Chronicles of the Pax: Atlantea (2)

Captain Arin was fucked.

He knew he was fucked because the shape growing ever more blurred in front of him was an ogre, and the bottle which seemed to never empty was doubling up in his vision. The ogre smiled, a tusky, toothy affair, which spoke to her intentions with much greater eloquence than her rude ability with language could.

“Puny man had enough? Tela make deal. Puny man finish drink, Tela pay for puny man’s supplies.”

Straightening the tricorn hat atop his head, Arin slurred “That’sh Captain puny man… I mean… Oh bugger…” he hiccuped and swallowed. He already knew the answer to what would be required if he didn’t finish. He would be going with Tela, and Tyris only knew how long he would survive the experience.

Arin looked around. His crew would be no help, those few who had followed him to this tavern, and then noticed their captain’s predicament through their own alcohol-fueled fogs after the ogre had so ‘Generously’ supplied refreshments had been swiftly prevented from intervening by the two hyaenae who now sat grinning rapaciously at the surrounding patrons of the bar, occasionally emitting that hollow, half-crazed giggle that was the hallmark of their race.

Arin lurched to his feet. “Be a fair lass and let a man drain the main vein first?” Arin drawled with what he hoped was charm. The ogre’s brow furrowed as she pondered the situation.

“Sheehaa, take puny man to jakes, make sure he no fall in!” the ogre jested, roaring with laughter at her own joke. Arin stumbled along the hall towards the privy, followed closely by the hyaenae that Tela the ogre had called Sheehaa. Arin struggled to think through the boozy fog muddling his brain. Even sober he’d never outrun her, and her reflexes were more than a match for him if he tried to fight. Arin opened the door to the privy, closing it in the face of the hyaenae and quickly locking it.

“Give a man his dignity wot? There’s a girl.” Arin slurred, raising the lid and swearing. He was greeted by neat and discrete plumbing, not the open long-drop into the sewer he was praying to Tyris would be in a place like this. Discomfort stabbed at his bladder. Well, if he was here anyway…

“Falling asleep counts as failing… hahaha… five minutes Arin!” came the giggling voice of Sheehaa from outside. Fuck… Well, he’d been in tighter scrapes, he was sure of it… Couldn’t think of any right now… Rest your head on that tile mosaic Arin… Nice and cool… aaaahhhhh…

“B-But Milord!” he heard the barman protest. “Captain Arin is in negoti…” Then came the sound of a scuffle.

“This is a writ of conscription from the Faith Militant. If you don’t tell me where he is, I will ride to the Chancel to invoke it, and I will have this entire CITY pressed to service before the week is out. Now. Where. Is. The. Captain.” A young, slightly petulant voice rang out, in a tone clearly used to obedience.

Bugger. They must have caught him on that last smuggling deal with the tailpussy spines. He KNEW he never should have taken that fucking tanuki’s money. Oh well, better a few months in prison or a work gang than near certain death from Tela’s less-than-tender ministrations. He did his trousers back up and opened the door.

“Sounds like we’re wanted!” Arin drawled, staggering up the hall followed again by a clearly conflicted Sheehaa.

“You go! Not welcome!” he heard the other hyaenae snarl at his yet-unseen ‘saviour’.

“Stand aside, by commandment of the Pax Deus and the authority of House…” he heard the young voice begin.

“Free city! No House! No Pax! You go!” Arin heard the gasps from the bar as he slowed his pace with instinctive caution.

“Bad move that.” Arin muttered.

“Blasphemy.” Came the almost bored denunciation.

“Acknowledged.” Came an unknown seconder. The sound of a weapon being fired and the hyaenae screaming. Arin entered the taproom to see the patrons rapidly and surreptitiously exiting the tavern, the hyaenae on the floor clutching her leg, Tela leaning forward, her face a picture of rage, and standing amidst it, a young man in a leather jerkin, heraldry clearly visible on his breast and on the half-cloak he wore over one shoulder. Auburn hair was pulled back into a travellers braid and his grey-blue eyes flicked from hyaenae to ogre and back. His right arm was extended, and held competently in his hand, a work of sheer beauty.

“Nobleman’s weapon that…” Arin thought “Maybe High Lord, certainly Baronial, definitely not a magisterium fop…” He started wondering if maybe he had gotten himself in over his head and if the ogre wasn’t the better option after all. Sheehaa rushed past him to shield the other hyaenae, throwing her arm up in supplication.

“Mercy! Mercy in name of Maou! No kill Hyaasee!” Sheehaa begged. The Nobleman lowered the weapon slightly.

“Does she Repent?” he asked evenly.

“Repent! Hyaasee sorry! Hyaasee wrong! No kill!” the injured hyaenae sobbed through gritted teeth.

“I retract my denunciation, go now and Sin no more.” The nobleman replied in the same even, slightly bored tone, gesturing to let them pass. The two hyaenae scrambled as fast as three good legs would take them from the tavern, ignoring Tela’s bellows at them. The Noble’s clear, green eyes met Arin’s. “Ah. Captain Arin I presume. By the commandment of the Magisterium I am pressing to service the ‘Ruby’s Lustre’ and all crew and officers. Obedi…” He began, but was interrupted by Tela’s roar.

“WHAT RIGHT?” Tela howled. “MINE!” she bellowed, clearly working herself up.

“Madam, any arrangements you had will be duly compensat…” The noble began placatingly.

“NO! HIM MINE! MINE! MINE MINE MINE!” She slammed the table with her fists and lept over the table towards the nobleman, who was looking at her with a weird expression. Arin didn’t see what happened but Tela seemed not to be able to gain her feet after vaulting the table. He figured she must have slipped on a spilled drink… Until she rolled over and started screaming.

Walking towards the screaming ogre, seemingly with no care for his own safety, the nobleman said “We can discuss this calmly, or I can summon the Matriarchs and keep going until they arrive. Your choice.”

“Talk!” Tela managed to gasp, and it was as if a great weight had been lifted from her body. She sobbed with relief, pulling her hugely muscled body into a groaning chair.

“Now” the noble announced urbanely. “What was this agreement.”

“Had deal! Legal!” Tela protested, pointing a still shaking finger at Arin. “Puny man pay Tela for supplies! Puny man no pay, so Tela say drink like ogre, and Tela forgive. Puny man no finish. Puny man Telas for long-and-long!” She sobbed again. “Had deal!”

“I see.” The nobleman replied… Was that a hint of sympathy Arin detected? Removing the heraldic crest from his breast, the noble held it in the air.

“Do any dispute my authority to arbitrate this matter?” he called out to the remaining patrons, staff, and Arin’s few crew. Cowed murmurs were his only answer.

“Captain Arin of the IMS ‘Ruby’s Lustre’, you will pay one Tela…” he paused, “Forgive me madam, I do not know your proper honorific.”

“Tela Rockbiter, Daughter of Kiya Wide-Arm, first of Mossfangs” Tela said proudly through her sobs.

“…One Tela Rockbiter, Daughter of Kiya Wide-Arm, first of Mossfangs, whose legal and solemn obligations you have herein foresworn, the sum of one hundred fifty gold…”

Arin swore harshly, the intoxication seemingly draining from him at the prospect, “For one ship’s fucking supplies?!” he objected. The noble held up his hand for silence and Arin retained the good sense to obey, that weapon was still in the other hand, after all.

“…Furthermore, an additional Fifty gold for injurious acts unto her august person. This judgement is binding by writ of the Pax Deus. Glory to The God.”

Murmurs of “Glory to The God” and “For Maou and Mamono” echoed throughout the taproom. Defeated, Arin pulled a parchment with his underwriters details from a belt pouch. With numb, shaking hands he filled out the amount and signed it.

“You’ve beggared me, Sirrah.” He moaned, placing his face in his hands. With naked avarice on her face, Tela snatched up the paper. Standing from the chair, she grinned tuskily at Arin.

“Never would have worked out with Puny man anyway.” She sneered, nearly skipping from the tavern. The Noble watched her leave before turning his attention to Arin. The bored, petulant look faded from his face and sheathing his weapon, he grinned at the lamenting captain.

“First time dealing with Ogres, I’d wager?” The Noble drawled.

“Whassit fuckin’ to ya?” Arin snapped venomously.

“That charming breasted mountain who was so desperate to make you her new bedslave was their version of nobility. Probably next in line for Matriarch, unless I guess wrong. You would have had the entire clan descending on this city looking to fuck everything they could, kill and eat what they couldn’t, and set fire to everything else if you’d managed to get away with stiffing her. A stupid amount of gold is about the only thing that’d mollify her. Were I you, I’d be thanking Tyris that I had the good fortune to arrive when I did.” The noble replied, seemingly unflustered by Arin’s venom.

“I’m sure the city will be grateful when I’m begging on the docks. The damn underwriter’s gonna take the Ruby, hell, you may as well have just given me to her.” Arin snarled back.

“Fuck me, but you are drunk.” The noble laughed, clearing his throat. “Captain Arin of the IMS ‘Ruby’s Lustre’. I am pressing you, your vessel, all officers and crew to service. You are thereby ordered to transport mine noble personage unto the Magisterium, where you will be paid the sum of five hundred gold, plus expenses and supplies, and released from service. And yes. Any fees arising from breach of existing obligations count as expenses. If you’ve got a paymaster with half the brains Holy Tyris granted a snail, you’ll all come out of this disgustingly rich.” The noble grinned, gripping Arin’s forearm briefly before sliding a bundled and sealed series of parchments across the table as he sat there slack-jawed. The noble grabbed Tela’s forgotten bottle and took a swig. His face contorted and he shook his head.

“Tyris fuck… You’re lucky you didn’t try and finish it, you probably would have died.” The noble coughed, irreverently invoking the name of The God. “I’ll be in the Sign of the Wyvern. Have someone come find me when we’re ready to depart. And time is of the essence, so don’t be afraid to lean on those writs as heavily as you need to.” He finished, standing and moving to exit the tavern.

“Who should I ask for?” Arin called to him.

“Samuel of House Caladon.” Came the reply.

Arin began unwrapping the writs with trembling hands as the three crewmen who had accompanied him now gathered around the empty table.

“Five Hunnerd Gold plus expenses!” one hissed with barely contained glee. “We’s fucking loaded cap’n!”

Arin allowed the ghost of a smile to play across his face before shooting a hand out and grabbing the crewman by the throat.

“Daniel, if you ever, ever suggest a supplier to me again with the excuse that they’re an easy mark, I’m going to make you eat both your own buttocks.” He drawled, before punching the man solidly in the face.

“Are you sure you’re not part Mamono?” the Taurean girl drawled, her heavy breasts lolling in the face of a thick-bodied young man. A muffled sound of protest came from under their weight, and two hands grasped them and pushed them aside, revealing tousled black hair, a generous mouth, and the beginning of a thick black beard.

“Do you cast disparagement as to my genetic lineage? Are you…” He began, his voice pushed into a comical falsetto.

“Charles please don’t, I don’t even want to THINK about sharing my bed with Lloyd!” the Taurean laughed. Charles grinned, pushing her off him and grabbing her wrists.

