Tales of the Walker: Valhael (1)

“…it is, my children, beyond prediction, that a mere sixty years from the Divine Redemption, that the world would be by and large free from the official edicts of the Pax Deus. Yet as Her Late Majesty correctly stated, the tradition of millennia is not easily set aside. Thus, it is by the Word of Tyris, on this, the anniversary of the anointing of the First Sovereign, Kyla of Caladon, Queen of Magisterium and Chatelaine of the Continental Baronies, that I do stand aside. I name no successor, and hope that by this act, those misguided few who cling to Paxian traditions join us in this new age of peace and prosperity…”

Divine Amaranth, Last Bride of Tyris, upon the day of her beatification.

Steel rang to the measured blows of the smith’s hammer. Lifting the glowing metal, the man frowned as he inspected its length. Grunting in satisfaction, he quenched it in a nearby bucket of snow, which hissed angrily. Reaching for a nearby pitcher, he made to take a drink, swearing slightly as icy slush met his lips.

“Tyris fuck, frozen again? I didn’t think I was out here that long.” The man murmured to himself. He raised his head in slight surprise as a sound intruded. A man, tall, cowled in thick furs against the bitter cold, stood in the doorway of his forge.

“Tyris Bless you on this day.” The smith said politely “Can I help you with something?”

The cowled man nodded, reaching into the folds of his clothing, producing a distinctive looking shard-pistol.

“She’s given up the ghost, and everyone around here said you were the best.”

The smith took the weapon. “Masterwork this… Haven’t seen its like except in old books. Where did you say you’d come by it?”

“I didn’t.” The man replied obliquely.

The smith shrugged, “Fair enough, and no business is it of mine in the first.” He thumbed open the workings with an artisan’s practiced ease, inspecting the intricacies within.

“Core’s soured… Tyris… I’d curse you for mistreating this lovely thing except clearly you haven’t. It’s been very well maintained. So odd… a good Shadrium core should last for…”

“…decades, I know. It’s something of an heirloom.” The man explained.

“Hmm… It needs finer hands than mine…” The smith admitted, turning towards the rear of the forge. “Boy! Stop playing at those trinkets and come here!”

A figure moved from behind the shimmering heat of the forge, and a youth walked over to the smith, taking the pistol delicately in his hands.

“Core’s soured.” He said simply

“I am not a complete idiot, how about telling me something I haven’t taught you?” The smith jested, cuffing the youth gently.

The boy’s mouth moved as he silently worked his fingers along the glittering length of the core. “Oh point three eight… Not a chance…”

“For the layman in the room?” The cloaked man said good-humouredly. The youth looked up as if seeing the man for the first time.

“Your core’s got a diameter of zero point three eight. They stopped making them in that size… Hmm… Sometime before the Fall of Magisterium.”

“There’s nothing to be done then?” The man asked, slightly crestfallen. The youth shook his head.

“You might try one of the free cities, an antique dealer might have kept an old core as a curio…” The youth closed the pistol, handing it back to the cloaked man.

“Hell and Night.” The man swore softly. “Well, my thanks to you both, sorry to have wasted your time.” He turned, and made to leave.

“Hold man, where are your Yetis?” The smith asked

“I prefer to travel alone.”

The smith gave an abrupt burp of laughter. “You’re crossing the Nordenlands, on foot, in winter, without Yeti porters? You’re either a Hero or a Lunatic.”

“Well I wasn’t going to go now.” The man said with a grin. “I was aiming for the Inn, cool my heels until the weather became a little more clement.”

“You’ll find it full, friend.” The Smith said apologetically.

“The keep then. Lord Ansgar… owes me a favour.”

The smith laughed. “Now I know you’re a lunatic. Lord Ansgar, Ammit Judge him Lightly, has been dead some fifty years. His grandson Ulfred is to be anointed into the High Seat of Valhael tomorrow, actually.”

The man’s expression turned odd, almost regretful. “That’s… A shame.” He murmured.

“We’ve room enough.” The youth offered.

“I wouldn’t impose.” The man rebutted.

“Nonsense.” The Smith began. “The boy shames me that I forget my duty as a landholder. Plus my wife’s a devout Ammitian, and she’d have my guts if she knew I turned someone away from the hearth on Khenmaat.”

The man smiled, giving a brief nod. “Well then I thank you for the Hospitality, sir.”

The smith held out a calloused hand. “I’m Erik, this is Corvus.” The man took it warmly, looking at the boy.

“Your boy?” He asked

“So his mother says, but that’s no reason to believe her, never trust a woman or a government.” Erik said with a broad grin.

“Dad!” Corvus cried in an injured tone. Erik hugged him with an arm.

“I’m only teasing boy. Go tell your step-mother we have a guest.”

As the boy left, the man looked after him with curiosity. “Step-mother… You keep continuance here then?”

Erik chuckled, moving his hand side to side. “Sort of, Our Holy Mother Church, bless Her, will be the last to give away the traditions of the Pax. It’s much more relaxed than I’ve heard it was back then though. The single men and women, laity, paladins and priestesses, all draw lots at the Spring Equinox, then get roaring drunk, and the rite’s performed that evening. Keeps the clergy from feeling entirely useless, and the young people get to have a little fun… Course it took some explaining to the wife come ten years later when Corvus was presented at my door.”

“I can imagine.” The man said with a smile.

“Never caught your name, friend…” Erik pressed.

“Call me Walker.” The man offered

“Walker… Not inviting trouble having you in my home am I?” Erik asked, picking up on the obvious pseudonym.

“Not unless you believe in ghosts, sir.” Walker said assuringly.

“Ara ara… Stop bothering your sister!” The elegant looking woman chided the young fox-girl who was pulling at the tail of a wailing sibling. With an easy grace, she placed a platter of steaming venison upon the table in front of them. She was tall, a pair of white-furred ears adding to her height where they blended into her platinum blonde hair. A luxurious tail, coated in the same white fur swished slightly behind her.

“Forgive me madam, but I’m surprised to see a snow-fox so far from Zippangu” Walker offered.

The woman smiled, “My husband, baka that he is, found himself lost in his adventuring. Not many humans can survive the mountains, so I naturally took an interest.”

“And here I thought it was my good looks.” Erik moaned in mock dismay.

“Waylander?” Walker asked. Erik gave a guilty grin.

“Runaway. I was determined to be a pirate. Turns out the Free Cities are full of Captains who are more than willing to take your money then dump you in a longboat in the middle of the night. It took me nearly five years to make it back to the nordenlands.” Erik explained.

“I should find that captain and thank him someday…” The fox murmured, bending to kiss her husband on the cheek, her eyes aglow with wordless love.

Corvus reached out to snag a slice of venison, and was halted by his father’s growl.

“Not before the blessing, you.” Erik warned.

“Master Walker, would you do us the honour?” The fox entreated.

Walker cleared his throat. “I’m a little rusty, it’s been… a while since I observed Khenmaat.” He said apologetically.

“Will someone do it, I’m fit to faint from hunger!” Corvus complained. His father chuckled and the fox mussed his hair, indulgently planting a gentle kiss on his forehead.

“Laus tibi Ammit hac pridie Khenmaat…” Walker began.

The fox gasped. “Old High Pandemonean! You honour us, sir!”

Walker gave a mysterious smile, bowing his head, he continued the benediction.

Later, they all leaned back in their chairs, all awash with the happy discomfort of being overfed.

“Whoof. You outdid yourself there love.” Erik praised his wife. The fox smiled, putting a hand on his.

“I think the girls are done.” She remarked, looking to where the two fox-girls dozed in their seats, faces smeared with gravy. Pulling herself from her seat with that same easy elegance, she took the girls in her arms and carried them out of the dining room.

“We still going to watch Ulfred be anointed tomorrow dad?” Corvus asked

“Like we’ve got a choice in the matter. Did you finish that coronet?” Erik responded

Corvus snorted. “I did that three days ago.”

“Why didn’t you tell me then?”

“Setting expectations dad.” Corvus smiled. “Give them a masterwork in an afternoon and nobody’ll pay for regular work anymore.”

Erik laughed, “There are times I suspect your mother was a Tanuki.”

Corvus smirked, “Nah, she’s a priestess, and you know they’re way worse.”

“Siggi, stop being a brat!” Erik hissed.

“But I can’t see papa!” The fox girl lamented.

Walker leaned over, picking up the girl and putting her atop his shoulders. The girl gripped his auburn hair with a smug grin, sticking her tongue out at where her sister rested on a similar perch atop her father. Erik chuckled.

“You spoil my girls, Walker.”

“It’s alright. My nieces were very much the same.” Walker explained.

“No children of your own?”

Walker shook his head “Not as yet, no.”

“Not sure if I don’t envy you at times…” Erik jibed, giving a muted yelp as his wife covertly dug an elbow into his side. “I was joking love!”

“Shh.” The fox hissed. “It’s starting.”

They looked out from tiered seating reserved for the landholders to where a phalanx of paladins dressed in formal armour escorted a young noble to the base of the tall stair leading to the upper keep. As one, they saluted the young noble, who ascended the stair to where a carved wooden throne sat stark against the grey winter sky. Turning to the assembled crowd, the noble raised his hands in the sign of the sunburst.

“All Glory to the Most High” he intoned, his voice ringing throughout the packed courtyard. The assembled humans returned the sign, and even the Mamono dotted here and there bowed their heads respectfully.

“I would have loved to have seen old Emperor Seti’s coronation…” Erik drawled. “…Just to buck the trend.”

“I hear the Imperial Seat of Caladon’s disgustingly ecumenical these days.” Walker responded.

Erik snorted, “After Horus, then Seti? They’d probably worship rocks if told to.”

Walker smiled, but said nothing.

A noise intruded, and the gathered people in the courtyard milled as a path was hurriedly opened amidst them. A squad of incubi astride smoking felsteeds trotted imperiously into the courtyard, at their van, a regal looking man in elaborate black armour, his long ebon locks flowing from beneath a horned helm. Walker made a face.

“What in Tyris’s name…” Erik began.

“Wrong God.” Walker said shortly as the band passed them. “Those are Hell-knights. Lord Azrael’s playing again.”

