What You Don’t Know

Preface: Greetings, all!  What follows is the first in a series of vignettes I am working on, with the second being “Not Alone,” which will be posted soon on this site.  This tale is slightly dark in places, I must admit, though maybe less than it may seem.  I am a great advocate of a happy ending, heh, so rest assured to that extent. The primary mamono featured are a slime and an arachne, with the guest appearance of a dullahan.  There is indeed sexual content in this story, so be forewarned, if your tastes don’t tend towards the citric.

     And, to conclude with a standard disclaimer: The monster girls featured in this tale, and many elements of the setting, are based off of the works of Kenkou Cross, and as such this work is intended to be a tribute to his creativity. The characters, however, are my own. Pray neither sue nor steal; I have very little to take, but I love that which is mine.

 

What You Don’t Know

     The man running through the forest already knew that he was dead.

     His terror was in stark contrast to the beauty of his surroundings, a peaceful sylvan scene that was a far cry from the clean, ordered streets and buildings of the city he had so recently departed, the home that he knew he would never return to. Instead of cold white stone and precisely arranged buildings, these woods were a riot of colors and scents and faint movements. Also, a silence both familiar and alien reigned over the greenery that had consumed him, the quiet made of a million different rustlings and chirps that blended together indistinguishably.

     The hush proved that the man was not being pursued, but it didn’t matter, not here. He had fled the protection of his comrades, and having only left the city rarely during his life, and even then only departing the relative safety of the roads this one fatal time, meant that he was as helpless as an infant in the midst of these looming trees and clutching roots. His head turned frantically from side to side as he searched for the end, every shadow hiding the monster that would strip his flesh from his bones, every rustling branch a herald of his doom.

     So concentrated on his surroundings was he that he didn’t notice the fallen branch before him, and so he went sprawling onto the earth without a chance to soften the fall. He lay there for several moments, fighting to hear over the sound of his own panting, but nothing revealed itself just yet. They were waiting for him to tire, to give in to despair, and then…

     This was not what he had been promised, he mentally wailed as he climbed to his feet unsteadily. He had been told he would be safe, that they would protect him, but they were no doubt dead by now, and he was alone. For a moment, he longed to return to that time when he had foolishly yielded to the offer that had sent him to this cursed forest, so that he could save himself from such a horrendous end.

     No such opportunity offering itself, the man began to run again, descending deeper into the forest, lost forevermore.

******

     “You are Axander Marinus, are you not?”

     The man sitting behind the desk looked up, squinting through thick glasses at the person who had spoken, a man that had slipped completely unnoticed into his office. Such a task was hardly difficult, as Axander had been, as usual, utterly consumed by the task in front of him, the refinement of a centuries-old topographic map that recent evidence had proven slightly in error. When focused on such a task, Axander didn’t tend to pay attention to anything else around him, which included cleaning, as the monolithic piles of aged parchment and scattered remnants of tattered quills would attest.

     “Why, yes, that is me,” Axander mumbled, reaching up to pluck the dense spectacles from his face before using the back of his hand to brush strands of his lanky blond hair away from his eyes. His vision thus cleared, he could now easily make out the features of the man who had invaded his sanctum, and what he saw made him wince involuntarily. The man had plain features and wore his brown hair cropped reasonably short, and had no facial hair to cover his squared chin or the tight set of his lips. He wore white robes, simply cut and sparsely decorated, but those scant decorations gleamed in the dim light of the cartographer’s office, gold and jewels that would be worth months’ wages at the least to the intimidated Axander. The ornate shoulderpads the man wore revealed his station to anyone somewhat familiar to the workings of the High Church: this man was a Prelate, a powerful officer of the faith with the influence to do as he liked with such a lowly clerical worker as the man he had chosen to visit. This thought filled Axander with even deeper dread, but the Prelate’s next words, no doubt chosen to disarm, quieted the cartographer’s fears.

     “You are a mapmaker, are you not?” the priest asked, picking up a paper from a stack at random and scrutinizing it carefully. Not allowing Axander the chance to answer, he nodded approvingly, replacing the parchment on the precariously-leaning pile. “I have heard of your work. You please the church with your honest deeds and your contributions to the greater knowledge of mankind.”

     “Th-thank you!” Axander stammered, pleased by the priest’s positive attention. “I have always had an interest in maps, and I can’t stand to see an inaccurate rendering of the land when I know-”

     “Very good,” the priest murmured, silencing the cartographer with a glance. “I applaud your enthusiasm. It is that very devotedness, your willingness to serve faithfully and with dedication, that brings me here today. I would like to conscript your services for a while, you see.”

     “Oh. Oh!” Axander smiled brightly, remembering what he had heard of church commissions. Such works accepted by the temple were usually kept for posterity in the Library of the Faith, copied by monks so that their knowledge could be disseminated to the other cities of the Hellenic Empire. Beyond the fact that his work would be preserved for and studied by future generations, Axander also appreciated the fact that the church was said to be quite generous when it came to payment for such commissions, something that his current employer could not claim despite the precision of the cartographer’s work. “Well, of course. Anything for the Temple!”

     “Wonderful,” the man responded dryly, smiling for the first time since he had entered into the cluttered chamber. He walked across the room, peering through the dusty glass windows at the streets several floors below. Though Axander never made use of it, his office had an impressive view of the broad avenues below, with citizens in their white tunics and dresses walking to and fro in their daily routines. In the distance, the colossal monolith of the Temple of the Holy Martyr could be seen, towering over every other building in the city, the torches that illuminated it at all hours shining off of the pristine white marble it had been constructed from. It was traditional in Olympus City that every building have at least one window that would reveal the Temple, and Axander had been one of those in his own workplace to receive such a privilege.

     “You see,” the Prelate began, crossing his arms behind his back as he continued to stare out of the window, “recently some of the faithful discovered ruins of the old civilization not two dozen miles from the edge of the Barrier, the remains of an ancient temple which should, no doubt, hold relics of great importance to the Church. It is a holy site, one which must be restored and reclaimed in the name of the Martyr. For that reason, we will be sending a small expedition to begin excavation of the site, and to begin mapping out the surroundings in the hopes of creating suitable defenses to cement our hold over the area. And that,” the priest gravely intoned, glancing back to the cowering cartographer, “is where you come in.”

     “But…! Beyond the Barrier!” Axander shook his hands frantically, toppling one already-unbalanced stack of papers to the floor. “I’ve always lived in the city; I’ve only left the Barrier in order to travel to other towns, and even then I was in a caravan! And anyways…” His voice dropped to a fearful whisper as he swallowed with difficulty. “There are monsters…”

     “Yes!” The priest’s façade of passionless calm fell away, and he snarled openly at Axander. “Vicious, unholy beasts, manslayers, eaters of human flesh! And it is these abominations that hold our holy ground, committing unspeakable rites on the sanctified earth of our forefathers! Such will not be tolerated!” He paused, his chest heaving, as he glared at the cowed mapmaker. With difficulty, he forced the emotionless mask back onto his face, reclaiming his composure. “And that is why your service will be greatly appreciated by the Church and those who serve it.”