“Not much of a bed Jessie…” Charles rejoined, “Are you sure you won’t…”

“I’m the Stablemaster, love.” She replied winsomely “What reason do I have to be in your bedchamber?”

“I can think of one right now…” Charles murmured into her neck as he felt his desire quicken.

“Again?!” She gasped. “You’re almost as hairy as me, and you’ve got the stamina of a satyr! You see where I’m coming from?”

Charles cupped Jessie’s cheek, staring into her deep brown eyes. “You’re addictive, every time I touch you, kiss you, hold you, I just want to do it more and more. The God be good, but I love you so much Jess!”

Jessie gasped as he felt him enter her again “Oh Charles!” she moaned.

Later, after they had loved and lusted into near torpor, Charles pulled on his clothes as discretely as he could, as his Taurean lover murmured softly in her sleep, her tail swishing softly as she dreamed. Leaning over, he kissed her gently, which elicited a noise of happy protest. It had been thus since they had first confessed their feelings for each other openly, since Charles’s younger brothers Samuel and Lloyd had departed for their respective callings. Lloyd to the Faith Militant, where, if Tyris willed it, he would be anointed Paladin within the year, and Samuel to the Magisterium, where he was to be officially recognized as Resonant.

An involuntary shudder ran through Charles’s body at the memory of that day. After being unwillingly and forcibly awakened to resonance, Samuel had called fire down from heaven seemingly on sheer instinct and completely annihilated the camp of a wolf pack who were looking to excise revenge from Samuel and Charles’s flesh after the rape of their cub. Not wishing to deal with a fracas of that scale, the Council of Matriarchs and the Holy Mother Church had acted in concert to stage a farcical inquisition which essentially swept everything under the rug.

One thing still rankled him. A lich had summoned what appeared to be the ghosts of the raped cub and her mother. The cub knew everything that had happened. The cub knew that it was their eldest brother Jeremy who had violated her so brutally. The cub knew that the brothers stood outside the door, bound by precept and tradition, unable to gainsay the heir-apparent.

She knew, yet her shade kissed Samuel’s cheek, and said nothing.

Whatever her motivation, Charles felt that he would never be clean of that day, the stain of his brother’s perversion clung to his soul like tar. The blissful reprise in Jessie’s arms soured by his woolgathering, Charles made his way into the main hall of Caladon Keep. As he opened the great doors, he was taken aback to find a number of prominent landholders in attendance, with Jeremy sitting in the High Seat. Jeremy looked up and his eyes met Charles’s, with his lazy, perfect smile, he beckoned him forward.

“Charles, you’re out late.” Jeremy drawled.

“Duty’s a heretic like that.” Charles rejoined, eliciting a ripple of amusement from the gathered landholders. “Where’s father?”

“He’s taken ill and has retired, I’m dealing with what remains in his stead. Hopefully those kiki sluts he’s so fond of aren’t swaddling him and spoon feeding him gruel.” Jeremy replied, and Charles heard a few of the laughs turn lascivious. He made a mental note of which landholders they were. Perhaps a few more audits were in need once his father was well.

“Come now Charles, we’re all friends here.” Jeremy said magnanimously as he noticed Charles’s expression sour.

“As you will. What business remains?” Charles conceded, moving to the right of the High Seat and staring pointedly at the Landholder seated in it until he uncomfortably cleared his throat, vacating it for the young noble and returning to the others gathered below.

“Only one item, but it’s a serious one.” Jeremy replied, steepling his fingers and pressing them to his lips.

“Which would be…” Charles pressed.

“Murder!” cried a voice from the middle of the group of landholders, as a young man pushed forward. “Murder most foul and blasphemous!”

Charles’s eyes narrowed as he sought to place the young man. “Benjamin Patrickson, am I right?”

The young man nodded.

“Shouldn’t your father be bringing this charge?” Charles queried.

Jeremy gave a small sigh. “That would be a little difficult, considering he was found this morning with his heart ripped from his body.”

“His succession has been acknowledged by the court?” Charles asked.

“First item of business.” Jeremy replied.

“Noted and acknowledged. Congratulations Benjamin, though I wish it could have been in better circumstances.” Charles said sympathetically.

Benjamin’s lip curled. “Respectfully, spare me, milord. I know you bore my father little love…”

Charles leaned forward in his chair, “Have a care Ben, Tyris forgive me for speaking ill of the deceased, but Patrick, The God keep him, was a noted bully who cost this house no small amount in recompense for injuries to his indentured Mamono.”

Benjamin’s mouth worked in fury. “You dare…” he hissed.

“I’m not so far removed from the last time you sought satisfaction from me, sir. I see the arm’s healed nicely though.” Charles cut him off with a level stare and no small air of menace.

“If you boys are quite finished?” Jeremy drawled with faint amusement.

“Apologies, Heir-Apparent.” Charles replied formally, inclining his head towards Jeremy. Benjamin also murmured apology, bowing and stepping back.

“It does come to bear though, Charles.” Jeremy continued. “You and Samuel, if I am not mistaken, were the last of this household to see Patrick alive. Could you perhaps aid this investigation in getting started?”

“As we said to Lord William when recommending an audit of Patricks holdings…” Charles began, flicking a pointed glance across the gathered Landholders, “…He was beating a weresheep in the northern field.”

“Slander! Where is the evidence?” Benjamin yelled from the crowd, his voice being joined by other protesters.

“A weresheep who has, to my understanding, never been located.” Jeremy added. “And why were Samuel and yourself in the north fields?”

“On business of the house. You are aware of the finer details of that day…” Charles replied, gritting his teeth when Jeremy did not even deign to show discomfort.

“Ah yes, a matter of Inquisitorial record. And as such quite beyond House Caladon’s remit.” Jeremy tapped a finger on the table in thought. “Would I be wrong to say you have a decent rapport with the anim… With the Mamono currently indentured to House Caladon and its Holdings, Charles?”

“You would not be, though with respect, Heir-Apparent, that slip is exactly Why I am obligated to maintain such.” Charles shot back with no small rancour.

“…And your leg has healed remarkably well, if I may say so Charlie.” Jeremy countered evenly, his smile as warm as glacier ice. Charles gritted his teeth.

“I beg your forgiveness, Heir-Apparent.” Charles forced himself to intone

“Granted, but let’s not make a habit of it. Family squabbles don’t make for productive discussion.” Jeremy answered nonchalantly. “Regardless of the accuracy of the claims made against him, it is a known fact, and Ben, keep your peace at this, that the Mamono did regard Patrick with low favour. It cannot be ruled out that this murder was seen as vengeance from one or more of them. Therefore House Caladon orders Her son Charles to begin investigation in this matter amongst the Mamono currently indentured.”

“As Commanded.” Charles breathed with relief. At least with him conducting the investigation it could be kept relatively peaceful.

“Oh and Charlie, do be thorough, I would hate to have to follow it up more… Vigorously.” Jeremy near-purred.

“I am sure the Heir-Apparent’s duties are numerous at this time.” Charles replied, fighting to keep the shrieking horror of Jeremy’s implied violence from showing in his voice. “If then, I have your lordship’s permission to retire?”

Jeremy waved him off, and Charles walked near-dazedly from the room, dimly he heard Jeremy’s voice. “Gentlemen, I rise for the first time to enquire if any seek to propose for the Good of House Caladon, or their holding in particular…” Closing the door behind him, he made for his bedchamber. Would Jeremy be satisfied with his findings? Even if they turned up nothing? Was this just another excuse for him to engage in monstrosity? Hollowly, he recalled Samuel’s parting words to him.
“The next time he engages in monstrosity, and a pack comes looking to tear out his guts… Let them.”

Could he? Could he look the other way as the Heir to the throne was murdered? His own brother? Lost in that thought he nearly didn’t see the Kikimora until he had almost walked into her.

“Oh! Nala! I’m sorry! I didn’t see you.” Charles apologised. The Kikimora sketched a quick bow before putting a finger to her lips and pulling him into his bedchamber.

“Master Charles! Thank Maou you’ve come back, I almost couldn’t wait any longer!” Nala exclaimed breathlessly, gripping the end of her tail in agitation.

“Whatever’s the matter? Calm down, your hair’s near standing on end.” Charles entreated, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Your Lord father!” Nala began.

“I know, he’s crook. He’s a tough old boot though, I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Charles replied, Nala shook her head vehemently.

“No! It’s not that! Lani’s been tending him all day, it’s taken all her skill to counteract it!” Nala said urgently.

“Counteract what?” Charles gasped, concern creeping into his gut.

“Oh Master Charles, I’ve been so worried! I couldn’t go to… to… him. Maou only knows what he’d do to me if I told him!” Nala was near tears.

“Shhhh, It’s OK, I know Jeremy’s a cocksmear. Now counteract what?” Charles asked insistently.

“The Poison, Master Charles! Someone tried to… to… k-kill Lord William!”

“Is the supplicant prepared?” Sister Annabelle intoned.

“He is, your Holiness.” Replied a Paladin, face covered by an elaborate helm.

“Then by the grace of The God, and in His Holy Name, let Tyris through the body of the devoted, give test to his mettle.” She concluded, stepping back and sliding closed the gate of a great cage. Six paladins in full armor drew weapons, converging on the mail-clad figure in the centre of the cage. Long, blond hair brushed against his cheek, and his lips moved in some unheard prayer. One paladin muttered something to his neighbour, who snickered, and with a yell, swung a mighty two-handed blow directly at the blond youth’s head.

Blue eyes snapped open and he sidestepped the blow, bringing a boot firmly down on the blade where it hit the ground. Drawing a short blade from its sheath, he brought it up and under the helm, withdrawing as a cry of pain turned into a shout of “YIELD!”

“Don’t show off Lloyd, this is supposed to be a formal trial!” yelled a grizzled paladin from the outside of the cage.

“Yes, My Lord.” Replied the blond youth. More cautious now, the other Paladins began to circle Lloyd once more. Rather than wait for their attack, Lloyd drew a second blade and ran at the nearest, who swung a mace at his midsection from behind the protection of a kite shield. Lloyd span to the inside of the blow, hooking his arm around and tickling the unprotected armpit of his opponent with the point of his blade.

“YIELD!” came the cry again.

Reduced now to four, the heavily armoured Paladins attacked in concert. Forced onto the defensive, Lloyd moved with a graceful economy, his swordmaster’s words clear in his mind.

“With your build, chicken, if we put you in full plate we may as well throw you into the lake for all the good you’ll be. Learn to be fast. Every attack has a counter, every armor a weakness. You’re dead if they touch you, but they have to touch you first!”

Parry, riposte, block, sidestep

“Do you know why we train in hand to hand when shard-pistols and rifles are so prevalent? No, tradition’s got nothing to do with it, blockhead. A sword will never jam. A Mace will never misfire. You’ll never find the power core crushed on a good solid axe. Any two-bit genetic dead end can figure out the right way to point a gun. When you’re standing toe-to-toe with an Amazon and you’ve got two inches to move, you’d better know where to hit.”

