are you going to do?”

“Free her.”

Cari gasped softly. “A-after I make myself scarce, right?”

Gath’s turn for a coy grin. “Don’t worry, Cari. She won’t harm you. But we need her help to free the blacksmith. Come on.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

So far, so good. Enna, having some experience with Fairy magic, worked some of the dust into a dull purple, which would act as the sleeping agent. She’d handed it off to Cari in the kitchen and joined Gath in the darkness of the dungeon.

Enna glanced at her husband. “Something’s troubling you.”

“You mean, besides Volus, your grandmother, the Hellhound and Aylet, and the blacksmith?”

Enna’s gaze did not falter. “Yes.”

“I didn’t want to worry you until I was sure.” Gath steeled himself. Enna waited patiently. “Something is happening to Cari, and this time, it is our fault.”

“You mean; besides the fact she could be thrown down here for what she’s about to do?”

“Yes…”

Pausing to consider that, Enna shook her head. “I don’t know what it could be?”

“I’m sorry, I keep forgetting you don’t have my schooling,” the boy sighed.

Enna punched him lightly in the arm.

He took her hand in his and held it gently. “Enna, Cari is changing. I noticed it earlier and shook it off. But after I spoke with her in the library, it’s starting to become obvious.” Gath sighed. Enna waited for him to finish. “I think we’ve somehow seeded our energy into her.”

His wife blinked, her face growing pale. “S-seeded?”

“We never should have… done what we did… in her room while she was there. We consumed most of each other’s energy as it released, but I’m sure some of it reached her. It’s already starting to change her.”

“Is there anything we can do?” Enna asked.

Gath shook his head. “Everything I’ve read about mamono energy told me once it starts, there’s no stopping it. We can slow it down, but not stop it, even if we send her away from us.”

“This is awful,” Enna moaned softly. “Poor Cari…” She hugged Gath for support. “What will she become?”

“Under normal circumstances, she’d become a succubus. But we still don’t know what you are. Your energy, mixed with mine, I… I just don’t know.”

Enna was silent for some time, simply holding on with a light embrace.

“I don’t know what to do…” Gath admitted. “But we’re going to have to be much more careful interacting with other people from now on.”

“We have to tell her,” Enna said.

“When?”

“Right after we leave Baron Lester’s lands.”

Gath nodded. “Which one of us gets to tell her?”

Enna cocked her head at him. “I would not ask you to do such a thing on your own. We will both tell her.”

Gath embraced her tightly, a grateful, yet resigned expression on his face.

“Someone’s coming,” Enna whispered in his ear.

The pair melted into the shadows. They needn’t have worried. A soft, girlish humming filtered in down the stairs as Cari’s light steps carried her into the dungeon. A full tray of food and drink balanced on her right arm, and a torch held firmly in her left, Cari made her way inside and approached the guards.

“Dinnertime, good sirs!” announced Cari, approaching them with a fetching smile.

“At last,” sighed one of the men. “Bloody famished, I am.”

“Rrrraaaaaa!” cried the girl in the cell, lunging against her chains.

“Eep!” squeaked Cari, her steps faltering.

“Oh, don’t mind her,” the other soldier grumbled. His eyes brightened at the maid. “My thanks to you, Cari,” he offered as he lifted the tray from her hand.

“My pleasure!” she replied brightly, winking at the man. Then she paused, nibbling her lower lip. “Do… do I need to serve her as well?”

“We’ll handle the prisoners, never you worry,” the first man told her, plucking some bread and meat from the tray.

“That’s such a relief,” sighed Cari, her hand splaying over her bosom as she theatrically caught her breath. “Will you be needing anything else tonight?”

The two men exchanged glances between each other and Cari. Gath rolled his eyes. Mentally. He couldn’t actually roll his eyes while utilizing extruded sight. He half-wondered if they were going to actually ask Cari to stay.

“No, Cari, that’ll be all,” the first man managed to say. Gath could hear the regret in his voice.

“All right!” chirped the girl, twirling around as she glanced back with a sidelong, over-the-shoulder look. “Let me know if you need anything! I’m at your service. Good niiiiight~~!”

The girl left the hall in a flourish of girly theatrics. Just enough to tempt, but not so much as to mock and tease. Enna and Gath both watched her go by, her hips swaying as she bounced on the balls of her feet.

The pair glanced at each other, simultaneously coming to the same conclusion. “Succubus.”

“Poor Cari…” moaned Enna softly.

“It must not hurt,” Gath remarked. “She looks to be having the time of her life.”

“By the gods!” muttered one of the men, as he stuffed his mouth. “Mmmphhh…”

“Good gracious, man,” countered his vexed companion, “Were you raised in a cave?”

The other swallowed. “This food is heavenly!

“Well, no argument shall be had from me,” his companion agreed. “And speaking of heavenly. I dare say. That Cari.”

The other man groaned. “Was I born old? When did she grow up? I’ve been rightly tempted by low-hanging fruit before, but never like that!”

“She’s the talk of the castle these past couple of days, you know. Has that Gnat wrapped around her little finger.”

“That’s not all I imagine,” the other man chuckled.

Gath’s face turned bright red. He glanced at Enna in the corner of his eye. Wished he hadn’t. Her devilish grin threw fuel on the fire.

The men devoured the meal quickly, lying back against the bars, oblivious to the woman behind them screeching at them. One by one, the slid down onto the haunches, and passed out, wide and satisfied smiles on their faces.

“Ready?” asked Gath.

“Wait,” Enna’s gentle grasp on his shoulder.

A clatter sounded down the hall. And then another. Both men laid on their sides, drooling slightly.

“Now,” nodded Enna.

Stepping out of the shadows, Gath approached the cells, Enna right behind him. The cursed girl lunged at him.

“Raaaaa!” she hissed.

“Hold,” Gath said firmly. “We’ve come to help you.”

“Freeeeeeee…” said the girl through gnashed teeth. “Whyyyyy?”

“Because,” Gath gently presented Enna, who’s electric blue eyes and black sclera blazed in the darkness. “We are like you.”

The girl stared long and hard at Enna’s eyes, and she began to relax slightly. But only for a moment. “Raaaaaa!” she cried. “I will spare you if you free me NOW!”

Gath rested a strong hand on Enna’s shoulder. She stepped aside for him. “No. We will free you, and then you will follow us. You will harm no one unless necessary.”

The girl stared at him as one would a simpleton. “Your words mean nothing! I will have my revenge! I HUNGER!”

“And you will feed. You will feed on the unjust. Your blade will smite the hatred from their hearts, drowning them in their own debauchery,” growled Gath, surprised at his own forcefulness, but choosing to continue and not let it distract him. “But you WILL follow us and follow our commands!”

“I… listen… to… no… mere… man…” spat the girl.

“He is no mere man,” said Enna simply, yet her words cut to the bone. “He is my life. My love. My strength. My honor. And he is your salvation. As well as the means to whom you seek.”

The girl glared at them both, back and forth. “Whom… I seek…?”

Gath allowed the girl to stew on Enna’s words for a minute before he finally stated, “Takasha.”

The cursed girl stepped back as if he’d slapped her with a full plated gauntlet, her gaze turning aside as her face tore away from him. “How do you know that name…” she said meekly.

“You told me.”

The girl looked back at him in fear. Then her eyes turned to Enna’s flashing electric blues.

“I told you, he is no mere man,” Enna said with a smug smile, casting him a proud glance.

“Where… is… Takasha…” the girl asked in a monotone voice.

“With Volus.”

The girl leapt back, this time recoiling, bending over and retching bile. “VOLUS!” she cried. “I HUNGER!”

“You want to run him through?” asked Gath softly.

“YESSSSS…”

“And deny Takasha that pleasure?”

“Wha?” The girl looked up at him.

“A long line of Mamono wish justice upon Volus,” Enna said, her voice low and threatening. “Will you deny them? Will you deny… me?” Her eyes burned like twin suns within rich blackness.

The cursed girl withered beneath Enna’s power. “I… hunger…” she growled, much weaker than before.

“Follow us,” Gath offered.

“Obey us,” Enna commanded.

“You shall have what you seek,” the two of them both said in unison.

The girl nodded, trembling against the chains. Enna handed Gath the keys from one of the soldiers. He unlocked the cell, then carefully unbound the girl.

“RRAAAAAA!!” she screamed, slicing at him.

Oh. This again. The blade traced an arc towards Gath. Very slowly. He side-stepped it with ease. Enna moved out of the way, calmly observing. The girl lunged at Gath, thrusting with an angry gleam in her eyes. He stepped aside. She swung low; he hopped over the blade. She lurched high. He bent backwards. The girl huffed in frustration, leaping at him.

“We don’t have time for this,” Gath grumbled, hopping to the side. The girl crashed into the far wall and he lunged in, crushing her body against the cold stone, and pinning her sword arm in place. “Stop fighting,” he said firmly, but he did not shout.

“Hunger!!”

“Yield.”

“No!”

“I will not leave you here to be slain by the hands of these men.”

The girl’s body shook suddenly. “What?”

“The Order is trained in how to deal with nascent mamono they capture,” he explained, continuing to hold her face-first against the wall. Her head moved to the side so she could see him over her shoulder. “They would destroy you simply for being what you are.”

“They would fail. I would FEED…”

“No, you would die.”

A tear dripped from her eye. Her red eye. Gath noticed then. The girl’s right eye, the side of her sword arm, was a dull red.

“Yield to us. We will help you.”

The girl struggled, but Gath’s strength had increased many times over what it had been before meeting Enna. She could not move. She grunted in desperation, and finally relaxed.

“I yield…”

Gath continued to hold her. “Tell me your name.”

The girl closed her red eye. “I… cannot… remember.”

Enna stepped into the cell and rested a calm, cool hand on the girl’s exposed shoulder. “Katarina.”

Katarina twitched at the memory. “How…?”

Gath released her at last. This time, she turned slowly, her sword remaining by her side. Enna smiled at her, but her voice remained firm. “No secrets may hide from us.”

The cursed girl cocked her head. “Not even Volus?”

“We have seen inside his sanctuary,” Gath told her.

Katarina averted her gaze, considering his words. “My blade has sought a man like you for many an age…” She looked up at him with a meek stare. Enna and Gath gazed at her with compassion. “I will follow you…”

“You will not regret your choice,” Enna promised. “Thank you.”

“Katarina, we need your help,” said Gath.

“What would you ask of me?” Much of the fire had left her voice, but somewhere, in her hissy growl, a flicker of hope remained.

“The blacksmith,” Gath said, “He stands accused by Lester and Volus. They will kill him out of fear of you.”

“What is your command?”

“Free him,” said Gath firmly. “Cast aside all pretense of stealth. You may cut down only those who stands in your way. Keep all eyes upon you. We will support you from the shadows, and guide you to him.”

Katarina held the sword up to her face. Its metal glowed an eerie, dull red, like her eye. “I obey.”

“Enna, we’re ready.” Gath squeezed her shoulder gently.

“What about the men in the other cells?” she asked.

Gath glanced at Katarina. Her dispassionate eyes returned his gaze. “Leave them. Free them, and they will follow me. Beg to be cut. And I will cut them and feed.”

“Understood.” Gath nodded. “Enna.”

Enna smiled, her eyes gleaming and half-closed. “It begins…”

Gath turned to Katarina. “Go. I will guide you.”

Free at last, Katarina stalked out into the darkness.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Night was falling. A cool night. The summer months began to give way to autumn, and brought with them longer nights. Colder nights. The twinkling of the stars faded away, giving themselves up to the mist. Cool, thick, swirling mist, descending from the sky and rising up from the ground. The mist flooded into the town, swirling around ankles and wheels and hooves, cloying and obfuscating the ground as it rose and thickened. The skies darkened, a blanket of fog from the heavens above.

The mist rose and fell, taking with it the calm of the night. As it thickened, encroaching upon the castle, so too did the fear of the unknown. The night watch locked down the city, closing the gates. The castle doors slammed shut, the portcullis locking down in place. The soldiers, knights, and captains all knew this fog. An unnatural blight, not dangerous by itself, but any number of horrors could leap from within to destroy them. They hunkered down, guarding the entrances to the castle with unflinching courage.

They did not expect the horror to emerge from within.

Katarina rose from the depths of the dungeon as the mist began to seep in through cracked windows and uninsulated walls. The cloying mist snuffed out lights, lanterns, and hearths as it went, ushering nervous staff and warriors alike into deeper rooms. Occasionally someone would glimpse the cursed woman, striding through the halls, silent as a specter. Her hair hung loosely around her, blowing gently on its own, without any wind. Her tattered dress clung to her slender body by shreds alone. Soon it would serve her no purpose, and she would stride naked, clothed only in the sword’s emulsified alloy that had begun to spread in blacks and reds up the woman’s arm.

Katarina stalked the halls unopposed for quite some time. Brave knights guarding certain passages watched her go by, and some even rattled their swords at her. She would stop, glance his way with her chilling eyes, one red and one light brown, before continuing on her way, her sword leaving a dull reddish stain in the mist as she wandered.

Katarina’s path took her towards the barracks. Three knights blocked her way. She continued moving towards them, her pace never slowing. The knight on the right and the left charged at her. She parried the left knight’s sword, knocking it out of his hands with one swipe, and cutting him diagonally across the chest with another. The man gasped, his eyes rolling back into his head, and crumpled to the ground

At the sight of his fallen comrade, the other knight yelled a curse, and leaped at the woman. Katarina stared at him with emotionless eyes as she blocked his shield bash with her blade. A flash of red pulsed into the mist. His sword came down on her neck. She caught his hand with her free arm, twisting until her grip closed around his wrist.

Crack.

With a scream, the man crumpled in agony as his armor crunched inside Katarina’s grip. She twisted her arm, dislocating the man’s shoulder. For the coup de grace, a clean sword cut across his throat. He gurgled and convulsed, his back arching and his body twisting and twitching. The blade shone red, but not with blood. Katarina sighed with satisfaction. Red energy oozed off of the blade. She held out her free hand to catch the gooey red globs, floating against gravity, and they gently curled off of the edge and into her waiting hand.

The third knight, the one in the middle, observed in abject terror as Katarina licked the redness out of the palm of her hand. Her sword arm shuddered, metal curling out of her skin and forming plates of sickening spikes and armor, shredding the sleeve of her dress. The girl turned to him and began walking slowly towards him, the tip of her tongue caressing her lips in anticipation.

“A-a-alarm!” cried the terrified knight. “ALARM! HARK!” he screamed, racing towards the girl with a pike. Katarina crouched, twisting her body around the incoming weapon, and insinuated herself around the pole, sending her blade in to slice at the man’s ankles. He fell to the ground, but managed to get a hit in on her sword arm. When the pike’s metal connected with Katarina’s fresh armor, a crack of red lightning charred the point black. She knocked it with her galvanized elbow and shattered it utterly.

Knights began to pile out of the barracks as Katarina ran the man through, sending her blade into his gut. With a mighty heave, she cleaved him in half, straight up, sternum to skull. Red mist gushed from the impact, drawn into the sword. Those that witnessed the third knight slam into the floor, his body twisting and convulsing as he gurgled inhuman sounds, were filled with fury and terror, their training forgotten as they tried to flee or attack. Katarina ignored the cowards, true to her word. One of them tripped over a fallen comrade, nearly impaling himself on his own sword. He escaped unscathed, barely, and fled.

Those that chose to attack the woman found themselves up against the apathetic specter of Katarina and her endless thirst. With each sweet kiss of blade to flesh, her power grew, granting her the strength to cleave men in half right through their armor, and punch through solid rock. A dozen men fell to Katarina’s thirst, and then a dozen more. Only a handful remained as she stood atop a pile of bodies, arching her back as she languidly stretched, holding her sword out to the side, and her open palm opposite the blade. Livid, red energy arced from the blade, over her body in the shape of a dripping, demonic rainbow, showering her with it, and pooled into her open hand. She closed her fist around it, holding it above her head, and arched her neck, tilting her face towards the ceiling. Slowly, Katarina opened her fist, allowing the energy to trickle out, swirl down her arm, and fall into her open mouth.

Much more energy remained of the men on the blade. She stood triumphant upon the pile of twitching bodies. Dark stains could be seen between several of their legs; white droplets pooled on the floor around the bodies. The hall began to stink of a brothel. Katarina sighed, straightening as she leveled her gaze. Her red eye blazed like a demonic sun, and her other eye burned a deep amber. Her dress burned away, the blood metal beginning to stretch across her nude features, sculpting the sensual figure and offering the barest of physical protection. Her sword arm, completely covered, gleamed in several points, which the men, upon closer inspection, determined to be livid orange eyes.

“C-captain…” stammered one of the men. “What… what do we do?”

“I’ve never even heard of a transformation occurring this rapidly… what is that thing?” asked another.

“It’s the mist! This unnatural mist is thick with demonic magic. It’s feeding her along with the slain!”

Katarina began making her way forward once more, her blade scraping the floor as she went. Beautiful, sensual, her hips swaying, large breasts barely covered and much of her tempting features exposed. Terrifying, horrifying, her lips stained with red energy, the eyes in her armor and inside the sword swirling with glee. Ravenous, predatory, her red eye containing a slit for a pupil, which narrowed at the sight of the men.

The captain staggered before his insurmountable foe. She did not charge. She merely continued her steady approach. “F-fall back! The barracks are lost! Fall back to the second level!”

The men scrambled back into the barracks in terror. They slammed the door shut, bolting it sealed. Katarina approached the door, tossing aside the remaining scraps of clothing and inspected the door.

Someone came up from behind and gasped.

“Sweet goddess…”

Katarina paused, glancing back.

Cari.

“Scarce… making myself… scarce…” she gulped, staring at the men, unable to tear her eyes away for some reason. “What’s… that… smell?” she asked no one in particular, her body trembling in fear.

Katarina turned around and glanced at the girl from around the bodies. “Sister…” her icy voice spoke eerily.

“Huh?” gulped Cari. “Uhm… oh wow… you look… different! Yes. Different. Not bad! Definitely not bad…” she babbled nervously.

“Come, sister.”

“Ahh… err… umm… what?” Cari glanced behind her before looking back and splaying her hand over her chest. “Me?”

Katarina held out her free hand, which she’d licked clean of spirit energy. Spare energy, bubbling up on the surface of her blade, bounced towards her other hand briefly, desiring her touch, before being caught in the sword’s pull and drawn back in. The woman said nothing, keeping her hand outstretched as she beckoned.

“I’m not… uhm… I think you have me confused with someone else!” Cari replied with a trembling voice.

“You… freed me. Sister.”

“I helped… oh Goddess, what have I done…”

“You are… incomplete.”

Cari blinked. “Huh? I’m so… very confused…”

“Come, sister. I will complete you.”

“Eep…” Cari squeaked. “I’m fine, thanks!”

“You do not wish to revel in our victory?” Katarina cocked her head slightly, a faint puzzled expression playing across her terrifying features.

“I’ll make myself scarce! Like I promised!” Cari held up her hands, waving them frantically.

Katarina’s puzzled expression deepened, but only for a moment, before she reverted to her apathetic hunger. “As you wish, sister. It is not my place to force you. You may follow instead. Take what you will.”

“Wha?” Cari asked, completely bewildered. Katarina calmly walked away, her movements graceful and sensual despite her terrifying presence. She paused at the door to slice at it with her sword. The door darkened into charcoal and fell apart as the girl stepped through it.

Cari tiptoed over the random bodies lying around and approached the big pile. She knelt, cringing at the sounds of more fighting. She poked at one of the bodies.

And gasped!

“Nnnnnn…” groaned the man.

“Hey!” squealed Cari. “You’re not dead!?” she gaped. “Oh wow! None of you are! I thought she’d slaughtered you all. Gosh… everything in that book was a lie… Even someone as violent as that, didn’t kill you. But if that wasn’t blood on her sword, what was…” she trailed off.

White, sticky stuff on the ground.

Cari poked it, jerking her finger away at the odd texture. But she came back for another poke. And another. Lifting her fingertip, she sniffed it, retching at the stuff at first, but her tongue darted out for a lick.

“Eugh!” coughed the girl. “What am I doing!?” she cried. She backed off, but her morbid curiosity pulled her towards Katarina’s trail of slaughter. As she slowly pursued the cursed woman, the sights and sounds around her melted away from reality, plunging her into a dark, demented alternate existence. Mist pooled around her legs, getting everywhere. It drifted under her clothes, beneath her skirt, dancing between her legs. Every time she patted herself down, more mist puffed out of her gown like a dusty rug.

Cari gasped, checking behind her. “S-someone there?” she whimpered. She swore she glimpsed eyes. Eyes in the dark. All sounds fell away, save for a low moaning. Cari followed the sound with her eyes. The bodies of men lay slumped against furniture, flung against walls, left to suffer where they came to rest after having been run through. Each of them shuddered, having wet himself, but still clung to life. In each case, the wetness was not urine.

“Uhhhnnnn…” Cari groaned, clutching her forehead with her right hand as she stumbled.

“…Cari…”

“Eeep!” squealed the girl, searching for the voice. “G-Gath?”

The girl’s mouth hung open. The boy she knew as Gath strode eerily through the barracks, his eyes dark, like Enna’s, a tint of red glowing within the inky black depths. His body fluttered, disfigured slightly, as if he was part of the mist itself. His footsteps made no sound upon the uneasy floorboards. Neither did his movements disturb the mist. It did not part for him, nor did it hinder him.

“…You should not be here…” He spoke, but his lips did not move. He continued moving past her, practically gliding an inch or two over the floor. He passed through the barracks and made his way outside, taking the path up the hill.

Cari stumbled, tripping over a body. She glanced back at the open door behind her, leading back into the misty horror. The outside darkness beckoned. Hitching up her skirt, she ignored the warning and followed Gath.

“Men!” came the voice of a terrified Baron Lester. “You will… stand your ground!”

At the top of a winding path, littered along its way with bodies of quivering men, twitching in fetal positions, mist encroached upon the last group of knights and soldiers, who formed a semicircle around two other men at the top of the hill. They stood beside a peculiar cairn; a round disk of perfectly matched stones that had been laid down so seamlessly, they required no mortar to seal them together.

The knight captain pointed his blade squarely at Katarina, who paused about twenty feet away. She held her gleaming blade to her side, gripped firmly within her sinewy arm. Her free hand she held in front of her, gently drawing energy from the blade. The energy oozed from its edge in thick, sticky globs of bright red, slowly flowing through the air and into her hand. She grasped it gently, like one would a lover, and held it over her head. Tilting her head back, she opened her mouth and let the red orbs slide down her arm and into her mouth.

“Un-holy demon!” cried Lester. “Destroy her!” he commanded the knights.

“Men of the watch!” shouted the knight captain as Katarina fed. “Tonight, I will not order you to step forward. To do so, would be to order you to die. Tonight, I remind you, instead, of the oaths you have taken. You have sworn yourself to the path of the Order, and have pledged your blades to Baron Lester, and the people of this land! Hark now, for before you are the living examples of the weapons of the enemy: Fear. Temptation. Chaos! See how she stands naked before you, tempting you with debauchery even as she squeezes the courage from your heart.”

Katarina devoured the last of the energy she’d grasped, leveling her gaze at the men as she shifted her stance to one of pure offense. Tilting her blade up, still full of energy, she slid two fingers of her free hand across the blade and pointed at the men.

Katarina began walking forward. Slowly.

“I will not order you to attack!” cried the captain. “She will spare cowards and deserters, but know this! You will live the rest of your lives with the knowledge that you fled, rather than serve your god!”

Katarina merely smiled coolly as she continued her approach.

One of the soldiers screamed and fled in terror. The rest of the men closed ranks around the gap. Kararina paid the coward no mind, just as the captain had said.

“The rest of you… the time to fulfill your oaths is now!” shouted the captain, and he charged.

To their credit, the rest of the men followed him in formation. Steeled against Katarina by his words, they managed to hold her advance, their blades parrying her strokes with trained precision. They fought as one, not giving in to fear or cowardice.

Cari watched in abject fascination. Who would prevail? Katarina could no longer advance, but the mass of energy she’d collected afforded her monstrous strength, which staggered the men with every attack. She fought tirelessly, her eyes narrowed in determination. When one man faltered, two others rallied two his side to protect him. But how long would their strength prevail?

Katarina took a step back, gathering power. Her blade burned, raw energy licking the metal like the flames on a torch. The men piled behind shields, linking them up seamlessly. Their eyes exchanged glances at what happened next.

Katarina began to dance.

A slow, sensual dance, she began to curl and spin, cutting strange patterns into the mist. The men watched, enrapt, but held their phalanx.

“Do not be deceived!” shouted the man beside Lester. “She is—”

Too late.

Whatever Katarina had done granted her extra strength for a devastating spinning slash which knocked the men on their haunches. Their shields crumbled into charcoal and ash. One of the man grasped his hand as his gauntlet disintegrated. His body arched as he gasped and gurgled.

Katarina slowly spun out of her dance and resumed her previous stance, approaching with little-to-no emotion, save for single-minded determination.

“Katarina.”

The cursed woman paused as if frozen in time.

“You have done well. I appreciate your restraint.”

“R-restraint?” babbled one of the men tending to his fallen comrade.

“Ah,” said the man beside Lester. “Now the architect of this coup stands revealed.”

Katarina stepped aside.

There was no one there.

“Show yourself!” bellowed the robed man. “You’ll not have these lands!”

The voice issued forth from the mist itself. “We have not come for these lands.”

Baron Lester glanced beside him to the cairn. “They’ve come for their cohort!”

“No,” Gath’s voice echoed firmly. “The man is innocent of your charge.”

“He’s as guilty as the seventh hell from what bought him!” cried Lester. “He will pay for his crimes, as shall you!”

“The seventh hell did not orchestrate his unwitting betrayal,” Gath said ominously. “There is another who wishes your downfall.”

“Who, then?!” shrieked the Baron. “YOU?”

Gath’s chuckle resounded off the hill. “This is not of my doing. It did provide an excellent opportunity, however. I should caution you, Baron of the Hilltop. You have enemies in places I have not yet seen.”

“Who the devil are you!?” cried Lester.

The knights scattered as a crack of thunder split the silence. A blast of heat seared from the end of the staff the robed man suddenly produced from beneath his garment. He slammed the point down onto the ground, sending a wave of heat in every direction, burning away the mist.

“SHOW YOURSELF!” he bellowed.

Katarina held her sword up to her face to block the assault. The blast wave slammed into her, sliding her back several feet, but she retained her footing.

As the mist receded, Gath stood tall, confident, dressed in leather, and cloaked in a velvet cape. Cari gasped softly from her hiding place. She hardly recognized him!

“There!” hissed Lester. “A man? A man as such cannot control monsters!”

“Would you be willing to bet your life on that, Lord Lester?” asked Gath calmly, his voice much clearer now.

“Don’t let him fool you, my lord,” the wizard next to him cautioned. “There is a powerful monster guiding his actions. We have yet to identify her.”

“If that is what you wish to believe,” Gath said nonchalantly, “I will not attempt to dissuade you. I will, however, be requesting your surrender.”

“Never!” growled Lester. “Destroy him!”

The sorcerer produced a massive fireball from his staff and flung it at Gath.

Cari gasped and buried her face in her hands.

Gath did not move.

Katarina leapt to his defense and swatted the blast away with her sword and a burst of spirit energy. She stood in front of him, holding her unholy blade in a defensive stance, pointed down and diagonally across her body.

Gath rested a hand gently on Katarina’s bare shoulder. “Well done, Katarina. But these men will never understand if I do not give them a proper demonstration. If you wouldn’t mind?” He spoke gently to her, patting her on the shoulder as she stepped aside.

Another fireball seared towards him. This time, Katarina did not intervene. It slammed into Gath, passing right through and leaving nothing behind.

“Hah!” cried Lester with triumph. “Well done, Markus!”

Katarina looked back at where Gath had been, lowered her sword, and began to walk away.

“Apprehend the demon!” commanded Lester.

But the mist was beginning to rise again.

“We must still deal with his mistress,” warned Markus.

Another chuckle echoed inside the mist.

“Be revealed!” shouted Markus, sending out another blast wave. Katarina disappeared somewhere in the confusion as the knights scrambled for cover. The mist receded again, leaving Gath standing in his original position.

“Wha…?” sputtered Lester. “But… we destroyed you!”

“Now, you learn the truth of it,” said Gath. “You are not fighting me. You are fighting your perception of me.”

“Who… are you?” demanded the Baron.

“I have many names. I believe this one knows me as The Observer.”

Markus went pale. He stepped back, his grip on his staff faltering.

“What nonsense is this?” sputtered Lester. “Kill him, I say!”

Markus shook his head. “The Observer is a sorcerer the likes of which not even my master, Lord Volus, has seen before. He… he may very well be able to command monsters by his own might!”

Gath chuckled. “So, the lesson is learnt at last. I extend you my previous offer. Remit the blacksmith to my care and I shall depart these lands.”

“Wh-what do you want him for? You just said he had nothing to do with this!” sputtered Lester.

“You will be refusing my offer, then?” Gath asked calmly as the mist began to thicken, tendrils of it crawling up the hill in the likeness of massive, ropy serpents.

Markus flung a fireball at one of them. It blasted through the mist, scorching the grass, but did little to dissuade the tendril.

Baron Lester’s eyes darted back and forth from the mist, to Markus, and to Gath. He threw up his hands. “Very well!” he cried. “Markus, open the oubliette.”

The mist halted its approach.

None too happy with the command, Markus waved his staff at the cairn. The stones began to move on their own, systematically opening wide and creating a winding pathway inside. At Gath’s will, the mist parted in the skies, lending moonlight into the cairn. Gath began to approach as wary knights peeked out from various boulders and debris.

The cairn had opened fully, its ceiling stones repurposed to stairs and pathways. Gath stood on the lip of the cairn, peering down at the unfortunate man.

“Release him,” he ordered.

A murderous glint flashed in the baron’s eye.

“Markus… Kill him!”

If Gath found this surprising, he did not express it.

Markus raised his staff. Heat swirled as a fireball formed, one that would engulf the entire room below.

“Katarina.”

Gath’s voice cut through the heat and mist and palpable hatred.

Markus flung the fireball.

On the downswing, he gasped. A demonic blade suddenly protruded from the center of his chest. The resulting shock misdirected the fireball, sending it into the baron.

The man shrieked in agony as his clothing incinerated and his flesh bubbled and blistered. With a wave of Gath’s hand, mist enveloped him, instantly quenching the flames, but the damage had been done. The man fell to the ground limply.

Katarina lifted the sorcerer, still impaled upon her blade, holding his twitching body high. Large globs of red energy streamed down her sword arm, bathing her in power. The girl hummed sensuously, her body twisting as pleasure overtook her. Gath held out his hand, guiding the mist to life his body off of the girl’s blade and lay him to rest beside the cairn. He then approached the baron’s body, glancing down at the knights.

“Do you now understand what comes of such deeply sown hatred?” the Observer demanded of them.

The knight captain approached, trembling, but boldly from his place behind cover. He cast Katarina a nervous glance. The woman still trembled in the thralls of ecstasy at consuming the mage’s spirit energy, but a glint in her eye implored the knight to try something. Anything. Give her an excuse to consume him as well.

“We must take him,” said the captain with much urgency. “There is a physician in town.”

“No,” said the Observer firmly. “He is beyond your care. Take your men.” He glanced at Markus. “All of them. Secure the lower levels. Do not allow anyone to interfere.”

“What… is your intention?”

“My intention?” the Observer peered his red and black eyes into the man’s soul. “My intention is for him to live. But for that to happen, you must do as I command.”

The knight captain stared at him, his expression a mixture of bewilderment and disbelief.

Now, captain!” hissed Gath. “He has minutes!”

“Fall back to the lower levels!” called out the captain. “Collect the wounded! Hurry!”

“You will know when to return when the mist departs these lands,” said the Observer. “Go!”

The knight captain made haste, carrying out Gath’s instructions. He bumped into Cari on the way down, and reached for her, but she jumped back. “You must come with us, girl!” he demanded.

Cari shook her head. “I’m… afraid I stand with him,” she said softly.

“How many others have fallen to his deception?” the captain asked, defeat choking his voice.

“I do not know,” the maid admitted truthfully. “Go, you can’t help me…”

The men left her to stand at the foot of the hill.

“Enna,” moaned Gath as the illusion faded. Cari rose up the hill to stand nearby. The imposing Observer melted away, and Gath appeared kneeling beside the charred and disfigured Baron. “Enna, I need your help to save this man!”

“What I have is yours, love. Take what you need.”

Gath’s senses sharpened. The mist around him coalesced, hardening and thickening, gently lifting the Baron. Small tendrils curled under his flaked robes, caressing his blackened skin. Gath guided several into the man’s mouth and nostrils, to heal him from within. He waved his hands gently, up and down the Baron’s frame, spreading mist and magic into him.

Gath looked up, tears in his eyes. “I… I can’t…” he gasped. “The power I need. Enna has it. If I take it, I can heal him. But she’ll die!”

“No!” cried Cari, dashing up to him. “I’ve never met a dearer friend than either of you!”

“You won’t… be rid of me… that easily!” Enna stressed over their link, but even mentally, she gasped for breath.

“Enna’s fading, Cari,” cried Gath. “We are powerful, but we’ve never faced anything like this!”

Cari shuddered, embracing him from behind. “Take my life, then.”

Gath gasped in her arms. “Oh Cari… as selfless as that might be, I don’t even think that would be enough.”

Cari grasped him tightly. She glanced up. “Katarina!”

The cursed woman stiffened, staring at her.

“Help us!”

Katarina stepped forward, gazing down at the charred man. She glanced at the sword fused into her right arm, its blade thrumming with power. Before anyone could say anything else, she slammed the blade point down through Baron Lester’s chest.

“Katarina!” gasped Cari. “That’s not—”

“Wait!” cried Gath. “It’s working!” She’s not draining him! She’s holding his life inside his body! Come, Enna, we can do this!”

“I’m with you…”

The mist poured in on the Baron, mingling with the red energy of Katarina’s blade. She held it steady, allowing some of it to peel off of the blade and become one with the mist, staining it red. The Baron’s flesh began to color, black flakes falling away. Gath sweated profusely, smiling all the same, his eyes firmly closed as he and Enna guided pain away and healing within. As they worked, Katarina pulled at the remnants of the Baron’s robes, peeling the charred remains from his flesh.

Cari gazed in amazement at the sight. “I wish… I could do something…” she said softly.

“Next time, Cari,” said Enna from nearby.

Cari gasped, letting go of Gath, and turning.

Enna slowly approached, the mist guiding her steps, gathering around her and lightening her body to ease her passage. Her eyes shone a milky white and electric blue, her hair gently fluttering around her, completely weightless and held only by the braids.

Enna smiled weakly at Cari, replacing her as Gath’s comforter as she slid him into her gentle embrace. Katarina finished pulling off the rest of the man’s ruined garments, his tall, aged body covered only in mist. Enna held out her hand, aiding Gath in any way she could.

At last, they finished.

Baron Lester laid suspended upon a large table made entirely of solidified mist. His skin looked pink and healthy. Katarina withdrew her blade, an odd contented smile on her face. Gath returned the power he’d borrowed from Enna.

“G-Gath…” Enna gasped, collapsing. Gath spun to catch her as his beloved fell into his arms.

“Katarina… Cari…” murmured Gath as he stroked Enna’s face. “Release the blacksmith. Wait for us here.”

“What… are you going to do?” Cari asked him.

Gath lifted Enna and carried her up to a separate building on the hill. It used to be Alexi’s summer home. “Enna needs me,” he said to Cari on his way up.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Enna!” cried Gath. “ENNA!” The boy gasped, clutching the limp form of his beloved in his arms. Enna’s eyes remained closed, and she barely even drew breath. Gath’s heart pounded frantically; hers only fluttered. He kicked in the door of the summer home, thankfully empty, and darted inside.

Mist poured in at their entry, but Gath looked around, feeling helpless. She needed him. She needed him now. There was no time. He laid her down on a plush rug that looked to have been imported from the Mist Continent. Beautiful. It would either be remembered in their minds salaciously, or in Gath’s mind as her deathbed.

“NO!” he screamed. “I won’t lose you! I can’t!” he cried, tearing her gown open to rest a hand on her bare chest. Her heart stirred within, only barely. She had seconds. If that. Frantically, he tore the rest of her clothing apart and rested her bare form on the rug, frantically kissing her as he peeled off his own garments.

“Please, Enna!” sobbed Gath as he rubbed his body against her, willing his manhood to swell. His terror blocked arousal. Closing his eyes, he forced himself to calm down. Gently, he laid his face to rest on her breast, stroking her waist as he kissed her nipple. Memories stirred within him. Professing his love to her. Asking her to marry him. Her tearful response.

Her acceptance. On one condition.

Accept her as his wife.

His wife.

Gath clutched her fondly. His erection throbbed against the inside of her thigh. At last!

Gath gently spread her thighs apart and clutched her hip, aiming himself and slowly entering. To his amazement, she was drenched within. Drenched, warm, and hungry. Releasing himself as he sank inside her, he reached up and grasped her shoulder as he began slowly thrusting.

Enna’s limp body bounced as he took her slowly. Still, no reaction on her part.

“Please, Enna, don’t go where I can’t follow you…” he pleaded, kissing her passionately. His tongue slipped within her mouth without any resistance, and gently touched tip of her tongue with his.

A jolt.

Yes! Maybe? Oh, for hope to blossom within him again. Please!

Gath picked up the pace, thrusting carefully, but more quickly. Her body still failed to respond. “Enna!?” he cried, kissing her again. “There has to be something!” he implored, kissing her neck, feeling for her pulse within.

Nothing.

Gath’s blood froze.

Wait…

A beat!

Against his lips!

He suckled it, pouring his love into her throat. Closing his eyes, he recalled the kiss that first occurred between them. She’d thanked him. Thanked him for not hating her, not just for being a monster, but for lashing out with magic to protect her grandmother. He’d been holding her in his lap. Gently. She’d suddenly kissed him, taking him completely by surprise. Looking back on it, was that when he fell in love with her?

Gath’s manhood swelled inside her. Yes… more of this. Remember. Remember her. He recalled a dream he had. The first one after meeting her. He dreamed she was dying. When he woke up, he remembered wondering why he was worried about a monster dying. Had he begun loving her then?

Or, had it been even earlier? The first time he glimpsed her, realizing she was a monster, and forcing his prejudice aside. He wondered how anyone could do such a thing to a person. Lock her away in the dark to starve. Enna wasn’t a monster. She was a person. Special. Precious. His love.

Gath gasped, his manhood seizing up. “Enna…!” he grunted, finding himself suddenly at the brink. He grasped her tightly, exploding inside her. Holding her desperately, Gath rode out the orgasm, his eyes shut, and breath held in with hope.

