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  1. Queen Yavara: Chapter One
  2. Queen Yavara: Chapter Three
  3. Queen Yavara: Chapter Four
  4. Queen Yavara: Chapter Six
  5. Queen Yavara: Chapter Seven
  6. Queen Yavara: Chapter Eight
  7. Queen Yavara: Chapter Nine
  8. Queen Yavara: Chapter Ten
  9. Queen Yavara: Chapter Eleven
  10. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twelve
  11. Queen Yavara: Chapter Thirteen
  12. Queen Yavara: Chapter Fourteen
  13. Queen Yavara: Chapter Fifteen
  14. Queen Yavara: Chapter Seventeen
  15. Queen Yavara: Chapter Eighteen
  16. Queen Yavara: Chapter Nineteen
  17. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty
  18. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-One
  19. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Two
  20. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Three
  21. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Four
  22. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Five
  23. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Seven
  24. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Six
  25. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Eight
  26. Queen Yavara: Adriana's Story (chapters 25-28)
  27. Queen Yavara: Chapter Twenty-Nine
  28. Queen Yavara: Chapter 4
  29. Queen Yavara: Chapter 5
  30. Queen Yavara: Chapter 6
  31. Queen Yavara: Chapter 8
  32. Queen Yavara: Chapter 9
  33. Queen Yavara: Chapter 10
  34. Queen Yavara: Chapter 11
  35. Queen Yavara: Chapter 12
  36. Queen Yavara: Chapter 13
  37. Queen Yavara: Chapter 14
  38. Queen Yavara: Chapter 15
  39. Queen Yavara: Chapter 16
  40. Queen Yavara: Chapter 17
  41. Queen Yavara: Chapter 18
  42. Queen Yavara: Chapter 19
  43. Queen Yavara: Chapter 20
  44. Queen Yavara: Chapter 21
  45. Queen Yavara: Chapter 22
  46. Queen Yavara: Chapter 23
  47. Queen Yavara: Chapter 24
  48. Queen Yavara: Chapter 25
  49. Queen Yavara: Chapter 26
  50. Queen Yavara: Chapter 27
  51. Queen Yavara: Chapter 28
  52. Queen Yavara: Chapter 29
  53. Queen Yavara: Chapter 30
  54. Queen Yavara: Chapter 31
  55. Queen Yavara: Chapter 32
  56. Queen Yavara: Chapter 33
  57. Queen Yavara: Chapter 34
  58. Queen Yavara: Chapter 35
  59. Queen Yavara: Chapter 36
  60. Queen Yavara: Chapter 37
  61. Queen Yavara: Chapter 38
  62. Queen Yavara: Chapter 39
  63. Queen Yavara: Chapter 40
  64. Queen Yavara: Chapter 41
  65. Queen Yavara: Chapter 42
  66. Queen Yavara: Chapter 43
  67. Queen Yavara: Chapter 44
  68. Queen Yavara: Chapter 45
  69. Queen Yavara: Chapter 46

Queen Yavara: Chapter 36

Categories Fiction, Teen, Virginity

Author: White Walls

Published: 11 December 2019

  • Font:

Chapter Thirty-Six

GORLOK

The rising sun was red over the Highland Rift, casting the silhouettes of trebuchets and ballistae in a bloody hue. The morning was still, interrupted only by the annoyed cawing of a distant crow. To my left, the horde’s line stretched to the northern horizon. To my right, there was no one. The tundra grasslands gave way to pine trees, and the Highland Rift ascended into thousand-foot cliffs all the way to Castle Thorum and the Knife River. I sat atop Ginger, my prize warg, the beast I’d ridden into battle a hundred times. She was so scarred that her hide was more flesh than hair, but she was tougher than leather and meaner than a cornered boar. With my sons all dead, she was the closest thing I had to family for a hundred miles. Truth be told, I never really gave a shit about my wife and daughters anyway. The only woman in my life worth a damn was the one I was riding.

I drew my eyes from the causeway of South Fort, down to the dirt path beneath me, and through the tunnel in the trees behind me. It was an old imperial highway, and it ran from Bentius, to Ternianas, to South Fort, then moved through the Northern Pines until it ended at Alkandra. I understood why Shordian had put his cavalry division here. The causeway at Mid Fort was barely wide enough for a cart, but the causeway at South Fort could hold ten abreast steeds. Its adjacency to the impassible cliffs made it almost impossible to take by force, so a wide ramp made sense. This was an offensive staging point, a proverbial knife aimed right at Alkandra’s throat. This was where the Midlands was narrowest, between the rise of the Rift and the Alkandran Horn; it would take a rider less than a day to cross it. The threat was double-edged, however, for vacating that fort would leave an open door for the horde to walk right to Bentius.

“Orders, General?” Colonel Jedriok asked.

I examined the note Zander’s owl had sent me that morning. “We are to test the defenses of sector nine today.” I said, glancing up at the fortified section of the rift two miles north of South Fort. It was a particularly nasty ridgeline that cut inward for about a hundred yards, funneling any attempt to scale it into a crossfire kill-zone. I snorted. Maybe the Dark Queen was content with letting me live, but the wizard clearly thought I was a loose end. My regiment had hit eight sectors in the fifteen days since I’d been stripped of my title, seeing more action than any other unit in the horde by far.

“General?” Colonel Jedriok asked again.

“Send a salvo to cover our advance.” I grunted, “Flame cannisters in the fort to get them distracted, then boulders over our heads when we begin to ascend. Lay off when we’re three-quarters of the way up.”

“Can we expect royal support?”

I barked a laugh, and pulled on the reins of my warg.

Thirty minutes later, the north wall of South Fort was engulfed in flame. Great salvos were launched from the trebuchets below, arcing through the sky like meteors before crashing atop the rift. Directly above me, the great bows of the elven ballistae were being cranked back, levered out from the cliffside to aim directly down. Directly below me was fifty feet of air before the hard earth.

Ginger snarled, her great claws digging into the rockface as she lumbered up the shear wall. Hundreds of other warg-riders labored behind me, their beast’s talons screeching against the shale surface. They shot their crossbows in a vain attempt to dissuade the elves from aiming over the cliffs, but it was impossible to be accurate while aiming straight up, and impossible to miss when aiming straight down. I heard their archer commander give the order, and I clutched Ginger’s scruff for dear life.

Hell rained down on us. The twang of arrows, the screech of ballista shot, the upending of great barrels. A missile screamed past me and impaled the warg behind me through the mouth, spitting the beast and its rider before exiting its rear to cut through another. They fell from the cliffside, clawing at the air in their dying moments before crashing to the ground. Hot pitch coated another beast in black tar, and its screech of agony cut through the cacophony of battle like a soprano soloist. The creature crashed into the riders below it and sent ten falling to their end. Ginger shuddered with impacts, the arrows striking her head and forelegs, but even elven bows could not pierce her shield of muscle. The same was not true for the younger wargs, and a dozen fell at a time. I growled, dug my heels into Ginger’s flank, and urged her upward.

They made us pay for every inch. Arrows peppered us without pause, boulders were rolled over the edge to smash us, boiling tar cascaded like waterfalls. A final support salvo from our boys below knocked out three of their ballistae, but the other two were still there, and in the crossfire of the groove we navigated, they didn’t even have to aim. The warg beside me was nailed to the cliffside. The rider behind me was split in two. The great gears of the death machines were cranked back, and they fired in quick succession, driving through flesh and rock, pinning the squirming beasts and riders like decorations upon the cliff face. I drove my heels harder, firing blindly with my crossbow, cursing and sputtering and raging until the world suddenly righted itself. I was over the top.

Ginger gained purchase on the top of the cliff by flattening two imperials under her paws, their pink insides shooting from their golden shells. Then she dug her hind paws into the rock, and launched herself over. I took no time to savor the moment. There was a rage within me as primal as Ginger’s, and I knew nothing but death. I pulled out my axe and split a man down the middle, I swiped to the left and cut another’s jugular out, I reared over the top and crushed a helm with the blunt head, his brains spraying out of his faceplate like confetti. The other wargs hurtled over the top, tearing into the hapless archers, ripping off limbs, biting into bellies. One poor golden bastard was dragging himself away, his entrails wriggling behind him.