     Despite the priest’s ardor, Axander felt little calmed by the man’s words. Much the opposite; he saw now that it would be fruitless to resist. Still, he tried one final, heroic effort: “But surely someone more experienced, more accustomed to the dangers of the wilds would be-”

     “There is no one else,” the Prelate pronounced, confirming the cartographer’s inevitable sentence. With that said, he marched towards the door, not bothering to wait for Axander to acquiesce. “But worry not,” he continued as he opened the door, glancing back at the crestfallen mapmaker with the faintest suggestion of a smirk. “You will not be going alone. You will meet the laborers that will be assisting you tomorrow, at the West Gate, just after the highsun bells toll. We will also be offering you protection: three Purifier Errants will be accompanying you on this holy charge.”

     And so the door closed on Axander’s normal life, sealing his fate. With a heavy sigh, he stooped to begin gathering the necessary supplies, shoving them into a burlap satchel. No one could refuse a Prelate, least of all a lowly cartographer. He paused for just a moment, gazing out the window at the looming Temple with a melancholy resignation, before returning to the inescapable task at hand.

******

“Is this where we were supposed to meet those bodyguards?”

     The three workmen gazed around them, searching over the forest of waist-high stakes for the presence of the promised guardians that would be accompanying them on their dangerous mission. The one that had spoken, a scrawny man with a rooster-like crest of brown hair, shook his head in irritation. “Figures the churchies would be late.”

     While the three searched for the men they were supposed to meet, Axander stared down at the neck of the horse that he clutched to, unused to the practice of riding such a beast. Though there was little love lost between him and the surly mount, studying it was a fair more appealing notion than looking upon his macabre surroundings. He had never traveled through the West Gate, since none of the other Barriers lay in that direction, only the monster-plagued wilds, and thus he had never seen the Field of Glory. Ancient maps he had studied had revealed that, long before the creation of the Barrier and the expansion of the capitol, a forest had covered this stretch of land, much like the woods at its edge. Now, however… Axander glanced down at one nearby wooden spike, and the grisly trophy it bore, and swallowed painfully.

     “Hush, hush,” a thick voice from nearby murmured, and Axander glanced in its direction. There, calming one of the nervous mules that bore the workmen’s tools, was the fifth member of their expedition. Claude, he had introduced himself, and was thus the only laborer whose name Axander had obtained. The man was foreign, which was obvious in his accent and his rustic, poorly-maintained attire. Claude wore a dense beard and mustache that all but hid his mouth, and his eyebrows were similarly bushy, while his head was entirely bald; Axander had found that ironic, but was too intimidated by the man’s imposing physique to comment. Claude seemed as broad as he was tall, and it may have been his imagination but Axander had thought he had noticed the mules giving the hulking laborer nervous looks every time he drew near a saddle. Despite his almost inhuman size, the man was the calmest member of their group, and was using that even temper to soothe the irritation of the already-balking beasts of labor.

     “Wait long?”

     The five members of the expedition turned as one, gazing behind them at the man who had spoken. To their surprise, he was a member of a trio who stood casually a short distance between their group and the distant gate. The three were similarly attired, each wearing slate-grey spaulders and greaves enameled with a white lining, along with a surcoat emblazoned with the yellow-orange flame that was the symbol of their faith. The emblem was further embellished by the golden sword imposed over the flame, the sign of the order of the Purifiers. Though Axander had not paid much attention to the various military orders of the Temple, he did notice that the flame-symbol they wore was considerably plainer than the massive flame that the Temple itself featured, and assumed this was an indicator of their rank as Errants, one of the lowest echelons of the Holy Orders.

     Beyond their similar dress, there were other comparisons that could be drawn between the trio of knights. Each of them led a stout horse, finely tooled saddles empty for the moment. They wore their hair in different styles: one allowed his to spill messily onto his forehead, while another wore his in short spikes, and the last kept his short-cropped but sported a scraggy beard. Having been used to the almost uniform styling worn by the Order of the Defenders that policed the capitol, these three seemed unkempt and diffident, and the same could be said for the leers they directed towards their charges. Another unifying factor was the fact that, despite the wide variety they each carried, the Purifiers were united in being armed to the teeth, openly displaying swords and daggers and flanged maces and, in the case of the bearded warrior, a longbow.

     “Sorry,” the messy-haired leader offered in a tone that was quite unapologetic. “We had to make our contributions, drop off our latest trophies. It’s been a while since we’ve been back, y’see.” He jerked a thumb towards the long rows of stakes. “Want to take a peek before we head out?”

     When Axander had first exited the West Gate, he had not been able to make out the white orbs that topped each wooden stake in the wide field beyond the city’s walls. It was only after they had passed the first row that he had realized what those were. It was to protect the city, he knew; after all, even if they could penetrate the shimmering golden barrier at the forest’s edge, what monster would dare try to creep close through a field of skulls?

     “We’d best head out,” the cartographer shakily offered, ripping his gaze away before it could stray to the grim rows nearby. “We don’t want to be in the forest in the dark.”

     “Not used to traveling, are ya?” asked another of the knights, the broad-featured man with a claymore strapped to his back and spiked blond hair. He grinned at the uneasy mapmaker, shaking his head. “We’re not going to make it in time anyways. Gonna have to camp out in the forest tonight.”

     “Would you want to make camp in unexplored ruins, anyways?” demanded the dark-haired leader, a merciless smile on his lips. “Never know what is going to have a lair in there. It’s better this way.”

     “F-fine,” Axander relented, looking away to not notice the grins the three were sharing. “But let’s go, anyways.”

     “Sure thing,” the leader drawled, shrugging. “Stick close to those mules, though,” he said pointedly, turning his attention to the laborers. “Wouldn’t want the monsters to take them… or you, for that matter.”

     Kicking his gruff mount into a trot, the cartographer prayed that the men around him could not hear his drumbeat pulse, or the way that he cleared his tight throat. Behind him, the knights took to the saddle, while the laborers moved to follow the commands of their protectors, three of them glaring at the Purifiers whenever they thought it safe enough while Claude stared resignedly ahead, patting the mule he had chosen as they made their way down the road towards the barrier and the tree line beyond. Behind them, the white city gleamed, as did the pale trophies that surrounded it.

******

 

     It had taken Axander some time to get used to the noises of the forest, but now, as darkness completely consumed the surroundings, he found himself missing the rustlings and bird cries. In this murky blackness, every sound stabbed into him, making him jump and search for its source, certain that some lurking beast was ready to leap out onto him. This jerky paranoia had proven to be a limitless source of amusement for the three knights, who chuckled to each other as they sprawled around the fire that Claude had finally produced.

     Elbowing his bearded comrade, the leader of the knights nodded to Axander with a grin. “So, Inkstain, never been out in the woods before?”

     Axander frowned down at his blackened fingertips before glancing sullenly to the Purifier, who had introduced himself as Julius. “No, never,” he admitted finally.