When he finally came to his senses, he looked up. Enna’s face. Her eyes remained closed.

It hadn’t worked.

There was no life in her.

Gath crumpled on top of her, sobbing. He tried to remember her words. “You won’t be rid of me that easily.”

Drawing a ragged breath, he tried to come to grips with what had happened. He had lost her.

You won’t be rid of me that easily.

Hah, he thought bitterly.

You won’t be rid of me that easily.

Stupid words. Get out of my head. He could almost hear her repeating it from beyond the grave.

“You won’t be rid of me that easily.”

Gath’s breath caught in his throat. He sat up, quite sure he’d actually heard her voice. Or had he just been remembering the words in her voice? He sighed, glancing down, noticing he was still inside her.

“You won’t be rid of me that easily!”

What?

He was quite certain he’d heard her that time. Gently, he stroked her warm skin. Wondering. Hoping. He’d heard of women with unfulfilled lives returning as ghosts. Maybe he could beckon her back from the dead?

Gath glanced down at her.

He nearly toppled backwards in shock.

Her eyes were open!

“Enna!?!”

“How many times do I have to tell you,” she grumbled. “You won’t be rid of me that easily!”

“I never want to be rid of you!” he cried, embracing her gingerly. He shuddered, though, because he felt quite certain she was growling at him.

“Enna?” Gath looked into her eyes.

Her eyes narrowed in irritation.

“Gath,” she chastised.

He dared not reply.

“Tell me something?” she asked, deadly sweet.

Gath gulped.

Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Why?”

“Why… what?”

“Why. Are you being. Gentle.” she growled.

“Huh?” Gath gaped at her.

With a fierce growl, Enna flipped him over! His back rested where her body had warmed the spot moments ago. She sat on top of him, straddling him, still enveloping him in her sexual embrace. “Do you have any idea how hungry I am!?” she hissed, grinning wickedly. “That gentle little taste you gave me was not nearly enough. More!! NOW!!” she cried, thrusting herself down onto him.

Gath shuddered under her sudden onslaught. He’d never seen such ferocity in the girl’s eyes, swimming pools of ink and milk. Her flashing electric blues burned holes into his mind, and depositing lust within. He’d felt this kind of hunger for her, before. Or had he? This was bestial, primal, elemental.

“STOP BEING GENTLE!” she hissed, scratching at his chest with her sharp nails as she shook her hips over him.

Gath smiled, her animalistic hunger bleeding into him. He needed her too. Very badly. The sudden urges within him nearly stole the breath from his lungs. Nearly. Grasping her by her shoulders, he pulled her off of him, picked her up, and slammed her into the wall.

“YES!” she cried as he impaled her right there, her feet dangling several inches in the air. “YESSSS!” Enna hissed, biting at his ear. “That’s more like it! TAKE ME!”

“My apologies, love,” grunted Gath as he rammed her with enough force to crack the plaster behind her. Tapestries and portraits tumbled from the wall, causing her to yelp and laugh. “You’d be surprised how well grief extinguishes romance.”

“Was I dead?” Enna asked, gasping for breath.

“Very nearly, love.”

“Unless I’m dead, for the last time. Don’t. Be. Gentle.” The girl growled, cupping his face and inserting a finger into his mouth to feel his hot tongue.

“Just… goes against my instincts…” gasped Gath as he licked her finger.

“Then… I’ll just have to RAVISH you until we rewrite those instincts,” growled Enna.

Ravish?

Gath fell backwards in shock as Enna took control, pushing him back and knocking him against a large dining table. She flung several dishwares off its surface and hauled him back onto the polished mahogany. Coming down on him, she impaled herself, her sturdy thighs holding his hips locked in place as she pleasured herself upon him.

Grasping Gath’s face, Enna pulled his head up to her chest, pressing him firmly against her breasts. “Lick. Suck.”

Gath complied eagerly, his tongue sliding hungrily over the smooth, soft globes. His teeth nipped at the tender flesh, evoking shuddering gasps from his beloved. A nipple drifted into his mouth. He sank his teeth into it.

“Ahhhhhnnnn~~!” Enna’s cry came as music to Gath’s ears. “More~!” she squealed.

Holding the nipple captured between his incisors, Gath flicked the hardened nub back and forth with his tongue, raking the ultra-sensitive tip. Enna trembled, her rhythm bucking for a moment. Good. This’ll teach her a lesson! He pushed the nub outwards, forcing it against his sharp teeth, and slowly grinded his lower jaw to the sides.

“Yessss! Mmmmmnnnn…”

Clutching her breast in his other hand, he forcefully pinched her free nipple, swelling it up for what he was going to do next. Abruptly, he released her left breast from his lips and came down upon her right, biting her roughly.

Enna’s body shook.

“Aghhh… ahhhhnnn…” gasped Enna. “Finally! Show me what you can… ahhhh~!”

Continuing to ravish her breast with his mouth, Gath reached down his body, then up onto hers, feeling their connection and the bulge of his manhood inside her. Ah yes. She’d maneuvered herself so that the tip of him was just about to press against… Just had to push his finger down on it a little.

“Ufff…” choked Enna. “The hell was… ohhhhh…” she moaned, her head lolling forward. She briefly lost the will to shake her hips. Not to worry, Gath gripped her hip and did it for her. Such strength! She squealed with delight.

“I’ll show you just how much I love you,” Gath growled against her chest, dragging her down to him as they laid to rest down on the table, her body cradled on top of his. He held her head close, turning it so that he could snake his tongue into her ear.

“Feel this.” His voice burned in her ear.

“Ahhh…?” moaned Enna. His fingers pushed into her soft tummy, kneading her womb. It felt wonderful, but he was searching for… oh, not that!

“Yes, love. That.”

He thrust his hips. Pinched his fingers. Jammed against the spot from two angles, inside and outside.

“Uhhhhhnnnn!” moaned Enna. “Ahh… ahhhhh… AHHHHHNNNN…”

Her body shook on top of him. Gath’s free arm wound up behind her, burying itself in her hair, and pulling her close, crushing her breasts against his hard chest. He would not be gentle with her. No. Never again. Especially not as she came on top of him.

“Ahhhh! Mmmmm! Ohhhh…” she moaned. “YESS!” she cried, unable to hold back any longer. Her body tensed all at once, and began to release in waves. Her sex pulsed with its own mind. Its own single-minded objective.

Enna trembled, unable to shake her hips any further. Gath took over thrusting for her, pushing right through her orgasm, feeding on her release. Her power filled him, spun for him with her own hands. He swelled and burst within her, spraying his adoration within, offering it to her hungry womb.

Enna moaned, practically sobbing, at the overwhelming joy of it. Of coming back to life from senselessness. Self-sacrifice, as she gave of herself to her beloved, and being rewarded with the intensity of his fiery devotion.

Their climaxes seemed to last for hours. Every time she throbbed, more released from him to empower her further, giving fuel for one more tremor. And on, and on, it went.

When Gath’s senses finally returned to him, he found Enna lying limply in his arms.

Oh Goddess…

He shook her. He was not gentle.

“Enna!?”

She woke, smiling. “There, you’ve learned,” she said smugly, a wide, cocky smile on her face.

“Oh Enna,” groaned Gath, holding her at arm’s length above him. Her breasts dangled temptingly. “You’re going to be the death of me.”

Enna giggled, gazing down at her precarious position. “I certainly hope so. I’m not letting you die to anything else!”

She pounced, kissing him fiercely.

“Oh Enna… I could take you again…” he grumbled between kisses, their tongues dancing in her mouth.

“You’ll get no objection from me,” sighed the girl.

Gath’s manhood stirred, still inside her. Of course. “We… we can’t,” he sighed. “I do believe we have worn out our welcome.”

“Ask me if I care,” she cooed, kissing him passionately.

Gath coiled his legs around her and attempted to roll her over on her back. Dishware clattered and fell to the floor as candles and small utensils adhered to her sticky skin.

“Ahh!” giggled Enna as Gath swatted them away. He grabbed at a candlestick stuck to her thigh.

“What am I going to do with you?” he asked her with a smile, tapping her cheek with the end of the candle.

“Want a hint?” she winked, curling her tongue around the candle and drawing it into her mouth in a wholly sexual manner. Her head bobbed up and down, lending her husband a tantalizing mental image of something else she’d rather be doing. His manhood throbbed inside her as she timed the movements of her hips with her mouth.

“Quit playing with that and come here!” growled Gath as he popped the candle out of her mouth and flung it across the room, where it crumbled against the wall. He flipped Enna on her back and came down roughly upon her.

“Aww… you took my toy away!” she pouted. “You owe me another.”

Gath was about to ask her what she wanted, but instead, she clutched the sides of his face and brought him down, so she could kiss him. Their lips met, and she drew his tongue into her mouth to suckle on instead. An appreciative growl sounded within his chest, matched by her soft cooing. Clutching her tightly, he picked up his pace.

“Yes. Yes. Let me feel more of your love.”

Enna… I never want to leave your side.

“I wish we could lie like this forever.”

Maybe we should find the bedroom. Softer.

“I’m soft.”

Gath paused in his thrusting to caress her face, sliding his fingers down her neck, around the curve of her breast, into her waist, and along the flair of her hip.

Yes, Enna. Softer than anything I’ve ever known.

He completed the link between them, so he could feel what she felt, and likewise. Enna released his tongue so she could gasp; the sudden rush of heady pleasure stealing away at her other senses.

Enna had only two words for him.

“Take… me…”

Gath came down hard on her, clutching her tightly as he began anew. Tossing his head to fling sweat-drenched hair out of his eyes, he laughed hungrily as he bore down on his wife, burying his face in her neck. He kissed her against the life pulse bulging in her soft, sensitive throat.

“Ahhhh!” yelped Enna. “Yesss! Mmmm…”

Her husband swelled up inside her. He would burst within her, very soon. She shifted her hips, arching her back, easing him towards… that spot…

“You want this, love?” Gath asked huskily. His hand came between them, pressing down on her tummy, feeling for himself inside her. Guiding himself to the trigger inside her that would take her to the brink of insanity.

The moment his fingers connected with it, Enna gasped.

“Ohhhhh! That—that’s it… Yesss!! Oh Gath!! Harder! More! Ahhhhhnnnn~~!”

Gath’s breath caught in his throat. The pleasure she was feeling gripped his heart through the link. He was not prepared! Maybe this was it. Maybe she would be the death of him.

He burst inside her. His senses took leave of him. Most of them, anyway. He could feel the two of them rolling around, shouting, screaming, loving. He lost track of how many times he pumped into her. She climaxed around him, at least once. Maybe again during the onslaught of his unending release.

Gath marveled at their love, so powerful he’d disconnected from his own consciousness to observe casually from outside. From here, they looked like one person. He could not determine where he ended, and Enna began, so tightly had they entwined around each other.

Time flowed slowly; the clock hands blurring. Melting. Extending their pleasure. Even time itself would not deny him Enna’s love. The pleasure began to die down a little, which drew him back into his body, forcing him to experience the power of their joining again. He could hear, and feel, Enna laughing joyfully as they rolled over each other.

At last, they stopped, Enna resting atop him, evidence of their romp all up and down the length of the table. Enna sighed, panting softly against her husband’s chest.

Gath smiled, caressing her bare arm and shoulder. “I love you, Enna,” was all he could manage to say.

Enna smiled, touching her lips to his chest. “Yes…” she said softly. “More than life itself.”

A gentle laugh sounded in Gath’s chest. “We do know how to make a mess of things, don’t we?”

“Yes,” Enna giggled, glancing up. “Where… are we, anyway?”

“The dining table, I suppose?”

The girl giggled down at him, kissing his nose. “Silly! Who’s house is this?”

“Oh,” Gath suddenly sat up, taking her with him with an arm around her waist. “Lady Alexi’s, I believe.”

Enna nodded, smiling. “Good. I believe I’m going to need a new dress.” She glanced over at the shreds of her gown. Giggles. She leaned in, kissed Gath again, and slid off of him. His manhood popped out of her, bouncing a little. More giggles. She leaned forward and licked the remains that still stuck to the tip and head. Squeezing the underside at the base, she ran her thumb up the length, squeezing out more to lap up.

“Enna…” groaned Gath, clutching her hair. “What… what are…”

“Dessert,” she said with a shrug, smiling seductively as she stepped away.

Definitely going to be the death of him.

“Fetch Cari, please,” Enna called as she headed upstairs, her hair cascading down behind her. “I’m going to need her to select a new dress.”

“Yes, my lady,” Gath bowed with flourish, which appeared exceptionally ridiculous as his erection dipped down with him and bounced back up.

Enna giggled at him on her way up the stairs.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“There they are!” exclaimed Cari. “Or, well, just him. I guess.” She blushed with embarrassment at seeing Gath step out in only his partially torn trousers.

“By th’ gods!” shuddered the blacksmith. He was knelt outside the summer home, his face in Cari’s care, being dabbed with cloth and spirits. “Gnat!? Yer the Observer!?”

Gath stepped outside, noting the ominous and stunning Katarina standing guard at the threshold. Her sword, held tightly as always, hung at an angle across her legs. Blobs of red energy lazily made their way to her open hand as she waited.

Katarina said nothing. She only watched him closely.

Gath went up to her and rested a hand on her shoulder. The iron on her skin bristled at his touch, but she made no move to stop him. “Thank you, Katarina. Without your infusion of power, I would not have been able to save him. And Enna would now be lost to us.”

Again, Katarina said nothing. Her lips curled in the barest of smiles, however.

Gath turned to the blacksmith and Cari. “Conroy,” he spoke in an authoritative tone. “I free you to leave these lands. I suggest traveling southeast, away from the Front.”

The blacksmith raised an eyebrow at his change of persona. “Ye were just a boy, couple ‘o days ago. What happened?”

Gath shrugged. “Enna.”

The smith chuckled, coughing painfully, but grinning all the same. “Ahh. A woman. Aye, that’d do it.”

“How is he, Cari?”

“He’ll live, I think,” she said with a meek smile. “I don’t suppose you have any more of that healing mist, though?”

“Hmm,” thought Gath. “Practice makes perfect.” He balled his hand into a fist, raising his arm to the smith’s face.

“Err…” Conroy fidgeted. “I think I’d be fine, thanks all th’same.”

Gath only smiled. Such power… Such… power… Enna’s mana pulsed within him. He ached to exercise this new muscle. Opening his hand, a gentle, soothing mist released, washing over the man’s face. Banishing the pain. Knitting cracked bones. Salving open wounds. When he released, Cari gasped.

“That’s… amazing!” she squealed.

Conroy gingerly touched his face. “Aye… I’ll be damned…” he breathed, blinking his once-swollen eye. “So, this is monster power, eh?” he chuckled. “Ye’ve got my respect, that’s fer sure.” Slowly, he rose up and stretched. “I’d best get to my shop, then, and start packing up. What about th’ knights?”

“Tell them to let you go,” shrugged Gath. “Caution them. Warn them the Observer is watching.”

“Aye, I’ll be off then. Take care ye don’t become one ‘o them, eh boy?”

“One of what?”

“Tyrants,” said the smith on his way down the hill. Gath waved the mist of his way.

“He’s never going to believe this,” sighed Cari.

“Who?” Gath asked.

“Eep!” squeaked the maid. “I said that out loud?”

“You did. Was it Michael?”

The girl gasped. “How… how do you know his name?”

“You talk in your sleep,” Gath chuckled at her rosy blush.

“Why you… ruffian! Listening to other girls sleep!” Cari squealed, punching him lightly in the arm. She wished she hadn’t. Katarina affixed an icy stare upon her.

Gath noticed her gaze and waived Katarina off. “Kind of hard to miss, Cari. You screamed it.”

“Oh…” her gaze fell.

“Nightmare?”

“I don’t know.” The girl bit her lip. “I’m worried about him. He’s deployed on the Front.”

“Western Front?”

Cari nodded.

“Chin up, then. We’re headed that way.”

Cari’s eyes brightened and she looked up at him. “Really? But why?”

“Enna will explain. She needs your help in there.”

“All right!” chirped the girl as she ran inside.

Gath glanced over his shoulder. “Katarina.”

The cursed sword snapped to attention.

“Where is the Baron?”

“He is there, Lord Gath.” Katarina indicated down the hill, somewhere in the town.

Lord Gath? The boy scratched his head.

“It suits you, love.”

Then why are you giggling?

Enna didn’t answer. He sighed. All right, then. Lord Gath it is.

Gath realized Katarina was still pointing. He followed her finger and extruded his vision into the town. Hmm. This came much easier than before. The rate at which his and Enna’s power continued to grow almost alarmed him. Almost. His vision paused outside the building. Ah. The physician. They should be able to take it from here. He withdrew his sight and looked around at the devastation.

“Katarina, what became of the sorcerer?” he asked the blade-woman.

Katarina smiled, licking the palm of her free hand as her red eye blazed with satisfaction. Any other man would have cringed in terror. Gath merely crossed his arms and tapped his foot.

“He will need… many days, to recover,” she said in her soft, chilling voice.

“I hope to be at the Front before that happens,” muttered Gath. “We need to get moving.”

“Patience, love.”

As much as Gath loved hearing his wife’s soft voice cooing in his mind, urgency pressed him forward. “Enna, we need traveling clothes for you and I, as well as for Cari and Katarina.”

Katarina shook her head.

Yes, Katarina, you too. We can’t have you, looking like that, as we roam the plains. You would draw attention to us. In case you haven’t noticed, stealth and redirection are our strengths.”

Katarina produced a strange sound as she smiled, glancing around and the mess of the courtyard.

“Did you just… laugh?” glared Gath. “I’ll have you know, this is your handiwork, not mine.”

“Something wrong, love?” Enna’s voice came softly. Not in his mind. She stood at the threshold of the broken door.

“I think Katarina just laughed… at… me…” his voice trailed off as he viewed his wife.

She was wearing Alexi’s bell gown.

Sweet Goddess.

She looked just like his fevered mental image of her from what seemed like months ago. Ruffles. Pastels. Lace. Even the tiny white fan. But instead of Alexi’s golden curls, Enna’s thick, dark hair wound around her shoulder in an intricate fishtail braid, with silk streamers tied inside.

Cari giggled beside Enna, dressed in a smooth, silken gown that hugged her figure sensually, filling it out far more than Gath imagined Alexi or any of her staff would have. The metallic green brought out her eyes wonderfully. A red sash around her waist accentuated her figure while playing off the color of her hair.

Gath’s eyes darted between the two women. Cari had chosen clothes to highlight her coloration. Enna wore fabrics that contrasted hers. Pastels against black and white. His body ached to even look at her.

“Pick your jaw up off the floor, Gath,” giggled Cari. “Not that I disagree with you. She’s soooo preeeetty~~!” she sang, squeezing Enna’s shoulders.

“Subtle,” said Katarina in her eerie voice.

Gath sighed. “You know, Katarina’s right. How are we supposed to pass as travelers with you two dressed like that?”

“Ant what about you? What about her?” Cari pointed an accusatory finger at Katarina.

The blade-woman stood there, mostly naked, barely covered with flaky iron and sharp, slender metal claws that dug into her flesh. It looked horribly uncomfortable, but the girl made no objections. The only part of her sufficiently covered was her sword arm. An orange eye within Katarina’s sword hand glared at the maid.

“Yea, yea, stare all you want,” grumbled Cari, crossing her arms under her full breasts. “I’m not afraid of you anymore.”

Katarina took a step towards Cari, but Gath rested a hand on her shoulder. “She does have a point. But so do you.”

Enna sighed. “Playtime’s over, Cari.”

“But…” pouted the girl.

Enna shook her head. Their clothing dissolved into mist, falling away, leaving them standing in sleek, rugged leathers made for scouts. Enna’s fishtail braid remained resting on her shoulder and trailing down between her breasts, which were now more cleverly concealed.

“Better?” asked Enna.

Gath gaped at her. “Your magic…”

“Yes!” she squealed happily. “It fooled even you!”

Pride swelled in Gath’s chest. His wife’s magic had also grown stronger. “It looked real enough to touch!”

“It was…” sighed Cari wistfully. “I do hope you can bring those back later?” she asked Enna.

Enna winked at her but said nothing.

“If you’re quite finished,” sighed Gath.

Enna’s feet tapped down the stairs, a bright smile on her face as her hips bobbed back and forth like a succubus. She curled into her husband with a steamy embrace. “I’m just getting started…” she said huskily, her eyes gleaming milky white.

“Enna? We don’t have… time… to…” Gath began to protest, but trailed off as tingling mist assaulted him from every possible angle, caressing every hungry inch of his body at once.

Cari gasped, her face burning redder than her hair. “Are you two going to… here?

As quickly as the mist formed, it vanished. Enna stepped back, nodding appreciatively. “There. Befitting your stature as a messenger of the Baron.”

Gath glanced down at himself. Sleek, black leather pants took the place of his previous tattered trousers, which, to his chagrin, outlined his throbbing desire for Enna that she’d teased into swelling. Her lithe fingertips stroking his chest weren’t helping, either. He wore a light cotton undershirt, its ties hanging open, with a thin leather vest over top, and another dark brown leather jacket over that. Enna smiled lustfully as she carefully tied the undershirt together with looping knots. The ensemble felt wonderful. Warm, sweet, and supple. Almost as good as being in her embrace.

“It’s not polite to stare,” said Enna, “Katarina.”

The blade-woman’s gaze was between Gath’s legs. He gulped as Enna patted his shoulder, signaling she was done. She approached Katarina, who met her gaze. “You’re next.”

“I… do not require…”

“Ohhh yes, you do,” countered Enna. “Lookouts will see that sword of yours coming from miles away, and that body…” she sighed. “Every man in the plains will be chasing you.”

“I think the sword would kind of scare them off,” Cari objected. “Or those creepy eyes.”

Carefully, gently, Enna held the sword in her soft hands. She stroked the blade, testing its texture. Katarina’s eyes fluttered halfway closed, and she made a sound similar to a sigh of contentment. Enna turned the blade over, her gaze traveling up and down the woman’s arm.

“Is there no way to separate you from this so we can store it?”

Katarina refocused her gaze on the girl. “No,” she said firmly.

Most girls would have leapt back in fright. Enna just tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Hmm… This might be a problem.”

“She should be able to shape-shift it,” offered Cari.

Katarina affixed the maid with a stare as the blade shrunk and melted into her hand, coating her arm in a powerful gauntlet. She flexed her fingers, thick and powerful, with an eye gleaming within the back of her hand.

“That’ll do,” nodded Enna. “All right, hold still.”

Enna stepped back and twirled her finger above Katarina with a slight flourish. Mist swirled around her, enveloping her body, and covering her with a sleek, leather cowl. Its hood draped over her face, covering everything but her mouth in darkness. Enna peeked underneath. One red eye glared back at her, but could only be seen from that angle.

“Just about…” said Enna as she tugged at the sleeves of the cowl, covering Katarina’s terrifying right hand. “There.”

The figure standing before them was noticeably female, but besides that, no indication could be seen of the true nature of the woman. “Good work, Enna,” said Gath with a smile.

Enna beamed with pride. “No one will be the wiser.”

“This… will interfere… with combat…” grunted Katarina, shifting around uncomfortably.

Gath glanced at his wife, who shook her head with a smile. “No, it won’t. It’s not actually there. Pay it no mind.”

“Uhh…” Cari mumbled. “What do you mean not actually there?”

Gath sighed. “We’re all basically naked, aren’t we?”

Enna giggled. “Except for the ‘basically’ part.”

Cari gasped… “You mean I’m not wearing…” she poked herself in the chest. The fabric looked real enough to everyone there. “I’m not actually wearing anything?” she cried softly, blushing brightly.

“Want me to show you?” offered Enna, a wicked grin spreading across her face. She held up her hand.

“No!” squeaked Cari. “That’s all right!” she cried, crossing an arm over her chest and another between her legs.

Ignoring her, Gath asked, “Enna, is this taxing you at all to maintain the illusions?”

The girl shook her head. “They aren’t illusions. The fabric might not be real leather, but the clothing itself is real. It took magic to create it, and will take magic to dispel it. But not to maintain it.”

“You never do cease to amaze me, love,” said Gath warmly as he reached for her.

“Mmm,” sighed Enna contentedly. She allowed herself to be drawn in for a kiss. It quickly deepened as their tongues wound around each other.

Cari cleared her throat. Gath and Enna opened their eyes to find her watching them, impatiently but attentively. “What happened to that urgency? Or did you forget we’re standing around naked?”

Enna giggled, curling into Gath’s embrace.

“Oh, you didn’t forget,” Cari slapped her hand to her forehead. “Me and my big mouth. Can we go now?”

“She’s right, love,” sighed Enna.

“Very well. We go to the Front,” announced Gath. “It is of prime importance that, in the case of danger, our enemies consider me the prime threat.”

“So far, so good, on that bit,” Cari told him. “Everyone’s terrified of this Observer guy. How did you come to be known as that, anyway?”

“Because my gaze travels anywhere, and no ward or defense may hinder me,” said Gath darkly. “With Enna’s power, no secrets remain safe. No lies hidden.”

Cari’s face paled and she nodded, licking her dry lips. “Riiiight… yes, yes, that would do it.”

“Shall we be off?” Gath beckoned, heading down the hill.

“Yes, but,” Cari jogged to catch up to the others. “The stairs to the barracks are that way,” she pointed to her left as they approached the top of the wall. Behind it, a sheer drop of over a hundred feet.

“Stairs? What need have we for stairs?” said Gath mysteriously. “Enna?”

Enna smiled slightly, waving her hand over the empty space. Mist began pooling around their feet, tumbling down the wall. She nodded and Gath stepped forward. The mist rose up to his feet, catching him and allowing him to descend ephemeral stairs. Enna beckoned Cari.

“Maybe I’ll just go this way?” she turned to the barracks and nearly bumped into Katarina. “Eep!”

“I will not let you fall, Cari. Trust me.” Enna smiled at her, encouraging her.

“Ohh Michael…” she mumbled softly as she stepped off the edge. “Ack!” the girl yelped. Mist cradled her foot, softer than any pillow she’d ever touched. She glanced back at Enna, who nodded. Cari followed Gath, who had descended midway down already. Cari proceeded slowly, not wishing to test Enna’s skills. But before she knew it, she fell in step with Gath, who took her hand.

“Close your eyes if it helps,” he offered.

Cari nodded and did just that. In less than a minute, they reached the bottom, blending into the town. The mist dissipated behind them, returning the stately castle to normal. Cari glanced back. While she caught brief glimpses of Katarina’s hooded figure here and there, she could not see Enna.

“Um,” she said softly. “Enna didn’t follow us.”

Gath chuckled. “Stop fretting, Cari,” he said, squeezing her hand gently. “Trust us.”

“A-all right,” Cari nodded.

They passed several stalls and shops without stopping, save once. Gath stepped into a bakery to buy some food for their journey, and they continued on. Once, Gath paused to glance up at an older woman who watched them pass from her second-story window. He waved at her on his way, and she… saluted him?

“What was that?” Cari asked.

“A friend.”

Cari glanced back, but the woman had retreated back behind the shutters.

“Calm down, Cari. Your heart is pounding.”

“Eep…” she squeaked softly. “How…How could you know that?” she asked, blushing.

“I feel it in your hand, and I can hear it.”

Cari glanced at him and briefly, his eyes flashed red. She gulped, facing forward, steadying her breathing. They came to a stop at the city gates. The guards halted their advance, standing in front of the gates with crossed pikes.

“Who goes there?” one of them asked.

“Messenger from Baron Lester.” Gath spoke curtly. “To Lady Alexi guarding the Western Front.”

“And what is the content of your message?”

“For her ears alone, sir knight. But between us, it shouldn’t be difficult to guess.”

The knight glanced over Gath’s shoulder. Cari gulped, nearly taking a step back and bumping into Katarina, who was suddenly… there.

“Indeed, there is foul magic at work here,” said the knight.

“And monsters,” said his companion.

“Have you a writ of passage?” asked the knight.

Cari stiffened beside him. He released her hand, reached inside his jacket, and produced a scroll that hadn’t been there before. It bore the waxen seal of Baron Lester. Cari glanced up and noticed Gath staring exceptionally hard at the knight.

“Everything seems to be in order,” said the knight. “Dreadful hour to be making way, though, don’t you think?”

Gath opened his jacket slightly to slip the scroll back into a safe place. “If you believe the Baron’s news can wait, I shall of course inform him.”

“No, no, not at all. Open the gate!”

The two knights turned, facing each other, and raising their pikes to let Gath and the two women pass. The gate opened and let them through, closing quickly behind them. Cari glanced around her nervously, but Gath tugged her along. Katarina followed closely behind.

“Enna?” Cari called softly. “Gath, we left her behind!” she tugged on his arm.

“Did you?” asked Enna from beside her.

“Eeeeep!” squealed Cari, darting around Gath to stand at his left. “Goddess! How do you do that!?”

“How could you leave me behind?” Enna pouted, splaying her hand over the swell of her chest.

“I’ll make it up to you later, love,” promised Gath, his voice slightly husky.

“All right, all right, I get the point,” Cari covered her blushing face with her hand, shaking her head. “But if you two can just… poof. Why all the theatrics?”

“They were for your benefit, Cari,” said Enna. “And Katarina’s.”

Cari glanced at Katarina, who said nothing. As usual.

“We can come and go as we please,” Gath said somewhat ominously. “Katarina has the benefit of a sword that reduces the even the strongest of obstacles to charcoal and ash, and the sturdiest of men into gibbering fools. For the moment, you lack such talents. So, either we play the theatrics, or we leave the both of you behind.”

Cari fell silent. They proceeded north, swinging towards the dark forest at the base of Mount Horan, before turning westward towards the Front. Fidgety Cari could not contain her questions, however.

“You said… ‘For the moment,’ I lacked those talents,” she prompted.

Enna and Gath exchanged glances.

“What’s that mean?” Cari asked, jogging a moment to get in front of them and pointed back and forth. “Hey!” she called. “I can’t do the whole mind reading thing! What’s going on?”

“Time to tell her?” Gath asked his wife.

“I believe so,” nodded Enna. “We can make camp here on the edge of the woods.

“Katarina,” said Gath. “Would you acquire some firewood?”

Katarina walked off towards the forest without a word. Enna located an acceptable spot out of sight of the road and placed stones for the firepit. She did so without using magic. Cari looked around for something to sit down on when an almighty CRASH startled her.

“Acckkk!” cried Cari. A tree crashed down nearby. Her eyes scanned the edge of the forest. Katarina was busy lopping off several planks off a large tree she’d just felled with a single swing of her blade.

At her return, she dumped the load she carried in front of Enna, who giggled softly. “Katarina, I don’t think that’s what he meant. But it’ll do. Thank you.”

Katarina did not reply, instead, she melted her blade back into a gauntlet and hid it beneath the cowl, took a stack of planks and crammed them together into a makeshift stool, which she set down… for Cari.

“Huh? Oh. Thanks?”

“Sister,” said the blade-woman, indicating she sit.

Cari sat, but stared up at the woman. Was that fondness in her terrifying gaze? Cari shuddered.

“You didn’t make me a chair,” grumbled Gath to Katarina. The woman ignored him and stood beside Cari, who’s gaze darted between Gath and Enna as it had a few minutes ago.

“All right, what is going on here?” demanded Cari. “Time to tell me what?

“Cari…” said Gath slowly. “Do you mind if we ask you some very personal questions?”

Cari gulped but shook her head. “If it’ll get you to spit out this mystery of yours.”

“Have you begun noticing changes in your body?”

Cari blushed, averting her gaze. “Uhh, I think you’re a little late on that talk, mister. That ship sailed almost ten years ago.”

“I mean recently. Past couple of days.”

The maid’s blush intensified. “Uhm… well, now that you mention it, I kind of thought I was putting on weight.”

“In all the right places?” pressed Gath.

“Wh-what?” Cari’s face burned scarlet. She gently rested her hands over her bosom. “Enna, I’m surprised you’re letting him get away with this kind of talk about me.”

Enna only stared at her. “Please, just answer the question, Cari.”

“Um, well,” stammered Cari, “Yes, if you must know. I mean, not that I mind. I just needed to, I don’t know, find a tailor to get my gowns altered. Or get new ones… what… what does this have to do with anything?”

“It has everything to do with it, Cari,” sighed Gath, sounding tired and aged. “I’m so sorry.”

“What?” she prompted. “What’s happening to me?”

“I don’t suppose you realized how flirty you were in the library, either?” asked Gath. “Every movement exaggerated, every quirk and tease.”

“Stoppit!” squealed Cari, fanning herself. “I think I’m melting. What’s gotten into you?”

“When we were together in your room,” explained Enna, “We met in a lover’s embrace. One that lasted through the night.”

“All right, all right!” Cari protested. “I really don’t need to know the details.”

“But admit it, you’re dying to know,” coaxed Enna. “You want to know every kiss. Every moan. Every touch.”

Cari gasped, unbuttoning her tunic. Her breasts swelled into the relaxed fabric as her blush spread down her face and into her neck. “N-no…” she protested. “I… don’t…”

“How we held each other, making love right next to you, covered only in the gown you lent me, and Gath’s clothing.”

“Aghhh…” moaned Cari, her body twisting inside her clothes. Without realizing it, her hand came up to her breast, squeezing. Her other hand stroked the inside of her thigh. “It’s sooo hot… I’m too close to the fire.” She made to get up.

“Cari…”

“Whut…?”

“There is no fire.” Gath pointed at the small pyramid of planks in the center of a stone circle. “We haven’t lit it yet.”

“I… c-can’t…” Cari moaned softly, her tunic unbuttoned almost all the way. Her left breast was practically exposed, swollen much larger than before, and it rested firmly in her hand. The leather between her legs had darkened with moisture. She tried to get up, but a firm, gauntleted hand held her down.

“Sister,” whispered Katarina. “You must… not… fight it…”

“What are you doing to me!?” cried Cari. Tears welled up in her eyes. She stared frantically at Gath, who’s expression was difficult to read, to Enna’ who smiled sympathetically.

“I’m so sorry, Cari,” said Enna. “It’s all my fault.”

Our fault,” Gath corrected her, taking her hand and squeezing. “Cari, we doused you in Mamono energy that night. Without realizing it. We poured it into you. You’ve been changing ever since.”

Cari’s blush paled for a moment before returning with frantic heat. “Changing…?”

“Surely you’ve felt it.”

“I feel a little strange, sure… but…”

“Look at yourself.”

“Huh?” Cari blinked, looking down. “ACKK!” she cried, releasing her breast. Her swollen nipple released for all to see. “Noooo!” she moaned, stuffing her breast back inside her tunic. Or, tried to. Her curves had swollen too big to fit.

“You’re going to need a refit, I’m afraid,” Enna said, holding up her hand. Mist began to form around Cari.

“N-no! I’ll be fine!” stammered the girl, stuffing her bosom back into hiding, gasping for breath at the sudden constriction. The seams around her chest bulged. She squirmed, hot moisture throbbing between her legs.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Cari,” Gath comforted.

“You’re the ones who should be ashamed,” huffed Cari, squirming in her clothes. “Getting me all hot and bothered. It’s no wonder I can’t fit.”

“That wouldn’t happen to a human woman, Cari…” said Enna softly.

“H-human?” gulped Cari. “But I am human!”

Gath sighed sadly. “Not, I’m afraid, for much longer.”

Cari’s blush finally receded to a ghastly pale. “Wh-what…?”

“Sister…” said Katarina quietly.

“Why do you think she keeps calling you that?” Gath asked gently.

“Be-because I helped her?”

“She could convince a terrified man to do that just by staring at him hard enough.”

“Uhm, well… uh…” sputtered Cari. “I don’t know!” she cried at last. “Tell me!”

“Because you are one of us, now,” Enna told her. “And Katarina senses it. She wants to protect you.”

“I don’t… I don’t believe this…” Cari cried, sniffling into her hands. “I’m going to become a monster??”

“I do wish humans would stop calling us that,” Enna said bitterly.

Gath rested a gentle hand on Cari’s shoulder. Her skin felt feverish to the touch. She leaned into him, wailing. Her body shook with terror. Katarina knelt beside her and rested her gauntleted hand on the girl’s other shoulder.

“You’re going to become even more special, Cari,” promised Gath. “Stronger. Faster. Powerful. You’ll never need to dust cobwebs, or wash dishes, or clean disgusting chamber pots again.”

“I won’t?” sniffled Cari, looking up at him. Flecks of red were beginning to show in her eyes.

“No, never again,” Gath assured her, rubbing the top of her head.

“Mmm…” sighed Cari. She looked up again, leaned forward, and gently kissed him. Then she gasped, pulling back. “S-sorry! I’m sorry! I don’t know why…” she touched her lips.

“I don’t blame you,” said Enna softly. “He is rather delicious.” She giggled. “But you’re right. He is not for you.”

“I-I know… I’m sorry…” Cari cried softly into her hands.

“Wasn’t there another?” asked Gath. “Michael?”

Cari gasped at his name, her body trembling. Her blush returned, burning scarlet across her cheeks. “Yes…” she sighed hungrily. “Michael…”

“He is the one for you,” Gath told her gently. “You want him?”

“Y-yes…” Cari nodded, her voice husky. “I-I need him…” she shuddered, glancing down at her tearstained hands. “What’s happening to me…”

“Your love is shaping the mana inside you,” said Enna softly. “The mana our love placed inside you. It’s shaping you into what you will become.”

“And what is that?” Cari asked fearfully.

“We aren’t sure yet,” Gath admitted. “But if we had to guess, I believe you will become a succubus.”

“S-succubus?!” cried Cari. “But… I’ll kill him! If I touch him even once! If he gives himself to me… he’ll die!”

“No, Cari!” cried Enna, clutching her hands. “That’s a lie our enemies taught you.”

“As a succubus, you will love him forever,” promised Gath. “You’ll live a long, sensual life together with him.”

“I don’t want to change,” Cari moaned.

“You’ll still be Cari,” vowed Gath. “Michael will come to believe that.”

“But how can you be sure?” Her green eyes pleaded to know.

“Because I was afraid of Enna when I first saw her,” he told her. “Until I realized she couldn’t be evil.”

“And I was afraid of myself,” Enna admitted. “I didn’t even believe him at first.”

“But I fell for her anyway,” Gath continued, “Amazed at her outlook on life.”

Calming somewhat, Cari sat up, resting against Katarina. “Her outlook?”

“She’s forgiven Volus, of all people, Volus, for what he’s done to her family,” said Gath, gazing at his wife reverently. “She still wants to stop him, as do I. But she does not hate him.”

“That’s incredible,” breathed Cari. “You’re so strong…”

“So are you, Cari,” said Enna. “You were just a maid, but you risked your occupation and your life to help us. I’ll never forget that. You’ll always be dear to my heart.”

Cari smiled slightly. She sighed, beginning to relax at last, though her blush remained. “So… Cari the Succubus, huh?”

