I felt like I needed to veer away from making Willowbud and Julia's game an escalating competition of depravity, as it went against Julia's character to do so. While there is some sex in this chapter, their are ten-thousand word blocks without any. I apologize in advance for the length of this chapter. I broke it up into parts again, but it's damn-near 50,000 words.Please leave comments!
Chapter Four: Orphan
Sorrow’s gate was held by crumbling stone pillars, and adorned with statues whose features had been worn away by millennia of wind and rain. Only the hollows of their eyes, and the impressions of their mouths remained on their withered faces, giving them an expression of perpetual horror.
“I suppose I can’t change your mind, can I?” Arbitrus asked beside me.
“Nope.” I answered.
“If you don’t come back, Julia will kill me.”
Arbitrus sighed, pulled out his pipe, and sat on the steps. Behind us, the astral plane changed from a land made of candy, to a world of metal and concrete, where odd machines raced down perpendicular roads, and a female statue held a torch aloft in a crowded harbor. I turned my gaze from the impossibility, and touched the gate. It creaked open, I stepped inside, and it creaked shut behind me with a foreboding click of the lock. Sorrow’s realm was a graveyard. The barren, exposed soil was wet with the rain that fell perpetually from the grey skies, and splattered on headstones, mausoleums and monuments, all decayed to ruin. The markers on the tombs were worn to illegible imprints, the statues were all as featureless as the ones outside, and the doors of the crypts were all ajar.
“Hello, Untethered One.” It was a sonorous voice, almost sweet, but tinged with a sigh of hopelessness. She was an elf, though it was impossible to tell what race she was. Her flesh was pale blue, her hair was silver, and though her complexion spoke of youth, her haggard eyes spoke of ancient world-weariness. Her sclera were navy, matching the color of irises that bore no pupils, but were rimmed with white. She was pretty, I guessed, but though she was naked, I found no attraction to her.
“Hi!” I said cheerily, extending my hand, “You must be Sorrow!”
“I am.” Sorrow said, shaking my hand weakly. Her palm was cold and clammy, her fingers were limp, and she offered me a melancholy smile that was somehow sadder than her frown. I didn’t want to be rude, so I gritted through the exchange with a smile, counting down the seconds until it would be polite to break off. As if she read my mind, Sorrow hurriedly withdrew her hand, averted her eyes, and shrugged her shoulders insecurely.
“I am sorry.” Sorrow said, wrapping her arms around herself, “I know my company is unpleasant, and my touch, even more so. Forgive me, Untethered One.”
“No, no…” I trailed off, avoiding her gaze, “it was fine.” I stared at my hand, wondering why everything had suddenly dimmed.
“You have come to ask me about the most ancient one.” Sorrow said, leaning against the stone wall that surrounded her vast realm.
“You know about her?” I asked. I supposed the revelation should have excited me, but it only slightly elevated my spirits.
“I do,” Sorrow said, sliding down the wall until she sat on the wet soil, hugging her knees, “but if I tell you what I know, then you will leave me, and I will be alone again.”
“Yeah.” I responded, sitting next to her. What was the point anyway? Even if I did find out about Corruption, nothing would change. The world would still be shit, people would still be shit, the future would always be darker, and the past would always be brighter. Alas, the past was dead and gone, and all the good times were dead and gone with it. I slumped against the wall, and kicked at the damp earth. “I guess I’ll just sit here. It’s not like it matters.”
“Misery loves its company.” Sorrow sighed listlessly, and produced a belt and pouch. She unbuttoned the pouch to reveal a syringe, and I held out my arm for her to tie the belt. She cinched me, I pumped my fist, she pushed the needle into my vein, and depressed the plunger. The heroin was cold, and its chill raced up my spine, and pooled tearful euphoria into my skull. I exhaled numbly, and felt my head rest against the stones. From my periphery, I saw Sorrow shoot-up, and fall into the same apathetic languidness. She rested on my shoulder, and her touch wasn’t as repulsive as it had been before. In fact, it was quite pleasant. She was an oasis of warmth in the cold rain, and when I turned to look at her, I saw her big, blue eyes looking back at me; shy, hopeful, and yearning. She was beautiful, the only beauty in this colorless world, the only thing worth breathing for in this perpetual darkness. I cupped her cheek, and Sorrow smiled, and its melancholy sweetness set a fire in my heart; not a passionate inferno, but a steady pilot light, one flicker from going out. I kissed her, and she kissed me, and our wet bodies moved together in the soil, breast to breast, thigh to thigh, lips to lips. We found the heat of each other, and moaned with slow breaths as we shifted beneath the weeping sky.
“Sometimes, I write poetry here.” Sorrow said as we walked beneath a derelict bridge, its outline barely visible in the fog. Five skeletons hung from its supports, rattling in the constant wind.
“Who were they?” I asked, my fingers linked with the Sentient’s.
“My melds.” Sorrow sighed, “None of them wanted me, but they called for me nonetheless.”
“They’re better off this way.” I mused.
“I think so.” Sorrow nodded.
We walked hand-in-hand through burrows and hovels, where gravestones stood at odd angles, their surfaces so calcified that they were barely discernable from the rocks. There were no plants in Sorrow’s realm, not even dead ones. Much like Wrath’s kingdom, Sorrow’s was a sterile, lifeless place. Even the skeletons that hung from the bridge looked like they’d never born flesh.
“This is my center.” Sorrow said, gesturing to a mausoleum that sat upon a hilltop. The soil gave way to bare rock all around the structure, exposing its crumbling foundation.
“Will you go in with me?” I asked her.
“I might as well.” Sorrow shrugged, “It’s not like I have anything better to do.”
We walked into the stone building, the miserable twilight turning to deathly blackness. There were pedestals lit by slotted windows, much like in Wrath’s center, but at the very end, was a door. I walked to the end of the hall and grabbed the doorknob, but it wouldn’t budge. I guessed it would only open for one person. I sighed, and examined the pedestal closest to the door: Sorrow’s oldest memory. Upon it, was a poem. Once I slumbered beneath a sky of gold, atop hills of diamonds sparkling and bold, where love was a wallet you could not fold, and my soul was the first thing that I sold. I read the next poem. Her mind was full of shallow things, of wealth and land and diamond rings, and when she saw the truth was hollow, she found poison sweeter to swallow. I nodded, getting a picture of what had happened to Sorrow. I did not understand why, the one I melded chose to die, was it the greatest form of greed, to steal the only thing you need? I read the last one. I think I’ve finally found the truth, of mortals’ quest to retain youth, to take from Holy Mother’s time, to the rafters you must climb. Here’s a rope and here’s a stool, here’s a weight and there’s pool, a blade will do but mind the mess, you just bought that satin dress. So I must change who I am, to gently guide the wanting lamb, avarice won’t cut the vein, but sorrow might compel the pain.
“Greed.” I whispered, turning to Sorrow, “You were once called ‘Greed,’ weren’t you?”
“Was I?” Sorrow replied, not seeming to care.
“Can’t you tell?” I asked, gesturing to the poems.
“It’s just blank parchment, Untethered One.” Sorrow looked pitifully at me, like she was examining a person who had lost their mind. I glanced at the door.
“Can you see the door?” I asked her. Sorrow gave me that sad smile again, and shook her head. I felt an overwhelming lethargy that goaded me to stay in this place of misery, to forever wallow in my comfortable despair, and make dazed love to the creature beside me. But then I thought of Mom, and Lucilla, and even had a passing thought of Justina, and I took Sorrow by the hand, and led her limply to the door. She tensed suddenly.
“Take me no further, Untethered One.” Sorrow whispered. I glanced to the side, and saw that we had passed the first poem before the mausoleum’s entrance. I gripped Sorrow’s hand firmly, struggled through the apathy that told me to stop, and dragged the Sentient to the next poem. “Stop!” Sorrow cried, but she was a weak woman. I dragged her past the next pedestal, and she shrieked terribly, splitting my ears with the sound. I winced through it, and hauled Sorrow the last few steps, feeling her shrill screams ringing in my skull. I could barely see the door I was reaching for, but I forced Sorrow’s hand to grasp it, fumbled with the knob, and hauled it open.
“…FUCK ME!” I cried, straddling Brandon in his office, his cock thrusting into me, his hands pulling my hair back as his mouth sucked on my jiggling, caramel breasts. He drove harder, his hips colliding with loud smacks, his tip pushing against my cervix, making my tongue loll from my gaping mouth as I panted my exhilarating euphoria. God, he was deep this morning. I grinded across his lap, my back wrenching in a violent wave; shoulders pinching together, spine curving, hips jerking forward and back, my ass applauding behind me. I grabbed his head and pushed his face deeper, suffocating him with what little chest I had, growling my approval as I felt him teeth me in defiance. He stood up, our pelvises locked together, and he dropped me unceremoniously on his desk, papers and candles flying, dishes clattering as I was dragged mercilessly across its surface. His torso pressed to mine, his weight sank into me, and I hooked my ankles behind his driving ass, and pulled him deeper. His breath panted against my neck as I hyperventilated against his, my lungs fiery with each desperate intake, my voice high with each exhalation. The familiar pressure ballooned with in me, causing tremors to wrack my form as it expanded; legs trembling, abdomen clenching, feet kicking wildly for purchase.
“Make-me-come, make-me-come, make-me-come!” I screamed, and he obeyed. I dug an encouraging nail in his back, and felt him return fire with the acceleration of his thrusts. I squeezed him with my thighs, with my arms, trapping myself in his violence, goading him to drive harder, to break me, to push me over the edge. The pressure expanded, electrifying every nerve, sending my heartrate skyrocketing. It was coming now, well-past the point of no return, compelling my back to arch, my mouth to scream, my eyes to widen, my head to fall back, and my throat to exalt my ecstasy.
“Oh God, fuck me, Sister Julia!” I screeched as I came. Brandon abruptly stopped thrusting, but he couldn’t stop from blowing. He groaned and growled as I sung over him, legs twitching in their lock as his cock opened my sanctity. Hot seed shot into me, pooling directly into my maternal reservoir, radiating into my depths as I spasmed with glee. Our sweaty bodies heaved as our diaphragms relaxed, and Brandon took my face into his, and looked steadily into my eyes.
“Did you just…”
“…scream for ‘Night Eyes?!’” I panted against Julia’s neck, the sweat dripping off our bodies, the morning sun shining through the two-story window of our new bedroom. Julia gasped something unintelligible, and tried pushing me off her, but I locked my legs and pinned her shoulders to the mattress. Her cock was still hard in my pussy, but I’d had my release, and wasn’t feeling too frisky anymore.
“Hmm?” I narrowed my eyes at her, watching her face contort and redden.
“Yes.” She mumbled, looking extremely sorry.
“Julia, what the fuck?!” I hissed, “I don’t mind that you’re fucking her,” (bullshit) “but when we’re together, it’s supposed to be just us! Get her out of your head!”
Julia mumbled something again, trying to push me off, but I would not be denied. This was too far.
“What did you say?” I growled. She twisted her lips, seeming to block the words from exiting her mouth. “Julia, do you love her?” I hissed. Her lips trembled, and my heart began to sink. This was Passion all over again, only much, much worse.
“No!” she finally shouted, “No, I don’t love her! I’m addicted to her!” Julia finally managed to push me off her, and she sat upright, slouched, and put her face in her arms. “It’s not love, Lucilla, not even close. It’s… it’s like she’s giving me something I need, and if I go without for too long, it’s all I can think about. It’s not just the sex, it’s…” Julia looked up at me, genuine fear in her green eyes, “When she kisses me, she breathes Corruption’s gift into my lungs. I let it linger, let it take me, and then I push it out. I do it to show her that I’m stronger, to show her that Corruption can be resisted. Only what I don’t show her, Lucilla, is that it gets harder every time for me to let Corruption go.”
I stared at Julia with my mouth agape, and she hung her head in shame, the tears glistening in her emerald eyes. I crawled to her, still numb with the revelation, and wrapped myself around her, pulling her close, letting her feel my nakedness envelope her body. Her head dropped on my shoulder, and I brushed the hair from her face, and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“You and I are getting Diamond, and we are leaving now.” I whispered, my voice shaking, “This is something you should’ve told me, Julia; this wasn’t a decision you had the right to make on your own.”
“I can’t run from this.” Julia whispered back.
“I’ll fucking hogtie you if I have to.” I spoke into her hair, “The further we get from Drastin, the better you’ll feel. We’ll take Brandon with us to Arbortus, and we won’t come back.”
“No,” Julia said, emeralds glinting, “I mean I can’t run from this, Lucilla. This is my destiny. This is what God made me for.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everything that’s happened to me,” a tear ran down her cheek, “everything I’ve done, it was all to prepare me for this. I’d thought God had no purpose for me, I’d thought she’d abandoned me in the ashes of my home, but that was just my first step on her path. Night Eyes is my destiny, Lucilla; I was made for her. She has rekindled my faith, and shown me that I am still on the righteous path.”
“You’re fucking delusional.”
“I am not!” Julia said with such vehemence that I flinched. What was the one thing Julia held more dearly than me, or Diamond, or anyone else? Her fucking Holy Mother. I wanted to scream at her, but instead, I set my jaw, and listened.
“We’re like pieces to a puzzle, her and I,” Julia said, eyes flowing freely now, “scarred in the same way, molded in the same way. If I hadn’t killed my parents, if I hadn’t loved and killed Passion, if I hadn’t kissed you that night, then I would never have been able to face Night Eyes. The Holy Mother has sharpened me to pry Corruption from Willowbud, to understand Night Eyes so perfectly, that I know exactly how to destroy her. That is my purpose, Lucilla, and I cannot walk away from it.”
“And what is Night Eyes then?” I whispered, “The tool of Satan? Are you the champion of God on a holy battlefield?”
“Yes.” Julia whispered, “Yes, that’s right. I’m not blaspheming; it’s what I truly believe. It’s the only explanation.”
“The last time God and Satan had a bout,” I said carefully, “God lost, Julia. Satan made her his bitch; it’s the first chapter of your bible. If we’re operating on your logic, what makes you think you won’t share her fate?”
“Faith.” Julia beamed at me, “But not in God. In you, and in Diamond. You are what holds me fast, what keeps me from drifting away from myself.” Julia traced a tender finger along my arm, following the path of one of my many glowing lines, “You are what binds me. If you ever doubt my love, Lucilla, simply look at your own flesh, and see it burning with it.”
“Goddamn it.” I grumbled, staring into Julia’s loving eyes, “You really know how to push my buttons. C’mon, sit up; I’ve gotta suck your dick now, there’s no getting around it.”
“No, you can’t just suck my dick and get around this.” I said, putting my hand on Willowbud’s head, and pushing away, “What the fuck was that?”
“I told you,” Willowbud growled, stubbornly trying to get my penis into her mouth, “Sister Julia’s got me all horned-up, so in the heat of the moment, my mind was fucked. Don’t take it personally, Brandon; you know I love only you.”
“Really?” I snorted, “Because I haven’t been feeling the love since Julia got here.”
“Ooo, are we having an argument?” Willowbud grinned.
“No-no-no-no-no,” I said firmly, “you don’t get to turn this into a joke; we’re having this fucking talk. What is going on with you and Julia?”
“I’m trying to corrupt her, and she’s trying to save me from Corruption.” Willowbud said simply, “And she’s winning, Brandon, which is probably why I’m not too interested in you right now. There, we had the talk. Now, do you still want that blowjob?”
“Wait…” I frowned, my brain struggling to process what I’d just heard, “what do you mean, ‘she’s winning?’”
“What does it sound like?” Willowbud smiled, “Sister Julia really knows how to push my buttons, and Corruption’s almost left me twice now.”
“The first time, Sister Julia almost scared the bitch away, and the second, she almost convinced me to kick her out. I can feel the connection between us weakening, like a… like a barrier being pulled away, and on the other side of that barrier is the old me. I hate the old me.” Willowbud frowned for a moment, then grinned up at me, her white-lipsticked lips lowering to my tip, “So if you want this little romance to continue, lover-boy, you should consider intervening. Willowbud doesn’t give a shit about you, but Night Eyes wants to suck your cock.”
I hooked my arms into Willowbud’s armpits, and hoisted her atop me.
“What?” she asked, confused.
“I don’t need a blowjob, Willowbud,” I said as she shifted herself into the crook of my side, “I need to know if what we have will last.”
“I won’t make you any promises.” Willowbud sighed, “Promises make liars of people, and I’ve never lied to you.”
“No, you’re brutally honest.” I muttered. Willowbud chuckled her signature chuckle.
“You’ve been spending a lot of time with Her Highness.” Willowbud noted, “Should I be worried?”
“We’re friends of circumstance,” I said, and gave Willowbud a sneer, “and she sucks dick way better than you.”
“All that practice, no doubt.” Willowbud snorted.
“I’ve never known you to slut-shame; why don’t you like Lucilla?”
“She’s a princess.”
“So are you.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t exactly live the royal lifestyle, now did I?” Willowbud retorted. I turned my body until we faced each other, breath on each other’s lips, eyes inches apart.
“You don’t usually hide things from me, Willowbud.” I whispered, “Is it because she’s Julia’s lover? Are you jealous of her?”
“No, that’s not it.” Willowbud said, eyes staring intently back.
“Her voice annoys me.” Willowbud said, then recommenced her journey to my penis. I palmed her face, and stubbornly resisted her teasing licks. She finally sighed her resignation, peeled away my fingers, and revealed an expression that looked entirely out of place on her face: sadness. Just the hint of it, but it was there. “I am jealous of Lucilla,” Willowbud said quietly, “but not because Julia loves her. Every time I look at Lucilla, and see those patterns on her body, I’m reminded of what we don’t have. She has something that I want, but you can’t give it to me. Or maybe you just won’t; maybe it belongs to someone else. Where is Angela?”
“I don’t know.” I answered carefully, “I haven’t seen her since I kicked her out.”
“I’m not sure I believe you.” Willowbud whispered back, the threat lingering on her lips.
“It’s the truth.” I said with as much conviction as I could muster, stopping myself from swallowing the pit that had formed in my throat.
“I hope so,” Willowbud trailed fingertips over my lips, down my chin, and rested them on my adam’s apple, “because if I ever see her again, Brandon, I’ll make a Sentient out of her.” Willowbud drew a slow line across my throat, and I swallowed. She grinned at me, ran her tongue over her white lips, and slowly kissed her way down my belly.
“Are you ready?” Tera asked me. The roar of the crowd swelled around me, within me, seeming to elevate my spirits with the elevation of decibels. Stomping feet thundered in time, a cadence of simple rhythms, of ancient times, of bonfire-lit shadows dancing beneath a heathen sky. It compelled that primal urge within me, that instinct of tribal blood.
“Yes.” I said with a hushed voice, not wanting to ruin the perfection of the moment. We’d prepared all we could, trained until our bodies were drained, practiced until every motion came as naturally as breathing. This was it. This was the moment.
“Alright,” Tera breathed. She turned to me, that killer’s sparkle in her violet eyes, “showtime.”
We stepped from the shadows, and into the light, into the mouth of the beast as it roared our entrance.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, whores and johns, creationists and heretics,” Mistress’s voice boomed over the crowd, “after a day’s delay due to… extenuating circumstances,” Mistress paused for laughter, “The Pussy Palace is proud to present to you: Death Kiss, and the Avenging Angel; the future champions of The Pit!”
Two whores flanked me, making a show of stripping my armor off piece by piece. Tera couldn’t resist sharing a kiss with her attendants as they disrobed her, but that wasn’t my style. I stared fixedly ahead, focusing myself, breathing deeply, feeling the anticipation build, feeling the wetness between my legs become more pronounced with each part of me laid bare. Tera was certainly a spectacle of depraved beauty, but I was the main attraction, and the calls for my name grew louder the more naked I became. My breasts were released, and they jiggled from their armored constraints to the roar of the crowd. A golden chain connected them by my nipple piercings, and I shuddered to think of how it would soon be used against me. My loin strap was freed, and as I was completely exposed, the call of the revelers rose to ear-ringing levels. I raised my arms above my head and arched my back, stretching my body with purposeful lethargy to build the moment. The thunder of the masses grew louder, as if controlled by the elevation of my hands. I unfurled my wings to their full span, and a blissful smile curved across my lips as the roar reached the peak of its crescendo. This is what I live for.
“Since this is a prelude to the championship, and I’m feeling like a generous god today,” Mistress’s chuckle sounded over the audience, “I will not be calling people up on stage. Today,” I felt the platform I was on sinking down, “there is no stage, there is no line, and there are no limits! Have at ‘em!”
Tera exchanged a lip-biting smile with me as the stone barriers Mistress had placed were lowered, and scores of hungry eyes surged forward. All I could do was take another breath, turn around, and fall backwards into the mass of men with a grin on my face. I didn’t struggle, nor protest, nor thrash. Men in a group are animals, but they soon found their places in the pack. I let my head fall between my shoulders and opened my mouth, and it was immediately filled. I opened my hands, and there were two more. I opened my legs, and three men jostled for position, their tips pressing between my options. It was like I was in heaven, and my every desire would be fulfilled simply by wanting it. I screamed around the man ramming down my throat as two men entered my pussy, and the third forced his way up my ass. A ripple of spasms shot up my abdomen as the pleasure and pain sung their debauched harmony, and I stroked the men at my sides with a fervency, matching the desperate pace of the men ravaging me. They stretched my womanhood to excruciating levels, but I just moaned around the man throat-fucking me, and waited for my body to adapt. Surrender is the key to ecstasy, so I didn’t clench, or fight, or even stop sucking for a moment. I let them use me, let them defile me, let them violate my sanctity freely, and in turn, they gave me the pleasure I sought. The pain in my pussy began to recede, the delightful promise kept, and I felt the tension in my nethers began to build already. Now that we’d all found our rhythms, and the ice had been broken, I decided to introduce myself to my new friends. I wrenched my back into an arch, forcing my pelvis down, crying around my gag as the men inside me all reached their maximum depths. I heard a chorus of groans, felt the pulsing of imminent release, and I grinned around the man in my mouth, and flexed those lewd muscles.
And all three men thrust in turn, filling me to capacity, torturing the tender division that separated my channels, stretching my cunt wide. They bucked and heaved, and each forceful thrust caused my heart to skip, my grasping hands to squeeze, my sucking mouth to scream. In, out, in, out; my body was forced into a convex arch, my breasts the pinnacle, the back of my head level with my tailbone. Someone finally grabbed the chain between my nipples, and pulled. It pushed me over. My insides became a torrent of convulsions, my abdomen twisting and writhing in the air, trying to expel the euphoria ravaging me, my body unable to contain it.
“God, you’re so beautiful, Angel.”
“I’ll make you feel good!”
“Do you like it when I do that?”
No, no, no, that wouldn’t do at all. A woman covered in tattoos with a pierced pussy isn’t asking for fucking compliments, and she sure as shit isn’t looking to be doted upon. I rewarded the aggressors, and ignored the sycophants, and the pack of dogs turned to a pack of wolves.
“Come for me, whore!”
“Scream, you fucking slut!”
“Suck it! Suck it! Swallow it all, you fucking skank!”
Much better.Their degradation only brought me to new heights, and I happily complied with their demands. Hands were all over me now, running over my convulsing belly, squeezing my breasts as they were stretched, grabbing my ass and spreading it wide for the man gaping me, holding my legs open, choking me, pulling my hair. I was caressed and abused from the outside as I was relentlessly driven to madness from the inside. I became mindless, a being of sensation, an existence of the moment. I was overloaded with touch, overwhelmed with pleasure, and all I could do, was come. I came, and I came, and I came. Each release compelled me to coil around the men violating me, to suck with more avarice, to stroke with more desperation. I screamed my gagged delight, heaved in waves that started at my shoulders, and ended at my hips. My abs stretched, then clenched, my breasts jutted, then sank, my pelvis thrusted, then twisted, greedily trying to swallow the men into my vile holes, feeling my tenderness stretch and adapt, wanting more, needing more, desperate to feel them pierce me deeper, gape me wider, ruin me, destroy me, leave me leaking and used like the hopeless piece of sex that I was. FUCK ME! FUCK-ME-FUCK-ME-FUCK-ME-FUUUUUUUUUUCK!
I watched from my booth as Astrid and Tera performed their public services to their devoted fans. It was hard to tell, but it looked like Tera had two men in her ass, two men in her pussy, two in each hand, and two in her mouth. Her eyes were rolled back, her body was a twisting display of curves, and her motions were gracefully reactive, as if getting gangbanged was her natural state. I’d never seen a look of such bliss on someone’s face before. Conversely, Astrid seemed to be in combat with herself; one side of her thrashing and bucking as though to escape, the other covetously taking-in all that she could. I decided right then, that gangbangs were not something I’d ever be participating in. They were a sight to behold, but I very-much doubted I could ever handle all that… man. Aggressive, thrusting, stinking, growling, spitting, man. Muscle all shining and glistening… hairy chests and strong hands… hot breath and hoarse groans… Brandon…
I snapped myself out of my contemplation, realizing that my hands were drifting between my legs. Beside me, Justina was snoring loudly. We’d been up all night following Diamond’s progress, which meant that while I was asleep in the astral plane, Justina and Tera had been taking turns using me as a dick-tionary. I’d translated five different dead languages in as many hours, while recounting in real-time everything Diamond had learned on her journey through Sorrow’s realm. Once Diamond had gone through the door, she was in the space between realms, and we’d lost contact. I didn’t know how long it would take, but in the meantime, Justina, Tera and I would learn all we could from Gloria’s ancient books, and see if we could help our astral spy.
“Justina, wake up.” I nudged her. Justina’s eyes fluttered, revealing violet irises surrounded by bloodshot sclera. She was noticeably thinner than she’d been two days ago, and carried herself with an uncharacteristic droop in her shoulders. Monogamy really wasn’t for her, especially when her only source of food was a sterile hermaphrodite; it was like if a wolf decided to go vegan.
“Hmm?” she asked drowsily, almost drunkenly.
“You need to feed.” I frowned at her, concerned, “And from a real man.”
“What, you don’t count?” Justina slurred. “I’m fine, Angela. I’ll eat the leftovers out of Astrid when she’s done.” Justina smiled fondly at the debauchery below us, “That should keep me going for a while.”
“Hey, um…” I frowned, wondering how to phrase my question, “how does your mom fit so many dicks inside her?”
“Like, physically?” Justina asked,
“No, I meant emotionally.” I scowled.
“Succubi are really elastic.” Justina smiled, hooking her left foot behind her head, and over her right shoulder. I raised my (Diamond’s) eyebrows, and Justina’s smile broadened.
“...look, all I’m saying, is that you and I knew each other for what, eleven years? Real love takes time Julia. Now Diamond and Justina might love fucking each other, but that doesn’t mean they’re in love.” I frowned as Justina did the splits across her booth, and Diamond took advantage.
“Let them be, Lucilla.” Julia scolded next to me, glancing across the theatre to where her daughter was, “Good Mother, Justina is flexible!”
“Little gymnast bitch.”
“I’m sorry, but since when is a succubus monogamous?” I said, like I was pointing out a contradiction, which I was, “And for that matter, since when did Diamond become monogamous? Not only that, but now half of her is celibate?!”
“Maybe she’s rebelling against her parents.” Julia sniggered, “She can’t break the mold by engaging in rampant sexual deviance, so she does the opposite. Maybe she’ll become a nun after all.”
“She’s been avoiding us, Julia.” I frowned, “Don’t tell me you don’t see it.”
“This is her first time interacting with new people.” Julia shrugged, “She’s gaging herself against others, trying to figure out who she is socially. It’s just a phase, but you know if you try to interfere, she’ll continue it out of sheer stubbornness.”
“I don’t know…” I narrowed my eyes across the theatre, staring contemptuously at the contortionist succubus; her hands gripping the railing, her knuckles pressing to her ribs, her legs spread across the wall as her torso arched precariously over a twenty-foot drop. Am I such a callous bitch that I actually want her to fall? No… yes. Yes, I am.
“How are my two favorite elves doing?” a cheery voice asked from behind. Speaking of callous bitches…
“We were doing just fine, thank you.” I sneered at Willowbud. She grinned at me as she wrapped her hand in Julia’s crimson strands, and shared a kiss with my girlfriend. Their locked lips parted and opened to exchange tongues, and in the brief space between their coalescing, I saw blackness flow between their mouths. I held my breath, trying not to lose my shit with the idea that a Sentient was currently inside my beloved. Julia smirked around her kiss and drew Willowbud deeper, humming lecherously, and pushing the blackness back.
“Damn,” Willowbud whispered as they parted, “I thought I’d caught you off guard.”
“It’s not your turn, Night Eyes. That’s an infraction.” Julia smiled, running fingertips over Willowbud’s supple lips.
“What’s the penalty?” Willowbud grinned excitedly.
“You know.” Julia wore an uncharacteristically evil smile as she pushed her fingers into Willowbud’s mouth.
“Oh, come on, Sister.” Night Eyes licked those fingers, “Why don’t you just put it in my ass again?”
“Because you like it too much, and I want to see you humbled.”