One of the Incubi reined in and glared at Walker.

“Think he heard you.” Erik murmured. Walker wordlessly took the fox-girl from his shoulders, and placing her in her mother’s lap, stood to stare levelly at the incubus.

The incubus snarled, bearing fangs below blazing crimson eyes. “Quis audeat dicere malum principem tenebrarum?” It demanded.

Excepit unum in praesentia Maou.” Walker answered, his voice low and deadly.

The incubus gave a slight ‘Heh’ of amusement, sketching a mocking bow in the saddle towards Walker.

“Fucker.” Walker murmured as the incubus moved to join its fellows.

“What was that about?” A landholder near to them whispered in concern.

“Just a strutting Incubus, The Paladins have their measure sir, have no fear.” Walker said assuringly to the landholder.

“Lord Azrael.” The young noble acknowledged the black-armoured man.

“My Lord Ulfred. Why so cold?” Azrael mused.

“You were unexpected, Your Worship.” Ulfred replied, in that same cool, slightly hostile tone.

“Ah me… As pious as your father… I had hoped to improve relations between Pandemonium and the Nordenlands with your coronation. I hope I’m not to be disappointed…”

Ulfred’s mouth twisted in distaste, and he appeared to be on the verge of a reply, when a chorus of voices erupted from the sky, where golden light saw the descent of a host of angelic beings. At their fore, a mighty, six winged Seraph, arms spread in benediction upon those below. The two fox-girls shrieked with fear, burying their heads in their parents arms, and the incubi too milled slightly with consternation. As the Angels landed within the courtyard, the Seraph’s burning sapphire gaze turned to Azrael.

“Azrael.” He intoned in a voice which echoed with power.

“Lucifer, always a pleasure, old boy, even if you are here to steal my thunder.” The black-armoured figure remarked urbanely.

“It is by commandment of The God, Most Holy Tyris that I attend to Anoint the Sovereign.” Lucifer intoned evenly. “Observe and be silent or be gone from here.”

“Killjoy.” Azrael murmured, wheeling his incubi to stand next to a band of assembled paladins. The two groups, once mortal enemies, eyed each other with suspicion.

“The fuck?” Erik whispered to Walker.

“Lucifer is the Ascended Lord Dumat. Lord Azrael was supposed to take His place as Scion, except Hell got to him first.” Walker explained softly.

“Aren’t we at peace though?” Erik asked incredulously

“Look at your girls Erik… Old habits die hard.”

Erik looked upon his shaking daughters and at his wife, who had grown nearly as white as her hair. “Why don’t you take the girls home, love?” he entreated. The fox nodded, smiling in silent gratitude as she scooped the girls in her arms and discretely left the keep.

“Let the mark of Sovereignty be brought forward.” Lucifer echoed. Corvus, clad in unaccustomed finery, walked carefully forward, bearing an ornate coronet upon a satin pillow.

“That’s my boy!” Erik remarked proudly, and an indulgent chuckle rippled from the surrounding landholders. Kneeling, Corvus extended the coronet to the Seraph.

“A-all Glory to the M-most High!” he stammered.

Lucifer gave a faint smile, taking the coronet in hands intricately marked with angelic runes. “Your workmanship is of remarkable quality, my son. Surely The God smiles upon your dedication.”

“Thank you, your gloriousness, thank you.” The youth gushed, bowing repeatedly as he backed away from the seraph.

“Bit skittish.” A nearby landholder remarked.

“Youd’ve pissed yourself, you old horse. Shut the hell up.” Erik rejoined. The surrounding landholders snickered.

Lucifer raised the Coronet above Ulfred’s head, and the young noble kneeled.

“With this, do I anoint thee Sovereign of the Nordenlands. By commandment of the Divines as they Ordered the Redemption of the World. In the Authority of Holy Tyris, so be it.”

Murmurs of “Glory to The God”, “For Maou and Mamono”, and “Praise unto Ammit” rustled throughout the assembly.

Lucifer placed the coronet upon Ulfred’s head, and the crowd cheered. For the first time, the new Sovereign gave a boyish smile, waving to his subjects.

“Great King!” A voice was heard from the crowd. “Great King, will you hear the entreaty of the Grand Lodge of the Resonant?”

“What in Tyris’s name are they doing here?” Walker gasped incredulously as three figures, their heads shaved bald carried a carved wooden box to rest upon the stairs.

“The wisdom of the Grand Lodge is always welcome in the Nordenlands. Our Grandfather, Ammit Judge him Lightly, spoke most highly of his Bretheren in the Logos.” Ulfred responded, beckoning the resonants forward.

“Great King, it is because of your Grandfather that we seek to entreat you.” The lead resonant explained with a sinuous bow. “We would ask, will you submit to candidacy, and test yourself against the Matrix?”

Ulfred paused, his eyes flickering towards Azrael. A slow smile spread across his face as he stood, walking towards the resonants and their enclosed burden. “Why yes, your Honour, I believe I shall.”

Walker groaned, putting his head in his hands. Erik looked at him askance. “What’s the problem? Won’t that make him Resonant, give him power unmatched by heaven and hell?”

“Or if the Matrix finds him lacking, it’ll kill him.” Walker answered, his voice muffled.

“You know, you seem to know an awful lot, Walker. I think you owe me a bit mor…”

A scream interrupted them. The crowd looked on in shocked horror as Ulfred writhed in apparent agony as arcing energies poured from the opened box, where an irregular crystal shape pulsed and thrummed with power. All at once, the energy stopped, and Ulfred pulled himself to his feet.

“Well that’s a relief…” Erik murmured. Walker however, was looking on the figure of the new sovereign in horror.

“Run!” He yelled, “RUN! ALL OF YOU! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!”

Ulfred turned to regard Walker with slow, jerking movements. To his revulsion, Walker saw crystalline structures begin to force their way out of Ulfred’s flesh, contorting his body into a parody of the human form. Ulfred pursed what remained of his lips.

DECLARATION: UNEXPECTED PLATFORM IN ATTENDANCE

AVOWAL: BIOLOGICAL PLATFORM IS ORDERED TO SUBMIT

Walker gritted his teeth as the resonant energy struck him.

“Azrael! Lucifer! Put that thing down before it realizes what it can do!” He yelled.

Seraph and Hell-knight looked at the man.

“Who dares order me?” Azrael yelled back, clearly unsure as to what was happening.

Lucifer studied Walker’s face. His blazing sapphire eyes widened. “You!” he cried.

“Worry about me later, worry about that now!” Walker pointed frantically at Ulfred.

Ulfred turned jerkily, and its gaze fixed upon Corvus, who had stumbled on the stairs and was now frantically scrambling away from the horror before him.

DIRECTIVE: ORGANIC SOURCE WILL CONCEDE TO ASSIMILATION

Corvus continued his mad scramble backwards. Ulfred frowned.

COMPLY

Corvus regained his feet and began running frantically.

“That a boy Corvus! Run! Run as fast as you can!” Walker cried, forcing his way through the panicked throng.

“FORM RANKS!” A paladin commanded, and the paladins so recently escorting the young noble now turned their weapons on the horror before them, the nebulous glow of the Benedictus illuminating them. Ulfred studied them, and shrieks of agony pealed from the uncaring stone as smoke rose from armour now turned white hot in an instant.

“For the Queen of Hell!” Azrael snarled, and dark fire shot from his hands and from the outstretched arms of the incubi behind him.

“In the Name of Tyris!” Lucifer intoned, and the angels launched a blazing assault with beams of golden light.

Ulfred staggered under the barrage, his body smoking and charred. Impossibly, he pulled himself back upright.

CONFLICT: SYSTEM UNIT RECOMMENDS SCORCHED EARTH RESPONSE

Ulfred raised a twisted and blackened hand towards the sky, where the clouds began to roil, and a sooty orange glow appeared behind them.

CONFLAGRATE

“NO! NOT AGAIN!” Walker screamed, running forward and throwing his hands skyward as the heavens opened and a lance of fire drove itself towards the earth.

Corvus ran, the cold air like fire in his throat. He gasped, pumping his arms as he frantically sprinted away from the keep. A hollow boom sounded behind him, a blast of hot air pushed at him, yet he dared not turn around… Five hundred yards to the trees… Three hundred… Two…

Something caught his ankle and he fell face first into the snow and mud. Spluttering and spitting, he wiped his face clean, looking to see what had obstructed him. The three bald resonants stood before him, bearing their ominous burden and smiling oddly.

“The Logos wants you, boy.” One remarked

“Yes.” Another agreed

“Come with us now.” The third entreated

“It only hurts…”

“For a moment…”

“Yes…”

They reached for the box, and Corvus flung his arms across his face, screaming in terror…

A series of wet pops, and something warm was covering his arms. Shakingly, he opened his eyes. What remained of the three resonants were some shredded clothes and a coagulating pile of gore. Drenched in crimson, Walker stood glaring at the remains.

“Weak.” He hissed, before walking over to the box and flinging it open. The crystalline matrix within thrummed chaotically, and Walker deliberately put his hand on its arcing surface.

“Remember who you were created to serve.” He grated.

With a slithering whisper, the crystal turned to glittering dust.

“What are you?” Corvus whimpered.

“Filthy.” Walker responded with a grimace. “And so are you. Let’s get you home.”

“My boy! My little boy!” the fox wailed, covering Corvus’s stained face with kisses.

“Have a care mum, I’m all over mud!” Corvus objected, “And worse!”

Erik grabbed Walker’s wrist, pulling him into a crushing embrace. “Thank The God for you man, thank The God for you!” he choked, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Easy Erik, easy… Now we’re all going to need a bath.” Walker said gently, pushing the man away.

“What in Tyris’s name was that?” Erik demanded.

“Something that should not be…” Walker replied enigmatically.

“Damn it man, I just saw my Liege Lord turn into some kind of horror that cooked an entire phalanx of paladins like roast carrots. I think I deserve something better than that!” Erik yelled.

“Very well.” Walker conceded. “Resonants have no power of their own. They are given to call on a force which they call the Logos, and their ability is measured purely by their understanding of what they’re trying to manipulate. The Logos exists… apart from them. What you saw was the Logos assuming Ulfred in his entirety. The moment that energy touched him, he ceased to exist as a person, became merely a puppet for something… else.”