“We still aren’t positive about that,” Gath cautioned. “But yes, probably.”

“I thought I was supposed to get wings, horns, and a cute tail,” she said, sounding a little disappointed.

“You aren’t a succubus yet,” Enna advised her.

“Are you ready to join us, sister?” Katarina suddenly asked.

“Wh-what?”

“Come,” offered Katarina, her gauntlet shifting back into a sword and aiming at the girl’s chest. “I will complete you.”

Cari gulped, rising, and backing off the stool. Katarina kept the sword pointed at her chest. “C-can she… d-do that?” she asked, trembling.

“I don’t doubt it,” Enna said softly. “My power is gentle. All around me. And beside me,” she said, stroking her husband’s arm fondly. “But Katarina’s is focused in that sword. All of it, in one place. And she absorbed spirit energy from dozens of men.”

“Your transformation would probably be almost instantaneous, if you allowed it,” added Gath. He snapped his fingers at the wood, lighting them with magic. A fire immediately roared to life. “Just like this flame. You would burn brightly into your new self.”

Cari looked terrified and aroused at the same time. Her cheeks flushed scarlet as her eyes watched the point of the sword warily. “I’m… I’m not sure if I’m ready…” she said in a small, timid voice.

“Why do you delay, sister?” Katarina sounded curious, if not a little hurt.

“You know,” murmured Gath, “It might actually be a good idea to hold off.”

“Why?” demanded the blade-woman.

“It’s going to be a lot easier to disguise Cari the Traveler than Cari the Succubus.”

Enna giggled. “He’s got a point.”

“But also, there is another, more serious point,” Gath told Katarina. “As a new succubus, she’ll be starving for spirit energy. Unless you intend to feed her yourself, with the energy on that blade, we’re going to need men for her to feed on.”

That seemed answer enough for Katarina. The blade shrunk back into a gauntlet and she turned to stand beside Cari. “Very well,” she said, emotionless.

“That being said,” Enna added, “Cari, if you wish to change now, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.”

“No, that’s all right,” said Cari meekly. “Where are we going to sleep?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” grinned Enna as she twirled her two index fingers. Mist swirled around them and, when it settled down, three tents stood around the fire.

“Three tents, huh?” remarked Cari. “One for you two. One for me. And… uh, Katarina, do you even sleep?”

Katarina said nothing.

“It’s there for her if she needs it,” said Gath as Enna began tugging him inside the larger of the three tents. “You never know. Uh… good night!” he called as his wife pulled him inside, giggling.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Do you think we made the right decision?” Enna asked softly, her back turned to Gath as she picked at her hair braid. Her clothing dissolved into mist as she worked, her skin bare and soft in the firelight.

Gath groaned in appreciation, the curve of her breast visible from his vantage point, but nothing else, save for a perfectly sculpted back and plump bottom. Oh, and her sleek little neck. And those tiny hairs on the back of her head that would not fit in the braid. He shuffled over to her, grasping her shoulders.

“Love, what are you doing?” he asked, grasping her wrists.

“Letting my hair down?” she answered, her wrists lying loosely in his hands as he began to massage her.

“I’m not so certain I can wait that long,” her husband warned her. She turned to find his clothing dissolving, a massive erection standing ready for her. “Besides, I’ve got plains for this,” he told her, grasping the braid tightly and tugging her head to the side. He leaned in for a kiss on the neck.

“Mmm,” moaned Enna softly. “Very well, my love,” she relented and coiled her fingers around his length. “All that talk of succubi has gotten you rather tense, I see.” She giggled. “Would you rather I had little wings and a wriggly tail?”

“Two things, love,” Gath replied against the soft skin of her neck. His tongue trailed up and into her ear. “You could grow wings and a tail with that magic of yours,” he spoke hotly in her ear, trailing his tongue down her jawline to her chin to kiss her there. “But when it comes down to it, I wouldn’t change a thing about you,” he told her, just before he kissed her. It started gentle, but he grasped her braid roughly, pulling her into it with quite a bit of force.

“I might… never let down my hair… again…” Enna gasped between kisses.

“Don’t stop surprising me,” he said, kissing the tip of her nose. “Just never, ever cut it.”

Enna gasped as he embraced her, his manhood slipping out of her grasp and pressing firmly into her tummy. Her stomach growled with hunger. “Lie back,” she gasped, gently pressing out into his chest. As he leaned back, his erection stood straight up, with a slight curve. Grasping it firmly, Enna enveloped the head with her hungry lips, spreading wide, and sank her head down onto it.

“Ennnnnnnnn…”

The poor man. He couldn’t even finish saying her name. Their connection pulsed strongly tonight. Much sharper than before. She didn’t even need to consciously link the two of them. She loved the feel of her own tongue curling around the length, feeling it as him. She delighted in the musky taste of it, threads of energy entwining it, pulsing inside it, just waiting to be coaxed out for her to enjoy.

“Enna…” gasped Gath. He grasped her braid for dear life as her lips and tongue drove him wild. Her fingers tickled his balls, adding a tingling sensation on top of it. The way she tilted her head, opening her throat, to capture all of him, even swollen far beyond the size it had been merely days ago, took his breath away.

It also wasn’t helping him that she’d linked them sometime earlier. Unconsciously. He could feel her pleasure mounting, especially as she reached one hand between her legs and began to tease herself. The combination of sensations sent Gath hurtling towards the edge.

He tried to speak verbally. He found he could not. He needed all of his breath to maintain consciousness.

Enna! I don’t know how much longer I can hold out for you!

“Stop. Feel. Enjoy. Love. Feed me with your love.”

Enna’s lustful words drove him mad with want. His erection swelled, ready to burst. He felt it rising. Instead of squeezing down on it, he decided to force it out this time. The muscles within his groin shifted. After the initial seizing up, he forced it out.

Enna’s body twitched at the sudden explosion in her mouth. She grasped him tightly, drinking, slaking her thirst for love. Yet more came. And more. She moaned hungrily, overwhelmed by the gush of it. It began to leak out of her lips and dribble down onto her hand. She swallowed as fast as she could, but failed to keep up. At last, she gave up, opened her throat, and allowed him to just release directly into her throat, the pressure of it forcing its way within her.

When Gath finally finished, gasping, he looked down at his wife. It was all over her face, his manhood, and her hand gripping the base. She slowly rose up, doing a combination of pressing in with her tongue on the underside, and scraping it afterwards with her teeth. A couple more jets released into her mouth, which she swished around as it dribbled down her chin. Her lips smiled triumphantly while she swallowed. Her fingers touched her face, and she giggled.

“Well, that was a pleasant surprise, love!” Enna giggled. “Oh my… what a mess… I better clean you up!” she chirped happily, lowering down and begging to lick up the mess.

“Oh Enna…” groaned Gath, grasping her fishtail firmly. “Hurry… I need you too…”

“Oh, you do, do you?” his wife raised an eyebrow.

“Come here,” he grunted, flipping her over and gathering the remnants on his fingers. He spread them over her face, causing her to roll her eyes with glee. Spreading her legs, he lifted her hips and settled down, beginning to kiss around her moist center. The sweet honey tantalized his tongue, and he dragged the tip of it around her entrance slowly, lapping up every little drop.

“G-Gath…” shuddered Enna as she coaxed the white droplets on her face into her mouth. “You t-t-tease… Ahhhnnnn…”

More honey oozed from within her. Good. Gath licked straight up the length of her slit, pausing to poke into the little nub at the top. She jerked in his grip, but his firm hold on her thighs held her steady. “Mine,” he growled, diving his tongue inside.

“Yes!” yelped Enna.

“Shush, you,” pausing to warn her. “People are trying to sleep out there.”

“Sorry…” Enna said meekly, blushing scarlet.

“I’m sure. Yelp like that again and I’m going to have to gag you,” he told her roughly as he dove his tongue inside again.

“You—you wouldn’t dare…”

Gath bit into the soft, moist folds in response.

Enna couldn’t help it. She cried out.

“Yeah, that does it,” grumbled Gath. Holding his hand over her head, the mist curled around her face, forming a strap already tied behind her head. A small red ball formed in front of her lips, held between Gath’s thumb and forefinger. He held it up against the elastic leather.

“No, no! Don’t you dare put that in mmmmmmmm…” Enna’s words cut off as her husband pressed the ball against her lips, the force of it opening her mouth and slipping inside. He poked it a couple times to ensure it was locked in place, and then left it there.

“Mmm! Mm! Nnnnn! Rrrrrr…” Enna tried to say.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” her husband chuckled, grasping her breast for a moment before diving back in.

“You’re going to pay for this!”

You’re not so threatening right now, love.

Gath chuckled, her whole body helpless before his insatiable lust. Her honey gushed for him to hungrily lap up. Roughly thrusting a pair of fingers inside, he reached deep within her hot, wet depths, looking for that spot, while he suckled the nub above them.

“Nnnnnn!!” moaned Enna. “Mmmmmmnnnnn!”

You don’t say?

“I’m going to give you more than you can drink! We’ll see how YOU like it!”

I look forward to it, love. Come. Come for me.

“As if I would make it that easy for you.”

Actually, you’re just about to pop. Like a ripe fruit.

“Why you…”

“Nnnnnnnnnnmmmm!!” moaned Enna, her body arching. He’d been right. Too right. She tried to mimic what he’d done to her earlier, but her conscious sanity was slipping away. Damn that man and his wonderful tongue! He was turning her inside out!

“Mmmmmfffff!” hissed Enna. “Uffffff! Nnnnnnn…”

Her body shook. Gath held her. She gushed. He drank all.

Enna glared at him, grinning like a rake. He hadn’t spilled a drop. Showoff.

“You win, my monster. Now get this off me.”

Gath chuckled, taking one, last, languid lick. “You do realize, love, your hands have been free this whole time?”

Enna gasped. She’d been gripping the bedroll the whole time. She reached up and yanked off the gag. It dissolved into mist as she tossed it away.

“You must have enjoyed that,” chuckled Gath as he patted her thigh. “Didn’t think you’d leave it on the whole time.”

“Come here, my monster…” Enna pounced him, flipping him back onto his back against the bedroll and impaling herself upon him. “Now I turn the tables on you…” she said with a wicked grin, shaking her head so that her fishtail fell upon his chest, tickling him.

“You’re right where I want you, love,” Gath sighed, grasping her braid and pulling her down onto him. Her breasts crushed his chest, hard nipples burrowing into his skin. Her hot lips came upon him. They kissed. She tasted of musk and sex. Hot breaths exchanged. Gath’s legs fought hers for dominance. She retained the upper hand, for now.

Enna grinned, sinking her teeth into his lower lip. She tried to remember the scrawny little boy she’d first fallen in love with. Where had he gone? He’d transformed, too. Like Cari, he was becoming something else. But instead of a new creature, he was simply becoming… more. More pleasing. More loving. More powerful. She gasped at the realization, her sex sweetly milking him as her hips came down faster.

But his eyes. Black sclera, red irises.

Oh my.

Enna’s concentration wavered, lost in the deep darkness of her incubus. When had this happened?? She tried to imagine a sexier, more lustful tempter that could steal him away from her heart. She found she could not. He was perfect.

“Got you.”

Enna gasped!

Gath flipped her over, taking advantage of her lapse in concentration and came down roughly upon her. Her fishtail in his grip, he pulled it back down under her, forcing her neck to arch up and into his lips. Her body followed suit, breasts pushing up into his chest as he devoured her throat.

“Scream,” he commanded her.

Enna’s heart flipped in her chest.

“Scream…” her husband commanded. His lips pressed down on hers.

Enna gasped as his breath gushed into her body. She suddenly found her orgasm upon her. No warning! None! She buckled in his rough grip, her braid stretched tightly. Her eyes squeezed closed as she let out a heartfelt scream into his throat.

Gath devoured her scream, reveling in her power, feeding from it, supping upon her life. In return, he exploded within her, his energy coating her depths, reigniting her power, and completing the loop. His lips remained on her. A lightheaded feeling overtook Enna, and, through the link, she knew he felt it as well. As her consciousness fell away, he rode the dream with her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“FALL BACK!” cried a terrified man.

“But the truce!” shouted someone else.

“Not all of them honor it!” yelled a third man. “DRAGON! TAKE COVER!”

The dragonfire seared Gath’s vision into sharp clarity. His gaze swept the battlefield. Discarded banners, standards, pikes, lances and dead horses littered the charred field, burned a rusty red with blood and flames. A few monsters lay squirming in pain, some of them with swords and arrows stuck in their bodies.

A furious dragon blazed forth, cutting off the men’s escape with a trail of fire. She landed nearby, transforming into a beautiful woman, her eyes blazing in lust and hunger. Gath noticed she took great care not to actually burn any of the fleeing men with her flames. Interesting.

“Garrin,” said one of the men. “What do we do?”

“She’s going to carry us off and devour us…” cried another, his leg armor rattling as his knees shook.

“We stand our ground, Michael, we stand our ground,” replied Garrin firmly. “Aim for the soft underside!”

“Yes, sir!” acknowledged Michael.

Ah. So, this was Michael.

Gath sent his sight closer for a better look. A sturdy, young man. Lean. Dressed in crisp leathers with metal plates in essential positions. Not a knight, but an archer. The man drew a rather powerful compound bow and nocked a heavy, steel-tipped arrow. Carefully, he aimed.

The dragon charged. Her wings unfurled, flapping to grant her extra speed. Her tail smacked at anyone or anything that got too close. She roared, causing all the men, save Garrin and Michael, to flinch.

Michael fired.

“AAAAAGGHHHHHH!” cried the dragon, leaping far too high as the pain in her left leg caused her right leg to overcompensate. She flew right over the knights, spiraling into a barrel roll before crashing into the battlefield some distance away.

“Michael!” cried Garrin. “Good work, but why didn’t you shoot to kill? Now she’ll come back for revenge!”

“I… I missed, sir,” Michael explained. “But I doubt she’ll be coming back anytime soon.”

“I hope you’re right, Michael,” sighed Garrin. “Don’t pity the creatures. She was going to tear us all limb-from-limb.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You never miss.”

“Not usually, sir, no,” Michael replied uneasily. “Won’t happen again.”

“I hope not, our lives depend on it. You’re the best damn sniper in the regiment,” Garrin sighed. “Alright, GET THOSE FLAMES OUT, men! Fall back!”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Get those flames out!”

Gath’s eyes bolted open. He was still lying on top of Enna. Still joined. But not on the bedroll. Oops.

“Look out!”

A clash of metal.

“Enna!” hissed Gath. The girl jerked awake, her eyes begging the question. “Trouble!” replied Gath. He slid off, and out, of her, crouching as he reformed his clothing around himself. His erection bulged within his pants, but there wasn’t anything he could do about that right now. Closing his eyes, the mist surrounded him.

When it faded, both he and Enna had disappeared.

“What in the seven hells?!”

A bandit. A group of them. Probably a dozen.

“Grab the girl!” shouted someone as his companion reached in to pull out a squealing Cari. “Hold off the demon!”

Katarina was having none of this. Her blade oozed with the energy of one man already. She tore at her cowl, ripping it away to display the full effect of her fury.

“Seven… unholy… hells…” gasped the man holding Cari by her hair. “What IS that thing?”

“Screw that, KILL HER!”

Someone fired a crossbow at Katarina. The woman deflected the bolt with ease. It split into chunks of charcoal as she began her slow walk towards the man holding Cari.

“Bugger… bugger… buggerbuggerbuggerbugger!” stammered the man with Cari. “Help, you idiots!”

Three men charged Katarina. All three went down at once with a single, horizontal cut. They fell, gurgling as they wet themselves with seed. The rest turned to run.

No, no, none of that.

“What in the…??” one of the bandits collided with a grey wall of solid mist that hadn’t been there a minute ago. The mist filled in, quickly cordoning off a square mile of land. Or, rather, a circle mile.

Cari began to gain confidence, smiling up at the man holding her. “You better let me go. Katarina is my sister, and she will umph…”

“Shut up, whore!” the man punched her in the face.

“RRRAAAAAHHH!” screamed Katarina at the sight of Cari being struck. She dove at two of the men, spinning like a drill, her blade leaving bloody arcs in the air. The two men went flying. A fireball soared into Katarina, but bounced off her armored sword arm. She glanced at the man, dressed in a black robe. Based on how he quivered, he was young and inexperienced, possibly freshly expelled from the academy.

Katarina paid him no mind, deflecting his pathetic magic easily, as she slowly approached the man holding Cari. He drew a dagger and pressed it to her throat as she entered weapons range.

“STOP!” hissed the man. “I’ll cut the whore’s throat! I’ll do it! You back off, demon. You hear me? BACK OFF!”

Other men began to approach slowly, holding daggers, crossbows, and spears.

Not good. Not good. Any sudden fright would end Cari’s life. He peered into the man holding her, and nearly gasped as his secrets spilled out without needing to borrow power from Enna.

 

“Worthless freak!” sneered a cruel child over the boy. “You call that a kick?”
“Get him!” hissed another.
Fat, smelly children piled on top of him.
“Come on!” they yelled as he tried to fight back. “You hit like a little girl!”

The vision shifted…

“Worthless bastard!” the woman hissed, slapping him. Hard. Her nails gouged his face. “I asked you to do one thing and you can’t even do that! You disgust me! You urrggg…” she choked as a dagger slammed into her gut.
“Now, who’s worthless?” hissed the man. “I had my jollies, now you can die like the rest.”

 

Gath shuddered.

How awful. Try to hate him as he might, he felt compassion swelling instead. Several other visions of like-minded individuals swarmed through the man’s mind. So many bitter secrets. He’d been scorned by every single person in his life, including his parents.

“Sister…” Gath heard someone say. It had been Cari.

“Sister…” she repeated, tears streaming down her face.

“Aww, girly wants her sister!”

“Just lie down and die and we won’t kill her! Promise!”

“Sister,” Cari said steadily. “Complete me.”

Complete me.

Katarina thrust her sword forward, impaling Cari and the man holding her.

“Urrrrrrkkkkkk…” sputtered the man as he emptied into his pants and twitched on the end of the blade.

“What the—” cried one of the men. “Ye just killed yer sister!?”

“No,” said Katarina.

“Nnnnnnn…” moaned Cari. “Ahhhhhnnnn… ohhhh…”

“Wench sounds like she’s enjoyin’ it…”

The men gasped when they saw what happened next.

The mist melted away from Cari’s body, leaving her nude. Her figure convulsed, twitching and trembling, still hanging impaled against the blade. The man behind her fell off, the edge having completely cut through his chest and slicing through his head vertically.

Cari fell limp. Her hair parted as curved horns began to emerge. The flesh around her hips blistered and burst along her lumbar spine. Two leathery wings unfolded from the crease, and a long, lithe tail erupted from her tailbone. The wings extended for several inches. No… several feet.

Katarina gently lowered her new sister to the ground. Gath felt Enna nearby, swirling the mist around Cari, forming new clothing for her. Sturdy, glossy black boots, open in front and back for her knees, but trailing with flourish up the sides. A small loincloth slipped in, with a matching thong. Both curled low around her hips. Very low. Indecently so. A small bustier, laced temptingly in front across her stomach, hugging her slim waist, opened front to cup her large, swollen breasts on each side. Elbow-length gloves, in the same color as the boots, formed on her slender hands and arms. She scratched the gloves and they opened up for her hands, as she apparently preferred to keep them free. A glossy collar formed around her neck, linking with the bustier, to help hold it in place over her impressive bosom. She arched her back, sighing hungrily, finally opening her eyes. Her livid, wine-red eyes. Her hair, on the other hand, became the lustful green her eyes once were.

Cari the Succubus knelt, pawing at the ground, smiling devilishly, testing her new senses. Her wings fluttered and her tail whipped around. She looked up at Katarina.

“Thank you…” she said, her voice wispy and seductive.

“Sister…” said Katarina.

Cari turned to the men.

Everyone panicked, fleeing for their lives. Katarina made to give chase. Cari’s tail whipped out and caught the blade-woman’s wrist. She shook her head.

“Mine.”

Taking wing, Cari soared through the air and grabbed a man, tearing off his pants in midair, holding him aloft by his legs as she devoured his limp phallus. Her tail shot around and penetrated his rectum.

“Mmmmmm~!”

“Urrrrrggg…” shuddered the man, exploding suddenly within Cari’s mouth. She swooped down, like a spider cradling her kill, landing gently as she removed her tail and sucked him dry. Dropping his twitching body, she made for the next man, with similar results. And the next, and the next.

Gath and Enna coalesced near Katarina, no longer needing to remain hidden, and observed the spectacle together.

“Oh, that’s got to hurt,” winced Gath. Cari had somehow tied one of the men upside down to dangle from a limb, and set herself upon him, coiling in midair around his chest, right-side-up, her face firmly between his legs and her wings holding her against his chest. Cari’s tail whipped back in forth with pleasure. Her cries of glee as his seed burst inside her mouth could be heard all the way at the campsite.

“So much for our bandit problem,” giggled Enna. “Ohhhh my.”

“Sister hungers…” said Katarina.

“What do you think of the outfit I chose?” Enna asked them both.

“Unnecessary,” said Katarina. “She removed it.”

“Aww,” pouted Enna. “She did? Oh well.”

“So much for trying to sneak her into the Front,” sighed Gath. “She’s going to be brimming with power when she’s done with them.”

“How much sleep did we get?” asked Enna all the sudden.

“Hmm,” Gath glanced up at the moon. “I’d guess about two hours?”

“I’m not tired.”

“Me either.”

Gath and Enna sat by the fire and reclined into each other’s arms as they calmly observed the spectacle. Cari lasciviously wore down each man one by one, until only the terrified mage remained. She swooped down on him, dodging his fireballs, and scooped him up off the ground, carrying him to the campsite. She landed roughly, kicking dust into the fire, her wings flapping to steady her body.

“C-Cari!” coughed Gath. “Excuse you!”

Cari smiled down at them, her scarlet blush the same color as her eyes. It made her eyes appear enormous. “Mmmm. My apologies.” She turned to Katarina and held up the mage. “Sister, are you hungry?”

“These are for you, sister,” said Katarina. “I will take the ones that have already fallen into my blade.”

“I thank you for this gift,” she said softly to Katarina, approaching her, and kissing her on the cheek. Her tail wound around the mage’s throat as she began to drag him into her tent.

“It’s… our gift, actually, I thought?” Gath said, pouting slightly.

Enna punched him in the arm. “Oh, let her have her fun.”

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Gath called out to Cari as she slipped inside. The succubus grinned at him and disappeared within.

“No! No please! Nooooo!”

Gath and Enna giggled.

“We’ll need to clothe her again when she gets up,” said Gath.

“I know, love.” Enna nuzzled him. “Let’s go back to bed?”

“I thought you weren’t tired?”

Enna grinned. “I’m not.”

They crept into the larger tent, melted each other’s clothes, and made passionate love to each other until dawn, reveling in the screams of the mage and Cari’s moaning.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Gath.”

“Mmm. Enna.”

“No.”

Gath’s eyes darted open. Enna lay asleep in his arms. He glanced up. Nearly jolted his wife awake.

Cari knelt beside the tent entrance, holding it open with her tail, wearing only a satisfied smile. “Good morning.”

“Uh, ahem…” Gath squirmed, slipping out of and away from Enna. He covered her in a misty blanket and quickly clothed himself, but not before Cari got a good, long look at his massive erection. He crawled out and faced her.

Sweet Demon Lord…

Cari stood several inches taller, even without the stiletto boots Enna had tried to give her before. Her long, lithe body curled with seductive power. Massive breasts hung free, defying gravity. A slim waist and full hips now bore two beautiful violet wings and a matching spade tail. Glossy, ridged, obsidian horns curled around her head, coming up on each side, perfectly symmetrical. They curled at the very tips, adding flourish to the girl’s full head of waist-length hair. The lustful green locks were full, wavy, and glossy, much like Enna’s, and on each side of her head, a pointed ear poked out.

Her face… oh her face. Cari’s eyes shone bright wine-red, mixing with a blush on her cheeks that always seemed to be there. Her pupils changed to slits. Her lips, full and luscious before, looked even poutier and glossier now. She was a masterpiece.

“Gath,” she said in her wispy voice. Her eyes did not meet his. They remained fixed on his pants.

“Cari, my eyes are up here.”

“Oh… yes.” She nodded, smiling coyly. “I need your help with something,” she asked softly, crossing her arms under her bare breasts. Her wings fluttered with anticipation.

“I realize you’re probably still hungry, Cari,” sighed Gath. “But I fear Enna may have worn me out last night.”

“I beg to differ,” Cari giggled sensually, noting the bulge in his pants. “But not to worry. I’m not propositioning you.”

Well that’s a relief.

“I will need some new clothes, however.”

“Right! I knew that’s what you meant,” said Gath with a grin. “Would you like what Enna gave you before?”

“Yes, but… tighter. Showier.”

“Showier?” Gath scratched the top of his head. “Any showier and you may as well just stay naked.”

“But, I want to tease, not just arouse,” complained Cari. “Please?” She batted her incredibly lush eyelashes at him.

“To tease, you need to cover more, actually,” Gath countered. “With some practice, you can tease and arouse even if fully covered, neck to toe.”

“That’s no fun,” Cari pouted. “My skin needs to breathe.”

Gath sighed wearily. “This was what I was afraid of. There’s no way I can smuggle you into Lady Alexi’s lands like this.”

“I can be good…” Cari cooed, interlacing her fingers behind her back and averting her gaze with a contrite smile. Might have worked had she not been completely naked.

“You’re a brand new, fully matured succubus who just gorged herself on spirit energy all night long,” Gath told her. “Thanks to your sister, you completely skipped the ‘Lesser Succubus’ stage and went straight for the finish.”

“Right~!” giggled Cari. Her breasts jiggled temptingly at her laughter. “I’m sated!”

“Hmm…” Gath tapped his chin pensively. “Oh!” he glanced at something behind Cari. “A bandit escaped!”

Cari twirled around, her fingers curled like claws and her wings extended. Her tail twitched excitedly. She looked around, sniffing the air, and… suddenly froze, sighing, and turned around.

“Oh. You were kidding.” Venom dripped in her words.

“Got you. Sated, huh?”

Cari sighed.

“Listen, Cari, we’re going to have to play this very carefully, or several people will get hurt, including Michael.”

Cari brightened, and blushed, when she heard that name. “Michael!” she giggled, bouncing up and down.

“Just like a kid.”

“Hey,” growled Cari, her hands on her bare hips. “I can’t help it. This new body feels amaaaaazing~~!” She twirled around, displaying herself for Gath. “I can jump! I can bounce! I can flyyyyy~!” Her tail whacked into her tent and dissolved it. “Oops…”

“Ughh…” Gath covered his face in his hands. He spread two fingers to peek out at her. “Cari, where is your sister?”

Cari glanced around. “Uhm. I dunno. Hang on, I’ll look around~!” she sang as she leapt up into the air.

Gath sighed. “Enna, wake up, love. We’ve got a big day ahead of us.” He peeked his head into the tent. “Enna?”

She wasn’t there.

Tap on his shoulder.

Gath whirled around and nearly kissed Cari.

“Aww, I didn’t know you cared!” giggled the succubus. “I found Katarina.”

“Where?” Gath stepped back from the succubus, waving her pheromones out of his face.

“In the woods. Eating.”

“Eating what, dare I ask?”

Cari shrugged. “Leftovers.”

“You’re letting your sister eat your leftovers?”

She shrugged again. “She wanted them. I don’t see a problem with it.”

“We need to get moving. Go tell her.”

“All right~!” Cari zoomed off.

Enna. I have a very hyperactive succubus here. I need your help.

“But you’re doing so well!”

I have no eye whatsoever for women’s fashion. She needs your touch.

“Well, if you insist. I’m just about finished with my research.”

Cari flew back in, but a ball of mist caught her and held her airborne. “Ack! Wahh! Heeeeeellp!”

Gath chuckled at her. “Looks like you’re getting your new outfit. Stop complaining. And wriggling.”

Cari spun around, fell out of the cloud, and landed on her rump. “Oww…” she moaned. “My… my tail…” she pulled the spade tail out from under her. It looked bent and bruised, but not broken.

“What do you think of the outfit?” prompted Gath.

Cari stood up, dusting herself off. Squealing with glee, she inspected her appearance. The bodice, now half its previous size, only came in from the sides of her chest to clutch her breasts tightly. Only magic could have held that flimsy thing in place on her body. Its shape and curled flourishes set the plunging neckline into the shape of a large, open heart, with extra straps linking it up into a collar around her neck. A tiny thong was between her legs, a small triangle in front, straps so thin as to be nearly invisible at her sides, and another, slightly larger triangle behind her. The sides on her hips had flourishes to make it easy to pull them off. Attached the thin straps were tiny garters that clung precariously, holding up sexy lace stockings so thin as to be nearly transparent. The lacy things ended halfway up her thighs, leaving the rest of her legs bare.

On her feet, Cari wore high-heeled boots, the sturdiest part of her skimpy ensemble. They looked quite cute on her tiny feet, curved up on six-inch heels and ending in pointy toes. A disaster for human women to wear for longer than an hour or two, but perfect for a succubus like Cari. She twirled around, noting the tiny bodice she wore was linked in back with a little heart locket. She wore temptress gloves made of latex that came up halfway up her upper arms, leaving her shoulders bare. Again, she scratched at her palms to open up the gloves around her hands.

“Ohh I loooove it~~!” she cried. “Wonder how long it’ll stay on me…” she giggled wickedly. “THANKS ENNA!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.

Gath cringed. “She can hear you just fine, Cari,” he groaned.

A puff of mist appeared beside Cari. A garment appeared and draped over her outstretched arm.

“Wha? What’s this?”

Enna faded into view next to her, nearly scaring the wings off of her.

“ACCKKK!”

Cari fell on her rump again. “Ow. My… my tail…” she moped, cradling her tail. She got up quickly and stamped her high heeled boot. “Will you STOP THAT?”

Enna stifled a giggle and poked the garment draped over Cari’s arm. “All right. It’s time to teach you your first spell.”

“Yaaaay!” Cari twirled around, forgetting all about the slight pain.

“It will let you assume human form again.”

Cari skidded to a stop.

Even Gath raised an eyebrow. “Succubi can do that?”

“Yes. I found a book in the restricted section called the Succubus Notebook.”

“Oooo…” cooed Cari. “Can I read it? Can I? Pleaaaaase~!?”

“If you can master the art of turning yourself invisible.”

“Right!” chirped Cari. “How…how do I do that?”

Enna smiled. “You can’t, yet. A succubus draws her power on the ability to make herself the center of attention. Mainly to one man, but, if necessary, many.”

“Oh.” Cari crossed her arms over her breasts. Or tried to. Her arms weren’t long enough. She crossed under them instead. “So, you’re going to teach me how to captivate?”

“No, Cari,” giggled Enna. “You can already do that. It comes naturally to succubi.”

“Then, what?”

“I’m going to… I told you already.”

“I forgot!” giggled the girl.

Gath groaned. “She’s all yours,” he sighed, sitting next to the dead fire.

“You’re going to learn how to resume human form.”

Enna sure has more patience than I do.

“Thanks, love. But you owe me.”

Gath blushed at the ways his love was going to ask him to repay her. How long had she been studying?

“We didn’t get much sleep. So not very long. But information on succubi is readily available.”

Why is that? Baron Lester was rather strict when it came to information on Mamono.

“From what I could find, I believe he personally wanted to meet a succubus one day.”

“Scandalous!” Gath blurted out.

“Oooo gossip!?” cried Cari. “Spill it!”

“Well done, love.”

Sorry!

“Now you owe me double.”

Yes, dear.

“Cari… Focus…” Enna said calmly, steading the succubus by holding her shoulders gently.

“It’s sooooo haaaard~~!” Cari whined. “I’m so… giggly. Bouncy. I want to pounce someone!”

“Then, you are not allowed to come with us to the lands owned by Lady Alexi.” Enna crossed her arms at Cari as she spoke sternly. “You’ll have to go on the other side of the front and find some mamono to play with.”

“Fine!” Cari crossed her arms as well. Her breasts bounced above them. “I don’t want to visit the boring human places anymore anyway!”

“So, I guess you don’t care about Michael anymore, hmm?” Enna winked at Gath.

For a moment, the blush faded from Cari’s face. “M-M-Michael… Ohhh…” she stamped her foot. “FINE. I’ll cry to toncentrate… uhm… I mean, I’ll try to…”

“Cari, focus,” repeated Enna. “I made the cloak to help you. Fold your wings in. Tuck your tail between your legs. Or wind it up behind your back. Close your eyes. Imagine putting on a dress that makes you look pretty, except it isn’t a dress. It’s your old form.”

Cari nodded and scrunched her face together in concentration. She began to shrink slightly. Her height diminished to her old human height. Her breasts shrank somewhat, and the bustier slipped free. Her thong fell between her legs as her hips narrowed. She giggled and immediately reverted back to full succubus form, wardrobe malfunctions and all.

“Ohh I’m sorry,” she sighed, trying to pick up her thong. After much squirming, she got back into it and managed to squeeze her breasts back into place. “Whew! Can I try again?”

“Yes,” nodded Enna. “This time, put on the cloak I gave you. It’ll give you a new set of clothes that reshape themselves. Eventually you’ll learn how to do this on your own. Or carry a fresh set in a magical container.”

“All right,” Cari said calmly. “I’ve got this. Human Cari… go… nnnnn…” she gritted her teeth in concentration.

“Calm down,” said Enna softly. “Don’t force it. It’s juuuuust like putting on a dress~!”

“Just like putting on a dress,” repeated Cari as she slung the cloak over herself. She shrunk down rapidly, the cloak replacing her skimpy succubus things and reforming her loose leather outfit from earlier. She sighed with relief.

“Not bad,” remarked Gath.

“Did I do it?” Cari asked, hopeful.

Enna pursed her lips in thought. “Just about. You still have horns and red eyes. And green hair.”

“Oops,” giggled Cari. “I thought about putting on a dress to change my body. Forgot to change my head! Let me see…” she murmured, closing her eyes. The robe Enna gave her came with a hood, so she slipped that on. Her red hair returned, freckles splaying out over her face as she let out a puff of exertion. “There!” she said at last, pulling her hood back.

Gath clapped slowly for her. “Well done.”

“I did it?” Cari asked, unsure.

“You did,” Enna nodded, patting her on the shoulder. “I’m impressed. I thought we would be here for hours.

Cari smiled proudly, sighing as she ran her hands over her body. “Do I really look like old me? I kind of feel like old me. Probably because I’m trying not to pop back out.”

“The concentration of holding the illusion will keep you in check for now,” said Enna. “But as you get better at it, it’ll become easier, and the temptation to become playful might come back. You need to remember; most humans aren’t like that. You’ll get found out. Besides, don’t you want to know if Michael will love you for you, and not your succubus magic?”

Cari bit her lip and nodded. “I need to know…”

“Good, that’s settled then.” Enna patted her shoulder. “Practice staying in that form. See how long you can hold it.”

“What if we’re attacked?” asked Cari.

“Especially if we’re attacked,” Enna suggested, “Try using your extra strength to fight, but don’t hurt them. And don’t transform into a succubus.”

“I’ll try…”

“Shall we be off, then?” Gath asked as he glimpsed Katarina striding towards them. She wore nothing, the armor had spread across both shoulders, and had begun spreading down her left arm. Gath tossed her a mist cowl. She caught it and wordlessly donned it. With the wave of his hand, Gath dispelled the tents, and they were off.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The passage to the front was surprisingly treacherous. Two more groups of bandits assaulted them. Cari helped Katarina fend them off as Gath and Enna observed. The first time, Cari’s succubus nature reasserted itself, ruining her outfit. She went wild, devouring spirit energy until Katarina stopped her. The next time, she managed to conceal her true nature, a feat which she didn’t stop bragging about until they began to notice changes in the landscape.

“Woah,” Gath murmured.

“Yes. I feel it too.”

Enna remained hidden from sight at her husband’s request. Katarina walked by his right side, and Cari on her left, holding a blade in her left hand that she’d taken from a bandit.

“The air smells strange,” remarked Cari.

“Much fighting, heavy losses,” said Katarina. “In favor of the humans.”

“Maybe, maybe not,” Gath disagreed. “Feel the air. There is a powerful demon realm to the west. Its influence is spreading.”

“It’s making me all tingly~!” giggled Cari.

Gath glanced at her. “Ahem.”

“What?” the girl batted her eyelashes at him innocently.

“Tail.”

“Eep!” she squeaked, stuffing her tail back under her coat. “Naughty thing! Get back in there.”

“You should not still have a tail in that form, Cari.”

“Oh. I thought Enna told me to wear the jacket to cover my tail and wings?”

“According to Enna,” explained Gath, “The most proficient succubus can lay with her beloved their first night in human form, and maintain the illusion all night long.”

Cari fanned herself, panting. “I… I don’t see how!” she cried softly. “How am I supposed to do that?”

“I’m not sure,” admitted Gath. “Fortunately for me, my transformation is much more easily concealed.”

Your transformation?” gaped Cari. Even Katarina glanced at him, sizing him up. “Let’s see it!” Cari implored.

“You’ll have to get permission from my wife,” chuckled Gath. “I reserve it for her. Or for dire situations. Your perception of me will change when I use my power. But you might not perceive me in the same way as someone else would.”

“Oh wow~!” chirped Cari. “Amazing…”

“Perception shapes reality,” Gath said mysteriously, with a wink of his eye.

“Those bandit attacks weren’t enough?” complained Cari.

“I wasn’t needed,” he replied. “You two handled those rather, well, handily.”

Cari giggled.

“Hold!” Katarina hissed suddenly, bracing her body in front of Gath and Cari.

“Stay calm,” urged Gath. He extruded his sight to take a look around. Nothing. Odd. No life. Wait. That, in itself, was odd. The landscape looked… pockmarked. Artillery? But he could find no shell casings. Hmm. An idea came to him. He’d extruded his sight into a wall before. What about the ground? He tried it.

“Mmph,” grunted Gath.

“Something wrong?” Cari poked him.

“Nothing, odd sensation.” Felt like his mouth was full of gravel. Very difficult to look inside solid soil. Flexing his power, Gath searched for secrets. He would need to do so the hard way, by bumping into them. He searched, thankfully unhindered by darkness. His vision touched something metal.

Wait.

That wasn’t normal.

He went back to it. Looked all around it. There seemed to be more nearby, laid out in a slightly randomized pattern.

“What do you see?” asked Katarina.

“Mines,” Gath said finally. “Underground mines.”

“What’re those?” Cari asked innocently.

“Explosives,” Gath explained. “You walk over top of one, and it blows you up.

“Eugh,” shuddered the girl. “That’s awful.”