     “I guess all of us would say that,” the rooster-combed laborer interjected, picking at a loose rock on the ground beside him as he smirked at the trio of knights. “Not much sense in it, what with getting eaten and all.”

     “I’ve been in woods,” Claude offered, adding another dried limb to the fire. “Was a lumberjack, back in my home country.”

     Ignoring that contribution to the conversation, Julius shook his head. “You city boys should be glad to have us along. The five of you wouldn’t make it out here long without us here to babysit.”

     “I haven’t seen any monsters yet,” Axander offered bravely.

     “And why do you think that is?” Julius demanded, tapping the longsword he kept across his lap. “Beasts know hunters when they see them.”

     “Yeah, usually we have to hunt them, instead of the other way around,” the broadest knight chuckled, tilting his spike-haired head back as he took a deep swig from the flask he had pulled from his belt the moment the fire had blazed into life.

     “It makes me wonder, though,” Julius mused. He waved a hand towards the five civilians, one brow raised. “What did you all do to end up out here?”

     “I’m a mapmaker,” Axander mentioned, uncertain what Julius was implying.

     “We know that,” the knight groused, rolling his eyes. Seeing no further information forthcoming, he turned to the laborers. “And you?”

     The three that had stuck together since Axander had met them shared a glance before their leader smiled at the inquisitive knight. “We got a little drunk.”

     “Nothing wrong with that,” the blond knight chuckled, draining his flask once again.

     “There is when it comes out onto a passing Lector,” another of the laborers grumbled, to the hilarity of the three Purifiers.

     “That’ll do it!” the blond knight, Titus, howled.

     “What about you, Frank?” Julius demanded, referencing the hulking laborer’s tribe.

     The big man shrugged, poking the fire to release a storm of embers. “Priest offered me work, I took it. Was asking for job anyways.”

     Sated, Julius shrugged, leaning back. Silence returned to the campfire for several long moments, which hardly proved more restful for the cartographer, despite the knight’s boasting. Noticing this, the Purifier leader smiled darkly through the fire separating them, deciding to antagonize the nervous academic further. “Say, Galen, what breed do you think would have gotten them, if we weren’t around?”

     The knight in question rubbed his salt-and-pepper beard, an unkind smile on his scarred face. “Hornet,” he suggested in a gravelly voice.

     “Hornet?” Axander asked quietly, immediately suckered into the conversation, to the pleasure of the knight’s leader.

     “Yeah, a cross between a woman and a hornet, half sexy, half stinger.” Julius picked a stick from the ground and jabbed it towards the cartographer. “They sting you, and then you wake up in their hive with one of them riding you.”

     “Doesn’t sound so bad,” one of the laborers mused.

     “What do you think they feed the larva?” Julius responded, showing his teeth in a feral grin. Watching the other men shudder, he shook his head. “Better to die quick than that.”

     “Me, I figure it would be a slime,” Titus rumbled, joining in on the game. “One second, you’re walking along. The next, you’re waist-deep in a puddle of monster. The next, you’re sinking deeper as she dissolves you down to the bones.”

     “Can we change the conversation?” Axander shrilled, staring into the darkness.

     “Aw, come on, we’re just getting you ready for-” Julius paused as Galen drew a hand across his throat, head tilted as he tried to hear something. The camp fell quiet as every man struggled to hear what had drawn the bearded Purifier’s attention, the keen ears of the knights easily discerning the low drone long before it reached the others.

      “Kill that damned fire!” Julius snarled, and Claude hastened to obey, especially when the knight drew his longsword. “Looks like Galen was right,” he said, staring into the darkness. “Keep quiet and still, and we’ll keep the watch tonight.”

     Titus grumbled at that, but the others nodded tersely, making their beds on the ground with exaggerated delicacy. Axander chose a spot close to the fire, more for hopes of safety than the fading warmth, and was relieved when the large form of Claude sank to the earth nearby. After a moment, the bushy-bearded Frank noticed the shivering shoulders of the cartographer, and he scooted closer, cupping a hand to whisper to Axander. “Don’t worry,” he said, smiling under his forest of bristly black hairs. “I’m too big, you’re too skinny.”

     “Yeah?” Axander asked, hope blossoming in his eyes.

     “Yeah.” Claude nodded briskly, his smile never fading. “They take us last.”

     It was the start of a very long night for Axander.

******

     “So, these are the ruins, hunh?” Titus ran a hand across the moss-covered stones, shaking his head as he examined the sad state of the former temple. “Hardly seems worth it.”

     “It’s worth it to the Ecclesiastic Council, and that’s all that matters,” Julius snapped, silencing his comrade’s thoughts. “This is the right place, eh, Inkstain?”

     “Well, according to the notes I was given, and from what I can judge from the maps of the ancient country-” Axander paused as Julius loudly cleared his throat, and noticed that the knight was glaring daggers at him. “Yes,” he stated simply, replacing the stack of papers he had been studying in his pack.

     “So be it.” The Purifier shrugged, waving a hand towards the ruins. “Everyone, start poking around, see if you can find anything that looks like an entrance. But stay close, within shouting range.” He leered at the nervous workmen, spreading his hands casually. “That way the rest of us can get clear if anything grabs you.”

     With the mood properly set, the group split up to begin searching the ruins, poking at every nook and cranny, scraping away centuries-deep moss and desiccated vines. Axander, however, took a seat on one smooth stone and drew out his parchment and ink, jotting down notes about the area. He had decided to trade the glowers of the other men for the relative security of remaining in one place, one that looked far safer than the shadowed crevices of the ancient structure.

     An hour passed before one of the workmen cried out, drawing everyone towards the sound, the knights already unlimbering their weapons as they jogged ahead. When they found the laborer, he wasn’t in danger; instead, he was resting his hand on a smooth stretch of the temple’s wall. “There’s a crack here; it looks like this might be a door!” Galen and Titus hurried up to the wall and began ripping at its covering and, soon enough, the massive stone portal was unveiled.

     “Get the picks and hammers,” Julius ordered, smiling hungrily. “Let’s get this thing opened up.” He looked around at the workers, who were gaping at the dulled stone carvings that covered the doors, unfamiliar religious symbols and magnificent beasts covering much of the stones’ surface. “Now!” he barked, and the laborers trotted to obey.

     While the men hacked at the doors with pickaxes, trying to pry the massive gates open, Axander sat a short distance away, watching them with furrowed brow. His gaze lingered on the leader of the Purifiers, who watched the proceedings with a grimly eager hunger. Something felt off here; if their purpose was to prepare defenses so that they could reclaim this temple, why would they be trying to open it? Wouldn’t it be better to set up an outpost and survey the area first? The mapmaker shrugged, trying to force his attention to his own task; he would leave the rest to his protectors.

     The better part of another hour had passed before the workers finally triumphed over their ages-old opponent, Claude taking the lead as they heaved one door out of the way. Immediately the knights ordered them away from the opening, lighting torches and searching the entryway for any signs of monsters. Once they felt comfortable enough, Julius motioned for Titus to take the lead, and the hulking Purifier slipped silently into the temple, his claymore remaining in its sheath at his back in favor of a short spear and a torch. He crept into the tunnel-like passage, peering warily at the shadows left by the columns that were spaced down its length. Finally assured that it was safe, he waved to his fellows, and thus the procession into the ruins began.