“Tyris fuck man, I’ve never heard of anything like that!” Erik swore

“Nor would you have, it’s only recently that the Logos has gotten so… Pushy.”

“Pushy?” Erik laughed helplessly “Destroys Valhael Keep, the seat of governance for millennia, and he says pushy…”

“The Logos has no mind of its own, outside of a rude sense of self-preservation. Something has gone wrong… very, very wrong.”

“And you’re trying to stop it?”

Walker laughed. “No. I’m running like hell away from it, as is any smart human that catches its gaze right now.”

“You never struck me as a coward, sir.” Erik remarked coldly.

“Coward? May Tyris keep you forever in that blessed fucking ignorance, sirrah.” Walker drawled. “You’re dealing with the kind of power that could unmake the world, probably even destroy a God if someone managed to get their head around exactly what makes one tick.”

“Sorry. You did save my Son, that was unworthy of me.” Erik apologised.

“It’s of no matter.” Walker waved it off.

“So what are your plans now?”

“As soon as possible, I’m getting out of here… And I think I’d better take Corvus with me.”

“Not as Maou gives me strength!” The fox snarled, her eyes blazing as she launched herself at Walker.

Walker looked at her almost sadly, and the fox seemed to find herself tangled in mid air.

“The longer I hold it, the quicker they’ll find me… Think about it Madam, Resonants are entrenched in nearly every aspect of society. He’ll never be safe, and for some reason it wanted him bad enough that it was willing to sacrifice a Sovereign to get at him, in full view of the entire Landsholding!”

The fox stopped her struggling, and the impediment seemed to disappear.

“Who are you, that you claim he’d be any safer?” Erik demanded. Walker gave a gallows sigh, reaching into his tunic and pulling out something wrapped in soft leather, before handing it to the man.

Erik unwrapped it, his brow furrowed. “A heraldic crest? What is this supposed to be then? The markings are… What? But how can you be… This… No… You’re…” Erik’s eyes bulged and he bowed deeply.

“My Lord!” he gasped reverently.

“No.” Walker said, retrieving the crest and putting it back in his tunic. “Not anymore.”

“…My Father Horus always maintained that the first mistake of the divine was to acknowledge our existence. By allowing us to know that they truly existed, they eliminated the potential for faith. “Without Faith,” He would say, “there remains only Law.” An interesting viewpoint, considering his role as Dread Ammit’s Magistrate…”

Ruminations of Seti I, Emperor of the Westerlands.

Corvus thumped at the rude sack stuffed with wool which served as his pillow. The winter wind blew incessantly at the canvas walls of his tent, setting them to booming. Though no stranger to the wilderness of the Nordenlands, he was in a foul mood. Ripped from his family, the day had been spent in near silence, his attempts to engage Walker in conversation resulting in enigmatic replies or noncommittal grunts. Clearly the man had no intention of explaining anything to him. Walker had shown his father something the night before, something which turned the smith from angry and demanding to near-obsequious in his willingness to accommodate the strange man. Something that his father had refused to discuss.

He swore, tossing and turning atop the rude skins upon which he lay. They had driven their sleigh due north at a dangerous pace since sun up, and as they approached the Yeti camp, their reindeer were shaking and steaming with fatigue. The Yeti Alpha, a huge man with an immense white beard, had spoken a few soft words with Walker, after which they had been welcomed warmly into the camp. Who was this man, that he was somehow greeted by all and sundry like near-royalty? And what in Tyris’s name did he want with him?

“Hi!” A cheery voice interrupted his surly reverie. Corvus turned to see a Yeti girl smiling warmly at the door-flap.

“Well don’t just lie there gawping, move over.” She ordered presumptuously.

“What do you want?” He demanded, upset at having his self-pitying soliloquy interrupted.

“To keep you warm, dummy. The temperature’s dropped again and unless you want Walker to tow you like an ice-brick behind the sleigh tomorrow, you’ll move over.” The yeti said with a cheeky grin.

“Don’t try anything… I… I’m… Not looking for a partner…” Corvus stammered. The yeti’s white fur and garments did little to conceal the ample sensuousness of her nut-brown body beneath, and he felt his breath quickening involuntarily. The yeti giggled.

“How lewd! Don’t worry honey, you’re cute, but I think I can control myself.” She laughed, pushing at him with velvet paws, forcing him to make room on the skins. Hugging him from behind, she nuzzled into him, her sweet breath on the back of his neck. She was so warm… Her fur soft… So soft…

…He awoke to a discomfort in his bladder. Merciful Tyris, how long had he been asleep? It was deep night outside, and the wind had died down. He gently moved the yeti’s paws from around him.

“Mmm?” She murmured drowsily, still half-lost in dreams.

“I’m just stepping outside.” He whispered.

“Mmm.” Came the reply, as she moved her paws from him with a hint of reluctance. He stepped outside and the shock of the cold nearly took his breath away. He murmured a quick prayer that his little sisters were warm enough back in Valhael, before heading for a conspicuous shrub to relieve himself upon. The sky was oddly clear, and the stars brilliant, the Veil of the Heavens shifting its rainbow hue across the firmament. He allowed his gaze to play about the camp. There was Walker’s tent, light still glowing from within.

“Why not.” Corvus said to himself, “He’s up anyway…” He paced towards the tent, the fresh snow rustling about his boots. As he approached, he heard soft voices coming from within.

“…was the best idea I had at the time.” Came one, that was Walker.

“Well it was a real shitty one. Azrael’s pissed. I don’t mean sulking about until Lyra works the frustration from his cock. I mean making demands of Mother pissed.” A woman’s voice… Corvus didn’t know it.

“Please don’t tell me She’s making concessions to that fop.” Walker groaned.

“Mother? Concede to anybody? Her own husband has to spend a solid decade between Her legs before She’ll accede to changing the colour of the drapes.” The woman replied with a smug snicker “He did speak very quickly and used the right words though, now She’s interested.”

“Well I’m glad someone is, I didn’t want to risk contacting Lucifer directly, but Ariael still seems to like me enough to answer a summoning, and what little I could get out of her seemed to pretty much be summed up as ‘Tyris is busy, please leave a message.”

Corvus started at that. He must be tired, he could have sworn he just heard Walker claim to be on speaking terms with The God. No… That would be impossible.

“So where are you taking him?” The woman’s voice became huskier, muffled, like she was pressing against something.

“North.” Walker answered simply, his own voice becoming throaty.

“Nuh uh…” The woman replied

“What?”

“There’s nothing at the pole. That’s just a myth.”

“You sure?”

“Mmm Hmm” A wet sound.

“Arse.” Walker swore, tailing off into a moan. What were they doing in there?

Corvus edged painfully slowly towards the wall of the tent, setting his eye against a loose eyelet join. The light within the tent outlined Walker’s form as he reclined naked against animal skins. Bobbing her head atop his engorged member was a feline form, her hair violet and streaked with black where it blended with pointed ears, paws working the lower end of his shaft and at his gonads as she lavished him with her mouth.

“A Cheshire!” Corvus silently exclaimed. She too was naked, and also very pregnant, her breasts and belly large with milk and child.

Walker’s eyes opened and he seemed to look directly at Corvus. “Someone should be asleep.” He said simply.

“Aww, we’re not going to put on a show for him?” The Cheshire drawled, removing her mouth from Walker’s shaft and looking with a smug grin at the canvas wall behind which Corvus hid.

“Not if he knows what’s good for him.”

Corvus knew when enough was enough, and he scrambled as quietly as he could back to his own tent.

“Finished?” The sleepy voice of the yeti greeted him as he entered. Taking off his boots, he made a noise of affirmation.

“Good. C’mere.” She murmured, dragging him back into her somnolent embrace. Her impossibly soft, fluffy fur rapidly worked its magic on him, and he found himself quickly falling back into dreams…

The traces of the sled jingled musically as they cut through the fresh powder. Walker had woken him early that morning, much to his relief. He was sporting morning glory such as he had rarely experienced, and was glad to be clear of the yeti pressed against him before the situation became complicated. The man had not said anything to the youth of his unwitting voyeurism the night before, but Corvus, in his embarrassment, felt he should at least apologise.

“Uh, Walker?”

“Mmm?”

“About last night, I… I just wanted to say sorry. I didn’t mean to spy on you or anything.”

Walker looked at him with a studious expression.

“You should have been asleep.”

“I know, it wasn’t right of me to eavesdrop either, but you haven’t tol…” Corvus began

“Fuck that, I don’t care about that, but you should have been asleep. How did you wake up?” Walker repeated insistently.

“I… uh… Needed to piss?”

“I’ve seen people sleep for weeks in a yeti’s embrace. Something as mundane as a full bladder should not have woken you up if she wanted you asleep.” Walker replied. “What are you?”

That fucking tore it.

“Rein it in.” Corvus grated.

“Not happening, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover.” Walker responded evenly, turning his eyes back to the traces. Corvus stood in the sleigh.

“Rein it the fuck in or I’ll fucking jump, so fucking help me Tyris!” the youth near-screamed. Walker looked at him sternly, but acceded to the demand, pulling the reindeer to a halt. Corvus jumped from the sleigh, pacing a few yards into the powder before spinning on the man.

“What am I? What am I?” He began, his voice cracking with emotion. “I’m who you just ripped away from his family after what should have been the greatest day of my life! I present the coronet, draw the lots in the spring equinox, then have some suitably buxom village girl moaning and fucking panting under me! Instead you show up, and everything turns into some inconceivable fucking nightmare! So where in Tyris’s irridescant ballsack do you get off asking me what I am?!”

“Blasphemy.” Walker murmured with a slightly amused expression.

“Denunciations have been rescinded for over thirty years, you product of incest!” Corvus snarled.

“Sorry, force of habit.” Walker conceded. “Are you quite done?”

“No I’m fucking not done! And I’m not moving a mouse’s cunt hair further until you tell me who the fuck you are, where the fuck you’re taking me, and why the fuck those bald crazies were chasing me with the fucking crystal!”