“Not for you,” admitted Gath. “You can fly. I can hide myself in the mist, and hopefully evade them. But Katarina…”

“I can carry her over them!” offered Cari.

“No,” said Katarina firmly.

“No?”

“Gath. Show me a mine.”

Gath looked around with his sight and located one nearby. “There,” he pointed, indicating a little swirl of mist. “A mine is buried directly underneath there.”

Katarina extended her blade and swung in a long arc. A pulse of energy flung from her blade and seared in the mine’s direction, flying about eight feet overhead. There was a slight pop, and a cylinder burst up out of the ground.

“GET DOWN!” bellowed Gath, forming a shield of mist in front of them.

The cylinder exploded, showering them with shrapnel. Several pieces lodged in Gath’s barrier. They tumbled to the ground when he released it. Katarina knelt down to pick up some of the pieces.

“Is anyone hurt?” asked Gath, checking himself first.

“I’m fine,” said Cari. “That was quick thinking.”

Gath glanced at her. “And you maintained your illusion. Well done.”

Cari blushed, beaming.

Katarina bit into one of the pieces of sizzling hot shrapnel. She glanced back at Gath and Cari. “Demon Realm Silver.”

“Hmm,” thought Gath. “That technology sure did look like more than what humans were capable of. Anyone who stepped on a mine like that would be instantly transformed.”

“Oh… that’s clever,” admitted Cari. “I guess these things frightened off all the animals too.”

“More than likely.”

“We must go around,” cautioned Katarina. “The mines will incapacitate us for several hours if we are struck.”

“We don’t know how far around they go,” said Gath. “Get behind me. I can navigate the field. Step where I step. Focus.”

“I don’t like this plan…” moaned Cari.

“If we set one off, get close to me,” Gath told her.

“I want to just fly…”

“You cannot, sister,” warned Katarina.

Gath glanced back at Cari. “She’s right. The mine flew right up to where her beam had been a moment ago. These things can take down fliers.”

Cari moaned sadly but agreed to follow.

They took it slow. Gath wove them through the field like one navigating an invisible maze. Gath stepped slowly in front, with Cari behind him, and Katarina trailing. They proceeded like this for quite some time, carefully tracing steps.

“How is Enna going to get through?” asked Cari after awhile.

“Her magic is stronger than mine,” said Gath. “She should have no trouble navigating the field. Now, hush. I need to concent…” he trailed off.

Cari bumped into him. Gath nearly lost his balance. Katarina reached and grabbed them both, holding them steady.

“Sorry!” whispered Cari, twitching at the contact. “What’s wrong?”

“We’ve got a problem,” groaned Gath. “Mines. An entire line of them, running all the way into the forest, and up against that cliff.

“So… we blow up one somewhere down the line and cross there?” she suggested.

“Not a bad idea, normally,” nodded Gath. “But these are so tightly packed together, if we set one off, we’ll likely set them all off.”

“What do we do?”

“Give me a moment.”

Enna. Suggestions?

“I scanned the road ahead. That last trail of them marks the end of the field. It is there to prevent people such as us from crossing.”

Gath waited patiently. He tried to come up with a solution while his wife did the same.

“Bridge.”

What?

“Create a bridge and walk over them.”

A bridge of our magic would set off the mines, love. Katarina’s—

“Her magic is violent. Ours is not. These are weapons of war. They respond to violence. They may not react to peace.”

If it’s all the same to you, love, I will create a shield around us while you build us a bridge.

“A reasonable precaution. I will let you know when it is safe.”

“Kneel down, ladies. Enna’s about to try an idea.”

“I’m scared,” Cari admitted, trembling.

“The mines will only incapacitate us, sister. We will survive.” Katarina rested her terrifying gauntlet on Cari’s shoulder. For the first time, she didn’t flinch.

The three companions knelt as Gath created a sturdy mist shield all around them. He kept it thick enough to block out light, and left them in darkness.

“Ready, love?”

Ready.

Gath waited. And waited. And waited. Cari would not stop trembling. Katarina’s touch steadied her. Gath took her hand and squeezed it tightly.

“I’ve finished.”

Gath dropped the barrier. “Oh, impressive,” he remarked. A small stone bridge ramped up over a section of the ground and ramped down just as smoothly. It looked like part of the road itself. He carefully led the two women over it, and breathed a sigh of relief.

A boom sounded in the distance.

“What was that?” Cari asked. “Thunder?”

A second boom. And a third.

“Artillery fire!” cried Katarina.

“RUN!” shouted Gath.

They took off as fast as they could. Fortunately, their Mamono strength allowed them to cover ground far more rapidly than humans. Cari’s tail slipped out as they dashed madly away from the minefield. The shells began to impact, setting off the mines at random. One of them detonated a link in the final chain, and just as Gath suspected, the entire line detonated in sequence.

“Can they see us?” cried Cari.

“Could be automated, I’m not certain!”

“They see you.”

“Terrific. Take cover!”

They dove into a trench as a shell detonated nearby. Cari cried out in pain.

“Sister!” hissed Katarina.

“It’s… it’s nothing…” the girl moaned, stuffing her poor, bruised tail into her jacket. “My tail will never recover if this keeps happening!”

“Shift it inside you,” Gath told her. “You need the practice anyway.”

Cari nodded and closed her eyes. She squirmed, and when she finished, she ended up looking a little slimmer. “There… shifted my wings away too.”

“Good girl,” Gath complimented her, patting her head.

“You may proceed now.”

Enna?

“I’m obscuring you from view. Go. Now.”

“Enna is providing us some cover. Let’s move!” urged Gath, ushering the two women up and out. They clamored out of the trench and began making their way deeper into the roughened terrain.

Enna. I need your sight for a moment.

“Yours.”

Gath’s gaze sharpened to a razor edge. He soared up into the air and scanned the area. Enna also showed him the compound that had been firing at them. A large, sophisticated complex filled with Mamono huddling behind a series of boobytrapped entranceways. The perilous field upon which they walked spread out for at least two or three miles to the east, where another set of heavily-guarded entranceways were set up.

Thank you, love.

Gath returned the power to Enna. He sighed.

“What is it?” Cari prodded.

“We’re right in the middle of what appears to be a massive demilitarized zone between Lady Alexi’s lands and the Mamono forces.”

“Dangerous,” agreed Katarina.

“Which way?” asked Cari.

“The Mamono have itchy trigger fingers,” sighed Gath. “We need to convince them to hold their fire while we investigate Lady Alexi’s lands. Follow me.”

They strode forward, obscured by a mild, rusty haze and dark shadows, perfectly obscuring their progress towards the compound. He paused, holding up his hand for his friends to stop. A quiet, skulking Arachne woman skittered across the DMZ, laying sticky traps in random locations. She spun her webs, dying them the same color as the dirt, making them nearly invisible.

Invisible to anyone but the Observer and his wife.

Blinking, Gath adjusted his vision, spotting them easily. Ugh. They were everywhere. Luckily, none of them had stepped in one yet.

“Follow me, step where I step.”

“Nooo…” Cari moaned softly. “Not this again…”

“Shush,” hissed Gath. “We are almost there.”

Katarina slapped her free hand over Cari’s mouth to stifle her sister’s gasp. Another Arachne skittered right in front of them. A door in the entranceways opened, and she entered. Gath followed with Cari and Katarina in tow.

“How much further are we going to sneak in?” Cari whispered, tugging Katarina’s hand out of the way. She staggered briefly. “Uhhhhnnnn…”

“Cari?” Gath glanced back.

“Body’s… so… hot… mmm… tingly…”

They had just stepped inside the compound. The concentration of Mamono energy was much denser here. “Try to control yourself,” Gath suggested gently. “Mamono energy is everywhere. This’ll be good practice for you. Try to stay human.”

“WAIT!” someone hissed.

Uh oh.

“Zarana, someone followed you in.”

The Arachne turned, her eight red eyes gleaming. “Where?” she hissed.

Gath glanced around her large body. At the end of the entrance way stood a small girl with a single red eye set against her forehead, opened wide. At least a dozen tentacles curled around her, each with its own eye, sprouted from her mass of black hair and equally puffy tail. All of them were glaring at him.

A Gazer.

The ultimate test.

No mamono in the world saw through deception better than a Gazer.

Enna…

“I see her.”

Several centaurs, lizardmen, and, at the front, an angry, beautiful minotaur, faced off against Gath. But they were looking a little to his right.

“I see nothing!” shouted the minotaur, her voice deep and rough.

“There…” said the Gazer softly. She pointed an oiled finger in Gath’s vague direction.

Slowly, Gath stepped to the side, right behind the Arachne.

“No!” hissed the Gazer. “My vision fades! This one is powerful… yes. A powerful mage.”

“Trust me,” said Gath softly.

Cari gasped. The image of Gath beside her began to blur as his new form revealed itself. He stood at about the same height, maybe an inch or two taller, his hair ruffled, but glossy. His complexion pale, like Enna’s, and his eyes burned red amidst black sclera. Waves of power rippled around him as he slowly withdrew the illusion.

“THERE!” bellowed the minotaur. She shouldered her weapon and began to charge.

“WAIT!” the Gazer cried. “That is an Incubus!”

Gath made no attempt to dodge the massive battleaxe as it came down upon him. It sailed right through him, his body fluttering like mist before coming back together. A resounding CLANG echoed through the area as the minotaur felt her weapon parried. By what!?

Cari and Katarina stepped out of the illusion, the latter of which deflected the minotaur with her blade. She and Cari joined Gath at his side.

Gath strode past the Minotaur calmly, coming to a stop between her and the rest of her squad. Katarina pulled off her cowl, for it was no longer needed. Dark red iron covered her shoulders, much of her left arm, and, now, most of her right leg. Her massive sword burned a molten red. Long, black hair framed a face containing a glowing amber eye, and a blazing red one. She looked absolutely terrifying.

“Who goes there?” shouted one of the centaurs.

“I have many names,” said Gath imperiously. “Mistweaver. Shadow-walker. Master of Secrets. But you may have heard of me by the name given to me by my foe: The Observer.”

Soft gasps spread between the monsters assembled in front of Gath. Even the Gazer’s eyes glanced around in bewilderment. So, his reputation proceeded him.

“Above you!”

Gath glanced up at Enna’s warning. A stunning woman soared down between Gath and the monsters, spinning around gracefully on milky-white wings. He stiffened at the sight of her, but did not change his determined expression.

Now he stood before his ultimate test.

This was no mere succubus.

This was a Lilim.

Dark princess.

Daughter of the Demon Lord.

The Lilim glided to a stop, mostly, in front of Gath, floating on her side in a seductive pose. Her black and red eyes shone with delight, a hungry smile on her pale, flawless face. Pastel opaline hair draped across her body like fine silks. A black, silken gown, with silver inlays, hugged her seductive figure closely, opened wide in front to showcase her perfect breasts. Where clothing did not curve to accentuate the woman’s stunning beauty, pleasure runes took up the task, curling sinuously over her polished skin, dipping into precarious and sensitive areas…

“Hello, Observer,” she sighed wantonly. “I’ve been dying to meet you,” she said, her voice dipping an octave to enunciate her desire.

“With whom do I share the pleasure, my lady?” asked Gath courteously.

The Lilim’s smile deepened. “A gentleman. Your reputation serves you well.” She turned in midair to touch down on her dainty feet, her glossy ballet boots keeping all but the very tips of her toes and her tall metal heels off the ground. “My name is Camilla. Welcome to my realm.”

“Begging your pardon, Lady Camilla, but it does not seem to be yours. Yet.”

Camilla chuckled softly. “Presumptuous, aren’t we? Can you not feel the land reshaping in my favor already?” She chuckled again. “Your friend certainly does,” she cooed, indicating Cari. She spun in a little pirouette, floating back up into the air as she blew the girl a steamy kiss.

“Eep!” yelped Cari as her disguise fell away. Her succubus clothing snapped back into place just in time as her breasts quickly swelled to their full size. Her wings and tail popped back into being, briefly sending the girl off-balance.

Camilla blew her another kiss.

“HEY! Cari squealed as her clothing disappeared briefly, then returned. “Do you mind!?”

“Oh, how impressive,” sighed Camilla. “The clothes are an illusion? How enchanting. I do appreciate your nudity, however. You honor me. Come closer, child.”

Cari glanced nervously at Gath, but he nodded, so she approached the floating Lilim.

The Lilim floated onto her stomach, propping herself up on her elbows to gaze at Cari at eye level. “Mmm,” she cooed softly, her hand brushing the girl’s cheek. “Such a beautiful succubus. How have I not been introduced to this lovely creature yet?”

“Um… I’m… I’m Cari… my lady…” Cari managed to squeak out.

“Cari…” the Lilim rolled around languidly in the air as she spoke the name a few times, licking her lips, as if tasting it. “My name is Camilla, but you can call me Cammy.” She giggled softly and tapped Cari’s nose. “Our names are so close… it’s like we’re sisters!”

“Lady… C-Cammy…” Cari giggled nervously.

“She’s so sweet!” laughed the Lilim. “Wherever did you find her? Wait…” she floated close and inhaled deeply of Cari’s pheromones. “Hmm. Oh my~! You made her?”

“Kind of,” Cari answered for Gath. She gulped, glancing down at Camilla’s hand. The Lilim was idly poking at her chest with her long fingernail. “She completed me,” she indicated Katarina.

Camilla turned to the blade-woman. Her boots tapped softly on the ground as she deftly landed and strode alongside the three and turned to Katarina. “Mmm. Most impressive. Again, you honor me by returning my blade.”

Camilla held out her hand.

Katarina grunted, a staggering force drawing her towards the woman.

Stop,” said Gath. His power amplified his voice into a booming thunder, sending the other monsters to their knees, and even forced Camilla to take a step back.

Camilla focused her attention on Gath, her lips parted in a wild smile. “Ohhh yess… I was not aware the Observer commanded such… forcefulness.” Her smile faded slightly. “Why do you deny me my blade?”

“Because she does not wish to follow you,” Gath replied simply. There was no anger in his voice. He merely stated a fact.

“My Katalya Blade,” Camilla said, curling her finger out towards Katarina. “I sent you to begin seeding my realm from under Baron Lester’s auspicious reign. Did you complete your task?”

“My purpose is to find Takasha,” the woman replied gruffly. “The Observer plucked me from captivity, at great personal risk, and allowed my seed to grow. Were it not for him, and my sister,” she glanced at Cari. “I would have been extinguished.”

The Lilim tilted her head quizzically. “Find Takasha?” Camilla sighed theatrically, splaying her hand over her bosom as Cari was fond to do. “Oh Giseeeeeeelle~~!” she sang.

A large door behind the Gazer opened, and the Ogre stepped forth. Gath recognized her as the beautiful, tough, green-skinned woman who’d flung Takasha into the men. “I come, my lady…” she said, kneeling behind her.

“Did you instruct my Katalya Blade to circumvent my orders find your friend?” Camilla asked sweetly, without even turning around.

“I did,” grunted the Ogre. “I will not ask your forgiveness, my lady. I would do it again if given the chance. My life is yours to take.”

“Naughty, naughty girl…” sighed Camilla. “We’re going to have to punish you oh-so-harshly…”

Gath ignored her. “Gisele,” he said softly, kneeling down at eye level with her, speaking between Camilla’s long legs. “Takasha bade me give you this message. Do not blame yourself.”

Giselle gasped, her powerful hands cracking the rocky floor as her fingers crunched into them. “Takasha…?” she asked hoarsely, looking up at him. “You have seen her?”

“Indeed.”

“How does she fare!?” implored Gisele.

Camilla cleared her throat gently.

Gath rose, boring his black and red gaze into hers unabashedly. “The blade is in my service until such a time as Takasha is released.”

Silence fell.

No one spoke. Camilla and Gath merely stared into each other’s eyes. A silent clash of titans.

“Prove it.”

Gath said nothing.

“Prove to me you are strong enough to wield my blade.”

The Observer smiled eerily. The eyes of every mamono flitted back and forth between him and their ruler as each spoke.

“As you wish,” said Gath.

Enna. I wish to read this woman’s secrets.

“By all means. Take what you require. Do not underestimate her.”

Gath’s smile deepened as his vision focused to a diamond edge. The Lilim’s, however, faltered slightly. Secrets. Show me your secrets.

 

A young Camilla stood before a full-length mirror, comparing her shorter figure to an impossibly gorgeous Lilim standing beside her.
“Your skills are improving,” the woman said, her voice drawling in a sultry tone. “But you have a long way to go.”
“I’m ready now,” the young Camilla insisted.
“It is not me you need to convince, little sister.”
“Mother’s holding me back!” cried Camilla. “I want to go with you to Lescatié!”
“Continue your training,” her sister told her. “Drink deep of Mother’s power. Grow strong. Do this, and… I may just leave you a few Heroes to try your hand.”
“Druella, please!” sniffed Camilla as her sister turned to leave.
“It is the best I can offer you, Camilla. Mother has her reasons.”

 

“So, tell me,” Gath prompted as he returned Enna’s power to her. “Did you ever impress Druella, or is your mother still holding you back?”

Mamono all around gasped loudly, exchanging glances, whispering amongst themselves, “He dares!?

Camilla blinked, blushing slightly. No other changes in her composure reflected what he’d said.

“Quiet,” she spoke softly, but all around heard her. Her blush remained, and she smiled at Gath. “Very impressive. I raised my mental defenses, but you did not read my mind, did you?”

“Correct, my lady. I glimpsed into your secrets.”

“My secrets?” the Lilim seemed genuinely curious. “What manner of Incubus are you? Where’s your wife?”

Enna was suddenly beside the Lilim, lazily stroking her wing with the tip of her finger. She smiled as the wing retracted, gazing up at Camilla with her electric blues. “You missed a spot…” she cooed, smiling devilishly.

“My, my, my,” crooned the Lilim, turning to face her. “And what might you be? Has Mersé been experimenting again? I do believe she has outdone herself, this time…” she sighed as she reached down to cup Enna’s face. The girl’s skin puffed into mist as the Lilim stroked her, quickly spreading through her whole body and vanishing into a puff of smoke.

Enna quickly reappeared behind Camilla, seductively trailing her tongue across the Lilim’s other wing.

Camilla gasped softly, spinning around. “My wickedness,” she giggled. “I’m really starting to like this one. What do you call yourself?”

Gath wracked his mind for a fitting name for Enna. A title worthy of her nature. What would Camilla think to call her? Something different than what Gath would? Hmm. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” he remembered Lady Lamara say.

“Beholder,” announced Gath.

“A Beholder,” breathed Camilla, her voice thick with excitement. “Wonderful! Oh Millicent~! I do believe I’ve found you a cousin~!”

Someone near the back of the entrance hall gasped. It was the Gazer. “Of course!” hissed the girl. “That’s why I couldn’t see them!” The Gazer girl jogged up to Enna and peered at her with every one of her eyes. “You’re not even really standing there, are you?”

Enna giggled and shook her head. “Can’t reveal all my secrets!” she chirped and leaned forward to look at her cousin. “Oh my. You’re so beautiful!”

The Gazer blushed cherry red. “S-stop it…”

“I mean it. Your eye is quite striking. I sense powerful magic in you.”

Camilla chuckled at them. “Very well. I’m impressed, and I am not easily impressed. I will give you my Katalya Blade on one condition.”

“I don’t just want Katarina,” said Gath firmly. “I consider her already in my service. What I came for is your help.”

The Lilim raised a delicately arched eyebrow. “Do tell.”

“I have observed Lord Volus,” Gath told her. He ignored the gasps and corrosive gaze the Lilim cast him. “I know what he is doing, and I must stop him.” His red eyes flashed, and his hands balled into fists. “Do you know where his stronghold lies?”

Camilla averted her gaze, anger seething within her sculpted features. “That vile man has, for decades, continued to elude us. Over the recent years, he has grown bolder, and taken to snatching up my people for a purpose I cannot divine.”

“Why have you and your sisters not been able to find him?”

“I do not know,” Camilla admitted, her jaw set firmly.

Millicent spoke up. “For years, I’ve tried to find him. His associates come and go as they please, but to where exactly, is beyond my sight. I believe it is some place only accessible through a certain type of ancient magic.”

“Ancient magic?” Enna asked.

“Magic that existed before Mother took Her rightful place among us,” Camilla said. “It is a place that has existed since a bygone era.”

“Perhaps constructed to deal with the reckless destruction we were causing before Her blessing,” Millicent explained. “It is a place which cannot be found except by those who already know where it is. And how to get there.”

“Hmm…” muttered Gath.

“So, I must know,” implored Millicent, her many eyes on him. “How did you scry within it?”

Gath looked fondly on Enna. “Our gaze pierces stone, soil, metal, magic, and flesh. Nothing stands hidden before us.”

“Impressive words, Observer,” said Camilla. “But even you, who claim to have scryed within, cannot pinpoint its location.”

Gath ignored Camilla’s rub. “Millicent,” he said suddenly. The girl’s eyes all turned on him. “You said his associates come and go as they please.”

“Yes.”

“Are there any nearby at this moment?”

A toothy grin spread across Millicent’s face. “Ah. I have a feeling I know what you are planning. But…” her smile faded. “I have already tried. They can feel us pressing in on them.”

“They cannot sense me,” Gath said ominously.

“Volus knows of you,” Camilla countered.

“The… magic did not come without practice,” admitted Gath.

Millicent’s power flared around her, her eyes half-closed. “There is one… she is attending Lady Alexi. Tending her wounds.”

“Alexi’s wounded?” Gath asked.

Camilla sensed his shift in attention and focused on it. “You care for this human?”

“I owe her my life,” he told Camilla. “Transform her if you wish, but do not allow her to come to death.”

“So demanding,” crooned the Lilim. “Well now, if you agree to a wee favor, I would be more than happy to help you.”

“What kind of favor?” Gath asked cautiously.

“Join me.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“With yours and Millicent’s combined power, the frontier will vanish,” Camilla explained haughtily. “We will know the Order better than they know themselves. They will be helpless against us. Within the span of a few short years, all of the Order’s lands will sink into realms of deep, dark pleasure.” She smiled hungrily at the prospect. “All of humanity will come to enjoy love and limitless ecstasy.”

“And you’ll finally impress Druella.”

If that statement got a rise out of Camilla, she didn’t show it. “What say you, Observer?”

Gath thought about it for a minute. His response needed to be concise and bold. Fearless and unyielding.

“Where were you?” he asked softly. “Where were you when Enna was sitting in her cell, starving to death, clinging to life the only way she could—through mamono energy, as weak as it was. Where were you when her grandmother fell into the hands of Lord Volus? Where were you, when the lands held by Baron Lester systematically purged magic and anything resembling mamono energy, sending countless innocents to the noose or stake?”

Camilla drew a breath to speak. Gath did not let her form words.

“You were showing off. Spreading the seeds of your demon realms here and there, trying desperately to live up to your sister, Druella.”

Camilla’s face flushed, and her composure began to slip away. “I offer you the blessing of the Demon Lord Herself.

“I have no reason to doubt Her power. It is you I doubt,” Gath said boldly. “Don’t look so surprised. You asked me to prove to you that our gaze pierces even the deepest, darkest of secrets. Are you not satisfied?”

Camilla smiled, unexpectedly. “Heh… heh… heh… Well done. I can think of no better bearer of my Katalya Blade.”

“And you may request of our services when the need arises,” nodded Gath and Enna. “But make no mistake. The ability to see the truth can defile even the strongest of wills. It is our destiny to walk that path alone.”

The Observer turned to leave. And then, they vanished.

“What?” gasped Millicent. “Where…”

“Blaire,” said Camilla suddenly.

The Minotaur snapped to attention. “My lady.”

“Ready the infantry. I have a feeling we are about to get our opening…”

The Lilim laughed softly, the sultry sound echoing throughout the compound.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Ha… haa… haa…”

“Cari?” Gath glanced back.

Oh no.

Cari’s face was painted scarlet. Her eyes shone vividly. Her mouth hung open in a slovenly, ravenous expression. A trickle of drool escaped her lips, oozing down the side of her chin. She barely trudged through the illusory mist towards the human compound.

“Cari!” Gath hissed, grasping her shoulders.

Cari’s open mouth curled up into a sloppy grin. “Yaaasss… touch meeee…”

Gath groaned, his head drooping. “What did she do to you?”

Cari giggled drunkenly, staggering, clutching the robe Enna made her. It slipped halfway off her shoulders, revealing the succubus “clothing” beneath. An odd mark poked out above the gentle curve of the girl’s left breast.

“Ahn…” gasped Cari softly as more of her skin became exposed. Green began to blend into her disguised red hair.

“That… damned woman…” cursed Gath with a sigh.

Enna faded into view briefly to inspect Cari. “Is that… what I think it is, but hope it isn’t?”

“A pleasure rune,” Gath groaned.

“Mmm?” Cari gulped. “That sounds… kinda nice…”

“Cari,” Gath said cautiously as he replaced her clothing, “You remember how you felt when you first transformed?”

Cari smiled, her face growing dewy with perspiration. Red glow bled into her eyes.

“Focus,” cautioned Gath. “Maintain your illusion or we have to leave you here.”

“Sorry…” Cari bit her lip. Her eyes returned to normal. The blush remained.

“Do you remember what happened? When you first transformed?”

She nodded.

“Imagine that feeling again, multiplied several times.”

“Oh… That’s why I’m so wet…” Cari giggled.

“I must warn you,” Gath told her, “Pleasure runes are extremely powerful sigils of magic.”

“What… what do I do?”

“Well, for the moment, just don’t touch it. If you do, I can’t imagine what it’ll do to you. You have a succubus body, now, new and untrained. The sensations flooding your mind will threaten your composure. The rune will amplify those feelings.” Gath gently patted her shoulder. “This will be a critical test for you, Cari. You must speak your mind to Michael, as a human. If you lose your composure, you will never know how he truly felt about you.”

“I’ll do my best,” Cari promised. To her credit, much of her blush faded away. She still appeared slightly inebriated, but, for all intents and purposes, still human.

Gath nodded encouragingly to her and turned to where Enna was fading into view. Her form solidified, and he embraced her. “Enna…” he sighed, nuzzling up against her. “We draw close; I cannot abandon Alexi to her fate. I need you to help me find her.”

“All I am is yours, love,” Enna said softly, cupping his face with tender care and gently kissing him.

Cari glanced around, biting her lip as her blush intensified again. “Uhm… are… are you two really going to do this here?” she asked, noting the state of the DMZ around them.

Gath ignored her and focused on Enna. Before, they needed to join in a lover’s intimate embrace to scry outside of their line of sight. Gath hoped the power they’d built up recently, combined with Alexi’s general close proximity, would allow him to observe her briefly without delaying their journey.

Gath’s vision began to shift as his eyes slowly closed, the image of his wife’s serene face against his burning into his mind.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

“Is there nothing more we can do for her?” asked a man, pain and anxiety straining his voice.

“My apologies, Lord Camden,” said a young woman softly, “Even the power of Lord Volus cannot heal all maladies.” She paused. “We can only hope, and pray, that she will recover.”

“See to it Volus receives anything he needs to speed my wife’s recovery,” muttered Camden, the agony in his voice gripping Gath’s heart. He knew exactly how the man felt. “Spare no expense.”

“As you wish, my lord,” said the woman.

Gath carefully set aside his emotional weight and concentrated until the image came into focus. His sight hovered inside a large bedchamber. Lying in fine silks and laces within a four-poster bed, Lady Alexi rested. Her husband, Lord Camden, knelt by her side. Gath studied the man, a curious feeling surprising him. The man didn’t look that much older than Alexi had when Gath first met her. Even Alexi herself, who’s beauty had deepened, did not seem much older. Camden was tall, lean, and muscular, with a head full of sandy-brown hair and a dapper mustache appropriate for his station. He wore the uniform of a knight captain, minus the armor, which led Gath to believe he often led his troops into battle personally. Camden’s intense blue eyes mirrored Alexi’s. Deep sapphire. They were murky with barely restrained tears as the man gazed down at Alexi.

Gath’s vision centered on her next. Favoring light colors, Alexi wore a fluffy, ruffled sleeping gown with fluffy inlays deepening her bust and sleeves. Her eyes were closed in a deep sleep. Her golden curls fanned all around her. She looked like an angel… But what was wrong with her? Gath peered closely, his gaze penetrating her clothing. It felt somewhat obscene to do so in front of her husband, but Gath’s desire to help her mirrored the other man’s. Beneath the gown, which the nurses had designed to lift up easily in front, a nasty gash travelled up Alexi’s right thigh, scarred across her hip, and curled into her waist. Had she been an inch to the right, she’d have been gutted like a fish. Angry purple and green stained the wound, which had been cleaned numerous times and stitched together.

“Gath…”

Enna. What do you see?

“That wound. It is not natural. It is not infected. Foul magic is at work here, forcing it to fester. And there is something else…”

Gath waited patiently for his wife to examine the lady.

“I sense magic throughout her body. And her husband’s. A rejuvenating magic, originating from Mamono, but… changed somehow. It is extending their lifespans.”

What about the wound?

“Its origins are the same.”

Gath paled; his blood chilled to ice.

What?

What manner of deception is this? Originating from Mamono… Gath recalled the experiments Volus was performing. “Absorption Runes.” What was he absorbing? Could it be he’d figured out a way to extract the youthful power of the succubus and extend human lives with it?

“I am no expert, but I believe your theory to be sound.”

Enna’s composure did not falter. Gath took comfort in that. If she could keep focused, he damn well could. So, Volus was using succubus magic, and possibly other mamono as well, to enhance his magical prowess.

But, why the wound? The magic in the wound warred with the magic in the rest of the girl’s body, extending her suffering. Gath turned his sight on the physician.

A healthy, intelligent-looking young woman stood beside the bed, her light brown hair clipped and curled around her shoulder. She slowly moved her hands back and forth over the wound, directing magic at it.

Gath gazed intently at her hands, examining the magic. Analgesic spells dulled Alexi’s pain and cleansing magic hindered the spread and festering. But something felt wrong.

Enna. I need her secrets.

He felt her tightening her embrace, their tongues winding around each other as they exchanged breaths.

“Take what you need, love.”

Gath’s gaze sharpened. He brought the full force of it against the girl.

 

“Staci.”
Imperious baritone. Volus.
“Yes, my lord?”
Staci addressed him attentively, standing inside an office filled with odd trinkets, relics, and devices. Alchemical potions bubbled in the corner. Staci held a clipboard with parchment strung across it and a fountain quill in her hand. Her white coat was stained with many colors, some of them crimson.
“The asset has succeeded in her task.”
Staci nodded. “Then, we do not have much time.”
“Correct. Attend to the girl. Monitor her condition carefully. I want her kept alive as long as possible.”
“I’ll see to it at once, my lord,” said Staci briskly as she packed up some equipment.

 

Gath shuddered, gratefully returning Enna’s power to her. She clung to him somewhat weakly, but her lips smiled against his.

“What did you see?”

Gath shared the secrets with her through their link. His wife stiffened at the epiphany. Her fingers dug into Gath’s tunic for comfort.

“Are there no depths to which that man cannot descend?”

Gath watched Staci “treating” the wound carefully, never using enough power to actually heal it. She just wanted to control it. Draw out Alexi’s suffering. Staci sighed, rising.

“My lord, I must return to gather more supplies.” She sounded a little breathless, but, after piercing her soul, her secrets stood out to Gath as clearly as if she’d spoken them herself. It was all an act. She wished to report to her superior.

“Of course, doctor, you may go,” Camden nodded weakly.

Staci smiled sympathetically and gently lowered the organza curtains around the bed.

Gath grimaced at her act, bile rising in his throat. He followed, his eyes burning into the woman’s back, as she stepped calmly and purposefully through the keep. Exiting through a side-entrance, she came to a bare patch of ground and began reciting a strange series of words. Runes began to appear on the ground around her.

Gath watched her intently. This was it. The key to reaching Volus.

The runes completed, fully illuminating an arcane circle around the girl.

Suddenly, Gath’s vision warped, twisting and stretching into an incomprehensible shape.

Aggghhh! Furious lines of red pain streaked across his vision.

“Love! Oh love! It hurts! My eyes!”

Gath pulled away. Enna crumpled to the ground. He fell beside her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Gath!” cried Cari. She gasped, the illusion falling away as Enna’s magic faltered. They were very close to the human side of the DMZ. There was no chance they wouldn’t be spotted.

“Ohhh…” groaned Gath. “Enna?”

Enna trembled, her hands balled into fists over her eyes. Gath’s blood chilled once more. What had he done? How could he have been so careless!? How could he have risked his wife’s precious sight like this?

“HARK!” cried a knight nearby. “Movement in the Front!”

Gath gasped, casting a frantic spell that settled around the four of them. Upon each of them, a different effect manifested.

Cari felt her illusion strengthen, dulling the pleasure rune temporarily and shifting her succubus clothes into normal smallclothes. Her outward appearance remained unchanged.

Gath himself faded down into a normal looking person. His incubus powers diminished.

Enna’s appearance worsened. Her hair dulled, and grime settled into the beautiful locks. Ash and dust covered her face and arms.

The most significant change overtook Katarina. She gasped, a rare sound from her, as her cursed equipment faded away. In amazement she stared at her smooth, right hand. Her cursed iron skin melted away, revealing soft human skin, covered with traveler’s leather.

“Still… there…” grunted Gath to Katarina. “Draw your weapon… when you need it… not before. Follow… Cari…” he managed to say before passing out.

As consciousness left Gath, he shifted his vision to Cari so that he could at least watch over her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Who goes there!” shouted a knight as soldiers surrounded Cari and her friends.

“Please!” Cari cried, holding up her hands. “Help us!”

“Check them!” the knight ordered. Soldiers drew near to Cari and inspected her face closely, then her arms. She sure hoped Gath’s spell did the trick.

Other men searched Katarina, who permitted this with little-to-no emotional response. Seeming satisfied with the two conscious women, they moved to the unconscious forms. Gath appeared unharmed and human, but blood leaked from Enna’s eyes.

“Enna…” cried Cari frantically, then glanced at the men. “We’ve been trying to reach you for days!” she sputtered. Had to make up something. Make it good. “Darkness reaches all the way to the southern glades! We’d almost escaped unharmed until…”

“Cari?” said a familiar voice. Cari’s voice flipped in her chest. She looked around.

There, standing atop a platform, was Michael.

His compound bow aimed straight at her heart.

“Michael!” gasped Cari. Her tearstained face chanced a desperate smile.

“You know these travelers, Michael?” asked the knight in charge.

“I do, sir!” Michael called from atop his perch. His aim remained on Cari, though. “They hail from Baron Lester’s lands!”

Cari nodded. “That’s right! We come bearing a message for Lady Alexi.”

“We’ll take the message, then,” said the knight.

“Oh…” sighed Cari sadly, her gaze falling. “I’m afraid our messenger was incapacitated,” she indicated Gath. “We need shelter… please?”

The knight nodded. “We need a medic! Stretchers!” he called. “Let them through!”

 

The four were taken inside the keep, a base built on the ridge as a lookout post, and converted into a pure military compound to serve as a front in the war. Modern comforts discarded; weapon racks, spare parts, armor plates, and tools lined the walls. Gath and Enna were taken to an infirmary. Katarina stood torn between her oath to Gath and his commandment to follow Cari.

“Stay with them,” Cari told her. “Let me know when they wake?”

Katarina nodded wordlessly and entered the infirmary. Michael led Cari up some winding stairs into a war room. Checking to make sure no one was around, he pushed her against the wall and embraced her.

“Cari…” he shuddered. “I feared I would never see you again!”

Cari gasped! The smell of him, her Michael. His embrace. His hard, lean body pressing against her chest… The rune on her breast burned hot, heady lust that suffused through into her heart and spread through her body. She could feel herself wanting to blush. Gulping, she forced her passion to behave. At least for a moment.

“Oh Cari…” Michael groaned with appreciation as he hugged her tightly. “You’re like an angel come to comfort us before the end…”

“The end?” Cari asked, gently nudging him back into view. His wavy, dark brown hair matched his adorable eyes, filled with compassion and yearning. Her very core ached and throbbed to have him look at her like that.

“We’re losing the Front,” Michael admitted. “Every day, more monsters pour into that compound. Every day, one or two make it over our walls and fly somewhere into our territory. Their spider-monsters are busy, day and night, mining the no-man’s land. We dare not mount a preliminary assault. Their attack could come at any moment!”

Cari smiled compassionately, her gentle hands cupping Michael’s face. Her fingers tingled when she brushed his stubble. “It’ll all work out, you’ll see,” she said softly.

“Oh Cari, you are an angel,” he said, roughly pulling her into another embrace. “But you can’t be sure!”

Cari bit her lip… Michael’s hard body pressing against her chest… her pleasure rune ached to have his bare hand touch her skin. That wicked Lilim! She planned this all along. Cari made a mental note to thank her later.

Wait, what?

Thank her?

NO! What was she thinking!

“Cari, is everything all right?” Michael was gazing at her with his lovely brown eyes. “Are you frightened? When I spied monsters setting up traps to the south, I was worried they were readying to march on Baron Lester’s lands. I cursed myself… thought I’d lost you! But to see you here…” He embraced her again. “After what happened to Lady Alexi, Lord Camden’s pain mirrored in my heart… I feared I might never get the chance to tell you.”

“Tell me…” said Cari breathlessly, her heart pounding against the pleasure rune. “Tell me what?”

“I wasn’t sure when I left you, but your absence confirmed it more every day,” Michael told her. “Cari…” he whispered, his gaze mere inches from hers. “I love you…”

Cari gasped!

Michael leaned in, touching his lips to hers. Her mind spun, body trembling. Her disguise! She could feel her tail and wings pressing out into her clothes. It was too much. Her lost love, standing before her, pinning her against the wall. Kissing her. So sudden. She knew he adored her years ago when they’d danced around each other in secret, but when he left abruptly, she felt sure he’d forget about her and move on.

Ha.

Far from it.

Ha… haa… ohh it was so hot in here. “Mmmnn…” Cari moaned softly, her mind and body awash in Michael’s words, his musky heat, the pure maleness of it. The feel of his rough lips, his stubble brushing her chin. It was all she could do to keep her disguise intact. She longed to release and allow passion to overtake her. But no, there was far too much at stake.

But her body ached, burning with need. She could maintain her disguise, but she could not summon the strength to push him away. She could feel the air in the room changing, shifting to her favor. She couldn’t help it. Michael inhaled her pheromones. Drank deeply of them, nuzzling her neck and cradling her head gently, his fingers burrowing into her hair. She’d witnessed Gath do this for Enna. Wondered how it felt. Now she knew.

“Haaah…” Cari panted softly. “Mmm…”

“Cari…” murmured Michael, tilting her head so he could kiss her again. He paused, though, his eyes narrowing in concern. “Cari?”

“M-Michael…” she moaned. This was it. She was going to give herself to him. She couldn’t take it anymore!