“Well, you nuns are all about being humble.” Willowbud reached between their legs, “So why don’t you show me the righteous path yourself?”
“I’ll have you repenting like Jade Tao.” Julia smirked, and the two gods connected mouths right in front of me. I left the booth in a huff, not wanting Willowbud to see my rage. Tera and Astrid’s gurgled cries of ecstasy echoed through the stone halls as I dawned a hooded cloak, and stepped beneath the slit threshold of The Pussy Palace. I pulled my hood close around my face, keeping my head bowed, and affecting the gait of an old woman, not wanting to become the instant center of attention for my supposed divinity. All around me, revelers and worshippers waited their turn to be granted entrance to the divine house of sin. The line was kept orderly by the presence of Jade Tao and her Breytan warriors, who stood at stiff attention, their heads moving like swivels on strong necks.
“If you think you’re fooling anyone, Princess, then you’re dumber than I remember.” Sara chuckled as she linked arms with me, “Jade spotted you the second you left.”
“Well, no need to make a scene of it.” I grumbled, “Just pretend you’re helping an old lady.”
“Why are you sneaking off?” Sara asked.
“Last time I checked, I don’t fucking answer to you.” I growled.
“Going to see His Holiness again?” Sara chuckled.
“Don’t I outrank you? Shouldn’t you be calling me ‘Bound One,’ and minding your own fucking business?”
“Probably,” Sara said, taking my hand in hers, “but last time you tried to pull rank on me, you got fucked into a drooling mess.” Sara pushed something against my wrist. Something cold, and sharp, “So if you know what’s good for you, Bound One, you’ll keep your fucking mouth shut, and come with me.”
“There.” I smiled at the young woman as she gawked at her legs. They hadn’t been there before; they’d been brutally hacked off at the knee. Now they wiggled toes from sinewy lengths, and their owner speechlessly flexed her calves.
“Th-th-th-thank you!” she managed to stutter. She threw herself on me, and I made sure the embrace stayed platonic. I patted her on the back, and rocked her comfortingly as she wept into my shoulder. Then I nodded to Bianca, and the woman was escorted out; stumbling, but joyful.
“That’s all the priorities for this morning, Your Holiness.” Bianca said. I noticed she’d stopped wearing her armor while helping me attend the patients, which I was thankful for. She struck an intimidating figure in her golden shell, and I didn’t need my patients anymore frightened than they already were, being in the presence of a ‘god’ and all. The brown Valkyrie bared her toned arms with obvious pride, but covered her feminine attributes with modesty, though she could hardly conceal the bodacious nature of her curves.
“Tell the apothecaries to pick through my fields, and make sure they go easy on the poppies.” I sighed, stretching my back, “I’m getting sick of healing addicts.”
“Are you going to Her Holiness’s show?” Bianca asked.
“Why, did you want to come along?” I grinned at her. Bianca turned beet-red, and I felt like an asshole. “Look,” I said, “I know Astrid was probably your friend and all, and it must be weird knowing what she’s doing, but she’s not being forced into it.” Not anymore, anyway.
“I was never friends with Astrid Skyborne.” Bianca hissed with a vehemence that surprised me, “But it is horrible to see a warrior of her class stoop to such lows. She shames us all. Her mother was right to deny her guardianship.”
“Sounds like you’re feeling vindicated.” I smirked. Bianca relented a guilty smile.
“Ionans are the greatest warriors in the world, and they make sure Ofanians know it.” Bianca sighed, sitting down, “So when their proudest daughter makes a mockery of them all, then yes, I will admit to a little vindication.” Bianca looked slyly at me, “And apparently, Astrid isn’t the only one having trouble with her vows.”
“How did you know about Jade?”
“Winged-warriors are the biggest gossipers in the world.” Bianca chuckled, “Not being able to tell a lie makes keeping secrets so very hard. From what I heard…” Bianca leaned to a conspiratorial distance, her eyes shifting, “…Jade laid with Sister Julia, and Willowbud… at the same time!”
“No way!” I gasped. I knew that, of course; Willowbud had given me the excruciating details of everything her and Sister Julia had done to Jade Tao, but Bianca was finally showing me some personality, so I let her have her moment.
“It’s true!” Bianca giggled, rocking back and forth like the words caused a reaction, “One of Jade Tao’s lieutenants told one of my corporals while on watch, that Jade Tao… I shouldn’t say.”
“Your god commands you to gossip!” I chuckled. Bianca’s face practically split with her grin.
“Well, this all just hear-say, mind you,” Bianca gave herself deniability, “but from what I heard, Jade Tao had intercourse… with her anus!”
“No!” my mouth dropped in an exaggerated show of shock, much to the delight of Bianca.
“Yes!” Bianca was in fits of giggles, “I know, right? What a slut! Oh, Great Creators! I should not say such things about High Guard Tao; she is an honorable woman who was only doing what her god desired, I’m sure.”
“But…” I said, seeing that Bianca had more to say.
“From what I heard.” Bianca tried to casually examine her nails, and failed miserably, “Jade Tao was quite enthusiastic about the whole thing. You see, Sister Julia might’ve made her walls out of industrial-grade steel, but she forgot to put in windows.”
“Oh yes!” Bianca giggled, “Everyone within a hundred yards could hear her!”
“How embarrassing.” I sighed, shaking my head, then gave Bianca a furtive look, and pandered shamelessly to her, “If Jade Tao can even feel shame.”
“Don’t get me started on the Breytans!” Bianca said dramatically, but I knew I’d just opened the floodgates. I eased back into my chair, lit my pipe, and nodded to Bianca’s rapid-fire list of all the dirt she had on every sister of Iona and Breyta.
“…and Sato Tao -that’s Jade’s mother-, she apparently got too familiar with the clan’s wine stores, and they had to stage an intervention!” Bianca hissed after a half-hour’s worth of gossip.
“Well,” I said, “I tell you what, Bianca; thank god I got the Ofanians. You guys are the only clan who’s got their head on straight.” And Bianca’s beam could’ve outshined the sun. Who says I can’t read people? No easier way to bond with someone, then to let them bare their insecurities to you through the timeless exercise of shitting on their competitors. Of course, reading an Ofanian was about as difficult as reading a picture book. I dismissed Bianca, taking a guilty moment to admire the outline of her plump backside beneath her trousers, then I locked the door, and walked to the curved wall of my office. Each of the thirteen trees that structured my arboretum were hollowed along the sides for cavernous rooms, with the core left intact to keep the tree alive. The baobabs acted as dormitories for my legion, while the Great Maple, the largest of the trees, was the public house, office, and home for me, Tera and Justina. Given the immense girth of the Great Maple, the curious mind might’ve wondered why there was so little hollowed-out space compared to the baobabs, and if questioned, the answer I would give would be a ponderous explanation of heartwood in deciduous trees. The truth, however, was that the very core of my maple had been hollowed, and the tree was slowly being sapped of life. I opened the bark-covered wall of my office, and recommenced my work.
“She’d taken out twenty of my best before I got to her.” Sara said, “Probably would’ve had me in the infirmary too, had I not noticed she’d been poisoned by a succubus. Then, it was easy to get her to cooperate.”
I looked around, and noticed that many of the platinum-haired high-bloods were sporting fat lips, shiners, and swollen jaws. The unlucky ones had been sent to Brandon’s temple, but if there was anyone in this whole situation who was truly unlucky, it was poor Freydis Skyborne. When she broke in, she may have thought that the elves wearing habits were Julia’s harmless nuns, but I guessed now she was realizing that the only thing Sara’s girls had in common with the Maternal Order, was their propensity for medieval interrogation. Freydis was the subject of the inquisition now, and they were torturing her in the ways they’d learned firsthand. She was trapped in a stockade that was level with the floor, her ankles shackled in such a way that her legs were forced apart, and her ass was propped high in the air. Behind her, Sara’s lieutenants were seeing just how many pool balls they could fit inside the High Guard’s rectum, and judging by the possessed look on Freydis’s face, her preference would always be “one more.” Freydis Skyborne looked more like her daughter than she ever had before; eyes rolling in her head, drool running down her chin, her mouth gaping and quirking in a stupid smile as she screamed. Her muscular back was clenching along the spine, and behind her, she was wagging her ass in whorish anticipation as an elf lathered a pool ball with her tongue, then slowly, pushed it inside. The clamps that gripped her nipples stretched her breasts to the floor as Freydis attempted to arch her back, a reaction that was a combination of pleasure and pain. The metal clips that pinched her labia glistened with a new shine of her secreted lust, and between her parted curtains, a squad’s worth of dildos had been crammed together. I never would have guessed a woman had so much room inside her.
“She asked for me, specifically?” I asked Sara.
“She did.” Sara looked carefully at me. It hadn’t been lost on me that there was an empty stockade right beside Freydis’s. I knew these elves were fucked-up when I first met them, but I didn’t know until Sara had dispatched the imperial guard by herself that they were dangerous.
“What are you gonna do, torture me?” I laughed, “Do you think Julia will be understanding when she finds out? Have you seen what that woman can do?!”
“I think Her Holiness will be very understanding when I tell her that her beloved princess conspired to kill Willowbud.”
“What?!” I screamed.
“That’s why Freydis said she was here.” Sara said, turning to me and crossing her arms, “She wanted to meet with you, hatch a plan to isolate Willowbud from her protectors, then kill her.”
“I didn’t- I had no- why would I-” I stammered dumbly, panic gripping my mind.
“She specifically wanted you to make sure Julia, Brandon, and Astrid were far from Willowbud, and that Willowbud was out in the open.” Sara continued.
“I- listen- if you could just-”
“She also wanted you to make the Ofanians stop hunting her.”
“Sara, I… I never…”
“And she wanted you to keep Jade Tao from interfering.”
“I HAD NO IDEA!” I finally managed to get out, my face red, my body trembling from head to toe. Sara regarded my outburst with mild amusement, then turned her attention to the defiled High Guard.
“It’s not a bad plan, Princess,” Sara mused, “but there are too many variables. Too many things have to go right…” Sara tapped her chin thoughtfully as I gawked at her. “The championship fight tomorrow night would be about as ideal as it could get. No Brandon, and certainly no Ofanians. Willowbud would want to make herself seen to the rabble she loves so much. She’d leave herself very exposed…” Sara studied me curiously, “Ok, Princess, we’re in.”
“I know what’s inside Willowbud.” Sara said, “Yesterday, I had my knife to her throat, but Her Holiness stopped me. I am loyal to Her Holiness, you must understand, but loyalty sometimes means disobedience, if obedience means destruction; I see that we are like-minded in this. I also see that I’ve greatly underestimated you, Princess.”
“You have been subtle, careful, playing your part to perfection. I wondered why you hadn’t simply stabbed Willowbud in the back, and then Freydis told me that metal can’t pierce the Earth Former. It was a wise secret for Willowbud to keep, but all along, you’ve had an Earth Former expert on your side. It is obvious that you’ve plotted this course with much forethought.”
I almost said ‘what’ again, but I stopped myself, and considered my position. Whether I liked it or not, I was a conspirator, and if I admitted to not knowing of Freydis’s plan, then Sara might decide I wasn’t what was best for Julia. The thing was, I mostly agreed with Sara; especially after what Julia had told me this morning. But even if Sara’s treachery was born of loyalty, it was still betrayal, and having a rogue army that worked against Julia ‘for her own good’ was an incredible threat. I would take charge of this operation to ensure its failure, and tell Julia about it the moment we were alone.
“Release my charge.” I said in my most royal voice.
“She attacked us, and we captured her.” Sara replied, “I can’t deny my soldiers their fun; it’s bad for morale. Freydis doesn’t seem to mind.”
“When she regains her lucidity, Freydis will want to kill you, and the only person who can stop her, is me.” I eyed Sara the same way she’d eyed me, “Freydis is invaluable to me, but you are inessential, Sara. If your continued breathing is a distraction for Freydis, then I won’t deny my soldier her fun; it’s bad for morale. I’m sure you won’t mind.”
Sara smirked at that, and called off her women. They groaned and complained like little girls being told playtime was over, and I suppressed a thought of what would’ve happened if I hadn’t played my cards right. Freydis’s holes were roughly evacuated, her body was unshackled, and she was left in a pool of her own lust, spreading her legs, begging desperately for more. I rushed to her side, pushing the strands of hair away that plastered her face. There was recognition in her gaze, followed closely by a look of utter betrayal.
“It wasn’t me.” I whispered to her, “I didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Freydis.”
Her eyes still burned fever-bright, but her hands moved softly to mine, clasped my fingers, and brought them between her legs. “Touch me,” she hissed, and I gently obliged. Three of my fingers worked into her slit, my pinky slid down her taint, and my thumb caressed her engorged bead. God, she was wet. My digits were soaked and sticky within a second. Freydis’s brow furrowed, her mouth parted in grateful satisfaction, and she cried her mournful euphoria with the gentle swelling of her chest. Her body was intensely reactive; her pelvis thrusting violently when I entered her, her hips shifting needfully with the subtle slide of my fingertips, her abdomen writhing as though trying to expel some great lust that sloshed in her belly. Her eyes were starting to glaze, their blue depths tinging to violet. If Freydis turned, she’d do anything to get to her master. I remembered the shackles in Tera’s safehouse, how the heavy-gauged chains had been torn from the wall like they were nothing. I didn’t have much time, and Tera was currently very unavailable.
“Bring me Justina Autumnsong.” I said, then reconsidered, “And bring Diamond Glendian as well.”
“But Justina is loyal to Brandon.” Sara frowned.
“Did I sound like I was fucking asking?” I said with as much authority as I could muster. I was surprised when Sara clicked her heels, nodded in salute, then strode off. Huh, fancy that. I mused, Now I’ve got an army. At least, until Julia banishes them. Or they kill me.
I licked the last droplets of cum from Night Eye’s shaft as she licked the last of the juice from my petals. Our noses inhaled each other’s scents, our mouths panted each other’s ecstasy, and our bodies mingled with each other’s sweat. Night Eyes had refused to suck me, but she more than made up for it with what she could do with her tongue. I still felt her spit coating my lower mouth, and dribbling from my flushed, lower lips.
“OK.” I said, steeling myself. I didn’t want to get off her; I wanted to stay atop her, feel my belly molding to hers, feel her breath caressing the moist center of my sex. Unfortunately, I had a divine purpose to fulfill. I pushed myself off the corrupted Earth Former, offered her my hand, and hoisted her to her feet. It always struck me as odd how Night Eyes managed to loom, despite being barely over five feet. Her persona was literally larger than life.
“Alright Sister,” Night Eyes said, her white lipstick worn from her lips, leaving them a pink shade of her caramel flesh, “what do you got for me this fine morning?”
“You, me, and Brandon are going to-”
“I said Brandon was off-limits!” Night Eyes snapped with predictable ferocity.
“…are going to play a game.” I finished. Night Eyes studied me intently. “I’m not going to touch him, I promise.” I assured her. She narrowed her black eyes, then nodded slowly. If there was one think Night Eyes loved more than anything, it was games, and her favorite part of playing, was cheating. I’d use that to my advantage.
“What kind of game?” Night Eyes asked.
Since Justina and I couldn’t think of a viable excuse for me not to come with, I tagged along as Sara led us to Julia’s (or as I was supposed to call her, ‘Mom’) reflective cathedral. On the way, I tried to remember what I’d discovered about Diamond’s relationship with Lucilla during my visits to her astral garden. It was a sexual relationship, but it wasn’t the mother-daughter relationship Diamond had with Julia. It was more of an older sister-younger sister relationship. The one time I’d talked to Lucilla as Diamond had been a brief exchange of me informing her of my monogamy, and her chasing after me with a shoe in hand. So… not a great start. We stepped beneath the immense threshold of Julia’s church, scaled an expansive staircase, and were atop the northwest tower after an exhaustive climb.
I’d seen Freydis Skyborne as a memory in Diamond’s garden, but it still shocked me how much she looked like Astrid, sans the haircut and tattoos. She was sprawled on the floor, her form writhing as Lucilla gave her the therapy she craved. With Freydis’s expansive wings flapping, and her muscular limbs flexing with veins and tendons, it almost looked like Lucilla was playing veterinarian to some wild, beautiful creature. Lucilla’s gaze was nurturing and concerned for Freydis, but when it fell to us, it hardened considerably. Justina squeezed my hand, her breathing elevated.
“Of all the people to be afraid of…” I scoffed at her.
“Don’t underestimate her, Diamond.” Justina glowered at me, “She’s much more than the out-of-depth bimbo she portrays herself as. Be careful with your words.”
“Right, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut. Easy.”
“Is Diamond a sullen introvert?” Justina looked quizzically at me as we stepped hand-in-hand toward Lucilla.
“Leave us.” Lucilla called to the elves. They turned, sapphire eyes staring suspiciously at us, then they departed soundlessly from the room. Lucilla watched the one called ‘Sara’ with a scrutinizing eye, then turned her scrutiny on us.
“Well?” Lucilla prompted me, “Got anything to say to me, Sparkles? Not a ‘hi, Aunt Lucilla,’ or a ‘I’m sorry I’ve been such a bitch, Aunt Lucilla’ or even a ‘get fucked you old skank, I’ve found younger pussy to plow?!’”
Her vehemence caught me off guard. “Hi… Aunt Lucilla?” I asked it, trying to peel Diamond’s friendly grin across my face, and only managing an uncharacteristic grimace. Lucilla narrowed her eyes at me, and I realized quite quickly that Justina was right about the woman. Justina cleared her throat uncomfortably, and Lucilla’s ire fell on her.
“Did you have something to say, Justina?” Lucilla snapped, “Or was Diamond’s spunk just stuck in your throat?” Justina, as smart as she was, was not quick-witted. She opened her mouth, then closed it, and swallowed, giving Lucilla the easiest shot in the world with, “Of course you swallow,” and Justina’s face paled just a little more. I had a few comebacks ready to fire, but I stopped them. Diamond wasn’t one to trade words, but she was one to completely misjudge social situations.
“Yup!” I said brightly, and without any irony, “Justina swallows everything!” then I leaned in as though telling Lucilla a secret, “It’s because she needs sperm to survive! Since my semen doesn’t have any sperm, she’s going to clean out all the sperm everyone dumped into Astrid!” And poor Freydis Skyborne let out a wail of anguish so pained, I thought she was dying. Any suspicions Lucilla might’ve had about my identity were squashed with the master stroke of social ineptitude. I was almost proud.
“Holy shit, Sparkles.” Lucilla groaned, though I could see she was trying to hide her smile. Justina took advantage of the opening, and quickly attended to Freydis. She enslaved her, then released her, and Freydis was freed of the effects Tera had laden her with. Her eyes fluttered, her pupils contracted, and she stared fixedly at the ceiling.
“Bound One,” Freydis said through gritted teeth, “your fingers are still inside me.”
Lucilla quickly withdrew her hand, rambling through a string of apologies. Freydis didn’t seem to want to look at anyone, or even herself. She kept her gaze fixed upward, then dead-ahead when she sat up. Lucilla handed her a wet towel, and Freydis cleaned herself carefully, not daring to look at what had been done to her.
“What you said earlier to the elf, about not denying me;” Freydis said quietly, “was it a lie?”
“No,” Lucilla said, placing a tentative hand on Freydis’s muscular shoulder, “but not until after Julia banishes them.” I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know what that was about, but whatever it was, it seemed to ease some of the tension in Freydis’s shoulders. She turned back to me, and gave me a weak, although companionable smile.
“Hello, Diamond.” Freydis said, “It seems you’ve finally gotten to see the ‘ripe butt’ you so coveted. I hope it’s not a disappointment.” It was an awkward attempt at levity, but I guessed given what Freydis had been through, it was a miracle that she had any sense of humor.
“You look like a juicy peach!” I grinned, affecting Diamond’s overly friendly voice. Freydis offered a bigger smile, which faded when she looked at Justina.
“And the one called ‘Tera.’” Freydis said, “You are in league with her?”
“She is my mother.” Justina wouldn’t meet Freydis’s eyes. She was clearly intimidated by the Valkyrie. Either that, or she was mentally running through everything she’d done to Freydis’s daughter.
“Please tell her to stop searching for me.” Freydis said, “I am no threat to His Holiness, but if his Ofanians engage, I will defend myself.”
“You have to leave Drastin.” Justina said quietly, still staring at the floor, “If you die, then Astrid is High Guard of Iona, and Willowbud becomes their master. Mom won’t stop hunting you until you’re far away.”
Freydis looked like she’d say something, then she stopped herself, and turned to Lucilla. Lucilla shook her head, and Freydis nodded slightly.
“Very well.” Freydis said slowly, “I will leave Drastin today. A winged-warrior’s word is bond, so you must know that I will.” Justina nodded without looking up. There was a pregnant silence between the four of us, and it hung heavily in the air. Finally, Lucilla mercifully broke it.
“Astrid and Tera’s performance will be over soon, so you two better be off, or Justina will miss her… meal.” Lucilla looked apologetically at Freydis, whose clenched jaw was twitching. Justina didn’t feel the need for polite salutations, and hurriedly got to her feet, and dragged me with her. Lucilla’s hand clasped mine, and for a moment, she held me still, her eyes pleading. Justina pulled me out of the hold, and Lucilla withdrew her hand sharply, as if worried she’d overstepped herself.
“Bye, Aunt Lucilla!” I called as we left the room. Lucilla raised her hand after me, her posture bowed pathetically, the sadness evident in her eyes. I felt like a total cunt rejecting her as I was, but what could I do? One misstep, and I’d have Julia to contend with. Worse than that, Brandon would have Julia to contend with.
Goddamn, did Julia look good today. She and Willowbud strutted across the mall toward my temple wearing their best outfits: their birthday suits. I spied them from the window of my maple, and I closed the wall of my office. A funky bassline played in my head as I began to strip; the divine threesome was finally happening. About time. I had my pants around my ankles when I saw that the two goddesses had halted before my bamboo entrance, and stood naked in front of the thousands of people who camped on the mall. They unabashedly lauded their nudity to the adulation of the masses, then they stepped through my gate, and quickly threw on clothes once they were out of the public’s eyeshot. What the fuck? So, the divine threesome wasn’t happening; my girlfriend had just turned Julia into an exhibitionist. I sighed and hoisted my trousers up, but not before poor Bianca stepped through the door, and got another unexpected eyeful. Her brown face turned bright red, and her eyes stayed glued to my crotch for a moment, then turned downward to burn a hole in the floor.
“Your Holiness; Her Holiness, Julia Glendian, and Her Holiness, Willowbud-”
“I know, Bianca.” I said, flustered, “Let them up.” Bianca nodded at the ground, then closed the door behind her. A minute later, Julia and Willowbud were sitting across from me, and I was very confused.
“So…” I said after Julia had explained herself, “…we’re going to… play Capture the Flag with orphans?”
“That’s right.” Julia nodded, her ruby lips smiling in that pious way that reminded me of my mother. Please don’t awaken something in me; the Sorenson family can only stand so much incest.
“I thought it was fucking stupid too, but she’s the boss for now.” Willowbud grumbled. Somehow, this had something to do with Julia and Willowbud’s ‘temptation game’ but I had no fucking idea what. If the good sister thought Willowbud gave a shit about orphans, then she was poorly mistaken; Night Eyes had made scores of orphans.
“Ok.” I nodded, “Why not? I guess it could be fun.” Willowbud gave me a look that told me she disagreed, and that my agreeing with Julia was a betrayal. Well, fuck her and the stick up her ass; Capture the Flag was fun. “And,” I added, smirking at Willowbud, “my team is going to kick the shit out of your team.”
“Do you really think I’m that easy to manipulate?” Willowbud scowled.
“Yes.” I grinned at her. Her scowl darkened.
“Fuck. Yeah, I am.” She sighed, “Bandon, I am going to fucking destroy you.”
“Because you’re such an inspiring leader.” I sneered, “I’ll have your team calling me ‘Daddy’ before this is over.”
“My team is literally going to kill your team, Honey.” Willowbud grinned, “I turned a pack of urchins into a gang of murderers when I was eleven; what do you think I can do with disenfranchised orphans now?”
“I can grow them all ponies and puppies; you can make them big rocks. We’ll see who they like better.” I laughed, “Your team is gonna abandon you the first chance they get.”
“My team will bathe in the blood of your offerings.”
“And my team is going to play fairly, and with good sportsmanship.” Julia said pompously, but added a little smile that told me she wasn’t being entirely honest. Judging by the look in Willowbud’s eye, her banter hadn’t been entirely dishonest. This was going to be one fucked up game of Capture the Flag.
The grassy mall had been divided into three sections, marking the territories of the three teams. The crowd had been cleared, and now amassed at the sides of the newly-made field, staring excitedly and confusedly as Brandon, Sister Julia and I inspected the lineup of twenty-one orphans Sister Julia had selected from her temple. I had a moment of déjà vu; I’d once been in a lineup like that, eagerly awaiting the team captain to pick me, and praying that I didn’t get picked last. It must’ve been when I was very young, and still in Arbortus, because it sure as shit didn’t happen when I was in Drastin. Looking at the shape of the kids before me, it didn’t look like any of them had ever played a game in their lives. To them, the only game that had mattered was, ‘don’t starve today.’ I knew I should be focusing on the real game, ‘the temptation game,’ but I was too distracted with winning this children’s game. I couldn’t help it; I was a competitor to the core.
Sister Julia will probably play mostly fair, but Brandon is going to cheat his ass off. He’ll make his territory a maze of jungle, so I’ll need little guerilla soldiers to wade through the brush. Nymphs; I need nymphs. There were three nymphs; a twelve-year-old boy, a girl who looked about ten, and one who was barely five.
“You, boy.” I pointed to the eldest of the three. The boy strutted forth, sneering at the other orphans, gloating that he’d been picked first. I liked the arrogance. Brandon scowled at me, and I grinned back. I know your game, and I’ve got your MVP, motherfucker. Brandon begrudgingly picked the ten-year-old nymph, and she walked shyly to her team captain. Julia studied the lineup, then unwisely chose a goblin, leaving me the last of the nymphs, who I greedily took under my wing. I smirked at Brandon, very much enjoying the way frustration played across his face. He picked four elves, one centaur (who I really wanted, but the fucker nabbed him before I could), and one human. I added some defensive muscle with four preteen orcs, and some speed with an elf, while Sister Julia made it obvious that she was intentionally picking the worst, and most pathetic of the children. Not only was her team comprised entirely of dwarves and goblins, but half of them had missing limbs. Fine, be a charity case, you dumb bitch.
“Jade Tao, Astrid Skyborne, and Bianca Blackwing will be the referees, but they will not referee their own gods. Jade will be Brandon’s ref, Bianca will be Night Eyes’s ref, and Astrid will be my ref.” Sister Julia said, “The rules are simple. The flags must be accessible to everyone. If you get tagged in someone else’s territory, you go to the jail at the corner of the territory you were tagged in. If you get tagged out of jail, you must go back to your territory before you can attack again. When one team captures another team’s flag, that team is coopted into the victor’s team. Now, before we begin, I’d like to say a prayer for-” and I put up a thirty-foot wall surrounding my territory, a stone maze within it, and a citadel in the very center. Sister Julia’s muffled squawk of indignation barely sounded from the other side of my wall, and I turned to my little army with a maleficent grin on my face.
“Alright team, here’s how this is gonna go down.” I said, huddling my soldiers together, “Sister Julia picked all the weak little shits, so we’re not even going to worry about her. Brandon’s team’s the real threat, but he went mostly for speed,” I gestured to the maze, “which I’ve negated. You, big guy,” I pointed to the biggest of the orc children, “what’s your name?”
“Grok.” Grok said, puffing out his chest.
“You get in a lot of fights, Grok?” I smirked at him.
“I win a lot of fights, Your Holiness.” Grok grinned back, producing a thick fist scarred with teeth marks.
“That’s what I like to hear.” I said, grabbing his shoulder, and turning to the other orcs, “When I’m not here, Grok’s in charge. Grok, when you see Brandon’s little minions encroaching on our territory, I want you to make sure they regret it. Bianca won’t let you beat on them, but maybe you could aggressively tag them.”
“Oh, we’ll tag ‘em, Your Holiness.” Grok smiled behind an evil brow, smashing his fist into his palm. I liked the little bastard more and more.
“Don’t bite on distractions, and don’t give chase if they run away. Set up ambushes, pummel the fuckers, then send ‘em limping to jail. Spread out and patrol, and whistle when you need help. If you need to get through a wall…” I knocked three times against the maze wall next to me, and a portion of the rock slid away to reveal a tunnel, “it’s that easy. Use it to your advantage. Here’s the flag; put it in the citadel in the middle of the maze, and keep your fastest to guard it.” Grok nodded, and he and his three minions disappeared into the maze. I huddled my offense together. “Alright team, you three and me are the invasion party. You, elf, what’s your name?” I asked the dawn-blood, picking her specifically for her nymph heritage.
“Ternia.” Ternia said shyly.
“And you, what’s your name?” I asked the nymph-boy.
“Barkmoss!” Barkmoss said proudly.