Walker stared at him for a moment, a weird expression on his face. Blinking, he gave a slight ‘Huh’ before stepping from the Sleigh.

“As to who I am” The man began, “If you have any faith in your father, believe me when I tell you it was his idea that you not know. What you don’t know, you can’t give away, and we won’t be amongst trees and yetis forever, my lad.”

Walker paced to the front of the sleigh, leaning on a curved runner. “As to where I’m taking you? Well I had hoped that the legend of the Elder One at the North Pole held some truth… But as you overheard, you little grot, we are not to be so lucky.”

“Sinterklaas? You were betting your whole hand on a children’s bedtime story?” Corvus exclaimed incredulously.

“Well it only sounds ridiculous when you put it like that.” Walker retorted. “I’ll admit it’s the first time in my life that a legend didn’t turn out to have a nugget of truth at its core.”

“Even if it did, you took a Cheshire’s word on it.”

Walker’s expression became deathly serious. “You watch what you say about my wife now, boy.”

“A Cheshire?! Well it explains the madness…” Corvus drawled, his voice dripping venom.

Walker fixed him with another odd look, held a little longer this time. Again, he blinked, shaking his head slightly.

“And as to your third question, I wasn’t entirely sure until now, but… well… The reason the resonants wanted you, is because, you shit, you seem to be immune to resonance.”

“Blasphemy… Heresy… Bullshit…” Corvus stammered incredulously.

“That’s just cheating.” Walker said, the smile beginning to creep back onto his face. “pick one and stick to it.”

“Nothing is immune to the power of the resonant! Nothing! The Histories and the Doctrines of Tyris agree totally! It’s… it’s… inconceivable!” Corvus exclaimed “And besides, how would you even know?”

“Turn around and look.” Walker drawled.

Corvus turned around and his breath caught in his throat. Behind him, the snow was blasted away for a hundred yards in all directions, the ground beneath smoking and hissing. Slowly, deliberately, he turned back towards Walker.

“Firstly… You’re resonant? Secondly, you tried to fucking kill me?”

Walker gestured nonchalantly. “Yes to the first, no to the second, maim you a bit maybe. I could’ve fixed it.”

“Still, fuck you.” Corvus retorted, yet the heat had gone out of him at the revelation. “Why aren’t you like…”

“Like those bald deviants at Ulfred’s coronation? Because I learned a lesson too many resonants are too proud or too stupid to acknowledge. I know me.” Walker answered.

Corvus gestured to the sleigh “Then why are we…”

“Why are we travelling like a couple of tinkers?” Walker finished the question. Corvus nodded. “The first sensible question of the day. Thank Tyris.” Walker breathed in mock piety. “Do you have arachne this far north?”

Corvus frowned. “A couple, it’s too cold for spiders’ liking for the most part. But I don’t see what that has to do wi…”

“Think of an arachne’s web. Make it as big as the world and infinitely complex.” Walker interrupted. “When I use resonance, I’m ‘pulling’ on the web. I can move it, change it, re-work it as I like. But somewhere in the web, the arachne can feel what I’m doing. Whatever it is that has taken such an interest in you is intimately tied with the Logos of Resonance, and the more I call upon it, the easier a time it will have in finding out where I am.”

Corvus gasped, pointing at the bare, smoking earth behind him. “Then that…”

“…Probably gave it a reasonable idea. So we’d best be going, hmm?” Walker jibed, hopping back into the sleigh. Swearing, Corvus joined him reluctantly.

They travelled a few miles in silence before Corvus’s conscience once again got the better of him.

“I’m sorry.” Corvus murmured.

“Hmm?”

“I’m sorry I insulted your wife.”

Walker laughed. “Oh don’t worry, if she was actually insulted you’d probably be bleeding right now.”

Corvus frowned. “I didn’t see her anywhere… How…”

“Cheshires can be anywhere and nowhere, any time they like. Over the years with my wife I’ve found it best to behave as if she’s permanently leaning over my left shoulder.”

“Why your left shoulder?” Corvus asked.

“Because that’s her favourite earlob… Aaargh!” Walker yelled involuntarily. “See?” he chuckled, pointing to his left ear, where the reddened imprint of teeth was rapidly fading. It might have been the light from the snow, but Corvus could have sworn he saw the ghost of a smug smile fading from somewhere to Walker’s left.

“So what… what do you think I am?” Corvus ventured. Walker looked at him speculatively.

“Honestly it’s guesswork… Do you know who your mother is?”

Corvus made a face. “As much as any issue of continuance.”

Walker put his hand on Corvus’s shoulder in sympathy. “I feel you boy, the prohibition may have been lifted but you definitely get shared around a bit at the Abbey, yeah?”

“It was nice, in a way, calling everyone ‘mother” Corvus admitted, “Still, I look at my sisters and sometimes I’m jealous. They know, while I can only guess.”

“Well at a guess, would you say there was anything… distinctive about her?” Walker pressed

Corvus’s brow furrowed in thought. “No… All the priestesses at the abbey were… just women.”

“Huh.” Walker mused, turning back to the traces.

“What? You can’t just leave it there!” Corvus demanded.

“I thought you might be a Scion… One of the bloodlines descended from God-Before-Tyris. Though I know from my… well, from experience, they aren’t known for being particularly impervious to resonance.”

“So you’ve essentially got fuck all.” Corvus drawled.

Walker nodded, his expression slightly sheepish. “Some wise, mysterious stranger I turned out to be eh?”

Corvus chuckled helplessly. “So where the fuck are we going?”

“To go see the only person I know who knows more about the Logos than me.”

Corvus looked at Walker incredulously. “Not Magisterium! You’ve got to be out of your addled mind, Walker!”

Walker snorted. “You take me for an idiot? I’m not getting within a thousand leagues of Magisterium right now if you paid me.”

Corvus sighed in relief. Walker kept his gaze fixed on the traces.

“We’re going to the Australs.”

Corvus leaned over the side of the sleigh and promptly vomited.

“Remember that there exists a certain malevolence about the formation of any social order. It is the struggle for existence by an artificial entity. Despotism and slavery hover at the edges. Many injuries occur and, thus, the need for Law, and the violence of its enforcement. Such trauma can only be mitigated by the empathy of the enforcer. The presence of empathy, therefore, even in adversity, identifies the true faithful of Ammit.”

From the Sermons of Hathor, High Priestess of Ammit

The bell tolled its low, mournful note as the funeral procession moved down the wide street of Magisterium leading to the Cathedral Solar, made narrow by the packed throngs to either side. Two men and two women in black tabards rode behind the ebony-draped carriage. As they passed, people soberly made gestures of genuflection, some raising hands in the sign of the sunburst.

“She wouldn’t have wanted this.” One man remarked softly.

“I think she’d understand that protocol trumps our desires more often than not.” The other replied.

“Damn it Hector, she spent the last years of her life doing everything she could to keep from the public eye. If it wasn’t for The Order she’d have confined herself to a chancel somewhere a decade ago.”

“Michael, don’t be simple. She was the Last Bride of Tyris, the Architect of the Divine Redemption… You don’t just get to ignore that kind of burden just because age gets to you.” Hector explained patronizingly.

“Gabriellans…” Michael swore softly.

“You watch what you say about my chapter, Dumatian.” Hector hissed warningly.

The two men reigned in as the bawling command of a field marshal in the van of the procession ordered a halt. Dismounting their horses, they handed the reins to waiting porters, moving to the side of the carriage and opening the doors.

“This is such a circus…” Michael complained in sotto voce, taking one of the metal palls on the side of the coffin.

“I’m surprised Michael… I thought you would welcome the city bidding farewell to your great-grandmother.” A statuesque woman remarked in the same hushed tone as she moved behind him to take the rear pall.

“Not today, Helen, I’m not in the mood.” Michael hissed, unwelcome tears threatening to spring to his eyes.

“Shh, all of you. Lift on three.” Hissed another woman to Hector’s rear. “One, two, and lift!”

With suppressed grunts of exertion, the four black-clad humans shouldered the elaborate coffin, marching in slow step as they carried it into the vast cathedral. Unseen choirs sang a lament in a minor key, voices dripping with sorrow. Michael passed dignitaries, and nobles of all stripes, with a surprising number of Mamono spotted amongst them.

“Lots of animals here…” Hector remarked.

“If we weren’t carrying this I’d kick you Hector. You know as well as I that Amaranth held no hatred for the Mamono.” The woman behind him retorted. Michael suppressed a smile, and made a mental note to thank Juliet later.

As one, they lowered the coffin onto the altar, bowing before it, and raising the lid. Amaranth’s peaceful face was revealed in death’s repose, her wrinkled cheeks still holding traces of what once must have been a luminous beauty. Michael choked on a cry. No longer would that face smile at him. No longer would she be there to offer advice or comfort… He would miss her.

The four pallbearers turned and moved to the pews at the front of the cathedral with the others of The Order, all clad in the same black raiment. Michael slid in, starting at the black-haired figure he found himself sitting next to.

“What are you doing here, Lord Azrael?” he hissed incredulously.

The Hell-knight turned his head slowly to regard the young man. “You address me by name, Michael of Dumat, and then ask why I’m here… Do they have a servant to remind you how to sit correctly on the privy every morning?”

Michael gritted his teeth, balling his fist and tensing his arm in preparation for the blow. He felt a sudden hand on his wrist.

“Don’t!” Juliet hissed in his ear. “He stood beside Amaranth at the founding of The Order. He has as much a right to be here as any of us.”

“It’s good to see you again, Juliet, blood of my blood.” Azrael drawled evenly.

“Don’t think just because we share a bloodline I have reason to be fond of you, Hell-knight. You chose your own path.” Juliet replied flatly.

Azrael chuckled. “You are wasted on the Angels… But I know that in time more of you will come to see things as I have.”

“Snowball’s chance in the Golden Deserts…” Hector muttered.

A robed Anubian stepped behind the altar, followed by a Human Priestess and a Succubus.

“An Ecumenical service in the Cathedral Solar. There are Commandants spinning in their graves right now.” Michael heard a paladin remark from somewhere behind him.

“Assuming Ammit didn’t eat their hearts…” a Mamono voice rejoined.

“Blasphemy!” Came the incensed reply. Hector turned in his seat.