Rising of the dawn becomes the hand of Tyris becomes Benevolence from above… “YIELD” the third cry came

“When it comes down to it, we are Paladins. The faith militant is a faceless mass in the eyes of humanity. They see a uniform, a badge, a tabard. When they look at us, Human and Mamono, they need to see something else, they need to see the Good Right Arse-Kicking boot of the Most High!”

Blades cross, angle of the counter behind balance point, throw the shoulder, boot to the instep… “YIELD!” Four down.

“You will never be Faster than a Mamono, you will never be Stronger than a Mamono, you will never be able to maze the brains of your opponent like a Mamono… Alright smartarse, so she might rape you before she kills you, feel better? A bull will straight up EAT you before you so much as yell a challenge, just because you’re something else with a dick in its line of sight, although for some of you I think the presence of said manhood might just be in theory!”

Watch the bunching of the muscles, the turn of the helm… Length of shadow, step left, sun in his eyes, pommel to the helm… “YIELD!” Now five.

“Every opponent is predictable. Every movement calculated. Even the berserker rage of a bloodlusting ogre is not an exception to the laws of physics. The Patron Saint of War bears a mathematician’s abacus for a good reason, by Tyris!”

Arm raised, wrist supinated, point of the blade level with the face, secondary hand reversed, feint with pommel, drop to knee, spin left…

CLANG! Lloyd’s offhand blade was ripped from his grasp by the force of the impact with his opponent’s longsword. With a flick of the wrist, his opponent rested the deadly point of the sword on Lloyd’s throat. A trickle of blood started as Lloyd gulped involuntarily.

“Yield!” Lloyd gasped. His opponent withdrew the blade, sheathing it. Pulling off his helm, he cuffed Lloyd across the head, eliciting a grunt of pain.

“Never assume that the enemy is holding the sword in his dominant hand.” The Longsword-wielding Paladin chided.

“Swordmaster David, you don’t have a dominant hand.” Lloyd countered, rubbing his throat. David cuffed him again.

“Don’t whine. You’ve done passably well, chicken, considering I expected you to piss yourself in the first thirty seconds.” David pulled Lloyd to his feet.

“I deem the Supplicant Competent… Barely. Do any say nay?” He boomed with a powerful voice.

Sister Annabelle stood from the dais. “We recognize the skill with which he has passed this trial.”

Lloyd dropped to his knees, raising his hands in the sign of the sunburst. “Not to my name, but to Tyris be the Glory.” He intoned. A faint murmur of approval was heard from those observing outside.

“Nice touch, but not even The God likes a kissarse.” David murmured. Lloyd stood, almost abashedly.

“Paladin-initiate Lloyd of House Caladon. Your trial of combat is concluded. We beseech you to retire and refresh yourself for review.” Sister Annabelle intoned, opening the gate and standing aside. Retrieving his blades, Lloyd saluted the dais and his opponents before sheathing them and leaving the cage. Swordmaster David followed him out, tracing the cage’s perimeter to where the grizzled Paladin was speaking to an elderly, wimpled High Priestess.

“Lord Commander, Sister Magda.” David greeted them.

“Swordmaster. Quite a display. I see you’re lacking with praise as usual.” Sister Magda chided gently.

“Meh, he’d have been counting weresheep on that first strike if SOMEONE HAD LISTENED on how to fight a lightly-armored opponent instead of making plans to fuck the new batch of acolytes!” David’s voice raised as he pointed his head towards the defeated Paladins, who scuffed their feet and muttered at the dressing-down.

“The Rite of Continuance is a sacred duty” the Lord Commander replied, barely concealed mirth on his face.

“So’s the daily ablution, but you don’t see me living in the baths.” David replied. “So, you still plan on going ahead with it?”

“Yes.” Replied Sister Magda simply.

“He won’t like it. You know where his heart lies on this.” David warned.

“He doesn’t have to like it. He just has to do it.” The Lord Commander rejoined with small irritation. “His brother has the full capacity of the Logos of Resonance. You know how tightly we control that kind of power. For it to show up in such a remote Barony as Caladon shows that something’s gone awry somewhere. The fact that a matrix even responded to him in the first place has sent the Magisterium into apoplexy. There’s rumor of some factions wanting him arrested the moment he makes landfall.”

“But Lloyd’s his brother.” David entreated. Sister Magda spread her hands.

“What’s more important? His brother, or his God?”

Samuel followed the scruffy sailor out of the inn, the obsequious innkeeper thanking him ever so much for his patronage and should he ever choose to stay again he would be most welcome and please do tell all of your friends about the exquisite service at the Sign of the Wyvern.

“Tyris, ‘e bangs on a bit wot?” The sailor remarked.

“If he had a daughter to house, I’m pretty sure he would have had her naked in my bed that first night. He really wants a tie to nobility to increase his standing.” Samuel replied with a laugh.

“No Kikimora then? I’z thought that these here hup-market joints were ‘avin bedservants by the litter.” The sailor said surprisedly.

“Oh, I’m sure they would have been procured on request, but I made a point to tell him I was in the Abstinence of Seasons, and such temptations would not be looked on fondly.” Samuel mused, referring to the ritual refrain from sexual contact the Pax commanded after close interaction with Mamono.

“Oh aye? Had yourself a romp with a dangerous one then? Hehe, don’t you mind old Nick, he knows when to keep mum!” the sailor jested good-naturedly.

“Something like that.” Samuel replied vaguely, his mind drifting to the Tanuki who had used illusion magic as well as a manticore spine to force herself on him, and the wild, passionate copulating which had resulted from it.

“Mind you though, m’lud, s’probably a good thing yer seasoning. M’sure the cap’n will go over it all but the Mamono in the open ocean are a whole ‘nother thing.” Nick began, as Samuel noticed him turning up a road leading away from the docks.

“Er, Nick was it? I thought you said we were leaving. Aren’t the docks that way?” Samuel asked.

“We don’t use those docks.” Came the voice of Captain Arin. Now sober, he carried himself with an air of command Samuel instantly recognised. He inclined his head politely.

“Captain. You’re looking better.” Samuel remarked.

“Not for half a day with my head in the privy, lad. Tyris’s Balls, what did that ogre have me drinking?” Arin asked, rubbing his temple.

“Best not to know in my experience. Ogres tend not to consider something a proper drink until you can dissolve nails in it.” Samuel replied. Arin laughed.

“Come on up here, I’ll show you why.” Arin offered, gesturing to a ladder resting against the side of a house. Samuel climbed the wooden rungs, and Arin led him across the roof to where an ancient watchpost stood, its weather-beaten beams creaking in the sea air. Samuel had a view to the entire inlet, where the docks stood amongst glistening turquoise water… surprisingly empty.

“There they come. Right on time.” Arin said, pointing at a group of youths gathered at the sea-wall. Samuel watched as they pushed and cajoled one of their number out onto the wooden dock. Even from this distance, Samuel could see the youth scanning the sky intently, his movements furtive. As he passed each dock post, he slapped the side with his hand.

“Seven.” Arin remarked. “This one’s got huge balls or a tiny brain.” Samuel glanced askance at the captain and Arin gestured to the sky. “There.”

A sizeable flock of harpies had launched itself from an unseen aerie. Shrieking, they folded their wings, diving towards the youth on the pier. The youth crouched, hands up by his chest. As they approached, Samuel could hear their shrieks more clearly.

“Mine! Mine! Mine!” they squalled, still the youth stood immobile. As the first to reach him extended her talons, he grabbed a leg with one hand, reaching up and plucking a feather from her wing with the other. Suddenly, all was flapping and confusion as the rest of the flock caught up, the air alive with screeching and cries of “Mine! Mine!” Samuel saw the figure of the youth launch itself from the pier, cutting into the water like a knife.

“There we go… Now he just has to make it back.” Arin remarked. Samuel followed the dark shape in the water, watching as the harpies hovered over it. Three posts… Two posts… One… Samuel found himself holding his breath and released it explosively. A head broke the water and the youth tried to scramble up the rocks.

“Oh the bastards… They didn’t tell him about the ladder.” Arin remarked with sympathy. Screeching triumphantly, a harpy swooped down, grasping an outstretched arm. Samuel heard the youth swearing, saw him beating at the harpy with his free arm before that too was grasped in a talon. Saw the youth carried up, up, and somewhere into the cliff-face, his cries fading with distance.

“He’s lunch then?” Samuel asked, his gut heavy with revulsion.

“With all the fish in these waters? No fear. They’ll breed him for a few years, then maybe they’ll get bored and let him go. Maybe he’ll go native and pair up with one. Most don’t survive that long, they usually feed their captives the same way they feed the youngsters and a man wasn’t meant to live on half-digested fish and craw-milk. Or their minds break and that jump starts calling to them.” Arin shook his head.

“Why hasn’t the city contacted the Faith Militant? Or the Council of Matriarchs to do something about them?” Samuel asked as they descended back down to the street.

“Because Atlantea is a Free city. As you would have noted with Hyaasee the other day, half the time we forget the Pax even applies. The Independant Merchant and Freelancer’s Combine which governs the city pays lip service to the Magisterium and the Council, but maintains a chokehold on all sea-trade for thousands of leagues north and south of here. The Magisterium, the Council, Hell, even Our Holy Mother Church know if they throw their weight around, the IMFC will shut off all sea-trade with the eastern continents under the excuse of ‘Administrative Reorganization’. Hell, young lords like yourself have been known to have ‘unfortunate accidents’ when they try and order the wrong folk around.” Arin explained.

“If that’s the case then why did everyone get so accommodating when I waved my rank in their face?” Samuel asked.

Arin laughed. “Because you didn’t know. And you had enough authority in that hand of yours that it’s entirely possible that you’d have brought a legion of Paladins in to set up shop before news reached anyone who did know. By that point you’d have made good on your promise to have the better part of the city pressed.”

“Oops.” Samuel offered sheepishly.

“’Ere ‘im talk! Tell ‘im ‘e nearly caused the biggest tradin’ clusterfuck in a hunnred-year and he comes back with ‘Oops!” Nick snickered slightly before Arin hushed him and continued.

“…So, a blind eye is turned, and those Mamono deemed ‘Ferals’ or ‘Outcasts’ by the Council for pissing off the wrong Succubus have somewhere to go where nobody will ask too many questions so long as they play it relatively straight.” Arin paused as they entered what appeared to be a large warehouse. A few words to a bored looking clerk and the trio were hustled through a door, which led to a dim hallway.

“Unfortunately,” Arin continued, “That also means that when an aggressive band of harpies starts viewing your docks as a take-what-you-want human smorgasbord, you have to either spend months in siege combat with an aerial enemy with no real military support, or, you get creative.” The hallway opened into a massive cavern, and Samuel stopped and gaped in sheer awe.

Dozens, if not hundreds of ships were gathered around the elaborate docks which had been built into this cave. Workers, porters and sailors all bustled around on their myriad tasks, yelling jokes and exchanging greetings. Ships bearing heraldry he had never even heard of before sat docked next to the gold-trimmed banners of High Lord fleets. Samuel could not form the words to express his surprise. Arin smirked at him.