“Barkmoss, you’re the distraction.” I said, “They’ll be planning for you to be the flag-runner, so we need to use that. Ternia, I want you to scout ahead, use your ears and eyes to find the defenders, then relay back to us. Barkmoss is gonna hit the treetops to pull the defenders off, meanwhile, me and…” I glanced down at the youngest of my team.
“…Tulipfall.” Tulipfall barely whispered.
“…Tulipfall are gonna sneak around for the flag. Barkmoss, do you know bird calls?”
“All of ‘em!” Barkmoss grinned.
“Great. Robin means ‘the flag is west,’ cardinal means ‘the flag is east,’ and Eagle means ‘we’ve got the flag.’ Loon means ‘the enemy is coming for you,’ and crow-caw how many are coming. Dove means ‘run back and help the defenders.’ Got it?”
“Yeah!” Barkmoss said excitedly, then grabbed Ternia by the wrist, and raced up the steps that rose along my side of the wall. They jumped over the side, and disappeared into the dense forest that had grown in Brandon’s territory. I took Tulipfall by the hand, and made to race after them, but the little nymph was an anchor on my arm.
“What?” I asked her.
“I’m scared.” She whispered at her feet. I dropped to my knee until our eyes were level, and placed a tender thumb on her chin, raising her gaze until it met with mine.
“Do you know who I am?” I asked her. She nodded.
“Grok talked about you all the time at the old place.” Tulipfall said quietly, her lips trembling, “He said you were the ‘baddest lady in the whole world.’”
“That’s right, Tulipfall. I am the baddest lady in the whole world.” I said, “Now, do you think there’s anything in that forest is scarier than me?”
“No,” Tulipfall hissed, a tear running down her cheek, “but I don’t want to go in there; not with you.”
“Hey,” I started compassionately, wiping her tear away with my thumb, “quit being such a fucking pussy, or I’ll give you a reason to be scared of me.” And I yanked the little turd onto her feet, and dragged her blubbering ass up the steps. I was not going to lose to Brandon just because one of my star players was barely past shitting her diapers.
Freydis looked better after having taken a shower, but barely. Her fingers balled into fists and her knuckles cracked as she stared out the window, where Brandon, Willowbud and Julia had turned the mall into some kind of multi-terrain field. Above the thrice-divided field, Jade, Bianca, and Astrid flew, watching the contest closely.
“Astrid is still the same woman.” I lied to Freydis, “She endures her hardships with honor and dignity, and has never fallen to temptation. Every day she tries to save Willowbud from Corruption, no matter the punishment.”
“Of course, she does.” Freydis said quietly.
“But you don’t think she can succeed? You don’t think Julia can succeed?”
“No.” Freydis said simply. Her eyes flitted up and down, and I didn’t have to look to know they were following her daughter. “Your elf is right, Bound One. Willowbud needs to die. It would be best if Julia did it herself to ensure that Corruption dies too, but if she won’t, then we must do what we can without her.”
“Freydis, you’re talking about killing a god.” I said, “And if I let you do that, Julia would never forgive me.”
“You can lie.”
“But you can’t.”
“I have found that telling partial-truths often achieves the same aim.” Freydis replied, “I told that little whore that I would leave Drastin today, and I will. I will walk out of the gate, then I will turn back, and walk in. If I can deceive, then so can you.”
“Give Julia time.”
“Time acts against those who do not act, Bound One.” Freydis frowned, “How long will you wait? Until Julia comes to your bed with black in her eyes?”
“Shut the fuck up!” I snarled. Freydis stared placidly back, bowing her head slightly. She knew she’d hit a nerve, and I knew she’d meant to.
“Flora says Julia is volatile and dangerous.” Freydis said quietly, “I believe Julia is good and kind, but that doesn’t mean Flora is wrong. Julia is both.” Freydis stooped until her eyes were practically touching mine, “It’s not a matter of betraying Julia, Bound One; it’s a matter of stopping Julia from betraying herself. You have done it before.”
“Passion.” I muttered. Freydis nodded, and pulled out an ivory-tipped arrow.
“I need three-hundred yards, and an immobile target.” Freydis said, “Any winged-warrior will spot me within a half-mile, so I need the Breytans to be absent.”
“I didn’t agree.” I hissed.
“She won’t even know what happened.” Freydis continued, “I’ll put it through her left eye. One moment, life; the next, nothing. No pain, no horror. It’s the least I can do for my matron god.”
“The Creators have enemies around the world, some even older than the Iona Guard. Look,” Freydis pointed to the hieroglyphics etched onto her arrowhead, “the Kane Collective. An easy shift of blame, a public death, and an honorable funeral. Julia can live the rest of her life believing she was right about Willowbud, and you can live the rest of your life with her.”
I stared at Freydis for a long time, and she stared back, unflinching, unashamed. She was right, of course. It had to be done, and soon.
“What about Flora?” I asked.
“She is bedridden.” Freydis sighed, “She is becoming feral with Tera’s lust. She won’t be a problem.” Freydis dared a hand on my knee, and spoke softly, “Julia will never know it was you, Bound One. If I am caught, I will end myself before I’m made to talk, I swear it to you.” And I knew she was telling me the truth. Wouldn’t it be more of a betrayal to Julia if I did nothing? But this was different than Passion; this wasn’t a desperation shot at the end of the game, this was premeditated murder. I hated Willowbud, but I guessed it was really Night Eyes I hated; I’d never actually met Willowbud. Willowbud was innocent, a victim more than any of us, but I couldn’t risk Julia for a woman I’d never met.
“Tomorrow night, at the championship fight.” I barely said the words, “I’ll make sure Julia is out of Willowbud’s booth, and Sara will make sure the Breytans are compromised. You’ll have a clear shot.” I gave Freydis a deathly stare, “Don’t fucking miss.”
It felt strange racing through the treetops. I instinctively knew where to put my feet, when to duck, and what to grasp, but the instincts felt like another woman’s, and the memories they produced felt like another girl’s. Willowbud’s. Is this how Sister Julia wants me to feel? Is this why she made Brandon play along? My heart beat to the cadence of my arboreal dance, my soles slid expertly along the bark, my hands confidently grabbed knobs and branches as I swung without fear through the canopy. God, did it feel good. The otherness of the instincts began to subside, and the primitive voice within sang its tribal joy. This is right. This is what I’m meant to do! I actually laughed as I leapt from tree to tree, sprinting without slowing, diving head-first through tight spaces in the branches, flipping over obstacles so I didn’t break stride when I landed. Tulipfall raced after me, keeping pace without much effort, using her small body to navigate the canopy in ways I couldn’t with my woman’s frame. I was sweating and panting when I skidded to a stop on a pine branch, my heart thundering with exhilaration, my face split with a near-manic grin.
“Holy shit, that was fucking fun!” I laughed, and laughed even harder at Tulipfall’s terrified face. The mournful call of a loon rang in the distance, and my ears perked up. Three crow-caws sounded after it, and my grin widened. “Hide!” I giggled, pushing Tulipfall behind a needle-covered branch, then lying flat on the one next to it. I held my breath and turned to the little nymph, putting a silencing finger over my lips as footsteps thundered below us. Tulipfall looked ready to piss herself, but she kept her hands muffling her cries. I looked between the needles at the defenders below us. Brandon had given the little bastards tigers to ride.
“You said you saw two of them?” Brandon’s voice said.
“Yeah, and one of them was definitely Her Holiness.” An elvish child’s voice answered.
“I think I saw Tulipfall with her.” Another elf-child laughed. Tulipfall suppressed a squeak next to me, and I heard the cats below us shift suddenly.
“You hear something, girl?” Brandon asked his tiger.
“They’re around here somewhere, I know it!” One of the elves giggled excitedly. I carefully reached into my pocket, and pulled out a single gold coin. I launched the piece with a flick of my thumb, and heard it explode against a tree fifty yards away. There was a rapid shuffle beneath me, a few whoops, and the defenders took the bait. I let out the breath I’d been holding, and narrowed my eyes at Tulipfall. She shriveled against the tree, trying to make herself even smaller than she already was. There was a galloping sound below us, then another loon call.
“They’re right here!” a voice screamed from directly above us, and Brandon’s nymph-girl came plummeting from the tree tops. I swore, grabbed Tulipfall, and literally threw her at my assailant, but I wasn’t nearly strong enough to toss children any great distance, and Tulipfall disappeared into the brush right as the nymph-girl landed on me.
“Tagged!” she grinned in my face.
“Tagged!” Jade Tao echoed from above, the smallest smile on her face.
“Fuck!” I screamed, and pushed the nymph-girl off me, hoping she’d miss the branch, and break her neck. Unfortunately, the nimble child thought my attempted murder was merely a game, deftly caught the branch, and swung back up, sticking her tongue out at me. Brandon and his troops came bounding after, identical shit-eating grins on all their faces. Had I anymore coins, I might’ve killed the lot of them. As I was, stuck in a tree with nothing but bark and leaf, I was practically helpless.
“Hi, Honey.” Brandon cooed up at me, “Barkmoss was really cheap, you know that? All I had to do was offer him a unicorn, and he gave up your signals.”
“Sorry, Your Holiness!” Barkmoss called, straddling his ill-gotten prize below me.
“It’s a horse with a fucking horn.” Brandon laughed, “You were betrayed for a retarded pony.”
“You’re the reason your parents died, Barkmoss!” I growled. The nymph-boy just laughed. Drastin orphans heard worse than that before breakfast. If they got breakfast. I glowered down at the lot of them as Jade hoisted me into her strong arms, and flew me to jail. Brandon waved teasingly after me, then he and his cohorts, including the traitorous Barkmoss, rode their beasts to the border.
“Did you just try to kill a child, Your Holiness?” Jade Tao asked in that neutral, curious way with which she spoke.
“It wasn’t my best moment.” I sighed, “Don’t tell Sister Julia.”
There was nothing quite like a gangbang to make an ancient succubus feel young again. I was so full that my belly was still distended when I got out of the shower of my safehouse. My flesh was youthful and radiant, my muscles were loose and lithe, and my mood was absolutely splendid. Not only had I been filled to capacity, but Freydis Skyborne was leaving Drastin, which meant I didn’t have an imminent battle with a Valkyrie looming over my head. Justina was looking noticeably better after she’d cleaned Astrid out, and was lying next to Angela on the bed as they tore through the books.
“…there it is again: Chaos!” Justina exclaimed, “No one calls her ‘Corruption’ before then. She must’ve changed!”
“But how do hosts change Sentients?” Angela asked, “It sounded like Greed turned to Sorrow because her host killed herself; is that really the only way?”
“No,” Justina pondered, tapping her lips, “I think the host has to challenge the Sentient’s preconception of itself. Greed believed her host committed suicide as the ultimate act of avarice, and since Sentients personify their titles, they naturally gravitate to extremes. In order for Greed to truly become ‘greed,’ she believed she had to convince all her hosts to kill themselves, and so became ‘Sorrow.’”
“So, how the hell could Willowbud convince Corruption to change?”
“We need to understand Corruption’s motives before we can figure that out.” I said, lying on the bed between them, enjoying their warmth squishing me from both sides. Angela shivered at my seductive touch, unconsciously biting her lip as she read her book. It was adorable. Her blossoming sexuality was quite alluring to me, and I was silently jealous that my daughter had taken Angela’s male virginity.
“Right,” Justina nodded, “but Corruption’s dealings still don’t show a pattern. Here, a dwarven senator, here, an elven prince, here, a pirate lord. Is she attracted to positions of power, or is that just historical bias? Corruption might’ve infected a peasant, and no one would ever hear about it.”
“And we’re running out of books.” Angela said, tossing one she’d just finished into the ‘completed pile,’ which was growing quite large, “Where did Gloria get all these anyway?”
I turned over the front cover of one of the ancient volumes, and showed Angela the faded stamp.
Property of the Hektinar Central Library.
“So, I guess this is it then.” Justina sighed, “Thanks a lot, Arbitrus.”
“We still have this old bible.” Angela said, holding up the oldest of Gloria’s books.
“There are literally thousands of theories for each verse of the Maternal Bible.” Justina replied, “Scholars have exhausted every possible meaning of every syllable of that book, and not an ounce of truth has been squeezed out. It’s a fairy tale, Angela.”
“I believe in it.” Angela grumbled.
“Really?” Justina giggled, and Angela gave her a dark look.
“Brandon and I were raised on a different version, but the story’s mostly the same.” Angela said, “Our god is genderless, but I quite like the idea of a ‘Holy Mother.’”
“This is Halok’s bible.” I said, taking the book from Angela, “I suspect Gloria did not mean to leave this behind. This was important to her.”
“Well, it makes for a good paper weight.” Justina snorted.
“You won’t be laughing when you’re burning forever.” Angela grinned, then turned on her side, and ran her eyes across my body, “We’re not getting anywhere here; let’s see what Diamond’s found out.”
“Untethered One.” An imperious voice said from beside me. I looked to my left, and saw a woman made of gold. Her skin glistened with it, her sclera and irises shined with it, and her hair waved with it. She was much bustier than before, almost exaggerated in her curves, and upon her naked flesh, she wore the wealth of empires. Diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and more; they ornamented her like a holiday tree, and reflected the theme of this new realm. A great pyramid of gold rose like a mountain from a field of opals, trees of amethyst trunks bore emerald leaves, onyx paths curved through deserts of axinite. The melancholy left me, and when Greed put her hand on my shoulder, I felt the predictable avarice swell in its place.
“It is a pitiful thing,” Greed pontificated airily, “that a woman of such wealth as me, should desire the company of another, but such things cannot be sidestepped, I suppose. We are social creatures, after all, and if I must have you, then I will have all of you, Untethered One. Will you be forever mine?” and Greed got on one knee, and presented me with the largest diamond I’d ever seen.
“Yes!” I squealed, and once she put the ring on my finger, we were on each other again. This time, we weren’t making love in the rain, but fucking each other like animals. Our hands entangled in each other’s hair, our lips moved over each other’s bodies, wanting to taste every part, greedily sucking, licking, nibbling. We pressed our bodies along the lengths of each other, and shifted with voracious movements, making a bed of the treasure. She held me inside her clenching pussy, her slit dripping and smearing across my pelvis, and she wouldn’t let me exit her for a thrust, so great was her gluttony of my gift. Our pelvises stayed connected as we drove back and forth, gems and coins falling from our bodies as we rolled through piles of wealth, our lips staying locked, our eyes staying glued. She wrapped her legs around my waist, dug her heels into my flank, and compelled me to drive harder, faster, all the while she met my motions with her own; grinding, gyrating, moaning, screaming, coming. Her golden breasts jiggled forth with the arch of her back, her proud chin jutted with the tilt of her head, and she clawed at the bed of riches, crying out as I did. I filled her womb, and she held me in stasis, soaking every drop I had to give, before releasing me.
“Oh, how I missed the touch of another!” Greed sighed, lighting a cigarette from a long holder, “You cannot know, Untethered One, how boring it gets here. The creature comforts are fine things, but a woman of my appetite needs carnality to sate me.”
“I suspect you’re insatiable.” I grinned at her.
“You would suspect right.” Greed winked, and rolled over for more. After the fifth time, I’d at least sated my needs. Coins stuck to my sweaty body, and Greed’s golden nectar shined viscously from my deflating shaft. The Sentient herself lounged atop of a pile of gemstones, inspecting an ornamented sword with passing interest.
“What is your mortal name, Untethered One?” Greed asked.
“Diamond.” I answered. Greed grinned broadly at that, clearly approving.
“You have come to ask me about the most ancient one, Diamond.” Greed said.
“Yes.” I answered, “Will you tell me?”
“Some say knowledge is the greatest treasure of all, and curiosity, the greatest form of greed.” Greed mused, studying me, “But, what’s the harm? You are mine forever now, so I will indulge your ravenous curiosity.” Greed slid down her pile, creating little waterfalls of coins in her wake. She took my hand in hers, her grip remarkably strong, and she led me down the onyx path of her realm. I noticed that Greed’s kingdom was much larger than Sorrow’s was, and though it was just as lifeless, the opulence more than made up the difference. We stopped at a clearing, where the bare rock lay in violent contrast to the shining surfaces around it.
“What is this?” I asked.
“This is where the most ancient one stood.” Greed curled her lip, “She really ruined the continuity, you know that?”
“Tell me about her!” I said, my excitement only exaggerated by Greed’s influence.
“She was black all over.” Greed motioned to her body, “She stood right there, and she looked at me like I was a fucking peasant. Then she left.”
“That’s it?!” I cried, exasperated.
“No, she did the same thing when I was Sorrow.” Greed said, rolling her eyes. “She came to my graveyard, and mind you, I was not in a good mood, and she just stood there, and stared at me. I can’t say she ruined the atmosphere, but she did remove the soil from my center.”
“You remember being Sorrow?” I asked with a hushed voice.
“What? Of course! I was her not five hours ago!”
“And… can you see what’s in your center here?” I asked carefully.
“It’s a splendid room, but I never found the time to decorate it.” Greed sighed, “If you wish to visit it, it’s only a-” and Greed stopped dead, her eyes going wide. She took me by the hand, and dragged me down the path, practically skipping with her glee.
“What?” I yelled.
“Visitors!” Greed sung operatically. I wondered if Arbitrus had somehow managed to break into Sorrow’s realm, then break into Greed’s. Then I wondered if Corruption had abandoned Willowbud to find out who was snooping around in the astral plane, and I felt a chill run through me. But no, it was just two goblins. They stared with jaws hanging open at the realm of riches. The threshold they’d stepped from seemed to be nothing but a gilded doorframe, but a third goblin stepped through it as though there was room on the other side. It was a one-way door.
“It’s been almost six millennia since the gate beneath Fedar has opened.” One of the goblins said, bowing before Greed. “Most of our people had lost hope, and left the mines, but one clan stayed. We are here to serve you, oh Gilded One, in the hope that you may pass your gift to one of us.”
“And I would be honored to do so!” Greed grinned, “But first, we must consult the sun dial, and…” Greed looked at a massive disk that hung from a tower, then pouted her lips, “…it looks like you’re about two-hundred years too early. Sorry.” And the goblins turned to statues of gold. I yelped and stumbled back, and realized that the newcomers were not alone. Thousands of golden statues littered the area, most of them goblins, but some of them were dwarves, and a few humans shined above the masses.
“Why?” I gasped.
“Because they came too early.” Greed said, like it was obvious, “Punctuality is important, but early guests are never appreciated.” I stared dumbly at her. Why would Greed care about staying on a thousand-year cycle? For that matter, why would Sorrow?
“There’s another door, isn’t there?” I asked.
“What?” Greed looked alarmed, “No! I am the first.”
“Knowing what you know now about Sorrow, can you tell me unequivocally that you are the first?”
“Of course, I…” Greed trailed off, seeming uncertain. She looked at her pyramid, and narrowed her eyes, “…it’s not an empty room, is it? It’s a hallway that I can’t see.”
“I think so.”
Greed worked her lips, tilting her head this way and that. “I am… curious.”
Greed’s center was atop her massive pyramid, and I was drenched with sweat by the time I reached it. Greed sauntered into the room like she’d just gotten up from a nap, and inspected the cavernous chamber with a critical eye.
“What can you see that I cannot?” Greed asked me. I stared at the statues that rested on pedestals lining the bejeweled walls, and gulped. The one closest to me was of Greed herself, and could’ve been easily mistaken for the Sentient, were it not for the lack of white rims surrounding her metallic irises. The second statue was silver, and though it still mostly looked like Greed, she had aged significantly, and there was a haunted look to her lined face. The third statue was made of steel, and it was of a woman so old, she could hardly be considered alive. There was no mistaking the look on her face now: madness. The fourth one was made of glass, and her face was dead, mutilated, and twisted with horrific mania; eyes rolled back, mouth hanging from an unhinged jaw, hands clawing at her elongated face. I looked at the floor, and saw the unmistakable marks of footprints leaving bare rock on the tiled surface. I followed the tracks with my eyes, and saw that they disappeared at the top of the steps, then reappeared before the barren place Greed had shown me, then disappeared again. I followed them back the other way, and saw that they came from the black iron door at the end of the hall.
“Can you see this?” I asked, pointing to the tracks. Greed looked down, and frowned.
“She’s ruined my floor!” Greed huffed.
“What are you not telling me about her?” I hissed.
“I’ve told you everything I know.”
“Can you lie?”
“Sentients are the personifications of emotion, Diamond; we cannot deceive.” Greed looked across the room, “Whoever lives behind that door, she knows about the most ancient one. I must know too.”
“I think Corruption has done something to her.” I whispered, “I don’t think you want to be that woman.”
“Nonsense! Spirits cannot change each other. Only mortals can change those they are melded with.” Greed shook her head, as though trying to convince herself. She took a step past the first statue, and winced. She took a step past the second statue, and fell to her knees. Her color turned to silver, her body began to shrivel, but she still crawled forward. It wasn’t bravery that compelled her, but her own nature, her need to have knowledge, to take what had been stolen from her. She past the third statue, and collapsed onto her belly. She was the color of steel now, and her body grated against the tiled surface like her flesh was made of it. I ran over to her, and screamed when I saw her face. Twisted, horrible, a mockery of life. The lavish beauty that had been Greed, was now hardly more than a corpse that grinned without lips, and stared without eyelids.
“Drag. Me!” she managed to growl, and I grabbed her metal hand, and hauled her forward, my body bent against the weight. We passed the fourth statue, and I lurched forward, the sudden loss of mass sending me careening into the iron door. An agonized shriek split the air, and I stared with mouth agape at the torn-off limb in my hand. It was broken glass, twisted arthritically, knuckles misshapen and fingers mangled. The sound coming from behind me wasn’t elvish at all, but of some tortured beast in its death throes. I took the ruined hand, clasped my own around it, and broke it to shards when I squeezed the knob. I screamed, my hand searing with pain, blood running down my wrist. The door didn’t budge. I turned slowly to the horror behind me. Its mouth was a gaping, toothless hole, its eyes bulged and rolled, its nose was gone. It clawed mindlessly forward, its remaining arm shaving against the tiles with every movement, causing her shrill cry to grow even more terrible. The sound throbbed in my eardrums, stabbed against my temples, and pulsed behind my eyes, like a fever that gripped my brain and slowly pulled it apart. I wanted to shove the thing backward past the statues, and return the creature to the avaricious monument she’d been, but I steeled a breath, carefully grabbed Greed’s remaining hand with my uninjured one, and guided it to the doorknob. I turned it, and the shrieking mercifully stopped.
I could hear the whooping and laughing of Brandon’s team as they ran through my stone maze. With Ternia and me in jail, and no attackers to contend with, Brandon’s entire team was free to run roughshod through my territory. With my defenders outnumbered and without mounts, it was only a matter of time before Brandon got my flag. It’s just a stupid game. I thought to myself, but if there was one thing I hated more than anything, it was losing games, even stupid ones. Competition was more than a passion, it was an obsession, and I guessed Sister Julia knew that. Was this her way of humbling me? To make me sullen and bitter over something as trivial as a kid’s game? I didn’t understand it.
“No, Your Holiness; you must follow the rules. You can only get out of jail if one of your teammates tags you out.” Jade Tao said, grabbing me and hauling me kicking and punching back to prison. It was the fifth time I’d tried to escape illegally, and the fifth time Jade Tao had plucked me from the soil like I was nothing. Soil. Fucking soil. If there was one thing more useless to an Earth Former than sand, it was soil, and Brandon’s territory was covered in it. I pouted on the fertile ground, my arms petulantly crossed, my hate-filled gaze fixed on Jade Tao as she stared placidly back. She’d been wise to make sure she wasn’t wearing metal, or I would’ve turned Sister Julia’s new toy into pulp.
“I fucked you in the ass.” I sneered at her.
“Yes, you did.” Jade nodded.
“You screamed like a whore.”
“I quite enjoyed the experience.” Jade nodded again.
“I have herpes.” I lied (at least, I hoped it was a lie).
“Then I also have herpes.” Jade nodded for a third time, and I sighed. There was no getting to the woman. Beside me, Ternia was sniffling, still stung by Barkmoss’s betrayal. I guess she had a little crush on the boy, but I had no sympathy. If Ternia knew Barkmoss well enough, then she should’ve known he was a rat piece of shit, and that made Ternia stupid, and I hated stupidity. Another whoop echoed from across the forest, followed by a series of yells. One of Brandon’s teammates had gotten my flag, and now they were being pursued by Grok and his orcs.
“You’re a stupid cunt, you know that?” I grumbled a Ternia. She sobbed in response, and I felt a little better. I wondered what other words I could use to torture the ten-year-old, when a little face burst out of the bushes. Tulipfall. I shot upright, my heart racing as Tulipfall raced toward me. She tagged my hand, and I yelped, hoisted her on my shoulders, and sprinted back to my territory. The trees began to thin, and my wall showed through the thicket. The yells of my orcs and the laughter of Brandon’s team grew louder as I neared, and I could tell whoever had the flag was getting close to the border. The pounding of hooves sounded less than fifty paces away, the escalating scream of victory blowing from the rider’s lips. I pushed my fist into the wall, and opened it just in time to see Barkmoss atop his unicorn, three strides away from scaling the steps. I enjoyed the look of utter horror that crossed his face, then I impaled his unicorn through the skull, and sent the little nymph-boy careening over the top. He skidded up the steps, and sprawled out, the flag clutched in his hand.
“Tagged, you little shit!” I cackled, palming his horror-stricken face.
“Tagged!” Bianca echoed from above, scowling at the gruesome display beneath her. I was about to desecrate the remains of Barkmoss’s beloved pet just for good measure, but Bianca anticipated my cruelty, and flew the weeping boy to jail before I could. I sighed, and stomped a foot into the rock. Through the tons of stone, an image of my maze crystalized in my mind, with all its inhabitants. I grinned, and a second later, I heard seven stifled screams. Brandon, along with all his teammates, were now trapped in stone boxes.
“I waited until they all crossed, then I came running for you.” Tulipfall said on my shoulders.
“Good girl.” I smiled up at her, and she offered me a little smile in return, “Do you want to help me rub it in their faces?” I asked her, and her little smile broadened.
“Hey, Mr. Stinky-butt!” Tulipfall giggled, pounding Brandon’s box.
“She’s five, Brandon.” I laughed, “You were outsmarted by a five-year-old.”
“Yeah, that sounds about right.” Brandon’s resigned voice said from within, “Are you going to let me out now?”
“What do you think, Tulip, should we let Mr. Stinky-butt out of his box?”
“Um…” Tulipfall tapped her chin, then grinned evilly, “no!”
“My sentiments exactly.” I chuckled, “Let’s take a leisurely walk through his territory, shall we? No need to rush.”
“What about Julia’s team?” Tulipfall asked.
“What are they gonna do? Limp over the wall?” I laughed.
“No,” Tulipfall said, making a drum out of the top of my head, her little hands playing a disjointed rhythm, “but they could dig under it.” I stopped. Dwarves and goblins, expert excavators and miners. That crafty bitch! I stomped my foot into the rock again, my soles puncturing the earth, sending the waves deep into the bedrock. The waves bounced back, showing me a perfect image of a little, crippled dwarf industriously mining his way right beneath my citadel. A second later, the little shit was staring wide-eyed into my grinning face, pissing his trousers as his lips trembled.
“Hi Bernard!” Tulipfall giggled at the boy.
“Hi Bernard.” I echoed softly. Bernard blubbered as he wet himself, kicking his misshapen legs pathetically. I set the boy onto the ground, and dusted the rock shavings off his shirt. “Tell me,” I said, watching his eyes grow wide as razor-sharp rocks grew toward his belly, “where’s the rest of your team?”
“Th-th-th-th-they a-a-are… th-th-th-they…” and Bernard burst into tears. I looked over my shoulder to see that Bianca was watching me with her arms crossed. So, torture wasn’t an option. I sighed, wondering how I was going to get my answers, when Tulipfall made the realization for me.
“They’re in His Holiness’s land!” she gasped, “Your Holiness, if they get the flag before we do-” and she was interrupted by a loud cheer from Sister Julia’s side. A moment later, Sister Julia was standing atop my wall, her weight on one hip, the smuggest look on her face as she dangled Brandon’s flag between her fingers. Never in my life had I wanted to hate-fuck a person more.
Below us, the gods were bickering over the rules. Mistress was outnumbered by quite a lot now, and to make matters worse, Ternia and Barkmoss had both defected to Brandon’s team. That left my god with four orcs, and a very young nymph girl. I frowned, pondering exactly what it was Julia was trying to accomplish here. This game was obviously just one turn in the larger game, but I couldn’t see how beating Mistress in a children’s contest would affect Corruption at all.
“I heard you put on quite the show.” Jade said beside me, flapping her wings as we circled the mall.
“I always do.” I smiled at her.
“You have become quite a sexually experienced woman, Astrid Skyborne.” Jade produced a small smile, “Your prowess in the brothel is almost as infamous as your skill in The Pit. Tell me, do you enjoy sex or violence more?”
“They are complementary vices.” I said, “The passion before a battle is more intense because of the imminent threat, and the violence after passion is sweeter because the body has been sated.”
“And the audience of both vices accentuates the experience, undoubtedly.” Jade replied, her smile quirking just a little more.