We cleared the sector with an acute savagery, using teeth and claw to rip flesh and muscle from screaming men. Wargs liked to eat their prey while it was still alive, and so we let our dogs feast on the prisoners. As the satisfying gurgles and shrieks sounded from all around us, I watched the elven reinforcements marshal a thousand yards away.

“Nine times we’ve scaled that fucking wall, and eight times we’ve fled back down it.” Colonel Pasok growled. He’d been Major Pasok before the battle, but Colonel Jedriok was dead. “The regiment started at two-thousand riders. Now, it’s down to seven-hundred, and for what?”

“For what?” I chuckled, and looked down at the man Ginger was feasting upon. He’d stopped his shrieking, but his eyes were still wide, uncomprehending of the hell he was in, his open mouth spewing red bile, his guts being pulled out in pink strings. “This is why we fight, Pasok.” I smiled down at the man, “What were you, boy? A husband? A son? A father? Doesn’t matter now. Now you’re just meat.” I looked out at the reinforcing line, “That fucking wizard will send us up this wall day in and day out, and we’ll climb it day in and day out. I’m unkillable, Pasok; that’s what he doesn’t realize. God has blessed me to live when everyone else will die, because God has charged me with sending her fresh imperial souls.”

The reinforcements began their counterattack, and I pulled back on Ginger’s reins. The elf gulped with a mouth full of red, staring sightlessly at the sky, his entire midsection torn out. He would die terribly if the mages didn’t get to him, but he had a chance. I always left one survivor to tell the others about me.

ADRIANNA

Alkandra was beautiful in the morning. Six streets of tiered towers stood in regimented lines like parading soldiers before the castle, and beyond that, the vast city sprawled out between the riverbank and the shoreline, a myriad of shoddy high-rises and squat abodes that looked akin to architectural vomit. On the other side of the river, the lush fields of green shown like a blanket of vegetation before the surrounding arms of the Great Forest. Though we had felt the first chill of the fall winds, the last vestiges of summer had not yet left us, and the morning was a blessing upon my flesh.

“Beautiful morning.” Furia yawned as she stepped beside me at the top steps of Castle Alkandra. I smiled at her tattooed face, and pathed with my thumb, the tribal crescent sigil that marked her from her left brow to her chin. She tilted her head into the caress, and wrapped her lips around my thumb when it ended.

I crinkled my nose at her. “Why did you have to turn it sexual?”

“Mmm, can’t help it.” Furia grinned coyly, gnawing on my thumb, “I remember where you put this thing last night, and it still tastes… delicious.”

“Enough of you!” I laughed, palming her face. She licked my hand defiantly, and a second later, I had her pressed against the entryway pylon, my hands reaching into her magistrate robe to find her magnificent organ, stroking it until it was so hard that it leaked onto my hand. There were undoubtedly many people who could see us, but we didn’t care. Hell, we’d performed on the sands of the arena before a hundred-thousand screaming beasts. If anything, the witnesses only excited us. I dropped to my knees, licking my lips at the sight of her robes draping over her tool, and I lowered my mouth to—

“Shit!” Furia gasped, her breath full of desire, “They’re here!”

I turned my head, and saw the procession of black-cloaked figures moving down the imperial road through the fields. The moved like they were floating instead of walking, their heads not bobbing at all with their footfalls. I turned back to Furia. “Get the others.”

Ten minutes later, I was standing before the Black Throne, and the vampires were kneeling below me. It was a surreal experience, but then again, surreal experiences had become so commonplace for me that surrealism had lost it meaning.

“You may rise.” I said, and they did so silently. “Welcome, the clan of Titus, to your home.” I said, gesturing to the hybrids beside me, “I am Governess Adrianna Alkandra. This is Watch Commander Faltia Dafian, Outreach Director Eva Alecia, First Scribe Soraya Poneria, Lead Engineer Alexa Jenania, Agricultural Liaison Kiera Lestria, Population Director Brianna Dedaclia, and Head Magistrate Furia Augustinia. We are here to serve you.”

I made a motion with my hand, and the attendants in the rafters pulled the curtains over the windows. The doors were shut, and all at once, the great hall of the castle was pitch black. I snapped my fingers, and the chandeliers above ignited, illuminating the expansive atrium in orange light. The vampires looked around, then pulled back their hoods. I had to suppress a gasp. Almost all of them had been elves. What was once blonde hair and blue eyes had become black hair and red eyes, their pale flesh had become alabaster white, and their soft features had become dramatic and severely beautiful. They had bodies like gods, and stood over seven feet, with the tallest among them standing closer to eight. This was no elf, but had been a human man once, and an infamous one at that. Drake Titus stepped forward.

“Ladies, thank you oh-so kindly for your hospitality.” He said graciously, the charm in his voice undoubtedly the deadliest part about him.

“Drake Titus,” I said, smiling warmly as I descended the steps, “it is us who should be thanking you for your many sacrifices.”

“We have all sacrificed.” Said the woman to his left. She examined me with an amused smile, “You look quite different from when I last saw you at Castle Thorum.”

“And you all look the same to me.” I smiled back.

Her blood-red lips opened to show her long fangs. “Sisters and daughters,” she called to those behind her, “do any of you recognize the woman you see here?”

“Tiffany, be nice.” Titus scolded.

“I’m not ashamed of what I used to be.” I said, and walked down the rest of the steps. “I was once Thomas Adarian. Now I am Adrianna Alkandra. You will find that your past means little here. This place will let you be whoever you want to be, as long as you be yourself.”

“Eloquently put.” Titus said.

“You were Commander Thomas Adarian?” One of the women said. She stepped forward, looking curiously down at me, “We met once at a joint exercise. I commanded Shordian’s sixth company at the time.”

I gave her an incredulous expression. “You must be mistaken. There are no women in the Highland… army…” And then it dawned on me, and the realization struck me to the core. I looked the woman over, and saw some features I recognized in that predator’s face. “Captian Bortius?

“It was ‘colonel’ before the end, but yes, that was what I was called.”

“She changed you?”

“Over a hundred of us. The men you see here are the ones she never touched.”

I looked at the ground, and all I could say was, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

ELENA

“…the Dark Queen does not desire to continue the bloodshed, but she cannot end it without concessions.” I said before the court, “I, of course, refuse to kowtow to her absurd demands, but it is not her we need to convince. The dwarves of the Bearded Peaks have shown a willingness to trade at a temporary deficit to alleviate the strain on our people, but only if we show a willingness to make peace. It is we who started this war; it must be we who finish it.”

“Here, here!” Lord Xantian concurred boisterously. There was a smattering of applause from some of the other nobles, and scowls from the rest.

Lord Ternias stood up. “The reports from the rift say that the orcs have taken massive casualties in skirmishes across the border. Why should we sue for peace when victory is still attainable?”

“The Dark Queen can afford mass casualties, my lord.” I countered, “Everyday her numbers swell. Beasts from Ardeni are trained in combat and sent across the land bridges, mercenary regiments from Hektinar have been contracted, and warrior males come of age. She already outnumbers us more than two to one.”

“An elf in full plate is worth ten orcs at least!” Lady Jonias shouted, and was answered with a round of applause.

“That may be so, my lady, but the Dark Queen has more than just orcs. Centaurs, nymphs, ogres, goblins; the Great Forest is emptying itself into Alkandra, and those who can fight are being funneled to the front lines. Where are our reinforcements?”

“Terondia will send us aid!” Lord Feractian insisted so desperately that it was obvious even he no longer believed it.

I turned to Leveria. “My queen, has there been any indication from our friends across the sea that they will help us?”

“The talks are still in the works.” Leveria glared at me.

I turned back to the assembly. “An elf may be worth twenty beasts on the battlefield, but we are no longer fighting a war of grand battles. The war we fight now is one of resources. The Dark Queen draws wealth from the Bearded Peaks, the Lowlands, and Balamora, and her army does not fight for gold. While she sustains heavy losses across the border, she fills the holes in her ranks and adds more. I’ve even heard reports that some orc units have summited the rift.”

“Impossible!” Lady Jonias snapped, “Lies from our enemies! You parrot the Dark Queen’s deceits!” There was a murmur of concurrence from around the hall.

I shuffled through my papers, and produced the document. “This is a battle report from Captain Raymond Francis of General Bradias’s regiment, who hails from Jonianas, your home estate. Should I read it to the court, or do you believe your own officers are parroting the Dark Queen’s deceits?”