“Cari, are you well? Your face is flushed scarlet!” he asked, resting the back of his hand against her forehead. “By the Gods! You’re burning up! Blast! The last two beds went to your friends… Not… not to worry! I’ll take you to my room. Please, hold on, Cari!”

His arm came up under her thighs and, effortlessly, he lifted her up into his embrace. Cari forced her eyes closed so she could concentrate on keeping her wings and tail inside the disguise. Otherwise he’d feel them wriggling against his arms. It was the hardest thing she’d ever done.

“Cari…” panted Michael as he rushed her up another flight of stairs. “Are you in pain? Just hold on a little longer…”

Cari nodded, biting her lip. With each bounce in Michael’s step, her clothing gently brushed against her pleasure rune, sending a new jolt through her body. Her blush intensified, and her heart slammed against her chest. Her lips parted as she panted for air.

“Michael…” she moaned softly, squirming in his arms. His body heat was bleeding through her clothes. His strong arms gripped her tightly.

“Here,” he said at last, kicking the door to his room.

“Why does it have to be… at the top… of the tower…” asked Cari breathlessly.

“As the lead sniper, I need to be ready on a moment’s notice,” he explained as he gently set her down in his bed.

Oh… oh… ohhhh…

The lumpy mattress smelled thoroughly of husky male. Of Michael. Her Michael. Each breath sent tingles dancing over her skin. She squirmed, her tail sprouting out of her bottom and pressing into the mattress as it strained to adjust under her clothes.

Michael gently checked Cari’s forehead for a temperature. Darting over to a water basin, he moistened a clean rag and folded it over her forehead.

“Ssss… Ahh!” hissed Cari, wincing. The icy water contrasted sharply with the heat of her lust, heightening it, stoking it even hotter. Her lips parted slightly, breaths coming in little pants.

“What malady is this?” Michael demanded of the otherwise-empty room. He gazed down at Cari with abject helplessness. Little droplets of sweat were forming on her face and neck. He gently brushed the side of her face with the back of his fingers. She winced at the contact as if he’d scraped her.

Far from it. Cari’s mind floated on a sea of lusty flames. She began to wonder if she’d come apart while fully clothed. “I appreciate your nudity,” she recalled Camilla saying. Oh, that’s right. Cari was technically naked. The clothes were made of mist. Her body flushed as if the woman had licked her, nose to navel. Damn that Lilim!

“Michael…” moaned Cari. She couldn’t help it. Her hands were pulling her jacket open on their own. Her sleeveless tunic remained beneath. Michael helped her out of the jacket. Great. Just what she needed. Show more skin.

“Cari… what can I do?” he asked, pain choking his voice.

“Talk to me…” she pleaded softly. “Tell me…”

“Anything,” he promised, holding her hands in his.

“Why did you… leave me?”

Michael paled as if she’d slapped him. Cari regretted it, but it gave her time to think. And the way he was tenderly kneading her hands was driving her crazy!

Michael let go, backed off, and paused at the corner of the bed. He didn’t answer.

“I thought you did it to… because… you didn’t…” Cari tried to form the words. Her hazy mind just wouldn’t cooperate.

“You thought I didn’t care for you anymore,” Michael finished, glancing back at her. She nodded. “That couldn’t have been further from the truth.”

“Why… didn’t you tell me…?”

Michael’s gaze fell, turning away. “We were young, Cari. Young and full of ideas. Dreams. Things we couldn’t have. Father knew about us, of course. Figured we were too young to know about such things as love.”

“I’ve… always known…” said Cari softly.

“Aye, I thought you might, the way I caught you watching me as I practiced,” he smiled at the floor. “I knew one day Father would order me to stop seeing you. If I had to leave you, it would be on my terms, not his.” His smile faded as he spoke the words. “You deserved someone. Someone like me, perhaps, but not me. I was going to go off to war, eventually. Like as not, I would probably perish. Your heart would break. I couldn’t bear to even say goodbye to you…”

Michael clutched the sheets at the end of the bed, grinding his teeth. Cari wanted to sit up and stroke his face where the muscles within were tensing, but she was barely clinging on to her disguise as it was.

“I was a coward…” Michael admitted, crushing the sheets in his fist. “I justified it by vowing to find one role the army needed. Desperately. And then to become indispensable. So they would never send me on a suicide mission.”

“Archery?”

“Indeed,” Michael nodded. “I can clip a Griffon from over a mile away, sending her crashing back to her perch. I can send an arrow into a sniper hiding under cover while on horseback. I can even interrupt a mage by destroying her implements before she can complete her spells. Garrin tells me the Order has even considered my candidacy as a Hero. But all this is merely justification.”

“For what?”

“For leaving you,” admitted Michael. “I wanted to protect you, so I endeavored to become the best I could be and watch over you from afar. But, at the same time, allowing you to forget me. So you could move on with your life and fall in love, and marry a man who would never leave you.”

“But you never did leave me,” Cari told him, propping herself up on her elbows. “You just said it yourself. You watched over me from afar.”

“I realized how foolish I’d been,” sighed Michael. “I should have told you. But I wanted you to be happy, Cari. Even if that meant it would never be with me.”

Cari’s heart ached in her chest. Tears welled up in her eyes as she shook her head. “No! You’re the one I want… I could never be happy with anyone else…”

“Cari?”

Cari bit her lip to avoid crying out. Her heart practically melted at the sight of hope in his eyes. “We were young, yes, and silly. I wanted to tell you for years how I felt, but I…” she glanced away. “I am also a coward…”

Michael knelt by her bedside. “You? A coward? How could you think that?”

“Perhaps you were not sure how you felt,” Cari explained. “But I was. I knew exactly what I was feeling. I’d been reading, see? Reading these…”

Michael interrupted her. “You can read? I always knew you had intelligence in those eyes.”

Cari giggled with embarrassment. “Yes. Tutors trained some of us to assist the scribes when they were overworked. But… I mostly read romance novels…” She giggled again. “But that’s how I knew! My eyes read the words, but it was like… I don’t know. Like I was there. The feelings played out inside me. It was the same as when I watched you. So, I had no excuse. I could have told you. But I didn’t. And then, one day, you were gone.”

They were both silent for some time.

“In the books, it looked so easy,” sighed Cari. “The girl would just look at the man a certain way, and all his feelings would come bursting out…”

“And what did she do if he ran away instead?” asked Michael.

“She’d cry, and hope he came back,” said Cari.

“And if he did not?”

“She searched for him.”

“Just like you did.”

Cari’s heart flipped. She had, indeed. “Yes. It’s too late to run away. I’m in love with you. I never did find another.”

Michael gasped at her words, reaching to cup her face. She cried softly at the contact. “So, fate has been kind enough to allow us this reunion, on the eve of our destruction.”

“Speak for yourself,” Cari said softly, stroking his hand. “I mean to live. I am your angel, after all. I did not come this far for us to die.”

“What have you come here to do?”

“I want to be with you…”

“Then it is fortunate I am already on my knees.”

“Mm?” Cari propped herself up a little higher. What was he doing? No, he couldn’t…

He fished in a deep pocket and pulled out…

A ring.

A little silver loop with a tiny pink gem in the center. The pinkness of the gem seemed to bleed into the silver in little swirls. Fascinating. Beautiful.

“Cari, my love, would you forgive a foolish boy?”

“M-Michael…” shuddered Cari. “That’s…” Her heart was going to burst! Any second now! “That’s an engagement ring…”

“It’s yours. As am I. If you’ll have me.”

“You… you want me to be your wife?” Cari could barely ask.

“Yes.” Michael’s stare burned a hole in her heart. Branding it.

He placed the ring into the palm of her hand.

Cari slowly covered it with her fingers. “There… there is something you must know, first…” she said slowly, trembling with anxiety.

“There is nothing that would deter my course,” Michael promised her. “The offer is made. I will not retract it unless you refuse me.”

Cari squeezed her eyes shut. He was not going to make this easy for her. “I’m… I’m so sorry, Michael,” she sobbed. “But I am not the girl you once knew…”

“But… you just said…”

She opened her eyes, gazing back at him. “Yes. I love you. But when I tell you what has happened, you may not love me back.”

Michael remained knelt beside her, his brow furrowed in confusion. “Do you wish to kill me?”

What? That… “No!” she sputtered. “How could you ask such a thing?”

“Do you wish to betray us into the hands of the enemy?”

Cari gasped, shaking her head furiously. “No!”

Michael smiled. “Those are the only two conditions that might change my feelings. But, as stubborn as my heart has been, not even they might deter me. I can safely say there is nothing you could tell me that would change my feelings for you.”

“You said you wanted to become a Hero?” Cari asked.

“No,” he shook his head. “I said my candidacy was being considered. I am not certain I would have accepted it. Yes, it would help, with the Chief God’s blessing, to protect you from all threats. But I would no longer be able to choose my posting. I would be sent away. Possibly to other continents. I would be lost to you forever.”

Cari practically bawled at his words. “You… would have given up being a Hero… for me?”

“I would give my life for you, Cari.”

“And I, you,” she told him.

“So, what is your answer?”

“There is one more question I have…”

Michael’s face pained at her reluctance. “I hang upon your every word.”

“Do you hate monsters?”

Michael swallowed slowly. “Cari…”

“Please, answer my question.”

Michael considered it. Cari watched his expression carefully, searching for the truth. “They wish to rob us of our humanity,” he said. “To take from us our freedom, our God, our lives, even our very sanity.”

“That wasn’t what I asked.”

“I suppose,” murmured Michael, “I do not hate them. I fear them. But I am not certain I could hate them. They are monsters. Many of them likely do not even know why they fight us. Even humans fight each other, and often times without even knowing why. It is easy to fear what you do not understand. That is natural. But to hate? Hatred is learned. Developed.”

Cari just watched him and waited.

“No, I don’t suppose I do. Single-minded have been my thoughts of late. Protect. Protect my land. Protect you.” He gazed at her, trying to read her expression. “Does that answer satisfy you?”

Cari bit her lip, nodding. “Before I accept, I must implore you keep a secret.”

“Anything,” he told her.

“Do not tell anyone what has happened here in this room.”

Michael paled slightly. But then, he smiled. “You need not worry. I will not allow anyone to come in between us.”

Cari’s body shuttered, forcing her to gasp in sweet agony. She clutched his arm tightly. “Swear it!” she cried.

“Cari!” gasped Michael. He clasped her hand against his arm. “I swear.”

“Agghh!” Cari cried, falling back into the mattress. “Can’t… I can’t hold on…”

“I’ll fetch the nurse!”

“No!!” she held on to him with great strength. Strength that alarmed him. “I must… show you… Who I am…”

“Cari?” Michael released her, stepping back as the woman before him buckled and thrashed on the mattress. She pulled open her tunic, revealing a thin shift. A strange marking showed above her left breast.

“Mich—ael…” gasped Cari. “Aggghhhhh… Khhh…” Her back arched as she gritted her teeth. Her slender legs elongated slightly, her hips widening and her breasts filling out. Her eyes bled red, and her hair bleached into lustful green. Her wings grew from behind her hips and pulled her shift apart from the inside, and her tail squirmed out and slipped down between her legs.

Finally finished, Cari gasped for breath. Her shift had fallen apart, exposing her breasts. A thin piece of cloth still covered her between her legs, but everything else lay in pieces, displaying her impossible beauty. She gazed at him with her wine-red eyes.

“I needed… to know…” Cari said between soft gasps as she caught her breath. “If you still cared for me… as me.” She gulped. “But now… I must know… before I accept your offer… if you still care for me… as this.”

“Cari…” trembled Michael. “Oh Cari…” He drew as close as he dared.

Cari’s tail darted out at him and snatched a knife from his belt. A long, curved thing, with a jagged tip, capable of wounding flesh or armor, whichever the need. Her tail passed the knife to her right hand. Her left hand still held the ring, pinched between her thumb and index finger.

“A fitting pair of items,” Cari remarked calmly. “One will bind my heart. The other will break it.” She offered Michael the knife, holding the grip out towards him. “Take it.”

Michael did so slowly.

“I will ask you one last question,” Cari said softly. “Your answer will either claim me, or kill me, for I cannot bear to be without you.” She swallowed. “Do you still love me?

Michael stood frozen, the knife in his hand.

“If you hate what I have become, take the knife,” Cari traced a circle between her breasts. “Take it, and run me through. I want your face to be the last thing I see before I die.”

Michael gripped the blade, steeling himself.

“But if you still love me,” Cari said, holding out the ring, “Place the ring on my finger.” Tears rimmed her eyes. “Either way, my heart is yours.”

Tenderly, he accepted the ring and gazed down at the beauty before him.

Cari trembled, her skin fully exposed and raw. Her wings fluttered anxiously against the sheets. Her horns nudged some of her hair against one eye, but the redness still burned dully through the strands. She made no move to brush them away. She felt paralyzed by Michael’s gaze as it swept up and down her body. Tears burned their way down the sides of her face.

“Please…” she moaned, her breaths coming as quick gasps. “End my suffering… one way… or another…”

“Cari…” Michael knelt beside her. “While this comes as quite a shock, I could never bring myself to hate you, even if you became the Demon Lord herself.”

Cari’s mouth opened, but she could not speak.

Michael slipped the ring onto her finger. He sheathed the knife and gently lifted up her hand to kiss it. Cari reached out for him and embraced him, pulling into an all-encompassing kiss.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The image shifted as Cari guided Michael into bed with her. Gath slowly opened his eyes, sighing. Well done, Cari. You stayed true to your heart. He glanced at Enna. She laid on a bed beside his. He climbed out of his cot, wobbly at first. Leaning over Enna, he gazed down at her.

A lump formed in Gath’s throat as he inspected his wife. She gripped the sheets around her in her sleep and a bandage had been wrapped around her eyes. Gath slowly leaned in and placed a gentle kiss upon her lips. As he deepened the kiss, he rested his hands on her arms, feathering his fingers up under her sleeves against her bare skin. He willed his spirit energy into her as their tongues touched.

Enna stirred slightly, her arms rising in beckoning. No one was around. Gath climbed up into her embrace and cradled her in his arms. Her breathing picked up and her tongue wrapped around his, hungrily.

“Mmmmnnn…” moaned Enna softly as she lapped up what he offered her. “Gath…” she sighed, their lips drifting apart. “What… happened… I’m in the dark…”

Gath carefully peeled off the bandages and kissed each of her eyes in turn. She carefully opened them, squinting against the lamp light. Her husband smiled down at her in relief.

“Good news and bad news, love.”

“Bad news first,” Enna requested, her eyelids fluttering.

“I believe we may have reached the limit of our powers, for now.”

“And the good?”

“It didn’t kill us.”

Enna giggled softly in spite of herself. “I felt as if my eyes were being torn out of my skull with rusty hooks.” She shuddered, clutching Gath closely. He helped her stand on wobbly legs.

“Wherever that woman traveled, it was not of this world,” nodded Gath. “I can scarcely imagine where she went. A spirit realm, perhaps.”

“We can follow her. We’ve seen it.”

“Yes,” agreed Gath. “But something exists between here and there that forcefully dispels any magic trying to sneak alongside someone else entering.”

Enna gasped softly, her hand touching her chest. “Mmm. What is that feeling? A warmth. Gentle waves of heat.” She looked around, blinking her sore eyes. “Comforting. Stimulating. But there is no fire.”

Gath offered her a coy smile.

“What?” Enna smirked. “You know something.”

He nodded. “It’s Cari. She’s found her husband.”

Enna gasped! “Did she?” she squealed with delight. “Michael?”

“Yes. They exchanged a rather tearful pledge. But what happens now is for them. I withdrew rather than intrude on their intimacy.”

“I agree,” nodded Enna. “But their power… it’s flowing through the keep. Far stronger than ours ever did.”

“Hmm,” Gath pondered that for a moment. “Possibly because our love burns hotly, but has only done so for a relatively short period of time. Theirs has smoldered for years. They only just now confirmed it.”

“Katarina?” Enna asked.

The blade-woman stepped in from outside the hall. “Yes?”

Enna marveled at her, for she looked perfectly human. Soft brown eyes. Smooth skin, traveler’s garb. No trace of the weapon or the armor growing on her flesh. Enna reached out to touch her hand. The woman accepted, allowing Enna to feel soft skin. She raised an eyebrow at Gath.

“Had to act quickly. Our illusions have grown powerful, love.”

“Perception shapes reality?” Enna prompted.

“Yes, for what is reality but our minds’ perception of it?” Gath explained. “In reality, she is fully armed and armored, her blade having shifted into a gauntlet. You’re touching it now, but your mind sees and feels a human hand.”

“What about when she draws her blade?”

Gath thought about it. “It’d break the illusion as I have it now, but I could amend that if she so desires.”

He looked up at Katarina. She said nothing.

Gath shrugged. “I suppose that answers that.”

“We must find Takasha,” Katarina reminded him.

“We shall,” Gath told her. “But first, I must visit an old friend. Enna, how do you fare?”

“I’ve recovered,” she nodded, “But I could do with another…”

She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him, deeply. Gath’s hands slipped into her hair, cradling her head gently as they devoured each other’s mouths. Enna gasped when they broke the kiss, tilting her head back for her husband to plant further kisses upon her throat. She smiled lustfully, nuzzling his cheek.

“Mmm. That’s better.” She smiled with satisfaction, stepping backwards and fading into mist.

“Katarina, you have my thanks for keeping watch over us,” Gath addressed the blade-woman proudly. “Now, I bid you go to Cari. Stand watch over their room. See to it nothing interrupts them. I will call for you if I have need of you.”

“As you wish.”

The woman departed.

A nurse stepped in with a fresh bandage. “Oh,” she jumped an inch at seeing Gath up and about. “Sir?”

“Your masterful touch has rejuvenated my wife and I,” Gath said smoothly, leaning in to her. “I thank you.”

The nurse blushed, a lock of her light brown hair curling around Gath’s finger as he twirled it. “Y-you should be resting, sir…” she stammered, her face flushing.

“Think nothing more of the matter,” Gath said, his voice smooth and firm. His words slipped into the woman’s mind, melting her resolve as his incubus power briefly flared. He gently brushed her face with the back of his hand and stepped out, leaving her fanning herself with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Now why have you never spoken to me in that manner?”

Because you are a treasure, not an obstacle, love.

“Mmm.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Keeping to the shadows, Gath was able to move through the keep without being seen. Extruding his sight through the walls, he scanned the courtyard and found the most likely place for Alexi to have been, and made his way there. Upon entering the room, finding it just as he’d seen it in his vision, Gath observed Lord Camden knelt by his wife’s bedside, softly speaking to her.

“You don’t mean that, my darling,” Camden said, his voice tense.

“I… I do…” Alexi’s weak voice protested. “I know cloaked ambition when I see it. It is why I chose you. Strict and stern you may be, and at times, even ruthless, you never harbor any ulterior motives.”

“The doctors he’s sent us have kept you with me,” Camden said softly, stroking Alexi’s hair.

“He does nothing…” the girl countered, but paused to cough in a series of wracking, trembling spasms. Camden held her gently, covering her lips with a lacy handkerchief. When she finished, it came away bloody. “He does nothing without careful calculation. My treatments included.”

“Whatever could you mean, Alexi?” He discarded the lace in a bin that held many more bloodied scraps.

“He wants something,” she told him. “From you. I know he does. I keep asking and you refuse to tell me.”

Lord Camden said nothing.

Gath remained hidden, but spoke out from the shadows. “She is correct, you know.”

Alexi gasped, coughing once.

“What the devil?” hissed Camden, his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Who’s there!?”

“Someone who owes her a debt of gratitude.”

“I…” gasped Alexi. “I know that voice. But it can’t be him…”

“Show yourself!” growled Camden.

Gath stepped forward, his face cloaked in shadow, but visible enough for Alexi to recognize him. “I am pleased to see you again, my lady, though it pains me to witness you in this condition.”

“I don’t believe it…” breathed Alexi. “The… the caravan boy?”

“The very same.”

“How did you get in here?” demanded Camden. “I’ll summon the guard!”

“No,” Alexi stilled his movements with a gentle touch of her hand to his arm. “Be at ease, my love. He…” she coughed. “He is not…” she doubled down, coughing.

Camden gently held another handkerchief to her lips, his wary eyes on Gath. “Why have you come?” he pressed. “Can you not see my wife is ill? How dare you intrude upon us!”

“Please,” she urged Camden. To Gath she asked, “Gath, was it?”

“You remembered my name.”

“It was surprisingly difficult to obtain,” Alexi said with a rueful smile as she sat up slightly. “I’ll never forget the destruction you set upon us. Such a colossal display.” She giggled.

“I’m afraid I don’t…” Camden murmured.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, my love, I never told you,” she turned to him with a smile. “I met this boy after announcing my betrothal to you. He was a street rat and was picking off the caravan making its way to the castle. Somehow, he managed to bring it to a screeching halt. There were broken wagons, spooked horses, and food everywhere.” She giggled, then coughed some more.

“And you find this… admirable?” Camden asked dubiously.

“He was just a boy, dear,” she sighed. “Several years my junior. “But he was honest, and I gave him a second chance.” She glanced Gath’s way. “It appears you have done well with that second chance.”

“Yes, my lady, for my part.”

“So, tell me,” she prompted. “How am I right about Lord Volus?”

“He orchestrated the attack on your person with one of his mobile assets,” Gath explained calmly and professionally. “Then he assigned physicians specializing in the treatment of said attacks with special instructions to prolong your suffering.”

“By the gods!” growled Camden. “You do not actually expect us to believe this nonsense!?”

“More to the point,” Gath continued, “He is more than likely pressing one or both of you to agree to something that I have not yet divined. If you do not agree, he will allow Lady Alexi to suffer more harshly until you do.”

Alexi stared up at her husband, her eyes narrowed in fury. “I told you.”

“You trust this boy?” Camden asked frantically, the color draining from his face.

Turning her head to Gath, she asked, “How did you get in here?”

“Like anyone else. Through the door.”

“But the door did not open.” Alexi glanced at it and shook her head.

“Because you did not hear it. Or see it.”

The girl smiled coyly. “My, my. Have you been studying magic by chance?”

“It was a gift, my lady. For my part in granting someone else a second chance. As you did for me.”

“What…” Camden began to ask. “What more do you know of my darling’s injury?”

“It is a festering wound caused by an enchanted blade, likely with processed Mamono energy designed to kill, rather than transform.”

“So, the monsters are to blame for this, not Volus.” Camden growled, his knuckles cracking in his fist.

“No,” said Gath firmly. “Monsters are just as much victims in this ploy as your wife.”

“What…?” Alexi asked softly.

“You are correct, my lady,” nodded Gath. “I have indeed acquired newfound power since we last spoke. With it, I have spied Volus in his sanctum, experimenting upon monsters. Drawing their life force and mana with some twisted, arcane schema.”

“To… what end?” asked Camden.

“I am not certain,” Gath said darkly. “But he must be stopped. He is torturing and experimenting upon live subjects. Both monster and human.”

“Seven Hells,” cursed Camden.

“What would you ask of us?” Alexi prompted before being overtaken with another bout of coughing.

“I would first ask your trust of you,” Gath replied gently after her coughing tapered off. “I may be able to help you. Repay you for your kindness years ago.”

“Very well,” agreed Alexi.

“My love,” Camden protested gently.

“No,” she refused. “This wound weakens me by the minute. I can feel my life slipping away. I trust him.”

“Do not be alarmed,” Gath told them both as he stepped into the light.

Lord Camden stiffened. Alexi gasped softly. As Gath stepped into the light, his face could be seen, with its matured, handsome lines and black eyes with red irises and, now, slits for pupils.

“You’re a… a…” stammered Camden.

“An Incubus,” said Gath. “Well spotted.”

“Yet you do not harbor us any ill will?” Alexi asked, genuinely curious. She did tremble slightly, but did not shrink away.

“I owe you my life, my lady,” said Gath, bowing slightly to her. “Now, with the pleasantries out of the way, shall we?”

Alexi nodded and reached to lift up her skirt. Camden stopped her. “I… I must protest…”

Gath shook his head slowly. “There is no need, my lady. My gaze is unhindered.” He peered down at the woman.

“You can… see through her garments?” Camden said angrily. “How long have you—”

“Please, my love,” Alexi said softly.

Gath looked up at him. “My lord,” he said, empathy entering into his tone. “I too have nearly lost my beloved. On more than one occasion. Believe me when I tell you: I understand.

Camden nodded, saying nothing, gazing instead at his wife as he fought to hold back tears. Gath returned to his work, holding his hands over the area of the wound.

Enna. Lend me your power for a moment. I must know the nature of this wound.

“Take it.”

Gath’s vision sharpened as his aura pulsed. He sent his sight directly into the wound.

 

 

This was the act of no one person.
No one individual was behind this.
Its influence spread throughout space and time.
Weapons such as the one causing this injury existed before the current era of gods.
Their power long diminished.
Replaced by weapons of different intent.
The intent to change. To transform. Not to kill.
This weapon was not made to kill. It was made to cause suffering. Endless suffering.
An abhorrence. A weapon of pure, unmitigated evil.
Its wound would torture its victim for days.
The misery would not end with death.
The wound would scar the victim’s very soul, following them into the afterlife.
From there, it would torment them for eternity.

Such evil is beyond the works of men.
Such evil is beyond even the works of gods.
What was it?
Look deeper.
Further.

A combination of many factors led to the weapon’s creation.
The materials used in its construction do not normally exist in this world.
Nor could they be found in any Demon Realm.
The magic used in its refining could only have been the accidental work of the terminally insane.
From there, only an equally mad sorcerer would dare have attempted its forging.
No god would have condoned this.
Not even the previous Demon Lord.
There was no benefit towards causing suffering of this scale.
Chaos.
Terror.

Insanity.
Pulling at me. Tempting me.
I could take this weapon for myself.
No one would dare oppose me.
I would be a god.
Nay.
The God.
Yes.

No…
Its influence tempts me even now.
I dare not attempt any more of its secrets.
They must never be known.
Lest it be attempted once more.

But I must know a little more.
One secret.
Just one.
How can its power be unmade?
To know that, I must know how it was reinfused.
A relic this old. Practically as old as time itself.
How?

Suffering.
Yes.
It was made to bring suffering.
So, suffering remakes it.
Rejuvenates it.

How can it be unmade?
Starve it to death.
Strip its source of suffering.
Stop Volus!
His palace of misery provides a constant source to fuel the weapon.

What about Alexi?
Starve it to death.
Starve the wound.
What was the woman, Staci, doing?
Feeding it. Sating it.
Using her own suffering to placate it.

Love.
Yes.
Love is the answer.
Love was always the answer.
Grant her the power to heal herself.
Love unending.
Passion overwhelming.

 

Gath gasped, breaking contact, and restoring Enna’s power to her. He wiped his sweaty brow, his red eyes shining in the dark.

“Gods above… and below…” he cursed.

“What did you see?” Camden asked, holding Alexi’s hand tightly.

“Evil…” Gath murmured darkly. “Evil this world has not known since the beginning of time. Gods damned Volus! He has no idea what he is dealing with…” Gath shuddered, taking a moment to regain his composure before meeting Camden’s gaze. “Tell me. What did he want from you?”

Camden swallowed. “He was… offering me an extended alliance,” he said, dodging the question.

Alexi scoffed.

Gath’s eyes burned, the pupils narrowing into slender cuts of blackness. “Damnit man! This is no time for squeamish stonewalling! Out with it!”

Camden drew a breath to rebuke him, but the sight of those terrifying eyes silenced him. “He… He wants me to select several volunteers for a special program to enhance fighting skill on the battlefield. He asked me to select my best men.”

“What…? Alexi gasped.

“Of course,” hissed Gath. “He’s swelling the ranks. At the moment, I’ve only spied scientists and researchers. Now he covets infused soldiers. You would not recognize your men after he finished toying with them.” He gazed down at Alexi for a moment before refocusing back on Camden. “And I suppose he is using your wife’s condition, which he inflicted, to motivate you?”

Camden nodded sadly. “I had already selected a handful of men.”

“What!?” bellowed Alexi. She immediately sank into a fit of coughing.

Camden reached for another handkerchief.

“Wait,” Gath stopped him. “Allow me. My lady, just breathe normally,” he offered, holding his hand out in front of her. A soothing mist swirled from the palm of his hand, which she inhaled.

“Ohhh…” sighed Alexi. “Urk… oh my. Excuse me.” She coughed once. “I… I can feel it breaking up inside me. My goodness… Thank you…”

“What… what power is this?” Camden asked, breathless. “Are you able to restore her?”

“Yes,” admitted Gath, “And no.”

“Gods, man. Which is it?” Camden demanded.

“In her current state, she has but hours. With more ‘treatments’ from Volus, she may last a few more days, but the end result will be even worse.”

“Does… does he have the power to cure her?”

Gath stared at him directly. “No. He does not. That was never his intent.”

Camden hung his head in defeat, but glanced up briefly. “But you may?”

“I do not. However. I may be able to help her heal herself.”

“How?” New hope flickered in Camden’s eyes.

“You will not take well to the answer,” Gath warned him.

“Please,” said Alexi.

“I would need to see her transformed into Mamono.”

“What!?” cried Camden, aghast.

“And you, in turn, must become her Incubus.”

“Gods…” he choked.

“You must lie with your wife, your passion overshadowing even your wedding night,” Gath told them both. “You should hold nothing back. Only your purest, basest love for her, and hers for you, will save her.”

“But she would never survive…” Camden protested.

“Precisely why she must become one of us.”

“Oh Alexi…” said Camden sadly.

Gath pressed him with his gaze. “Choose. Choose quickly. There is not much time.”

Camden nodded. “I would do whatever is needed of me to preserve her life. But I would not ask her to sacrifice her humanity unless it is her wish as well.”

“Nor would I,” said Gath.

“My love?” prompted Camden gently.

“If we do this…” Alexi said softly, “Our lands would become Demon Realms. We do not simply consign ourselves to this fate. We impress it upon everyone loyal to us as well.”

“Indeed…”

“Agh!” cried Alexi, clutching her side. “My love! It hurts!”

Gath gazed down upon her. “The wound is spreading. You must decide now!”

“My decision is already made. I will follow my wife unto the ends of this world, no matter what she becomes, even into the afterlife. I would chase her into the depths of Hell if needs be,” announced Camden.

“Well said,” Gath nodded approvingly. “I would do the same for Enna. My lady?”

“I have seen him grieving as if I had already passed,” said Alexi with a tear in her eye. “I cannot put him through that. I simply cannot. Do what you will.”

“Very well,” said Gath.

“Gath!”

Gath stiffened, glancing aside.

“What is it?” Camden asked.

“Enna?” Gath asked aloud, ignoring him.

“She has returned. She is heading your way!”

“Katarina! Come to me! Fly! Do not be seen!”

“What is transpiring?” prompted Camden urgently.

“The doctor has returned,” Gath told him. “Open the door.”

Lord Camden opened the door as instructed. Katarina strode in, her face knotted in concentration. Her form blurred with Enna’s illusion magic.

“Close it.” Gath pointed at the door.

Camden obeyed.

“I am dispelling the perceptual illusion. You can now be heard. When the doctor comes, open the door for her, and stand back.”

“Very well,” Camden said, glancing back. “What…?”

Gath was gone.

Katarina stood beside the door, her form having solidified. Her illusion remained, and her cowl covered most of her face. Her right hand flexed, her whole body tensing.

A knock sounded.

Camden opened the door and leapt back.

Staci stepped inside. “My lord? Is everything al—”

With a terrifying sound of steel sliding against steel, Katarina’s illusion melted. Her blade, which had grown massive and horrifying, hovered against the skin of Staci’s throat. Camden closed the door behind her. A soft pulse of magic reinitiated the perceptual illusion, but only Katarina noticed it.

“Cursed Sword,” Staci recited as if teaching a class. “Magicked equipment, filled with the power of the Demon Lord. Has this creature threatened you, my lord?”

Camden said nothing. Neither did Alexi.

“You should allow me to continue,” Staci told Katarina. “I must prepare another treatment for Lady Alexi.”

Gath’s disembodied voice spoke from somewhere in the room.

“You shall do no such thing.”

Staci’s eyes swept the room. “Show yourself, mage.” Her fingers twitched.

Gath’s voice spoke from the darkness. “I’m watching you. Katarina. If she continues her spell, remove her head from her shoulders.”

Katarina stiffened, changing the angle of the blade to strictly horizontal.

“You do not frighten me, monster,” Staci said matter-of-factly. “The blade will incapacitate me for only a brief moment. Weapons such as hers cannot kill.”

“If you were counting on your protection runes to nullify the attack, I should caution you,” Gath said as he slowly stepped out of the shadows, “I disabled them as you stepped into the room.”

Staci stiffened but maintained her composure. “You must release me, or Lady Alexi will die.”

“She will suffer no longer at the hand of your master,” Gath told her darkly.

“Who are you?” Staci demanded.

Gath stepped closer, allowing her to see his red eyes, set within inky black. “I believe your master knows me as The Observer.”

The young woman sucked in a breath. She swallowed uneasily. “At last you reveal yourself.”

“Is that fear in your eyes, my dear?” the Observer asked with curiosity. He chuckled.

“This amuses you. Interesting.” Staci shifted her stance but did not move otherwise. “I suppose you would not care what happens to a human. Being a monster.”

“Actually, I owe her my life,” Gath told her. “But enough with the showmanship. Turn around. Face the wall. Hands above your head. Quickly, now.”

Staci grumbled but complied.

“There it is,” the Observer murmured. “Lord Camden, if you would, remove her upper garments.”

“I… beg your pardon?” Camden asked.

“Hurry. We must defang this viper.”

Camden reached for her, but she flicked her wrist at him, sending him flying towards the far wall with a spell. Gath’s magic caught him soundlessly, setting him right on his feet.

“So that is the way you wish to play, is it?” Gath grumbled, stepping forward. Suddenly, Staci gasped. Gath tore her coat straight off of her with an impressive use of strength. Before she could react, he also shredded half of her blouse, leaving her waist and hips bare.

“Good gods!” cried Camden.

“Oh…” Alexi murmured.

Several runes marked Staci’s otherwise-porcelain skin. They seemed to be positioned over strategic points on her body. She made to turn, but Gath pinned her to the wall with his magic.

“Katarina.”

The blade-woman glanced at him. One amber eye glowed, and one red eye burned brightly.

“This rune, here. I want you to cut it. Gently. Do not draw blood.” He tapped a point on Staci’s body just above her right buttock. “Staci…”

The girl shuddered at the use of her name.

“I strongly suggest you do not move.”

“Volus is watching us!” hissed Staci. She cringed as she felt the demon silver blade touching her skin.

“No, my dear, he is not,” promised Gath. He glanced at Katarina. “Begin.”

“AGGHHHH!” cried Staci as Katarina slowly raked her skin in one, single, straight diagonal line.

True to her commandment, Katarina took great care with her massive blade, with a surgeon’s precision. The girl’s skin showed no marks, only a break in the rune as it dissipated.

“Uhhhnnnn…” Staci moaned, collapsing to the ground.

“Get her up.” Gath glared at her.

Katarina reached with her free hand and pulled the girl up and turned her around roughly. Her composure completely crumbled; Staci’s hands meekly covered her exposed stomach and she blushed with embarrassment.

“Uhm… What…? Where?” she gulped, looking around. She took one look at Gath and yelped. Then she looked at Katarina. “Acckkkk!”

“What in the seven hells?” murmured Camden. “What has happened to her?”

“A control rune,” explained Gath. “Used for the infusion of knowledge and suppressing emotion.”

“Gods…” whispered Lord Camden.

“Please tell me what is going on,” pleaded the girl. “Why are there monsters here!?”

“Staci,” said Gath sharply. The girl jumped at her name. “Do you know where you are?” he asked her.

The girl nodded. “The Western Front,” she replied. “I was coming here to… to treat Lady Alexi’s injury. I’m… oh no…” she cried, covering her face. “Wh-what have I done??” she sobbed. “I was torturing her!!” the girl screamed, clawing at her face as she sank back to the ground. “Ahhhhghhhh!” she gagged, retching.

“Behold the legacy of Grand Magus Desmond Volus,” hissed the Observer. “Katarina. Watch her. There may be a countermeasure built into her reconditioning. If she shows any signs, run her through.”

“As you wish,” replied Katarina, pointing her blade at the girl.

“The regression is remarkable,” murmured Camden. “It is as if she knew what she was doing, but had been made not to care.”

“We must attend to your wife,” Gath told him. “Do not be alarmed.” He pointed at the corner of the room, where Enna was stepping out of the shadows.

Lord Camden stiffened at the sight of Enna’s stunning eyes. Inky black, with electric blue floating within. Eyes in the dark. “The Observer’s wife, I presume?”

“Lord Camden, I present Enna, the Beholder.”

“I am eternally grateful for anything you can do for her,” Camden told Enna.

“We must begin at once,” said Enna softly. “She is fading fast.”

“Will it… hurt…?” Alexi asked weakly.

Enna smiled and shook her head as she leaned in close. “Are you ready?”

Alexi nodded. Enna carefully climbed into bed with her and brushed her hair aside.

“Just relax.”

Alexi gulped.

Enna drew her into a very gentle embrace.

Then she kissed her.

“What…?” Camden asked, astonished. “Why must she…”

“Remain calm,” Gath said firmly. “We do not have time.”

“Will she… become like your wife?”

Gath thought about that for a moment. “If we had weeks, possibly months, to coach her transformation, then, yes, perhaps. But we do not. We will seed her with mamono mana, and then Katarina will complete her transformation.”

“Dare… I ask how?”

“No. You do not wish to know.”

Gath quietly approached the two girls and rested his hand on Enna’s shoulder. She squirmed pleasantly at the touch as he began feeding her his energy as well.

“Mmmm… Nnnnn…” Alexi moaned softly as Enna kissed her, spreading heat into her body. She gazed fondly at Enna. “You’re… so… beautiful…” she sighed happily.

“You enjoyed that?” Enna asked gently.

“Yes…”

“Would you like some more?”

“Yes~~!”

This time, Alexi embraced Enna and initiated the kiss. Their kisses turned hungry, changing angles and teasing each other’s tongues. Gath patted Camden’s shoulder encouragingly.

“Ohh… Yes… Ahhhhmmm…” cooed Alexi, apparently forgetting all about the pain in her side as the two rolled around on the bed. Enna clutched the girl’s breast, first over the garment she wore, and then under it. “Yess~!” Alexi squealed with delight. “Oh Enna… I see why he loves you…” she said huskily as she kissed Enna again. And again. And again.

“Is this… truly necessary?” Camden squirmed uncomfortably.

“It is,” Gath assured him. “Enna is infusing her with mamono mana. It looks to be taking hold. We came just in time.”

“I don’t care what it is,” cried Alexi, “I want more! Moooorrre~!”