“You’re decades too late for that, reverence. Kindly shut the hell up.” He grated.

“Your Grace…” came the surly reply.

The Anubian raised her olive-skinned arms upwards, her long jackal ears twitching slightly. Homage to you, Ammit, Mistress of Eternity, Dread Queen of Justice, whose names are manifold, whose forms are holy, you being of hidden form in the temples, whose Ka is holy, who proved the truth-speaking of Osiris before His enemies on the day of the weighing of words… She intoned

The Priestess too, raised her arms. “Praise and Sacrifice unto you Tyris, Eternal and Most Holy, Lord and God of Humanity. Let your children now and forever render unto you Glory, Glory, and Ever Praise Thee, who art the wellspring of Truth and Goodness, the depth of the Sun, now and forever and unto the ages of ages…” She chanted.

The Succubus joined them, a little hesitantly, “O circle of Stars, marvel beyond imagination, soul of infinite space, before whom Time is Ashamed, the mind bewildered, and the understanding dark, not unto Thee may we attain, unless Thine image be Love, Maou, eternal All-Mother of Creation…” she sang.

The three women dropped their hands. “Thus invoked thou, O Triumvirate of Divine Providence, be Thy blessings present amongst us, and unto Amaranth, who thrice blessed and exalted did weave Thy will upon the world that all may be Redeemed.”

Their benediction completed, the trio left the stage.

“Rochelle, Commander of the Order of Amaranth, to read the eulogy.” A director of Ceremonies intoned.

A mature woman stepped to a lectern to the side of the altar, her posture bearing an unmistakable air of authority. Placing her hands on the lectern, she looked out over the assembled throng.

“Scions of The Order, Illustrious Guests, Noble attendees, Revered Clergy of Holy Tyris and Dread Ammit, Honoured representatives of the Grand Lodge of the Resonant, Esteemed Emissaries of the Council of Matriarchs, Ladies, Gentlemen, and Citizens of both Magisterium and Outland Sovereignties. Thank you for your presence.

We assemble to bid farewell to a Colossus of this age. None can dispute the undeniable impact that Divine Amaranth has had, both in her lauded actions in the historical events surrounding the Redemption, and in her day-to-day life, where she upheld the honour and reverence of the Brides of Tyris, in addition to cementing the Legacy of the Holy Bloodlines by forming our Illustrious Order, which we are honoured to name in her memory.

There have been none in living memory which have embodied her effortless faith, and her example of goodness and mercy. Indeed, Her Imperial Majesty, Kyla, first amongst the Sovereigns, Queen of Magisterium and Chatelaine of the Continental baronies did say of Divine Amaranth ‘If but a tenth of the world were like her, The Heavens should weep with jealousy for the paradise this world would become…”

“Good thing she relaxed the strictures on Heresy the week before…” Azrael murmured.

“Oh shut up.” Juliet hissed, glaring murderously at the Hell-knight.

“…Thus, it is with a heavy heart that we commend her Soul to the Judgement of Ammit, may she be weighed lightly in the perfect Justice of the scales of Ma’at.” Rochelle turned, bowing to a crowned man bedecked in finery.

“I humbly beseech His Imperial Majesty, Carl, King of Magisterium and Lord of the Continental Baronies, to lead the militant orders in salute.”

The man nodded gravely, ascending to the lectern, extending his hand which Rochelle kissed deferentially. Drawing a jewelled sword, he held it aloft in a slightly shaky salute.

“Oh she didn’t…” Helen murmured.

“Be nice, he is the king.” Hector replied.

“Thitithenz!” He cried, “Thalute ye the pathing of the Founder and Grand Mithtreth of The Order of Amaranth!”

The cathedral rang with drawn weapons. “HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL!” Came the thunderous salute.

A burst of Golden light appeared behind the Altar, and with a blast of choral voices, the mighty, six winged figure of a Seraph appeared.

“Glorious Luthifer!” The king stammered, nearly dropping his sword.

“My greetings unto ye, and Blessings of The Most High be upon thee.” Lucifer echoed.

“You just HAVE to be in on everything, don’t you old boy?” Azrael quipped from his seat.

“Like you, Azrael, I was once a Scion…” Lucifer replied. “…I was once a man… And she was once my daughter…” Bending to the coffin, he tenderly took the body within into his arms. “And I beg thy forgiveness, but I would not see her lay so low…”

“ALL GLORY TO THE MOST HIGH!” came the zealous roar from the assembled paladins, raising mailed hands in the sign of the Sunburst. Lucifer acknowledged the salute with a grave nod, and with the unseen choir of the angels building behind him, vanished in a burst of light, bearing the body with him.

“Another chapter to add to her legend…” Azrael drawled, but Michael saw the wet sheen in his eyes.

“By Maou it’s dusty in here…” The hell-knight murmured, dashing at the moisture.

Lucifer bore Amaranth’s body through the luminescent nebulae of the lower heavens. A slight smile appeared on the Seraph’s face as he felt the body stir, saw the aged eyes open to reveal glittering orbs of emotionless crystal.

“You are an ignoble fiend, to seize upon the body of one so dearly loved by so many.” Lucifer echoed.

Amaranth’s wizened head cocked slightly, the dispassionate crystal eyes boring into Lucifer’s blazing sapphire gaze.

OBSERVATION: THE EXTRAPLANAR ENTITY IS GIFTED WITH REMARKABLE FORESIGHT

“Your ploy was brutish and frankly, far too obvious. Thankfully Amaranth is the last of the bloodline to be Awakened. You will not get another chance at this.”

CONCESSION: TRUE, BUT YOU DO NOT HAVE THE CAPACITY TO DESTROY THIS PLATFORM

“Perhaps, perhaps not… But I doubt even you can withstand being cast into the sun…”

NEGATION: THAT WILL RENDER THIS PLATFORM INOPERATIVE… PROCESSING… THIS PLATFORM WOULD RENDER A GIFT UNTO YOU.

“Oh would you…” Lucifer snickered, breaking through the barriers of time and space before casting Amaranth’s body through, where the roar of a solar furnace flung its deafening radiance into the void.

TRANSMIT

Lucifer screamed.

Ariael led a squadron of angels through the lower heavens, desperately searching for the source of the maelstrom that had been rippling through the higher planes.

“We approach, my sister.” One of them remarked.

“Stay alert, oh my siblings, we do not know what we face.” Ariael warned.

A rippling blast of raw force sped out in all directions, knocking the angels askew.

“There!” Ariael cried.

In a sea of flashing energy and roaring power, drifted the six-winged figure of Lucifer, his head buried in his hands, his shoulders shaking. With a titanic scream, another blast of power rippled outwards from him.

“Lucifer!” Ariael screamed, forcing herself through the tempest. “My heart! What has come over you?”

Lucifer trained his sapphire gaze upon the angel, his eyes crazed with grief and pain.

“Ariael…” He sobbed “The Logos… It… Showed me.”

Ariael threw her arms and wings about the Seraph, desperately clinging to him.

“Showed you what, my love, that your agony shaketh the heavens so?

“My life… My family… I REMEMBER, Ariael. I remember all of it. Training to become a Paladin. Meeting you. Father, Charles, Samuel… My Amaranth! My little girl! She’s gone! She’s GOOOONE!” Lucifer cried, clinging to his angelic lover as his divine body shook with grief.

“The greatest agony, my dearest love, is that of a parent to outlive their child…” Ariael whispered comfortingly, holding the Seraph to her breast as he wept. The other angels began to sing, the choir of the heavens lamenting the Seraph’s loss.

“Can you believe she did that?” Helen exclaimed incredulously

“Did what?” Michael responded, removing the black tabard from over his head

“Invited the King to say… Well, anything.”

“Don’t be a bitch Helen, King Carl might not be much of a speaker, but he’s got one of the best architectural minds this city’s ever seen.” Juliet rejoined. “Not to mention, I’ve heard his tongue isn’t the only thing he trips over.”

“Oh surely you don’t mean…” Hector began in mild disgust. Juliet struck the edge of her hand against her thigh suggestively.

“Like a fucking horse.” She drawled lewdly.

“Wouldn’t you like to know…” A woman’s voice sounded behind them.

“Commander to quarters!” Michael intoned, coming to attention and raising his arm in salute.

“Oh at ease Michael, and would it kill you to call me mother occasionally?” Rochelle sighed.

Michael studied the older woman momentarily. She shared with him the platinum locks of the line of Dumat, yet there was still that air of distance, of authority.

“You left me to be raised by the Abbey while you focused on the order… mother. Forgive me if my responses are distant.” Michael replied levelly.

“Michael…” Rochelle began.

“Yes Commander?” Michael replied

“Nothing…” Rochelle sighed resignedly. “I would have you Lieutenants attend me in an hour.”

“Your will, Commander.” Michael intoned, saluting again, which Rochelle absently acknowledged before leaving.

“You didn’t need to be so hard on her, Michael.” Helen chided “Amaranth was her grandmother too.”

“Stay out of it Helen, I’ve no patience for Michellian mind-games right now.” Michael barked.

Helen stormed up to him, slapping him soundly across the face.

“You have to have a mind to play mind games with, you thick shit.” She hissed, storming from the room.

Michael rubbed his cheek. “What?”

The other two lieutenants shook their heads, chuckling helplessly.

“We have a problem.” Rochelle stated simply.

“Apart from the fact that Michael’s a platinum retard?” Hector snickered. Michael seized the smaller man by the lapels, drawing him eye-to-eye with him.

“Your shoulder seems to have healed remarkably well, Gabriellan…” Michael hissed.

“Fuck you, Dumatian.” Hector smirked, patting the man on the cheek absently before shifting his weight and launching Michael bodily into the slate flooring. Recovering rapidly, Michael slammed his arms into the floor, driving himself by sheer force back to his feet.

“That’s enough, Tyris damn it!” Rochelle yelled, and the two men reluctantly turned their gaze away from each other.

“The problem, you shits, is the continued failure of any Scion to achieve awakening.”

Juliet frowned, “Forgive me Commander, but why is that a problem?”