Lady Jonias turned bright red. “It is possible that the letter itself is a forgery.”

“I’m sure you have a copy of it as well, my lady.” I smiled amicably, watching her wilt back into her chair. I gave Ternias a disappointed look; he could do so much better.

Lady Droughtius cleared her throat. “Lady Straltaira, why is it you think that the Dark Queen is fighting these skirmishes across the border? Why not just form a wedge and try to break through the line at a single point?”

“Because the Dark Queen does not want to invade the Highlands.”

“Preposterous!” Lord Huntiata shouted.

“Is Castle Thorum not back in our control?” I asked, “Why would the Dark Queen willingly relinquish the very fortress that broke Alkandi? Remember who Queen Yavara once was.”

“A deceiver and an interloper.” King Eric Shordian said from beside Leveria.

“Yes,” I said solemnly, “Yavara Alkandi is a deceiver and an interloper and the embodiment of all that is terrible in this world, but she is practical. She knows that invading the Highlands would turn the Bearded Peaks and the Lowlands against her, and so she simply desires to steal all she can from us in negotiation, and the longer we wait, the more men we lose, the weaker our negotiating position becomes.”

“Coward!” Lady Jonias snapped, spurred to her feet by a chance to regain her pride, “You are a coward and a traitor, Elena Straltaira!”

“Coward? Traitor?” I stepped out from behind my dais, presenting my beauty in full to the court. While all the other nobles wore stately attire, I had jettisoned the garb Leveria tried to force me into, and instead wore an elegant dress that hugged every tantalizing bulge of my body. “Look at the sacrifices I have made for my country, Catherine Jonias.” I hissed, “I was raped, tortured, and deformed into what you see before you. I was fighting and killing with my own hands while you were still learning how to suck cock.”

There was a gasp from around the room. Lady Jonias’s jaw twitched. She opened her mouth, and said, “At least I was—”

“Furthermore,” I interrupted, pacing the center of the floor, “it was you who was put in charge of the organization of our army, and it was your incompetence that led to our high command being gutted. We lost the battle of the Tundra because of your choices, and you call ME a traitor?!” I pivoted on my heel, and quickly changed my tone to address the room, “Ladies and gentlemen of the court, we had a chance to win this war. That chance has passed. We can point fingers and lay blame, or we can be adults, and accept the reality we live in. Will you listen to the same old voices that led you to this disaster, or will you try something new for a change?”

I looked each noble in the eye, ending with Lord Ternias, then I looked up at Leveria, smiled, and stepped back behind my dais.

Leveria stood up. “Will anyone else take the floor?”

No one did.

She sighed, and shouldered her cloak. “Court is adjourned.”

I shuffled through my papers, making a few notes on some of the day’s talking points. It was hard to tell if I was gaining ground. Despite acting as my own house’s representative for two weeks, I hadn’t received any formal invites from any of the other nobles, and that worried me.

“Lady Straltaira.” Ternias’s cool voice beckoned me.

I looked up from my papers. “My lord?”

“You were rather rude to Catherine today.”

“She didn’t do herself any favors. What do you want?”

“To talk.”

“Until you start saying words like ‘peace’ and ‘armistice,’ we have nothing to talk about.”

He leaned on my dais. “You’re wasting your talents, Elena. House Straltaira is rich in resources but poor in people. You don’t have enough minor houses under your umbrella to play the little game and you don’t have the cachet to play the larger one.”

“So I should just throw myself into your arms?”

“You need a name to back your words, and now that everyone knows you’re no longer Leveria’s agent, you don’t have the pull to bring the big fish in. Sometimes you must follow in order to achieve your goals. Your mother understood that.”

I smiled at him. “You and Leveria lead exactly no one, Lord Ternias. Huntiata, Xantian, Droughtius, Feractian and Feltian all sit on their hands while you two yell the same argument back at each other. What are they waiting for, I wonder?”

He snorted. “You’ve done an admirable job of keeping them in stasis, I will concede that.”

“Time is not in your favor, nor is it in Leveria’s. Every day that I wait, I become more attractive.” I finished organizing my papers, and walked from the dais. “You’ve lost this war, Ternias. The sooner you realize that, the better. What happens to you if Leveria realizes it first?”

BROCK

“We had sixteen different units summit the rift this morning.” Trenok said, leaning on the table where the map was spread out.

“That’s five more than yesterday.” I grunted, “Losses?”

“Over nine-hundred.”

“Our casualties rise with our victories.”

“You call these victories?”

I rested my finger on the map, and ran it down the spine of the Highland Rift. “If you tear enough holes in a sheet of paper, the whole thing disintegrates. The more units that summit the wall, the thinner their reinforcements. Soon, even their reinforcements won’t be able to push us off.”

“But that’s not the queen’s plan. Every unit that summits the wall must leave before reinforcements arrive.”

“That’s not the queen’s plan for now.” I said, my eyes wandering to the insignia of South Fort on the map, “Even so, each summit hurts the enemy’s morale. What news have we heard about the cavalry division in South Fort?”

“They’re stationary. A few regiments act as fast-action reinforcements, but for the most part, the division stays within the fortress walls.”

I narrowed my eyes at the map, following the path of the imperial highway from South Fort, to Alkandra. “Did I ever tell you about the time I played Prestira Rasloraca in chess?”

“No.”

“I lost the first few games on purpose to see how she would beat me in different scenarios, then when I saw the pattern of her midgame, I used it against her. Shordian uses every loss to learn about us. Why do you think our casualties rise with our victories?”

“He’s studying our midgame?”

“Yes. He’s encouraging us to beat him. He’ll let us summit the wall more every day, ensured that our rising confidence will cause us to ignore the mounting losses we’re sustaining. He wants us to weaken ourselves and not change our tactics. Then when the endgame does come, we’ll realize too late that we’ve sacrificed too many pawns.”

“Then it will be a true stalemate.” Trenok examined the map, “So, we cease the attacks then.”

“The queen wants us to keep the pressure on.”

“You’ve informed her about what Shordian’s doing?”

“I have, but she doesn’t care. She and Elena are playing a different game.”

Trenok snorted derisively, “What victory can be gained there? Elena is outnumbered and in the enemy’s bed, while here we outnumber the enemy on their doorstep.” He leaned against the table, and pointed to Mid Fort, “North Fort is unassailable; it’s next to the ocean. South Fort is equally impregnable; it’s next to a mountain. The cliffside is at least ten stories high all along the Rift until you get to Mid Fort. Here, it dips. The garrison here reinforces the entire middle part of the line. We will never establish ourselves on any sector for long with that garrison ready, but if we hit the fort directly, and hold the outer walls for just an hour, we could move five-thousand men up that causeway. If we take that fort, we snap their line in half.”

I rubbed at my chin. “We would need a fast-action unit to take the outer walls by surprise. If they have time to reinforce them, we’d never get within fifty feet of the top.”

“Hammer them every day with siege engines. Weaken the walls, harry the defenders.”

“We’d still need a way to get up there fast.” I mulled over the ideas, “Yavara could lift a few dozen of us up and over, but that would leave her vulnerable. We’ll have to think on it later. It is a good idea.”

“Will you bring it to her?” He asked, a sparkle of excitement in his eyes.

“Not yet. The queen is adverse to the idea of drastic measures. She doesn’t want to sustain a great loss on the heels of a great victory.”

“Our losses now are great. They’re just spread thinly.”

“It is the queen’s will, Trenok. Trust her; she has not led us astray yet.”

Trenok nodded, and left the tent. I sat back in my chair, and drummed my fingers on the map. The band tattooed around my right ring finger caught my eye, and my mind went back to Sherok. What would she think about Trenok’s unborn daughter? That our son had planted his seed in the belly of the enemy would be of great delight, but Adrianna was no enemy of ours. Indeed, Adrianna planned to give the child up to Certiok, who had already named the fetus after my slain wife. The whole soup of people: Trenok, Certiok, Adrianna; it should have been a bloodbath, and it almost was, but what had come out of it instead?