“We’re good at creative. Now if M’Lord is quite finished catching flies with his gob there, we’ve got a tide to catch.” Arin remarked, taking Samuel by the arm and pulling him up the gangplank of a trimast Brigantine with ‘Ruby’s Lustre’ painted in vibrant red paint on the hull.

“Cap’n on the deck!” a barrel bodied sailor yelled to the remainder of the crew, who responded with harsh, inarticulate cries of greeting.

“Orright my sorry genetic off-cuts. We have a fine gentleman on board who has provided us with our newfound largess, so fuckin’ behave yourselves! If he so much as tells me your bulbous fuckin’ noses offend him I shall cut them off and make for him a pretty fuckin’ necklace! Clear?” Arin yelled, stepping with authority to the command post on the stern.

“Aye Cap’n!” came the yelled reply, and Samuel noted that there were a few non-human voices in that response.

“Mister Nines! Take my lady out for a dance if you please sir!” Arin ordered the olive-skinned man behind the wheel.

“Aye Cap’n! Full sail! Double time! If I have to come cut you down again Mister Bertrand, I shall leave a toe in the rigging as a reminder!” The sailors sprang aloft, a few laughing and gently cuffing a clearly inexperienced youth as he struggled to keep up.

“Er, Captain… Why sails in a cave? There isn’t any wind.” Samuel asked, joining the captain on the command deck so as not to get in the way of the organized chaos below.

“We noticed that too, at first.” Arin replied. “Bo’sun! Give a toot to our friends, there’s a love.”

“Toot?!” exclaimed a reptilian from near the prow. Raising a horn to her mouth, she blew a shattering note. A few seconds later, a deep bass note answered from somewhere back in the cave. Samuel noticed a number of sailors in surrounding ships rushing to lash down light cargo.

“And here… we… go.” Muttered Arin as from seemingly nowhere, a strong wind began to blow towards the mouth of the cave. The sails boomed as they caught the wind, and the Ruby’s Lustre coasted elegantly out of the cave and into open water.

“Amazing!” Samuel remarked, “what is that?”

“Some very complicated and expensive contraption. I’m pretty sure the bloke who designed it bought himself a Barony with his share.” Arin scratched at his stubbled cheek. “Mister Nick, who designed the Blower? Was it Doric or Corinth?”

“Doric Cap’n” came Nick’s reply

“House Doric built that.” Samuel said incredulously

“May’n me tongue turn green if’n I’m a liar, m’lud” Nick responded with a grin.

“Your tongue turns green on account of you getting all up in orcish unmentionables, Nick!” Came a sailor’s rejoinder.

“Well I needed somethin’ more comely than yer mum!” The old sailor spat back, resulting in a burst of laughter from surrounding sailors. Refreshed by the sea breeze, and the feeling of freedom as they ploughed into open water, Samuel could not help but join them.

“Bo’sun! Where is my lookout?” Arin called to the prow. The reptilian turned her eyes skyward, shielding them from the glare. Samuel followed her gaze and saw a speck against the azure bowl of the sky.

“Three o’clock high, Cap’n!” She answered, as the speck grew larger, forming itself into the shape of a harpy making a headlong dive at the deck. Mere metres from impact, the harpy threw open her brown and white-speckled wings, breaking her descent. Extending her talons, she gripped the railing before the command deck.

“Hi Hi Hi Hi! Hi Cap’n, miss me? Course you did! Where we going? What we got? Did you bring me anything? Didja?” She turned her head to look at Samuel, who had a look of mild surprise written across his face. “Oooh. New one! Can I have him? Is he my present?”

“Penny. You are late, young lady.” Captain Arin sternly grated at the harpy, whose overflowing bubbliness faded to abashed chagrin.

“M’sorry.” She said.

“Do try to be on time next launch.” Arin chided mildly. “As to him? He’s Samuel. A Noble. Not for touching.”

Penny seemed to ponder that before opening her mouth again. “No, not even just a little bit if you’re really bored.” Arin interrupted her. “I catch you bothering him I’ll clip those pretty wings and have you peeling potatoes below.”

Penny lay back her wings, baring her needle-sharp teeth and emitting a harsh screech of protest. “Do not want!” she cried.

Samuel couldn’t help but smile. “If it helps, Penny, I’m not allowed to bother anyone either. Maybe we can both keep each other honest, hmm?” he offered placatingly.

Penny grinned at him. “Kay!” she crowed, throwing her wings about him briefly before springing aloft to harass the sailors working in the rigging, who took her effuse greetings good-naturedly.

“She’s a handful.” Arin said simply.

“Yours?” Samuel asked, a speculative look on his face.

“How’d you…” Arin rounded on Samuel, shock written clearly in his expression.

“You didn’t swear at her once.” Samuel mused.

“Hah! Bugger me. Guess even a salted cunt like me tries to keep on good behaviour around his daughter.” Arin laughed.

“And her mother?” Samuel enquired.

“Passed away. If The Hells are any equivalent to what we’re told awaits us in The Heavens, I hope their Maou is looking after her.” Arin sighed with the old pain.

“I’m sorry…” Samuel said sympathetically.

“S’orright… Accuse me of Heresy though and I’ll have you flogged for insolence, M’lord.” Arin said simply

Samuel laughed. “No fear Captain, I know enough Maritime law not to make that mistake!”

“…And you’re sure there won’t be any difficulty in discerning it, considering how many Mamono are around?” Charles asked

“None, milord. The Benedictus is very precise in these matters.” The priestess replied, her heart-shaped face bordered by the mantle of her cleric-adept’s robe.

Charles sighed with relief, “Thank you, Sister Katherine. House Caladon appreciates our Holy Mother Church’s assistance in this matter.”

Sister Katherine bowed, with a slightly naughty smile on her face. “Tyris’s Faithful appreciate House Caladon’s sizeable donation to aid in repairs to the local Chancel.”

Charles sighed. “Why don’t you just set a standard fee for these sorts of things and avoid all this vague bureaucracy?”

Sister Katherine placed a delicate hand on her breast. “My Lord! The Church would never be so common as to charge a fee for its assistance!”

Charles laughed helplessly. “I’ll call for you when we have anything.” He replied, before turning and heading towards the stables. He spotted Jessie packing tack into a cupboard and smiled.

“Morning.” He said, reaching for the taurean, only to have her move abruptly away from him.

“My Lord.” Jessie answered curtly. Charles was taken aback at her coldness. Following her into the stables, he placed himself in front of her.

“What’s wrong Jess?” he asked. Jessie turned her head from his gaze.

“I’m sure I don’t know what My Lord is talking about.” Jessie answered in that same clipped tone.

“Did I do something wrong? Hey! Jess… Talk to me…” He entreated, taking her by the arm and ignoring her struggle.

“I pray My Lord release me! I have Du… Du… Duhuuuhuuuuuuu.” Her objection dissolved into a lowing cry as she began to sob.

“I s-saw you with her! I know you’re a n-noble! You were laughing! I saw the way she was looking at you! You’re going to have c-continuance with h-heeeeerrrrrrr!” She cried, beating on his shoulder with her free arm.

“Sister Katherine? Oh love…” Charles sighed, pulling her to his chest. Her struggles weakened as she cried into him. Raising her tear-streaked face to his, he kissed her gently.

“Firstly,” Charles began, “That’s my little sister.”

“W-What?” Jessie gulped, confusion written on her face. Charles reached up and tweaked Jessie’s left horn, eliciting a noise of protest.

“Where do you think Human women come from? The church grows them in jars?” Charles teased. “Kathy was born to Ambassador Kyla, the same woman who bore Samuel. The Magisterium must have been quite pleased with the match, because she was around here more often than not for a while. Of course we can’t know this ‘officially’, with the way the Pax treats Continuance and all… Still, if you know where to look…”

“I’m not an idiot, Charles, I know one of the reasons why you humans aren’t supposed to know your mothers is because Incest isn’t unheard of in your Magisterium’s perverse breeding program…” Jessie shot back, pouting and blushing in embarrassment.

“Jessie, if you were human that would be Heresy.” Charles said mockingly, squeezing her to him.

“I’m not human, thank Maou.” Jessie said sulkingly.

Charles sighed with exasperation. “Jess love, how long have I been Seasoning?”

Jessie made to answer, frowning as she thought about it.

“I’ll answer for you. Since I was seventeen.” Charles said simply. “An ambassador came to the house and informed father that my bloodline was… ‘superfluous to demand’.” Charles smirked self-deprecatingly. “What a nice way to be told the governing body of your race wants nothing to fucking do with you. Father told me to find comfort where I could, and if anyone asked why I wasn’t trailing Priestesses and Magisterium staff out of my Bedchamber every month, to tell them I was engaging in the Abstinence of Seasons. The fact that I get along so well with the Mamono lent credence to that. I’m sure half of the Landholders are convinced that I’m taking Mamono to bed regularly.” He nuzzled into Jessie’s neck. “They’re right on that front…” he murmured, as Jessie pushed him away with a yell of outrage.

“So!” Jessie yelled, “I’m just the easy option! You’re just ‘finding comfort where you can’, as your good Lord Father commanded! Just a wet hole for you to empt…” Jessie’s outburst was smothered by Charles’s lips pressing roughly to hers.

“Never say that!” Charles hissed. “I would have gone my life alone. You know how I feel about this ridiculous Pax and the soul-tearing clinical fucking bullshit numbers game of it all! I’m yours Jessie! All yours! Only yours! I want you with me until we’re old and grey and so fucking senile we can’t remember anything but each other and our love! I love You, Jessie. You, you, you!” He punctuated each ‘you’ with another rough kiss.

Jessie looked up at him with wet, brown eyes, filled with love. The ghost of a smile crossed her lips.

“That’s Heresy…” She whispered, mockingly, raising her lips for another kiss.

“If The God hates Love, then Tyris is no God of mine.” Charles answered, lowering his lips to hers.

Later, as they straightened their clothes, Jessie looked at Charles speculatively. “So why’s she here?” She asked.

“You’re not still jealous love?” Charles mocked.

“No, well… shut up… But seriously, why is she here?” Jessie asked insistently.

“Patrick was found murdered yesterday. She’ll be examining any evidence I find for Demonic energy.” Charles answered.

Jessie made a face. “I hate that term. It’s no more ‘Demonic’ than that Benedictus thing your Paladins wave about like a replacement penis.”

“What a disturbing fucking analogy… You can blame History for the language, love.” Charles offered placatingly.

“Your History” Jessie countered sulkingly.

“You ARE fussy today…” Charles teased, squeezing her ample bottom.

“Heehee… stoppit! We’ve both got work to do!” Jessie giggled. Sobering, she looked at Charles again. “How did he die?”

“Heart ripped from his chest. I don’t want to say it, but it has to be Mamono, no human’s got that kind of strength.” Charles admitted.

Jessie pursed her lips in thought. Charles looked askance at her.

“What is it Jess?” he asked.

Jessie looked at him gravely. “Come with me.” She said simply, taking his hand and leading him from the Stable. She expertly tightened the girths on two saddled horses, gesturing for him to mount one.