     Spread out in a long train with the Purifiers near the fore and Axander and Claude at the rear, the group descended into the tunnel, the knights checking every crack and crumbling hole for signs of monstrous inhabitants. Their searching was fruitless, and despite the danger their discontent quickly became obvious; Axander wondered for a moment if the trio actually wanted to find a monster. That thought made him shudder violently as he remembered the previous night’s aborted conversation, and he jumped as he felt a broad hand land on his back, barely restraining a shriek.

     “Don’t worry,” Claude’s thick accent rumbled at his ear. “We stay in back, where it’s safe, eh?” The big man’s chuckle relaxed the cartographer slightly, and Axander gave Claude a nod and a tight smile, relieved in their shared cowardice.

     “I must say, these ruins are interesting,” he mumbled, gazing around him. “It’s hard to imagine how much has changed since this temple was built. It predates the War of the Demon Queen, and War of the Barriers of course, and maybe even-” Axander paused, tilting his head to the side as he tried to hear the sound that had drawn him up short. “Do you hear that?”

     It had started when he had turned to Claude, but he had dismissed it, thinking it the sloshing of the canteens that each of the men carried. The sound was not dissimilar, a rolling liquid sound that seemed somehow deeper, and far louder… and behind him. Freezing in place, Axander fought to call out, or at least to warn Claude, but no sound escaped him. Finally he turned as the sound rose to a crescendo, a final splat that drew even the attention of the men in front of him. “…Claude?”

     What he saw terrified him, but the only sound that fled from him was a low moan. Behind him, Claude was slumped against one of the walls, his eyes wide as he stared down at the viscous liquid that covered his mouth. That fluid trailed down from his mouth and from the ceiling alike, collecting in a massive puddle that covered half of the passage and rose up to the Frank’s waist. As Axander watched, the puddle quivered, bulging a short distance from Claude, the mound’s width diminishing as the bulge rose higher. As it climbed, its form narrowed and gained a familiar shape: on either side, a furrow formed, separating into two long tendrils that quickly molded into the shape of human arms, complete with distinguishable fingers. The front pushed out and another furrow became cleavage, while the top rounded, tapering into a neck. Finally features appeared on the monster’s face, lips and a petite nose and wide eyes, and even the ooze trailing down the thing’s back looked like a woman’s flowing hair.

     As Axander watched, the thing’s lips curved in a dull smile as it raised its right arm, brushing its hand against Claude’s cheek as the laborer ‘Mmrph’ed into the ooze covering his mouth. The monster stared at him for a long moment with that strange smile before glancing down at his legs, its expression shifting from an odd tenderness to an unhidden hunger. Claude grunted as a current grew in the ooze’s body, and slowly the man’s trousers began to sag as they were dragged against his hips.

     “A slime!” came a snarl from the group’s fore, and the other laborers were roughly shoved aside as the knights rushed to Claude’s rescue. Before they reached the cartographer, the Frank’s trousers finally surrendered, dropping to his ankles and exposing his undercloth. Despite this victory, the current within the ooze did not cease, only shift, and Claude’s eyes began to roll back into his head as, to Axander’s horrified fascination, a bulge began to grow between his legs.

     The slime’s manipulation of Claude paused as a short spear flew through the air, piercing into her side, not too distant from the ribs of the man she held. She turned, gazing down at the weapon without comprehension as it began to sink towards the floor, the slime’s side reforming as it descended. Disregarding the weapon as unimportant, the slime turned back to her previously-unwilling paramour, stretching her arms out to reach around his neck in a tender embrace that the Frank did not resist.

      “Idiot!” Julius snarled, brushing Axander aside as he slapped Titus on the shoulder. “You don’t stab slimes; it does nothing!” The blond Purifier bowed his head repentantly as Julius pointed towards his other hand, a smile pricking at the sides of his mouth.

     “You burn them.”

    To this, Titus nodded, and he advanced toward the unwitting slime, holding his torch before him, an eager gleam in his eyes. Behind him, Julius turned back to the others, shrugging diffidently. “That’s the shame about slimes,” he offered nonchalantly, shaking his head in resignation. “No trophies.” Behind him, the slime finally noticed Titus’ advance, and she slid away from him uncomfortably, the ooze nearest the torch darkening from a cobalt shade to a darker blue, almost black in the flickering flame’s light. The slime opened her mouth as if to cry out in mute pain, but only her eyes could reveal her anguish.

     “Stop right there!”

      Every person in the tunnel unwittingly followed that command, freezing in place at the sound of the female voice that boomed down the passageway. Frowning, the knights squinted against the light that flooded in from the open door, only able to perceive the silhouette of the woman who stood just inside the temple. Even from that dim perception, several facts about her were revealed: she had long hair that looked, in the blinding light, to be teal-colored, and draped over the tall pauldrons she wore. In her right hand, she held an ornate longsword, which she pointed at the men. At first glance, it was hard to find any reason to believe her anything but human… until they noticed the pointed ears, and the way the edges of the long cape she wore burned with a pale blue flame, yet never seemed to diminish.

     “I am the Lady of the Blade, Ceann Alpestria. You invaders shall depart this place immediately, taking nothing with you, or you will face my wrath!” She glared at the men, but when they didn’t immediately move the tip of her sword began to waver. “I mean it! Take only what you brought with you, or-”

     “Shoot her.” Julius turned calmly to Galen, who stood in the midst of the three free laborers. The bearded knight shrugged, pulling the bow from his back and beginning to string it with practiced swiftness.

      “Why, you…!” The female knight growled at her honorless opponents before beginning a clanking charge down the hall, blade held high and ready. “Face your end!”

      Though her legs brought her swiftly down the passage, she was not fast enough. Galen loosed his arrow, his aim sending it flying inerrantly towards her plated chest. Watching it come, the woman paused, slashing her sword before her in a wide arc, grinning triumphantly as the arrow was knocked wide. That smile decayed into a look of shock as her wide swing ended against one of the passage’s columns, nearly jarring the sword from her hands.

     “Ha!” Julius barked, beginning a charge of his own. The dark-haired knight reached her quickly, stabbing forward towards her waist with the grace of a practiced fencer. Despite his rapid advance, Ceann effortlessly parried the blow, shoving his blade to the right. It became quickly obvious that the Purifier had expected this, as his next attack came from his open hand, grabbing her nearest pauldron and wrenching her off balance in time for one of his feet to scythe at her greaves. Julius grunted at the collision, but the impact was enough to drop Ceann to one knee, and before she could raise her sword to fend him off he lashed out with a hard kick to her breast, throwing her onto her back a short distance away.

     Axander’s eyes widened as he saw the results of her landing. Though it was obscured by the mist rising from her neck, steam-like, he watched as the knight’s long-haired head bounced free from her body and rolled further back down the passage. Despite her unexplained decapitation, Ceann’s head roared her indignation, ranting at the Purifier’s dishonorable tactics.