I never put much thought into religion, but I did think there was a strange force in the world. It did not act for people who did not act themselves; those cowards were of no interest to this force. No, this force was interested in people like me, Zander, Yavara, Elena and Adrianna; people who did more in a week than most did in a lifetime. This force would guide people like us together, and even if we hated one another, the commonality we’d find amongst such a rare breed of people would chip away at that hate until it was gone. It was why I never wanted to see Adrianna again. The last image I had of her was of a horrified woman cowering at Yavara’s feet. I didn’t know if I could bear to see her as Trenok had described her; beautiful, savage, and magnificent. My hate was the last thing I had left of Sherok, and I held on to it dearly.

“But what of the other thing?” I asked myself, staring at the band on my ring finger. I loved Yavara, but I was not in love with her. The revelation about Elena certainly put my loftier ambitions on hold, or was that just the excuse my cowardice made? I’d never faltered before when the time to strike came. Perhaps the time had not yet come. Yes, that was it. I would wait, and when the right moment presented itself, I would not hesitate. It was what I told myself, anyway.

ADRIANNA

I’d tasked the other hybrids with making the vampires comfortable in their new home in the castle crypts. From what Yavara told me about Titus’s abode in Ardeni Dreus, Titus wanted to live in luxury, and so we’d spared no expense transforming the crypts into an opulent dungeon. Eva, being the resident dominatrix of Castle Alkandra, had designed the place herself, and was undoubtedly proudly showing off all the amenities, and probably making Alexa and Soraya demonstrate them for the vampire’s amusement. As if on cue, the sonorous sounds of pain and pleasure echoed from the open trap door, and the accompanying sardonic laughter of the vampires followed it. Then the laughter gave way to indulgent moans and splendid cries, and I knew the other hybrids had joined the fun, and turned the spectacle into an orgy. Somewhere down there, some lucky vampire boy or girl was feeling Furia inside them for the first time, and whoever it was, I suspected they owned the voice that was crying out, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Drake Titus regarded the trap door with an amused smile, and turned back to me. “You wanted to speak with me, Governess?”

“Regarding your food.”

His smile turned toothy. “We brought our own.”

“And when your stores run dry?”

He shrugged. “We will find more.”

“You understand that I can’t allow you to treat Alkandra as your personal buffet.”

“Allow me?” He raised his brows.

I smiled amicably. “You are under my charge, Titus. If you don’t wish to follow my rule, then I suggest you find a new country to live in.”

Though his smile stayed on his face, his expression darkened. “What will you do if I ignore you?”

“Then the queen will hear of it.”

“Do you think you are more valuable to the queen than I?”

“I know I am.” I said, looking up at him, “Your use has run out, Titus. You’re nothing but a liability to her now.”

“Then why did she give me her changelings?”

“She rewarded you for your service, and she gave you much more than you deserve.”

His eyes flickered. “I was told you were a very open-minded woman, but I can practically taste your judgement.”

“What Yavara did is a tragedy. Those women were given a gift, and you stole it from them.”

“I gave them a greater gift.”

“No.”

He inspected me. “You think your kind is better than mine?”

“Yes.”

He snorted. “It’s a rare thing to be talked down to by someone so short.” He reached down, gently grasped me by the shoulders, and lifted me effortlessly above him. “There,” he smiled, “now you may be condescending.”

I shook my head. “Yes, you could tear me limb from limb. Yes, you could run me down even if I had a mile’s head start. You are the pinnacle of humanoid predation, but we live in a society. If you wish to be a wild beast, the Great Forest is only a short walk away.”

“Even King Dreus knew not to cross me on this.” He said quietly, his fangs looking especially sharp.

“King Dreus feared you. I do not.” I smiled into his ruby eyes, “You cannot intimidate me. Your charm and wit will take you much further in this place than your brute strength, but even these weapons will mean little to me or the others in the end. We are above you. We will always be above you. You are ageless, and so are we, but we can walk in the sun, and our cravings don’t drive us to murder.”

He laughed dangerously. “You are not above me, Thomas Adarian. You are a race-traitor. You are worse than the most rancid whore in an Ardeni dock brothel.”

“You are very proud; I am not. The things I’ve done would make the most rancid whore in Ardeni blush.” I angled my chin, and ran my fingers luxuriantly down my throat, “I can see what you want to do to me. I can see your every fetish and kink, and I know why you have them. I can’t deduce the exact reasons, but I can intuit the scars on your soul that have shaped you like pruning cutters.”

“Oh, you can?”

“Yes. Someone told you a long time ago that this was the apex of life, and you’ve been doing everything you can to convince yourself they were right.”

He sneered. “Did losing your cock make you a psychologist?”

“Maybe it’s a woman’s empathy,” I grinned, “or maybe I just see people in a way I hadn’t before. I can see you to the marrow, Drake Titus. As complicated as you think you are, you’re still just a man.” My hand snaked to my shoulder, and flicked my robe off. It cascaded from my body, exposing the bronze tattooed flesh beneath, the perfection of femininity it canvased, the slight swell of my month-long pregnancy barely showing on my belly. “Now,” I whispered to the vampire king, “fuck me.”

YAVARA

I held the flame in my hand. Though I felt its heat, it did not burn me. It illuminated the lines of my palm and cast dark shadows along my fingers.

“Good,” Destiny said beside me, “now, slowly grow it.”

I took in a slow breath, and the fire expanded, consuming my hand entirely, then moving up my arm until was near to the elbow. Every wisp of the plasma felt like an extension of myself, like the air in my lungs or the blood in my veins. I extended my fingers, and the flames moved outward with them, becoming infernal digits with nails like claws.

“Now lift that tree over there.” Destiny said, nodding toward the dead tree in the marshlands. I reached out with my mind, and felt the roots of the tree, the tendrils rotted away years ago. I lifted the entire thing from the marsh, and elevated it twenty feet above the earth.

“Write your name in it.” Destiny instructed.

The forefinger of my infernal hand extended across the range. The further it went, the weaker my connection became, and I felt the fire beginning to cool, the wisps of flame drifting with the wind.

Focus. Destiny whispered in my mind. Her consciousness guided mine down the length of my fiery finger, then left when she was sure I had control. With my entire being seemingly projected onto the tip of my finger, I stretched the last yards between me and the tree, and scorched my named into its trunk.

“Bravo.” Destiny smiled beside me.

I let out my breath, and the fiery appendage vanished. “That’s all five then, huh? Indoctrination, telekinesis, transformation, healing and inferno. I’ve reached my full potential.”

“That’s a sad way to look at things, Yavara.” Destiny said. Though Zander insisted on using my formal titles, his female alter-ego treated me like a pupil. I liked it much more.

“Why do you say that?”

“We always have room to grow. Are you satisfied with yourself as you are?”

“I guess I see your point.” I said, and turned to her, “Destiny, what am I going to do about Elena?”

She tilted her head. “Do you want my opinion, or Zander’s?”

“Are they different?”

“No, but they come from different perspectives.”

I considered the blue-haired beauty, and sat on the grass. She sat beside me, and procured her pipe.

“I’m afraid that I’ll force Elena to choose between me and her country.” I said.

Destiny lit her tobacco, and let out a long plume. “If you force her to choose, you will have made the choice for her.”

“What do I do?”

Destiny puffed on her pipe, studying me carefully. “They say time heals all wounds, and that is true, but time also kills. It is a leveler, not just a healer. Fighting this war as you are will work in the end. No matter how great a tactician Shordian is, he can’t beat time, and you have all of it. Eventually the Noble Court will realize this, and they will vote for peace, but you will have exacted such a great toll over that time, and Elena will be on the wrong side of it, witnessing the decay of the country she loves.”

“But I can’t do anything else! An invasion is off the table, and I can’t be the one who sues for peace!” I tapped on my lips furiously, then glanced at Destiny. “This war could be ended with two deaths. If Leveria and Ternias are gone, Elena will take the throne and give me the peace I need.”

“You would lose all credibility with the Lowlands and Bearded Peaks.”

“It can be made to look like an inside job. Ternias and Leveria have no shortage of enemies.”

“There is no such thing as serendipity in politics. If someone in power benefits from something, all the others in power will assume they’re guilty.” Destiny sucked on her pipe contemplatively, “Do you know what scares the nobles more than you?”

“What?”

“Rebellion.” She looked purposefully at me, “If the peasants revolt, the nobility will sue for peace to bring their army inward. There has never been a Highland rebellion, even in the worst of times, but… under the right conditions, it could happen.”