“Horses Jess? Why don’t we just ask Dom and Jak to…” He stopped at her look of shocked revulsion.

“Oh, right. Sorry.” Charles murmured, hoisting himself slightly clumsily into the saddle. The sturdy mount huffed slightly at his weight, and Charles could have sworn it cast a reproachful look back at him.

“Don’t look at me mate, it wasn’t my idea.” Charles said to the horse. The horse did not reply, horses seldom did.

“I don’t know why those poor nulls agree to debase themselves by pulling carriages.” Jess remarked as they left the walls of the keep.

“They don’t seem to mind it love.” Charles answered, teeth rattling as the horse beneath him trotted along the road.

“Uh huh, how about I put a saddle on you and see how much you enjoy it?” Jessie quipped.

“Didn’t know you were into that kind of thing Jess, but if it gets you going…” Charles trailed off.

“You!” Jessie put her hands to her cheeks, blushing furiously.

Charles’s laughter carried well along the road. He surveyed the approaching township as it quickly grew before them.

“Caladon Township’s gotten bigger since last week?” Charles mused.

“House Caladon’s got a good reputation, both with Human and Mamono. The Humans know there’s opportunity here, and we Mamono know that indentureships here aren’t going to turn into glorified slavery… You know, you can feel responsible for quite a bit of that.” Jessie remarked, a glint in her eye.

“Oh get off it.” Charles replied.

“The Beast Whisperer Charles of House Caladon… Give it a century and they’ll be writing stories about you!” Jessie teased.

“I fuckin’ hate that name…” Charles muttered.

“Who sang a Harpy from a tree.” Jessie Continued

“She was little more than a fledgeling and she fell on me!” Charles objected

“Who carried a centaur with child on his back!” Jessie rejoined

“It was a litter and it took an Ox to move her!” Charles complained.

“Who fought a Bearkin Bull to submission with his bare hands!”

“If by bare hands you mean chainmail and two shard pistols while pissing myself with terror…” Charles grated.

“Stop being so sore love.” Jessie said simply. “Face it, you’re more of a hero by accident than your nutbag brother is from years of pogroms against ferals.”

“I love you.” Charles laughed.

“I love you too.” Jessie replied gently, “And please remember that, because we’re here.”

Charles looked at the unremarkable building before him, and with recognition came a worming terror in his gut. Why? Of all places? Why had Jessie brought him to the Fleshmarket?

Charles dismounted, tying his reins securely to a post. Unconsciously, he grabbed Jessie’s hand as they entered, and felt slight relief at her comforting squeeze. A nondescript old woman sat ostensibly polishing a glass jar behind a counter containing curios of varying sizes, each less interesting than the last. To all purposes, any visitor unaware of its true nature would perceive nothing but the dullest store imaginable.

“Help you, dears?” the woman enquired.

“Caris, drop the act.” Charles grunted.

“I think you have me confused with someone else my boy. Would you be interested in some nice paperweights?” The old woman said, no trace of comprehension on her face.

“Laeti vescimur nos subacturis.” Charles said in resignation. The old woman smiled and her skin split open, as eight segmented legs, black as obsidian burst from her fragile seeming frame. Her face peeled back, revealing the crimson, glittering eyes and blue-black skin of an Arachne. Charles shuddered.

“Can’t you use regular illusion magic?” he begged.

“Less fun.” Caris replied, her lips curving into a smile. “Also it’s sort of a last resort to scare away folks who really shouldn’t be here. Like you, milord.” Caris looked towards Jessie, licking her lips slightly. “I can’t take her like that Charles, though I appreciate the sport, there are rules, you know.”

“I can break a few more legs, Caris.” Jessie said evenly.

“Nice to see you too Jessie. Come on back and tell me why a Human and a Herbivore are coming to the Fleshmarket in broad Maou-damn daylight.” Caris chittered, opening a wall-mounted closet and leading them through into a cold stone room, decorated with sheer horror. Parts of bodies were hung from hooks, spread on benches, some even ‘arranged’ in a morbid parody of haute cuisine. One could almost be fooled into thinking it a normal butcher, apart from a hand here, a breast there, a head atop a plate of cold cuts, its clouded eyes staring into oblivion.

“Tyris…” Charles grunted, choking back bile.

“I know love…” Jessie whispered comfortingly. “I feel the same way, but you know as well as I some Mamono aren’t just obligate carnivores… Some have a need…”

“A need which I fulfil, at a modest fee.” Caris interjected. “Now what are you looking for.”

“A heart. Human. Less than two days old.” Jessie said, her distaste at her surroundings evident.

“Hmmm… Specific… And odd that such an item has come into my possession not too long ago. What web of intrigue have you two come to pluck, I wonder.” Caris mused.

“Do you always ask so many questions, Caris?” Charles grated.

“Well considering this is the second time you come to see me, speaking words you should not know, and asking for things you should not have…” Caris began.

“Price, Arachne.” Charles snapped.

“Oooh, mean Charles! I’m hurt!” Caris lamented, sticking her bottom lip out in a mock pout before tapping it with a chitin-coated finger. “Ten Gold.”

“I can buy a heart and lungs fresh enough to still have the poor soul’s last breath in them for that!” Charles objected.

“And good market there is for last breaths!” Caris agreed, skittering towards the young man and pressing her chitinous finger into his chest. “But you came here for Specific. And specific is valuable. Ten Gold.”

Muttering something about spiders being too damn smart by half, Charles reached into a belt pouch and counted out ten gold pieces. Caris swiped them into a small net of silk, attaching it to a glittering line which sped up towards the roof and out of sight. Reaching with expertise into a seemingly random pile of red, glistening parts, she retrieved a heart, yellow fat still coating its outer walls.

“I’m no necromancer, but I’d say that’s the fat bastard.” Charles murmured as Caris bundled it in silk and handed it to him. Making brief thanks, Jessie and Charles made haste back to the horses, Charles pausing briefly to be noisily sick in a gutter.

“You don’t seem the type to be bothered by bodies, love.” Jessie ventured.

“I’m not, it’s just… I keep seeing it…” Charles responded.

“Seeing what? And why did Caris say you’d been there before, and how do you know Old High Pandemonean?” Jessie asked incredulously.

“The answer to all three is the same.” Charles replied. “You remember the Harpy I ‘sang from the tree’ as you put it earlier?”

“Of course, it’s a local legend after all. What happened to her?” Jessie asked with a gentle smile, clearly not following.

“She had hurt her wing, and I brought her back to the keep to rest.” Charles drew a deep, shuddering breath. “That night Jeremy raped and strangled her.”

“Oh Maou!” Jessie gasped, her hands flying to her mouth in horror.

“I didn’t know what to do. A Ghoul who owed me a favour for looking the other way at her graverobbing gave me the place and the words, and I took her body there. I… Left her… Like Carrion.” Charles gasped, the words like hot glass in his throat. Tears streaming from his eyes, he kicked his horse near savagely, galloping back to the keep, a worried Jessie calling his name as she followed.

Lloyd panted with exertion, letting his head fall back on the pillow as Sister Annabelle rolled off him with a low groan of pleasure. Stroking his chest, she kissed him gently.

“We have missed our bonny blue eyed boy…” She murmured languorously.

“Clearly.” Lloyd replied, staring at the ceiling.

“If you two are quite done?” Came a voice from the doorway. Both Lloyd and Annabelle sat bolt upright, the latter pulling a sheet up to cover her modesty. Sister Magda entered the room unbidden, and with a slight blush of embarrassment, Sister Annabelle quickly pulled her shift over her head, exiting the room and pulling the door closed with a discrete click.

“Your Reverence. Forgive my appearance but you have me at a disadvantage.” Lloyd apologised, grabbing his breeches and pulling them on.

“It’s of no matter Lloyd. The Commandants of the Faith Militant have Consulted with the Representatives of the Holy Mother Church and reached a conclusion on your training.” Magda said, taking a seat by the simple desk which was the only other article of furniture in the room.

Lloyd’s heart quickened. “And?” he asked breathlessly.

“Your initiatehood is to be terminated. You will not receive the Anointing of the Benedictus.”

The news was like a mace to the gut. Lloyd couldn’t breathe… Thoughts flashed through his mind…

“Resonant, needs eye contact to immobilize. Distract with thrown water jug, blade between the third and fourth rib… NO! Humility and praise be to The God when thou fallest under manifold trials.”

Lloyd walked up to Sister Magda, kneeling before her, he placed her hand on his head. “Forgive me, Reverence, my thoughts were unworthy.”

Magda smiled, her hand toustling his hair. “I’d be surprised if they weren’t. This news can’t be easy.”

Lloyd drew a deep breath. “What is to become of me, I am to command a Legion?”

“No, You will not be groomed for command.” Magda said simply. Another blow.

“I’m to remain here then… Your bonny blue eyed boy…” The irony almost overwhelmed him.

“What gives you that impression?” Magda asked, her face still unreadable.

“Tyris forgive me, but what else would I think?” Lloyd burst out. The words were like the final crack in a dam, and the torrent now flowed. “The God be good, it’s the only thing any of you seem to want me for. I was thirteen when the first sister came to me and put me inside her. THIRTEEN! Continuance at that age is punishable by death! And none said a word! And I just kept believing! Kept having faith that if I lived by the scriptures, if I worshipped the Most High with all my heart and soul, that He would use me for His will! I would Serve nobly at Righteous Cause! For Him! Not as some bedservant… But no, let none say that Lloyd of House Caladon is not loyal to his God! So what shall I do? Shall I learn the lute? Compose Poetry to sing sweetly before I am whored to any sister whose eye I catch? In what style do you think I should clothe this filthy fle…”

Lloyd stopped as a stinging slap rocked his entire body. Tyris be merciful, she had used resonance on him!

“If you’re quite finished boy…” Magda hissed, her eyes harder than he had ever seen them. “…You have been coupled under strict instruction. That priestess cried for weeks at the injury she thought she had done you! If you had even the slightest idea how valuable your bloodline is to both the Church and Magisterium… So no. You will not be a Paladin. You will not be a General. You will not be, and I pray you seek penance for even THINKING we would use you like that, a bedservant.” She stood, pressing a bony finger to his chest.

“You, Lloyd of House Caladon, are to be inducted into the Holy Order of Dumat.”

“D-Dumat?” Lloyd gasped. “But that’s a myth!”

“No, dear boy. It is real enough.” Magda sighed. “And may you forgive us for what we do.”

Forgive them? What was happening? What did this mean? Lloyd’s thoughts were turmoil, and suddenly silenced as an irresistible command was issued.


Lloyd came awake with a groan. The floor was hard and smooth beneath his naked body. His limbs pricked with pins and needles. Golden light seemed to radiate from before him. Clambering to his feet, he studied the chamber about him. It was vast, intricate motifs covering every wall and colonnade, and at the end, a golden staircase, leading into a miasma of pure golden light, and before that staircase, three women, robed in ornate garments, with intricate headdresses which left only their mouths uncovered.