     “Dullahans,” the dark-haired Purifier shrugged, shaking his head in exasperation as he stomped on the monster-woman’s sword. Her headless body struggled to free the trapped blade, but her struggles seemed diminished, as if the brief fight had greatly weakened her. “All talk, no substance. Their fighting is as hollow as their necks.” He leered at her fuming head before turning his grin to Titus. “Won’t even have to cut this one off before we put it on the stake, eh?” Laughing, he nodded to Galen. “Looks like a kill each for me and Titus, you better-” Julius’ eyes widened drastically as he noticed the shadow moving behind the bearded knight, who was too busy laughing to realize the danger he was in. “Watch out!”

     Galen turned to look behind him, but was far too slow. A silver shine flung red droplets against the nearby wall, and Galen sank to the ground, his eyes dimming as the bow fell from nerveless fingers. As the Purifier’s limp body struck the cold stone, his assailant was revealed in the darkness beyond: another armored figure, though lacking the long cape and jutting pauldrons Ceann wore. Instead, this figure wore a full helmet, which concealed the face behind it. One other notable difference between the two attackers became quickly apparent, and the Purifiers openly gaped at the knight’s breastplate, which lacked the twin bulges that Ceann’s featured. Without a sound, the knight emerged from the darkness, stepping over Galen’s still form, the sword dripping crimson tears in a trail leading towards the other humans.

     Julius shook his head, unable to believe what he was seeing. A man, in the midst of monster territory, and moreover one willing to strike down a Purifier? “You are…” the Errant gasped, eyes widening in fear.

     “I am.” The smooth masculine voice spoke the words as if they contained all that was necessary.

     “Titus, burn the slime and take over here! I’ll hold him off!” Julius commanded, and his comrade hastened to obey, grabbing a flask of lamp oil from his side and struggling to open it as the slime watched him warily, not understanding the doom that awaited her. With the flask opened, he turned back towards the slime, but a grunt from his leader made him pause. Julius reached out to steady himself against the wall as the sword he had been standing on was wrenched from under his foot, and the headless body of Ceann lurched forward, bringing her sword down at Titus.

     The blond Purifier watched dumbly as the silver arced past him, staring at the afterimage of the blade as the chill of its passing penetrated his armor. His gaze fell to the torch he had been extending towards the slime as a thin line appeared near its tip, and the far end of the torch parted from its other half and clattered to the floor. Holding the torch-turned-club in his head, he turned to the Dullahan’s body, and saw Ceann’s head smirking at him from her position on the floor a good distance away. 

     For the others in the hall, this reversal was enough. Howling in terror, the laborers and the cartographer pushed past the remaining Purifiers and their beheaded opponent, sprinting for the freedom of the open doorway. Their horror infected even Claude, who struggled against the slime’s hold. Such was his adrenaline-fueled might that, with a loud sucking complaint, he pulled free of the slime and hobbled down the hall, reaching down to reclaim the trousers that bound his ankles as his hopeful lover reached for him, despair on her liquid features.

     Suddenly left alone in the hallway, the two Purifiers and their opponents faced each other, though Titus did so with difficultly considering the dual nature of his enemy. Distraught and ignoring the impending battle, the slime oozed unheeded away from the combatants, misery on her face as she trailed after Claude. Taking this as a cue, Ceann’s body backed away from Titus, finally reaching and bending down to claim her head, which she replaced on the hollow of her neck.

     “Very well then,” Julius snarled confidently. “I will be your opponent, Demon King!”

     The knight facing him shook his head gently, though whether in denial or from amusement was impossible to gauge. The knight raised his sword, however, as he took a ready stance. “This is not fair,” the warm voice taunted from inside that helmet. “Lady, why don’t you make sure our other guests are taken care of?”

     “But…!” The Dullahan gave her partner a pleading glance, but he did not respond, mutely facing the two Purifiers. Finally, with a barely restrained pout, she nodded. “Fine.” With that, she turned and ran for the open door, her burning cape trailing after her.

     With her retreat, Titus turned to face the knight, drawing two flanged maces from his side. “You so sure that was smart, big guy?” he growled, hefting his weapons effortlessly. “We’re a lot harder to kill when you don’t sneak up on us.”

     “You know why,” the knight stated, staring directly at Julius. After a long moment, the dark-haired Purifier nodded, a hungry grin on his face.

     “Monsters don’t kill,” he purred, glancing at the blood dripping from his enemy’s blade. “But we do.”

     And with that, he charged straight at the knight, a howl at his lips. Titus trailed behind, waiting for the chance to flank his opponent, forcing him to fight on two fronts with a single weapon. As they came, the knight stood waiting, silent and ready.

     The battle did not last long.

******

Axander panted as he ran through the forest, fleeing the battle behind him. His panic had separated him from the others, and in this forest that meant his end. He had accepted this, but that acceptance did nothing to calm the flow of fear that kept his legs pumping, his arms tearing at the vines and branches that sought to hold him back. He had no direction, no guidance, not even the supplies he had brought with him to this accursed forest; if, by some rare chance, he wasn’t slaughtered by a monster, then he would likely starve long before he found civilization again. Food, to a man like him, was distinguished by the fact that it came on a plate.

     As he thought on this, a sharp crack rang out as a thick branch he stepped on gave way, and the abrupt sound startled him even further, adding greater haste to his flight. So hurried was he, however, that he stared blankly ahead of him, registering obstacles just in time to avoid them, unable to slow down even if he had wanted to.

     The thick white strands draped between the two trees ahead saw to that for him. As he slammed into the ropy tendrils, he expected to tear through; it was only as he bounced back, uncomfortably gripped by the sticky strands, that he realized what he had stumbled into. On first glance, it appeared to be a man-sized spiderweb. On second glance, that was exactly what it was.

     Axander was ready to give up and die at that moment, but such mercy was not readied for him yet. Instead, he hung in the web in silence, bobbing back and forth as the rubbery tendrils continued swaying from his collision. Finally they stilled, and, as Axander fought fruitlessly with the implacable grip of the web, the forest grew tranquil once more. It was minutes later than boredom began to wage war with terror, just as the cartographer began to notice the presence of non-adhesive strands in the web and, flinging any remaining shreds of sanity to the wind, began to chart out a mental map of his two-dimensional prison, noting with morbid fascination the way that the web was designed with a natural perfection that would effortlessly deny man’s best attempts to emulate it… or, in this case, escape it.

     It was then that he noticed the sinuous motion at the edges of his peripheral vision, but, try as he might, he could not turn his head to regard his advancing executioner. He could hear the rustling of inhuman footsteps draw ever closer to him, and tightened his eyes in preparation for the end, quivering as he waited for the fangs to tear into his skin. He remembered the desiccated cocoons that decorated the cobwebs in his office, and wondered it that would be his fate, emptied of all fluids, a hollow trophy to decorate this web forevermore.

     “Welcome to my parlor,” purred the alluring voice behind him, and he flinched as he felt warm breath gust over his ear. “I hope you intend to stay for a while; it is so rare that I have company, and especially not guests of your…” Axander jerked as he felt a smooth hand press against his lower back, sliding downward to grip his rear. “…stature.”