“Under what conditions?”

Her eyes flickered. “Leave this to me, Yavara. Trust me when I say that you don’t want any part of it.”

ELENA

I no longer lived in the castle with Leveria. Mother had a manor in Bentius’s Noble District she used when she was in court, and it was my residence now. It was all part of the image I was trying to portray as a stateswoman, and not Leveria’s agent, but I worried that it wasn’t enough. Perhaps there was no getting out from beneath Leveria’s shadow, and no noble would seek my audience in confidence for fear that my ear was the queen’s. It was a disturbing thought. I had sacrificed wonderful nights with the woman I loved so that I could stay awake in an empty parlor, ceaselessly plotting away at how to navigate the pieces on the board.

“Xantian will come around if I can gain the exclusive favor of the dwarves.” I muttered to myself, “And Huntiata needs someone to secure funds for the city watch. The only source of outside funds is through the Bearded Peaks or the Lowlands, and the dwarves won’t trade under the table.”

I regarded a map of Tenvalia. “There are certainly those within the Lowlands who would love to trade through the Midlands, but would they dare cross Yavara? Perhaps, but how would I contact those kinds of people?” My eyes fell upon Alkandra, and my frown deepened. The city of beasts was a mystery to Highlanders. From what Yavara had told me, it was akin to an anarchistic casino, but there was structure. The hybrids ran the show there, and Adrianna, my former commander, was the most powerful woman in the city. Did she still have her old loyalties, or had she made herself Alkandran in total? The stories I’d heard indicated the latter, and I had no idea how to contact her anyway. There was no mirror relay between Bentius and Alkandra.

A knock on my door broke me from my contemplation. “My lady,” the guard said, “you have a visitor.”

“Who?”

“She left me with a missive to give to you.” He slid the letter under the door.

I opened the envelope, then turned to the door. “She may enter.”

A few minutes later, I was sitting across from Lady Sofia Droughtius. She was barely eighteen, her features still girlish, but there was a supple womanly body within her dress. The drape was rather revealing, flaunting her alabaster bosom nearly to the areola. She regarded me with tactful coyness, brushing her platinum hair behind a pointed ear, occasionally running her tongue over her plush glossed lips.

“This is good wine.” She said into her glass, and tipped it back. She coughed cutely, and wiped her mouth, “Though I’m afraid my opinion on the matter counts for naught, for I have almost no experience with it.”

“I’m sure.” I said placatingly.

She smiled shyly behind her glass, and nursed it once more before setting it on the table beside her. “My grandfather thought war would raise our family into the highest echelons of the nobility, but it only resulted in my father’s suicide. Now the regiments my family raised are all wiped out, and there are lesser nobles in our province whose houses could claim to rival our own. I fear that the Droughtius family might lose its seat in the Noble Court, and I fear that either the queen or Lord Ternias will ensure that happens if I choose to side with the other.”

“And so you’ve come to me because you think I’m a neutral party?”

“That is one reason. The other reason is that I believe in what you say. This war will destroy us, and we must pursue peace by any means necessary.”

I inclined my head, studying the young woman before me. I didn’t know why I thought of her as a ‘young woman;’ she was only months younger than me. She used her youth and innocence to great effect. I didn’t think it was a façade, but she was aware that her only means of survival in the Noble Court was to be unthreatening, and so she nurtured the image, but just because she was gentle and inexperienced, didn’t mean she was naïve.

“Did Ternias ask you to come here, or did the queen?” I asked.

“I came here by my own volition, Lady Straltaira. I have received invites from both the queen and Lord Ternias, but not from you, and that made me curious.”

“Invitations?” I raised my brows, “Leveria told me never to send invitations to nobles. ‘Let them come to you or you will look weak,’ she said.”

“She lied to you.” Sofia smiled behind her glass, “And I find it interesting that you called her by her first name.”

I just smiled back, and took a sip of my own wine. “What do you want?”

“What can you give me?”

“Nothing. My mother still runs the estate. I am but the mouthpiece of the Straltaira family.”

“You still don’t trust me.”

“Trust is something that needs to be earned.” I glanced at the board. “I know what Huntiata wants, and I know what Xantian wants, and I can trust them to follow their desires. If I can provide, they will follow. Now tell me why it is you really came, and don’t say it’s because you support peace.”

Sofia smiled, and stood up. She walked over to the map of Tenvalia, and swirled her wine as she regarded it. “I do wish for peace, Lady Straltaira, don’t presume to know my mind, but you are correct in assuming I came to you with ulterior desires. Either the queen or Lord Ternias will cave to peace once they finally realize there is no other option, but only you can assure that I come out a winner even if the Highlands lose.” She drew her finger along the imperial highways, tracing one that went from Bentius, to Vachter Dormus, to the south trading fort at the foremost south point of the Highlands, and into the Maples just south of the Spearhead Mountains. “There will be a great Alkandran city right here,” she said, pointing to the convergence of the Spearhead River and the old highway, “Whoever rules that territory will have access to imports from the dwarven capital, the southern Highlands and the southern Lowlands. It is the convergence of empires. I want it.”

I laughed. “You think Yavara will give up any territory for peace?”

“No, I suspect she’ll be taking quite a bit of the Highlands in concessions by the time peace talks finally come around.” Sofia turned to me, “Did I say I wanted a Midland city? No, I said I wanted a great Alkandran city.”

I opened my mouth, then closed it, then leaned back in my chair. I smiled, then I chuckled, then I burst into laughter.

“Does my proposition amuse you, Lady Straltaira?” Sofia asked with her little smile.

“Yes!” I cackled, wiping my eye, “Ternias and Leveria spent months dividing the Midlands up between their benefactors, and in the end, it is only I who wields that power! How did I not see it before?”

“Well? Will you do it?”

My laughter ebbed from me, and I sighed. “Lady Droughtius, you are a traitor to your nation.”

“Choosing to continue this war is traitorous. Suing for peace is the only patriotic move left.”

“If you say so.” I smirked behind my wineglass, “Who would’ve thought that the most calculating serpent in that den of snakes would have the prettiest face?”

She actually blushed. “Alkandra poses the greatest threat to the Highlands in the long term. Ensuring that it becomes a mercantile nation instead of a militaristic fiefdom is the best way to—”

“Just tell me that you want to be rich and powerful.” I interrupted, “The power you expected to inherit is gone, and the wealth along with it. You think you deserve it, so you will do anything to get it.”

“You think me so cold?”

“I think you’re so ambitious.” I tilted my head, “I like it. The world could use more pragmatists and less nationalists. Don’t be ashamed of what you desire, Sofia.”

She turned even redder. “I believe I’ve earned my title, Lady Straltaira.”

“We’ll be on a first-name-basis from now on.” I said, studying her carefully, “If Yavara decides to grant your request, you know what you’ll have to do.”

She nodded. “Become a hybrid.”

“A monster.”

“Only those who have not seen you think that hybrids are monsters.” She said, then blushed. “Contrary to what you said today, I do not think your transformation is a deformation.” She swallowed, and said, “I think you’re quite beautiful, Elena.”

“I know I am, Sofia.” I watched her from behind my wine glass, “Did Lord Ternias’s little birds chirp about what I did to his pets?”

She nodded.

“Did you come here for more than a nice conversation then?”

Again, she nodded. With a small voice, she whispered, “I must know what it means to be Alkandran.”

“You must?” I smiled impishly, “Tell me you want to know.”

She swallowed, her cheeks flushing so that she looked like a porcelain doll. “I want to know.” She said softly.

“I can show you.”

I stood up, and walked toward her. She put down her wine, and watched me approach. When I was near enough to touch her, her bravery failed her, and she brought her knees before her chest. Wordlessly, I knelt before her, putting her above me. I took off one strap of my dress, and invited her to do the other. She slowly eased her knees from her chest, and with a curious hand, she reached out, and pushed off the other strap. My bodice fell from me, and exposed my breasts. I could tell by the way she looked at them, that she had a small attraction to women, but she was mostly straight. She did not stare with a covetousness, but with an interest.

“What should I do with them?” She asked softly.

“What would you like to do to them?”

She looked me in the eye. “What would you like to have done? If I’m to be hermaphroditic, I must know how to please another woman.”