“If you’re not careful, High Guard Tao, you too, might find yourself on display.” I chuckled, “Then you can tell me how you like it.”
“And I would do so without shame.” Jade swam through the air, her kimono noticeably more revealing than it had been yesterday, “It is liberating to not be bound to codes, but to the rule of a woman. I am finding that I quite enjoy these physical delights. Who knows what other discoveries will open to me? What other experiences that would otherwise have been denied by the Breytan Codes? If you were to become High Guard…”
“…I will not have this conversation, Jade.” I said, neglecting her honorific. She smiled that polite smile again, but was not deterred.
“…if you were to become High Guard, would you rewrite the Ionan Codes to suit the desires of your god?”
“The Codes are eternal.” I frowned, not liking where Jade’s questions were going.
“But you have broken almost all of them.” Jade replied, “Do you still believe that they are right?”
“You Breytans are a flexible bunch,” I said sharply, “but Ionans are not so easily bent. It is our duty to guide our god down the path of righteousness, not just blindly obey her, though we will follow direct orders. Iona seeks to mold benevolence from divinity; mindless obedience does nothing to help. If anything, it spoils.”
“Is this the result of ‘molding benevolence?’” Jade gestured to my tattooed nakedness.
“Careful, Jade.” I bared my teeth.
“You know I mean no offence, Astrid Skyborne.” Jade’s returning smirk held the smallest hint of threat, “But every day that Freydis does not act, her captains on Iona grow more restless. They wish to serve their god, but are held in stasis while Breyta and Ofan reap all the honor. Any day now, I suspect a liaison from Iona will come, and they will request that you take the mantel.”
“And I will deny it!” I yelled, then gestured to my body, “And besides, who would ever follow… this?!”
“Iona would.” Jade said softly, “When Freydis refused you the title you’d rightfully earned, and you did not protest, they saw your honor. When you took the blade you’d won, and left your peak to seek the Earth Former, some Ionans thought you were insane, but many saw your unyielding faith. Then every Valkyrie of the three peaks saw your statue on the Gratoran Wall, and you became a legend overnight. Not only had you found the Earth Former, but you’d lain with him… or her, as we now know.” Jade eyed me inquisitively, “Ionans are stringent in their codes, and none more so than you and Freydis. The rest look to you two to guide them. With Freydis’s standing weakening by the day, and yours growing stronger in time, it will only be you holding the codes aloft, and how will your people view them, seeing you as you are? Will they blindly follow the hypocrisy, or will they demand that you show them the path you have taken? The better path.”
“It is not a better path.” I hissed. I could not deny the swell of pride I felt when Jade spoke of the opinions my people had of me, but I could also not deny the codes that had been ingrained into me by my mother since I could fly.
“Is it not?” Jade tittered, “We’ve known each other all our lives, Astrid Skyborne, and I think I can count the number of times on one hand that I saw you smile on Iona. In Drastin, it seems that you are always smiling.”
“Happiness and righteousness are different.” I frowned, “People are inherently wicked things.”
“Who says wicked is wrong?” Jade flew upside-down beneath me, “Who says wicked is ‘wicked?’ Who makes up these laws of morality? Who wrote your codes?”
“And her dust has become dust, Astrid Skyborne.” Jade’s almond-shaped eyes narrowed, “What of Droktin, or Gratora, or Feradiotus, or Hendrika? Did your people believe them to be lesser than Iona? Do you believe Willowbud to be lesser than Iona?”
“Of course not!” I bellowed, fists balling.
“Then why should a dead god’s morality supersede the one you serve?” Jade still stared at me with that studious expression.
“Why do you ask so many fucking questions?” I snarled.
“Because yesterday, you and I almost killed each other.” Jade said, her face relaxing into a regretful expression, “And I do not desire to cross blades with you again, old friend. The great tragedies of history were not started by great men, but by the weaker men who followed them. I do not want us to be history’s weaker women.”
“What are you saying?”
“I do not believe that my god will win the game she plays.” Jade said, flying closer to me, “I have come to this conclusion in solitude, and am prepared for the ramifications. When Sister Julia is inundated with Corruption’s gift, I will become the woman she needs me to be, and Breyta will become the army she needs them to be. I suspect we will be conquerors then, and will be expected to partake in the hedonisms of war. She has already shown me the pleasures of sex and punishment, and I know that even darker pleasures will be equally seductive to me, as they have been for you.” Jade’s breath caressed my lips, “I am beginning to believe that these rules we brace ourselves with are contrary to our nature. I am beginning to believe that Corruption’s truth is the only truth, and I think Sister Julia is coming to that belief herself. Soon we will be allies, Astrid Skyborne, and together, we will carve our names into history.” Jade pressed her lips to mine, and before I could reciprocate, she dropped away, leaving her kiss to burn its memory across my mouth. She smiled as she fell, then she turned over, caught the wind, and glided to the gods. I stared blankly after, my heart throbbing in my chest. How many nights had I lain awake, tortured by my guilt? How many times had I suffered under Mistress’s punishment because I could not break the mold I’d been cast in? And Jade Tao had shed her codes easier than she’d shed her kimono. Maybe Iona’s codes did need to change; maybe the codes of a dead god had no place under the rule of a living one.
“Do not be too keen to find wisdom in a Breytan’s words.” Bianca said above me, “They are a flexible bunch, though I doubt any of us are as flexible as you, whore.”
“Were you eavesdropping, you snooping cunt?” I snapped at her.
“Your lips read just fine from ten spans away.” Bianca smirked back, “Even if they are exceptionally thin.”
“His Holiness seems to think they’re just fine.” I grinned, licking my lips. Bianca’s face contorted in predictable rage. She was still a woman, after all, in the service of a handsome, young god. “Tera told me you blushed like a maiden at the sight of His Holiness’s cock. Did you cry when you touched yourself afterward?” Instead of taking the bait, Bianca wisely decided not to repeat yesterday’s mistake, and flew away. I watched her with slight satisfaction, but I did heed her words.
“Hey, Grok!” Bernard called, standing on legs bulging with muscle, “Why don’t you come over here and try to give me a wedgy now, you pansy!” I’d outfitted all of Julia’s crippled orphans with new limbs, and they stood outside Willowbud’s wall tauntingly flexing them. Now that Barkmoss and Ternia were both on my team, I had a decided advantage in foresting Julia’s third of the field. It was Julia’s two-thirds now, since I was technically just her vassal. I supposed it was better that Julia won, because then neither Willowbud nor I could dangle this victory over the other’s head, which we would certainly do for the rest of our lives. Was that conducive to a good relationship? I didn’t know. This was the first relationship I’d ever been in. Was every relationship a competition? Angela and I never really competed. Sure, we’d play games, but it never felt like a desperate struggle for power. Was it… I trailed off, realizing I was daydreaming about my sister again. One relationship at a time, player. Which reminds me…
“Hey, uh… Julia.” I said, clearing my throat. She turned to me, that same, kind smile creasing her red lips. God, she was hot. Sparkling freckles dusted apple cheeks that blushed beneath big, emerald eyes, one of which was curtained by a drape of crimson hair.
“Yes?” Julia asked.
“Willowbud told me about what you two are doing, and…” I twisted my lips, “I think you should stop.”
“Huh.” Julia frowned, crossing her arms beneath her ample breasts. Holy shit, they were big. Almost as big as Astrid’s, and on a much smaller frame, “Did she tell you to ask me, Brandon?”
“Duh,” I chuckled, “but I agree with her. Just let things be, you know? Things are going good, so why stir the pot?”
“You think it’s fine that your girlfriend is possessed by an ancient spirit of evil?” Julia was incredulous.
“It’s been fine so far. No reason to think it won’t continue to be fine, unless someone fucks it up.” I scowled back.
“What does Angela think?” Julia eyed me.
“I haven’t seen her since Gloria’s.” I wasn’t liking where this was going, “And I don’t see how her opinion matters here.” Julia snorted derisively, and turned until she was facing me entirely.
“You know, it’s funny.” Julia said, “When I was in Gloria’s house, if Diamond hadn’t told me Angela was there, she would’ve never existed to me. I couldn’t hear her, nor see her. Then, she was suddenly part of me in a way no one has ever been. Not Passion, nor Diamond, nor even Lucilla was as close to me as Angela had been for those two minutes, because in those two minutes, I’d known all of her as though her mind was just an extension of my own. And do you know what most of Angela was?” Julia studied me, “Most of Angela, was you, Brandon.”
“Yeah, she’s my sister.” I growled, “Gloria fucked with my head, and-”
“Who are you trying to convince?” Julia said, putting a tender, yet authoritative hand on my shoulder. I marveled at how easily she made me feel like a petulant child being lectured by his mother.
“I’m trying to convince you to stop this bullshit with my girlfriend.” I mumbled.
“Are you?” Julia smiled. God, those lips! “Or are you trying to convince yourself that you still want to be with her?”
“What the fuck do you know about it?” I snapped, though with not nearly enough fervor to be convincing.
“Ask yourself why you are attracted to her.” Julia said, undeterred by my dispirited outrage, “Is it because she’s beautiful? She certainly is, but so are Tera and Justina, and you’re not dating them. Is it because she’s your equal in power? You don’t really seem like the power-hungry type. Or…” Julia looked slyly at me, “…is it because she wants you, for you? Is it because for the first time in your life, someone else desires you, not only despite your faults, but because of your faults, because of your insecurities, because of your… darkness.” Julia’s brow furrowed a bit, then relaxed again, “Are you attracted to her because she loves you?”
“Yes.” I said quietly. That was the reason I wanted Willowbud, because she loved me for me like no one else ever had.
“And do you love Corruption back?” Julia asked, and it was like she’d just dumped cold water on my head. It left me stunned for a moment, just long enough for Julia to slip one lethal thought past my defenses. “You’re the Life Giver, Brandon; you can see the secrets of the world in ways no one else can, but you choose to be blind.” Julia whispered the words, then let them trail behind her as she walked away, her fingers sliding from my shoulder. I looked at where her touch had left me, then I slowly looked across the field. Willowbud was watching us, of course, her face twisted in rage when she saw Julia touch me. But she wasn’t the only one watching. It was a shadow in broad daylight, barely the hint of an outline, barely discernable from the woman it had melded with. Maybe I’d always seen it. Maybe I’d caught a glimpse of it in my periphery, at the edge of a mirror, in the distorted reflection of a wine glass, and maybe I’d pretended I hadn’t seen it. But there was no denying it now. It moved out of synch with its host, as though the connection between them was malfunctioning somehow. Black skin, a wide, hungry mouth, white irises burning like coals against an obsidian backdrop. Corruption looked at me from across the field, and for the first time in my life, I knew true horror.
I guessed it was an innocent, platonic touch, but it still left me burning with fury. I told the bitch not to touch him, and she’d fucking done it anyway. Brandon looked at me from across the field, then disappeared into the brush with the rest of his team, including Barkmoss and Ternia, the traitorous fucks. I ground my teeth, worked my jaw, then hopped down to my team. They were noticeably deflated, being outnumbered, and now woefully out-muscled by Sister Julia’s enhanced former-cripples. Only Tulipfall seemed to have high spirits.
“C’mon guys, we can do it!” Tulipfall insisted, trying to marshal Grok and his three orcs. Grok sent an annoyed kick to Tulipfall’s ass, and she tumbled nimbly with the blow, obviously used to being delivered it. It was an oddly-familiar reaction, and I was surprised at the flash of déjà vu that came with it. I shook the thought from my head, and huddled my team together.
“Alright bitches,” I started, looking each of my soldiers in the eye, “I know it looks like shit out there, but believe me, the kind of shit you’ll find back here is much, much worse, so don’t even think about running off.” Each of my soldiers averted their gazes. They were tired, afraid, and discouraged. That wouldn’t do at all. “Hey, pussies!” I growled, “Look at me when I’m talking to you, or I’ll cut your fucking eyelids off!” and that got their attention. “OK, here’s the plan…” I started again, but trailed off. Tulipfall was staring fixedly at me, her eyes trembling and reddening in attempt not to blink, her frown fixed in concentration. Déjà vu hit me again, even harder this time.
A man holding a crossbow in his hand. “Don’t even fucking blink.” He says to me as he steps back. Everyone is watching, only excitement in their eyes as my terror reflects in them. I don’t breathe, I don’t blink, I don’t even want my heart to beat. The man aims his crossbow. It’s unsteady; he’s drunk. “Just stay still now, you hear?” he says behind a sardonic smile, then pulls the trigger. The bolt thuds into the apple atop my head, and all the tension in my body snaps. I piss myself and everyone laughs, but I hardly notice. All I notice is the copper penny he pushes into my hand. When I stumble out of the bar, the other kids are waiting for me. One kicks me, and I tumble with it, but another has a fist waiting at the other end, and it sinks into my belly when I leap to escape. The air shoots from me, spit sprays from my mouth, and my bloodshot eyes bulge. They take my money, they buy tobacco and beer, then they run back to the orphanage, leaving me gasping on the ground. I would go hungry again that night.
I snapped back to reality, my head ringing with the unwanted memory. I had words to say, but they didn’t reach my mouth any longer. There were other words in their place.
“What orphanage are you from?” I asked. I already knew the answer, of course. This was Sister Julia’s game.
“Mrs. Barney’s Children’s Home.” Grok said, still staring intently at me.
“That old cunt.” I smiled fondly, “Does she still have that switch with the notches in it?”
“You know Mrs. Barney?” Tulipfall gasped.
“I lived in Mrs. Barney’s home for three years,” I said, “though I doubt she remembers me. I used to sleep in the cupboards and closets because my bed would always get stolen.”
“The cabinet under the sink is the comfiest.” Tulipfall said, “She has kitchen towels you can use as pillows.”
“Yeah,” I said, feeling my throat tighten slightly, “but the spiders were the worst down there.”
“It’s better than the broom closet!” Tulipfall proclaimed, “That one has the biggest rat in the world!”
“Scrappy?” I swallowed the knot that had formed, “Does he have a missing tail?”
“Yeah!” Tulipfall giggled, “He’s so mean!”
“Unless you give him…”
“…blueberries!” Tulipfall laughed delightedly, “Then he won’t bite you!”
“You’re an orphan?” Grok said the words cautiously, like he couldn’t believe it.
“Yeah.” I replied. It wasn’t true, but it also wasn’t a lie. I had been orphaned by my own mother. I had been sent away with a sack of gold on a ship full of strangers, all because… I snapped myself out of the moment, and huddled my troops once again. “OK team, here’s the deal: we’re fucked. There is no way we are beating two gods, plus seven roided-up diggers, and nine mounts; not even if we cheat. So, what do Drastin orphans do when there’s no way to win?”
“What?” Grok asked excitedly.
“We flip the fucking board.”
I glanced over at Brandon, sitting astride his tiger, staring fixedly ahead at Night Eyes’s wall. I wondered if I’d gotten to him, or if my foray into psychological manipulation had been a fool’s errand. It had been a gamble, but it wasn’t the endgame of this turn in the temptation game; I was merely hedging my bets. He wouldn’t look at me, which meant I’d angered him, but I knew he’d get over it. Brandon didn’t seem the type to hold a grudge. Night Eyes, on the other hand, seemed the type to let a minor insult fester until it was a life-defining vendetta. I wondered how she’d react to losing to people she couldn’t just kill. That wasn’t the only point, obviously. By now, Night Eyes had undoubtedly figured out the origin of this batch of orphans, and hopefully, it was jarring some painful memories. When I had emptied Drastin’s many orphanages into my temple, I had told Sara to inquire about a white-haired nymph. Once she’d identified Mrs. Barney’s orphans, the rest of my plan had fallen into place. Tulipfall had been an absolute godsend. In fact, I actually believed the Holy Mother had dropped the little nymph-girl right into my lap. Would she be the weapon that would finally dislodge Corruption? Would she be the… what in the Good Mother’s name is THAT?!
An enormous silhouette emerged from Night Eyes’s territory, standing over a hundred feet tall. It was a stone monstrosity in the shape of Tulipfall, whose big, innocent eyes and smile contrasted the terrifying immensity of her form. She lumbered forward, each step shaking the earth, and bringing her shadow closer, until it cast over all of us. Riding atop the head of the moving statue, was Night Eyes and her team, waving tauntingly down at us.
“Well,” Brandon sighed, “fuck this.”
“It’s slow.” I mused, “We could run over to her side, take the flag, and run back before she even gets to our base.”
“In case you didn’t notice, she brought her flag with her.” Brandon said, pointing to Tulipfall, who was waving the flag over head.
“So… we win?” I laughed.
“Does it feel like we won?” Brandon grumbled, “Goddamn it, she flipped the board on us.”
Giant Tulipfall stepped over us, her footfall so tremendous that I had to hold on to a tree to keep from toppling over. After five more such steps, she leaned forward, examined the fortress of trees Brandon had made to guard our flags, then raised her massive foot. She gave the defenders just enough time to come screaming out of the fort, before she crushed the trees to woodchips. She removed her foot, sifted through the wreckage, then triumphantly held up the two flags between her stone thumb and forefinger.
Grok and his cohorts ran down Giant Tulipfall’s arm to gloat. They were met with cries of ‘cheater!’ and ‘that doesn’t count!’ and ‘you actually lost, you know,’ but when the outcome of a game is uncertain, the side who claims victory the loudest is the one that wins, and after seeing a one-hundred-foot statue demolish their fort, Brandon and Sister Julia’s team didn’t have that victorious spirit. I smirked down at the pair of them, noting with some satisfaction that Brandon looked away the moment our eyes connected. Beside me, Tulipfall reenacted the scene by roaring and stomping on imaginary trees. She cackled manically when her foot snapped a twig, and she rose her arms above her head in an exaggerated show of megalomania. She reared back her head for another victorious roar, and when her light-green hair tumbled from her horns, I saw it. An orange amaryllis was tucked right under her left horn. My breath caught in my throat, and my heart slowly sank. I reached forward, my fingers trembling, and I gently pulled the flower from its hiding place. Tulip immediately felt its absence, and she reared on me, snarling, baring her teeth, forgetting who I was, or maybe just not caring.
“These only grow in Tentigo. Is that where you’re from?” I asked her, my voice barely coming from me. She didn’t listen, she just clutched desperately for the flower in my hand. “Answer me, Tulipfall.” She stopped, her eyes brimming with tears, their droplets spilling in streaks down her caramel face. She nodded.
“Do you know what happened to your parents?” I asked her. Her bottom lip trembled, but no sound came out. I knelt until our eyes were level. “Did their eyes go black, like mine?” Her face contorted, her chin bunched with creases, her brow knitted. She let out a high, piercing wail, and dropped to her knees. I didn’t know what to do. I just knelt there, staring at the girl whose parent’s I’d buried under a thousand tons of rock. I’d thought there’d been no survivors, I’d thought Corruption had gotten all of them, but no; there had been one left. Just like me, on that ship from Arbortus before it crashed into the Drastin docks. Only I killed those men. I killed those men, and I killed everyone in Tentigo, and this is the one I missed. Part of me wanted to kill her. Part of me wanted to correct the mistake, to bury that part of Willowbud where she’d died. But another part of me, a quiet part of me, told me to let her go. She’s a survivor like you were. A hider. A scavenger. A thief when she needs to be. I was none of those things anymore. I was a bandit, a reveler, and a murderer when I felt like it. This girl wasn’t anything like me! This girl had a future! Unless I take it away from her.I reach forward, I grasped Tulipfall’s head, and I pressed her against me. I held her as she cried, rocking back and forth. A secret tear threatened to fall from the corner of my eye, and I brushed it away before it could stain my face. I knew what I had to do.
The sanguine picture of Willowbud embracing Tulipfall was warped by the shadow. It was writhing, shifting unnaturally, white irises rolling into her head, her face contorting in great agony. Her eyes caught mine, and she stopped. Her neck striated with her pain, and her black body trembled with the tension, but she stayed perfectly still, like a stalking predator who knows she’s been spotted. Her eyes narrowed. I quickly dropped my gaze, trying to quell the pounding of my heart as I tried to look innocuous by kicking at the grass. I slowly dared a glance upward, seeing the black, sinuous length of a leg, the gentle swell of a belly, the protrusions of breasts, and then the burning, white gaze of eyes, staring at me from above a knowing smile.
“When I found Tulipfall, I knew it had to be fate.” Julia pontificated beside me, “How else could you explain-”
“Quiet!” I interrupted. Corruption was easing back into Willowbud, the pain that had wracked her seeming to dissipate. Whatever conflict there had been was over.
“Brandon?” Julia asked, then lowered her voice, “Brandon, what can you see?”
Corruption stared at me, longing, loathing, love, hatred, expressions alternating with the subtle changes in her burning eyes. She fixed on one; a smile above irises that halved beneath her drawn brow. Her smile spread, revealing perfect, white teeth that contrasted the blackness. The smile curled into a grimace, and the eyes that raged above it were manic.
“She’s going to kill her!” I gasped. Julia exploded next to me, the shockwave blowing me off my feet, sending an impulse through the trees. She rocketed toward Willowbud, but Willowbud paid her no heed. Atop the statue she’d made, Willowbud pulled Tulipfall away, wrapped a hand behind Tulipfall’s head, and placed the other on her chin. She was going to snap the little girl’s neck. Corruption watched me intently as Willowbud’s elbows flared for leverage. Julia was a missile of white heat, moving so fast that the air exploded in thunder around her, but she was still too slow. Everything was too slow. The world seemed to move like molasses in the space between heartbeats. Julia’s streams of fire cascaded from her in flowing sheets, Willowbud’s arms locked beneath their elbows as her hands curled to gripping hooks. Corruption gave me a final look, then smiled down at the little nymph. She kissed her. Willowbud pressed her lips to Tulipfall’s upturned mouth, and Corruption breathed her gift into the child. It flowed into Tulipfall, somehow glowing black, then it settled into every inch of her, and Tulipfall’s body relaxed into Willowbud’s arms.
I stopped above them, my heart thundering in my ears, my body roaring with flame. Tulipfall rolled out of Night Eyes’s arms, and looked up at me. Her eyes were completely black, seeming to bear no irises, nor pupils. She grinned at my horror-stricken face, as if nothing amused her more, then she leapt from the top of her own statue, skidded down her arm, and flipped into the trees. I heard the fading sound of her child-like giggles, but the mirth was void of innocence. The tiny outline of her body popped from the other side of Brandon’s newly-made forest, then she disappeared into the alleys of Drastin without a look back.
“Why?” I asked Night Eyes.
“I wanted to take her pain away.” Night Eyes responded, her eyes distant as she regarded the place Tulipfall had been.
“You ruined her.” I whispered.
“I saved her.” Night Eyes whispered back. It sounded like she had been crying, but that couldn’t be true. She looked at me, but I couldn’t see if those black eyes had been bloodshot. “You wanted me to see myself in her.”
“Well, I did. Tulipfall was just like me, and that’s why I gave her Corruption’s gift. Now, she can do the things she has to without fear. Now, she can survive.”
“You turned her into a monster.” I hissed.
“Drastin would’ve done that to her anyway. Willowbud would’ve died out there, but Night Eyes survived. Tulipfall would’ve died out there, but whoever she is now, will thrive. You can’t save everyone, Sister Julia.”
“You could have let her go.”
“So could you have!” Night Eyes yelled, and I was surprised to hear true anger in her voice, “You could have let Tulipfall be, but your vanity got in the way, and you threw her into my jaws just like you did with those three men yesterday. But they’re just sinning orphans and whores, doomed to burn in hell forever, so who really gives a fuck about them, right?!”
“Night Eyes, I-” and I was cut-off by the press of her lips, the clasp of her hand on the back of my neck, the entanglement of my tongue muting the words that my own wanted to speak. She breathed Corruption into me, and I felt myself grow languid with the euphoria of it. I pressed to her, feeling my pussy flush and swell, feeling my cock grow hard against her belly. Mostly, I felt the sweet fire in my veins, the self-assuredness, the power. Apprehension leaked from me, guilt leaked from me, pity leaked from me. I felt the blackness scorch through my lungs, and I didn’t breathe it out. I held it deep. I took a breath from Night Eyes’s mouth, and pushed the blackness deeper. Good Mother, it was intoxicating. I could feel myself changing, feel the woman I wanted to become move to the forefront. The Flame of God; her voice, her judgement, her will. I closed my eyes, hooked my arms around Night Eyes, and pulled her deep into my body. She moaned as our lips rotated, as our noses touched, as our breasts deformed, and our heat throbbed. Diamond, Lucilla, God. I pushed Corruption out of me, my eyes welling with the regret of it, with the horrible vacancy she left behind. Just keep a little, like last time. You’re strong enough; you’ve already proved it. I sucked back in the last of the black gift, and felt it surge within me. It was more than just a taste; it was a full drink of the Sentient. My eyes rolled into my head with the relief, and I grabbed Night Eyes by the supple domes of her ass, and hauled her legs up to wrap about my waist. Oh no. I thought, my lips creasing with overwhelming euphoria, my eyes leaking with it, oh no, oh no, oh no…
I came whirling back to reality to find that all five and a half inches of my cock were buried in Tera’s butthole. Her bronze glutes were molded to my pelvis in pillowing warmth, her sinuous back was resting its comfortable weight on my belly and breasts, and her head was resting on my shoulder, her face staring into my eyes with a wicked smile stretched across it.
“Hey traveler,” Tera’s snakelike tongue slithered from her mouth, and tickled the crease of my mouth, “welcome back to the real world.”
“Oh… fuck.” I managed. My cock was aching, throbbing as though about to burst. Between my legs, I could feel Justina’s tongue exploring my leaking femininity, and her wet fingers teasing the circle of my puckered rim.
“We decided it was mean to keep using you like a cow.” Tera began shifting her hips slowly, pushing her glutes firmly against my crotch, impaling my skin-splitting erection deeper into her delicate, tight filth, “So this time, we waited until you were back before we made you come. It’s been so hard for us.” Tera’s breath was hot on my lips, her eyebrows were knitting into a needful, almost desperate expression, “You can’t know what you do to a woman.”
But Tera had a very good idea of what to do with a man. Her channel clenched around my length, her sphincter slid along it, squeezing the tension upward. Her seductive body molded like clay to mine, her flesh wafting her sweet aroma into my nostrils, mixing with the floral scent of her hair. Justina’s reptilian tongue slid along the slit of my virginity, gently probing my pleasure centers, finding my weak spots, and caressing them wetly. Her fingers never penetrated my anus, but rubbed it, massaged it, compelled it to dilate on its own. My pussy leaked its heinous delight down the stretch of my taint, and pooled along the winking aperture below. I felt a foreign pressure within me, a tension that seemed to grow with each pass of Justina’s tongue. The pressure in my cock was much more familiar, and it was building to a boil, causing me to thrust against Tera’s plump backside as she grinded against me. She cried out, her body undulating in a wave that jutted her breasts forward with a jiggle, then arched her back to distend an abdomen striated with muscle, then finally, pushed her ass into the hollow of my pelvis, and buried my cock into her tight heat. One of Justina’s fingers finally entered my anus, and she curved it upward, indenting my vaginal floor from the other side. It was too much; way, way too much. My head flew back, my antlers scraped the headboard, and I screamed in abject delight as my orgasms came together. My hips shot upward on their own accord, and Tera’s body shot with them, sending the voluptuous succubus into a writhing dance of ecstasy atop me, her lust squirting all over her daughter. I blew into Tera’s ass, coiled my anus around Justina’s finger, and drowned her with the ecstatic expulsion of my womanhood. I let out a breathless croak as the feeling roiled through my loins and nethers, then I finally gained control of my lungs, and heaved in a gasp. Tera took the opportunity to push her tongue into my mouth, and I was sated with the sensual invasion of a succubus’s kiss as the last throes of orgasm wracked us. We collapsed into a sweaty heap, and Tera unwound her tongue from mine, her violet eyes brimming with gratitude.
“Well?” Justina asked, her chin resting on her mother’s pubic area, “How was your first female orgasm?”
“I thought we agreed to let Brandon give it to me.” I said, recovering my breath.
“I didn’t go inside you,” Justina smirked, then sucked on the finger that had just been in my ass, “well, not inside your pussy, anyway. I just licked the frosting. Now, how was it?”
“It could’ve been better.” I smirked at Justina, but the look I gave her told her she was amazing, and the lecherous expression she returned told me she knew that.
Once Tera had soaked all my seed into her flesh, we set out trying to decipher what we’d learned from Diamond’s foray with Greed.
“…so,” Justina continued her last thought, “Greed remembered being Sorrow, and Sorrow didn’t remember being Greed, but Greed is actually older than Sorrow. That means Sentients lose something when they move forward through their evolution, but regain it when they go backward.”
“That’s right,” Tera said, “and if our theory holds true, then Corruption wouldn’t remember being Chaos, but Chaos would remember being Corruption, if she went backwards. It’s more than likely there are more iterations of what we know as ‘Corruption,’ but they’re too ancient to have been recorded.”