“How do you feel, Alexi?” asked Enna, gently tickling her on the side opposite of the wound.

“Ahhnn!” yelped Alexi, her back arching against Enna’s touch. “I’m so hot… everywhere! Yes! Touch me!”

“She’s almost ready,” Gath said. “Her eyes are beginning to glow.”

“Just a little more, I think,” said Enna, her breath coming in pants. “She’s… arousing me now…”

“Ohh stop talking and come here!” giggled Alexi, grasping Enna’s face and pulling her in for a breath-stealing kiss. Enna concentrated and breathed deeply into Alexi’s mouth, causing the girl to gasp and thrash wildly in bed. “Ohhhh~~! Do that agaiiiin~~! Yeees!”

“Mmm,” cooed Enna. “In a moment, you won’t want me anymore…”

“Ahhhnnn…” moaned Alexi. “Why… not?”

“Because you have a husband that is waiting for you.”

“Hus~band~?” Alexi glanced over at Camden, her sapphire eyes glowing in the dim light. “Come join us!” she giggled.

Camden glanced at Gath. The Observer shook his head. “She’s ready. Katarina.”

Katarina and Gath switched places. Gath tugged Camden over to the other side of the room to help guard Staci. “You may not wish to observe this part.”

“I must!” Camden darted back over to his wife’s side. Oh well. Gath warned him.

“Ohhh… I’m burning up~!” Alexi squealed, squirming madly in the bed. “Enna… where are you going…” she moaned, reaching out as Enna slipped out of bed. “Come baaaack~!” she cried, pouting. Then she noticed Camden there. “Ohh~ my husband… Darling~~! Come to me~~!”

“Not yet,” Enna shook her head at Camden. “Katarina. Do it.”

The blade-woman thrust her sword into Alexi’s heart, impaling her brutally.

“NO!” screamed Camden. He dove at the bed, but Enna caught him with otherworldly strength, holding the warrior at bay.

“Stay calm!” Enna urged. “We have to violently purge the last of her humanity before the wound kills her!”

Alexi couldn’t speak. Her whole body tensed, her mouth open wide to scream. No sounds came out.

“Finish it,” Enna said.

Katarina twisted her blade vertical and heaved straight up, cleaving the girl open from sternum to skull. Or at least she would have, had the blade been made of normal metal. The raw Mamono power within the blade tore the remainder of the girl’s spirit energy out of her, replacing it violently with its own.

“AHHHHHH!!” cried Alexi, her body twisted in a violent contortion. “MMMMMM!! YAAAAA!” she screamed, “CAMDENNNNNN~~~!” She shuddered, a violent climax tearing through her body as she began to change. Red entered her eyes, staining her sapphire blues into a vivid violet. Her features filled in, atrophy and malnutrition fading away as her curves developed and toned. Curved horns popped out of her temples and wound back behind the crown of her head, curving up at the tips. Her breasts enlarged, perking up. Her waist slimmed, lengthening slightly, while her hips flared and her thighs thickened somewhat, the muscles toning up. Her delicate calves curved beautifully, her legs tapering off into graceful little feet. Behind her, two dark violet wings popped out of her lumbar spine, followed by a long, dexterous tail just above her bottom.

Alexi gasped, panting, as the transformation completed. Her lustrous blonde hair turned a shade of pure, shimmering gold. Her eyes gleamed violet, blending well with the scarlet blush across her cheeks. She smiled, her teeth pure white, with fanged canines. She licked her lips with a long, thin tongue.

“Thank you…” she said huskily to Enna.

“The transformation is complete,” Enna announced with a smile. “You’re welcome, Alexi. As I hoped, you have become a beautiful succubus. Would you like to see?”

Alexi nodded vigorously.

Enna waved her hand and created a reflective mist above the bed that the lady could look up into.

“Ohhh…” gasped Alexi. She touched her face, a fingertip brushing her eyelid. “Is this… me? Oh, my Goddess!” she breathed, reaching up to touch one of her horns. “Yipe!” she squeaked. “I can feel that! I have a part of my body that I’ve never had before… and it’s not the only one!”

Alexi reached down and gathered up her right wing in her hands. She stroked the leathery folds and gasped, her back arching as she moaned in pleasure. “Sweet Goddess~! It’s like another… another…” she plucked up her tail and stroked it, to much the same effect. Lastly, she inspected the wound…

Hissing in pain as Alexi touched it gingerly, she noted it had shrunk to about half its size. “Khh… It still hurts. But much less than before~! And when I touch myself, I almost forget it’s there…”

“Go to her,” Enna gently prompted Camden. “Partake in your wife’s new pleasure until you can no longer move. And then, let her take over. Bathe in her mana. Become her Incubus. Banish the wound of suffering, and cleanse it with love and pleasure.”

“Hus~band~!” giggled Alexi. “I have never wanted you as much as I do now… I… I need you… I feel like I might die if you don’t touch me…”

“In her case, she actually might,” Gath told him from his position above Staci. “Katarina. Take Staci. We’re leaving. Let’s give them some privacy.”

“Camden,” Enna said softly, patting his shoulder. “We will place another illusion upon the room. No one will hear you, so scream all you like. If the men come to check on you, they will hear your voice telling them all is well. When you are ready, simply open the door. The illusion will disperse. I’m afraid explaining to your men why your wife is a succubus now, is up to you. I’m sure you’ll think of something~!”

“Come, husband~!” Alexi tugged the bewildered man into the bed. Everyone else filed out of the room.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Leaving the home, Gath scanned the courtyard. Katarina gripped Staci, dragging her along. Poor girl could hardly walk. Gath sensed Enna nearby, but she remained hidden. The humans trudged about, moving as if they shouldered heavy weights.

Inhaling deeply, Gath detected a powerful scent in the air. Mamono mana. The courtyard was rife with it. He and Enna had struck two matches today. One of them had already burned out of control in the guard tower. Ripples of energy poured from Cari’s location. Respectful of her privacy, the Observer did not intrude. The other match had just begun to flicker into a flame as Alexi welcomed her husband into her embrace.

Had they made the right choice?

All of these people…

They would soon become monsters. When Camilla sensed the change in the air, she would begin her assault. The humans had held her at bay for years. She’d waited long enough. She would show them no mercy. These lands would become a powerful Demon Realm under her command. Sure, she would thank him for that. But was it right? Gath wondered if any other monsters felt this crisis of conscience before becoming overwhelmed with lust.

He felt the draw…

The aching pull of it.

Let go.

Embrace your wife.

Think nothing more.

Pleasure her.

Receive pleasure from her.

Spread the fruits of your love to all around you.

Gath would love nothing more than to hold Enna in his arms and Observe the entire world as they danced together, forever joined in a lover’s embrace. They wouldn’t even need to leave their bedroom. Their palace, if they so desired. Camilla might grant them that. As many pleasure runes as they desired. She would likely also grant those. A fitting reward for a job well done.

But then, there was Volus.

When such evil thrived, how could the good stay silent?

After all, the only way for evil to prosper is for a good man to do nothing.

Gath shook his head. No. He would clutch his love for Enna close to his chest. Nurture it. Caress it. Foster its growth. But their lust would have to wait. Surely Camilla and her mother would understand.

Duty before pleasure.

Stacy squirmed in Katarina’s grip, struggling to get to her feet as the woman dragged her. “Stop! Please, wait…”

Gath paused in his steps, turning to focus his red eyes upon her. He said nothing, however.

Staci looked up at him and swallowed nervously. “What… what are you going to do to me?” she asked in a small voice.

“Nothing,” shrugged the Observer.

“Wha…?”

“Katarina however, might have her own plans for you.”

Staci whimpered, slumping in Katarina’s iron grip. “Please… just… kill me.”

The Observer knelt to her and cupped her chin, forcing her to look into his frightening eyes. “Grant you eternal sleep. Is that what you wish?”

“Yes…”

“To do so would insult those you have harmed, as well as those who have blessed my wife and I.”

Tears dripped from the girl’s eyes. “Please… I don’t… deserve to live… not after what I have done…”

“Why did you do these things?” demanded Gath.

Staci shuddered, nearly retching. “I… I walked the halls. Followed his commands. Took notes. Refined magic. Simplified the process. Streamlined it. He… made me… forget why… it was wrong…”

“Why did you begin in the first place?” Gath asked, his patience wearing thin. He shook the girl’s chin. “Why did you join him!?”

“Agh!” cried Staci. “I… I will tell you… Please…”

Gath rose to his full height, glancing at Katarina. She rarely displayed emotion, but it struck him that she found touching the woman to be repulsive. “Katarina. Stand her up.”

Katarina complied. Staci looked around. No one seemed to notice a terrifying blade woman gripping her arm roughly, nor an imposing Incubus with glowing red eyes interrogating her.

“Tell me,” commanded the Observer.

Staci nodded weakly. “We… were…”

“No, do not speak,” he said abruptly. “I will peruse your secrets myself.”

Staci gasped as he moved in on her. His aura rippled against her as he removed a black glove from his hand and touched her face with his bare finger.

Gath peered deeply into the girl’s eyes.

 

 

“Class. Come to attention.”
Gath blinked, glancing around.
He sat at a long bench beside several other girls and boys.
Students. Young. Perhaps his age when Alexi pardoned him.
“We have a visitor,” the tutor announced.
Anger burned in Gath’s eyes.
Desmond Volus stepped into the room.
He wore an imperious black robe, similar to others… no. It was the same robe. The very same. He found that somewhat odd.
“Class, this is Grand Magus Desmond Volus. He has a surprise for all of you.”
“Children,” Volus spoke in his deep baritone. Every eye locked upon him. “The Holy Order has sent me abroad to locate youth with exceptional talent. Children, much like yourselves, are being selected to serve amongst the highest echelons. This is a wonderful opportunity,” he promised boisterously. “My division has had its eye on this school for some time now,” he explained. “Lately we have come to find brave and intelligent young men and women graduating from this very establishment with far above average skills. We attribute this to the skilled manner in which your teachers and tutors have applied themselves in your education.”
Volus cleared his throat. “But it is not only them we have to thank, but you, yourselves. Consider it a great honor to have attracted the auspices of the Chief God.”
The tutor beamed at him. “Lord Volus has advised me that, over the next few weeks, he will be selecting a few of you, in this very room, to accompany him to an elite academy.”
“There,” Volus added, “You will learn the deep mysteries of advanced science and magic. The secrets of the universe will be at your fingertips, and with them, we shall banish the fear of evil to whence it came.”
The students clapped, including the girl in whom Gath’s point of view centered. Staci glanced down at her parchment, upon which she’d scribbled notes in small, neat lettering.
“Staci,” whispered a boy next to her.
She glanced at him.
He was saying something, but Gath did not hear him. Hot blood rushed in his ears.
He recognized that boy. He’d seen him before. Much older.

It was Odon.

Gath’s heart ached to look at him. He wished he could tell the boy to flee. To warn him of his fate should he continue to work with Staci and earn Volus’ damned scholarship. Warn him that if he continued this course, his fate would be to remain shackled and to feed monsters with his spirit energy.
Gath shuddered. He needed to press on. He pushed the vision forward through Staci’s past.

“Welcome,” Volus spoke to a group of young girls and boys. “Over the course of the past month, you have continued to impress me with your excellent capacity for learning. You have each been selected to join me as we seek to hone your talents. For God and Country!”
The students cheered!
Volus began chanting. The children’s cheering tapered off as they watched, a little nervous, as runes began appearing all around them. When the circle completed, a flash of light overtook them.

Gath cringed.
But he held on.
No pain, this time.
Of course. This was only a vision. This was Staci’s memory of the experience.
Staci’s senses returned to her. She gasped in awe. They stood upon a platform.
It was floating in the air.
Some kind of receiving pedestal? It was large, big enough to hold a crowd of over two hundred people. Open to the air. A small fence with green hedges served as a barrier to a sheer drop.
Staci glanced at Volus. He was speaking to someone else. She wandered to the edge to peer down. They were floating above the clouds! Several floating isles hovered around, down below, and up above, in various formations. The air beneath them shimmered, as if the entire cluster of islands were part of the world, yet… not.
Volus clapped twice, gathering the children to him. “Welcome to Atlantis.”
Atlantis?
Gath had never heard of it.
“Safe from the threat of the Demon Lord, this citadel exists as a haven for study and knowledge,” Volus explained. “For the foreseeable future, it shall be your home. Come.”
Staci heard Volus mutter to the man beside him, “Take them for processing and conditioning. Report to me when you have finished.”
“Yes, my lord.”
Staci the child did not know what that meant, but it made her a little nervous. Before she could ask about it, they were all ushered inside a vast, marble structure.

Gath pressed on.
Staci stood in a room with three girls and two boys. No windows. Harsh stone surrounded them. Felt like a prison cell with no windows. Yes. Gath had seen these before. They would eventually hold monsters. The children mumbled to each other in nervous little voices.
“Don’t understand,” said young Odon. “Have we done something wrong?”
“I’m sorry,” Staci sighed. “I shouldn’t have run off. It was my fault. Everything’s so pretty here. I just couldn’t help it…”
“Well, now we’re all paying for your mistake,” snapped a girl. Staci looked at her.
“I’m sorry, Lysette,” she said softly.
Lysette. The one in charge of experimentation upon Enna’s grandmother, Kendra. She looked arrogant even as a child.
The stone door opened.
“Lysette Mantalos,” said someone the children could not see.
“Finally,” grumbled Lysette. She headed out eagerly.
“Why is she always so mean?” the second boy asked.
“She never liked us, Matthias,” Odon replied. “She’s always hated being grouped with us. Her family is practically nobility.”
“Her parents are fighting in the war,” Staci explained. “Her aunt is a Hero. Only her older cousin has time to look after her, and she lives here. Or, well…”
The door opened again.

“Staci Nadara.”

Staci gulped. “I’ll see you all later, all right?”
“Don’t run off again,” Odon told her.
Staci smiled and walked out of the cell.

Staci walked down a bright hallway, illuminated by magical crystals. The man beside her ushered her into a stunning room, its floor, walls, and ceiling coated with a layer of translucent crystal.
“Oh wow…” gasped Staci. A table sat in the corner. A fresh pair of clothes lay folded upon it.
“Remove your clothes and stand in the center of the room inside the circle,” said the man.
“Wha…?” Staci asked.
“Try to relax. When you’re finished, put those on and the door will open.”
Staci drew a breath to ask a question, but the man stepped out. The door slid closed, sealing her in. Closed on this side, the door perfectly merged with the wall. She ran her finger across it, unable to even find the seam. A soft light seemed to come from everywhere.
Shyly, Staci removed her village clothes and shoes, and placed them on the table next to the fresh outfit. Crossing her arms over her exposed body, she stepped into the circle.

And then, she screamed.

The light vanished, leaving her in total darkness as magic gathered around her, lifting her feet off the floor. Senseless, stripped of all sensation except fear, bright lights popped into being at random locations around her, and seared into her body.

“AGGHHHH!!” cried Staci. The pain was unimaginable. She willed herself to fall unconscious as burst after burst of light seared through her. Strange symbols began to appear on her skin, darkening and burning onto her body with each blast. No part of her body was spared, from her feet, to her girlhood, to her chest, arms, legs, neck, and face.
While Staci’s mind stubbornly refused unconsciousness, her other senses, her higher brain functions, began to dull. She began to wonder about the pain. Consider it objectively.
Yes, the pain hurt. Terribly. But why? She analyzed each blast as it violated her, and found if she relaxed just before contact, it required far fewer hits to imprint a rune upon her skin. She found the designs fascinating, and began to study them to take her mind off of the pain.

Gath marveled at the experience. Moments ago, a child—an innocent—stepped into this room. Now, the magic had transformed her into a cold, calculating individual with a temperance far beyond her young years. He lost track of how long the process took, but eventually, the lights faded and a dull light returned to the room.
Staci’s feet rested upon the floor. Her young skin was covered in runes. She inspected herself calmly, checking her reflection against the wall. Only her face and upper neck were unmarked. She padded over to the table and picked up the new clothes, sliding them onto her thin figure. She smiled casually at the shoes provided; they felt softer and sturdier than anything she’d worn back home.
Glancing back at her reflection, Staci pulled her hair back, only able to see a hint of markings on her neck under her collar. The garments were dyed black and silver, with attractive lines and embroidery. Oh. Not just simple embroidery. Runes. Small runes etched into the fabric. Staci murmured appreciatively. She walked up to the door. It slid open, and the man waiting for her led her down the hall.

Gath pressed the visions forward.
So many secrets. So much suffering. He ached to set them all free of it. He touched Enna’s mind and could hear her crying softly. Her gentle cries burnished his resolve. He would stop this. End this. This, he swore.

Staci’s first “lesson” involved learning how to restrain a captured monster.
Gath could barely stand to watch.
It was a Nekomata, very young, about Staci’s age.
The girl’s ears laid back, her tail firmly between her legs as she backed away from Staci. She’d been stripped of all clothing and her claws had been filed down to nubs so she could not harm the students.
Damned Volus.
As if this terrified girl could hurt anyone!
“Please!” mewled the girl. “Don’t hurt me!”
“Then, I suggest you don’t resist,” Staci told her coldly, holding up a small runic focus.
“Noooo!” cried the girl, turning to flee.
Staci spoke a word as she twirled her focus. “Sap.”
The Nekomata girl’s filed claws scrabbled for purchase against the smooth floor as she slipped trying to run. She cried out as something struck her backside, and she crumpled to the ground.
“Khhh…” grunted the girl, twitching on the ground. A small, dark rune had been burned into her smooth backside. It pulsed gently, sapping the girl’s strength.
Staci approached her, looking down at the helpless creature. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?” She glanced back to the entrance of the room. Volus stood there, nodding approvingly.

“Well done, child.”

 

Gath’s mind swirled with despair. For the life of him, he couldn’t fathom which of the two girls was the worse victim.  Enna’s mind touched him again. She held back her tears to lend him her strength.

Bless whatever Goddess gifted Enna to him. She was a treasure beyond compare. Only her love was going to get him through this. Still. He’d seen enough.

Gath broke the connection. He was still pressing his finger into Staci’s cheek. She had sunken into a gibbering, sobbing mess. Gath released her.

“Agghhh…” sobbed Staci. “I… I can’t… I don’t… I don’t deserve… to live… I don’t even deserve the air I’m breathing!!”

“Staci,” the Observer said abruptly.

Staci whimpered but said nothing else, struggling to keep her breath between sobs. Katarina still held her upright, standing still as a statue.

“Tell me how you felt when you sapped the Nekomata.”

Staci cringed. “Urrkkk…” she retched, vomiting into a little puddle in front of her.

“Tell me.”

Staci shook her head weakly. She stiffened as Gath grasped her by her jaw and tilted her face up. Droplets of bile dribbled down her chin.

But Gath’s gaze was not harsh. It was sympathetic. Compassionate. “Tell me,” he said.

“I… I felt… nothing for her…” sobbed Staci. “She was just… a monster… just my assignment for the day…”

“Did you kill her later?”

Staci shuddered. “N-no… We… we never killed them. We… we studied them. Tested our magic on them… took their magic from them. We… we should have killed them afterwards… ended their suffering…”

“Volus needs their suffering.”

Staci’s body shook at the news. “You… you know about that?”

“Staci,” pressed Gath, “What I am about to ask you is a question of grave importance. Your entire life has lead you to this moment, and history will remember you by what you tell me.” He gave her a moment to digest those words. “Tell me of the weapon Volus is building.”

“Building…?” Staci quivered. “It is already built…”

“How much more mamono energy does he need to complete charging it?”

Staci shook her head. “Their energy is not for the weapon,” she said, confused. “Their energy is only for study. Their suffering is for the weapon.”

“Tell me of it.”

“It is no mere blade,” Staci explained as she began to catch her breath. “It is what you require of it. A sword. A dagger. A whip. A flail. An axe. Even a book. Whatever you require to implement your suffering upon your victims…”

“It changes depending on its bearer?”

“Or its bearer’s need,” said Staci.

“Who attacked Alexi?”

“I do not know, but I do know the person is here,” she said.

“Here, at the Front?” asked Gath.

“Yes…” said Staci. “And when I do not return…”

“Damnit!” hissed Gath. He rested his hand against the wall and extruded his sight, rushing through the courtyard, past the trenches, and into the DMZ.

Enna! You must warn Alexi!

“I shall. What will you do?”

I have an idea. We need a diversion.

Gath focused his sight into the mamono compound, extending his senses. The highest concentration of mana. That was where he would find the Lilim.

There.

Midway up the highest tower. He flew straight through the wall and found her kneeling before a large sphere of pure dark matter.

“A little of this,” she cooed, poking her pointed fingernail into the sphere, swelling it slightly. “And a little of that…”

“Camilla!”

“Ohh!” cried Camilla, leaping to her feet, knocking the dark matter askew. It splattered into the wall, exploding its contents all over her. Turning slowly, her hands balled into fists, she turned to face Gath. “Observer…” she said slowly, her voice dripping with as much darkness as her body. “You’ve crossed the line, this time. I’m going to have to punish—”

“I haven’t time for games, Lilim!” hissed Gath, his mistform flickering before her.

Camilla wiped her eyes of the dark matter, licking her finger clean. Smiling at the taste, she rested her hand on her slimy hip, tapping her finger impatiently. “Out with it, then.”

“I need your help, at once,” said Gath with urgency.

“Again?” sighed Camilla theatrically. “Oh, my wickedness. You cannot even last an hour without—”

“Enna and I transformed Lady Alexi into a succubus.”

“I simply don’t know what I’m going to…” Camilla trailed off. “…What?” she asked, utterly flabbergasted.

“I had no choice. She was dying.”

“Dying?” Camilla scraped some ooze off her forehead and tapped her temple to think. “How? This is not of my doing. I never wished to harm any of them.”

“I know,” Gath said. “A primeval force of evil has done this. A weapon from the ancient times. It is under Volus’ control.”

“That man!” hissed Camilla. “He—”

“Forgive me, but there is no time!” Gath cut her off. He knew he was taking a big risk confronting the Lilim. But he hoped she wouldn’t lash out; she had just been given good news, after all. “You must listen! His agent is still somewhere in the compound. I’ll never find the asset in time. I need your army to create a diversion.”

“Mmm. What did you have in mind?”

“A full-frontal assault. Reckless abandon. Throw everything you have at them. Lord Camden has his… hands full, at the moment. You should be able to take the compound easily.”

“And what about that sniper of his?”

Gath cleared his throat. “He… also has his hands full.”

“Ohhh my…” giggled Camilla. “You’ve been busy. I normally do not take my orders from men, so don’t expect me to make a habit of it. But you’ve given me so many treats today… I’m happy to say, I’m growing rather fond of you.”

“We do not have time for games, Camilla. Attack. Now.

“Yes sir…” Camilla chuckled lasciviously. She stepped forward, walking right through Gath, pulling the sticky black dark matter off of her body.

 

Gath did not linger to hear the Lilim’s proclamation. He recalled his sight. Staci yelped as the Observer focused on her once again. “What’s… happening?” she asked, trembling.

“Show me how to enter Atlantis,” Gath demanded.

“How… do you know about…”

“Your secrets are now mine.”

Staci gasped in horror. “You saw… everything? Everything I—I did…?”

“Yes.”

The poor girl melted into Katarina’s grip, sobbing into a pile of dead weight. Wailing and moaning, she no longer comprehended anything Gath said. He groaned.

“Observer,” Katarina said suddenly. “There is a great force approaching from the west.”

“I know,” he replied. “I summoned them.”

“The Lilim obeys your commands?” Katarina asked, the news surprising even her.

“Let’s call it an offered opportunity, not a command,” sighed Gath. “Hold her still. I will need to probe her again.”

“As you wish.”

Gath touched the trembling Staci carefully, for the girl had just emptied her stomach again. The secrets… So difficult to divine, for every fiber of her body wished to cease living. She tried holding her breath, cursing herself for being unable to do even that.

“Damn,” hissed Gath. “She no longer has the knowledge necessary to open the rift.”

“The rune,” said Katarina. “It provided knowledge as well as control.”

“Yes,” he groaned ruefully.

“Take it from her memories.”

“Yes,” nodded Gath. “Good idea.”

He linked with the girl again. Searching for something recent. There…

“I have it,” he said.

A loud cry rang out amongst the encampment.

“MONSTERS! The armistice is broken!!”

Enna. I have what I need to enter Atlantis. Will you stay with Alexi? Comfort her and her husband. They will not understand why Camilla assaults them.

“I want to go with you.”

I will give you the knowledge you need to follow me after Camilla has secured the compound.

“My love. We should wait.”

I’m afraid there is no time, love. I must enter Atlantis while Volus’ eye is on the battle.

Enna waited a moment before replying.

“Please be careful, my love.”

I shall.

“Katarina.”

The blade-woman snapped to attention and focused her gaze on him. Her red eye blazed expectantly.

“We go to Takasha.”

Katarina nodded and followed him, still dragging Staci, as they moved through the escalating battle. Striding through calmly, a stone in the middle of a raging river, men and monsters battled, oblivious to their presence. They passed the spot where Staci normally cast her spell, but she did not have the strength to speak.

No, the Observer had other ideas. He strode directly into the Front, where the scarred crater remained as evidence of the Hellhound’s capture.

“Hold this point, Katarina. Let nothing through.”

“They cannot see us,” she advised.

“That won’t prevent them from stumbling into us while I open the rift.”

“Understood.”

Gath briefly worried that Katarina would not be able to hold onto Staci, but her sword arm effortlessly deflected anyone who drew near. A swing of her blade into empty air created pulses of energy that could knock back men at range.

Gath summoned his strength, avoiding contact with Enna for the time being. She needed her own power to keep the Lord and Lady safe. Runes began to appear around him, forming an arcane circle, just like how Staci remembered.

Katarina turned to him as the circle completed. But something happened. All of the sudden, the circle activated. She leapt towards him, but in an instant, he was gone.

“Gath!”

Darkness. There was nothing. Nothing at all. Had he made a mistake? Was the last thing he’d ever hear, his wife’s voice in his mind? Well, that wasn’t so bad.

A blast of light assaulted him. For an instant, Gath perceived the landing platform from Staci’s memories. A woman spoke to him.

“Welcome to Atlantis, Observer. We’ve been expecting you.”

Lysette? Damn! She’d been waiting for him! Why couldn’t he move!? She snapped her fingers at him and everything went black.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ugh…

Enna… You were right…

Gath strained to listen for her.

Nothing.

“Enna!” he called out. “ENNA!!”

Dead silence met his ringing ears. Gath struggled, finding himself to be bound and shackled against a wall, in a dark, stone room with no windows. The darkness was not a problem for him, but the silence coiled around his chest like a constricting serpent. He couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t been able to feel Enna’s presence. Hear her gentle breathing in his ears. No matter where he was, she was always with him.

No more. He’d lost her.

But’s what worse was, she’d lost him. He could only imagine how frantic she must be. Damned fool. How could he put her through that? He grunted against the restraints. Well, at least he knew how she must have felt when she was first imprisoned.

What was he going to do? His normally-calm and collected mind turned to mush without Enna. Without her, he was just Gnat. He shuddered.

You are Gath. You are my husband. You are Gnat no more.

At least he had the memory of Enna’s words to comfort him. Gnat no more. So, what would Gath, the Observer do?

First priority would be to ascertain his surroundings. He extruded his sight. Or tried to. Without Enna, doing so felt strained, like attempting to lift a heavy weight with muscle exhaustion. Or was it a lack of Enna’s presence after all? Something else was wrong. He glanced around. His night vision worked perfectly. The sorcerers must have known about his sight extrusion, and blocked it. Faint runes flickered on the ground. Absorption runes. They didn’t know about his ability to see in the dark, nor did they know he could see secrets.

Staci.

Her memories were the key. He thought back on her studies. The runes he’d observed her using were the translocation and sapping runes. Hmm. Sapping rune. Gath wondered what would happen if he cast a sapping rune over top of the absorption rune.

Flexing his fingers, he attempted to do just that.

The absorption rune pulsed slightly as it detected his power, and drained it. Nothing else happened.

Urghh… Gath wheezed. He felt as if a vampire had just sucked his blood. Steadying his breath, he relaxed, reclining against the wall to think. It seemed as if Volus had thought of everything. He was cut off from Enna, his extrusion would not work. He was shackled to the wall.

Flexing his fingers, Gath attempted an illusion. Gazing warily down at the absorption rune, he watched it for any change in intensity. He cast an illusion that would render the room bright as day. His gaze remained on the rune for any change.

Nothing.

It was focused on his sight, not his illusion magic. Volus didn’t know he possessed it.

The door began to open. He could hear the locks clicking. Quickly, Gath extinguished the illusion and slumped down into his restraints.

The door opened.

“Awake I see?” Lysette asked as she stepped inside. Her heeled shoes clicked softly against the stone as she entered. “You can stop trying to hide it. I can see you’ve charged the absorption rune quite nicely.”

Gath sighed and looked up at her, greatly exaggerating his weakness, and hiding his incubus eyes. “What… have you done to me?”

“Hm.” Lysette tapped her chin thoughtfully. “You know, Lord Volus tried to warn me you were a powerful mage. But you’re just a boy who likes to play with monsters. Not to worry. You’ll get your chance. To play with them, I mean.”

“What?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” Lysette seemed surprised. “I thought you’d been watching. We’ve been trying to find a man with some magical capabilities for some time now. You’ll be feeding monsters your special brand of energy. Oh, don’t worry. It won’t hurt. It’ll feel pretty good, based on what I’ve seen.”

Gath gazed deeply at her. Secrets… Show me your secrets…

He briefly worried that he might not be able to do so without Enna, but the both of them had grown strong on their own. He might have just enough power to do this…

 

There was enough power to view a few memories.

Show me.

 

He stood in a home. Beautiful, polished marble. Flowing organza drapes. A dazzling woman stood beside him, or her, rather, as he saw Lysette as a little girl. The woman was human, but dressed in fine silks and lace.
“Like it?” the woman asked.
“Yes! Very much!” chirped the little girl Lysette.
“It can be yours. Do you remember what I told you?”
“It doesn’t matter how I get strong or powerful. Only make sure I do.”
“That’s right,” the woman said. “You will never survive in this cruel world without power, wealth, and influence. Take what you need from anyone you can. Don’t let them catch you doing this, though.”
“But what if I get caught?” little Lysette asked.
“I will teach you what to say and how to act so that you never will,” the woman promised.

The vision shifted.

“Lysette,” sobbed a girl standing in front of her. She was older, maybe eleven or twelve years old. “Why are you doing this? Those were my test answers you copied.”
“Then why were they in my handwriting?” Lysette asked, her eyes narrowing at the girl.
“I don’t know how you did it, but they were mine…”
“Have fun explaining that to the headmaster,” Lysette giggled as she turned away and strutted down the hall.
“Lysette,” a boy stopped her as she rounded the corner. “I know what you did.”
“I’m afraid I can’t respond to that without a common point of reference,” she cooed.
“The test.”
“Yes?” she batted her eyes coquettishly.
“You did something to Minny’s mind,” the boy accused. “Made her do the test for you.”
“Yes… and no,” giggled Lysette. “She studied for hours. I just… absconded with those hours.”
The boy gaped at her. “You admit it! You stole part of her mind!”
“Uh huh! Just like I’m going to do to you!” she chirped, touching her forefinger to his forehead.
“Uhhnnn…” the boy groaned, collapsing to the ground.
Lysette giggled and pushed his unconscious body into the bathroom that he’d snuck out of. She grinned and skipped cheerfully down the hall.

Gath perused two more memories in which Lysette did something similar to her rivals. She grew skilled with this technique and eventually could do it without touching her victims at all. Terrifying. It was entirely possible this woman did not require a control rune. She had no conscience at all. It had been stripped from her from birth.

One more memory he needed. Her runic knowledge. It took the rest of his strength to extract it from her, then he broke the connection and slumped forward.

 

“Giving out already, are we?” sighed Lysette. “Are you even listening to me? You were staring at me as if… oh!” she giggled. “You are a monster after all. Do you desire me? I sure hope Lord Volus won’t mind.” She knelt down before Gath and pulled open her lab coat, unbuttoning her blouse and slipping aside her bra to give him a lascivious view. “Eat your heart out, monster…” she mocked.

Her breasts did look rather exquisite, especially for a human’s. But Gath did not care. The only breasts he desired now were Enna’s. Oh Enna… would he ever see her again?

“Poor thing,” mocked Lysette as she slipped back into her clothes. “So hungry for sex, and still denied. Do not fear, we will give you someone even more luscious later. But not nearly as tempting!” she teased, approaching the door.

Time to act.

Gath twirled his fingers in the counterspell action he learned from Lysette. The absorption rune dissolved, its power wafting into the air. He quickly absorbed it, finding much of his strength returning.

“What…?” Lysette paused, attempting to open the door.

Quickly now…

Gath created the illusion that she’d proceeded out of the room, while she merely stood there in reality. Guiding her to turn around, he brought her back up to him. Easing into her secrets, he learned how to unlock his shackles, and did so quickly. Resting his hands on the woman’s shoulders, he leaned into her, his eyes shining red.

Lysette’s body thrummed with power. Unusual for a woman to have this much spirit energy. He leaned into her…

“Forgive me, Enna. I do this only to bring us back together.”

He kissed Lysette, joining her within her illusion.

Lysette gasped. The Observer stood before her in the hall, somewhat taller, with red eyes and slit pupils set against inky black. “How…? Interesting. I must have underestimated you.” She twirled her fingers around, creating a barrier in front of her. “You won’t get far, so I suggest you go back to your cell.”

“Did you really think giving me that taste was a good idea?” the Observer said darkly, stepping towards her. Lysette smiled at him as he approached, but her smile vanished as he stepped through her barrier like it was thin air.

“Stop!” she hissed, thrusting her palm out at him. A blast of air elemental magic pushed him back. Gath dug in his heels, skidding several inches before stabilizing.

“Two can play at that,” he told her, mimicking her action, which sent her skidding into a wall. Mistweave magic pinned her arms against it, a bit higher than her head. He approached and rested his hands on her waist. “Now then, where were we?”

“Monster,” she growled. “You’ll get no such satisfaction from me.”

“Did you know,” the Observer said calmly as he slowly opened her lab coat, “A Glacies, a creature made of ice, never knowing desire, can have its heart melted?” He slowly unbuttoned Lysette’s blouse. “The touch of a man will not affect her right away.” Her blouse opened, spread apart by the Observer’s gloved hands. “Prolonged contact, however,” he murmured, slowly opening the front clasp of her bra, “Will thaw her frozen heart and awaken her desire…”

Lysette’s bra opened up and her breasts released into his hands. “Stop…” she hissed. Her breath came in a gasp as her soft breasts entered his hands and he gently cradled them. Heat spread from his hands and into her chest.

“Do not fear,” Gath told her as he shed his gloves. “I will make you into someone more luscious.”

“I have no desire for you,” the woman spat, but gasped as her breasts entered his bare hands. With skin-to-skin contact established, her heartrate picked up and her breath quickened. “What are you… doing…” she gasped. Her nipples came in between his fingers, gently pinched.

The Observer leaned into her, pulling apart her bra straps so that he could remove it from her. As he did so, he inhaled deeply between her neck and shoulder and smiled. “Mmm. Lysette. You smell delicious.”

“You cannot!” she growled. “It is only a matter of time before Lord Volus finds you…”

“No one is coming for you,” the Observer promised, discarding the scraps of her bra. He set to work on her blouse next, systematically tearing the cloth, but being careful not to hurt her. “I’ve taken steps to ensure we will not be disturbed,” he told her as he removed her blouse. Her upper body now only had the lab coat to offer her any protection. Gath wound his arms around her bare waist, arching her into him. Her breasts pillowed against his chest, nipples brushing against the soft leather of his coat.

“Agh…” grunted Lysette. “You’re going to rape me. You are a monster.”

“It isn’t rape if it is consensual, Lysette.”

The woman gaped at him, blushing in spite of herself. “You can’t be serious!”

“You displayed yourself for me. If you did not desire me in the slightest, you never would have done so.”

“It is a known fact that monsters produce more mana if aroused!” she huffed as she felt her skirt loosening.

“And what about when enchantresses are aroused?” the Observer asked softly as he tugged the skirt down her shapely legs. She tried to kick him in the face, but his precognition permitted him to evade easily. He took the opportunity to pull the skirt out from under her.

“I am certainly not aroused,” hissed the woman, now with only lace panties and a lab coat to cover her modesty.

The Observer rose to her level and leaned in, embracing her, cupping the back of her head in his hand and stroking her bare back with the other. “No?” he asked, touching his lips to hers. She struggled and squirmed, but he breathed mamono mana into her with each exhale, and sucked out her spirit energy with every inhale. He’d actually been doing this the entire time since kissing her in her daze.

As the Observer kissed her, he gently stroked her back, slipping his fingers around her waist and brushing her hip. Her spirit energy began to diminish, replaced with mamono mana instead. Her spirit energy carried a heady flavor which tasted odd to Gath, but it was recharging his reserves, and should keep him strengthened until he could reunite with Enna. Hopefully that would not take too much longer.

“Ghhh…” grunted the girl, squirming against Gath. Each shift in her body ground her bare skin against his smooth leather coat and pants, and a firm thickness pressed into her from between his legs.

“You blush beautifully, Lysette,” Gath told her, his voice smoky as his vivid red eyes took in her face appreciatively. His hand slid between her breasts, down her belly, and nudged her panties.

“Stop!” she gasped, her breath coming in pants. “You cannot force me to endure this…”

“Why not?” Gath asked calmly, slipping one side of her panties down her hip. “I have observed you doing far, far worse to mamono and humans alike.” The other side slipped down her body.

“So, it is revenge, then?” she gritted her teeth.

“No, Lysette,” the Observer said as he slowly tugged the girl’s panties down her legs and stripped her of them.

“What then…?” she asked, gasping as she felt a warmth very close to her womanhood.

“Call it an intervention,” he replied, testing the area around her mound. She was quite moist and deep in color. Perfectly waxed. Beautiful. Almost as breathtaking as a monster’s.

“From… from what?” Lysette demanded, perspiration forming all over her skin as her heart raced with anticipation.

“All your life, you have ingested poison,” Gath explained, gently drawing circles around her mound with his middle finger, collecting moisture. “It has eroded your sense of justice, of morality, and even of self. You no longer even know what you are.”

He raised his hand to show her the wetness she’d produced.

Lysette gaped at it. “You… you’re forcing me to…”

“I haven’t forced this,” the Observer told her, smearing the moisture across his thumb and forefinger. “You provided this on your own.” His hand descended down to her again while his other hand began to tease her breast.

“Stop…” moaned Lysette. “Ahhh!” she gasped, her body arching as two fingers gently spread her slit open. “I know what I am!” she cried as a finger slid across her clitoris.