“Experiment, Sofia. Find out all the little things that make me tick.”

She smiled coyly, and grasped my right nipple. I nodded with a grin, and she pinched it just enough to sting. I gasped, and she withdrew her hand, an apology on her lips.

“Why did you stop?” I asked.

“I hurt you.”

“And?” I scooted forward on my knees, “When arousal takes hold, pain and pleasure can be complimentary sensations.”

“I don’t think inflicting pain is something I want to do.”

“Hmm,” I grinned, “you’re still young. Well, go on. Pleasure me.”

She reached out with both hands this time, and lightly caressed my nipples with the tips of her fingers. The flesh of my areolas prickled, and the beads themselves became hard and swollen. She watched them with fascination, and I moaned for her. When she heard it, she smiled proudly to herself, and emboldened, she squeezed both my breasts, and pushed down on my nipples with her thumbs.

“That’s it…” I purred through a hedonistic smile, “gentleness will only get you so far. Take what you want, and take it firmly.”

She fondled my breasts experimentally, learning through trial and error how I liked to be touched there. Then she slid my dress further down. Her eyes widened when the toned muscle of my abdomen was shown, the thin battle-scars crossing it. Nobles were soft people, and even on a man, she’d never seen such physicality. She ran her hands gently over the sculpted contours, fascinated by the white scars. She let my dress fall to my hips, and it stayed there for a moment, hung on the protrusion before my crotch. The weight of the dress overcame my arousal, and it fell. My cock sprang upward, hard and ready, leaking from the tip. Sofia gasped, her eyes bulging.

“Don’t be frightened.” I muttered, taking her hand away from her mouth, “It’s just a part of me like my hands or feet, that’s all.”

Instead of standing, I slid onto the couch next to her, always keeping myself below her. It was difficult, as she was shorter even than Yavara, so I had to slouch beside her in my nudity.

“Whenever you’re ready, you can touch it.” I said to her.

“How?” She whispered.

“Like this.” I said, and wrapped my fingers around my shaft, and began to stroke it. She watched me with intense interest, her fear gradually leaving her face. Eventually, there was only curiosity, then there was desire.

“Stop.” She said, putting her hand atop mine, “Let me.”

I let go, and watched her with an expectant smile. She pursed her lips in concentration, reached out, and poked my penis with a probing finger. She blushed when I giggled, and with an embarrassed smile, she grasped me with her whole hand.

“Wow,” she muttered, “it’s hotter than I thought it would be, and the skin is a lot softer than I thought. It’s… pulsing.”

“He’s just happy to make your acquaintance.”

She laughed. “Shall I shake his hand then?” And she began to stroke me. She was clumsy, and not nearly firm enough, but it was pleasant enough that I didn’t have to feign my subtle moans. She became very interested in the froth of precum that arose from my tip, and she ventured to test it with her thumb.

“Taste it.” I groaned.

“Taste it?!”

I peeked at her from one eye. “Don’t tell me you don’t know what a blowjob is.”

“That seems like quite the leap.”

“Sometimes you’ve just got it jump in.”

She chewed on her lip nervously. I smiled compassionately, and took her cheek in my hand. “I think it’s time that I touched you, don’t you?”

She nodded cautiously, looking from my eyes, to my lips. “Will you kiss me then?” She asked.

“Have you ever kissed a boy before?”

“Do you kiss like a boy does?”

I smiled a breath away from her lips. “No one kisses like me, Sofia.”

I pressed our mouths together, and ventured between them with my tongue. I teased the gate of teeth before me, and she opened them carefully. Here, I was not gentle with her. I poured my tongue into her unassuming mouth, and danced across her gums and tongue with a passionate voracity. She gasped sharply, but there was nothing she could do against the sudden violation, for her delicate body wilted instinctively in my arms. She seemed more shocked at her own reaction than my invasion, and I took full advantage of her state to devour her. Soon, her tongue was dancing with mine, an eager student vainly following the motions of the master, drawn into my oral samba, her needful moans providing the melody. When I left her, she was breathless, her eyes closed, her mouth still moving as though I was in it. I kissed my way down her jaw, down her throat, and down her chest.

“Wait!” She squeaked, her hands seizing around my head.

I ignored her. Pulling down the drape of her bodice, I revealed one of her small conical pale breasts, and I took the stiff nipple into my mouth, and sucked hard. She hissed air through clenched teeth, her head tilting to the ceiling, her back arching from the couch.

“Wait…” She muttered,”…I’m… not… ready…” Her words slurred from her, intoxicated by the way my lips pulled, by the way my tongue toyed with her nipple between my gently-biting teeth. Her hands relaxed in my hair, then drifted to her sides. I hooked my fingers into her bodice, and slid her dress down to her hips. She was such a soft and delicate creature. Every kiss I pathed down her belly was met with silken flesh and a reactive whimper. I dipped my tongue into her navel, and swirled it, teasing her with what was going to happen lower. She looked down at me with her pale lips agape, her brow furrowed, her eyes full of trepidation, confusion, and pleasure. I pathed her pelvis with my saliva, pulling her dress further and further down until her breath caught.

“Wait!” She cried in earnest, clamping her legs together.

I looked up at her with tender blue eyes, pulling the white hair from my face so that she could see my calming expression.

“I’m not ready.” She said, her lower-lip quivering.

I slid my fingers between her pressing thighs, and began to gently but firmly fight against the resistance she put up.

“Elena, stop!” She whimpered, pawing futility against my arm as it moved methodically deeper, her thighs squishing against my wrist, my fingers feeling the heat just inches away. “Elena!” She cried.

“I was like you, Sofia.” I whispered, my breath heated and covetous, “Terrified of intimacy, clinging to my virtue and purity.” My fingers pushed deeper, “Highlanders demand a virgin bride, and so a woman must suppress her desires.” I pressed against her moist panties, “Even Yavara screamed and wailed when she was first violated.” I felt the texture of her petals through the cloth, “If I’m being honest, Sofia,” I hissed, “I’m glad the Highlanders raise their blonde little beauties like they’re nuns.” I slid my fingers up her slit through the wet cloth, “There’s nothing quite as alluring as breaking an innocent girl.”

“Elena!” She wailed.

I found her waistband, jammed my fingers underneath it, and drove two digits into her slit. Oh, she was soft and wet for me, the petals so delicate that they deformed beneath my pads, the flesh so moist that my hand was wet before I even entered her. And when I did enter her with my ring and middle fingers, her tight channel absorbed me into its chaste hold, squeezing and fluttering. Her eyes went wide, and her head tilted back, her pale lips gaped to utter a breathless croak. Her hymen was shallow, and I broke it firmly. She screamed then, and I rose to her level, brought my arm around her narrow shoulders, and pulled her against me, letting her feel the soothing warmth of my flesh, my steady heart thrumming in contest with her galloping pulse. I was gentle then, pressing and prodding her broken virginity with tender caresses, massaging the spot on her ceiling, probing her clit with my thumb. She sounded panicked breaths for a moment longer, then they began to decelerate. Her stiff posture waned, and she drooped into my arm, each of her expirations squeaking from her. God, I was hard.

“Perfection.” I muttered into her pointed ear, “That was beautiful, Sofia. Thank you.”

“What are you doing to me?” She gasped nearly silently.

“Feeling your insides,” I licked her ear, “finding out all the dark little secrets trapped in there.”

“Stop it.” She hissed.

“No.” I chuckled lowly, focusing on that spot, curling my fingers inside of her. She gasped, her breasts heaving with the sudden inhalation, her mouth forming a stunned oval. “Looks like I found it.” I chuckled, “Tell me to stop again.”

She looked up at me, her blue eyes brimming, her bottom lip quivering. “Stop.” She hissed again.

“Say it again.” I whispered.

“Stop…”

“Again.”

“Sto… sto… stop…”

“Again, Sofia.” I smiled. Her face had relaxed, her cheeks had flushed, her lip no longer quivered. Her breaths were even and short, and an expression of realization was beginning to dawn in her eyes.

“Don’t stop.” She breathed.

“What was that?” I asked, my grin broadening.

Her legs opened, her dress draping between them, her pale thighs revealing themselves from the slits in her skirt until I could see the outline of my hand moving from beneath the drape of cloth. “Don’t stop.” She said, her eyes locked onto mine. “Keep touching me.”