“Here it is!” I exclaimed, pointing at the text from an ancient goblin tome, “The Gate of Fedar was excavated by goblin miners over fifteen-thousand years ago. It was later condemned and barricaded, as no goblin that ventured through it ever returned. On what would later be called ‘The first day of Aurum Amas’ a man threw himself through the gate in an attempted suicide, and later returned claiming to have seen the goblin god of riches, Aurum Amas. Every day there-after, a sacrifice was sent through the gate. The final day of Aurum Amas ended a thousand years later when another sacrifice returned with great wealth. Clerics noted in both instances that the sun was a blood-corona-sliver, a millennial astronomical phenomenon where the entire sun is tinted red except for the bottom curve, which remains yellow.”
“That’s why Greed as a sundial in her realm.” Tera pondered, “But what is it about the blood-corona-sliver? Why does she care about an astronomical-“ and Tera’s sunroof caved in with a loud crack, and a flash of white. A set of massive, folded wings streaked with gold stood at the center of the room, then unfurled to reveal Bianca, with Brandon in her arms.
“Alright, everyone pack your shit, we are leaving!” Brandon announced, “Diamond, you can come with if you want, but there’s not gonna be any ‘goodbyes’ with Mommy if you do. Justina, I’m sorry, but we’ve got to leave Ursa here; she’s too conspicuous. Tera… get some fucking clothes on. For that matter, all of you get some fucking clothes on! Come on, chop-chop! Your god commands you!”
“Brandon, what the hell is-”
“RIGHT NOW!” Brandon yelled over Tera, and his voice was high with panic. He ran over to Tera’s trunk, heedless of the state of the room, and began shoving random items into the trunk. Bianca, much more collected than Brandon, examined the piles of books, the taped-up pages, and the bulletin board.
“What have you three been doing?” Bianca asked.
“Fucking each other, obviously!” Brandon yelled, seemingly unaware that he was tossing unwashed dildos and butt plugs into Tera’s trunk, “That’s all anyone does, isn’t it?! We all fuck each other without even thinking! We fuck when we’re horny, we fuck when we’re happy, we fuck when we’re sad, and we fuck when we’re angry! We just fuck, fuck, fuck, not giving a shit about who, or what we’re actually fucking!” Brandon slammed Tera’s trunk closed, then hauled it under the twice-broken sunroof. He looked at the three of us. “Why are you all just lying there?! Your god gave you a fucking command!”
“Brandon, what happened?” Tera said slowly, cautiously getting off the bed. She moved toward Brandon, staying Bianca’s intervention with a dark look.
“No time for questions; we need to leave now!” Brandon said, “We’ll go to… Arbortus! No one lives there anymore! You probably know all the best hiding spots, and I can work on fixing Passion’s womb. We’ll just hunker down for a decade, and see how the world is afterward.”
Tera put a hand on Brandon’s shoulder, and he tensed, then immediately relaxed. Instead of succumbing to lust, all the frantic energy seemed to seep from him. He exhaled, pressed his back against the wall, and slowly slid down it.
“I’ve been such a fucking idiot.” Brandon mumbled to Tera as she cuddled into his side, “You all told me about what was inside Willowbud, but I guess part of me always thought it was a lie. Not a lie, exactly, but that you were all exaggerating. I thought Corruption was like an illness, or some kind of mental disorder. I mean, I knew it was something… alive, they are called ‘Sentients’ after all, but I didn’t think…” Brandon gulped, “I didn’t think it was an actual fucking person! But now I’ve seen her face, and I realize I’ve been such a fucking tool.” Brandon curled his arms around his bent knees, and looked up at me, real fear in his eyes, “I’m so sorry, Diamond.”
“What?!” I hissed, my heart thundering in my chest.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I muttered under my breath. It was an impulsive thing to say, some vestige of me stammering nonsense like a man succumbed to fever whispering the apparitions of his tortured mind. I knew what the names were, but only one of them held any real meaning to me. I glanced at the baptismal water, and looked apathetically at my reflection. Blackness rimmed my eyes like liner, and reached tendrils toward my irises like veins. My face was shadowed by the cowl of my white cloak, with the crescent symbol of the Holy Mother embroidered at its peak. There was no use in pretending anymore; I was the messenger of God. The Maternal Order would bow to me, or I would burn them as heretics. The world would bow to me, or I would burn them as heretics. I would do it for their own good, for it is better to suffer the agony of hell here, then it is to feel it forever in the depths below. I am the Flame of God, and I will wash the world in her cleansing fire.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I muttered unconsciously again. Before me, Night Eyes’s whores prostrated. Their naked bodies were bathed in the crimson candlelight that now illuminated the atrium of Night Eyes’s house of sin. Their foreheads were pressed to the floor, their backsides were high in the air, and the arms were stretched before them, with their hands turned upward in offering. To keep them in this position, I’d asked Night Eyes to shackle their necks, wrists, and ankles to the floor, and she’d done so enthusiastically. In her own way, Night Eyes was my messenger, and the message she carried, was Corruption. Corruption was the temptation of Satan, and I would hold her offering within me forever, to show Satan that I had turned his temptation against him, that what he’d sought to weaken me, only strengthened me. Night Eyes would be my trophy, and I would keep her alive as such; to help me when I required it, and to please me when I needed pleasure. If she disobeyed, I would simply kill her.
“…and the Holy Mother spoke kindly to those who peddled themselves like wares, but her judgement was still firm. ‘Your flesh is of my flesh, and so it is divine. To sell it is to sully it, and when you trade virtue for coin in this life, you trade your soul for damnation in the next.’ When the sinners protested, the Holy Mother...” Jade Tao read from the Maternal Bible, her voice echoing in the vast chamber. The Breytan High Guard probably hadn’t read a passage from the holy book in her life, but she delivered her sermon with the solemn confidence of a seasoned preacher. She would be one of my most prominent disciples as the world moved to the next era. My era. She’d shed her kimono for a red habit, marking her as the head sister of my new order. All the other Breytans wore black robes over their armor, with the crescent symbol prominently embroidered in white across their chests. Night Eyes had anticipated my needs perfectly, which had allowed me to skip the awkward step of waiting for two-thousand black robes to be ordered from the textiles.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I muttered, unaware that I was saying it. Jade finished her sermon with a solemn ‘amen.’
“Bring the innocents forward.” Jade called. The Breytan sisters stepped through the rows of prostrating whores, inspecting the upturned hands of the sinners. When they found what they were looking for, they tapped the shackles, and dragged the innocents forward. The girls were presented to me, weeping and blubbering, begging with teary eyes.
“Those who kneel before you are those who bare slave’s marks on their palms.” Jade said to the prostrating congregation, “The Good Sister believes these women are innocent of the sins they’ve committed. The rest of you willfully reveled in the degradations of Satan, so you will not be forgiven.”
A chorus of terrified cries sounded in response. A few cracks of the whip from my black-robed disciples quieted the captive congregation into whimpers and moans of terror. I stepped toward the kneeling innocents, smiling compassionately. They looked into my black-rimmed eyes, and I saw their faces pale in horror, but I wasn’t insulted. If anything, I was delighted by it. I caressed the face of a teenaged girl, my thumb turning her gaze upward. My, my, she was a pretty thing, made even more so by the tremble of her lips, the wetness of her cheeks, and the puffiness of her eyes. I suppressed the urge to violate her, and instead reached down, took her hand in mine, and burned her tattoo from her palm. She screeched, but I kept our embrace firm, and when I was sure the mark had been seared from her, I let her drop spinelessly into an awaiting Breytan’s arms. I did this to all the innocents, and when I was done, they were carried from Night Eyes’s temple.
“Though the mark of your sin has been removed, the scar of your purification remains as a reminder.” Jade called after them, “A reminder to stay on the virtuous path of the Holy Mother. For if the Good Sister finds you in squalor again, you will suffer as these women will suffer.” The doors slammed shut behind the fortunate women, and echoed through the deafening silence of the atrium. I grinned beneath my cowl, and dimmed the red candle light to a darker shade of crimson. Now, I would have my fun.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I whispered once again.
I sat alone in the circular room where Freydis had been tortured. Light reflected off the metallic surfaces of the walls and floor, giving the penthouse of the northwest tower an even more spacious feel. Yet, I felt like the walls were closing in on me. Loneliness and dread formed a brooding mixture in my belly, and left a bitter taste in my mouth. How had I become so isolated? I knitted my fingers as I looked out the window. The gods were gone, and their field had returned to its grassy origin. Everyone had left, but no one had come to me. No Julia, no Diamond, no Brandon, no Tera. Not even Astrid. They were all with each other, while I sat alone like some tucked-away disgrace nobody wanted to look at. I used to be the life of any party I attended, and now I wasn’t even invited to the party. Now I was plotting the murder of the host. I turned away from the window, biting at nails I’d worn to stubs. Sara was hardly the kind of company I wanted, and Freydis had left an hour ago. It was just me, and my footsteps echoing against the sterile, metallic surfaces.
“Bound One?” Sara’s voice called from the other side of the door. I hadn’t appointed her my personal body guard, but she’d insinuated herself as such. Either that, or my prison guard.
“What?” I asked. Please don’t tell me Freydis is back.
“Her Holiness is here to-” and I flung open the door before she could finish, my heart leaping joyfully into my chest, my smile practically splitting my face. Willowbud stood in front of me, that sardonic grin stretching across her face, those knowing, teasing black eyes staring up. I felt my heart drop in my chest, and my throat close behind it.
“Hey, Bound One.” Willowbud grinned. Sara’s concerned eyes touched mine, then she was gone behind the door as Willowbud closed it.
“What do you want?” I asked, grateful that my anger overshadowed my terror.
“To talk.” Willowbud’s smile broadened. She knows! My heart rose again, this time thumping with panic. I bit the inside of my cheeks to keep my teeth from chattering, and clenched my fists to hide that my hands were shaking.
“What do we have to talk about?” I said through a clenched jaw.
“Careful, Princess.” Willowbud chuckled, tapping her bare foot against the steel floor, “If your blood pressure gets any higher, I’m going to have to call Brandon over here.” Willowbud walked around the room. She inspected the studs where the two stockades had been removed, kneeling to look at the screws. She smiled up at me like she knew exactly what had been there, but she didn’t say anything. She nonchalantly looked around the sparsely-decorated and furnished room, then she conjured a steel chair, and sat in it. She slid over to me, and beckoned for me to sit in the chair she’d formed behind me. I thought of all the ways she could kill me in a room like this, and realized there was no reason not to sit, so I did.
“Has Sister Julia told you about what she and I are doing?” Willowbud asked.
“Yes.” I said simply.
“And you don’t have an opinion?” Willowbud raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t care if she fucks you, just so long as she kills you after.” I hissed. Willowbud cackled like I’d just told her the funniest joke in the world. She clutched her belly and bent over, hacking mirth at the ground. Any doubts I had about my fate were quickly dashed; I was going to die here.
Willowbud sighed, wiping a tear from her eye, “It’s so good to hear some real hatred, Lucilla. I really do miss it.”
“Why are you here?” I asked, not wanting to be subject to a drawn-out monologue that ended inevitably with my gruesome death. Best just to get the gruesome death out of the way first.
“I want your help.” Willowbud said. My jaw clicked open.
“You… want my help?”
“Your beloved is such a tough nut to crack,” Willowbud inclined her head ponderously, “I want you to help me bust that nut.”
“How about you go fuck yourself instead?” I growled, the anger returning now that the fear had gone.
“I could always ask Diamond.” Willowbud’s eyes widened a bit.
“And Julia could always kill you.”
“Sister Julia’s not too interesting in killing me right now.” Willowbud’s grin turned darker, “Well, that’s not entirely true. She’s actually very interested in killing me, just like you want her to, but she won’t. Do you know why?”
“Because she’s too devout for her own good.”
“Something like that.” Willowbud said it like it was a joke I was supposed to get. She leaned forward slightly, “Sister Julia bit off more than she could chew, if you get my meaning.” I stared at her, the implication teasing the back of my mind, sinking slowly into realization. Willowbud nodded with my slackening jaw, her eyes brimming with malice, her mouth curling with hate. She was on me in a second, her hands smashing into the steel beside my head, her face a hair’s width from my own, her breath hot on my lips. I startled upright, kicking to get away, but there was only the back of the steel chair behind me, and in front of me, was death.
“She’s mine Lucilla, MINE!” Willowbud snarled into my face, and the words she was saying were spoken with two voices. One was hers, but the other was gravely and low, feminine, but feral. I stared with quivering, wide eyes, shrinking beneath her, “I told the bitch not to touch him! I told her to keep her fucking hands of him, but she WOULDN’T LISTEN!” Spittle flew from Willowbud’s mouth and speckled my face, her hands pounded against the steel, the whole tower seeming to shake with her strikes. “Now she gets what’s coming to her!” Willowbud’s grin was manic, her eyes were fevered, “Now she’ll understand!” Willowbud reached out like she’d grab my chin, but her fingers hovered just short, as if something was stopping her from touching me, “I beat her, Lucilla.” Willowbud hissed, “She tried her best, but I was better. I raped her soul into submission. I turned her into… I turned her into…”
Willowbud’s fervor faded, her expression slackened. She withdrew her fist from the hole she’d made in my chair, and stumbled backward, collapsing on the ground. She collected her legs like a child collecting a blanket, and she tucked her knees beneath her chin, and began rocking slowly back and forth. She looked at me, and there was terror in her eyes. “I don’t know what’s happening to me, Lucilla.” Willowbud whispered, and it was only her voice speaking now, but it sounded different than I’d ever heard her before. It was soft, and weak. “It’s like’s there’s fingers in my head, and they’re grabbing and ripping, tearing out memoires I thought I’d killed.” Willowbud buried her head into her knees, “I just want to forget, but Sister Julia won’t let me! Why won’t she let me forget?!” Willowbud fell to her side, shaking in the fetal position, “I almost killed a child today. I looked into her eyes, and I saw me staring back; me before everything happened, me when I was still… me. I hated her for having a future; Willowbud hated her for having the future I should’ve had! I wanted to kill her, but Night Eyes showed me the better path.” Willowbud wiped her nose on her hand, “I turned her into me, I stole her future, and I gave her my past, then… I lied about why I did it! Why? Tell me why!” Willowbud’s head jerked up, her body twisted behind her, and she crawled to me. I pushed myself into the back of their chair, trying vainly to get away. Her rage had been one thing, but this was much more terrifying. Willowbud reached for me, but once again, she wouldn’t touch me. She stopped, and instead knelt at my feet like a dog. “Why?” she pleaded, “Why am I feeling these things? What’s wrong with me?”
“I… think… you might have issues.” I said breathlessly, the words coming from me without thought. Willowbud blinked, and a single tear rolled down her cheek. Then, she smiled a small, almost pleasant smile.
“Issues.” Willowbud grinned like it was our little joke, “What a delightfully harmless word for such a broad range of horrors. Issues.” Willowbud seemed to test the word in her mouth, “I’ve got issues. I’ve got a boil on my ass, I’ve got a shithead boss, I’ve got an ancient spirit inside my soul; I’ve got issues. Yeah. I like it.” Willowbud stood up, her trademarked grin back on her face. She held out her hand, then withdrew, and awkwardly wiped it on her pants. “Come on, Princess. Sister Julia won’t stop saying ‘Diamond, Lucilla, God,’ and since Diamond’s nowhere to be found, and God is in short supply, that just leaves you. Disappointing, I know; no one likes getting their last choice.” And I was actually relieved that Willowbud was back to being a complete cunt.
Brandon had finally calmed down enough to notice the room full of books, posters and notes. Justina and Tera had given him a plausible explanation about ‘researching the enemy,’ and Brandon bought it without much thought. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Tera and Justina were too interested in continuing the research anymore. They somberly packed their goods, and dawned the cloaks they’d been made to wear when they first arrived in Drastin. They were leaving with Brandon, but I wasn’t.
“Are you fucking crazy?” Tera growled in my ear.
“I can’t leave her.” I mumbled.
“Angela,” Justina hissed in my other ear, “if Julia burns you, you don’t just lose this body; you die.”
“I’m already dead.” I hissed back.
“There are worse things than death.” Tera growled, “Angela, you have to come with us!”
“I know Julia in ways you don’t.” I said, staying firm, “She’s strong enough to get through this, but her strength comes from those she loves. If I run away with her daughter’s body, then I am dooming her when there is still hope!”
“It’s over. She lost.” Tera sighed as she put her hand on my shoulder, “But we’re not giving up hope. We’ve still got Diamond. Maybe if we find the secret to Corruption, we can save Willowbud and Julia, but we can’t do that if you’re dead.”
“If Julia turns dark, we won’t have a chance.” I whispered, “She’s the most powerful thing on earth, and she’s much, much more dangerous than Willowbud. Willowbud is an anarchist at worst, but Julia is a true believer. I can’t just let her turn if there’s even the smallest chance that I can save her. It’s not just about her, and not just about us. It’s about everyone.” I looked from Justina, to Tera, trying to keep a brave face. Inside, I was practically pissing myself. Ninety-nine percent of me wanted to just cut and run with my brother and the succubi, but that one percent, that morsel of courage, wouldn’t let me. Justina sighed, and dropped her head on to my shoulder.
“We’ll stay until sunset.” Justina whispered, her voice thick with tears, “If you’re not back before then, we’re leaving you, Angela.”
“That’s a resounding vote of confidence.” I laughed humorlessly, trying to hide my fear.
“Good luck.” Tera whispered, and threw her arms around me. Justina wrapped her arms in turn, and I was encased in their sensual warmth. It didn’t seduce me, but invigorated me, reassured me. I shared a parting kiss with both women, then marched toward the door.
“…if Freydis Skyborne is headed for Iona, then my scouts will find her.” Bianca was saying to Brandon, “They’ll inform her of the new development. We’ll need Iona on our side if Julia is truly lost.”
“Arbortus should be a good place to base ourselves out of.” Brandon mused, “If I can fix the womb, then I can bring the nymphs back. They’ll swear themselves to me, and that should swell our numbers.”
“Are we going to war, Your Holiness?” Bianca asked.
“I don’t know, Bianca.” Brandon sighed, “I’m just preparing for the worst.”
“You’re just a coward.” I snapped at him. Brandon inclined his head toward me.
“I’m sorry about your mother, but I can’t save her.” Brandon looked incredibly defeated.
“What about Willowbud, huh?” I growled, “Are you just going to abandon her without a word?” I couldn’t believe I was actually standing up for the cunt.
“You can see what’s in her, Diamond. What the hell would you do?” Brandon asked. His voice bore no anger; it was like he was asking for advice.
“Stay with her, Brandon. If you can’t stay with her, then why should anyone stay with you?” Then I grabbed my brother by the collar, and forced his face against mine. His mouth opened in surprise, and I drove my tongue into it. I reached behind him, and pressed his body into the curves of mine, feeling his heart thunder against my own, his legs interlock with mine, his crotch grow stiff against my rubbing pelvis. He kissed me back, his shocked tongue finding its bearing in my mouth, his lips finding their seal against my own. His stubble was coarse against my cheek, his breath was hot in my mouth, his hands were firm against my back, against my ass, squeezing, pressing, pulling me closer to him. My eyelids fell in the pure bliss of the moment, and in that moment, everything was perfect. Time stood still in the space between humming breaths and smacking lips, then I pulled away, and ran as fast as I could. It wasn’t fear, or awkwardness, but exhilaration that propelled me. My heart was as light as a feather, and my sprint turned to a skip as I rounded the corner.
I had wondered why the usually-busy steps of The Pussy Palace were vacant when we arrived, and now I knew. The scene that played out before me was oddly familiar. It was like my mind had taken my memory, and twisted into a waking nightmare. It was oddly reminiscent of the orgy I’d been greeted to in my father’s keep, but calling what I saw before me an ‘orgy’ hardly did it justice; it was industrial-level rape. Every whore in Willowbud’s brothel had every hole forcefully filled. Their sporadic screams and wails interrupted the steady hum of muffled sucks and exaltations, all laid over a polyrhythm of slapping flesh. Crimson light bathed the rows of violated women, catching the droplets of sweat that ran like dew down their exerted bodies, and glistened blood-red from their flesh. Some of their eyes were wide, stuck in an expression of perpetual shock of what was being done to them; some of their eyes were rolled back in a fugue state of hedonistic surrender; and some of their eyes were closed in bliss, succumbed to the manhandling they were receiving. All around, the Breytans watched implacably, cracking an occasional whip, but mostly just standing cross-armed. For many of them, this would be their introduction to sex, but the samurai didn’t show their shock or horror if they felt it. Waiting at the perimeter of the atrium, were men stroking themselves. In the dim candlelight, the figures were but shadows with glinting eyes, making their silhouettes oddly demonic. My eyes ran to the front of the atrium, where Julia stood before a squatting Jade Tao. Both their robes were slit from the waist down, front and back, and while Julia was exposing her front for Jade to consume, Jade was exposing her ample back for everyone else to see. Julia looked up, and I had to swallow the scream that clawed at my throat.
“You don’t like it? I thought it looked good on her myself.” Willowbud chuckled, undoubtedly gaging my emotions by the beat of my heart against the stone floor. Behind us, Astrid stood with her fingers knitted, surveying the room with a mixture of excitement and apprehension, as though she were eager to join in, but was not sure if she was allowed to. Julia smiled at me from across the atrium, and gestured with a beckoning hand. I forced a smile on my own face, and stiffly walked toward her, my heart beating faster with every step.
“I can feel your terror, Princess.” Willowbud said beside me as we circumnavigated the debauchery, “You know that woman is no longer your Julia, so why don’t you just leave? I won’t stop you.”
“Running away was never a choice.” I hissed back, “And why did you bring me here if you just want me to flee?”
“I wanted the Good Sister to see you run from her.” Willowbud chuckled, “But I guess you’re dumber than I thought.”
“You just don’t understand.” I stopped, and looked down at the nymph, “It’s why Brandon will never bind with you, Willowbud.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Willowbud snapped. I didn’t answer her. I just turned on my heel, pushed past Astrid, and strode toward Julia. The smell of sex filled my nostrils, the heat of it radiated onto my flesh, the sounds of it played in my ears. The closer I got to Julia, the denser the debauchery, the thicker the air became. Screams and moans, the stench of sweat and hormones, the sight of bodies writhing, a mass of arms and legs, splayed hands and grabbing fists. Julia watched me as I approached, her cock buried in Jade’s neck, her hands holding the High Guard’s face to her pelvis, making the woman choke.
“Lucilla.” Julia smiled companionably to me, her black-rimmed eyes brightening with avarice. I suppressed the chill that ran down my spine.
“Hey Julia.” I smiled back, “Great party. It’s very… cultic.”
“It is hell.” Julia surveyed the scene, “I am cleansing them of sin. For them to atone, they must be inundated with their excess. Like force-feeding a child candy until he vomits, these harlots must be force-fed man until they overflow with it.”
“That’s very poetic of you.” I said, trying to keep my smile casual, trying to make it seem like I was totally OK with everything that was going on.
“I suppose there is poetry in divine retribution.” Julia mused, looking down at the teary-eyed woman gagging on her cock, “Though irony is an adolescent theme I wish to avoid.” Jade’s eyes rolled back, her wet face flushed with her exertion, her marred mouth gaping wide to fit the girth that stretched the seal of her leaking lips. Though her tones spoke of pain, her swaying hips spoke of deep arousal, and the viscous fluid dripping from between her squatting legs confirmed it. She didn’t touch herself, but kept her hands clasped together behind her back, the knuckles white with intensity. Julia pulled out before she came, and Jade cried her objection, which Julia muffled with a pacifying palm over Jade’s lips.
“Delayed gratification is an important thing to learn, High Guard.” Julia lectured, “But for today, it will only be my test to take. If you wish, you may select some sinners to enjoy for yourself.”
“Thank you, Your Holiness.” Jade whispered back, her voice shaking with her unconditional devotion. They shared a kiss that reflected their power dynamic, with Jade tilting her head upward in submission, and Julia devouring Jade’s mouth with unbridled hedonism. When Julia was done tasting her own cock, she guided the winged-warrior to her feet, adjusted her red robe, then sent her to the perimeter, where she selected three men for her own. Astrid, it seemed, had already gotten permission from her god to play, and was reenacting her performance from earlier.
“The righteous few must indulge in the temptations of the many, or they cannot consider themselves righteous.” Julia pontificated, then looked at me, “You understand, don’t you?”
“Yeah…” I said, shifting uneasily on my feet, “get a taste of the poison so that you’re immune to it. I get it.”
“Exercise the demons within, and your soul become stronger.” Julia smiled, seemingly happy that I understood her philosophy. Her smile faded when she regarded the writhing mass at the center of the atrium, “But some souls are too weak to fight the demons within. If I can hold the devil’s gift within me, why can these harlots not expel the vices of the flesh? Why do they trade their souls for coin and pleasure?”
“Because they have nothing else to sell, and they don’t want to starve to death.” I answered cautiously.
“The Holy Mother provides to those who are worthy.” Julia shook her head, as if what I said was the dumbest thing in the world, “These wretched things forsook her. Even after this, they will forsake her again; there is something wrong with them.” She looked at me, her corrupted eyes brimming with something dark. “I will save them all, Lucilla. When I have purged their souls of their sin, I will send them all to the Holy Mother, purified and deserving of paradise.”
My heart dropped like a stone in my chest. “What?” I hissed.
“If they are allowed to wander the world, they will be lost again.” Julia smiled in that kind, motherly way, only with the black rimming her eyes, the smile looked horribly perverse. “I will ensure that they do not stray from the Maternal Path again.”
“You’re going to burn them to death?!” I gasped.
“I am the Flame of God, Lucilla.” Julia put her hand on my shoulder, “It is my purpose to shepherd her lost souls into the fires of purification. The revelers, the whores, and the witnesses alike. Everyone here will purge themselves of sin, then I will send them to the next life before they can sully their cleansed souls.”
And the twisted nightmare came full-circle. “Julia,” I said, no longer able to keep the fear from my voice, “you revealed yourself to me so that you could save Sara and the rest from my father. Now you will do exactly as he would have done?”
“Sara and her kind were innocents.” Julia smiled, “Slaves and captives of a life they were forced into. These women chose their sins.”
“And what about me?” my voice barely came from me, “Haven’t I chosen my sins?”
“You have been touched by God for a higher purpose.” Julia said, her fingers running down my arm, trailing the patterns that glowed from my flesh, “To kill you would be a waste. But you are right; you must atone, or we are both hypocrites.” Julia’s eyes looked hungrily at me from beneath her brow. Strong hands grabbed my wrists, and my dress was torn violently off.
“Holy shit.” I whispered. My mind could hardly process the scene presented to me when I walked into The Pussy Palace. Any fool-hearted bravery I’d gained from Brandon’s kiss was washed away in the display of religious debauchery.
“Hey Sparkles.” Willowbud’s snarky voice said from my side. She was watching the action from a secluded alcove. There was something off about the way Corruption moved within her host. The last time I saw Willowbud, Corruption moved limb-for-limb with her, but now there was a delay, an uncertainty, as if the meld between them was weakening somehow. Not only that, but Corruption was much more obvious than she’d been before, like a tangible thing, instead of the spirit she was; that was probably why Brandon could see her now, if only a trace of her. Contrary to Tera’s fears, Julia’s methods were working. I just had to make sure she got through this.
“Where are Mom and Aunt Lucilla?” I demanded. Willowbud grinned, and gestured to the front of the atrium. Lucilla was on display, her wrists and ankles bound to an iron ‘X’ that splayed her voluptuous form in a nude spread-eagle. Julia was dressed in white robes, the sigil of the Holy Mother embroidered on her cowl, a whip in her right hand. The whip cracked, Lucilla screamed, and Julia laughed, high and sonorous, like a mother’s laugh.
“I told her to run, but she wouldn’t listen.” Willowbud chortled, “Will you listen, or are you going to try to save Mommy?”
“You better hope I can,” I said, surveying the scene, “because Mom will kill you, Willowbud. You know she will.”
“Eventually, she might.” Willowbud smiled, then hopped down from the alcove, and took my hand in hers, “I’ve been waiting for you, Diamond.” Willowbud said as she guided me around the atrium, where leering men stroked themselves in the shadows, “Your mother keeps repeating the same three names. ‘Diamond, Lucilla, God.’ I want to know what happens when we put the ingredients together.”
“I take it your filling God’s place?” I snorted.
“Absent the Holy Mother herself, who better?” Willowbud grinned, then tossed her white hair over her shoulder, and tilted her face airily, “Am I not divine?”
“You’re certainly-” and I was cut off by the press of Willowbud’s lips, and the push of something hot into my lungs. It seeped into my capillaries, flowed through my chest, burned into my mind; heat, exhilaration, life. But it wasn’t my body, and the soul who owned it, was gone. I felt something within me, not within Diamond, but within me. A feeling in the depths of my ethereal lungs, a fulness that needed to be expired. I grabbed Willowbud, and pressed her closer to me. Then I breathed into her. The world went suddenly black, and silent. Willowbud’s grip was painfully tight, her hand was cold on mine. Deathly cold. The universe was void of senses; not a glimmer of light, nor the smell of people, nor the sounds of lust. Only the hand grasping my own, the lips growing clammy on mine, the thump of my heart in my ears, and a feeling creeping in the back of my head.