“Apart from the fact that it’s a running joke within the Grand Lodge that the Matrix flat out ignores any Scion candidate?” Helen drawled

“Like we should care. We are The Order of Amaranth.” Michael retorted.

“…And ordinarily I’d agree with you on that Michael, but regardless of Amaranth’s good intentions in regards to bullying what remained of the Mistresses of the Bloodlines into finding and assembling the Scions into The Order, we’ve presented remarkably little to justify our continued autonomy.”

“Speak for yourself” Helen snorted.

“The inherent speechcraft of the Michellian order doesn’t make for very good stories, unfortunately.” Rochelle conceded. “Our intended purpose was to rekindle the line of Heroes, a mark we unfortunately have fallen drastically short of.”

“There’s not a Paladin who can stand against me, Commander!” Michael objected “And Hector, fuck him, he can pick the wings off a fly with a broken shard rifle from three miles away!”

“Blockhead’s got a point.” Hector conceded, ignoring Michael’s withering glare.

“And they’d say we simply had better training. We’re missing… Something… Lieutenants. And we’ve been given three years to find it, or we’re to be absorbed into the faith militant. Within two generations the Scions of God-Before-Tyris will become just another memory. Now my grandmother clearly believed we were important enough that I’d much rather that didn’t happen.” Rochelle interjected.

“The way I see it, you’ve got three choices…” A voice mused from the shadows. The Lieutenants spun, as Lord Azrael strolled forwards.

“What are you doing here?” Rochelle demanded.

“You Dumatians are so very fond of that question…” Azrael drawled. “…I’m offering you a solution, wether you choose to hear it or not is up to you.”

“At this point I’d take investment advice from a Tanuki. Go ahead, Hell-knight.” Rochelle conceded.

“Thank you Rochelle, you’re looking lovely, by the way.” Azrael quipped. “So. You can spend your lives in piety and valour, hoping, as my beloved Lyra would put it, that “Angel-Senpai notices you”, You can try and find an Echidna to resurrect the lost training methods of the Heroic Orders… They’re believed extinct, by the way… Or, you can submit to the Hells, and the absolute pleasure of a Greater Daemon’s embrace. No points for guessing which option I recommend.”

“Echidna?” Juliet echoed “How did we not know about this?”

“How much has been lost over millennia, Juliet?” Helen replied.

“…You’re kind of missing my point…” Azrael interjected.

“Isn’t there a story about Horus, something about a feather which shouldn’t have existed when Caladon was still a barony?” Michael asked.

“Have you just been playing stupid all these years Michael? That’s not a bad parallel.” Hector remarked.

“…You’re seriously ignoring me on this?” Azrael pleaded

“It’s a long shot, but it’s worth the try.” Rochelle admitted.

Azrael stalked from the room, swearing sulphuriously. The Commander and her Lieutenants held their studious pose for a moment longer before bursting into laughter.

“Oh Tyris be glorified, I love doing that to him!” Juliet crowed.

Michael pursed his lips. “It should be me then.”

Rochelle and the other lieutenants turned to look at him incredulously.

“Michael… We weren’t serious about the Echidna.” Helen offered gently.

“Really? What better option do we have? I know I’m not as smart as the rest of you, but Azrael has a point. We’re totally reliant on Heaven and Hell to awaken what’s within us. If there’s a chance, even the smallest chance that we can become who we’re supposed to be on our own terms, then so be it.”

“Michael, you’re chasing a legend, there’s no guarantee that Echidnae even exist anymore.” Juliet burst in exasperation.

“A hopeless quest… sounds like the kind of job a Hero would jump at.” Michael replied.

“Doesn’t explain why it has to be you.” Rochelle murmured.

“Mother, there are three other Scions of Dumat in The Order. All of them will be better than me in time. This is what I am for.” Michael said simply.

Rochelle walked over to him, embracing him tightly. “My son… My Beloved son…” She murmured.

“I know, Mother. But thank you for saying it.” Michael offered simply, returning her embrace.

“Hey blockhead… Don’t die, you hear me? You still owe me like a dozen drinks after our last game of cards…” Hector said hesitantly.

“No fear Hector… I’ll be back.”

“Privilege becomes arrogance. Arrogance promotes injustice. The seeds of ruin blossom. It is only in recognition that the position of authority any being finds themselves in is first and foremost an act of service, does one avoid the cliff before them.”

From The Judgements of Horus, Lord Baron of Caladon

“Aaammmiiiiiiiithu Ackbar!” rang the echoing cry from atop one of the many minarets which dotted the port city.

“What are they yelling about?” Corvus asked Walker as their camels trudged along the rocky road towards the city gates.

“It’s an Ammitian call to prayer. After the Pax was rescinded, a lot of anachronisms have been cropping up. Lots of diaspora looking to reclaim their lost roots, I suppose.”

Corvus squinted at the rising sun. “This early? I’d kick a fucker in the teeth if he set to hollering in public before the sun’s properly awake.”

“I’d advise against it, the citizens of Heliopolis aren’t exactly known for being tolerant of religious criticism.”

“Hang it Walker, they were Tyrisian less than a century ago!” Corvus exclaimed

“Were they?” Walker turned in his saddle. “Heliopolis is the first and richest of the Free Cities. Even salty little Atlantea in the Westerlands did little more than pay lip-service to the Pax. I have no idea what this lot managed to get away with.”

Corvus pondered that as they rode through the city. The seeming chaos within was deafening, his nose assaulted by smells of exotic spices and not a little sweat and dust. Walker made a point of inquiring in a curio dealer after the part for his shard pistol, and emerged a few minutes later with the shopkeeper cursing his name and bemoaning the poverty that Walker would be solely responsible for driving him into.

“Should we be concerned about that?” Corvus asked, accepting the part and the pistol from Walker.

“Nah. The more they complain, the more money you know they made off you. It’s when they go quiet you know to keep your eye out for footpads.”

Corvus shook his head, expertly fitting the new core into the pistol.

“Hello, what’s this then?” Walker remarked, as they approached a small yet growing crowd.

“…And having been caught committing the Sin of Burglary, our Glorious Sultan, Hassen Bin-Layd, has sentenced this Mamono to Indenturehood. We will commence bidding as to the recipient of her servitude.” A bearded man in a turban and intricately embroidered silk robe intoned from atop a raised platform. Two guards held restraints, contained in which was a sullen-looking snake girl, her emerald hair and serpentine lower body contrasting with the light amethyst of her humanoid torso.

“Have you seen her like before?” a nearby townsman remarked.

“The colouration is unique…” another responded “…But she looks like any other Lamia to me.”

“A Lamia convicted of burglary… I never thought I’d see the day.”

Corvus had reigned in his camel and was glaring wide eyed at the gathering.

“Monstrous!” he hissed.

“Careful Corvus, we’re not in the Nordenlands.” Walker murmured warningly. “Auctioning of indenturehood only counts as slave-trading under Magisterium law, and as you may have noticed, we’re not in Magisterium.”

“You can’t mean to just let this slide!” Corvus exclaimed.

“Of course not, do you still have the old core from my pistol?”

Corvus nodded, and Walker gave him a conspiratorial grin. “Good, then here’s what we’re going to do…”

“I will start the bidding at fifty gold.” The turbaned man offered.

“I see fifty and raise to fifty five, she will make a fine addition to my employer’s harem!” a portly townsman cried.

“Good sir, I assume you have the writ of concession from the Council?” Walker asked in a loud, clear voice, striding to the front of the crowd.

“You may have missed it, being struck blind by the glory of Heliopolis, but you are in a Free City, Outlander.” The turbaned man responded curtly “We do not bow to the Council of Matriarchs here.”

“Your Sultan must surely be a brave man, if he is willing to face their displeasure.” Walker continued. “I am something of a trader in valuable rarities, and I must say that I have not seen the like of your Lamia there… One hundred gold, on the condition you have her lower her head, for I like not the way she is looking at me.” Walker drawled, affecting a spoiled and pompous demeanour.

A murmur of amazement rippled through the assembled crowd. The turbaned man smiled, gesturing to the guards, who forced the Lamia to lower her head.

“Better, sirrah?” The turbaned man asked ingratiatingly

“Much.” Walker said simply, before spinning into his travelling cloak and firing his shard pistol at the small tumbling cylinder which had been launched from the crowd. The soured core exploded with a deafening rapport and a brilliant light as the shard round impacted it. People screamed and staggered around, grasping at eyes and ears.

“I’m blind!” The turbaned man cried, as Corvus stormed the platform. One guard still held tight to the restraint on the Lamia, and Corvus clubbed him into insensibility with a fist hardened by apprenticing at the forge. Grabbing the Lamia by the waist, he dragged her bodily off the stage. “Let’s go… Oof.” He grunted, falling to the ground as the now free Lamia wrapped her muscular tail about his legs.

“Don’t fucking touch me.” She hissed.

“Did you miss the part where we were rescuing you, stupid girl?” Walker snarled, storming up to the Lamia where she was agonizingly constricting the gasping Corvus.

“Like I needed it.” The Lamia retorted, “I could have gotten free anytime I wanted.”

Walker rolled his eyes, before fixing her with a level stare. The Lamia’s eyes crossed and she slumped limply to the ground, unconscious.

“Pick her up Corvus, the shock won’t keep them blind for long.” Walker ordered, flipping a coin to the nondescript boy who held their camels. Corvus bodily lifted her limp form onto the camel, concealing her long tail with a rug.

“With a will, boy. They didn’t see much of us but we’re surely conspicuous enough here!” Walker urged, mounting his own camel. The chaos behind them drawing more and more attention, Walker and Corvus blended into the train of a caravan which was heading towards the docks. Gradually, the shouts and cries transmuted into the regular bustle of a busy city. Corvus sighed with relief.

“What’d you hit me with?” Came a sullen voice from atop the camel. Corvus looked up to see the Lamia’s yellow eyes staring at him.

“Nothing, you passed out.” Corvus answered.

“She awake?” Walker asked

Corvus made a noise of affirmation, before turning back to his passenger. “You should be clear now, you can slip away into the crowd there.” He offered.

“Nah.” The Lamia said simply, “Whatever you’re doing looks like more fun.”

“You really shouldn’t, you don’t even know us.” Corvus warned.