“Do you?” the Observer asked, pausing in his seductive torture. “Then, tell me.”

“I am a scientist,” she protested. “With a dual specialty in ancient runes and xenobiology.”

“And?”

Lysette looked down at the breast in his hand. He did not do anything with it, he merely held it. Her sex remained open in his fingers, but he did not move or touch her. A few droplets fell to the floor between her legs.

“And I am… a research specialist studying the effects of ancient technology…” she bit her lip.

“And?”

“What more do you want!?” cried Lysette.

“You are a puppet,” Gath told her.

“What!? I do not serve you!

“You are not my puppet, nor would I bid you ever become so.”

That took the girl by surprise. She gasped at him. “Then what…?”

“You are the puppet of Volus. You are his living doll. Mechanically following his orders with no hesitation nor thought towards the consequences.”

“Oh,” said Lysette, her voice dripping with venom, “Is that all. He and I share a common goal. That is all.”

The Observer gently squeezed her breast, raking a finger up her clitoris again, forcing another gasp from her. “And what is that goal, pray tell?”

“Stop touching me!!”

Gath did it again.

“Agghh!”

“Answer me.”

Lysette glared at him icily, failing slightly due to how intense the blush spread across her face. “To rid the world of demons, monsters, and evil.”

“Is that what he told you?” the Observer asked with some curiosity as his finger slipped inside, just barely, to stroke the inner edges of her folds. He brushed her clitoris on every circle he made.

“It is what… I know… to be true…” the girl replied between pants of breath.

“Then I must tell you a different tale,” said the Observer, lazily stroking her insides. Her breast burned hotly in his hand as he teased and tweaked the nipple. “The weapon he wields is not of this realm. It was designed by lunatics, forged by madmen, and wielded by a deranged mind capable of destroying mamono, men, and gods. The weapon is the ultimate evil. Hatred made manifest. There is no god or higher power in this universe that would not scorn its existence. And for that scorn, Volus would kill them all.”

“Ahhhhnnn…” moaned Lysette. “You’re… You’re wrong… He has no interest in… ghhh… slaying gods… save one…”

“The Demon Lord?”

“Y-yesss…” She drew that “Yes” out a little longer than she intended.

“Why? The Demon Lord brought humanity from the brink by changing monsters from flesh-eating beasts to beautiful women who now only seek love.”

“Liar,” hissed Lysette before she moaned sensually.

“What is it you think monsters wish to do?” Gath asked her as he added another finger inside her, using her reactions to riddle out what she found most pleasurable.

“Make… monsters… seem less threatening… so they can destroy us!” she said between gasps. “Please… stop…”

“But you are enjoying yourself so thoroughly,” said the Observer. “My hand is drenched.”

“You are… a tempter… an Incubus…” she groaned. “You can… make my body do… whatever you want… Regardless of my… ahhhhnnn…”

“I do possess charm spells that I could cast upon you,” he admitted. “But you are a powerful sorceress. You would resist them.”

“You are… draining my mana…”

Gath chuckled softly. “That much is true. But your runes would protect you from an incapacitating spell of that magnitude. No, Lysette. Your body has been starved. Denied. Every woman desires love, in the deepest recesses of her heart, just as men do. To deny it is to cut off a part of yourself. Dangerous. You will become a slave to ambition, as you have today…”

“Nnnnhhh… I am a slave to no one!”

“I have Observed Volus,” Gath told her. “I your assertion to be false. He brands everyone with marques to control their consciences. Yet, he did not need to with you. I he underestimates your desire at his peril.”

Lysette shook against him. She was close. He kissed her again, eking out more of her mana. She still clung to the last of it for dear life. If he left her as she was now, she might eventually transform on her own, but he wanted to be sure. He needed all of it.

“I won’t give in to this!” cried Lysette, openly gasping for breath. “I won’t!”

“It’s all right, Lysette,” the Observer said gently. “I will hold you at the brink until you are ready.”

“What!?” she gaped at him. “For what? For me to… ahn… beg you for an orgasm? I have no need… ghh… for such animalistic desires!”

“No, Lysette,” Gath shook his head with a smile. “I will hold you here until you are ready to cut your strings.”

“Never… nnnhh…”

“Let me show you something,” offered Gath. His eyes flashed, and he revealed Staci’s secrets to her. Everything that he’d seen. How she’d studied and worked hard for her scholarship and acceptance to Atlantis. How she’d been stripped of her clothing and her humanity. How she’d willingly tortured young monsters. And then, having been captured and stripped of her rune, and given back her humanity, her reaction.

Her sickened reaction.

Lysette’s skin started to become clammy and she shivered.

“Volus is evil, Lysette, and he has been using you for your unique gifts for many years.”

“No…”

“Do you know what happens to those here, that begin to feel again?”

“We… recondition them…”

“And what does that entail?”

Lysette’s body bucked against him. The misery she was forced to confront contrasted sharply with the intense pleasure the Observer continued to offer her, forcing her to ride waves of hollow feelings and intense ecstasy over and over.

“We… we… strip the person… and… we… burn off their runes… and… we… rebrand them all over again…”

Gath showed Lysette the pain Staci endured during her branding.

“You mean this?” he asked.

“Yes!”

“How many times were you branded?”

“Just… once…”

“And how many times were your colleagues branded? How many times did Staci go through that?”

“Nnnhhh…”

“Tell me,” pressed Gath.

“H-hundreds…”

“Hundreds?”

“It took… some time… to integrate them properly… I was fortunate…”

“No, Lysette, you were willing.

She gaped at him, sweat pouring from her face. “What!?”

“You accepted his shackles with a smile.”

“No…”

“You moaned in pleasure every time he gave you a command.”

“No!”

“You are nothing but a puppet. A doll. An automaton.”

“No…” she sobbed.

“Why do you say no? It is what you wanted.”

“I wanted power!” cried Lysette. “Power! Wealth! Influence!”

“And did he give it to you?”

“He gave me power…”

“Wealth?”

“We live in a floating city.”

“Influence?”

“I am the strongest of his aides.”

“Are you able to do whatever you wish with your power?”

“I… use it to further our research…”

“So, no.”

Lysette shook her head slightly.

“Are you able to sell your holdings here and move to somewhere else?”

“N-no… I have no real holdings here.”

“So, you have no wealth at all.”

“N-no…”

“I suppose you are able to use your influence to give anyone any orders you wish.”

“If the orders come from Volus, yes.”

Lysette shuddered, her body trembling.

“What about your orders?”

“I…” stammered Lysette. “I don’t…”

“So, you really have no influence at all.”

“No…”

“What has Volus given you that is your own?”

The Observer paused in his seduction to give her time to think.

“I… I… He…” sputtered Lysette. She struggled against her restraints for a moment, and finally gave up. “Nothing…”

“What’s that? I didn’t quite hear you.”

“NOTHING!!” screamed the girl. “I have nothing!!” she sobbed. “I’ve given up my life for nothing…”

The Observer released her breast and cupped her jaw, forcing her to face him. “Do you want to change that?”

“Just… kill me… get it over with…”

“Staci begged for the same.”

“I know, you showed me,” sighed Lysette.

“I do not wish to kill you, Lysette. I wish to help you.”

“How?” she moaned.

“Cut your strings.”

“How do I do that?”

“Just say the word,” he offered. “And I will release you from them forever.”

“Freedom…” a trickle of saliva oozed from between parched lips.

“Yes, Lysette,” Gath said softly. “Freedom. The freedom to live. The freedom to love. Your parents did not love each other, did they?”

Lysette shook her head sadly. “They married for the three most important things in life. Power, wealth, and influence.”

“Would you like to feel the one most important thing in life?”

“What is it…”

“Love.”

“But you are married,” she protested softly.

“I can give you a taste. Only a taste.”

“Please show me…”

Gath showed her his own secrets. He showed her Enna. How they met. How they fell in love. How they strengthened their love. Deepened it. Nurtured it.

“Agghh!” cried Lysette. “It hurts!”

“Why?”

“It is something I can never have!”

“That is a lie you have been fed your entire life,” said Gath firmly. “Would you like to cast it aside?”

“It… is not so simple…”

“No, Lysette, it is not, but I will help you, if you wish me to.”

“Please…”

“Please what?”

“Please cut my strings!” cried Lysette. “Cut them or kill me!”

The Observer inserted a third finger and thrust inside as deeply as he could.

“Aggggghhh! Nnnnn…” Lysette moaned. “I can’t… I can’t…”

“Just let go, Lysette,” the Observer urged calmly. “Just let go.”

Lysette relaxed. Gath kissed her. Reaching deep inside, he searched for the perfect angle, the surest touch, to send her over the edge. Lysette’s lips parted of her own will, and the remaining wisps of spirit energy began to leave her. Gath poured another helping of mamono mana inside to replace it.

Lysette’s body jerked. She cried out into Gath’s mouth. He pinched her clitoris and twisted.

“Khhh! Nnnnhhhh! Aghhnn…” she tried to scream as her climax crested. Holding her still, Gath cradled her body against the wall as she shook with the force of her release. The rest of her spirit energy floated free, and he consumed it. The illusion faltered, and, no longer feeling the need to maintain it, he released her.

Back in the cell, Lysette promptly crumpled. Gath caught her deftly, easing her to the floor. Her body jerked a few more times with aftershocks, but she finally came two after a minute.

“Uhhnnn…” she moaned. “I… I’ve never… wait. Where?”

“My cell,” the Observer told her. “We never left.”

Lysette scratched her wrists. “You… you did all that to me in some kind of dream?” she asked, agape. “How long were we…”

“That particular illusion was rather powerful,” admitted Gath. “You and I were within it for quite some time. But out here, time passed quickly. A few minutes, perhaps.”

“Incredible,” sighed the girl, scratching her wrists some more. “Ugh. What is this?” she pulled back her sleeve and gasped. Fine, lilac hairs were growing out of her arm from her wrist to her elbow. She frantically checked her other arm and found the same thing. “What…!?”

“Your strings have been cut,” the Observer told her.

“I’m going to turn into a monster?” she asked timidly.

“Eventually,” said Gath. “My reserves here are rather limited, so I could only seed you. But your connection to Volus will have been broken. We must be quick. He will notice shortly.”

“What do you want me to do?” she asked.

“First of all, why am I not able to reach Enna?”

“Isolation rune.” Lysette pointed at a spot on Gath’s body. His chest. Of course. “We use them to separate life mates. Makes it easier to… to break them… Oh goddess… what have I done…”

“We don’t have time for a crisis of character, Lysette,” the Observer told her. “Grieve later. Act now. You can atone for what you have done by helping me stop Volus.”

“Yes,” nodded Lysette.

“Remove the rune.”

“I… I can’t.” She sighed. “We need something of great power to do so.”

“Like?”

“Let me think… oh. The Hellhound’s claws should do it.”

“Let’s go.”

Lysette gaped at him. “You’ll never get her support. She is completely untamable. Best we could do was…”

“Shackle her with adamantium.”

Lysette gasped. “You really have been watching us.” She nodded, considering this. “All right. Let’s go,” she sighed at last.

“Wait,” Gath stopped her as she turned around. A bulge throbbed behind her, bumping against her lab coat.

“What?” Lysette asked, looking back. Following his gaze, she tugged aside her lab coat and shrieked. A tiny lilac tail had popped out of her pants, squirming up out of the belt line.

“I thought my clothes felt a little uncomfortable,” she sighed, scratching her wrists.

“I will take care of that,” the Observer told her, waving his hand over her figure. The tail disappeared.

“I still feel it,” Lysette said, squirming.

“It is still there, only disguised. Let’s go. No one will see me, only you.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gath and Lysette patrolled the halls, making their way to Takasha’s cell. Lysette managed to mask her liberation quite well, maintaining her cold, calculating eye contact with anyone she came across. Rounding the corner, the two noticed a pair of guards outside Takasha’s cell. Armed to the teeth.

“Go up to the cell. They will see you walk by without pausing,” Gath instructed. “They will not notice you opening the door.”

If Lysette wished to know how he could do that, she did not ask. She approached the cell and opened it, stepping inside carefully. Its occupant made no moves until the door closed…

“Rrrrrrrnnnnn…” growled Takasha.

Lysette gulped.

“RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!!” bellowed the Hellhound. “WHAT DO YOU WANT THIS TIME!? My tail? My claws!? Perhaps my tongue? Hah hah… What’s the matter, little human? Scare you?”

“I imagine you did,” murmured the Observer.

Takasha hissed, jerking her body against the chains. “I KNOW that voice!” she cried. “OBSERVER!”

Gath stepped out of the shadows and gazed up at her with his deep red eyes. “Takasha. We meet at last. I beg your pardon for my tardiness.”

“You did not forget,” Takasha said, her voice uncharacteristically soft.

“How could I forget you?” the Observer asked gently. “I’ve come to fulfill my promise to you.”

“Why are you with her?” the Hellhound asked, her voice dripping with ire.

“She’s had a change of heart,” Gath noted, holding up the girl’s arm and tugging her sleeve down to her elbow. Releasing his illusion for a moment, he showed Takasha the fine, lilac hairs growing on her arm.

“HAHAHAHA!” bellowed Takasha. “So, the heartless one has become that which she hunts!”

The Observer gently returned Lysette’s arm and stood between them. “I am the cause of that,” he told Takasha firmly. “All her life she has been fed poisonous lies. Today, she decided to step into the light and walk in truth. I did not force her. Admittedly, I came rather close, but she made the final step herself.”

“Is this true!?” hissed Takasha to Lyssette.

“I…” stammered the girl, “I… Do not even deserve… to speak to you… about…” her voice cracked; she covered her face and cried.

“For the moment,” the Observer interrupted, “Let us cast aside blame and guilt. We do not have much time.”

“Agreed,” growled the Hellhound. “Release me.”

“On two conditions,” Gath said.

“What!?” cried Takasha. “What deception is—”

“The first,” the Observer cut her off with a gesture, “Is that you restrain yourself and follow my instructions. We will not overtake Volus with rage alone. He is prepared for this. He is not prepared for me.”

“And the second?” she hissed.

“I need your help with something rather… Personal.” The Observer tugged his robe and tunic down and revealed the rune that kept his mind from Enna. “We need your claws to sever this marque. It will allow me to reach out to my wife. We will need her help to get through this. That and…”

“You need her,” Takasha said.

“Yes,” Gath replied, his voice thick with tension.

“Fine. I agree.”

“Excellent,” Gath clapped his hands, perhaps to clear the room of the awkward tension. “Lysette, release her.”

“I… cannot…”

“What?” Takasha and Gath both asked at the same time.

“Lysette, you designed this room,” Gath reminded her.

Lysette shook, trembling in her spot. She shook her head. “Just… take my secrets…”

The Observer approached her and slid an arm around her shoulders. “That requires energy, Lysette, and I do not have my connection to Enna to replenish them. All I have left is what I received from you.”

Lysette continued sobbing. “You don’t… understand… I’ve done terrible things… to her… unspeakable…”

“I know. I’ve seen them.”

She gasped, looking up at him. “You saw those secrets?”

“No, Lysette, I observed you directly.”

“Agghh…” she wailed.

“You wish to atone? We need your help. Set her free.”

“She’ll kill me. She has that right.”

“She does. However… She promised to restrain herself, were you listening?”

Lysette glanced at the Hellhound, who said nothing. She looked back at Gath. “You took my mana… I will need it to unlock the shackles.”

“I gave you some of mine,” Gath told her gently. “My dark mana will suffice to fuel your spells, but it is hard at work remaking you. You must hurry.”

Lysette nodded, and with trembling fingers, she took the shackle holding Takasha’s left paw in her hands, drawing little runes on the sides with her fingertips. The shackle opened and released the Hellhound’s paw. True to her word, Takasha did not strangle the girl. Lysette worked a little more swiftly on the next one and freed Takasha’s right paw, then her neck, and finally her legs. Backing away slowly, Lysette gazed up at the freed Hellhound.

“You really have changed,” Takasha remarked as she stepped forward. “Observer. Open the cell door so that Volus might feel my wrath…”

“Before you do that, bear in mind,” the Observer warned her, “Volus has numerous traps and purging protocols to protect the city in case of accidental escape or to deal with spirit energy corrosion.”

The Hellhound hissed a curse under her breath. “How much longer must I stay my wrath!?” she growled.

“Lysette and I are going to make the rounds and free as many mamono as possible. There is one in particular I would like you to free, as she might not listen to anyone else.”

“Who?”

“Her name is Aylet. She is a Girtablilu.”

“Ahh…” the Hellhound’s face split into a terrifying grin. “I know how to deal with those. You just have to catch.”

“Free her, tell her what you have seen.”

“They will try to stop me…”

“They won’t even see you. Not unless you attack them.”

The Hellhound glanced at Lysette.

“His illusions are powerful, stronger than anything I’ve ever seen,” she admitted.

“As you say,” the Hellhound shrugged and made for the door.

“Takasha…” the Observer tapped her tail.

“Eh?” she glanced back, fire in her eyes.

“Aren’t you forgetting something?”

The Observer tugged his tunic aside and the rune on his chest pulsed angrily.

“Ah. Volus’ pathetic magic,” hissed Takasha. She raised her paw and extended her claws.

Lysette looked away, unable to bear to watch.

“Carefully, Takasha. Do not wound my spirit energy. I will need it for Enna.”

Takasha sighed and carefully raked one claw against the rune, slowly.

“Aghh! Yes! I can feel it weakening! Enna!” he groaned, his head falling back as he reached out to his wife.

“Stop struggling!” hissed Takasha. “I will cut you!”

Gath wasn’t listening.

“G—h…”

Enna!

“Changed… my mind…” groaned Gath. “Stop being gentle!”

“Don’t listen to him,” Lysette warned Takasha. “Cut it carefully. He needs to be at full strength.”

“I KNOW what I’m doing!” barked the Hellhound. She held the man’s waist in one paw and carefully finished carving a diagonal line with her other.

“Gath!!”

Enna! ENNA!

“Sweet GODDESS where have you been!?”

Gath twirled out of Takasha’s grasp as fresh power rushed through him. The force echoed through the room, knocking Lysette off her feet, and even pushing Takasha back a few inches.

“I take it we were successful,” murmured Takasha. “Such power…”

Enna! My love! I am in Atlantis! They captured me the moment I arrived!

“I wanted to follow you…”

You did as I asked, sweet Enna. Had you followed, you would have been captured as well. What has transpired?

“Camilla’s forces have secured the Front. She held off her advance, though. Said something about wishing to wait for confirmation on your end. She’s become rather taken with you.”

And with you, it seems. Love… your power has increased greatly since last I held you in my arms.

“Little gift from Camilla for our help today.”

“What is she saying?” Takasha demanded.

“She’s been infused with power from a Lilim,” he told her. The Hellhound nearly doubled back in shock.

“What!?” she cried. “Hah! Excellent. Is Gisele with her?”

“She will be by your side soon,” Gath promised her.

Enna. I need you by my side.

“And you shall have me. And Camilla’s army if you desire.”

“Perfect,” Gath announced. “Enna’s marshalled Camilla’s army. Finally, some good fortune. How can we summon them here?” he asked Lysette.

Lysette bit her lip, thinking. “That will not be easy. Atlantis has been specifically designed to protect against multi-pronged assaults. Its natural layout makes it difficult to attack, and the advantage is solely in its defense. Even if one island falls, the rest can lay siege.”

“Then, I suppose we will soon see how Volus is able to react when our perception changes his reality.” Gath’s eyes blazed furiously. “Lysette. Show me how to bring Enna here.”

“One person is certainly easier,” she nodded. “In fact, this room was designed to capture a single monster.” She glanced nervously in Takasha’s direction.

Gath gazed at her, gleaning her secrets and took what he needed. He summoned the runes on the ground that would create a translocation bolt. The room thrummed with power.

Enna. Brace yourself, love. You’re going for a ride.

The room discharged its power. The runes coalesced into one and expelled a young woman, coughing and shuddering on all fours.

“Enna!” cried Gath, gathering her staticky body into his arms. Her head turned to look up at him with her dark and electric blue eyes, and the power of pure love burned within them. Their lips met in a sizzling kiss as she embraced him in a desperate hold.

“Mmmhhh…” moaned Enna loudly as she devoured his mouth. She glanced up briefly and released the kiss with a soft gasp. “Oh. We have an audience…”

“Yes, love,” Gath admitted. She giggled in his embrace. Oh, how he’d missed that giggle. He squeezed her tightly. His love. His wife. His precious treasure.

“Lysette?” Enna asked.

“How did you…?”

“And you must be Takasha,” Enna smiled warmly at the Hellhound. “My goddess! You’re even more breathtaking in person!”

Takasha cleared her throat, averting her gaze briefly.

“Come now, love. Let’s not make her blush.” He rose to his feet, helping her up. She gazed at both women, her eyes burning like trapped lightning.

“Pleasurable company aside, we have work to do,” Enna said firmly as she smoothed out her gown. She wore a stunning black silk gown, wide open in front, buttoned together at her waist, and left to fan out behind her. Underneath the gown, she wore a figure-hugging sheer black lace shift with tempting designs that just barely protected her lascivious curves from view. The inset continued down past her hips and stopped high on her thighs to permit her silky smooth legs to breathe.

Enna chanced to notice everyone staring at the dress. She blushed slightly. “Oh, this. From Camilla. She said something about making me the beauty in the eye of every beholder. Or some such.”

Gath couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her pale skin contrasted stunningly against the black lace. “I’m beginning to fear she wants you for herself,” he murmured.

“Mm. Too bad. I’m all yours, love,” she cooed, slipping her arm around him for another kiss.

Takasha cleared her throat. Loudly.

“Yes, I agree,” said Lysette. “I thought you said we had work to do.”

Gath slipped away from his mesmerizing wife and glanced at Lysette, who’d blushed fiercely at watching their antics. “You’re right. Enna will coordinate with Camilla and her army for the best way of invading the city. Lysette, you go with her, show her the most vulnerable access points.”

“As you wish,” nodded Lysette.

The Observer looked over at the Hellhound. “Takasha, I want you to go door to door and free as many mamono as you can find. Especially Aylet. Her venom will be very useful. Our illusions will keep your progress hidden for as long as possible.”

“And what will you be doing?” Takasha asked him.

“Running interference. I must prevent the city’s defenses from activating. Once finished, I will confront Volus and stop him.”

“We will stop him,” Enna said firmly. “Do not rush off on your own again, love. I want to be by your side this time.”

Gath patted his wife on the shoulder, nodding. “Agreed. Get as many of Camilla’s girls here as you can, and then join me.” He turned to the center of the room. “One more thing,” he murmured, creating another summoning ring.

With a pulse and flash, Katarina appeared, her sword held vertical for balance as the woman rested on one knee. She glanced up, her red eye shining brightly. “Takasha!”

Takasha gasped. “…Katalya?”

“I am known as Katarina, now,” the blade-woman replied. “Gisele tasked me to find you.”

“I placed her under the illusion,” Gath said. “Katarina, accompany Takasha and free as many mamono as you can.”

“Understood,” nodded Katarina.

Gath waved his hand, opening the door.

“Go! So begins the Fall of Atlantis!”

The women sprang into action, pouring out of the room, and disappearing down various halls. Gath stepped out, closing the door behind him. The two guards remained at their post, totally oblivious. Gath concentrated, sending his sight out into multiple directions. As he walked down the hall, he smiled; Enna’s mist began filling in, and still, the people inside remained unaware. The illusion taxed him, but it was worth it. The longer his companions had free reign of the place, the better.

Soon enough, mamono girls began rushing the halls, taking care not to bump into anyone, and took positions. Whenever one spotted the Observer, she paused to salute him. Hmm. Odd, but not unwelcome. Gath chanced to peek in on Enna to see how she was doing. All seemed to be going well, until a Manticore showed up with Gisele.

The straw that broke his illusion’s back.

A sharp ringing in the crystal tines above the city towers alerted everyone inside of the mamono presence, and then, all Hell broke loose.

All of the sudden, the men realized they were surrounded on several floors. Monsters pounced men, some of them focused on incapacitation, others on copulation. They found it difficult due to the control runes marring the skin of everyone inside. Some of the men had procrastinated on their reconditioning for a while, and were quickly subdued and seduced. Others managed to resist and, to Gath’s dismay, grievously wound many of the girls.

Enna. We have wounded here. Get these women back into the fight! Let Camilla take over the invasion!

“I’m coming, love!”

Enna’s mistform rushed through the halls, spreading healing with her power. While she could not stitch wounds with the skill of a Dark Mage, she could induce illusions that made the monsters forget about their pain and tell their bodies to speed healing to themselves. Plus, she also seemed to have a small link to Camilla, who was feeding her power.

Huh. Fond indeed.

Unsure of how to thank Camilla, he pressed on. Purging protocols had already begun. He sent the mages and scientists into confusion to aid in mamono women overpowering them. Some of the women were hard at work already transforming the girls they’d tackled.

The invasion was going well.

This was too easy.

Something was wrong…

Where was Volus?

Gath scanned the city. Every island.

Where is he!?

A sickening pitch twisted in his gut.

Something was very wrong. Fading into mist, he wafted out into the open, moving up to one of the center islands. Only a few girls were fighting here. The entire island consisted of a massive spire that had burst out of the floating soil. Veins of energy throbbed into the dirt, feeling almost alive. The dark presence within the tower stifled Gath’s breathing, and made him realize why so few girls had ventured here.

Enna… I need you…

“I’m coming. Wait for me.”

So strange.

The light filtered in through crystal torches just like the other structures, but, here, long hallways stretched without doors. All of them made their way towards one massive central chamber. He needed to press forward, but he waited. Soon enough, Enna coalesced beside him. She took his hand, and together, they strode forward.

Pushing open the doors, they found reality itself warping around them. A dark chamber spread out before them, with torturous devices, racks, and bubbling potions. Against the back wall, a large rack held a quivering succubus.

Kendra.

“Grandmother!!” cried Enna, rushing up to her. “Gram!” she sobbed, frantically disengaging the restraints. Gath opened his hand in her direction and the rest of the restraints fell away. Kendra crumpled into Enna’s arms, her tattered clothing barely hanging on.

“Lady Kendra,” Gath said softly as he approached. Enna cradled her grandmother in her arms, a curious and heart wrenching sight to behold. Kendra had likely lived to her eighties, but, as a succubus, appeared no older than twenty-five. The difficulty lied in her apparent weakness. She’d been drained of practically all her mamono mana, and not given any spirit energy to replenish it for some time.

“She needs spirit energy,” Gath told her. “And to be rid of these,” he indicated the runes on both the wall, the rack, and her body.

“What should we do?” Enna’s tearstained face looked up at him. “We have to do something!!”

“Katarina!” called Gath. “To me!”

Enna sobbed, clutching her grandmother tightly, trying to feed her some restorative mist. “It’s… it’s not working…” cried Enna softly. “The runes are taking everything!”

“Ennui…” the succubus moaned.

“Gram!” cried Enna.

“Bitch.”

“…what?” the girl gasped.

Suddenly, the succubus’ eyes shot open, glaring an angry red, and her lithe fingers wrapped around Enna’s throat. “Ah. Little Ennui. Always lazing about. Never caring about anyone or anything but herself!” she snapped, standing up, holding Enna aloft, by her throat, with unnatural strength.

“Urrkk…” coughed Enna. “Gr…am…”

“And to think, I went through all this trouble for you…” she spat, her mouth twisted in a sneer. “So much fear. So much misery. So much… suffering.

Gath’s mind spun. She wasn’t behaving like a normal succubus. She was acting like the succubi the Order warned him about. The true evil ones. Somehow, Volus was blocking her link to the Demon Lord. But… How? How was that possible?

Gath shook his head. No. It wasn’t possible. No one but a new Demon Lord could do that.

His blood chilled. Icicles shredded his heart.

That was it.

That was it.

Volus wanted to kill the Demon Lord.

But not just kill her!

Take her place.

Everything the master succubus had ever accomplished would be swept away within a few short years. All monsters would be at the command of Desmond Volus. The new Demon Lord. He would rule the world with an iron grip, slaying men, monsters, and even gods that stood in his way.

He would reshape the world in his image. An image of pure emotionless knowledge. Power over compassion. Apathy over love. No… No…

Gath gritted his teeth.

He would NOT let this happen!

“KENDRA!” he bellowed.

The succubus’ gaze snapped to him. “Oh, and what have we here? Ohhh… little Ennui found herself a man. How adorable. Want to watch me snap her little neck?”

“Remember.” The Observer pointed at her.

Kendra stiffened as her own secrets assaulted her.

 

“Mother…” a female voice spoke weakly.
“Shush, Kalenda,” Kendra said softly, stroking the flushed woman’s dark, matted hair. “It’s all over now. You did wonderfully.”
“It’s a girl!” someone announced.
“She isn’t breathing,” another woman said, tapping the newborn’s foot.
“No, she’s breathing,” said the first. “She just isn’t crying.”
“That’s so strange…”
“My baby?” Kalenda stretched out her hands. The midwife gently wrapped the baby in cloth and handed her over to Kalenda.
“Would you look at that,” breathed Kendra, gazing down at the newborn. “Lying there in blissful ennui.”
Kalenda smiled, her arms drooping. Kendra reached and plucked up the baby before she could fall. “Kalenda?” she prompted.
“I can’t stop the bleeding…” gasped one of the midwives.
“Get the herbs!” ordered another.
“Kalenda, hold the baby,” Kendra instructed, making sure the new mother had a good grip. She fled into her room to gather potions and medicines, rushing back out to hand them to the midwives.
“It’s not working… We’re going to lose her…”
“Mother…” moaned Kalenda. Kendra leaned towards her daughter. “Take… care of my daughter…”
“You’ll be quite all right managing that on your own, Kalenda,” Kendra told her, panic seeping into cracks in her voice.
“No… mother… I’m… not…” she sighed, her breathing becoming shallow. “Take care… of Kiyanni… please… promise me…”
Kendra gulped. “I promise, child.”
Kendra closed her daughter’s eyes for her as the midwives looked on, mortified.

“Sleep easy now. May angels bear you home.”

 

“AGGHH!” cried Kendra. “HOW DARE you show me this? How… how… khhh…”

Enna fell to the ground. She gasped for breath as Gath gathered her up and pulled her away from her grandmother.

“Why… who… what is…” Kendra clawed at her own face, frantically looking around. “WHYYYYY!!”

“What’s wrong with her!?” Enna cried, burying her face in her husband’s shoulders.

“Volus,” hissed Gath, gritting his teeth. “He’s made her forget about love.”

Enna gasped, looking up at him and then focusing on her grandmother. “We won’t let him!

Gath’s wife slipped away, calling out to her grandmother. “Grandmother!” she cried. “I don’t care what he has done to you, or what he has made you do. You loved my mother!”

“No…” moaned Kendra. “Stop it!!”

“And you loved me! You had that cute little nickname for me… Remember? Blissful Ennui.”

Kendra gasped, clinging on to the side of the rack. She looked up at Enna and just stared, lacking the strength to protest anymore.

“Blissful Ennui,” Enna repeated. “You called me that so much, and then, later, just Ennui, that I never even knew my real name. The other kids didn’t make fun of me, though, because no one knew what it meant.”

“Ghhh…” grunted Kendra.

“But Gath knew,” she smiled back at him. “And he didn’t see me as someone who fit the name. So, he renamed me.”

Kendra said nothing.

“My name is Enna, Gram. I’m Enna.”

“En-na…”

“Yes, that’s right!” cried Enna, nodding her head as tears fell from her eyes.

“You…” Kendra glared at Gath. “Who… the Hell… are you…?”

“He is my husband,” Enna told her.

“I love Enna with every fiber of my being,” Gath told her. “Let me show you.”

“NO!” bellowed Kendra, attempting to block the vision with her arms across her eyes.

 

Gath skidded around the corner, frantic to reach Enna’s cell.
“Enna,” Gath sighed with relief. He feared she’d perished of starvation from an earlier dream he’d just had. But there she was. Her eyes brightened as he brought her more food and water. Compassion swelled within him as he fed her piece after piece of fresh bread.
Such a simple thing.
Such a simple little thing.
The offering of food to someone hungry.
Someone needed him.
Someone appreciated him.
He wondered if this was how fathers felt when doting upon their children. Or watching over them as they overcame a disease. How could they manage it? This tumultuous onslaught of emotion. Gath feared it might be the death of him.
“You came back…” Enna cried softly, not bothering to hide her tears.

“Why do you care?” she asked later.
“Because you’re me.
“You’re the me that would have been if I hadn’t been given a second chance.”
“So, you don’t hate me?” she’d asked him sometime later.
“No, I think you’re amazing,” he’d told her, remembering how she’d learned to stop hating the men that caused her so much suffering.
“Thank you,” she’d said.
And then she kissed him.
Such power. Such love. She took his breath away.

Lady Lamara faced Gath.
“All mamono are equal, whether they or the men they encounter like it or not, in their need for a single man to love and to love them back. Are you prepared to do this for yours?” Gath remembered Lady Lamara’s words. About Enna.

“I am,” he’d replied.

“Then, in the eyes of the Mamono, you are already her husband. She has chosen well.”

 

“I have to ask you… to preserve your honor…” Gath asked Enna, on his knees. “Will you accept me as your husband?”
After a long, scary pause, Enna threw her arms around him. “Gath! I’ve been yours since the first time you gave me water!”
“So, your answer is yes?” he asked timidly.
“Only if you accept me as your wife,” she offered, her voice choked with emotion.

“I do.”

“Then my answer is yes!”

 

“AGGGHHHH!” screamed Kendra. “I cannot! I cann…” she slumped over, staggering.

“Enna,” Gath said softly. “Let’s show her what love is.”

“Yes,” his wife nodded, drawing him into an embrace. “Grandmother…”

Kendra looked up just as Enna kissed her husband, her tears melting into his embrace. Kendra gazed longingly at them; she clutched her chest, as if her heart had suddenly started to beat again.

“Urrkkk” she retched, coughing up a vile green and purple substance. “Ennui…” she moaned, glancing back up at her granddaughter. “What… what have I done?”

Gath and Enna broke their kiss. They both watched her carefully. “You’ve just conquered apathy,” Gath told her. “Not an easy task, especially for someone to have been bound and violated by it for so many years.”

“Grandmother…” Enna cried, running to her and hugging her. “I’m so sorry! I tried to protect you!”

“I know you did, sweet Ennui…” she patted the girl’s back.

“Gram…” she gazed at her with tearful eyes. “My name is Enna now.” She smiled.

“Enna,” repeated the succubus. To Gath, she smiled. “You are a fortunate man. I hope you realize this.”

“Not a day goes by,” Gath told her truthfully.

Suddenly, the door behind them burst apart, falling to pieces as Katarina leapt into the room. “Observer!” she cried.

“Took you long enough,” chuckled Gath.

“There is a field of dark power forming around this tower!” she said, nearly out of breath. “It proved very difficult to sunder!”

“Ahh!” gasped Enna all of the sudden, wincing in pain.

“Enna?” Gath asked her with concern.

“My link to Camilla was just severed,” she said.

“Volus…” hissed Gath. “There!”

He pointed to a large, dark violet door behind the torture rack. It looked out of phase with the rest of the wall, and he could see the wall there as well.

“This is it, isn’t it?” Enna said softly as they all approached the door.

“It is. Kendra, please stay here,” Gath told her. “You’re safe now. We will deal with Volus.”

“I have a bone to pick with that man,” Kendra reminded him, a steely glint in her eyes.

“Some other time,” the Observer did not yield. “Stay here. He has taken too much from your family already. I would prefer if he did not take you from Enna as well.”

“Very well,” she replied, though not warmly.

“Let’s go,” Gath said, bracing himself as he opened the door. Enna held his left hand tightly. Katarina stood by his right. They stepped into the darkness.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Oppressive sorrow crushed down upon them. The massive room stretched up all the way into the spire of the tower, giving it the appearance it stretched to infinity. Perhaps it did. This was no normal room. It had been tuned for one, specific purpose.

The green and violet light.

The veins of runic energy stretching from the walls and curling towards a pedestal in the center. The dim light which offered no comfort as it was drawn towards the center. All of it. For one purpose.

For suffering.

To sup upon the suffering of the world and draw it into one place. One point.

Volus.

The man himself stood by the pedestal, his hand on a wicked blade stuck firmly into the crystal, and his back to Gath. While suffering continued to trickle into it, the light in the room was tapering off into a deeper twilight. Gath’s and Enna’s gazes both pierced the gloom effortlessly. What concerned them was the green and purple flames licking the blade in the pedestal.

“We meet at last, Observer,” Volus drawled, his baritone filling the chamber. He did not turn, keeping his back to Gath. “I see you’ve freed my prisoners. Ended their suffering. Given them hope. Very impressive.”

“You could have stopped me,” Gath said, incredulous. “Why did you not? Do you want this to end?”

“I do, in fact,” Volus admitted. “I had been wondering what to do with all of the rabble now that the weapon is complete.”

Gath’s blood froze. Enna’s hand turned clammy in his. Katarina stiffened beside him.

Volus carefully pulled the blade from the pedestal. Its green and purple flames flared brightly, and a pulse of green and violet blasted out of the pedestal when the tip of the blade emerged. Gath, Enna, and Katarina struggled against it, but it pushed them back several feet.

“Volus!” cried Gath. “Cast aside that devilry! It is from an ancient age that no longer has any meaning for this world!”

“I beg to differ, Observer,” intoned Volus. “Surely you, of all men, have observed suffering in the world. It beats in the hearts of all, even those who claim to have surrendered to pleasure.” He indicated Katarina. “Do you understand? Even those dedicated to pleasure cannot always embrace it. In moments between bliss, there is suffering. Even in its smallest measurement. And for those not so lucky,” he said as he twirled the blade around, “Suffering is the mainstay of their lives.”

“Suffering is a void,” said Enna, “In and of itself, to temper men’s hearts and strengthen their love! If there is no suffering or adversity in the world, we would not be able to take such pleasure as we do now. Suffering is the absence of love. Love banishes suffering.”

“And yet,” remarked Volus, “Every region and territory under the auspices of the Order suffers when the news reaches them that yet another of their cities has fallen. Yet another Demon Realm spreads. If the love you so highly tout is the ultimate goal, then why do the men and women of humanity flee in terror?”

“Because the Order has lied to us!” cried Gath. “The Order teaches that monsters devour humans! Use us for food and for sport! They know nothing!

“Have you ever beheld a male monster, Observer? With all of your power of vision,” Volus asked calmly, “Have you ever seen a female of their ranks birth a male child?”

“What relevance is that?” Gath demanded.

“Answer the question.”

“No, for my observations, I have not.”

“So, pray tell, what shall happen when the Demon Realms have conquered every inch of this world, as they are wont to do?”