What are you? The voice whispered in my mind. Thump, thump, thump. The drumming in my head felt like it was splitting it open, but the words came through.
You know what I am. I replied. My voice sounded faint in my own mind.
You are not the Untethered One. Thump, thump, thump.
No. Oh god, the pain. My skull was splitting, her breath was death in my mouth, her touch was ice on my flesh.
You are called Silence. Boom, boom, boom. My heart was a drum against my temples, the pressure growing with the tortuous cadence.
I’m Angela! I screamed.
That is not who you will be. Corruption’s voice was like a knife through the chaos, I see your realm, Silence. I see rolling hills ornamented with elm trees, stretching below towering clouds lit by an eclipsed sun. It is beautiful, and it will be petrified and dead before too long. Now you are Angela, and when Brandon dies, you will be Silence. That is your destiny, girl. I will make sure of it.
The beating in my head grew louder, deafening my thoughts, pounding, smashing, burning through synapses firing into overdrive. I screamed mindlessly, knowing nothing, aware of nothing, only pain, only drums beating. I felt the fire in my lungs, and I blew it all out, back into the mouth from which it came. Silence. Peace. I was floating through a void, weightless, made of air. I had a vision, but the vision was as real to me as the pain had been a second ago. The world began to clarify, blurring into focus. Song birds. I heard song birds. I felt grass beneath my feet, and a gentle wind against my naked flesh. The world brightened, became shape and color, and through my waking vision, I saw rolling fields ornamented with elm trees, stretching below puffy cumulus clouds lit by an eclipsed sun. My eyes traveled across my realm, followed a familiar creek, and fell upon a familiar house. My house. My center. My origin.
A memory burst into my mind, a memory I’d avoided since its inception.
Wheels bearing down on me, hooves pounding, oxen bellowing. My bones snap, my body twists, my mouth screams as my mind rages with panic. The pain… oh, the pain, but it’s nothing compared to the horror, the instant realization that this is the end, this is the… Brandon’s young face watches me. His eyes are wide in shock, his mouth his hanging with horror. The wheel turns, grinding my spine beneath it, leaving me numb with every radial motion, until it reaches the base of my skull. Blue light hits me, surrounds me, becomes me. The wheel turns, and I see Brandon’s face with my own eyes for the last time.
And I was born. My soul was captured, and my new mind was created by his mind, exactly the same as the mind I had behind living eyes, but for its origin. I was born from an idea, and that idea had been born from a perception; a single word that made up the entity of me in my brother’s eyes.
Serenity. Corruption was barely a whisper in the back of my mind, If you are tethered, you will be Serenity. Find a lifeforce with which you have a great affinity, and have the Life Giver tie you to it for eternity; this is your only hope, Angela.
He will bind with me. I replied. I felt oddly sanguine and centered, as though in the midst of meditation. Here, in this place, I was not Angela.
Then you will both die. Corruption’s voice became even fainter. I looked to my left, and there she was, barely a wisp of darkness in the ethereal plane. She stared up at the eclipsed sun, and an odd smile stretched across her lips. She didn’t even seem to be aware of me anymore. Forever they will live as one, like two lovers of the sun, shining from creation’s birth, to hold a tether to the earth.
What? I asked.
It is a poem I heard once, but I cannot remember when. Corruption narrowed her white eyes at the sun, It is a lie. Joy turns to dust, and hatred is born. If you wish to know hell, Angela, then you must know love first. And the pain came roaring back, thundering against the inside of my skull, sending me careening toward insanity. When I thought I’d lose my mind, my senses came surging forward. Sight, sound, smells, taste. I hacked into Willowbud’s mouth, and fell backwards against something hard. Her body pressed to mine, hot and sweaty, as though she’d been under great stress. I pushed her away, and I gasped. For a moment, the sclera of Willowbud’s eyes was light blue; my light blue. Had I passed my gift to her? Did I have a fucking gift?! Then Willowbud’s sclera swirled back into blackness, and she toppled against the pylon I was resting on.
“What…” Willowbud gasped, “what the fuck did you just do to me, Diamond?”
“What the fuck did you just try to do to me?!” I snarled, getting to my feet. Within her, Corruption was staring contemptuously at me.
“I was just trying to corrupt your soul.” Willowbud grinned weakly, pushing herself against the wall for leverage, “But I guess Passion put up safeguards, huh? I should’ve known.”
I stared at her for a moment, searching those black eyes for any signs of blue. A screech of pain interrupted my thoughts, and I whipped my head toward the source. There was the sickening crack of a whip, a high, sadistic laugh, and a wail of agony. Lucilla’s body arched from the cross she was bound to, her hands balling to quivering fists, her wet face tilting to the ceiling. A grotesque welt had risen from her belly, joining three more that marred her beautiful complexion. Julia withdrew the whip, and said something I couldn’t hear, but her tone told me everything. She was enjoying this, and the erection between her legs said she was enjoying it in a very real way. There was no way that I, Angela Sorenson, could help Julia as she was, even if I was in her daughter’s body. I needed some help of my own. I turned to my left, and stared at Willowbud. Her white hair was disheveled over her caramel face, which was flushed with the stress of trying to corrupt me, but her black eyes still leered with that evil glint, always ready for more. I grabbed her, pressed my lips to hers, and breathed in. Corruption stared at me, eyes narrowing to slits.
Give it to me. I mentally whispered as Willowbud’s tongue navigated my mouth.
You cannot carry it. You are a Sentient.
Not yet, I’m not. Give it to me; I won’t fight you.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I said to myself reflexively as I readjusted the grip of the whip. It was a heinous device, not at all meant for kinky exploits; this was for torture. Lucilla’s body was crisscrossed with welts, each raised line dotted with blood that began to trickle down her body. I wanted to do worse. Every time I struck her, every time I heard her agonized wail, a memory swam forth, a memory of blackened faces, contorted in agony. Only now, the memory didn’t produce waves of regret, but an odd… exciting familiarity. I could do that to people. Not only could I make them feel great pain, but I could change them, mutilate them, disfigure them. I felt the arousal growing between my legs, felt the tightening in my loins, the aching in my nethers… but no; the Holy Mother would not want me to make abstractions of her creations. Lucilla was owed the penance for her crimes, and though her beauty certainly enabled her to sin, disfiguring her would not be a fitting retribution. Her flesh was her weakness, so I would punish the places I knew she enjoyed. Her belly, her breasts, her backside. When that was finished, we would delve into more… intimate places. Despite her cries for mercy, Lucilla’s penchant for roughness betrayed her. Her thighs were wet with her want, and her pussy was a swollen, red flower that contrasted the paleness of her complexion.
“Julia!” Lucilla screamed, her eyes puffy, her body straining against the binds, “It’s me!”
“I am aware of who you are, Lucilla.” I chuckled, “You don’t need to keep reminding me. Now, was it the wash boy, or the stable hand that you had out-of-wedlock intercourse with when you were fifteen?”
“Julia, please stop!” Lucilla sobbed, her chin falling to her chest.
“The wash boy, or the stable hand?” I asked her.
“The wash boy.” Lucilla whimpered. One lash across the left breast sent her head reeling back, and her body wrenching into an arch. “It was both!” Lucilla shrieked. I nodded to the Breytan beside Lucilla, and she applied ointment to the fresh strike, rewarding Lucilla for her honesty. Lucilla groaned in relief, and grinded her thighs together. She couldn’t help herself, the slut. How had I ever loved this woman? She had no self-control, and no self-respect. What a waste of a bind. Still, she was young. Twenty-one wasn’t too old to change. She wasn’t as malleable as she would’ve been if she was younger, which meant brute force would be needed to shape her, but in time, she would become the spouse I needed her to be.
“Say your penance to God, Lucilla, and we will move on.” I said, clasping my hands together patiently.
“Forgive me, Good Mother, for the sins of my flesh.” Lucilla hissed, “Forgive me for my weakness, and forgive me for my betrayal.”
“Amen. Now, when you were sixteen-”
“I fucked hundreds of men, Julia!” Lucilla screamed at me, the desperation high in her voice, “Are we going to go through each fucking one!”
“Of course not!” I giggled, then reached to the bench beside me, and produced a barb. Lucilla’s eyes went even wider, “For every man you’ve lain with, we will add a bard. You said hundreds, right? Well, obviously we can’t do hundreds; we would need a really long whip for that!” I cackled at the absurdity of the idea, but Lucilla was not sharing in my amusement. She was pissing again. I sidestepped the stream before it stained my white robe, and whistled as I added barb after barb to the length of the whip. I could fit twenty on one, and if my estimation was correct, Lucilla had lain with around two-hundred men, so ten lashes would suffice. I bet Lucilla was really regretting confessing all her sins to me over the years. Of course, it wasn’t actually ‘confessing’ for her, more like bragging, but…
“Sparkles, help me!” Lucilla cried. My head whipped to Lucilla. She opened her mouth to cry another plea, but her expression froze. Then, it fell to one of complete hopelessness. “No,” she whimpered, fresh tears falling down her cheeks, “no, no, no…” I slowly turned, and saw what had so discouraged my beloved.
“Hi Mommy.” Diamond giggled. She walked hand-in-hand with Night Eyes, and her eyes were completely black. Fury rushed through me, exploding from my hands in white heat.
“Don’t look at me; it was her idea!” Night Eyes laughed, undeterred by my wrath.
“I wanted to be like you, Mommy.” Diamond said, disengaging from Night Eyes, and walking to me. She moved differently than she had before. The athletic grace with which she usually walked was replaced with an odd timidity, like she was putting up a poor veil of coyness over something… dark. She stepped into my radius, and ran her delicate fingers along the lengths of my arms, up my shoulders, and clasping behind my neck. She tilted my head down so that I had to look into those black depths, those pits of lost innocence, of Corruption.
“Diamond…” I hissed, reaching for her, almost afraid to touch her. My hand found her apple cheek, dusted with diamond freckles, and she nestled her face into my palm, humming in contentment. This was my fault.
The blackness swam through every part of me, thrummed through my heart, surged in my veins, but I was still in control. It wasn’t my body, but Diamond’s, and that degree of separation allowed me to control just how much of the Sentient’s gift I let take me, and given the situation, that meant I was letting Corruption take almost everything. Only the smallest rational part me stayed in command, and that outsider’s view into my transformation allowed me to look analytically at my ‘darkness.’ It seemed that Dark-Angela was born from the horror of being bodiless. It was the lack of feeling that had plagued me for so long, so Corruption naturally perverted the trauma, and made Dark-Angela obsessed with pain; both her own, and that of others. Dark-Angela was a sadomasochist, and judging by her arousal at the sight of a bleeding, bound, and crying Lucilla, Dark-Angela’s perversions went very, very, deep. It was bizarre to know that this part of me dwelt in the depths of my psyche, but I didn’t have time for an existential crisis. Julia was brimming with blackness, but there was still a part of her that resisted, and I needed to cajole that part out. This is your fault, Julia. Your own daughter is corrupted forever because of your actions. Guilt, Julia; feel guilt!
“You did this for me?” Julia asked. There were tears in her black-rimmed eyes, and I knew I was getting close. Just a little more, and she’d vomit Corruption out like bad seafood.
“Yes, Mommy.” I said, running my hands down her back, and bringing our bodies together in an embrace. “I didn’t want you to be alone.” I whispered into her bosom. If that doesn’t get her, then what will? Julia wrapped her arms around me, her hold surprisingly strong. Her cheek was wet against mine, and her breaths were shuddering in the throes of grief. Any second now…
“Thank you, Diamond. I did not want to bear this burden alone.” Julia whispered. Oh, goddamn it! “I need someone like me,” Julia, I think you’re missing the point here! “someone who understands what it means to hold hell within her,” you have Willowbud for that! “someone of my own flesh,” oh. “of my own life.” Julia pulled away, her tear-streaked face making her apple-cheeks ruby and wet. God, she was pretty, and the black-rimmed corruption around her eyes gave her beautiful portrait a menacing flair. I felt something hard between my legs, and realized I was erect. Then I felt something else grow hard between my legs, and realized ‘Mommy’ was erect too. “What’s it like for you, baby?” Julia whispered, brushing a lock of hair from my forehead. She shifted her hips slightly, and her cock snuck beneath the tented hem of my dress, slid beneath my shaft, and glided through my virgin petals. I gasped, and violently molded myself to her body, the reaction compelled involuntarily from me. I began leaking from my femininity, oozing lust onto Julia shaft as she slowly slid it back and forth.
“What is what like?” I asked dumbly as my legs started growing weak.
“The gift.” Julia chuckled, her embrace becoming less platonic, her hands running down my back.
“I want to hurt people.” I hissed against her mouth, “I want people to hurt me.” Julia’s hands gripped my ass and squeezed, the fingers sinking into succulent meat, the meat sending its fiery tingles into my aching nethers. My cock was oozing onto Julia’s belly, but I hardly noticed it. My virgin femininity was screaming in my head, and burning from every nerve of my body. Justina and Tera were fun to fuck, but I was still a woman, and I needed a cock. My eyebrows knitted needfully, and my lips panted their desperation onto Julia’s lips as I grinded along her shaft.
“Do you want to help me torture Aunt Lucilla?” Julia asked, her eyes filled with a mixture of hope and arousal.
“Yes!” I moaned. I really did. I wanted to take the woman apart piece by piece, and savor every scream and shriek she had to offer me. I wanted to do it while Julia fucked me in the most painful way possible, and I wanted to come as I slit Lucilla’s throat. Holy shit, Angela… This was getting out of hand. Plan A hadn’t worked, so it was time to move to Plan B. I grabbed Julia by the back of her head, opened my mouth, and pressed our lips together. She was ready for me. Her tongue subdued mine, her lips locked perfectly, and I melted in the heat of her incestuous depravity. I was woefully overmatched. I barely had the wherewithal to reach deep within me, find my astral center, and push my gift into Julia’s lungs. She didn’t react in the slightest. It seemed that Corruption’s occupation didn’t leave any room for me, and whatever part of Julia that had resisted Corruption, sure as shit wasn’t going to fall for me. Well… fuck. I became a slave to Julia’s mouth, tilting my head to be the submissive partner, tasting her domination, her sadism, and her love. I had just enough control over Dark-Angela to steer her away from giving up my virginity, and instead, got her to say, “I want you to fuck me in the ass, Mommy.”
“You dirty, sinful, little girl.” Julia crinkled her nose affectionately at me.
“Punish me!” I moaned. It wasn’t just Dark-Angela who wanted it. I wanted to know why Tera’s eyes rolled back when I stuck it in her ass. I wanted to know why Julia called it her ‘favorite hole.’ I wanted to know why Justina blubbered like an idiot when Willowbud forced herself balls-deep into her back door. I wanted to finally know what it was like to have a cock inside of me, and I wanted it to hurt.
“Alright, Baby.” Julia grinned, spreading my cheeks with her gripping hands, causing me to flow my need onto her teasing shaft. I curved myself into her, feeling her breasts consume my chest, her belly squish my cock between us, her crotch press firmly into my pelvis. She chuckled softly as I undulated desperately against her, then she spun me violently around, and held me firmly against her front, facing me toward Lucilla. Julia kissed my neck possessively as she ran her tip through my petals one last time, then trailed it down my taint, and pressed it to my virgin aperture.
“Make it hurt, Mommy.” I whispered. She did. Oh, she did. Her wetted head pushed against me; harder, building the pressure, indenting the circle of my anus until it dilated. I breathed heavily, panting, locking my possessed gaze with Lucilla’s horrified eyes. Julia let go of my ass, reached both arms beneath mine, and tore my neckline down, sending my olive-toned breasts jiggling forth with a cry of my shocked delight. Her cock pushed harder, forcing me open, stretching my exit to tortuous levels. My panting became louder, fear mixing with pain mixing with excitement. I gritted my teeth as Julia’s hands gripped my breasts, squeezing the domes and pinching the nipples, causing me to growl through my increasingly-desperate exaltations. She pushed, and pushed, and broke through. My head reared back, by belly distended with my spinal arch, and I screamed my pain to the ceiling as I felt her heat invade me. Deeper and deeper she went, regardless of my protesting clenches, running through me, stretching me, forcing me wide. She rubbed against foreign nerves, pushed through unknown resistances, and burned her stiff heat deep inside my filth. Her crotch pressed to my ass, her moan dripped in my ear, and my cry choked in my throat. Someone else was inside me. For the first time in my life, a cock was in me, and it was invasive, defiling, painful, and euphoric. I could feel Julia’s heartbeat against the tender flesh of my rectum, I could feel her tip oozing precum into the desecrated floor of me. She pulled slowly back, letting my hole relax, letting it close behind her, and then she drove, thrusting so hard my body lurched with the collision. I screamed again, my eyes filming with tears, my chest heaving with near-panicked breaths. My knuckles went white as my hands clung to the back of Julia’s neck, and my feet kicked at the ground, climbing to tip-toes as though I could escape her onslaught by gaining a few inches of height. Again, and again she violated me, driving faster, deeper, harder. Her pelvis smacked against my ass, her cock impaled me, and I screamed in pain and pleasure, torture and delight, losing my mind to the sensations. No one fucks like a god. Tera had said, and Tera’s words might as well have been prophecy.
“Fuck-me-fuck-me-fuck-me-fuck-me…” the words flowed from me to the fervent rhythm of our lust. Julia fucked me standing until my legs gave out, then she fucked me doggy, holding my head by the hair, causing it to tilt spinelessly upward. Lucilla was watching with that horror-stricken expression tattooed to her face, and I watched her back through eyes glazed with euphoric tears. I’d bought her a few minutes to recover, and I was doing my damndest to help her, but goddamn, did I want to see her hurt. I wanted to hear that ear-splitting wail of pain, I wanted to see her flesh grow red, her eyes run with liner down her cheeks, her body twist in the throes of agony. The pain and pleasure being forced into my shithole was slowly driving the rational part me out of the control booth. Dark-Angela wanted to take over completely, to indulge in her twisted perversions without restraint, to take it in every hole at once while I was choked, whipped and burned. I wanted to feel the extremes of life, to rage at the edge and laugh manically in the face of death.
Julia hooked her arms under my armpits, and I was hoisted back. Before I knew it, I was in her lap, driving my feet into the ground, impaling myself willingly as I exchanged tongues with my ‘Mommy.’ From this angle, her cock rubbed against my vaginal floor with each pass, and touched… oh god… Her cock glided along my anal organ, stimulating it with each thrust, causing it to contract, quake, and pulse. My manhood began to froth on its own accord, standing stiffer than it ever had, aching with the imminence of release. Without warning, there was a sudden and violent swelling of pressure in my nethers. It rocketed through me, growing hotter, more intense, winding a cord of euphoric tension that stretched from my navel to my tailbone. My asshole clenched around Julia, my cock pulsed, an aching, throbbing pleasure began to build with the pressure and the tension, originating from that organ deep in my ass. Julia grabbed my hips, forced me all the way down, and I lost control. My head reared back, my eyes rolled stupidly, my tongue went numb in my mouth, and I screamed. I screamed as my cock pumped cum onto my clenching belly, my jiggling breasts, my gaping lips. I screamed as my shithole coiled and clenched, seeming to suck Julia deeper into me. I screamed as I squirted, my neglected pussy worked into a frenzy from the other side, showering my thighs with its release. I panted the last of my catharsis as Julia decelerated within me, her arms no longer grabbing me, but wrapping me in her warmth. She eased me down until she was comfortably stuffed inside me, and she held me like I was her little girl, rocking back and forth in a maternal sway with her lips pressed against my neck.
“Why didn’t you come?” I breathed, gratefully clenching my asshole around her. God, did she feel good inside me. Julia moaned, grabbed my ass, and guiding me upward, withdrawing herself from me, much to my regret.
“I am denying myself release.” Julia explained, “I cannot pass judgement on whores and harlots if I do not have the discipline to stay my own bodily needs.”
“I guess I’m not as strong as you, Mommy.” I whispered, running my ass-crack along her dirtied length, shivering every time her shaft pressed to the swollen ruin of my anus.
“You don’t need to be strong for me, baby-girl.” Julia whispered against me, “Now,” she breathed, “what does my dirty baby-girl want to do with wicked Aunt Lucilla?”
I had hoped that Diamond and Julia would just… forget about me, but my hopes were in vain. Julia stood behind her daughter while Diamond tapped her lips, looking me over like I was a cut of beef.
“I don’t think we should punish her with the whip.” Diamond said in her overly-affected voice.
“Oh?” Julia whispered, staring with nauseating adoration at her daughter.
“Too messy. We need something more…” Diamond twirled her fingers as her black eyes rolled up, as though the idea could be found on her forehead, “…precise.” She finished with a grin, and the mercilessness in it made my heart drop. She opened a box beside her, and one by one, she laid out the instruments onto a table. The tools were not the fun kind that were used on Freydis. Diamond and Julia, the people I thought loved me, were going to torture me. The betrayal stung in a deep, smoldering way, but the terror burned hot on the surface. Panic took over my mind, driving out rational thought, whirling my being into a vortex of fear and desperation. Diamond watched me as her fingers hovered over her playthings, clearly relishing the way I tensed when she reached for one.
“This one?” Diamond asked me, her fingers brushing a scalpel.
“Sparkles, please!” I sobbed.
“No?” Diamond grinned, “How about… this one?” Diamond held up a clawed-pincher with razor edges.
“Don’t you love me?” I whimpered.
“Ah… this one.” Diamond said, nodding as though we’d come to a mutual understanding. She held up a long, pointed needle. I screamed and thrashed in my binds, my wrists and ankles chafing against the leather, my arms growing sore in their upright positions. Diamond inspected me curiously, then held out the needle. Julia took the tip between her thumb and forefinger, and the metal became white-hot.
“Diamond!” I shrieked, “Diamond, no! No-no-no-no-no…”
“…yes-yes-yes-yes-yes…” Diamond laughed over my sobs as she took my left nipple between her thumb and forefinger, and slowly inched the needle forward. I thrashed and heaved, rubbing my wrists raw to escape, but there was no escape. The panic owned me, heightening my senses, slowing time as it quickened my heart. The orgy became a lethargic beast of many limbs and mouths, the crimson torches ebbed and flowed like water, and the needle came closer, closer, closer, glinting in the hellish light, glowing with heat. There was no getting out of it, no talking my way free, no begging, nor bribing nor fighting. There was only the inevitable pain, the mutilation, and the horror that it was permanent. The horror that this was just the beginning. I couldn’t look anymore. I closed my eyes, gritted my teeth against the scream, and held my breath. I was vaguely aware that I was pissing again, but dignity seemed as foreign to me now as mercy. I felt a pair of lips. They opened mine, and pushed breath into my lungs. It was cool in my chest, like a drink of ice water after immense exertion. It spread outward, rushing through my belly, arms and legs, tingling at the tips of my fingers and toes. My heart slowed, my mind quieted, and I felt… fine. I felt absolutely fine, like everything was as it should be. Why exert myself? It would only disrupt the tranquility. Did I just feel something? Ah, yes. My adoptive daughter just pierced my left nipple with a hot needle. Marvelous. Should I scream? Nah, that would be such a bother. Gosh, it is painful though, isn’t it? But it is as it should be. Yes, it fits the universe perfectly, this pain. It doesn’t disrupt the stream of existence, nor contradict the structure of reality. This is pain, and it hurts, but really, is it bad? Why does hurt, hurt? Why don’t we just enjoy the hurt? You know, very few people get to experience this particular kind of pain, and what a novel pain it is! There’s the puncture, and that is a sharp, sudden pain; then there’s the heat, and that is a slow-building, but intense pain; then there’s the exit, which perfectly balances the puncture, giving the entire experience symmetry. Oh, and there’s my right nipple, right on schedule. I opened my eyes and…
Don’t open your eyes; they’re no longer the right color. a voice whispered in my mind. It was a youthful voice, with a prairie-accent that sounded very familiar. Brandon? But, Brandon wasn’t a woman, obviously. No, I’d heard this voice before, but it had come from Julia’s lips.
Angela? I asked, thinking the word.
Surprised? Angela asked. She was still kissing me, and her tongue formed the words in my mouth. She withdrew the needle from my right nipple, and clamped her thumbs and forefingers on each.
Actually, no. I mused, vaguely aware that Angela was twisting my tortured nipples, You are here, and that is exactly where you should be.
What the fuck are you talking about?
I don’t really know, I said, flicking my tongue against hers, you did this to me, so I feel like you should know. Where is Diamond?
In the astral plane, somewhere after Greed’s realm. That probably made no sense to you, so don’t worry about it. Angela placed looped piercings into my nipples, Right now, you and I need to figure out how to save Julia.
She’s fine how she is. Everything is just fine the way it is, Angela. Just keep torturing me.
Holy shit, everyone’s fucked. Angela mentally sighed, Julia’s fucked, Willowbud’s fucked, I’m fucked, and now you’re fucked.
Why are you fucked? I asked.
I breathed in Corruption, obviously. Wait, did you think this is how I really am?
I didn’t want to presume.
Wow. What would you do if I said I really want to cut your fingers off?
I’ve got too many anyway.
I want to do them one at a time, then make you eat them.
I skipped lunch, and I’m absolutely famished.
If you don’t scream, it doesn’t really do anything for me.
I can scream.
Let’s hear it. Angela replied as she hooked her fingers through the loops, and stretched the piercings she’d just made. I gave her a dispirited ‘aaaah’ that died in her mouth, and I could practically feel Angela’s deflating excitement.
Sorry. I said.
It’s not your fault. At least you tried.
Maybe try disemboweling me? I suggested.
Slice my tendons?
That’s somewhat appealing. I wonder what your Achilles tendon will do if I… no, we need to stay on track. You know Julia better than anyone; what can we do to save her from Corruption?
That’s simple. I said. It was simple, but it was far from easy. It would be the biggest gamble I’d ever taken, but with my cleared mind, I saw that it was my only hope. I knew what I had to do, and I knew who I had to be, but I couldn’t be that person in my current state of mind. I breathed serenity back to its source, and felt the terror, the panic, and the pain come surging back into me.
What are you doing? Angela hissed in my mind.
I’m trusting you. I replied, taking a steeling breath through my nose. Now, here’s what you need to do…
Diamond stepped back to examine her work. A chain now linked Lucilla’s newly-pierced breasts, much like the one Astrid had worn earlier today, only this one had a leash attached to the middle. She tugged it, and Lucilla’s eyes flew open, and a shuddering breath expelled from her gaping, pink lips.
“That’s it?” I questioned Diamond. It seemed a bit tame for my liking.
“Aunt Lucilla’s sins are mostly of the flesh, right?” Diamond giggled, flicking a pierced nipple. Lucilla hissed in reaction, trying to rub her thighs together.
“Yes.” I nodded patiently, waiting to see where my daughter was going with this.
“Well, wouldn’t the most fitting punishment be to deny her?” Diamond asked, reaching between Lucilla’s spread legs, and petting her softly where she was leaking. Lucilla moaned, squirming restlessly in her binds, trying to squeeze Diamond’s hands between supple, porcelain thighs that were too far spread to make contact. Diamond giggled, and withdrew all her fingers except for one, which she used to ponderously circle Lucilla’s engorged clit. Lucilla’s thrashing became more impassioned, her calls became more desperate, her body tensed and relaxed with every purposeful motion of Diamond’s single finger.
“Please, Sparkles!” Lucilla pleaded, and her voice was even more desperate than when I’d whipped her.
“Don’t you see, Mommy?” Diamond whispered onto Lucilla’s parted lips, “We can whip her, we can pierce her, and we can burn her, but she’ll never learn her lesson. We can cut off pieces of her until there’s nothing left, but we’ll not have exercised the demon that plagues her. Punishment without education is just sadism, and that doesn’t serve the Holy Mother’s purpose, does it?”
“No.” I replied, marveling at Diamond’s wisdom. When had she learned so much about the Holy Mother?
“She’s not strong like you are. This will break her, and when she’s nothing but an empty vessel, we can make her into the Aunt Lucilla we want.” Diamond spoke to me, but she said the words into Lucilla’s mouth, which was parted and expelling needful breaths, opening wider in the hopes for a kiss that Diamond would not give her. Her brows knitted pleadingly, her voice was soft and pathetic, her arms were tensed in their binds. Was it crueler to dangle desire just out of reach, than it was to give pain? Maybe so, but it wasn’t as satisfying. As if Diamond read my mind, she pinched Lucilla’s teased-out clit, and pulled with a torqueing hand. Lucilla arched from the cross and bellowed her agony. Higher and higher her voice went, until it was an ear-splitting scream. Diamond giggled like a schoolgirl, then released the tortured princess, who collapsed into her dangling sprawl, her chest heaving, her breasts rising and falling with her breaths.
“Pleasure, then pain, then pleasure again.” Diamond whispered, her voice thick with arousal. She recommenced her caresses, coercing reluctant groans from Lucilla’s mouth, rebuilding the lust, rekindling Lucilla until she was upright once again, needfully moaning like nothing had happened. “But she’ll never get the release she needs. When she reaches the precipice, she will be denied and punished, and then brought back to the edge once more.”