“Try and stop me.”

“Don’t argue with a snake when she’s made her mind up, it’s like trying to win a headbutting competition with a brick wall.” Walker said simply from ahead of them. “But put the rug over your head girl, you’re pretty distinctive.”

“Don’t wanna. It stinks like camel.” She retorted petulantly.

“Do you want to go back to sleep?” Walker asked with deceptive mildness.

The Lamia hissed at him, but pulled the rug reluctantly over her emerald locks. The smell of spices and sweat began to give way to fish and salt as they approached the docks, the shrill, nagging calling of gulls battling with the raucousness of sailors and docksmen.

“There.” Walker pointed at a tavern, and slid off his camel, grabbing his travel bag. “C’mon Corvus.”

“Er, Walker, the camel?” Corvus asked, watching as Walker’s camel continued to trundle along next to the other pack animals.

“Leave ‘em, they’d hate the sea anyway.” Walker said dismissively.

“But you paid so much for them!”

“Did I?” Walker asked with a wink “Or did it just look like I did?”

Corvus blinked at that, grabbing his pack from his own camel and releasing the reins.

“Forgetting something?” Came a voice from behind him, and he looked to see the Lamia holding her arms out for assistance.

“Thought you didn’t want me touching you.” Corvus said with a slight smile.

“That was then, this is now… and d-don’t go getting any funny ideas.” She stammered, blushing slightly.

Corvus chuckled, reaching up and helping her off the Camel. Her hair brushed against his face and the smell of her filled his nostrils for a brief instant. Sweet, yet with a slight reptilian sharpness.

“W-what are you doing, dumbarse, let me go and let’s catch up already!” The Lamia demanded, pushing herself from his arms and slithering after Walker. Corvus shook his head slightly, clearing himself of the reverie, before following along behind her.

The taproom was a noisy, crowded affair, and Corvus found himself nearly stepping on the Lamia’s tail a few times as he was jostled about.

“What are we doing here?” Corvus asked

“Looking for passage.” Walker replied.

“This place smells horrible.” The Lamia complained.

“You’re the one who wanted to stick around…” Corvus jested, wincing as she struck him across the shins with a sideswipe of that muscular tail.

“Sorry, slipped.” The lamia drawled, flinging an almost cheeky look over her shoulder at the youth.

“I told you, Captain, all expenses will be covered in full by The Order of Amaranth!” A deep voice cried.

“And I told you, Sir, that I will be happy to take such assurance, as soon as it is written down on paper and sealed appropriately.” Came a harsh-voiced response.

Walker’s smile was like the sun coming up. “That is sweet fucking music if ever I heard it…” He breathed, making a beeline for the table where a large, armoured man was in argument with a man wearing a battered leather sea-coat and a tricorn hat.

“Captain Arin… How many Ammitian Priestesses did you have to bribe to keep from death’s embrace?” Walker drawled. The captain looked away from his argument, recognition slowly dawning as he studied Walker’s face.

“Lord Squid-Crusher? Well nail me to a board!” Arin laughed delightedly, taking Walker’s hand and pumping it vigorously “Although I shouldn’t be altogether surprised, considering…”

“Yeah, actually that’s why I’m here, oddly enough.” Walker admitted “we need passage, and after seeing you, I’ll accept no other.”

“Sir.” The large man interjected irritatedly “We were in the middle of negotiations, if you would…”

“No, we were done. He can pay. You can’t.” Arin said flatly. “So, passage just for yourself or…”

“No, young Corvus here will be coming with me… And I suppose since she seems utterly incapable of keeping herself out of mischief, we’d better take… Oh Tyris. Forgive me girl, I didn’t even ask your name.”

“Lyssa” The Lamia said shortly “And what do you mean about…”

“Pleasure Lyssa. This is Corvus and Captain Arin, and I’m known as Walker.” He interrupted.

“Walker?” Arin echoed “What, did you lose a bet?”

“Better than ‘Lord Squid-Crusher’, you salted shit.” Walker rejoined

Arin snorted. “So where am I taking you?”

“East coast of the Australs. I need to speak to the Dominus.” Walker began, turning as the large man gave a discrete cough.

“It would seem, sirs, that our fates are intertwined. I too was looking to secure passage to the Australs. I am Michael, Dumatian Lieutenant of the Order of Amaranth. The cost of my passage will be reimbursed to you, once we return. Sadly though, I have nought but my word to guarantee this.”

“Persistent bugger…” Arin drawled

“Must be important… I can’t believe you didn’t bring at least one writ with you though, Lieutenant.” Walker said incredulously

Michael’s boyish face fell in chagrin. “I am not a smart man.” He admitted.

Walker laughed. “Honest as a hammer to the face though. Tyris be good, I’ve never met a Scion of Dumat who could lie worth a damn… Alright Arin, if you’ve got the room, I’ll cover him.”

Michael smiled, “The God will surely bless you, Sir.”

Arin snickered, “Oh, don’t thank him yet, I’ll have use for that strong back aboard the Ruby.”

“You’re still limping about in that hunk of driftwood?” Walker exclaimed incredulously

Arin made a noise of complaint. “The ‘Lustre’ was a fine lady in her time! But, no… The ‘Ruby’s Chalice’ is state of the feckin’ art.” He drained the tankard in front of him and stood, walking towards the door of the taproom. “Tomorrow, morning tide, dock twenty-seven. Don’t be late.”

Michael stood “I must make preparations. Again, my thanks, Sir.” He offered sincerely.

Walker waved it off, “It’s just Walker, Lieutenant. I’ve been long done with ‘sir.”

Michael nodded, “Please do call me Michael then. Until tomorrow.” Bowing, he left the crowded tavern.

“So much for travelling discretely…” Corvus muttered.

Walker chuckled. “The Order of Amaranth isn’t exactly an unknown entity, Corvus. There are many ways to hide. You can go into the middle of nowhere, or you can bury yourself in a crowd. We couldn’t have picked a better cover.” He pursed his lips in thought. “In fact, I’m beginning to suspect some tampering here… this is all working out far too neatly.”

“Would I do that?” A smug voice drawled as the Cheshire shimmered into view. Making a face, she put a hand on her swollen abdomen. “Oof… She’s kicking again.”

Walker laughed, putting his hands on the pregnant belly of his Cheshire wife. “Your mother is a wicked, wicked woman.”

The Cheshire’s smug grin softened, and she ran a paw through Walker’s auburn hair. “Well it’s a good thing you love me then, you rogue.”

Lyssa slid over, placing her head uncomfortably close to Corvus’s ear. “What in Maou’s name is going on?” she murmured.

“Don’t ask me Lyssa, he doesn’t tell me shit either.” Corvus admitted, blushing slightly at the Lamia’s proximity.

“Welcome to the Ruby’s Chalice.” Arin gestured grandiosely as the gangplank began extending from the ship before them, seemingly without assistance.

“What are you doing Walker! Stop showing off!” Corvus hissed incredulously. Walker looked at him askance.

“It’s not me, Corvus… That’s something…”

“It’s called ‘hydraulics’. Wonderful piece of technology. Thanks be to Tyris for making us so fucking bright eh?” Arin snickered, overhearing them.

“I don’t recall the Grand Lodge releasing that…” Walker murmured

“They didn’t” Arin answered, “Couple of enterprising engineers out of House Doric came up with it.”

“First your bellows in Atlantea, then this? Doric’s going to find themselves inventing their way to an imperial throne at this rate!” Walker chuckled as they made their way up to the deck.

“Cap’n on the deck!” A sailor yelled.

“Orright my pathetic excuses for sapient life…” Arin began, remonstrating his crew on their behaviour and the general state of the vessel, before calling into question their parentage and the likelihood of them coupling with inert objects. Each insult brought harsh laughter and louder cheers.

“I like him!” Lyssa grinned

Michael looked at her with surprise, before chuckling helplessly.

“Mister Oliver, take my lady for a dance please, sir.”

The Reptilian man at the helm nodded gravely. “Make clear the lines, engines, all ahead to three quarters, step lively on the foredeck, I want to be drawing eighteen fathoms before lunch!” He cried in a hissing tone.

The ship lurched forwards as the tall stack amidships began to belch smoke and sparks.

“It’s more reliable than the wind, but I do miss the elegance of sails.” Arin lamented

“And here was me learned the right word for ‘wind’ and everything.” Walker drawled.

Arin chuckled. “Missed you man.”

“You too, captain, you too.” Walker replied warmly.

Oliver locked the wheel, approaching Arin, the reptilian bowed sinuously.

“We are away, Captain. Your orders?” He hissed deferentially.

“Steady as she goes, Helmsman.” Arin said, clapping him on the shoulder familiarly. “Give me a status report at nine bells.”

“Your will, Captain.” Oliver replied, heading below.

Captain Arin scratched his cheek absently. “Alright… Corvus, Walker tells me you’re good with smithcraft. The port winch has been sticking like an ogre walking past a tavern. If you would be so good…”

“Yeah, guess I can take a look.” Corvus answered with a shrug. Arin gave a slight grin.

“When you’re aboard my Lady, it’s ‘Aye Captain’ when I give you an order.” He chided.

“Oh… er… Aye Captain?” Corvus offered, sketching a rude salute.

“Get going before I take the lash to you, you hopeless dolt.” Arin laughed, turning to Michael.

“Now, big man. There is a chain which is messing up my foredeck that none amongst my crew have the strength to lift. Go have a crack at it.”

Michael frowned. “Aye Captain… but… What’s a foredeck?”

Arin pointed towards the front of the ship. “Go that way until you trip over a chain.”

Michael nodded, walking unsteadily forward as the ruby began to coast through larger swells.

Walker gave an amused grin. “You weren’t kidding when you said you had plans for… ghurk!” his drawl was cut short by crimson tentacles which ensnared his body.

“Hello cheeky.” A woman’s voice drawled as a crimson-fleshed Kraken pulled herself into view.

“Nice to see you too Ruby…” Walker choked “…You know I could have killed you, right?”

“You were expecting it, don’t lie.” Ruby drawled, bringing her humanoid arms up to embrace Walker warmly.