“By then,” Enna spoke up, “The Demon Lord will have enough power to grant male children to the wombs of mamono worldwide.”

Volus chuckled, a slow, menacing sound that reverberated through the chamber. “Indeed?” he asked dubiously. “And she knows this for a fact, I take it?”

Enna said nothing.

“Even she, in all her wisdom, is aware of this critical flaw,” Volus said. “The fact of the matter is, the moment monsters take control of the entire world, is the moment the world dies.” He paused for effect. “Oh, it won’t happen all at once, mind you,” he noted. “But over time, the women of the realm will realize they are all alone. All of the men have grown old and died. It may take hundreds or thousands of years, but, at that moment, when the collective female race realizes this, then will ultimate Suffering descend. And it will destroy everyone and every living thing.”

“That scenario is unlikely,” Katarina spoke up.

“Is it, my dear?” Volus turned to her. “As a weapon yourself, you should know your purpose. To kill. You may have forgotten that for the moment, but you were ultimately designed to wound, maim, and kill. Even the weapons themselves have imbibed blissful ignorance.”

Volus turned to the Enna and Gath. “As for the Demon Lord, she made a grave error when she overturned the balance of the world. She did so with good intentions, but, as they say, ‘The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.’ You see, removing monsters’ desire to kill and changing it to a desire to multiply has sped our world towards oblivion far faster than had they never been defanged.”

“So, what is your ‘solution?’” Gath asked, grinding his teeth.

“Suffering.”

“Be more specific,” Gath hissed.

“Suffering will come,” Volus told him. “Whether now, or in the great expanse of time, but the point at which it strikes will either wound us, or utterly annihilate us. Which would you prefer?”

“You would return us to the era of darkness and fear of monsters?” Gath pressed.

“As their master, I would take all suffering unto myself,” Volus announced. “The Demonic Realms of this world would be transformed into places of cleansing. To have your pain extracted as if it were venom from a wound. They would then be able to live lives of peace and perfect tranquility.”

“A noble goal,” Gath admitted. “If not for the evil committed in achieving it. To complete the weapon, you couldn’t just wait while the world’s suffering came to you. You had to inflict suffering on innocents in order to get what you wanted!”

“Dark times call for dark measures,” Volus warned him in his booming voice. “Our scholars worked for years to plot different scenarios the timeline might play out for us. The vast majority of these projections indicated the weapon would not be completed by the time the last human lands fell to the Demon Lord. By then, it would be too late.”

Gath and Enna thought about that.

“Even you are beginning to realize there is no choice in the matter,” Volus told Gath. “I will not ask of you to partake in this Suffering. I do not deny that my actions seem counterproductive to the cause. I, myself, must become the ultimate monster in order to save humanity.”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Enna said softly. “Omnia vincit amor.”

Love conquers all.

She squeezed Gath’s hand, sending out a pulse of breathtaking power that Volus had to shield himself from.

“Even if we die to love,” cried Enna, “Even if it ends in the extinction of all sentient life, we will have died in love!”

“Often times,” Gath admitted, “I have said Enna would be the death of me.” He squeezed her hand with a smile. “But what a way to die! To die having loved my soulmate with every bit of my life. To die having felt her warmth, and to slip into eternal sleep in her arms. If that is the way the human race will fall, then so be it.”

Gath and Enna began walking towards Volus, hand in hand. Katarina followed by his right side.

“Fools,” sighed Volus. “You race towards your own destruction. ‘So be it,’ indeed.”

Volus rushed them, his blade swinging in a wide arc. Gath’s precognition kicked in, and he was able to get a good look at the weapon. At first, it appeared to be a normal sword, made of folded obsidian, instead of steel, with a hollow, diamond shaped point at its very tip. Green and violet flames licked every inch of the blade.

As Gath dodged, however, the blade curved, changing shape, into a sickle, which nearly removed his head from his shoulders. Katarina parried the blade, grunting in pain as she did so. Taking Enna back out of range, he paused to think.

Enna. We cannot engage him directly. That weapon is too dangerous. One scratch and the world is lost!

“Even Katarina is fatiguing fast.”

Gath spread his hand over the spectacle. Katarina fought viciously, deflecting several attacks a second, but couldn’t find an opening. Volus attacked calmly, one arm behind his back, as he spun around slashing and thrusting.

Time to steal away his composure.

Gripping his hand into a fist, Gath forcefully spread his fingers open. At the same time, Enna closed her eyes and spread mist into the room. At Gath’s command, the mist took shape, replicating his own form. Katarina backed off and dashed to him.

“For you, I do this, but only once,” she said.

Before Gath could ask her what she meant by that, she polymorphed herself into the blade itself, changing it into a massive zweihander. The red and black energy upon it seethed and licked the edges like ignis flames. The grip fell into his hand. His mouth fell open at her sacrifice.

Cursed Swords never did this except for the man they chose as their husband.

The moment he picked up the blade, every illusory image of him also held a copy of it.

Katarina? Are you certain about this?

“You are not my husband, Observer. However. If this man succeeds in his goal, I will never find the man I will love.”

She had a point. Figuratively, and literally.

“Go,” said Enna. “I will support you from here. Feel my love. Make him see.”

Gath charged in, as did every other illusion. They all circled around him and attacked in concert.

“FOOLS!” bellowed Volus. “Suffering is not only the absence of love! Suffering can destroy love!”

His sickening blade clashed with Gath’s. He was somehow able to determine which of them was the real him. But, focused on the real him, Volus neglected the illusions. Their blades were not mere mist.

“Agghhh!” grunted Volus as blade after blade pierced his body. He kicked out and caught Gath in the chest, knocking him back. Precognition wasn’t working with all of the illusions active. Together, Gath and Volus began a dance of blades that took them around and around the chamber. Each time Volus nearly landed a hit on him, an illusion leaped forward and was destroyed instead. Each time Gath lost a shadow, his precognition improved. Several times, he grazed the sorcerer with Katarina.

Gath had never felt so alive in his life, except for perhaps the moment Enna said yes to be his wife. He could feel her love pouring through him, and Katarina’s blade skills as well. It was almost as if she were guiding his movements as he flipped and spun through the air like an acrobat.

As Gath’s shadow count dwindled, his speed increased, and the number of hits he landed on Volus also increased. The wizard was slowing down. The power of love was conquering all.

And yet, something did not feel right. It still felt too easy, even with all the work and support he’d acquired. While Volus’ strength seemed to be fading, the blade he wielded burned all the brighter.

Finally, Gath’s final illusion expired. His precognition fully awakened. He was able to dodge every assault, parry every swing, and deflect every thrust.

The fight was his.

Until Volus used the precognition against him.

Volus swung wildly in an attack that was sure to miss. Gath parried it. Volus kicked him before he could recover, squarely into the gut just below his diaphragm.

“Mmmphh…” Gath grunted, crouching to catch his breath. He raised Katarina to deflect the sorcerer’s assault.

Except he did not strike at Gath.

He turned and raced for…

Enna.

“NO!” cried Gath. Volus was going to make him suffer the only way left to him. By killing his wife. Never! What could he do? His precognition kicked in, giving him time to think. Even still, he had seconds.

Secrets.

Enna! His secrets!

“Yes!”

Distracted on his single-minded goal to kill Enna, Volus’ soul became vulnerable. Gath forced his way inside and took Volus’ consciousness with him. They would view his secrets together.

 

“Desmond,” a man called.
“Yes, Father.” He sounded so young. Preteen? Younger?
“What have you been doing?”
“Just playing with Tamsin.”
“You love your sister very much, don’t you?”
“Yes, Father.”
“You should focus on your studies instead of fostering relationships with those who will only slow you down.”
“Wha?” Desmond asked. “But she’s my sister!”
A flash of pain as his father slapped him.
“She has less than a fraction of the potential you possess! From now on, you will be tutored separately!”
“But…”
Another slap.
“Do you understand!?”
“Yes, Father…”

 

Gath struggled to hold onto Volus. He could hear his secrets, but not see them.

 

“Desmond?” A girl’s voice. Teenaged.
“Go away, Tamsin,” Desmond snapped. His voice was also teenaged.
“My graduation ceremony is next week,” she said.
“So?”
“So, will you come?”
“I don’t have time.”
“You don’t have to always listen to Father, you know,” Tamsin said softly. “I’ve seen how he hurts you. Makes you suffer. It’s awful.”
“Maybe I need to suffer,” said Desmond abruptly. “It makes me stronger.”
“It makes you colder,” Tamsin stressed. “We used to be friends.”
“I need to focus on studying and not be with people who will slow me down,” he told her.
“That’s… that’s your father talking,” Tamsin’s voice tensed.
“It’s what I’m saying.”
“Do you really believe that?”
“I do. Leave me alone.”
Rapid footsteps departed as a girl cried softly.

 

“And the award for this year’s Arcane Innovator’s Award goes to… Desmond Volus!”
Clapping. Cheering.
“Well done, young man.”
More clapping.
Applause died down and a seat creaked as Desmond sat back down.
“You could have had that award last year,” Desmond’s father said with a sigh. “What happened? Has that sister of yours been distracting you again?”
“She’s been telling me I need to find a girlfriend,” said Desmond.
“Women are the worst invention the gods ever conjured,” groaned his father. “We’re going to have to do something about that girl.”

 

“Desmond, you got it!” cried Tamsin.
“Yeah, no thanks to you,” he muttered.
“Well, I know, but… it’s still nice,” she offered. “I wish I could have been there.”
“Father would not have approved,” Desmond warned her.
“Why does he hate me so much?” Tamsin asked, sniffling.
“Why don’t you ask him and find out,” grunted her brother.
“I’ve always been a disappointment to him,” she sighed. “I don’t think he likes women at all.”
“Or underachievers.”
“Is that all you can think about? Achievement? Fame?”
“What else is there?”
“Ohh…” gasped Tamsin in shock. “I can’t believe you would—”
“Well?” pressed Desmond.
“Love,” Tamsin said firmly. “Without love, you have nothing, really.”
“Love,” spat Desmond. “An invention by women to trap men into obligation.”
“How can you say that?” cried Tamsin.
“No woman ever did anything that helped me,” Desmond said smugly.
“A woman birthed you.”
“And it killed her, so what?”
“Is that what you feel about our mother!?” screamed Tamsin. “You monster!”
Shouts.
Struggling.
A sickening sound of… Gath wasn’t sure.
“Urrkk…” coughed Tamsin. “Desmond… what…”
Her body hit the floor.
“Great, just great,” cursed Desmond.

 

“Father.”
“Yes, Desmond, what is it?”
“Tamsin’s dead.”
A pause.
“By your hand?” his father asked.
“Yes. She came at me. I fought her off and…”
His father sighed. “To be honest, I should have done it myself years ago.”
“Then you’re not angry?”
“She’s been nothing but a burden on you and I. Don’t worry. I know some people. We’ll get this taken care of and then you can go back to your studies.”
“Yes, Father.”

 

Gath’s mind numbed. He’d thought Lysette’s life was awful. Nothing he’d seen compared to this. But there was more. So much more.

 

“Desmond…?” another girl. Older. Early twenties?
“Yeah.” His baritone had formed, but still sounded younger.
“Where are you going?”
“Out. We’re done.”
“Stay the night, keep me warm?”
“We’re finished. I just wanted to feel what it was like.”
“Desmond? Are you—”
But he’d closed the door on her.

 

Lucky girl. He didn’t kill that one.
Many more secrets emerged. It wasn’t the only tryst he’d enjoyed, but he always left right after. He didn’t kill any more women, though. He was cold, calculating, but not vicious to bystanders. Only to those who got in his way.

 

“Volus, this research in arcane runes, it’s illegal,” said a man. “Do you have any idea what kind of trouble we could get into for this?”
“None, as long as you keep silent,” said Volus, his intimidating baritone perfected.
“Why, though, why are you researching these? This kind of magic wouldn’t benefit you without a proper way to channel it.”
Volus said nothing.
“…You have a channeling source,” gasped the man. “What the Hell are you thinking!? If the Order finds out, they’ll have you in chains!”
“They’ll never know, because the secrets will die with you,” Volus told him.
“What…?”
Crunch.
Gath cringed. The dripping of blood and sound of falling objects filled his mind.
“You… can’t… they’ll…” the man breathed his last.
“They will not even find a trace of you,” Volus said as a spell blazed. Gath did not catch what was happening, but he could guess.

 

“Lord Volus. We found it. We actually found it!” a young man exclaimed.
“It’s a gateway to another realm,” said another. “A city floating within a Spirit Realm.”
“Well done,” boomed Volus.
“I wonder where it leads… if it… leads…” the man gasped, out of breath.
“What are you doing!?” cried the other man. He too began to gasp.
Volus chuckled darkly. “Removing… distractions.”

 

“Ahh. Atlantis. At last.” Volus spoke to the wind. Gath could hear his footsteps but still see nothing. This went on for some time, until he assumed Volus found the sword pedestal.
“Still here,” Volus muttered. “Covered in Zipangunese seals. Interesting.”
Gath could hear him gripping the blade.
“Agh!” snapped Volus. The sounds of flames reached Gath’s mind.
Voices began to fill Volus’ memory.

Suffering.
It is the beginning.
It is the end.
It is what inspires.
It is what languishes.
It is of everything.
Yet it is of nothing. 

Suffering.
It is the answer.
The clarion call.
Complete my work.
Bring Suffering to the world.
Before love conquers all.

 

 

Gath gasped!

His connection to Volus broke. Volus staggered, searching for Enna. She’d managed to escape in the confusion as Gath searched his secrets. An opening. Gath leapt to his feet and sailed through the air, sword point forward.

Volus turned…

Crunch.

Katarina’s blade rammed right through Volus’ shoulder, bisecting it diagonally. At last! The man’s grip on his sword fell away.

But there was a problem.

Gath glanced down. The blade Volus bore had pierced him through the gut, and was protruding through the other side.

“NOOOOOO!!”

Was that Enna? Even screaming, her voice was so soft…

A blast of power knocked the two men apart. Volus was forced off of the impaled Katalya Blade and sent into the far wall. Light began to shift in the chamber; the oppressing nature of the magic there began to dissipate. Katarina fell from Gath’s hand. She reformed back into herself, carrying the blade, which retained its massive size, Gath dimly noted. She knelt beside him as he sank to the ground.

Enna coalesced next to him and reached for the blade of Suffering. Gath grasped her wrist, shaking his head. “No… I can’t… ever let you… endure that…”

“K-Katarina…” sobbed Enna. “Break the… the barrier… keeping everyone out…”

“As you wish,” said the woman, dashing out.

“Urrrghhh…” grunted Gath as he pulled the blade out of his body. “This is… actually…” he coughed up some blood. “Not as painful as it looks…”

“What…?” gasped Enna.

“It’s more like… a hollow… feeling…” coughed Gath. “I’m so sorry, Enna…”

“What… what do you mean? We stopped him…”

“I mean… I… it looks like you really… are going to be the death… of…”

“NOO!” screamed Enna. “HELP!! Someone help me!!” she cried desperately to the open room. “I won’t let you go… I can’t!”

“Enna…” grunted Gath. “Would you… do me a favor?”

Enna just gazed tearfully at him.

“Take care… of our daughter…”

His wife gasped and she paled like a Wight. “What… how do you…?”

“Secrets…” Gath said softly. “Please… come face me.”

Enna curled into his lap and gazed deeply into his eyes.

“Wanted you… to be the last thing… I saw…”

“No… You’re going to see many more things,” Enna said, lightly kissing him.

No more words were necessary. She wanted to remind him of her love. So, she let him sample it, gently touching her tongue to his. The contact was like a spark of electricity. Their tongues entwined for one last embrace

Enna heard soft footsteps, but paid them no heed. She merely held onto her husband, holding his limp body against hers, and kept their kiss alive.

“Enna…?” a sultry voice asked softly.

“Camilla…” sobbed Enna.

“We’ve been trying to break through the barrier for some time now. Only my Katalya Blade was able to push through. What… what happened?”

“We… we stopped him… but Gath… oh Gath…”

Camilla eyed the blade in Gath’s hand warily. It still blazed angrily with the flames of Suffering. No one, herself included, dared go near it. “Was he struck?” she asked gently.

“Yes…” cried Enna. “I’ve… I’ve lost him…”

“Not on my watch,” said Camilla firmly. She glanced around the room. “Where is Volus?”

Enna gasped, turning. “He was… he was there… against the wall.”

“Millicent!” snapped Camilla. The Gazer jogged up to her, her eyes floating every which way. “Find him.

Millicent nodded and ran off to scan for the wizard.

“The rest of you, form a circle around the Observer and the Beholder,” commanded Camilla.

“What…?” Enna asked. “What are you…”

“Through my spells, I was able to divine some of what you were saying to that man,” Camilla explained as her girls assumed their formation. There were so many of them, they were able to bridge the entire circumference of the chamber several times. Enna even noticed a few new faces. New monsters which were once minions of Volus.

“One line struck a chord with me,” said Camilla. “Omnia Vincit Amor. Love conquers all. I heard Mother speaking through you. It is what She has worked to inspire in all of us. I believe in Her. And now, I believe in you. You and the Observer have selflessly given yourselves to this cause, and for that, we owe you a debt that we would like to start repaying.”

“H-how?” sobbed Enna.

“Love,” smiled Camilla. She turned to the circle of mamono. “This man, this man here, has, through his actions, demonstrated to us the manifest power of love, and for that, he now suffers. Each one of us has benefited in some way by his love, and now, he shall benefit from ours. Focus now, our love, upon him and his wife.”

The Lilim turned and closed her eyes, floating up upon an orb of pure dark energy. Each of the other girls in the room also closed their eyes and focused their love into the center of the circle. Camilla stored their power and redirected it towards Enna and Gath.

“Oh?” gasped Enna. “Ohhhh…” she shuddered. She could hear their voices as they opened their hearts to her.

 

 

“Thank you! You set me free!”
“You helped me express my love to my husband, thank you.”
“You reunited me with my friend. I’ll never forget that.”
“My sister is alive today because of you.”
“My family reunited today!”
“You saved my life…”
“The lives of countless Mamono and humans were saved by your actions today.”
“I never knew the horrible things that man was planning! Thank you for stopping him!”
“I now know my true purpose. Thank you.”
“I found a husband today because of you.”
“So did I!”
“Me too!”

 

Enna couldn’t help herself. She laughed softly. So many kind words. They kept coming, overlapping each other, as more and more women stepped inside with their husbands. She sighed, wondering if she could just float away on this sea of love. Clutching Gath’s body tightly, she willed herself to just… let… go…

En…na…

Enna’s body jerked as if someone slapped her. “Gath!? Love!?” she gasped. Laying her husband’s body down on the floor, she pulled his shirt up. The ugly wound above his navel was shrinking! It was almost gone!

“It’s working!!” screamed Enna. “Please!!” she embraced him, holding onto him frantically as she kissed him as powerfully as she could, pouring her essence into him.

Camilla knelt beside her and nudged her out of the way. Enna looked up at her. Camilla smoothed her hands together, sticky with dark matter. Pure mamono power. Gently, she rested her hand on the wound, hissing in pain as it bit into her hand. Enna gazed at her in concern. She shook her head.

“Lift him up,” she asked, trying to mask the pain in her voice.

Enna complied and pulled up his shirt. The exit wound. Camilla pressed her other hand against it, gasping at the pain of it.

Gath gasped and his eyes flew open, inky black and blazing red.

“My love!” cried Enna as she threw her arms around him.

“Nnnngg…” grunted Camilla. “Gently…”

“What…? What happened…?” gasped Gath. “It’s so warm… I’m surrounded by beautiful women… and… there are four hands on me. Four? Enna?”

Enna indicated Camilla with a nod of her head.

Gath glanced and happened upon the inky black stare of Camilla, busy with her healing. Her tail was holding up his shirt, and her white wings were holding him upright. Gath glanced down and noticed what she was doing. He then noticed the weapon in his right hand.

“Suffering…” he muttered.

Camilla glanced at him in alarm. “Why are you still holding that?”

“I can… hear its voice in my head…” he said darkly. “I know what it wants me to do.”

Camilla stiffened but did not move.

“But I’m not going to do it,” the Observer said firmly.

“That… is most relieving to hear,” Camilla said with a sigh. “There.” She released him, and only a glowing scar remained from the wound. It swirled a green and violet, same as the blade, but also contained a new color, one that he’d never seen before. It was a kind of pink, or red, or… not. He wasn’t sure.

The chanting of the girls all around tapered off as he stood. Glancing at Enna and Camilla, he asked, “Have I you two to thank for this?”

“Yes,” said Enna. “And yourself. And us. Love really does conquer all.”

Some of the mamono girls were whispering amongst themselves about him. Some of them hadn’t seen him before, but had participated in the event because Camilla commanded it. Their questions filtered through the crowd.

“Who is he?”

“What is he going to do with that sword? He could kill us! Like, actually kill us!”

“Who’s his wife?”

“It’s her, right next to him.”

“What kind of monster is she? I’ve never seen those kinda eyes before.”

Gath chuckled and glanced at Enna. Her eyes were swirling ink and milk. Difficult to read.

Camilla called for order, standing next to the pedestal. “This is Lord Gath, The Observer. The Guardian of Suffering. Lord of Atlantis. And beside him is his wife, Lady Enna, The Beholder. Marshal of Love. Mistress of Atlantis. May their watch stand until death takes them. May death never take them while love holds them. And may love hold them always, for we always will.”

Cheers rang out. Deafening. The chamber rang clear with the joy of adulation and love. Gath and Enna turned to each other, and, carefully—as he still held the sword—embraced, kissing deeply.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Gath walked out onto the terrace, gazing out into the heavens above and below. A gentle wind crossed his face. He smiled, inhaling the fragrance of mamono energy in the air. Had to be careful, though. After changing Atlantis into a Demon Realm, breathing too deeply might result in him having to cancel all of his appointments and spend the day inside with Enna.

Actually, that didn’t sound like such a bad idea.

No, no, that’s the Realm talking. Business before… ahh, there had to be a way to do business and pleasure at the same time. Hm. More research necessary. For science.

The soft sound of bare feet made its way to him. He closed his eyes. Didn’t need them. Her delicious fragrance carried on the wind. Enna embraced him from behind, her swollen belly nestling into his back.

“Mmm… morning…” Enna said, her voice drowsy and sultry as she touched a kiss to her husband’s neck.

“Enna, it’s the afternoon. You slept all morning again.”

She giggled. “Oops. I’m sorry, love,” she cooed.

Gath gently guided her in front of him and allowed her to recline back into him, so they could stroke her belly together. “You’ve gotten rather naughty, my love,” he murmured, burying his nose in her hair and inhaling her fragrance as he caressed her belly.

Enna pouted. “But love, I’m being naughty for two now…”

“Oh you,” Gath chided, rubbing his nose in her hair.

“Come back to bed?”

“Enna,” the Observer sighed. “Camilla’s coming to visit today. Did you forget?”

“She can join us~!”

“Enna!” gaped Gath. She spun around and giggled madly at him. “That’s… that’s… I’m not sharing you!”

Enna laughed heartily, clutching her sides as she spun around. Gath sighed watching her. He couldn’t imagine anything else in the universe more beautiful. Her black, lacy nightie, which barely covered anything, to her matching hair that now grew to her ankles. The glossy locks gleamed and shone in the beautiful light of the realm. He still hadn’t let her cut it. Eventually she was going to become a brunette version of a storybook character he’d heard about.

A knock sounded softly, amplified by a crystal tine next to the terrace fence. Gath waved his hand at it and waited a moment.

“My lord,” said a gentle female voice.

“Cari,” sighed Gath. “You know you don’t have to call me that.”

Cari cleared her voice. “My lord, you have guests.” She quickly darted out of the room.

Enna gasped, yelping as she struggled to cover herself.

Gath turned, blushing slightly. He expected Camilla to be standing there smirking, but not… oh.

Today just got more interesting…

Another Lilim stood beside her. One recognized the world over. Her very presence bathed the room in a dull red glow. Instead of normal succubus horns, brilliant red eyes gleamed from each horn, joint in her wings, and from large jewels adorned on her body and clothing. Her clothing, if it could even be called such, drew the eye to certain areas of her body, squeezing and cupping her curves tightly, to the point of looking painful. Where sharp edges dug into her skin, sensual pleasure runes further heightened her allure, stimulating her every time her “clothing” grazed them.

“Lady Druella,” said Gath, “What a pleasure. Welcome to my home. Will you be staying for a while?”

“So, this is the famed Atlantis,” replied Druella, lazily twirling a black, oily sphere of dark matter in her right hand. A dull red eye gleamed within its depths. She took care not to let any of it drip on the floor. “Quite charming, though a bit bright for my tastes.”

“Shall I have Cari prepare you a room?” Gath asked the Lilim as Enna slid into his arm. “Something more to your liking?”

“Some other time, perhaps,” said Druella. “I wanted to stop by and convey Mother’s personal gratitude for stopping Lord Volus.”

“We’re honored,” Enna said softly, with a gentle smile as she rested her head on Gath’s shoulder. “But surely you didn’t take time out of your busy schedule just to come say thank you.”

“Sampled my secrets, did you?” Druella asked as she plucked a prisoner fruit out of a bowl on a stand next to her.

“Mm. That would be an invasion of your privacy,” Enna said, her voice calm and gentle. “The time for such urgency has passed. We don’t bite. Unless asked.” She winked at the Lilim.

“It’s just that you’re rarely seen outside of Lescatié, my lady,” Gath noted. “Whether by laying low or recharging your power—which you appear to have done rather well, I might add—your presence has been somewhat absent of late.”

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Druella chuckled, dipping the prisoner fruit in the little sphere of dark matter and lifting it to her lips. She kissed the skin of it in a wholly seductive manner, drawing a section of it within her mouth and biting gently to release the pulp. As the taste overtook her, she drew the rest into her mouth and sucked the fruit off its stem.

“Mmm. Exquisite,” she remarked. “But, more to the point, you are quite correct. I wanted to speak about the possibility of acquiring one or more of your islands for my personal use.”

“That would depend entirely upon your intentions for said islands,” Gath replied. Enna’s warmth melted into him from her place at his side. He felt a surge of gratitude for her action. This conversation could take a turn for the worse at any moment, and he needed Enna by his side.

“Hmm,” murmured Druella as she strode out onto the terrace, arching her back as she gazed up at the numerous floating isles. “Atlantis is quite well connected, so I hear,” she remarked. “The runic power channeled through the various islands permits travel to and from practically anywhere in the world in the blink of an eye.”

“Yes, milady,” Enna affirmed her statement. “We receive visitors from all over, even from Zipangu and Mist. It’s become quite a bustling cultural exchange.”

“And a means towards furthering Mother’s goals,” said Druella as she gazed into the sky.

Gath glanced in Camilla’s direction, noting her pointed silence. Her expression was difficult to read. She did not appear willing to speak up on her sister’s behalf, nor to chide her for her imposition.

“Am I to understand,” Gath prompted, “You mean to use the islands as staging points for incursions into Order territories?”

“Oh, nothing so boorish,” chuckled Druella, her gaze turning downward to look upon the crystalline islands below. “However, free travel to and from such places for my operatives would be a rather powerful tactical advantage.”

“My lady,” Gath said with a sigh. “Enna and I discussed this with your lieutenant, Sasha Fullmoon.”

“Was your reaction not a little vague?” Druella asked softly, keeping her back to him. Her tail skimmed the surface of the floor with its tip. Testing it.

“No, I believe I was rather adamant,” the Observer told her. “Originally, Atlantis was created for two purposes. Firstly, to act as a safe haven from the ever-present danger the beastlike monsters posed towards the fragile research of arcane magic and advanced science. And secondly…”

Gath trailed off, drawing the terrifying Blade of Suffering.

Druella turned slowly, her dark eyes fixed upon it. Its power whisked away even her red aura, drawing it into the flames and extinguishing it.

“Secondly, the city itself acted as a massive focusing apparatus to channel suffering, assisting in the infusion of this very weapon.” Gath twirled the weapon in the air for effect, reigning its power in to affect only the room. Specifically, the two Lilim in front of him. Its crushing aura weighed heavily on the room.

“My lady, the simple fact of the matter is, Atlantis was designed to be a weapon. A weapon of mass destruction aimed at the lives of all monsters, and fueled by the suffering they, and humans, endured every day. And, as Lord Volus was wont to demonstrate, its function still serves to this day. Were this blade to drop back into its pedestal, the cycle would begin again.”

“Milady,” Enna spoke softly, yet firmly, “Even a device designed for evil can be used for good. For love. That is why we have dedicated Atlantis as a place of study and solace. For learning and for exchange of ideas.”

“Enna’s words ring true,” Gath added, “That being said… As Lord of Atlantis and Guardian of Suffering, I cannot permit Atlantis to be used in any sort of military capacity ever again. Everyone present at the Fall of Atlantis bore witness to just how close we came to utter annihilation.”

The Blade of Suffering burned brightly, its silent flames licking the edges. “If you believe my judgement to be in error, I invite you to select any number of candidates you believe to be better suited to bear this responsibility,” Gath offered, and offered the Lilim a taste of the power the weapon possessed.

For a brief moment, the Observer allowed Druella to hear the insidious whispering within, tempting the mind with endless suffering.

 

 

Bring Suffering to the world.
Before love conquers all.

 

Druella stiffened slightly. “You hear its voice even now?”

“It is always there,” nodded Gath, sheathing the blade. The room returned to normal, and Druella’s aura gradually returned, casting its dull red light across the terrace. “Always. In the back of my mind. Quieted only by a stronger voice. Stronger, yet carrying the gentle breath of love.”

His arm slipped around Enna’s shoulder, squeezing her gently. She smiled up at him and nodded.

Druella averted her gaze, languidly curling and uncurling her free hand into a fist as she considered the Observer’s words. “And what of Volus? My sister tells me he escaped.”

Gath glanced at Camilla, who said nothing. Turning back to Druella, the Observer noted, “Katarina consumed his spirit energy. In an instant, she stripped him of his power and his authority. He’d spent decades here, gathering power. Perhaps more. Now, he is alone, with only his own suffering as his constant companion.”

“Defanged or no,” Druella countered, “The man is still dangerous.”

“On that matter, we are not in dispute,” said the Observer. “However. With her love, Enna provides me her eyes in the dark. Day and night, our watchful gaze searches for him tirelessly. If he attempts another rise to power, we will know.”

“Our love is everlasting,” Enna said warmly. “In the coming years, the weapon’s power will diminish. We will not fail. Our love will conquer this evil. This we swear.”

“Whether by one year or ten thousand,” Gath added, “My watch will last until the weapon is broken, utterly defeated by the steadfastness of our love.”

“And then?” Druella asked.

“Hmm,” Gath thought about it. “Perhaps by then, our children will take up the calling. We shall see. For the moment, Atlantis remains a neutral realm of safety, security, and understanding. In the coming years, it may grow and expand, offering more of its gifts to the world. But never again will any of the races of the world, monster or human, have cause to fear this city.”

“I see,” Druella replied. If she was angry or disappointed, she hid it well. “I shall take my leave, then. Your vision is a noble one, Observer. See that your grip on that menace,” she glanced pointedly at the weapon at his side, “Never falters.”

“It shan’t.” swore Gath.

“Oh, milady,” Enna inquired softly as Druella turned to leave. The Lilim paused and glanced over her shoulder. “Lord Volus did touch upon one point that I believe we all agree. So, I would ask you, with respect, has your Mother made any progress towards the blessing of our wombs with male children?”

Druella said nothing for a moment.

Gath squeezed his wife gently. Dangerous risk, bringing this up. Of all the subjects the Demon Lord dealt with on a daily basis, this was the most personal. The most frustrating. And the one topic upon which She poured the vast majority of Her energy and study.

“She has not,” Druella replied somewhat hoarsely. Her eyes narrowed. She turned slightly. “If the minds of Atlantis happen to come across the solution…”

“You’ll be the first to know,” Enna promised.

“News of that magnitude would not be worthy for even my ears to hear first,” Druella said softly. “I would bid you inform Mother personally. Take these.”

Druella approached Enna and handed her a pair of plaques.

The Beholder gasped at what she held. “Lifetime open invitations to the Royal Demon Realm…”

“Thank you, my lady,” Gath accepted his graciously. “Though when we visit, we do so in spirit. I dare not take the Blade outside the safety of this sanctum.”

Druella nodded. “Of course.” She paused and glanced back outside at one of the islands. “Summer home?” she asked, a touch of a smile curving her lips.

Gath smiled; his wife giggled. “We would be honored to extend you that courtesy,” the Observer replied warmly.

“When time permits,” Druella said, stepping out. “Farewell, Observer. Beholder.”

And then she was gone.

Gath glanced at Camilla, who seemed somewhat relieved. “That went better than I expected,” she admitted.

The three of them pondered the exchange for a moment.

“So,” Gath prompted, “Did you impress her?”

Camilla grinned and nodded. “I’ve got my own Dullahan regiment now.” She sighed, smiling triumphantly. “I figured if taking the Western Front, transforming its leaders, and assisting in the Fall of Atlantis, all in one day, wouldn’t do it, nothing would.”

“We helped, a little,” said Enna.

“Yeah, a little,” shrugged Camilla. “She was still impressed. Oh well. I’d best be going too. These Realm encroachments are just work, work, work.” She sighed.

“You should stay,” the Observer offered. “The pleasures of the Crystal Spa of Atlantis can’t be found anywhere else. Not even in your Mother’s realm.”

The Lilim shook her head. “Ohh, I’m afraid there simply isn’t time…” Despite saying that, she shifted her weight on the balls of each foot, back and forth. Gath did not need to read her secrets to understand that cry for help.

“Camilla, didn’t you know?” said the Observer softly, as if sharing one of those secrets, “Time flows somewhat differently in Atlantis. You could stay, relax a few hours, and only have been gone for…” he trailed off, glancing at Enna.

“Half an hour?” shrugged Enna. She smiled coyly.

Camilla bit on her lower lip, squirming. “You beasts… You know exactly how to tempt… fine. I guess I’m staying a little longer. Which way?”

Gath chuckled and pointed up towards the sky, where a floating island surrounded by gently chiming crystal hovered, connected by some kind of energy bridge.

“You’ll know where to find me,” Camilla sighed and flew off.

You two certainly have become fast friends,” Enna sighed, leaning back into her husband again and stroking her belly contentedly.

“She did save both our lives, love,” he reminded her.

“No, mostly yours.”

“You’re cute when you’re jealous.”

“You mean I’m not cute other times?” Enna pouted, looking back and up at him.

“I’ll settle for breathtaking any other day,” Gath told her, kissing her forehead.

“Oohh…” squealed Enna. She sighed softly. “So, when is Cari going to move in?”

“I’ve already arranged for it,” Gath replied. “Michael’s just busy ironing out the details of the treaty with Baron Lester.”

“He sure had a change of heart,” giggled Enna.

“That tends to happen when one’s own enemy saves his life even after his own mage roasts him after ordering the execution of an innocent man.”

“You always did have a way with words,” his wife cooed softly.

“Not just words, love,” Gath said, tilting her chin up for a kiss.

Enna sighed. “Mmmm…”

“You know, there’s one thing I never figured out,” Gath murmured. “That day I first met you. Horace asked me to bring a prisoner food and water. I never found the right prisoner. I just found you.”

“That may have been my doing,” Enna said softly.

“Wha?”

“At that point, I didn’t think I was going to last the night,” his wife sighed. “I reached out. I don’t know if you could call it prayer, but I definitely called out to… what are you laughing at?”

“I’m sorry, love!” chuckled Gath. “But if you can believe it, you were praying to…” he laughed. “To Horace! I think you put an illusion in his mind that he needed to feed a prisoner that wasn’t there!”

“That fat, stumpy old man?” Enna blanched.

“The very one!”

Enna giggled, sighing. They laughed together for a moment.

“So, what should we name her?” she asked as she relaxed to stroke her belly again.

Gath thought about it for a moment.

“How about… Kiyanni?”

“I feel like I’ve heard that name before…” Enna mused, mulling it over. “Where did you hear it?”

“Oh, it just reminds me of you,” Gath told her with a smile as they went back inside.

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10 thoughts on “Eyes in the Dark”

  1. 5/5. I only read a small portion of this before giving it a 5 Star. I’ll finish it soon enough.
    Anyone who gives this anything less than a 5 *, is being dishonest, and deserves to get their arse kicked.

      1. All righty, just got done.
        I only noticed two misspellings. The first one was: Maindehead. Right along when Gath was thinking about taking Enna’s.

        And the other, I’m having trouble recalling it. I think it was around where Camilla was mucking about with her Dark Elemental Energy ball. But I could be wrong.: Two instead of Too.
        Dammit man! Cari’s Ring or the Knife? You got me in the feels! Well done.

        1. Hmm. I have it as “maidenhood” which is defined as, “A girl’s virginity.” I suppose I could change it to maidenhead, but it was intended as a metaphor or allegory.

          Couldn’t find the other misspelling you refer to. Didn’t see a “two” or “too” but there is a “to.” And it’s correct. Let me know if you find it again. There’s bound to be something.

          Cari’s ultimatum. Glad you liked it. It’s a bit different from normal succubus behavior, but you have to wonder. If a succubus pounced on the man she pined for as a human, would it ever have bothered her not knowing? Would he have loved her for “her?” Gath knew this and knew Cari would struggle with it her entire life, which is why he coached her through this step.

          1. “…, but she finally came two after a minute.” I think this is what Moongrim is referring to. I noticed that as well, but after reading the rest of it, I forgot. I should have made an ePub out of this and put it on my ePaper tablet and read it over multiple days (not that I think I could have restrained my self to that, haha) … This is just so damn long (114k words!) … You said you wrote this in two and a half weeks? Assuming 8h 7 days a week, that would be 840 words an hour. That’s insane, buddy! Even if I had that much time, when I tried writing a story for this board (much less ambitious than this one, mind you!), I got up to 100 words/h at the best of times, before losing inspiration, and that’s not even comparing the quality of our writing.
            Guess I’ll have to look out for another author in my feed now (note to self: check the length of the scrollbar BEFORE starting to read! ☺)

  2. Woah, that was… something. You obviously took a lot of effort and time to make this. Kudos from me, it really shows and I’m massively impressed. Keep at it man.

    1. Thanks! I’m still new to MGE. Only just heard about it a little over a month ago. Poured over the resources, some stories, etc, and got inspired to write this. Took about two and a half weeks to write it and another week or so to fix things up.

      1. Man. If this kind of work took ya only two and a half weeks, I can’t express how amazing that is.

        Looking forward to future installments. I loved every second I spent reading this.

        1. I should probably add that the two and a half weeks were pretty much spent only doing this and work.

          As for future installments, more than likely, all my stories will be in this setting and take place in relative chronological order, but will involve different characters. Gath, Enna, and some of the others may make cameo appearances, though!

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