     Axander’s only response was a squeak of fear, but the thick strand of web that ran across his lips precluded any further options. Unconcerned with his lack of conversational skill, the female voice persisted just as her hands continued their exploration, gripping the muscles of his upper legs and running up the length of his spine. “You must forgive me, I have been rude,” she murmured unapologetically, leaning close to his neck and deeply inhaling, breathing in his scent. “I must help you get comfortable.”

     The rustling of her footsteps resumed, and for a scant instant Axander dreamed that she had decided to leave him to hang for a while longer. He had no such luck, and considering his past two days should not have expected it; instead, the woman circled around one of the two trees to approach the web from the other side, smiling darkly as she came.

     Axander stared in horror at the woman’s shape, though he admitted it wasn’t anything compared to what his over-exerted imagination had conjured while she had first approached. From the waist up, she was undeniably beautiful: pale skin, red lips, flowing silver hair, and an expansive chest that was covered by a chitinous brassiere. Her eyes were surprisingly the first unnatural trait he noticed: they were scarlet, and while it did little to detract from her splendor it sent chills down the cartographer’s spine nonetheless. Above those human eyes, however, were matching rows of three additional eyes on each side, bringing the total count to eight, normal enough for the spider that the rest of the woman resembled.

     It was that half of her form that made Axander’s heart tighten dangerously: below the waist, his captor was an arachnid, eight segmented legs emerging from an elongated purple torso. A dark patch of purple fur circled around three-quarters of the bond between her humanoid torso and her arachnid lower body, while her front was exposed, a bifurcated chitin plate covering what would be the groin on a human body. As she approached him, her legs moved in tandem, quickly covering the distance between them.

     Just as he examined her, her scarlet eyes roamed voraciously over his form, devouring every detail that wasn’t covered by her webbing. All eight of her eyes narrowed as she noticed the leanness of his arms and legs, but as she turned to check for calluses on his hands she noticed the dark stains on his fingertips. “Ah!” she exclaimed, her eyes lighting with sudden enthusiasm. “You are a scholar, then?”

     “Ah…” Axander gave this a moment’s thought, and for once in his life praised his scrawny form. “Yes, I’m sorry. I wouldn’t make a good meal, and wouldn’t even be all that filling, and-”

     “Ooh,” the spider-woman purred, rubbing her hands together, ignoring his babbling. “My sisters prefer the brawny sorts, but I’ve always thought that a little brains were necessary for the mix as well.” She beamed at him, and he fell silent. Just his luck that he would get the one monster that found bibliophiles tasty.

     While the cartographer bemoaned his fate, the arachnid beauty closed the distance between them, drawing off one of her elbow-length purple gloves as she did so. Once that was shed, she raised the long-fingered hand to her mouth, cupping the palm as she did so. “Excuse me,” she apologized, and Axander blinked as he watched her delicately spit into that hand. When she pulled it away from her mouth, he noticed that the sputum was an unusual color, and when she noticed his interest the woman hastened to sate his curiosity. “You see, we arachne are quite conscious of which strands in our webs are adhesive and which are not, but it always pays to have a back-up,” she explained, reaching the hand out and gingerly beginning to apply the spit to the sticky strands that bound one of Axander’s arms. As she did so, the webbing sagged, pulling free of the mapmaker’s sleeve, but before he could begin to evaluate the elusive potentialities of having a single arm free, she pulled down another strand of webbing and looped it around his arm, binding him in place once more. She continued this process with his other limbs and began on his torso, smiling to herself as she worked. “And, since our activities would be aided by you facing me…”

     ‘Ah, great,’ Axander lamented, gritting his teeth. ‘Not only am I to be devoured, but she wants me to watch.’

     Finally he was freed from the web’s adhesive trap, but try as he might he could not pull free of the arachne’s bindings in the short time it took her to circle back to the other side of the web. Noting his struggles, the spider-woman clicked her tongue in disappointment. “Come now, all that hard work on my behalf and this is how you repay me?” A smooth hand slid up his arm to the loop at his wrist, and the arachne deftly freed that arm, before reaching down to the matching leg, her hands dancing down his body and even sliding slightly towards his groin before descending past his knee to the ankle. With two limbs freed, hope blossomed for Axander, only to be summarily crushed a moment later when the woman pulled him over to face her, pressing him against a new section of the web as she did so. The cartographer sighed as he felt the web stick to his back, and amusement twinkled in his captor’s lovely eyes.

     “And now for the main course,” she sighed, her eyes traveling over his chest and downwards. Axander squeezed his eyes shut at this, once again surrendering to his fate. At the least, a voice whispered seditiously in the back of his mind, he would die at the hands of a beautiful woman. Still, he had to try one final time.

     “Please don’t eat me,” he whispered, giving her a pleading stare.

     The arachne shook her head, unabashed hunger painted across her expression. “Oh, no,” she breathed, reaching out for him. “I am going to drain you dry.”

     That was what Axander had expected. What he hadn’t expected was for the woman to dexterously undo his trousers, and, after irritably growling as she was forced to reach past him and reapply more of her anti-adhesive to the strands clinging to the clothing, pull them from his body, offhandedly tossing them into the nearby brush. His undercloth followed, leaving his loins exposed to the air. She glanced at his shirt, perhaps intending for it to join the rest of his clothing on the earth, but rapidly her gaze returned to his unclad manhood, and she impatiently compromised. She reached up to the neck of his shirt and pulled it in opposite directions, the cloth finally yielding to her frustrated efforts, ripping in twain. Panting in frustration, the woman took only a moment to run a hand over his bare chest before descending once again, expectant hunger on her face.

     If he had been offered an option, having his liquefied internal organs withdrawn through his groin would not have been Axander’s choice of deaths; right now, he would probably have picked the classic ‘old age’ instead. It did, however, have slight advantages, he noted as her warm breath gusted over his member. Delicately, the arachne lifted his mostly-flaccid self and inspected it carefully, even sniffing it. “This will not do,” she said disapprovingly, and offering him a teasing glance. As he watched in commingled fear and anticipation, she parted her lips and brought her mouth to him, consuming him entirely with a single lunge.

     As a wave of pleasure washed over the cartographer, he felt blood rush to his loins and hazily wondered if that was behind her choice of dining spots. He watched dimly as the spider-woman pulled back, leaving only the barest tip in her mouth, and after a mischievous glance to insure that she had his full attention lunged forward once again, the resulting slurp making Axander unconsciously moan. She repeated this several more times, but with increasingly difficulty as her new plaything began to swell, until finally she was forced to change tactics, removing it from her mouth entirely. Before her captive had the chance to miss the warm comfort of her mouth, she extended her tongue, brushing against his scrotum before running it from base to tip, teasing the opening at the end. Hearing Axander’s panting, she allowed herself to slip into a frenzy, licking him wildly and running her lips over his skin, her own breathing increasing in pace.