Stretching his limbs, and surprisingly unconcerned by his nudity, Lloyd approached the staircase and it’s attendants. “Who are you?” He asked. “What is this place?”

“We are the Brides of Tyris.” The central woman said simply. Horrified, Lloyd immediately prostrated himself.

“Forgive me O Most Radiant and Holy! I knew thee not!” he begged, his voice muffled against the floor. The leftmost Bride gave an amused, if distant chuckle. Taking his arm, she pulled him gently to his feet.

“Our Divine Husband grants not unto us the gift of Omniscience, how then shall one as you know what you have never seen?” She chided softly.

“We are not here for your obeisance, Lloyd of House Caladon.” The Bride on the right remarked. “You are here for your final trial before your entrance into the Order of Dumat. We are here to open the way.”

With that, the three Brides turned to the glowing light at the pinnacle of the staircase. Raising their arms, they began to sing. Lloyd could not understand the words, but as their song built, a glowing point of intense light appeared in the centre of the miasma, lengthening and solidifying into a doorway, almost too bright to look upon.

“Ascend. Ascend and be tested by the High Heavens.” The Brides commanded in unison. Lloyd had no chance but to obey. Step by step he climbed, the radiance growing brighter. As he approached the doorway, a worm of fear coiled in his gut. Who was he to enter the very halls of The God? He was not worthy! He had Sinned! He had thought impure things!

Forcing those thoughts down, Lloyd chanted a prayer of supplication to Tyris, as he crossed over the threshold, and the world as he knew it fell away around him.

He travelled for centuries, eons, seconds, minutes, millennia… Time and space had no meaning as his mind shuddered away from the immensity before him. Closing his eyes, he intoned the scriptures.

“Ours is not to be given to understanding the Mysteries of The God. Ours is in Joyful and Humble Obedience to His Will.”

The travel stopped. Lloyd opened his eyes. Before him was a radiant beauty, white-gold wings sprouting from her back. Her long, platinum hair spilled over a silver breastplate, and her mailed hands were folded before her. Lloyd was overcome by the sheer PRESENCE of this being. Kneeling, he raised his hands in the sign of the Sunburst.

“All Glory to the Most High” Lloyd intoned. The entity before him mirrored the symbol, repeating the intonation, before gesturing for him to stand.
“I am Ariael. Angel in the Choir of the High Heavens.” She spoke, and her voice struck him like exquisite music.

“I greet you, Oh Blessed and Glorious. I am Lloyd, of House Caladon.” Lloyd replied.

“That which you were, you may be no more. I am the trial of your anointing.” The angel answered.

“Forgive me, Lady Ariael, but I was told I was not to receive the Benedictus…” Lloyd began. Ariael laughed and Joy flooded him to his very soul.

“Benedictus? That clipped and stunted shadow of my Divine Master’s power? No Lloyd. Succeed, and you shall be Dumat. Lord of Silence, Commanding the very powers of the Angelic Choir!” She cried, and the Majesty of her voice nearly drove him to his knees again.

Ariael stepped away from him, sliding her gauntlets off, revealing delicate hands. Lloyd yearned for the touch of those fingers on him. Her lips parted, and he lusted for their taste. She unbuckled her breastplate and let it fall, and the exquisite perfection of her naked body made the very cells in his body scream with desire. She lay back on a spacious divan which had appeared from the nebulous light which permeated everything in this holy place, and crooked a knee, opening herself to him slightly.

“I am your trial… have you the strength to come unto me, Mortal?” Ariael asked breathily.

In a vast logical revelation, Lloyd finally understood. He understood why he had been groomed and coached in the pleasures of the flesh by the sisters, all those times, throughout the years from the moment when his issue became potent. He understood why he had been trained to resist the wiles of the Higher Mamono, not for their sake, but for this moment! He was to engage in the Rite of Continuance with an Angel, and if he held his will, he would be successful.

And he knew if he failed, that which he was, everything he had ever known, would be subsumed by the rushing wave of her presence, and he would be no more.

Controlling his breathing, he went to her, bending his head to her parted lips and kissing her gently. She responded with vigour, running those delicate hands through his hair and down his back. The sensation was intoxicating, he nearly cried out from the touch alone. Steeling his will, he trailed his hands down her body, cupping her perfect breasts, gently stroking the impossibly smooth flesh of her thighs. A gasp and light moan against his mouth was his reward. He mentally chanted the litanies of humility as his hand cupped at the juncture of her thighs, feeling there for her tenderest secrets. Her body responded, feathered wings rustling as she squirmed under his caress.

Breaking their kiss, he trailed his mouth down her body, briefly taking one nipple, then the other into his mouth, teasing them softly, oh so softly with his tongue. Another moan, and the grip of her hands in his hair, pushing him lower. He allowed their control, as the scent of her womanhood rose to meet him… Sweet… Oh so sweet… his mouth sought her hungrily, and her cries rose at his ministrations. He felt the rushing waves of her will battering at his psyche. Lloyd willed himself to stay strong, reciting the parable of the willow. No matter how strong the wind, he would bend, but not break. He teased at her tenderness with his mouth, bringing his hands to play. Her gasps quickening… quickening… a cry! A cry joined with a seemingly infinite chorus as her legs shuddered where they clamped about his head. Lloyd held himself desperately against that wave of divine power as it ebbed and calmed.

“Now come to me…” Ariael gasped, pulling him up and wrapping her legs about him, pulling him bodily into her. The sensation was like no other he had ever experienced! He was joined with the Divine! The Power and Love of God! He felt his grip on his mind slipping and re-focused his will, moving in and out of her with easy motions, caressing her body with his hands, kissing her mouth and neck. They moaned and gasped together for what seemed like eternity, before Lloyd felt the familiar building in his loins, and heard her gasping begin to become shorter and more ragged.

Close… So close now… He strived with everything he had. All his will, all his determination. Almost… Almost… There!

Ariael clung to him as her wings spread behind her, the divan gone, all sense of space, vanished. Her climax was like an exploding star as Lloyd in turn erupted within her. An eternity passed, and their peaks subsided.

Lloyd was mentally battered by the experience, but… whole. Ariael stroked him, murmuring in the afterglow, and whilst exquisitely pleasurable it no longer threatened to overwhelm him.

“Well done, my love.” She whispered.

“You weren’t so bad yourself” Lloyd drawled, allowing himself this small discourtesy in victory. A peal of laughter from Ariael showed the gambit was not misplayed. She clung to him lingeringly.

“You are Baptised with Light, my Lloyd, my Lord Dumat. The power of the Angels is now yours to command.” She murmured, small aftershocks of pleasure running through her.

Lloyd was overwhelmed. The power of the Angels! Even the most potent Cleric-adept could not speak to such! He allowed himself to test the simplest of powers, one the most rank priestess was sure to master. Reaching out with his newfound abilities, he tested the nature of that which was around him. Holy, yes. Divine, indeed, but something else. Something which shook the very foundations of his belief.

Ariael, his Angel, was Mamono. And as he tested himself, his heart dropped. It all made sense, the inexplicable power of those Antient Heroes Blessed by God-Before-Tyris.

His entire body thrummed with Mamono energy.

Ariael looked at him, her golden eyes burning deeply into his soul. As if reading his thoughts, she spoke. “The Mysteries of The God are not for such as them to know. They will not see this of you, they cannot know this of you. This is your secret, to be kept in your heart of hearts… with me?”

That last, an entreaty? He looked upon her and knew he could never look on another the same. After tasting divinity, what attraction did mortality hold? Yes… With her…

“With you.” Lloyd agreed, bringing his lips to hers.

Samuel vomited.

The sailors nearby jeered as he groaned and spat over the side of the ‘Ruby’s Lustre’. “Hey Cap’n! His Lordship’s inviting company!”

Samuel looked at the meanest of them, a weasel-faced man by the name of Daniel, who seemed to have taken an instant dislike to him. A lesson was needed, he decided. He called upon the Logos of Resonance, and felt it respond.


Daniel yelped and grasped at his buttock as the glyph struck home. Daniel looked about, spying another sailor nearby nonchalantly holding a marlinespike, he stormed up to him, swearing and blustering. The other sailor, a broad, ebony skinned man called Rick, smiled calmly, before coshing Daniel in the mouth with his fist. Seeing new amusement, the sailors turned their mockery to Daniel, who spat blood onto the deck.

“Mister Daniel! Are you bleeding on my lady’s nice clean deck without leave?” Captain Arin bellowed.

“Rick done stuck me with a marlinespike, Cap’n!” Daniel protested

“Dat boy gone crazy.” Rick answered. “How I’s a stickin’ him from all o’er here?”

“All of you seem to be at rather disgusting amounts of liberty right now. Surely you can find something productive to occupy your sorry arses with that ISN’T bitching like a pack of spoiled neko?” Arin growled. The sailors took the hint, busying themselves with myriad tasks away from Samuel and Arin.

Arin turned to Samuel, “You alright lad?”

Samuel wiped his mouth. “Seasickness” he groaned. “I hear it doesn’t last long.”

Arin laughed, “Think of it like a pretty maiden losing her virginity. Once it’s done it’s done for good.”

Samuel laughed at that. Arin took him by the shoulders and led him towards the stern of the ship.

“Now, to serious matters. How did you do it?” He asked, his voice low.

“Do what?” Samuel asked.

“I’m not blind lad. In the tavern back in Atlantea you looked at Tela and she fell over and screamed like she was being peeled alive. Just then you looked at Daniel and he jumped up like he’d dropped a coal down the back of his pants. Now how did you do it?” Arin repeated.

Samuel sighed, “I suppose it was going to crop up sooner or later… I’m Resonant.”

“Tyris fuck…” Arin gasped. “This is really the kind of shit I need to know up front boy.”

“Then you know why I’m trying to keep this quiet. The days we’ve already been at sea have shown some small… friction between me and some of the crew on account of my rank. I don’t need them suspecting me every time someone breaks a fucking plate.” Samuel replied.

Arin nodded, “Fair call… What’s it… What’s it like?”

Samuel leaned on the railing, looking at the horizon. “It’s like there’s a book I can read in my head, but somehow it’s not in my head, I can just see it from there. A book with no beginning and no ending, that describes everything anyone could possibly know or dream of knowing. But it works backwards. I can’t look up a word to find its meaning, I have to know the meaning to find the word.”

“So with Daniel…” Arin Began

“I wanted him to know what it felt like to have an angry hornet in his pants.” Samuel replied, “And the Logos… That’s the ‘book’… gave me the word. I use the word, it makes it real.”

“So you could send us a steady wind straight to the coast of Magisterium, in theory.” Arin postulated.

“Or I could summon a typhoon that would kill us all.” Samuel chuckled wryly. “I can’t control weather because I don’t understand weather. I don’t know what makes the wind blow when it’s not coming from lungs or Doric’s oversized bellows back in Atlantea. So if I use ‘wind’ and the Logos has given me the wrong ‘wind’, because I don’t understand ‘wind’, then we are quite potentially, fucked.”

“Glad to see you’re sensible with it.” Arin gulped.