“That’s not how an Alkandran talks.” I said, pushing another finger inside of her.

She tensed as I stretched her taut insides, her fleshy sheathe seizing around me, the tight lips sucking on my knuckles, drooling lewd saliva down the back of my hand. “How does an Alkandran talk?!” She panted, losing control of herself.

“Tell me what you want me to do to you.”

“I don’t know what I want!” She whined, gritting her teeth against the pleasure coursing through her, “I just… I just… I just want you inside me!”

I took a gentle grip of her hair, and pulled her head back until she was staring up into my eyes. “You want to be fucked, Sofia.” I hissed on her lips, “You want to feel this tight little virgin pussy get stretched open by a thick cock.” I added a fourth finger, and she shuddered from head to toe, her eyes enraptured with mine, her ears hinging on my every word. “You’re a prim little girl, innocent and quaint, and you want me to turn you into a depraved whore.” I grinned as she started moaning, “You want me to do disgusting things to you,” I growled, my hand squelching wetly as the last knuckles entered her. “You want me to keep going even when you beg me to stop.” I gripped her from the inside, and pulled up. She squeaked, her mouth gaping open. “And you’ll beg me, Sofia. That prim little elven maiden will try oh-so-hard to keep her virtue, but I’m going to defile her nonetheless.” I began fucking her with my fingers, driving with my pads pressing on her spot. “I’m going to ravage you and ruin you. I’m going to transform you to fit my depraved desires. You’ll protest, and beg, and cry, but it will just be your pride talking.” I drove my hand faster and faster, moving through her slick tight heat until she was squealing. “Because deep down in every woman, is a slut who wants nothing more than to give up, and become a slave to wanton and disgusting pleasures.” I picked her up from the inside, and propped her on my lap. She splayed across my body, her legs spread wide, her back arched against my torso, her head on my shoulder, her lips breathing fervently against my own. “My little high-elf pet. My little slut.” I whispered against her mouth, “When I’m done with you, you’ll crawl for me on your hands and knees.” I touched the tip of her nose with mine, and grinned. “That is how an Alkandran talks.”

She was panting, her pale skin glistening with her pleasured exertion, her bosom heaving, her blue eyes possessed of me, unbridled and void of innocence. “Teach me how to be an Alkandran.” She whispered.

I pulled my fingers from her slit, her pussy now puffy and red with readiness, her nectar webbed between my digits. I brought my fingers to her lips. “Taste yourself.” I whispered.

I could see the initial disgust on her face, the crinkling of her nose, the unsureness in her eyes. I brought one my of fingers to my own lips, and sucked it clean. “Delicious.” I moaned, “I love the taste of virgin Highland cunt.”

“Don’t call it that.” She muttered.

I rubbed the tips of our noses, laughing at her. “Your mommy’s not hear to scold you for your dirty mouth, Sofia.” I brought my fingers back to her lips, “You can make it as dirty as you want, you slut.”

She closed her eyes, quivering from head to toe, her flesh prickling. “Am I already a slut?” She whispered.

I planted my lips in the shell of her ear. “Nothing but a pathetic little light-skinned slut.” I hissed, and poured my tongue into her ear.

She mewled, writhing atop me. “Say it again!” She hissed.

“You’re a slut, Sofia. A baseless little girl waiting to become my filthy little pet.” I reached around her hips with my other hand, and began to rub her swollen clit, “You’ll do whatever I tell you, because you want to learn how to be the most depraved slut in the Highlands. And you’re just a virgin; how pathetic you are.” I painted her parted and panting lips with my fingers, “Now, taste yourself, slut.”

She opened her mouth, and I pushed my sullied digits inside. She wrapped her lips around my bottom knuckles, and moaned as she sucked, her little tongue slathering me, testing the taste of her broken virginity, and finding the flavor palatable. She wriggled atop me, my other hand guiding her dance from between her legs, expertly touching her throbbing red organ in the ways I knew would make her crazy. Her eyes opened wide, her breathing became more intense. She undulated on my lap, her back arching, her bosom heaving with pants, her petite breasts jiggling. I stared into her sapphire irises the whole time, watching the beautiful confusion and fear playing in them, watching that confusion and fear dissipate as she surrendered to the sensations, surrendered to her own desires, surrendered to my will. She slurped on my fingers, drool bubbling down her chin, her pristine portrait of innocence and propriety turned to one of grotesque ecstasy as her eyes rolled back into her head, and her lips parted to reveal her stupidly-wriggling tongue between my digits. She cried out, a sound pure of lechery and void of innocence, and she came. My molesting hand was saturated with her expulsion, and I continued to fervently abuse her down there, causing her stream of release to ruin her dress and wet her thighs. She reared back her head, her entire body seeming to bend at the axis of her breasts, and she exalted as another wave crashed through her before she was finally released from her prison of ecstasy.

She was rendered useless and panting atop me, her body limp and splayed over mine, her soft flesh molding into my bare breasts and belly. I reached between both out legs, grabbed the bunched skirt between hers, and slid it down past her knees. My cock sprang up between her slender thighs, rigid and curved with arousal, pulsing and aching. I took her by the hips, and guided her limp body to slide down. She gasped when my rod pressed between her blushing folds, the hard meat nestling itself easily into the puffy lips. I grasped her gently by the throat, not abusively, but dominatingly. She whimpered, but she did not protest. It was both arousing and comforting for her to put power in my hands. She trusted me now, like how a pup trusts her master.

I continued to sensually play with her clit, and began to subtly thrust, sliding my cock between her folds. She whimpered each time, helpless and demure atop me, unable to do anything but watch as my fat organ deformed her delicate petals, ran along her slit, and rubbed against her engorged clit. I caressed her throat with my thumb, my other hand covetously squeezing her left breast, my lips breathing on her jaw. She whimpered with increasing desperation, a plea she didn’t understand, a weakness she displayed instinctively, but not naturally. All her life, Sofia had been confident and in control, doted upon and spoiled. Now she was meek and submissive, and she didn’t know why she liked it so much.

“You know what you want.” I whispered.

“Yes!” She blubbered, watching my cock disappear and reappear, each time becoming wetter with her arousal. She seemed horrifically fascinated with what was happening to her, teetering somewhere between trauma and revelation. Ah, to be a virgin again. As Brock had shaped Yavara in her moment of trauma, as Yavara had shaped me, so I would shape Sofia. And I was a demented artist.

“Beg me for it, slut.” I cooed in her ear.

“Please.” She whispered, watching my cock disappear and reappear, hypnotized by the tortuous rapidity, transfixed by the excruciating desire ballooning between her legs, “Please, Elena,” She whined, her brow furrowing, “make me your slut! F-f-f-fuck me!”

“Good girl.” I giggled, and released her breast to grab my cock, aim it back, and push inside. She gasped, her eyes going wide, her mouth falling open. I moaned. Her tight heat surrounded me, her sucking lips pulled me in, her wet slit stretched around me, beckoning me deeper and deeper until I was being squeezed down the entire length of my cock, buried to the hilt. “Goddamn, you’re tight!” I groaned.

If Sofia heard me, she didn’t acknowledge it. Her eyelids fluttered, her chest rose and fell, her breaths expired from her in squeaking pants. I held myself still inside her, waiting for her to acclimate to the new reality. With a shuddering breath, some of the sanity returned to her blue eyes, and they focused on me. “So,” she said breathily, “I’m a woman now.”

I touched our brows together, and grinned endearingly. “And what a woman you are, Sofia.”

She tittered, her mirth interrupted by a sudden breath, and a whine of pleasure. When she next regained herself, her gaze was wild. “Don’t call me ‘Sofia,’” She said, looking down at my lips, “not when you’re inside me. I’m not her when you do these things to me.” She looked back into my eyes, “I’m just a slut in training. Teach me. Teach me!” Her legs began to quiver, splaying wide around her penetrated and ruined pussy, “Oh god, TEACH ME!” She cried.