     Soon enough, the cartographer’s moans became tensely pained, and he lunged forward against the restraints of the webbing, thrusting blindly towards his beloved tormentor. With a strangled cry, he released, and his tightly shut eyes deprived him of the sight of the arachne first shying away from his explosive climax, and then pouncing before his second salvo, taking him into her mouth and claiming the rest of his seed. A moment later he was spent, sagging against the web, and she pulled away, brushing the excess from her lips with the back of her hand. “How delightful,” she purred, her other hand at her chest as if savoring the spreading warmth she had consumed.

     In the disassociated fog of his after-climax, Axander thought back to the only other sexual experience he had enjoyed in his life, although ‘enjoyed’ put perhaps too positive a spin on the affair. As a cloistered academic and later a self-consumed mapcrafter, he had had scant opportunities to enjoy the presence of the other sex, and truth be told had appreciated that fact, as women never failed to intimidate him. Barring romantic or even casual dalliances, the possibility of a financial agreement was the other alternative, but in the stifling presence of the Temple members of the oldest profession were utterly unemployed in the capitol. On a visit to the Avalon Barrier, however, such an opportunity had arisen, and in a rare moment of bravery Axander had allowed himself to be seduced by a prostitute, paying what he later discovered to be a significant amount beyond standard fare due to his unwise attempt at haggling. The experience had been pleasurable, certainly, but brief and inescapably bittersweet, as the woman had angrily rebuffed his attempts at kissing her, which he later learned to be taboo. Thus, Axander’s curiosity about sex had ended, and he pridefully decided to declare the practice acceptable for others, but nothing he had a need for.

     And thus, he had never experienced anything like what the arachne had given him. He had never been a devout member of the church, attending mostly to avoid questions about why he hadn’t attended, but now he offered up a prayer of thanks for the final blessing he had received. At least he would die content, he mused warmly, and he watched through half-lidded eyes as the arachne’s face drew closer to him, an impish grin in her eyes. “Are you going to eat me now?” he breathed, though he couldn’t muster the energy to care about the answer.

     Or so he thought. Immediately the arachne reared back, anger on her face. “I’ve already done that!” she railed, crossing her arms across her chest which, Axander noted, she had bared while he had been lost in introspection. His attention captivated by that expanse of smooth skin, he didn’t notice her shake her head in frustration. “Is that all you think about? There are more interesting things for us to do, you know,” she fumed.

     It took a long moment for Axander to decipher what she had said. Finally his head snapped up, staring at her in shock. “You… you mean you don’t intend to use me for food?”

     “Food?” The arachne’s cheeks colored as she laughed incredulously. “While you are tasty, I prefer wild pork when it comes to an actual dinner. No, I had intended you for… other purposes.” With that, she drew closer, raising two of her spider legs and hooking them over two non-adhesive strands of the web, pulling Axander lower while at the same time aligning his groin with the lower part of her torso. To his surprise, the mapmaker noticed that the chitinous plate there had shifted, revealing soft lips that glimmered with faint dampness. “As I said before… I would like to insure that my contribution to the arachne race receive intellect from both parents, instead of pure physicality. They will already have my charm and beauty; your efforts will help make my daughters even more perfect.” She smiled lustfully, reaching down to stroke his rapidly-stiffening manhood.

     Axander stared at her without comprehending. He had known that monster women bred with their captives, although he hadn’t considered himself lucky enough for such pleasantries, but what captured his attention was her declaration that she would not be dining upon him. The church had always claimed that monsters fed on human flesh, so then why would this creature not… He remembered the taunting stories of the Purifiers, and how when the slime had captured Claude it had not dissolved the Frank as they had claimed, but had begun to pleasure him just as this arachne was doing to Axander. The cartographer’s already-dubious faith in what he had been told collapsed, and he faced the arachne with a new bravery swelling in his chest.

      “Alright,” Axander said calmly, meeting her eyes. It was her turn to be surprised, but she quickly recovered, narrowing her eyes eagerly. She was not the only one to quickly rally, as his member now stood at rigid attention, a fact which did not escape his lover as she deftly stroked him. She glanced at it hungrily before meeting his eyes once again, reveling in the odd determination she saw there. Excited, she advanced, using a hand to guide him to her opening and allowing him to slide into her warm tightness.

     “Ah… Ah!” she cried, pain apparent on her face. Axander watched her with concern, but after a moment she opened her eyes, looking at him with a faint blush on her cheeks, confused by his expression.

     “I, ah… I am sorry,” he said, not certain what he had done to hurt her.

     “It is alright,” she gasped, resting a hand on his chest. “I must be careful, that is all.” With that, she pushed closer to him, and he sank deeper into her, the pain on her face slowly blending with an increasing pleasure. After taking him most of the way in, she paused before drawing back, and then forward again, letting him slide against her gently. Both of them stared down at their meeting, captivated by the sight, though Axander noted with some anxiety the faint trail of blood upon his length. After a moment of cautious movements, however, the arachne tilted her head back, moaning deeply and allowing him to sink into her.

     Though he was bound and not able to contribute much to the action, Axander found himself rocking against his bonds, thrusting as best he could towards the spider-woman’s core. She too noticed this, and met his efforts with her own, increasing the pace of her movements, pressing harder and harder against him, panting with eyes wide open in pleasured concentration. Soon enough, both were consumed by their congress, bathing in their partner’s smells and sounds and warmth.

     As the feelings swelled in Axander, an unyielding desire bubbled up from the depths of his memories, and though he knew that he would be risking the same anger and denial that had ruined his previous experience, he had no choice but to ask, as if drug by fate’s leash. “Please…” he breathed haltingly, eyes tightly shut. “Kiss… kiss me…”

     His eyes shot open to see the look of shock on the arachne’s face, and they stared at each other for a long, still moment. As he watched, however, her surprise was not replaced with the rage he had expected, but with a fierce delight, and the arachne leaned forward, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling his face to hers, pressing their lips together hungrily. They stayed like that for several seconds, their earlier activity paused. Finally, the woman pressed harder, her tongue emerging to part his lips and explore his mouth, and he responded in kind, unwittingly thrusting against her as he did so. Moaning into his mouth, the arachne complied to his body’s request, resuming their lovemaking without breaking the impassioned kiss, the partners groaning and grunting against each other as their need exploded. They were still pressed together like that when the shrill wail built in the woman’s throat, and still thus a moment later when Axander grunted thunderously and let himself spill into her womb, releasing uncontrollably as his world was consumed by brilliant, painfully-pleasurable sensation.

     Finally the pair broke their contact for a moment, fighting to regain their breath as the arachne leaned forward against him, her head resting on his heaving chest. Axander stared with wonder at the wistful softness in her scarlet eyes as his lover looked up at him, contentedly silent. This did not last long, however, and soon enough the mischievous light danced once again in her eyes.

     “Rest quickly, my savory little treat,” she teased, raising her head and extending her tongue to lick at his throat playfully. “We’re not done yet.”

     “Ah?” the cartographer managed, wearily unable to decide between being exhilarated or intrigued by the suggestiveness in her voice.