“So am I, to be honest. Maybe that’s what’s waiting for me in Magisterium, a way to understand things…” Samuel paused for a moment. “Captain, what did the crew mean by ‘inviting company’ anyway?”

“Mmm, should have mentioned that earlier.” Arin murmured apologetically. “Y’see lad, the deep sea ain’t ordered like the nice structured Council of Matriarchs you in the baronies deal with. Out here, you’re dealing with the fact that every Mamono you encounter is feral. They follow one rule, ‘Who eats who.’ It’s a necessity in the open ocean, there’s no sea grass for herbivores and prey species. So everything, and I do mean everything is a potential food source.”

Samuel smirked, “Except in our case, where we’re a bit of fun first.”

Arin shook his head, “Oddly no. The Sea-Mamono, apart from your obvious exceptions, Mermaids and the like, seem to know instinctively that humans can’t survive for long in the water. So they seem to be fine letting the Bulls take care of that end of things. Of course there are stories of outliers, but as a general rule, expect anything below the surface to look at you as dinner before darling, savvy?”

“Er, ‘savvy.’ But I don’t see what this has to do with me being sick over the side.” Samuel replied confusedly.

Arin grunted. “Put two and two together lad. The smell of what remains of your lunch there is going to draw small fish, very fast. Those small fish will draw bigger fish, which in turn will draw…”

“Sharks Cap’n!” came Penny’s shriek from above.

“How many and what direction?” Arin yelled back in exasperation.

“Lots and that way!” came the reply. Arin swore softly.

“Confirmed Cap’n, ‘bout half a dozen, port side.” A sailor offered helpfully.

“Bertraaaaaand! My Job!” Penny lamented from somewhere above.

“Sorry Pen, just trying to help.” The youth apologised.

Arin chuckled, “That’s my new heir if she doesn’t get bored or he doesn’t get the smarts to run soon. Penny’s taken quite a shine to him, and there’s not a few occasions someone’s caught her pinning him against a rope locker somewhere discrete.”

Samuel nodded in understanding. It was funny, he mused, as he followed the captain across to the port side of the ship, this was Heresy. It totally went against everything the Pax commanded, and yet, deep within him, as he heard Arin’s musings on his harpy daughter, it felt somehow right, and he felt a yearning to know it…

…Maybe Charles had a point.

“Afternoon ladies” Captain Arin yelled from the side as  large, dark shapes began to cruise into vision. A thick, blunt head broke the surface, and steely eyes surveyed the ship almost petulantly.

“Is she… Pouting?” Samuel asked incredulously.

“She don’t unnerstand why we ain’t afraid of ‘er, poor blossom” Nick chuckled from his right. With a flip of an unseen tail, the shark-maiden returned to her hunt. In the clear water, Samuel watched them chase fat, pelagic tuna with frightening accuracy, grasping the fish in webbed, clawed hands before greedily ripping them apart with toothy mouths. One seemed to be having a rough time of it, as she missed her fish on three passes. One of the sailors seemed to find this funny and a belly laugh rumbled from him. Her head snapped surfacewards with embarrassment and a murderous intent. With great swipes of her powerful tail, she drove herself into the deeps.

“Tom, you’re a moron!” Arin yelled. “She’s given up on fatty tuna and has decided fatarse lunk is a more preferable option!” He turned to Samuel. “I’m going to get something to calm her down. In the meantime, if there’s anything you can do to keep her out of the ship, it would be appreciated. The God save us, but she hasn’t done anything wrong, so don’t kill her or anything.”

Samuel watched as a pale speck began to grow in the deep sapphire below him, watched it gradually became the head and shoulders of the shark. Her powerful tail beating at the water rhythmically, she spread her mouth to reveal rows of deadly teeth. Samuel watched as her eyes turned black as she rolled them, eager for the attack… But how to stop her? If it was a petulant landholder’s son he’d deal him a dash on the nose to smarten him up, but with those teeth…

Of course.


The shark stopped, flipping head over tail in the water as she collided with something unseen. Her rapacious gape turned into a moue of pain as she rubbed her broad nose, a trickle of blood staining the water near her face. The other sharks paused in their feasting to stare at their stricken sister, their expressions unreadable. Arin reappeared, dropping a large, fat fish over the side. The shark grabbed it swiftly, and her black eyes returned to that steely grey. As she tore into it, she pointed at her eye, then pointed at Tom, opening her mouth in a silent snarl. Tom gulped audibly.

“That’ll learn you for teasing the sharks Tom. The fish is coming out of your pay, by the way.” Arin said mockingly.

“Daaadeeeeeee!” Penny shrieked, hurling herself from where she perched aloft and throwing her wings around Arin. She was visibly shaking, and her little face was a picture of terror.

“On the Ship it’s ‘Captain’ Penny, what’s wrong?” Arin chided gently.

“M-m-monster!” she cried, pointing a wing to the foredeck. A pair of tentacles could be seen there, suckers grasping for purchase, before being joined by a third.

“Just a squid tryin’ to get away from the sharks?” Arin mused

The reptilian bo’sun turned her head to look, and colour drained from her face. “That colour? With a veil that long?!” she gasped. Leaping to a nearby weapons cabinet, she flung it open, grasping a cruel looking spear.

“Battle stations!” She screamed, “All hands to quarters! MINDFLAYER!”

The deck became a bustle of activity as sailors grabbed weapons. Samuel watched with trepidation as the tentacles were joined by others, heaving the bulk of the Mindflayer onto the deck of the ship. Splaying her tentacles, the Mindflayer pulled herself upright, staring at the sailors with indigo eyes with burned with a perverse cruelty.

“Time to play, my pets.” Her voice echoed. Wet slaps were heard from the sides of the deck as grey hands gripped the gunwales, and blank-eyed humanoids pulled themselves aboard. They shambled towards the sailors, grey faces leached by salt water hanging dumbly. As they moved, they emitted burbling, gasping moans, mouths agape as they grasped for the sailors with arms that were coated with weed and barnacles.

“Repel boarders! Get these sorry wretches off my lady!” Arin roared, drawing a cutlass and launching himself at the nearest. His blade bit into sodden flesh, yet the creature kept coming. Snarling, he reversed his swing and lopped the moaning head from its shoulders.

“They won’t go down easy! No quarter!” Arin yelled.

Samuel found himself in something of a pickle. His shard pistol was designed primarily to injure and incapacitate, not kill, and he found himself firing round after round into the shambling thrall before him before it went down. The grip began to grow uncomfortably warm in his hand, and he felt the slight vibration warning him the weapon was in serious danger of overheating. Jamming it back into the holster with a venomous oath, he looked around for a weapon. He spied a long pole bearing a cruel-looking hook, and grabbed it, swinging at another thrall. The hook jammed into the side of the thing’s neck, and he pulled with all his strength, ripping its throat out in a font of watery gore.

Nick laughed from somewhere amidships, “Ere now! His Lordship’s doin’ better than half of yez with a jolly gaffe!”

For some odd reason, that seemed to raise spirits, and the sailors pressed the attack, pushing the moaning thralls back towards the fore of the vessel, where their mistress awaited. As the last fell, the Mindflayer pouted slightly, looking towards the sailors as they moved cautiously towards her, weapons at the ready.

“No more play?” She echoed petulantly. “Time for new pets!” Fixing her indigo eyes on the nearest sailor, her mouth spread in a cruel grin. Tom, the sailor who had earlier teased the shark, dropped to his knees screaming, clawing at his face in sheer animal terror until rivulets of blood began running from his cheeks.

“She’s in my head! She’s in my heeeeaaaaaad!” he screamed, his voice turning rapidly hoarse as his ripping screams tore at his throat.

“Keep range! Find cover!” Arin ordered, ducking behind a barrel. “Throw whatever you’ve got at her, but don’t look into her eyes!” the sailors scattered, and a sparse volley of varied projectiles began raining at the Mindflayer. Irritated, she broke eye contact with Tom, who immediately scrambled into a ropelocker, shutting himself inside, the soft sounds of uncontrollable sobbing evident from within. Samuel risked a glance from behind the main mast, and saw her form blur and become indistinct. The thrown items began falling around her.

“Bitch has illusion magic! We can’t see where she is!” Samuel yelled at Arin.

Arin swore. “Nines! Where are my rifles?” he roared at the navigator.

“In the forward cabin… behind her.” Came the chagrined answer.

“Anything in your book, Lordship?” Arin drawled at Samuel.

He could try. He chanced another look around the mast…

AGON… he began to form, only to have his concentration blasted from him as he stared into a pair of indigo eyes which seemed to eat the world around him.

“A Resonant!” the Mindflayer’s voice rang in the vaults of his mind. He felt her consciousness oozing through his brain like psychic sewage, and he felt defiled to the very core of his being. “The Deep One will surely find you a welcome treat… Once I’m finished with you of course.” Samuel was helpless… He opened his mouth to scream…

…Suddenly the presence was gone, Samuel shook his head, seeing a thick, crimson tentacle had wrapped itself around the Mindflayer’s neck. Snarling, the Mindflayer clawed at the tentacle, her own suckered limbs grasping at the form of the tentacled woman who had just appeared behind her.

“Don’t be all day about it!” the crimson-fleshed Kraken yelled, her tentacle constricting even tighter.

Yes… Yes… The Kraken’s attack seemed so appropriate for this disgusting creature who had violated his mind… The Logos, ever present, answered.


The Mindflayer’s body contorted weirdly as it was pressed inexorably by unseen forces. Her cries were garbled and wet as her bones snapped sickeningly. Her face became deformed, jaw jutting from the surrounding flesh, before, with a wet pop, her head exploded like a ripe fruit.
As her corpse collapsed to the deck, the sailors cheered. The Kraken however, covered in gore and brains, looked thoroughly displeased with the result. Pulling herself across the deck to Samuel, she pointedly wiped gore from her face with her hands, before holding them out in front of her.

“Really? That’s all you could come up with?” She said in disgust.

“I was under some small pressure, Madam. And you gave me the idea.” He explained. The Kraken pursed her lips, before sliding a tentacle behind his knees and knocking him ungently onto his backside.

“Cheeky.” She drawled, before approaching captain Arin, who was busily hauling a large bucket of seawater up to the deck. Handing her the bucket, he smiled at the Kraken.

“Thanks Ruby.” He offered simply. The Kraken blew air through her mouth as she emptied the bucket over herself, sloughing the gore off her with clear relief.

“I haul myself up here to save you doomed leggies, get covered in ‘flayer brains, and I get ‘Thanks Ruby?’ You’ll have to do better than that, Captain!” she grumbled. Wordlessly, Arin offered her a small flask from within a pocket of his sea-coat.

“Good start.” She said, taking a long pull from the flask.

“Ruby’s Lustre, the name’s significant I take it?” Samuel asked Nines. The navigator nodded with a broad grin.

“Join us for dinner?” Arin offered.

“Better.” Ruby said with a smile, before throwing her arms around him and kissing him soundly. Catcalls and whoops sounded from the surrounding crew until the Bo’suns yell called them to attention.