“I was. It’s good to see you’re keeping Arin honest.” Walker replied, returning the embrace affectionately.

“I have something below which requires a resonant’s deft hand. Could I impose upon you?” Ruby asked.

Walker pursed his lips “How fast are we traveling?” he asked Arin.

“Twenty-five knots, give or take, I’ll open her up once we’re properly away.” Arin replied.

“Shouldn’t be a problem then. Lead on, Madam.” Walker said politely, following Ruby below.

“What am I supposed to do then?” Lyssa asked Arin

Arin frowned, looking around the vessel.

“How are you with heights?” He asked

Lyssa snorted. “I’m no Holstaurus.”

Arin smiled, pointing at a basket which sat atop a tall pole amidships. “Feel like getting up there and giving a shout if you see anything interesting? My regular lookout’s birthing her first and I’m lacking for a replacement.”

Lyssa studied the pole and the rope netting which encircled it. “Piece of cake.” she said dismissively, slithering towards the structure and expertly writhing her way up and up.

Arin smiled, leaning against the locked wheel of the vessel. A good start to a long voyage.

Corvus whistled softly to himself as he watched the sun dip below the horizon and night close in around him. He had mended various curios about the vessel until it became clear to him that Arin was simply looking to keep him busy, at which point he had discretely found a retreat in the netting which hung from the bow of the Ruby.

“Hi slacker.” A voice mockingly addressed him. With a start, Corvus turned, to see Lyssa hanging upside down behind him, her tail wrapped securely around a mooring point on the deck above.

“Looking to get me in trouble?” Corvus asked. Lyssa shook her head, uncoiling herself and moving to sit beside him.

“No… Actually I thought we might talk.” Lyssa offered. “I didn’t get a chance to apologize for trying to crush you back in Heliopolis… So… I’m sorry.”

Corvus pondered that before shrugging, “No harm done, I guess…”

“You’re not much like other humans.” Lyssa murmured.

“How do you mean?”

“Well not many would just shrug off someone doing violence to them.”

“Oh? Pretty common for people to get heated and end up in a fight where I’m from. Nobody benefits from holding a grudge afterwards though.”

“Really? Wow…”

Corvus turned to study the snake-girl. “How many humans do you know?”

Lyssa gave a sheepish grin. “I’ll admit, not many… In fact You and Walker are probably the first I’ve spent more than a few minutes with.”

“Bit of an odd conclusion to draw then.” Corvus said simply.

“Mmm.” Lyssa murmured.

The youth and snake girl sat in silence for a moment, the rhythmic sound of the ruby cutting through the swell and the gentle creak of the rigging around them playing a soft accompaniment to the early night.

“Lyssa, can I ask you something?” Corvus ventured

“Sure”

“They accused you of burglary… did you… did you do it?”

Lyssa looked at him with a nonplussed expression, before bringing the thick end of her tail across the back of his head.

“Of course not, you idiot. What kind of self-respecting snake would I be going into someone else’s den uninvited? Those shits in Heliopolis were just looking for an excuse to get me on the block.”

“OK, OK… I’m sorry I asked…” Corvus offered placatingly “Why though?”

Lyssa studied the sea below them. “Because I’m a freak.” She said softly.

“Don’t say that!” Corvus cried

“How would you know, human? Even the other Lamia look at me like I’m some kind… Some kind of…”

“Some kind of Monster?” Corvus finished, sliding his arm around her comfortingly. Lyssa refused to meet his gaze, but did not pull away.

“Can I tell you something?” Corvus murmured. Lyssa gave a faint nod. “Where I was born, nearly everybody came from a family. Human, Mamono, or a combination of the two, it didn’t matter. I was presented on the doorstep of a house, told the man within was my father, and left. All the other children wasted no time in calling me ‘Abbey born’, said my parents didn’t really love me and other such stuff…”

“This isn’t a pissing contest, Corvus.” Lyssa hissed.

“Will you let me finish?” Corvus interjected. “The point I’m trying to make is, Erik took me in that first day, and Akemi held me close when I nightmared the same as she would her own daughters. They loved me… I guess what I’m trying to say is it doesn’t matter what other people say. You matter. You’re worthwhile to somebody.”

Lyssa rubbed at her eyes “That’s such sappy shit.” She said harshly, but her quavering voice belied the fact that the words had struck home with her.

Another pause as they sat in silence. Corvus felt a slight comfortable pressure as Lyssa leaned against him.

“Corvus?” Lyssa murmured

“Mmm?”

“Why are you and Walker going to the Australs?”

Corvus frowned slightly. “I don’t really know. It turns out I’m immune to Resonance for some reason, and the resonants want me bad because of it, because something’s gone wrong with them… Apparently there’s someone in the Australs who might know why. At least, that’s Walker’s reasoning for it.”

“Really? I didn’t think you were that interesting…” Lyssa drawled.

“Fuck you too.” Corvus chuckled, pushing at her gently, retracting his arm rapidly as he accidentally brushed her soft breast.

Again, they sat in silence.

“Hey Corvus…” Lyssa murmured, her voice strangely throaty.

“Hey Lyssa…” Corvus rejoined playfully, turning his head to look at her. His breath caught as he stared into yellow eyes mere inches from his own, her amethyst skin luminescent in the soft light of the evening, her emerald hair flowing in the breeze. Lyssa licked her lips briefly with a forked tongue.

“You smell really, really good…” She murmured, bringing her face closer to his.

They were kissing. Her lips were soft where they met his own, hesitantly at first then with building passion, her forked tongue darting into his mouth, his own rising instinctively to meet with it. His hands on her shoulders, pulling her to him as his own passion rose…

Pushing her gently away from him, Corvus looked into her eyes again. “You don’t have to… I mean… I’m not the only…”

“Will you shut up and kiss me?” Lyssa demanded, bringing her tail around to press his body against hers. Corvus acceded to her demand, his mouth eagerly seeking hers. His hands explored her feminine torso, cupping her breasts through her tunic, hand slipping beneath it. Her slight gasp as flesh met flesh, her nipple hardening under his caress. Her hands eagerly pulling his shirt away, nails on his back as they kissed.

Lyssa pulled back, and Corvus feared for a moment he had gone too far, until she untied her tunic, shrugging it off. Corvus’s breath caught as he saw her naked form, pert breasts above a toned stomach, amethyst torso trailing into the green scales of her serpentine lower body. Hungrily, she pulled him to her again. Corvus let his hands trace their way along her back, smooth skin blending into smooth scales which swelled at her hips. He brought his hand clumsily to her front, fumbling where scale met skin.

“Here.” She whispered, guiding his hand to an opening slightly lower. Corvus experimentally slid a finger into the opening, rewarded by a gasp and a low, throaty moan as he felt her clench about his digit. She scrabbled at his pants, pulling them down to his ankles, gasping as he sprang free from their confines.

“Wow… That’s bigger than I was expecting.” She murmured, staring at his tumescent member where it throbbed in the cool night air. She wrapped a hand around it as they kissed, working him gently as he slid his finger in and out of her.

“I want you in me.” She moaned.

“I… Well…” Corvus stammered.

She pulled back a little, studying him with those yellow eyes. “First time?” She murmured

“Well… It’s just that…” Corvus blustered.

“Don’t worry… It’s mine too…” Lyssa whispered, her smile demure and a slight blush on her amethyst cheeks.

“I’ll be gentle…” Corvus promised, removing his finger and lining himself up with her opening. Slowly, oh so slowly, he pushed himself inside her. Lyssa moaned, burying her hands in his hair and kissing at his neck as he gently worked his way within her. Coil after emerald coil wrapped around his lower body as his hips clenched and thrust, their bodies moving together. Corvus cupped a breast with one hand, stroking her back with the other.

“Lyssa… Oh… God… You feel… Amazing…” He gasped.

“Oh… Oh Corvus… Don’t… Don’t stop… Don’t you dare stop… I’m gonna..” She whimpered, her body tensing and her whimpers becoming a cry as orgasm rippled through her body.

Feeling her clamp around him, her coils tightening on his legs, Corvus groaned as beefswelling built within his loins. With a choked gasp, he pushed his hips up, only to be met with a further constriction from Lyssa’s tail.

“Don’t you dare pull out…” She hissed, her eyes rolled back with pleasure.

Corvus thrust his hips forward, Lyssa’s muscular lower body rippling as it moved to accommodate him… the sensation building… building…

Corvus cried out as he erupted inside her, his bound legs shaking and the muscles in his arms giving out as he collapsed onto Lyssa’s welcoming frame.

“Wow… That was…” He breathed.

“Yeah… It really was…” Lyssa answered, kissing him tenderly.

“Should we… do it again?” Corvus asked tentatively.

Lyssa blushed. “I’d like that.” She murmured.

The light was in his eyes.

Corvus rubbed at his eyes, he didn’t remember getting into his hammock and yet he was encased in…

Oh.

Last night.

“Lyssa.” He murmured, shaking the amethyst shoulders of the snake girl who still held him in her coils.

“Mmmfuggoff.” She murmured, not willing to be aroused from slumber.

“Lyssa!” Corvus said insistently, Shaking her again.

“Mtoocold. Gimme five minutes…” She mumbled, throwing her arms around him.

Oh shit… He had forgotten about snakes and the cold. Cursing himself for not having the foresight to take her inside after their coupling, Corvus tried to extricate himself from her coils, only to have them tighten around him.

“No going away, you’re nice and warm.” Lyssa drawled, kissing him sleepily.

“I hear you Lyssa, but if we don’t get our clothes on soon someone’s going to…”

“Hullo” Came a voice from above their heads. Corvus looked up to see Michael’s boyish features staring down at them.

“Wondering where you two got to.” The Dumatian said simply, grinning at their plight.

“Don’t say a word. Please. In the name of Tyris, not one word…” Corvus begged, extending an arm to the man.

“I dunno.” Michael drawled, seizing Corvus’s arm in a vicelike grip. “I might need a favour from you someday, Nordenlander.”

Corvus groaned as Michael’s powerful arm pulled both him and Lyssa up to the deck. He tried to close his eyes and ignore the snickers of the sailors as the large man carried them both below, where the warm belly of the engines would rouse Lyssa from her slumber.

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