     “Of course not,” she said, mocking disapproval in her voice. “After all, we cannot be certain that a single time will result in offspring. You will need to prepare yourself for more attempts… several more…”

     Axander looked down at the monstrous woman, no longer frightened in the least of her inhuman form. With one of his first smiles of the day, he nodded resolutely, swaying against the web that held him upright. “That would be alright with me,” he responded calmly, and watched as those words stoked again the fires of lust in the eyes of his arachne lover.

     Soon enough, the forest’s silence was broken by renewed cries of passion and pleasure.

******

     “There’s the last of them.”

     Ceann stepped up to the knight, following his pointing finger with her eyes, quickly discovering the arachne’s web and its mingled inhabitants. As the spider-woman let out a throaty moan that reached all the way to their distant position, the dullahan blushed and turned to face her companion, quite deliberately not watching the arachne’s amorous activities. Instead, she shook her head briskly, a faint smile quirking at her lips. “I doubt they will be invading this forest again anytime soon.”

     “Perhaps… or perhaps not, depending on how they react to their ‘punishment,’” the knight intoned, bringing a deeper blush to his partner’s cheeks. “I must see to it that the path to the ruins is hidden once again from the intrusions of the Temple; I will leave it to you to see that the men are led safely back to the edge of their Barrier. That will send the proper message, I believe, to those who would listen.”

     “And the monster hunters?” Ceann asked, her lips set in a tight grimace. She glanced down at the naked blade the knight still carried, and quickly tore her eyes away from the darkening blood that bathed it.

     “Ah, yes, the Purifiers.” The knight reached into the slim pouch he wore at his side, pulling forth a jumble of trinkets. Snagging the leather cords, he let the trio of icons drop free with a jerk to straighten them. Again Ceann flinched at the too-familiar symbol of the Sword Aflame, the pewter symbols bearing the same iconography as the slain knights’ surcoats, but also from the tacky blood that these, like her partner’s blade, wore. “Give these to the scholar there. He will see to it that the Temple receives them, and that will also send the proper message.” Ceann could hear the grim satisfaction in her partner’s voice, and tersely nodded, accepting the icons gingerly.

     With their plans sorted, the knight turned to depart, facing back towards the ruins of the ancient shrine. Before he left, however, he turned to glance at the dullahan, watching her nervously fidget as she fought not to see or hear the frantic activity happening in the arachne’s web, impassioned thrashing and throaty moans to which the cartographer was now making a significant contribution. Shaking his head slightly, a faint chuckle emerged from the knight’s helm, and his voice quickly pulled her from her desperate inattention. “Ceann… good work today,” he offered, before descending back into the underbrush, effortlessly passing through the forest as he returned to the ruined temple.

     Ceann stood there for a long moment, considering the genuine praise. She glanced down at her own sword, which gleamed unblemished in the shadowed light of the forest, and nodded softly, a sigh at her lips. “Yeah,” she said to no one at all, her introspection sparing her the embarrassing task of being an unnoticed spectator to the arachne’s enthusiastic mating.

     It did not, however, spare her the same for the rest of the next two hours.

******

     The day had begun to show its age, and the shadows from the ruined pillars and stones of the ancient temple lengthened in a race for the forest’s edge, drawing ever closer. The earlier disruption of the brief excavation and far briefer battle had long since faded, returning the shrine to the peace it had enjoyed for untold ages. All was well once again, the quiet proclaimed, and promised that eventually even the raw stone revealed by the opened door would soften under the influence of the inevitable spread of the moss.

     Not all celebrated this return to normalcy, however. One deeply mourned the events that had passed in this place, her aqua-colored tears splattering on the rounded stones at the edge of the temple. The slime had oozed after her reluctant lover, stopping only when the stones gave way to the tangled underbrush of the forest. There she waited, staring mutely into the trees as if expecting the burly man to return at any moment, until finally despair absorbed her gelid hope and left nothing in its place. Now she silently wept, her semi-liquid form wobbling in great heaves as she covered her face and lamented her lonely fate.

     So distraught was she that she didn’t hear the scuff of footprints on stone drawing closer. It was only when a bass cough boomed from nearby that she thought of self-preservation or at the least curiosity, and she slowly shifted in place, turning to face the one who had interrupted her grief. As she did so, the sunlight danced through her cobalt form, making her shine like a damp sapphire as her jaw lowered slightly in shock.

     “Ah heh,” Claude chuckled, scratching the back of his bald head nervously. “I was thinking that- well, it looks like those blokes were just out to scare us, and you don’t seem like a bad gal, and- well…” The Frank paused as the girl stared at him in growing ecstatic glee, slowly oozing in his direction. As she began to surge towards him, he thrust out a hand in warning, warding her off for the moment. Fearful caution alighting on the slime’s face, she paused, waiting without understanding.

     “At least let me undo my trousers this time,” Claude rumbled, fumbling with the ties. “Last time scraped my hips, y’see.”

     A moment later the trousers in question fell to the cold stone, arriving just before the slime-girl pounced upon her now-willing paramour, her face bright with eagerness. Claude laughingly accepted the embrace, his bear-hug squeezing the girl enough to momentarily shrink her waist, but her only response was to cover his lips with her own as a current began to tug at his undercloth. Soon enough, the ruins rang out with the sounds of their contented lovemaking, and none dared interrupt.

     If dying was like this, the burly Frank thought to himself during one brief interlude, well, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

The End

Continued in “Not Alone, Chapter One

Author’s Note: First of all, I thank you for reading. I humbly hope you enjoyed this tale, and admit again that it is part of a series of vignettes I am currently working on. I will be posting the first chapter of the second tale, “Not Alone,” quite soon, considering it is well on its way to completion.

As for an explanation of what led to this work’s creation: it is actually the fruits of a couple of nights of maddened creativity, oh, a good decade ago. It has since languished on the forums of the MonsterGirlUnlimited site, for which I am deeply appreciative, though traffic there has slowed in recent days. I enjoyed composing this tale, but my plans for a sequel collapsed, and I found myself focusing my efforts on my Rosario + Vampire magnum opus, so this story has collected extra-large cobwebs for years.  Recently, however, a burst of inspiration led to me begin the second story in the arc, and so I have returned with a vengeance.

In conclusion, I thank you once more for making it thus far; I pray you come along for even more. I especially appreciate commentary on my works, both that which will make me a better writer, and that which makes me giddy and serves as nitrous oxide for my writing engines. With that, I will hope to hear from you soon, and will return with more monstergirl madness just momentarily.

But, until then… I must sleep.

~Wynn P.

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One thought on “What You Don’t Know”

  1. I remember this one! It used to be one of my favorites back on MGU. I had thought it was lost for good; I’m happy to see you return with your work in tow.

    What I love most about this story is its underlying theme: no one sane would turn down the affection of monstergirls when faced with the choice between that and the confining dictatorship of the Order-controlled human realm.

    It’s been over a decade, and my heart still holds out hope for the Demon Lord and her grand design. Thanks for bringing some of that hope and love to the forefront of my heart with this story.

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