“Your daughter’s kind of a cunt.” Night Eyes giggled next to me.
“Do you think you’re getting away with what you did to her?” I glowered down at Night Eyes as Lucilla’s moans grew louder. She just smirked back, that teasing glint in her black eyes. Before she even had time to change the expression on her face, she was bent over my knee, her bare ass shining smooth in the crimson light. She squirmed in whorish anticipation, goading me to hurt her like she wanted, but I doubted she wanted what was coming. I clasped the crescent symbol that hung from my neck, pulled it from its chain, and pressed it to the small of Night Eyes’s back. She went suddenly still, like she couldn’t tell why the air suddenly smelt of burnt flesh. Then she screeched, and the earth began to tremble. I clasped a palm over her mouth, and pulled the impromptu brand from the small of her back. The flesh was reddened and puffy, painful to look at, and because the fire had come from my essence, it was a scar even Brandon wouldn’t be able to heal. Night Eyes thrashed in my arms, and screamed against my palm, but she didn’t dare use her power against me, not when she was in such a vulnerable position.
“There, there…” I whispered soothingly as I gently raked my fingers along her spine, “you have tested me, and you have been punished. Have you learned your lesson?”
“Fuck off, Sister.” Night Eyes mouthed against my palm. I stopped my caressing fingers between her shoulder blades, and gently traced the crescent symbol over her caramel flesh. The threat was obvious, and Night Eyes was in no position to trade words with me. She gulped, and whispered, “I learned my lesson.”
“I learned my lesson, Mistress.” I hissed into her ear, tracing the symbol over and over. Night Eyes tensed, her hands balling to fists. I gave her a taste of my heat, and she sucked in a breath.
“I learned my lesson, Mistress.” Night Eyes whispered back, her iris cornering the eye I could see, the anger evident in it.
“Prove it.” I said, and guided Night Eyes downward between my legs. She didn’t want to suck me, it went against her pride to do so, but I wasn’t giving her an option. The tang of Diamond’s ass was still fresh on my cock, and Night Eyes crinkled her nose at the scent. I ran my hand through her white hair, and stared into her contemptuous eyes with a smile. I spread my legs wider, and guided the Earth Former’s unwilling lips to the head of my cock. She stopped for only a moment, her lips curling in a sneer, then she opened them, wrapped them around my head, and worked her way down. She was obviously not very practiced, judging by the shallowness of her consumption, but I could still tell she was trying. The suction of her lips pulled her baby-face gaunt, her tongue curled around my underside and tasted my daughter’s ass, and her throat coiled about my head, gagging slightly. Her eyes spoke of vengeance, but her mouth sucked with submission, and the duality of it was quite amusing to me. She would try to kill me later, undoubtedly, unless I put her in her place. She should’ve known she’d get hell when she gave me the devil’s gift. I grinned at her, grabbed the back of her head, and forced every inch of myself down her neck. Her hands shot to my pelvis, trying to push back, but I wouldn’t yield an inch. I held her reddening face against my crotch, hearing her choking gurgles, feeling her soft, wet warmth constricting around me, seeing her bulging, teary eyes roll into her head. I held her there until she relaxed in surrender, and the hate-filled gaze faded from her face. I held her there until she started to hum moans around my cock, and her hands slid down her own body to touch herself where she was leaking. I held her there until she knew who her mistress was, then I ripped her head away. She gasped for air, and began dutifully mouthing for my erect member, but I wouldn’t give it to her. I left her shamefully touching herself on the floor, watching me leave her through eyes filmed-over with confusion, desire, and just a touch of fear. Just a touch of awe.
The blackness had nearly consumed Julia’s eyes. Only the thinnest rim of emerald surrounded her pupils, and even that was getting smaller. Before me, Lucilla was crying, begging and blubbering for me to let her come, but I wouldn’t. It was her idea after all, and she had to break, but she was taking her sweet fucking time. As much as Dark-Angela enjoyed tormenting the princess, two hours of repetition made even the most fun activities boring.
“Julia!” Lucilla cried, “Please help me come! I’ll do anything!”
Julia regarded her lover impassively, then grabbed the chain that connected her pierced nipples, and pulled. Lucilla’s moan turned to a whine as her breasts were stretched to conical points, and the piercings were holes in her nipples. Her nipples had been so abused over the hours, that the holes no longer relaxed, but stayed as gruesome ovoid cutouts that Dark-Angela found perversely alluring. Lucilla gushed her lust onto my cock, which was running through her petals with methodical slowness, ratcheting her need with each pass. When her hips were rocking from side to side, and her thighs were quivering, I pulled away, and she threw her head back to screech her torment to the ceiling.
“I’m begging you!” Lucilla sobbed.
“Is this what you want?” I chuckled, then grabbed her clit, and twisted it again. It was a puffy, rosy engorgement now, almost twice its normal size, and judging by her reaction, almost twice as sensitive. Her shriek grew higher, her muscles tensed, and she simultaneously tried to pull away as she thrusted for more.
“STOP!” Lucilla screeched.
“No, Lucilla.” Julia whispered against her lover’s pointed ear, “We will do this to you until you finally know the Holy Mother’s lesson. We will feed you, wash you, and play with you until you give yourself wholly to the service of God.”
“I am the slave of God!” Lucilla proclaimed. I released her clit, and she began undulating desperately, like she was fucking the air.
“Lies.” I chuckled, running a finger through her slick, swollen pussy lips, down her moist taint, and around her puckered asshole. I circled her filthy entrance as I had done so many times already; building the tension, making her swollen rim pucker with just the brush of my tips, then I pushed my finger inside. Lucilla’s eyes rolled back, her mouth formed words, but no sound came out. I slid my finger in and out, in and out, pushing through her coiled entrance each time, making her feel the penetration freshly with each motion. Her pelvic floor began to pop with her contractions, and I withdrew my finger before she could orgasm. The wail that came from her sounded more anguished than any she’d given since, and Julia and I giggled in turn at the sound. I put my sullied fingers in her mouth, and she ravenously sucked them, looking at me with those pleading eyes, those eyes that said she would do anything if I just showed mercy. She would have no mercy.
“Break for me, whore.” Julia whispered, taking my place between her lover’s legs, and running her cock back and forth as I had done. I took my place behind her, and gave her a little teasing of my own.
“Break, Lucilla” I hissed into Lucilla’s mouth. Her eyes were glazed over, her head was tilted back, and her pale lips were parted and drooling slightly. She puffed sporadic breaths with each pass of my cock, and craned her neck with each finger I added into her anus. So far, I was four fingers in, my digits kneading the filthy tension within her, making her loose and willing, hoping for more. My own breath was starting to get heavy as I felt Diamond pulling my robe off. Her slender body molded curve-for-curve to my back, with her manhood sliding easily between the folds of my womanhood.
“Break, whore.” I whispered again. I felt Lucilla’s body tense in the ascension of yet another orgasm, and once again, she was denied with a twist of her clit. She didn’t wail like she had before, but simply groaned a pathetic, animal sound. Her porcelain complexion glistened, her patterns thrummed chaotically to the beat of her heart, her platinum hair was matter to her flushed face, whose expression was far away. She was getting close.
“Break.” I breathed on her as Diamond entered me. It was the first time she’d ever been inside me, and I could tell by the way she moved that Justina had taught her well. It was a pity that Justina and Tera would have to die, but succubi were the devil’s creatures, and they had no place in my-in the Holy Mother’s- new world. Their souls couldn’t be exercised or healed, not like Lucilla’s. I pressed to Lucilla, the wet swell of our busts squishing into domes of sparkling and glowing flesh, our bellies forming a seal of warmth, and my cock running through her slit, wetting with her endless arousal. Diamond began to thrust inside me, hitting the spot on my ceiling, causing me to moan against Lucilla.
“Break.” I groaned, wrapping a hand in Lucilla’s hair, and pulling back. She gasped at the feeling, her scalp tightening against the furrow of her brow, her glazed eyes focusing. She always did like it when I pulled her hair. I pulled on the chain of her breasts once more, compelling a guttural sound from her parted lips. She grew tense against me, her neck strained with tension, her head tilted to face me. She looked into my eyes, her gaze unrecognizing, unseeing, unfeeling. Diamond grabbed my hips and thrusted harder into me, compelling me to press deeper into Lucilla’s supple form, touching our lips and noses. Lucilla mindlessly mouthed for me, her eyes still staring into mine, but seeing nobody behind my lenses.
“Lucilla?” I asked, my voice hoarse with pleasure. She just blinked stupidly, her conscious-self fleeing her tortured body, leaving her empty, malleable, and bare. She was a vessel now, her defenses shattered, her core exposed to me. Now was the time to plant the identity of her new self. It would take many more sessions before it took root, but the seed would be there, and the seed would be permanent.
“You broke her.” Diamond giggled against my neck, delivering little love bites as she thrusted, “Now, what do you want to make of her?” She pumped her hips into me, driving her shaft relentlessly across that spot within, causing my legs to quiver, my mouth to moan, my ass to press back against her pelvis. In and out, in and out; Diamond’s cock traveled through me, parting my swollen petals, splitting my tender insides, rubbing the ridged erogeneity of my sex. “She can be whatever you want, Mommy.” Diamond whispered, her voice thick with arousal, with sadistic lust, with the desire to desecrate, to ruin, to pervert. The same desires brimming within me. Lucilla could be my coy priestess, as I had been hers for so long. She could sing hymns to me as she bathed me, whisper passages of the Maternal Path as she clothed me, and pray for my soul as I retired to bed. Then when the candles were out, I’d let the devil within me play, and my coy priestess would exercise me with every hole I desired, in every way I desired. I tightened my grip on Lucilla’s hair and chain, pressed my tip to her frothing lust, and pushed my cock inside her. God, she was wet. Her insides clenched in overreaction, the nerves stimulated to extreme sensitivity. She cried out her relief, her eyes still distant, but brimming with ecstasy. I pulled the chain tighter, savoring the sweet song of her masochism as it flowed from her gaping lips, their pouty outlines trembling. I loomed my face over hers, staring possessively into those unseeing eyes.
You will be my holy servant, I thought, my demure representative of civility and humbleness, a beacon for all women to aspire. You will be my whore, my slave, and my begging slut, but the world will not see that side of you; that belongs to me. Yet, I didn’t say the words, and did not plant the idea into her emptied mind. A memory echoed through the halls of my psyche, starting out as a feeling without context, then slowly coming to focus, until it was practically playing behind my eyes.
Every time you hurt someone, Sister Julia, it’s because they wanted you to do it. You’re not to blame. It’s not your fault. They asked for it. They wanted your darkness. It was Night Eyes who had whispered it from Diamond’s mouth as I brutalized Lucilla. It had been a fantasy, but not one I’d conjured organically. It had been corrupted by an outsider, by an interloper. I looked over my shoulder, and saw my own daughter inundated with Night Eyes’s curse. She grinned at me as she penetrated me, whispering the devil’s temptation into my ear. I looked at Lucilla, beaten and whipped, long past begging, waiting for my darkness. I looked at my reflection in the baptismal water, eyes black as coal, with barely a sliver of emerald circling the pupil. The dream had come true.
“Diamond, Lucilla, God.” I whispered. They were all here now. The Good Mother had sent me her message, and it struck me like a lightning bolt. My jaw fell open. This was Lucilla! What had I done to her?! And this was Diamond, and she’d been… oh no… oh God… Bile churned in my belly, burning up my throat. The world became a discordant rabble of cruel laughs, lustful moans and terrified screams. They pulsed in my head, throbbed in my ears, growing louder, less distinct, becoming a wall of hellish noise that seemed to press in on me. I tore from the bodies of my daughter and lover, stumbling away, not wanting to look at what I’d done to them. I was greeted with the sight of rows upon rows of women, being raped into blubbering submission on my orders. They all looked like Lucilla to me; gazes distant, souls vacant, bodies ruined and used until they betrayed their owners. And they all looked at me, not with accusation, or with reverence, but with blank eyes, dispassionate eyes, dead eyes. ‘Why?’ they seemed to ask. I dropped to my knees, my stomach balling in my gut, my diaphragm heaving. I wretched onto the floor, and a splash of inky blackness dotted the stone. My throat felt like it would tear, my belly felt like it would burst and leak acid until it ate through my flesh. I heaved again, but my expulsion was dry. Every part of me was screaming for me to stop, to hold it in, to pretend it never happened. I stuck my fingers down my throat, and my stomach knotted itself. Pain coursed through me, burning across my insides, contracting every muscle, pounding against every organ. I gasped for air, but my lungs filled with liquid. I collapsed on to the floor, heaving, convulsing, eyes blurring, the world becoming a mosaic of red torches glistening over brownstone and pale bodies. It glinted to lines of light, running parallel between amorphous layers of color. Blackness filled my mouth, an acrid flavor touched my palette, and something gelatinous and hot poured from my nostrils and lips. It ran freely from me, seeming to sap my life with its exit. I was so weak. I was so cold. My head burned with fever, my eyes ached with pressure. The stones were cool on my face. How had the world become so small? Everything was so far away, at the end of a tunnel that seemed to stretch forever. Was that Jade Tao? Black faces screaming. ‘Julia!’ Mommy had cried. Her voice was so wrong, so pained, so guttural. That voice used to sing lullabies when I was scared, and it was so sweet, I thought it must be the Holy Mother’s. ‘Forever they will live as one, like two lovers of the sun, shining from creation’s birth, to hold a tether to the earth.’ It was an old hymnal she used to sing as she rocked me to sleep. It played it my mind as I slipped into the blackness.
I looked across the barren rocks, the hardpan earth, the mountains spewing smoke and flame into the acrid air. I looked to my left, and saw a young woman, slender, almost spindly, but wearing the same beautiful face that Sorrow and Greed had. Her hair and skin were both a deep red, but her eyes were pure white with a ring of black about the iris.
“This was once a warmer place.” She said softly, and her voice was remarkably high.
“It looks pretty hot to me.” I answered, looking the elf up and down, “Who are you?”
“I…” the elf tilted her head skyward, and a playful smile stretched her lips, “…am Hatred.”
“What do you know about Corruption?” I asked.
Hatred just giggled. She put her finger to her lips, kissed the tip of it, then twirled the finger teasingly as she aimed it at me, and slowly neared her hand. She touched the finger to my lips, and looked into my eyes. I didn’t feel any different. “Hmm,” Hatred mused, “you do not yet know me, for you are young, but you will soon find me on your tongue, mix love and time in proximity’s bowl, and I will wait to take my toll.”
“Tell me about Corruption, please.” I said, unable to keep the desperation from my voice. Hatred grinned broadly at me, then sat cross-legged on the stones. I sat across from her, and she began her tale.
“Father and mother had a daughter, and she listened closely to what they taught her, to the river, her daddy brought her, ‘be careful, girl; she comes from the water.’ But the girl was full of pride, so as the moon swelled the tide, on the sandy shore she waited, and Black emerged, quite elated. Black asked if the girl was born a royal, if she had lords and dukes to spoil, and she told Black ‘in the fields I toil, for my blood is worth less than soil.’ Black told her ‘no, your blood is pure, but of a lineage quite obscure, I can raise your family’s name, to pride and glory, fortune and fame.’ She asked Black, ‘and what must I pay, and how can I trust what you say?’ and Black said, ‘a child is all I need, and only after I’ve done the deed.’ But this is not my tale I tell, but of another who once fell, a story told a thousand times, from a thousand different rhymes. A family with regal potential, lacking something quintessential, Black gave them the credential, and their rise was exponential. But it was not for their own gain, as only puppets they did reign, for Black hates all society, all nations of all variety. Chaos is what she thinks is fair, so she melds with power’s heir, and when they’re set like dominoes, she purses her lips, grins, and blows.”
“Flora.” I whispered, “Flora made a deal with Corruption!” Hatred didn’t respond. She looked at her realm, and worked her jaw, her eyes burning with emotion.
“This used to be a land of green, the prettiest world you’d ever seen, of trees and grass and weeds and flowers, but it all wilted in the final hours.”
“What?” I asked, “Hatred, do you remember being alive?”
“If you know that you’re insane, then perhaps you’re simply vain, does knowing the state of my true self, make me just a rational elf?” Hatred prompted, “I know what I’m supposed to be, but is this what I chose to be? Am I hatred at the core, or is there yet another door?” Hatred grinned evilly at me, “Or perhaps it is my final center, and when my ancient mind you enter, you’ll see a truth I cannot see, but the last person you should tell, is me. For I am made of pain and death, of words spoken in heated breath, and if you tell me from where I come, I might go back to where you’re from.”
Hatred was on me in a flash, her teeth pulling my lower lip, her hands digging nails into my back, her skinny body pressing, her lust coating me with her violent grinds. She buried my erection with a drive her hips, her maleficent grin gaping to yield a giggling gasp. Her womanhood drew me into her with squeezing muscles, pulling me deeper, beckoning me to drive. She ripped my head back by the hair, exposed my neck, and sucked my throat, teasing with her teeth. I pivoted my hands behind me, and let her take control, feeling both incredibly aroused, and incredibly scared as Hatred rocked us to her death-metal rhythm. I had about a hundred scratches on me when she was done, and after she’d screamed her release, she pushed my head against the rocks, and stood over me, her body silhouetted by the eclipsed sun, shining dimly through the ash. She looked up at foreign sky, breathed deeply, and spoke in a tremendous, terrifying voice.
“A thousand years they are as one, like conjoined twins of the sun, and when they set with rattling breath, they’re torn apart by the hands of death. For a time, they will divorce, but it can’t be seen from the source, for blinding light is aptly named, but my fire is better tamed. At the dawn of the new era, the earth aligns with my caldera, and though my heat died long ago, my hatred still has room to grow.” Hatred leaned forward, kissed my lips, and whispered, “Thank you.” Then turned on her heel, and walked away.
“You were a Heat Bringer?!” I called. She just kept walking. There were so many questions, but Hatred didn’t seem to care. I had gotten her here, and she had repaid me by telling me of Corruption, but it was no longer enough. Something terrible had happened when I’d been traveling between realms, but I couldn’t figure out what. Angela’s mind was a twisted abstraction of memories and thoughts, none of them good. I needed real answers.
“Wait!” I cried, “Do you know who made you?” Hatred stopped, and looked over her shoulder at me.
“I tried to tell you, Diamond.” Hatred giggled, “This was once a warmer place, of kind eyes on morning’s face, I remember the song of birds, and the joy in my holy mother’s words.”
The smoke hazed her figure, and she disappeared into the blackness. I stared after her, clenching my fists, and unclenching them in turn. More cryptic religious bullshit! I sighed, and looked at the endless wasteland. One volcano stood high above the others, about one-hundred miles away. I puffed out my cheeks, blew air through flapping lips, leapt to my feet, and started my journey. The spaces between mountains were flat, with not a hill to ease the gradient. Hatred’s world was one of extremes; it was either a plateau, or a sheer cliff. I found a steam-powered cart sitting on derelict tracks, and I gratefully sat in the passenger’s seat, and pulled the crank. My head shot back, my neck whiplashed, and my eyelids and lips peeled as I rocketed across Hatred’s realm. The cart came to a lurching stop, and I was at the entrance to Hatred’s center. It was a cave at the bottom of the volcano, paneled with stone slabs, and lined with pedestals that were illuminated by magmatic light from slotted windows. At the very back, sitting on a podium, was a bible.
Like Wrath’s realm, the pedestals showed paintings, each one crafted by less-experienced hands, until the one closest to the bible looked to have been created by a toddler. Only unlike Wrath’s center, I could easily tell what each painting was. The newest painting was of two suns: one yellow, and one red; the earthly, and astral suns, I guessed. Between them, was a frayed and torn rope, and holding the other end of the rope, was Hatred. I moved to the next painting, and the suns were closer together, and the end of the rope between the suns had a knot before its break. Hatred still held her end, but the detail of her figure was noticeably simpler. I moved to the next painting, and the suns were even closer, the knotted rope had two frayed ends forking from it, and Hatred’s proportions were exaggerated, like a cartoon’s. I moved to the last painting, this one done with finger-paint, and the suns were one, creating an eclipse as seen in the astral plane, lashed together by the rope. Holding the other end of the rope, was a stick-figure drawing of an elf. Not Hatred, but a smiley-faced woman.
“Joy…” I murmured, “This was once a warmer place, of kind eyes on morning’s face, I remember the song of birds, and the joy in my holy mother’s words.” I recited softly, trying to piece-together the puzzle. Hatred remembered being tethered, when birds sung in her realm of life, when the twin suns showed warmly, ‘of kind eyes on morning’s face,’ and when she thought her holy purpose was to bring joy to the world. Much like Serenity and Passion, Joy had an emotive purpose that had been dictated by her Live Giver.
“You were tethered to the astral sun.” I said, staring at the last painting, “But when the eclipse ended, you became Sentient, and…” my eyes fell to bible at the very back of the room. I walked cautiously to it, and opened the oldest piece of Hatred. In the dawn, there were but two. The Holy Virgin walked alone upon the world, bathed in her light, while The Interloper walked beneath it, reveling in the dark… I skimmed ahead to the first day, On the first day, The Holy Mother created life, the land on which it walked, and the sun with which it shined. She birthed those that would carry her likeness; the human, elf, dwarf and nymph; the orc, goblin, ogre and troll; the centaur, siren… That part was still the same. I skipped through the list of the Holy Mother’s supposed creations until I got to the third day, the day that had been changed in Wrath’s bible, but that was also the same. On the third day, The Holy Mother created wind… In Hatred’s book, it was the second day that had been changed, but it hadn’t been changed just once. On the second day, The Holy Mother- ON THE SECOND DAY, THE HOLY MOTHER CREATED HATRED, FOR ALL THAT IS JOY TURNS TO DUST IN THE END! The original text was crudely written-over, by big, bold lettering.
“What the heck is going…” I trailed off, and looked down. There were black footprints beneath my feet. I frowned, dipped my finger in the ash that littered the volcanic floor, and wrote into the bible: On the second day, The Holy Mother created… but the text disappeared almost as soon as I’d written it. I didn’t know what Joy would’ve turned to without Corruption’s intervention, but Corruption had made sure that once the astral eclipse ended, she got her word in. What had been in Joy’s center? My own center was just my earliest memories, but my astral garden was unique; I wasn’t a construct of a Life Giver. What were in the centers of Angela and Arbitrus? If they went Sentient, would they have bibles with lies written in them? Why?!
“On the third day, the Holy Mother created Wrath. On the second day, the Holy Mother created Hatred. On the first day…” My eyes fell back to the black footprints beneath my feet. I followed their path around the podium, to the wall behind it. There was a doorknob hidden in the shadow of the podium, and a threshold concealed by the paneling. The bible was here, this was the final center, but there was still a door. Then there’s only one place this could lead to. Corruption had to get in here somehow. And right now, she’s not home. I reached forward, and clasped the knob. I took a deep breath, and turned my wrist. I heard a bolt clicking, and felt my hand rotate unhindered. I heard a giggle behind me, and looked back. Hatred stood in the entrance to her center, watching me with a coy grin that juxtaposed her baleful, white eyes. As I met that maleficent gaze, I wondered if I’d just awoken an ancient evil even worse than Corruption. One Sentient at a time, Diamond. The world still has two-hundred years. Besides, she likes me. I waved to her, and she waved back. Then I stepped through the door, and closed it behind me.
Lucilla, Diamond and Julia looked dead. They were in bed beside each other, their complexions almost as pale as the sheets pulled around them. Outside of Brandon’s temple, the angry grumble of the populace roared a low, but threatening tone. Word of Willowbud and Julia’s exploits had gotten around, and the people were growing restless. Rumors of Tentigo and Arbortus had already made the rounds, but without any witnesses, there was enough deniability to keep the gods’ records clean. There was no deniability here. Willowbud had shackled her whores to the floor of her temple, and Julia had ordered that every one of them be gangraped. Public perception of the gods had changed from awe to fear as the tale swept through the city. The nobles hid themselves in their mansions, the king barricaded himself in his palace, and the poor, lacking high walls to protect themselves, had found safety in numbers. A mixture of Breytans and Ofanians stood between the mass of people and Brandon’s temple, strong and straight-backed, like statues ready to kill. Sara and her elves guarded Julia’s temple, while no one guarded Willowbud’s. Of course, even the most insane person wouldn’t venture to cross Night Eyes, so I guessed a violent reputation had its uses.
“How’s her pulse?” Brandon asked me as I held two of my fingers to Diamond’s (Angela’s) throat.
“Steady.” I replied, trying to remain medically dispassionate. Jade told us that Diamond and Julia had vomited copious amounts of black bile, then both went into shock. Lucilla had been tortured into some kind of fugue state, and simply stared sightlessly at the ceiling. No one even knew where Willowbud had gone, but Astrid was out hunting.
“Are these cosmetic astral gemstones?” Brandon asked, inspecting Diamond’s temples.
“No, they’re medical.” I lied, “Diamond was having migraines.”
Brandon nodded, then moved his attention to Julia. He held her limp wrist, and closed his eyes, counting her heartbeats under his breath.
“How is Her Holiness?” Jade asked. She’d been glued to Julia’s bedside the whole time. For whatever reason, she was wearing a scandalous red robe that evoked a ‘nun gone slutty’ vibe. I’d worn something similar for a few of my customers, but I got the feeling Jade wasn’t wearing it for the irony. She seemed to wear it with immeasurable pride. I didn’t have the heart to tell her there was cum in her hair.
“Stable.” Brandon replied, “But what happened to her is beyond my reach. I can’t heal psychological or spiritual damage. We’ll just have to wait and see.” Brandon moved to Lucilla, and checked her vitals. She hummed when he touched her neck, but she otherwise didn’t respond. He snapped his fingers across her eyes, cracked smelling salts beneath her nose, and even tried pinching her, but all he got was the compulsive reactions of her body.
“Goddamn it.” Brandon sighed, collapsing into his chair, and kneading his forehead. Mom was there to massage his shoulders, and Bianca was there to glare at Mom with obvious jealousy.
“Diamond did as she promised,” Mom said, “we don’t have to run now.”
“Unless they decide they want to get in.” Brandon grumbled, nodding toward the window.
“They wouldn’t gain one step past our line.” Bianca said firmly.
“I’m not worried about the mob.” Brandon sighed, “Julia scared a lot of people today, Bianca; a lot of rich people. When rich people are scared, they pay heaps of money to scary people who specialize in making other scary people go away. There’s going to be assassins.”
“I can proof your temples.” Mom replied, much to Bianca’s ire. “I know every trick of the trade, and whoever they pay, they won’t be better than me.”
“Eagles catch snakes far better than other snakes, Your Holiness.” Bianca narrowed her eyes at Mom.
“Stop.” Brandon held up his hand before Mom could reply, “Find a way to work together, or find someone else to work for.”
“Yes, Your Holiness.” Bianca said, bowing. Mom gave Brandon a look that said she very-much liked his authoritative nature, but she resisted the urge to dive between his legs, and instead gave a conciliatory nod. I felt a gentle touch on my hand, and nearly jumped out of my skin. Angela stared up at me from Diamond’s eyes, her gaze but slits beneath heavy lids. The whole room rushed to her side, but Jade held up a strong arm to keep from crowding. Angela mouthed something I couldn’t hear. I put a finger to her lips, imploring her to save her strength, but she shook her head, and mouthed it again. I leaned forward, and through a raspy, faint voice, I heard her say,
“Diamond is going to Corruption’s realm.”
I was on my fifth cigarette in as many minutes. The hood concealed my white hair, and astral melds concealed my black eyes. It had been a long time since I’d felt the need to hide. Hiding went against my nature, hiding was what pussies did, what… she did. Maybe I just wanted to be alone; I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I wanted anymore.
What the fuck is wrong with you, Corruption? I asked. There was no reply, as always. The person closest to me couldn’t even speak to me. I took a deep inhale of smoke, and let it flow from my mouth, creating a curtain of white over my face. My back still hurt like a bitch from where Sister Julia had branded me. I wish I could’ve said I fought her, but I let the holy cunt do it. Why? Well, deep down, I knew the reason. Sister Julia terrified me. I thought she and Willowbud were so alike, but I was so wrong. Our scars were the same, but the wounds had healed in very different ways. Sister Julia was filled with undeniable purpose, and Willowbud was hopelessly apathetic, even to her own life. Shit, if Astrid hadn’t come along when she did, Willowbud would’ve let the slavers take her to where ever.