“Alright you shits! Clear the sodding debris! If this deck isn’t spotless by five bells I’ll have you eating your dinner off it amidst the gore!” She barked harshly. “And someone get Tom out of that locke…”

“Tom! No!” came a yell. Having emerged from the locker, Tom had grabbed a nearby sailors knife and raised it to his own throat. Insanity blazing in his eyes, he drew it sharply across his neck, severing windpipe and jugular. In a font of crimson, he collapsed to the deck. A cry of dismay came up from the surrounding sailors. Ruby sighed sympathetically.

“She got too deep… He couldn’t bring himself back from whatever nightmare she planted in his mind.” She said softly.

The captain squeezed her hand, before stepping over to where Tom gasped his last bubbling breath on the deck, life fading rapidly from his eyes.

“The God forgive you your Sins, and take you to him in The Heavens.” Arin said in prayer. A few of the crew made the sign of the sunburst, as with a final rattling gurgle, Tom gave up the ghost. Arin turned to the rest of the crew.

“He fought with bravery, and died nobly. Let no word be spoken of him in anger. Let his debts be forgiven. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, let him be remembered.”
“Tom.” The crew intoned.

“Burial detail, commit him to the sea.” The captain said simply. Victory was theirs, but the taste was bitter.

“There’s no doubt?” Charles asked.

“None. The signature is clear as daylight.” Sister Katherine replied.

“Tyris fuck. We’re looking for a Mamono then.” Charles cursed, ignoring Katherine’s gasp at the irreverence.

“Wait… Charles, there’s something else here…” She said. Reaching into a torn ventricle, with delicate fingers, she extracted something white.

“What is that? A feather?” Charles asked.

“Not just a feather, unless I am completely wrong, which I highly doubt, Tyris forgive my Pride, This is from a Ledan.” Katherine replied

“A Swan Maiden? But they’ve been extinct for eons!” Charles cried.

“It is what it is Charles, there’s no doubt. This would be worth a fortune as an antiquity in a pristine state though… Why would someone shove it in a dead man’s heart?” Katherine mused with confusion.

“Hang it all, the elves outlived them! There’s no other explanation?” Charles pressed

“Barring the utter impossibility of someone wandering into the Land of the Dead and asking to borrow one from a Swan Maiden’s shade, no.” Katherine said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Point taken. Thanks again little sister.” Charles conceded. Katherine leaned up, kissing him briefly on the cheek.

“Do keep in touch, Charlie.” She murmured.

Charles squeezed her hand briefly in farewell, turning to the window and turning the gore-soaked feather over in his fingers. Did this have any connection to the failed poisoning on his father? A feather in a heart, a feather that shouldn’t exist. What could it mean? Why would someone bury a treasure in a heart only to leave it in the Fleshmarket? And most disturbingly of all, how did Jessie know it would be there?

The roiling in his heart was matched by the bank of dark clouds which had begun to spill over the mountains.

“I don’t see the point then.” Lloyd said simply as the priestesses measured and adjusted the silver-lined black tunic, the mark of his new rank embroidered in silver thread above his left breast.

“Lloyd, let me put it simply” Sister Magda explained. “Your authority is nearly absolute. You could walk into a sitting session of the Magisterium and stab a High Lord in the face, and nobody could say a word against you. The appearance of Lord Dumat is not usually viewed then as an opportunity for a public fete. So, whilst officially you have no reason to do so, the Commandants and Church would ‘Request’ of you that you play to your old rank and station unless the situation demands otherwise.”

Lloyd pondered that. “Forgive the obtuseness, reverence, but should I choose not to?” he enquired.

Sister Magda spread her hands. “The God giveth, and The God taketh away. Any one of the Brides of Tyris could strip you of your authority in an instant, should they deem it necessary. I’ve heard it’s a highly unpleasant experience, I wouldn’t test it, my boy.”

Lloyd nodded his understanding. “What then am I to do?”

“You are to go to Magisterium. There you are to meet your brother Samuel. You are to test him for Demonic influence, and if such is found, you are to kill him.” The Lord Commander said gravely.

“My Lord! For what purpose?!” Lloyd cried in shock.

“What I am to say is to be kept silent, Lord Dumat.” The Lord Commander said, using Lloyd’s new title. “The Brides of Tyris have informed the Conclave of the Faithful that The God is no longer speaking to them.”

“How is it my brother’s fault that they lapse in their prayers?” Lloyd spat in hot anger

“Do not forget yourself, Lord Dumat! You are not exempt from Blasphemy!” The Lord Commander boomed. “The Brides do not pray in vulgate fashion as you or I, but commune Directly with Holy Tyris. For them to say that communion has ceased, on the same day, indeed, the same hour as your brother is awoken to Resonance, is a coincidence we cannot overlook!”

“You are right, of course, My Lord. I beg The God’s forgiveness.” Lloyd said humbly, bowing his head.

“We know this can’t be easy Lloyd” Sister Magda offered placatingly. “But it is for the Glory of The God.”

Lloyd nodded, staring out the window to where dark clouds roiled overhead.

Samuel whistled as he leant against the sea railing, a slight fog of drunkenness in his mind. The dinner had been lavish, as far as ship fare went, and there were not a few crew who wished to toast his killing the mindflayer. The stars were bright and clear overhead, and the sea air was sweet. He breathed deeply, filling his lungs.

“Got a moment, M’Lord?” Nines asked him from the helm.

“Sure, how can I help?” Samuel said, the rolling gait of the sailor coming more naturally to him as he walked to the wheel.

“Just hold her on this course.” Nines said, pointing at the star lined up with the point of the prow. “I’ve got something I want to give to Sheila.”
“Sheila?” Samuel echoed. Nines grinned.

“The Bo’sun. I’m mad keen on her man, I figure us almost dying today is a good push to tell her so.” Nines said, holding up an intricately braided copper necklace.

“Hah, well, good luck, I guess. She’s a fine looking… Reptile.” Samuel said, unsure of how best to compliment her.

“Isn’t she just?” Nines replied dreamily.

“Hey Nines… Where’d you get the name anyway?” Samuel asked, the alcoholic buzz lending him to bluntness. Nines grinned and held a grey feather braided into his hair aloft.

“Nine posts man. I started that game. Anyway, time’s a wasting!” he whispered conspiratorially, before heading down into the chart room… And forgetting to close the door.

“Nines, what are you doing down here?” Sheila said in surprise

“Present for you, Bo’sun.” Samuel heard Nines reply, and Sheila’s gasp.

“It’s beautiful!” She gushed girlishly “I could kiss you… Um… I mean… Th-Thank you.” She stammered, realizing her slip.

“What’s stopping you?” Nines cozened.

“I… Umm… Ohhh… N-not there… Ohhh! Ohhh!” Samuel heard the reptilian’s moans ring out.

Samuel laughed. “Nines does not move slowly!” he murmured to himself. He saw lightning flash in the distance, and saw stars dim as rolling clouds began to move in from the west.

“Mmm, you spoil me, Captain” Ruby drawled as Arin poured a creamy substance into his hands and continued massaging it into her soft flesh. Chuckling, Arin leaned down to kiss the Kraken in his bed.

“If it means I get to keep you up here longer, I’ll do this all night.” Arin whispered lecherously.

“Satyr.” She responded, returning his kiss with vigour.

Arin’s eyes clouded slightly. “Do you think?” he asked.

“What’s that love?” Ruby queried.

“Do you think that’s what I’ll become?” He asked. “I’m not sure if I’d like that to be something outside my control…”

The Kraken sat up, gently sliding her tentacles around him and pulling him to her. “Not even we know how it will work. Eventually you’ll change, only Maou knows how, or into what. It works fastest with the Succubi, of course, and Incubi share their nature. Maybe you’ll become a proper sea creature, and we can dispense with this ridiculous leggie boat.”

“Ship love, it’s a ship.” Arin said in slight injury. “And it’s been nearly ten years… Surely I’d have felt something by now.”

The Kraken shrugged. “Perhaps Maou has a desire for an ancient mariner… I know I’m happy with him.” She giggled, pulling him in for another lingering kiss.

“Captain!” one of the sailors yelled from the door.

“Fuck off!” Arin moaned from between Ruby’s breasts.

“Yes Sir, but there’s a storm in the west sir, not sure which way it’ll turn! Also we caught Penny with Bertrand in the rigging again.” The sailor answered, a slight lilt of suppressed laughter in his voice.

Arin groaned. “Of course you did…”

The dream was always the same.

The door creaked open, the boy entered. “Mother?” he called. Shadows stretched down the hall and a figure could be seen in the dimness beyond. He knew what it would be, yet he kept walking.

“Mother, is that you?” the boy called, his voice cracking with fear.

His eyes adjusted to the dim light, and revealed to him a scene of horror. His mother hanging in a web, an Arachne atop her, pumping eggs into an already swollen abdomen. “Not long now, pet” it whispered sibilantly. “You’ve been such a good girl!”

The boy screamed in horror and hatred, and as he screamed, his voice deepened, he felt his body growing, expanding… The boy was now a man, and the scream was a roar. He rushed forward, grabbing the arachne by her delicate waist and slamming her to the stone floor. Before she could move he bodily ripped her spinnerets from her abdomen, coshing her across the back of the head with the other hand. Blood leaked from the arachne’s face as she mewled in pain.

Slowly, deliberately, the man began dismantling the arachne, breaking her chitinous legs and ripping them from her body, with a strength impossible for a human to possess in the waking world. Paying no heed to her screams, he placed his hands between deadly fangs, her screams becoming raw and wet as he pulled her head apart. Sated, he stood from the corpse, hurrying over to the web-bound woman, her hair hanging over her head.

“You’re safe now mother! I saved you!” the man whispered. The woman lifted her head, but the face was not human, but that of a wolf-girl, whose black eyes dripped sulphur.

“Perverse! Accursed!” it hissed at him, before opening its mouth wide… impossibly wide…

Jeremy woke up with a shout. The figure next to him stirred and murmured before sitting up and sliding an arm about his waist. “What troubles you, My Lord?” the human girl asked, nuzzling into him.

“Nothing, bad dream, go back to bed.” Jeremy answered shortly, pushing her off him and walking to the window.

“Did you want to talk about it” She offered.

“Are you simple woman? I said no!” He barked. She frowned sternly.

“Do not forget yourself with me, My Lord.” She warned imperiously. Jeremy cursed internally, this one already held Ambassadorial rank in the Ministorum. This one he could not mark.

“Apologies, My Lady. I beg your forgiveness.” Jeremy offered with a slight bow.

“I don’t know… I think I may need more convincing…” She said with a lecherous smile, opening her arms to him.

As he laboured atop her, her moans were distant in his mind. The dreams were coming more and more frequently, and there had not been opportunity to pursue his… Other interests of late. He made the decision. He would blame Charles for not being thorough enough, and arrest something appropriate to question… Something that screamed…

The thought brought him to climax as he erupted in the woman he performed Continuance with. The distant sound of thunder rumbled as he collapsed back onto the bed.

A storm was coming, they all knew it.

And its arrival would shake the world.

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