I glanced at the spot on the street. It had been filled-in a year ago, but the scar remained. A ten-foot circle of new cobblestone stood starkly from the rest of the worn path. I supposed everyone just thought it was a sinkhole, but it was a grave. It was where Night Eyes died. I glanced at the street corner. It looked exactly the same as it had that day. This was where he saw me, and this is where I saw him. He was standing on that corner, a map in his hand, looking ragged, worn, and ten years older, but I knew him the moment I saw my father, and he knew me the moment he saw me. There had been tears in his eyes, I remembered, and he ran right for me, not caring that ten well-armed and well-muscled bangers surrounded me. I stepped past my men, not believing what I was seeing, and before I knew it, his arms were around me. That’s when I felt Willowbud again, surging back to the forefront. ‘Daddy, Daddy, Daddy…’ she still thought of him as ‘Daddy,’ and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Willowbud was still a little girl, she hadn’t been with me when I grew to a woman; only Night Eyes had undergone the maturation. Childlike euphoria mixed with sadistic sexuality, and before I knew it, I was kissing my father in the middle of the street, and pushing my hands down his pants. I knew he didn’t want it, but he didn’t try to pull away. He’d known what I’d become, but he wasn’t scared of me. He just wanted me to feel better, and if that meant fucking me, then that’s what he’d do. He’d been looking for me for a decade, after all, with the memory of a little girl burned in his mind. Seeing me as woman made it easier for things to… work biologically. Then I rode him in that hotel on the corner, and I made him come inside me, and I killed him. I think it was the look in his eyes that killed me. They were terrified, confused, unrecognizing. In his last moments, pain and primal horror had gripped him, and he didn’t even know who I was. He was just the frantic need to survive, then he was dead. The guilt stabbed into me, and Corruption roared her fury in my mind. Like my father, I became the singularity of pain and horror, and I somehow ended up half a mile beneath the city. I think it was the silence I pursued, or maybe the solitude. Either way, it was the first time in years that I’d been truly alone. She was gone, and judging by the destruction of the bedrock around me, our separation had not been peaceful. I’d created a great hollow beneath Drastin, probably my greatest creation to date, and it was filled with contorted statues of my fevered mind. They stood in complete darkness, but I could see them through the tremors of the earth. It was Night Eyes’s mausoleum. Willowbud had been reborn.
“Hey, Astrid.” I sighed, punching out the cigarette, “You can come out of that alleyway; you’re about as stealthy as an ostrich in a chicken coop.”
Astrid emerged from the shadows she’d been hiding in, staring down at her feet. “I didn’t want to bother you, Mistress.”
“And you have failed,” I said, patting the spot beside me on the curb, “but you should be used to it by now.”
Astrid sat awkwardly beside me, her large frame making her knees press to her bare breasts. “What did you think of Sister Julia today?” I asked her.
“My opinion doesn’t matter.” Astrid said quietly.
“No, it doesn’t, but I’m asking for it anyway.” I handed her a cigarette, and she lit it.
“I think that you should never again tempt Sister Julia with Corruption,” Astrid replied, “or it will be the death of all of us. She’s not like you, Mistress. When she goes dark, she is… pure evil.”
“And I’m what? Evil-lite?” I laughed.
“You’re not evil, not really.” Astrid said, offering me a small smile. “True evil thinks it is doing good, but you just do whatever suits you. You’re chaotic, undirected, like an earth quake that destroys without discrimination, or premeditation.”
“An earth quake, huh?” I grinned, “Like a force of nature.”
“Yes.” Astrid said, sucking on her cigarette.
“Sister Julia won’t stop trying to save me.” I replied, “And I can’t just let her have her way with me, Astrid. I need to win. It’s a compulsion, an obsession. I know Sister Julia will probably kill me when she turns; she’ll probably kill me slow, but I can’t just let her win.”
“Then why play?” Astrid asked, looking down at me through a veil of smoke, “If winning means losing, then why don’t you just make the game irrelevant, like you did in the children’s game?”
“Flip the board?” I chuckle, “I don’t think I can do that here.”
“Just don’t play.” Astrid shrugged her shoulders, “Take your ball, claim victory, and go home. Sister Julia did things today that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Her only redemption will be if she can rid you of Corruption, then in her mind, it will have been worth it. If you refuse to play, then all her sacrifices were in vain. You win.”
“Speaking of evil bitches…” I smirked at Astrid. She twisted her lips into a pout, and gave me a side-eyed guilty look. It was adorable, and it immediately prompted the urge to face-fuck the woman into a weeping, drooling mess. So, I did. As she gurgled and choked, her arms pressing her breasts together to lead hands between her legs, the knuckles working fervently to deliver fingers into her ravenous depths, I wondered if Astrid’s advice was right. Was the only way to win, to not play? It seemed counterintuitive, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Corruption was holding on to me by a thread, and I doubted I could withstand one more turn of Sister Julia’s psychological warfare. She knew where all my weak spots were. And what were Sister Julia’s weak spots? Well, they were Diamond, Lucilla, and God, in no particular order, and Sister Julia had done a number on Lucilla and Diamond today, all in the name of God. If I engaged her, I’d give her a reason to keep going, but if I just stepped back, and let her flounder in the mess she’d made, she might just sink on her own accord. Then I would swoop in while she was weak, and deliver Corruption to her on a silver platter. Fuck Astrid and her stupid ideas; I wasn’t going to just walk away from this. I was going to fucking win.
Blackened faces screaming. Eyes wide with agony, staring at nothing, seeing only their pain. Blue flame around me, inside me, coursing from my flesh. Silence, moonlight, night. Sapphire embers smoldering in the wreckage, illuminating ash that falls like snow. Passion screams and begs, but I just laugh. Lucilla screams and begs, but I just laugh. Sapphire embers twinkle and dim, and in the silence, I can still hear the screams. I just giggle.
“Julia?” a voice asked. My eyes fluttered open, and the blur of color came to focus behind painful light. Brandon and Jade were standing over me, equally-relieved smiles on their faces.
“Diamond?” I croaked.
“I’m here, Mom.” Diamond said from the other bed. I barely had the strength to turn my head, but I had to see. Her bright emeralds shown from pure whites, and a single tear rolled down my cheek.
“I’m sorry.” I mouthed, unable to speak the words. My throat was closing with the guilt, choking me. Diamond just smiled weakly, no blame in her expression. She was too good for me, and judging by the look Justina was giving me, I wasn’t the only one with that sentiment. I turned my head to look at the ceiling, and steeled myself before I asked, “Lucilla?”
“She’s outside.” Brandon said, gesturing to the arched entryway of the room. We were in his Great Maple, I guessed. The cavernous confines spoke of comfort, but the only thing I felt was horrible dread. I had done unforgivable things, I had planned on doing even worse. I had tortured the one I loved, broken her to her essence, and stripped her of herself. My body felt like there wasn’t an ounce of strength within it, but I numbly managed to roll myself over, again and again, until I was at the edge of the bed. Jade stopped me before I toppled off it.
“You need rest, Julia.” Brandon said, rolling me onto my back. His expression betrayed him; he didn’t want me to see what Lucilla had become. What I’d made her.
“Jade, carry me.” I said hoarsely. Brandon might’ve objected, but Jade didn’t care what he had to say. She pulled me into her arms, and walked me out the door. It was nighttime, and Brandon’s arboretum was glowing with millions of bioluminescent blues and greens. Willow trees dangled glowing strands of azure around the ponds at the base of the maple, cherry blossoms added their bright pinks to the mix, and lilacs countered them with deep purples. Everything was in full bloom, alight with divine power, and smelling of budding life and humidity. Lucilla slouched spinelessly in a wicker loveseat, facing away from me, and regarding the spectacle from the balcony. Tera massaged Lucilla shoulders and whispered into Lucilla’s ear, but Lucilla didn’t seem to hear. Tera turned when Jade approached, and offered us both a cordial smile, before leaving. Jade settled me beside Lucilla, and she also left. A deer with glowing antlers bounded in the brush. An albino squirrel leapt between baobab trees. A humming bird flitted through a nearby flower patch, leaving an after image with each of its rapid movements. I saw these things, because I did not want to turn and see Lucilla’s blank expression. I could tell just by her posture that she was still that empty thing I’d made her. I’d rather she’d hate me. I’d rather she spit in my face, tell me she never wanted to see me again, and walked away, but she just sat there, and I couldn’t bear to look. I sat with her, and stared numbly at the miracle Brandon had made as I slowly sank into my despair.
“Next time, we should probably use a safe word.” Lucilla whispered beside me. I choked, sputtered, and burst into tears. I collapsed into Lucilla’s lap, and vented my sorrow as she pet my hair, and whispered tearfully of forgiveness.
It was just me and Bianca in the room now. Diamond, Tera and Justina had left for Tera’s safehouse to work on their research, while Lucilla and Julia had gone back to their temple. Astrid and Willowbud were gone, but I knew they’d be back by sunrise. I rubbed at my eyes, trying to process the day’s events. There was something I was missing in all of this, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. At the center of everything, was Corruption. Julia and Willowbud were battling in a game of wills, while Diamond, Justina and Tera were trying to find the secrets of Sentients with Gloria’s old books, and Lucilla was… what was Lucilla doing? I highly doubted the princess was standing idle while her beloved was playing such a dangerous game. Freydis was supposedly off to Iona, but no word had come back from my Ofanian scouts. Flora was still at large, as was Angela. In all the chaos of today, I’d forgotten to ask Diamond about my sister. Too busy swapping spit with her, huh? I sneered at myself. She was a fantastic kisser, I had to give her that. I glanced at Bianca, who was resting against the heartwood of the maple.
“What do you think of all this?” I asked her, “Speak candidly.”
“I think you should reconsider staying here, Your Holiness.” Bianca replied tiredly, “Going to Arbortus was a good plan.”
“I can’t leave Willowbud here. God knows what she’d do if I abandoned her. Diamond was right, Bianca; I’d be a coward to leave.”
“Bravery and stupidity walk hand-in-hand, Your Holiness.” Bianca said, “I can’t tell you how many Ofanians have died stupidly for the sake of bravery.”
“Well, no one’s ever accused me of being smart.” I chuckled. Bianca offered a tired smile.
“I carry the Ofanian curse of stupid bravery as well.” She said, pulling her thickly-braided hair back to reveal a nasty, swollen scab, “Just yesterday I drew on Astrid Skyborne. I’m lucky to have lived to tell the tale.”
“Shit, Bianca!” I exclaimed, and scurried over to her, “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Pride.” Bianca sighed, letting me inspect the wound, “I was embarrassed to have been so easily defeated. I didn’t want you to know that you got the worst of the winged-warriors.”
“Quit with that nonsense.” I tsked, reducing the swelling, healing the wound, and adding follicles over the bare spot. When I couldn’t see any more damage, I ran my hands through her wooly hair, making sure I hadn’t missed anything. It was only after I was done examining her, that I realized I had positioned her to kneel between my legs. I tentatively pulled my hands away, and her head tilted slowly up. Her eyes were big and brown, the same color as her skin, and her lips were impossibly full, centering a face of dramatic cheekbones and a wide, smooth nose.
“You know,” Bianca whispered, her voice shaking, “if you asked me to lie with you, I would, Your Holiness.”
“Astrid and Jade have both lain with their gods, so if you expect as much from me, I will not object.” Bianca’s hands moved slowly up my thighs.
“You can do whatever you wish to me.” Bianca said, her hands meeting in the middle, “I will gladly obey.”
“Stop.” I finally managed, putting my hand over hers, her fingers hooking my belt. Bianca gulped, her cheeks grew red, and her eyes began to glimmer.
“I am sorry, Your Holiness.” Bianca hissed, “I know I am old and undesirable. I just thought-”
“You are fire-ass hot, and a constant source of distraction for me.” I said firmly, but with a smile, “Every time you’re not looking at me, I am looking at all of you.”
“Oh.” Bianca said, blushing more furiously than ever. At least the tears had gone from her eyes. She regained herself, and dawned a coy smile, “If you so desire me, then…”
“No.” I said, “I won’t ask you to have sex with me.”
“What if I asked you?” Bianca whispered, her brown eyes big and pleading.
“Then I’d still say ‘no,’ because it goes against your codes to do so, and I wouldn’t have you throw your life’s work away over one moment of physical weakness.” I held Bianca’s chin, and guided her to stand, “You are my High Guard, after all, not my whore. Willowbud and Julia might not respect their guardians enough to know the distinction, but I do.”
Bianca’s chest swelled with pride, and I struggled not to stare unabashedly at her tits. “You are an honorable man, Your Holiness.” She managed through a tear-choked throat. She saluted smartly, then left the room with her head held high. I watched her go, wondering if she’d noticed the boner I was packing. She definitely did. I sighed, walked to the heartwood of the maple, opened the tree, and went back to work. What a shitty day this had been.
“Holy shit.” I muttered. The room was silent after Angela had finished recounting everything she and Diamond had discovered in their respective astral journeys. In her comatose state, Angela had attempted to go back to her realm, but with no luck, so she instead discovered the shit-bomb of memory left in Diamond’s astral garden. There was just too many revelations, too many implications, and way too many questions.
“Well, one thing’s for sure.” Angela sighed, and looked at me, “Your sister’s a fucking cunt, Tera.”
“Yeah.” I laughed humorlessly. The revelation that Flora had made a deal with Corruption would’ve been life-changing any other day, but today, it was a footnote. I looked over at Justina, my little scientist with a mind for the practical and a disdain for the theological, and I could see the conflict written across her face.
“There has to be logical explanation.” Justina finally said, “The answer to our questions can’t just be ‘God is real, and her job is to hand out bibles to the undead.’”
“No one’s saying that,” I said, “but we can’t ignore the pattern. There was a bible in Wrath’s center, a bible in Hatred’s center, and there will be a bible in Corruption’s center.”
“We think.” Justina said darkly, “Two instances don’t make a pattern.”
“Our knowledge is scant, and our evidence is nonexistent.” I replied, “We’re operating on projection and theory. We’re dealing with the realm of cognizance, Justina; we can’t be a slave to the scientific method when studying the irrational.”
“These things are the degraded constructs of dead minds.” Justina said, “They’re not complicated.”
“The only thing that separates them from me, is a soul.” Angela said quietly, “They’re like living thoughts that have been abandoned by themselves.” Angela looked at Justina, “When I was in my realm, I felt… singular, like I was the embodiment of my title. I felt so sure of my purpose, so belonging.”
“Do you think the Holy Mother came down from heaven to give you a divine purpose?” Justina laughed.
“It’s not like that.” Angela frowned, “But there was a sense of connection that I don’t feel here. I knew that my realm was exactly how it should be, and its place within the astral plane was exactly where it had always been. It was like a spot had been reserved just for me, Serenity.”
“And you think God reserved it for you.” Justina wasn’t smiling anymore, but crossing her arms, and frowning.
Angela shrugged. “It doesn’t have to be God. My realm could have just always been. Perhaps there are thousands of empty realms waiting for Tethered Ones and Sentients to fill them, each realm a unique emotion felt by all thinking things. Maybe the astral plane wasn’t made by design; maybe it evolved as people do, as thoughts and emotions became more complex.” Angela frowned to herself, “The maternal bible is the oldest story known to civilization. It’s the lie we tell ourselves about where we came from. Over and over, day after day, millions of people are believing that the Holy Mother created them, and they are pushing those thoughts into the astral plane. Of course Sentients adopted the Maternal Path, and made themselves part of it; the Maternal Path is the single strongest idea in the astral plane.”
“But the order.” I said, “Wrath didn’t even know who Corruption and Sorrow were when Diamond asked them, yet he took the third day of creation? How did he know he was the third?”
“Wrath didn’t, but Halok did,” Justina said, pulling Halok’s bible out, “and he became very religious toward the end. The way you say it, Gloria described Halok’s degradation as a slow process, that he lost himself one piece at a time as Trenok started dying. Why would he become religious at the end? Was it mortal fear, or a growing sense of connection to the most pervasive idea in the astral plane?”
“It makes sense.” Angela nodded, “As Serenity, I would have one foot in both realms, but as Silence, I would be wholly astral. In the physical world, I am a slave to the laws of reality, but the laws of cognizance are governed by the most prominent thoughts. I would have to conform to the Maternal Path; I wouldn’t have a choice.”
“It’s an interesting idea.” I frowned, unable to shake the feeling that we were missing some critical piece. It was certainly a better explanation than ‘God did it,’ but it still felt wrong.
“Like you said, Mom,” Justina sighed, “we’re operating on projection and theory now. All we have is ideas.”
“For now, let’s just stick with what we know.” Angela said, “We now know why Corruption melds with who she melds with. We know that Sentients can change each other by writing in their newly-made bibles before the ink is dried, so to speak. We know that Hatred used to be Joy, who used to be a Heat Bringer, and we know that Hatred is batshit crazy, and likes to rhyme.”
“Joy, Passion, Serenity… Arbitrus?” Justina frowned, “Why doesn’t he have an emotive name?”
A knock on the door sent all our head spinning. I put a silencing finger to my lips, grabbed my knife belt, and tiptoed along the wall, careful to keep my body out of the door’s sightline. I peeked through the peephole in the wall, and sighed when I saw Lucilla’s face illuminated by the patterns that ran up her neck.
“You forgot the secret knock, Princess.” I grumbled.
“Shit.” Lucilla cursed, then knocked three times, smacked the flat of her palm against the door, and added three more knocks.
“It’s a little late now.” I sighed, “Is anyone else with you? Were you followed?”
“She’s alone.” An unfamiliar voice said from out of sight. The contradiction wasn’t lost on me.
“That’s Sara; she’ll be waiting outside.” Lucilla replied. I kept a hand on my knife, and opened the door. Sara stayed at a respectable distance, but her hands were inside her robe, and I didn’t doubt they were both occupied. She nodded to me, and I nodded to her, and Lucilla pushed past me into the safehouse. I closed the door, and left the deadly little elf to stand guard in the night. Lucilla pulled off her cloak, folded it twice over her arm, and looked long and hard at Angela and Justina. Angela stared back, unmoving and unflinching, while Justina became extremely interested in the bedspread.
“Arbitrus is ancient elvish for ‘Purity.’” Lucilla finally said, “Arbitrus Gen literally translates to ‘man of purity.’”
“Oh.” Justina said quietly, not meeting Lucilla’s gaze. It was obvious that Justina felt responsible for what had happened to Diamond, and to some extent, so did Lucilla, despite how hard I tried to explain to her that Diamond had gone off on her own.
“Tera told me everything you three -you four- have been doing.” Lucilla said curtly, seating herself on the edge of the bed, “From what I understand, Diamond has gone from Wrath, to Sorrow, to Greed’s realm. There was a realm in between, and now she’s traveling to Corruption’s realm. Is that right?”
“That’s right.” Angela said, a million words flowing between her eyes, and Lucilla’s.
“And…?” Lucilla prompted. Angela cleared her throat, and recounted everything she’d told us about Hatred, and her visit with Corruption. When she was done, Lucilla just nodded, her expression unreadable. She reached into her cloak, and pulled out a maternal bible.
“Forever they will live as one, like two lovers of the sun, shining from creation’s birth, to hold a tether to the earth.” Lucilla recited, then looked up, “It’s in the hymnal section. What did you say Hatred said?”
“A thousand years they are as one, like conjoined twins of the sun, and when they set with rattling breath, they’re torn apart by the hands of death.” Angela replied.
“It’s a bastardization of the hymn, obviously. Whoever wrote the hymn didn’t think the astral sun would ever part from the physical sun.” Justina added.
Lucilla nodded. “And Corruption confirmed that with what she told Angela. But what was it she said after?”
“‘Joy turns to dust, and Hatred is born. If you wish to know hell, you must first know love.’” Angela recounted.
“We’re operating under the presumption that Corruption had a romantic relationship with her Life Giver.” I explained to Lucilla, “Obviously, it didn’t end well for them.”
“No, there’s clearly some animosity.” Lucilla said, “But what about Corruption’s relationship with Hatred?”
“Who fucking knows.” Justina sighed, “Maybe she wasn’t too big a fan of Joy when she was a Tethered One. Maybe she just didn’t like another Sentient claiming spots in the maternal bible.”
“Um… no.” Lucilla said slowly, “If there’s one thing I know, it’s jealousy-fueled hatred. These two bitches knew each other, and they had beef.”
“Lucilla, Hatred is younger than Corruption by at least two-thousand years.” I said, “Elves live long lives, but not that long.”
“Maybe she’s not.” Angela whispered, excitement catching her eyes, “Did Hatred call Corruption ‘the most ancient one?’ No! She called her ‘Black.’”
“They’re the same age!” Justina gasped.
“Only Joy got tethered, and Corruption was left to rot.” Lucilla said, “So no wonder she went after the bitch the moment she could.”
“Ok, but how does that help us?” I asked, “So they knew each other; so what? We need information on Corruption! We need to find the skeletons in her closet!”
“Wait…” Justina said, her eyes practically bulging from their sockets, her lower lips quivering, “Why would Corruption know a Heat Bringer and a Life Giver, hmm?” Justina looked around at all of us, “Why does Corruption fit like a glove into Willowbud Autumnsong? Why does Corruption so badly want to bind an Earth Former and a Life Giver?!”
“She was an Earth Former!” Lucilla gasped. The room was silent for a moment, the revelation hanging in the air between the four of us. It wasn’t iron-clad truth, but goddamn, did it make sense. But how could we use it? How could that information dislodge Corruption from Willowbud, or at least help Willowbud change Corruption into something more innocuous?
“We need to find out more.” I said quietly, “We need to find out who this Life Giver was.”
“More missing pieces.” Justina sighed, “There isn’t a record even half as old as these things could be.”
“I’ve never been a devout follower of the Maternal Path,” Lucilla said softly as she opened the book, and caressed a page, “but Julia has made it her life’s work, so I’ve become an expert by proximity. I know you’re a high-minded new-age atheist, and it’s very trendy to bible-bash, but this piece of literature is the oldest record known to man.”
“Every line from that book has been turned-over and analyzed a thousand times, and not an ounce of truth has ever come from it.” Justina hissed.
“We’re not dealing with facts, Justina; we’re dealing with sentient thoughts.” I said, “If they think the maternal bible is true, then we need to think as they do to understand them.”
“It’s more than that, Tera.” Lucilla said, looking very serious, “There are secrets to this book yet to be unlocked, secrets that died tens of thousands of years ago. This bible mentions the tethering of the astral suns. Were they tethered beforehand, or were they tethered to keep Joy alive?”
“Lucilla, what the fuck are you saying?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at her.
“I think these Sentients might be old enough to answer some of the greatest questions about this book.” Lucilla said, “Who knows how much of this bible is literal history? The Sentients themselves might even be in some of the latter chapters!”
“…and the joy in my Holy Mother’s words.” Angela whispered, her voice shaking. She hadn’t said a word since she’d mentioned that Hatred called Corruption ‘Black,’ and I realized it was because she’d been playing-over Hatred’s words again, and again, trying to find that missing piece that had nagged at me insistently, always poking at the back of my mind. “This was once a warmer place, of kind eyes on morning’s face, I remember the song of birds, and the joy in my holy mother’s words. It was the answer to the question, ‘who made you?’”
“No.” Lucilla said firmly, “No, that’s ridiculous, Angela.”
“On the first day, The Holy Mother created life, the land on which it walked, and the sun with which it shined.” Angela replied.
“Life, earth, fire.” I muttered, my heart sinking.
“Corruption’s a human, Angela!” Lucilla growled, incensed by the blasphemy.
“Tera’s a succubus, and Flora’s a nymph.” Angela replied quietly, “How does the bible describe Satan? Pointed horns, long tail, devilishly handsome? Does he live in a world of darkness, like say, a nocturnal predator?”
“An incubus.” I whispered, the words barely coming from me, “A rapist of seduction, but not of force.”
“The Holy Mother is called the Holy Mother because she is literally, the mother of holiness.” Angela said levelly to the increasingly-anxious Lucilla, “She gave birth to the first Creators.”
I looked over at Justina to see her fervently reading Halok’s bible, her eyes squinting as the irises ran rapidly down the lines. I looked over at Angela to see her putting a calming hand on Lucilla’s thigh as she seemed to physically wrestle with the idea.
“You know I can’t believe that, Angela.” Lucilla hissed, her voice raspy.
“Why not?” I asked, “If it’s true, then it could be the secret to neutralizing Corruption!”
“Because if it’s true, then the thing holding Julia together is a lie.” Angela said, giving Lucilla’s thigh a comforting squeeze. Lucilla nodded, wiped the tears from her eyes, and stood up.
“Please tell me when you hear from Diamond again.” Lucilla said to Angela as she grasped the doorknob, then turned to me, and gave me a grave look. “Tell me as soon as you can, Tera, before it’s too late.” And she was gone with a slam of the door, the sound ringing in our ears, and echoing from the walls.
“What the hell did she mean by that?” Justina asked.
“We’re running out of time.” I muttered, “Can’t you feel it? Everything’s barreling to something horrible, but no one knows what, and no one knows when. We all just know it’s soon.”
I wasn’t too oblivious to not notice that Lucilla was doing something secret. I suspected she was putting up safeguards for us, in her own way. I knew it had something to do with the elves, but I didn’t question any of them. I trusted Lucilla, and I understood why she no longer trusted me. I didn’t even trust me anymore. How could I, when I was pressing myself against Night Eyes, moaning her name, tasting her lips and feeling her inside me? She’d dissipated through the walls like an apparition in the night, but I wasn’t surprised. I knew she’d come, and I knew she’d give me what I needed. Just a taste; not like before. All I needed was a taste, and that’s all she would give me. It burned its sweet euphoria in my lungs, sent ecstatic tears to my eyes, and carved a manic grin across my face. It made me move like a whore atop Night Eyes; my hips shifting, my belly flexing, my breasts jiggling in ripples that traversed my chest with each drop of my body. She sucked the milk from me, her teeth biting playfully, her grin as wicked as mine. She came inside me, and I locked my thighs around her waist, and held her until every last drop had been soaked into my womb. She finished my cock off with her mouth, taking me deeply, looking up at me with eyes full of submission. She swallowed most of it, then let the rest spray across her face, marring her complexion for me, marking her as mine. I tasted my seed on our kiss, and reluctantly pushed the morsel of Corruption she’d given me back into her lungs. Just a taste. I could handle a taste.
“I’m done playing our game.” Night Eyes said, her slender from silhouetted against the moonlight as she did her belt.
“It’s for the best, I guess.” I replied. Night Eyes looked up sharply.
“Call it a tie?” I grinned at her. I knew her too well; I knew she’d pull this on me.
“Fuck you, Sister.” Night Eyes laughed her sardonic laugh, and I added my melodic giggle to the mix.
“I’m going to repent for my sins tomorrow.” I said, tearing the sheets of the bed, and adding fresh ones, “Will you join me, or are you just going to watch?”
“I’m not much for martyrdom.” Night Eyes replied, “Besides, I have a reputation to protect.”
“So do I, that’s why I’m doing this.” I snorted, “And to atone for my sins, of course.”
“Of course.” Night Eyes grinned in the dark. Then she was over the side of the window, and out of sight. I sighed, and finished making the bed. I burned the old sheets, blew the smell out with some hot convection, then walked nakedly to the door. Jade was outside, trying to hide her knowing smile.
“Don’t you give me that smirk, Jade.” I crinkled my nose at her, “Just because I was corrupted, doesn’t mean I forgot what I saw you doing earlier today.”
“I meant no offense, Your Holiness.” Jade said, forcing her lips into a frown. I looked at her, still clothed in that blasphemous outfit. I hadn’t ordered the Breytans to remove them yet, and it wasn’t due to oversight. I wanted them to wear them. I snuck a hand up the slit of Jade’s robes, and felt her tremble when my fingers slid up the crack of her ass.
“When it’s just us, Jade.” I said in a hushed voice, my fingertips caressing her rim, “I want you to call me ‘Mistress.’”
“Yes, Mistress.” Jade whispered through a voice tight with arousal. I pressed a single finger into her tight filth, feeling the rim dilate, then hug each knuckle as the finger sank to maximum depth. Jade’s face flushed with lust, her body curved, her thighs parted. I twisted my finger, moved in and out, then withdrew, leaving her vacant, wanting, unsatisfied. I liked doing that, denying people; it made me feel powerful in a way my actual power didn’t. I would satisfy her later, of course, but she’d be thinking of my finger every second between now and then, building the anticipation, the need, the devotion. And when I made her come, the release would be amplified tenfold due to the delay, and she would be more grateful because of it. More mine than she already was. My priestess, my whore. Don’t think of her as such!
“Let’s go.” I said, sucking my finger as I looked at Jade. She guided me down the hall, down several flights of stairs, and through a secret door that neither Lucilla, nor her elves knew about. I nodded, and Jade stopped. I illuminated the dark hall with my palm, and walked to the door at the end. I opened it, and heard a whimper. It wasn’t a frightened sound, but a desperate one. Flora Autumnsong lay on the floor, her hands shackled to her sides, her feet shackled to the floor. She begged me with wide, trembling green eyes, but I just smiled my kindest smile, and shook my head.
“You must resist the temptation, Flora.” I said, sitting cross-legged by her head, “There can be no forgiveness without suffering.”
“No.” I smiled, very-much enjoying the way she thrashed, “You are very fortunate that Jade found you before someone else did.”
“Let me come!” Flora whined, thrusting her hips in the air. She’d been found stumbling through the remnants of the brothel district, laying with whatever drunk hobo she could find. She’d scratched her itch so many times, that I wondered if she’d succumbed to Tera’s slavery on her own, but she was still herself. She just needed to last the night, and she’d be better. In the meantime, I would get the information I needed.
“That story you were telling me, about you and Tera having that race.” I said, leaning back, “I’d like to hear how it ends.”