I wrapped my hands around her narrow bony hips, and guided them into a deep and violent grind. I couldn’t help myself any longer. I couldn’t be gentle anymore. As I taught her the motions of a woman, I fucked her hard, ramming my cock into her tight slit, burying myself into her narrow wet sheath, stretching it, ruining it, abusing her soft beautiful petals until they were puffy and red, wet with the juices that squelched from her with my violent piston drives. She reared her head back over my shoulder, and screamed a soprano note of pain and pleasure, the sound fluctuating with the lurching impulses I sent through her. Her succulent flesh rippled from her breasts and ass, her belly flexed in sporadic spasms, her legs flailed for purchase as she tried to match the motion of my guiding hands. The deep oscillations of her hips forced her to take me with open thighs and a low pelvis, making her asscheeks mold to my crotch, the delectable fat forming glistening creases and folds with her rotations, the seal of our flesh breaking with each motion to waft the pungent scent of sin into the room.

I released her hips and let her venture on her own. She wrapped her hands behind our heads, and danced on my cock, crying out all the way. She was awkward and inexperienced, but her exuberance more than made up for it, and the last vestiges of her broken innocence were more alluring to me than I thought possible. I didn’t know why it made me want to defile her, but I didn’t question it. My hands grabbed and squeezed her from ass to breast, then wrapped fingers in her hair to yank her head back. She stared up at me, her gaze fervent and untamed, her pupils small. I licked the whole side of her face, and she bowed her neck to receive it, squealing out in delight as I hammered into her. When my tongue flicked from her cheek, I collected spit upon it, and let it dribble onto her nose and lips. She opened her mouth to receive the trail of saliva, and I followed after it to devour her beautiful mouth.

Her muffled cries hummed in my mouth as her lips sucked upon mine, her tongue wriggling in contest with mine, the wet squishing member wrapping and slathering my palate with her blossoming lust. Her undulations became more natural, no longer jerking and lurching, and she moved with sinuous grace atop me, slithering her slender body back-to-front while I impaled her between her spread legs. We moved like perverse dancers, heaving to a forceful cadence, to circles of motion that converged violently at their apex, driving my cock all the way in so that her juices could squelch from her and salivate down my shaft. The tension within me began to build, the beautiful rage flowing through my muscles, compelled by her prey-like squeaks into my mouth, the submissive desire in her blue eyes.

I grabbed her by the thighs, pulled her legs up, hooked my elbows around her knees, and locked my fingers behind her head to complete the nelson hold. I forced her face down, and her mouth tore from mine, a squeal of shocked delight flowing from it.

“Look at what I’m doing to you.” I growled in her ear, “Look at the way my fat cock is ruining your tight little cunt. Your body belongs to me now.”

“Yes!” She cried, staring down at her breasts squished against the rolls of her belly, her upturned pelvis revealing her penetration to her, my thick rod driving through her puffy flushed folds, rubbing against her engorged clit, pushing in her gripping netherlips. Her ass jiggled freely in the air with each impact, and I buried myself into new depths, finding the tightest reaches of her, holding myself inside for a moment before pulling out and violently surging into her once more. Soon, I was fucking her without control, blasting my hips against her plump flank, driving, driving, driving into her soft innards, ruining them more with each thrust. She was sputtering through her exalting squeals, her eyes wide, her makeup running down her face, her blonde hair plastered to her forehead in fine strands. Then she was bucking against the nelson-hold, writhing as though in great agony, screaming and thrashing. The contractions within her became violent, the spasmatic squeezing of her cunt signaling her ascension. I pounded mercilessly into her, my breath coming out of me like fire, my entire body soaked in sweat.

“I’m going to come inside you,” I panted in her ear, “beg me to do it, slut.”

“Please come inside me!” Sofia whined, her neck corded with tense tendons, “I need your cum in my pussy! I’ve never wanted anything more! Make me your slut!”

I obliged. With a final heave, I impaled her. She flung her head back and croaked breathlessly, her entire body quivering, her back bowing against its concave arch to jut her glistening breasts forth. My loins surged hot milk deep into her virgin depths, consummating her violation. I panted in her ear, lost in the sensation of her hot wet flesh, both inside and out, the softness of her, the way her muscles moved against and around me. We stayed locked in a paralysis of ecstasy for a beautiful eternity, then descended gracefully back to sanity.

Sofia was left staring at the ceiling, vainly trying to compose herself. I kissed her pointed ear, then her neck, then her shoulder. I slipped out from beneath her, and continued to kiss her down her breasts, belly, and crotch. I licked the inner portion of her thighs, then looked up at her. Behind her recovering veil, was a look of confusion. I smiled impishly, and wrapped my mouth around her beautiful red rose. She hissed in shock, but her thighs opened to receive me. I grinned around my meal, and watched her as my tongue slipped inside. Her expression softened from its startled mask, and she licked her lips delectably before biting the lower half, and snaking her hands luxuriantly down her sides. Her fingers were soon knotted in my hair, and I licked her insides approvingly, pleased by her newfound confidence. As I tasted the delicious concoction of sperm and pussy, she moaned like a minted woman, no longer screaming and squealing like a girl. My muzzle became wet with her arousal, the tip of my nose glistened as it nestled itself between her folds and upended her clit, and I used my tongue to do what my fingers had done before, only with much greater dexterity, and a more pleasing texture. Soon, Sofia was coming again, and she sobbed out her ecstatic tones with her fists balled in my hair.

When I was done, I sucked the mixture from her slit, and climbed up her body. I hovered over her face, and after a moment of delay, she smiled lecherously, and parted her lips. I let the filthy white soup cascade into her mouth, and she let it pool upon her tongue. Our mouths came together, and she moaned as though the taste was of honey. In that state of mind, it was sweeter. I stayed hunched over her like a predator to prey, feasting upon her lips and tongue until we were both satisfied with the meal. When I parted from her, it was like I was looking at a new woman.

“An interesting taste.” She whispered, smacking her lips, “Next time, I’ll try it from the source.”

“Next time, you’ll be the one taking charge.” I giggled, crinkling my nose, “You’ll ride my face like the goddess you are.”

She smiled. “You flatter me, Elena, but we both know that of the two of us, I am not the goddess. You’re… beyond amazing.”

“I know,” I said, pathing her jaw with my finger, “but you’re no slouch, Sofia. I’ve never taken a woman’s virginity before, and now I understand why the experience is so coveted. I’m so honored that you gave it to me.”

She blushed. “It is I who should be honored. I might not know anything about sex, but I know that I will never feel such pleasure with anyone but an Alkandran.”

“You’re right about that.” I chuckled, stroking her throat.

She smiled easily back at me. “You’ve ruined me already. Elena Straltaira, you should be ashamed of yourself, doing such terrible things to a virgin girl.”

“You thought that was terrible?” I laughed, “That was the most vanilla sex I’ve had since… ever, actually.”

That was vanilla?!”

“I didn’t even see your asshole.”

“Why on earth would you want to see that?!

I grinned evilly. “Sofia, I don’t just want to see it.”

She blushed furiously. “That’s disgusting.” She mumbled.

“Absolutely filthy.” I whispered into her ear, my fingers caressing her hard nipple, “I wonder how it tastes.

She shuddered under my touch, her eyelids drooping. “Elena Straltaira, you are a wicked, wicked woman.”

“You’ll get there, little dove.” I chuckled dotingly, “You’ll make an excellent Alkandran.”

“Well… thank you.” Then she smiled shyly. “How big do you think my… you know… how big will it be?”

“A foot long at least.”

A foot?! I’m five-two!”

“You’ll be a three-legged woman.”

She tittered. “You’re joking, right? You don’t actually know how my body will change.”

“No, but I’m getting some major big-dick-vibes from you.”

She blushed even more. “Well… thank you, I guess.”

I laughed. “And you’ll be much bolder, I imagine.”

“I don’t think so, Elena.” She ran her hands covetously down the curves of my back, “I may be inexperienced, but I know who I am. I’m a follower.” She smiled cutely, “I became your… ‘slut’ quite naturally.”

“You don’t know who you are yet.”



“I do.” She said seriously, “Only someone who knows themselves truly can understand what they want. I came here with a goal, and I knew what I would have to do to achieve it.”

I laughed and poked her nose. “Why is it that I always find myself in the beds of manipulative women?”

“Did I manipulate you?” She raised her brows, “I believe I stated my intentions quite clearly.”

“Using sex to negotiate is textbook manipulation.” I said, and placed a finger over her lips before she could speak. “You used your virginity to great effect, Sofia, and you knew what you were doing. Do not deny it.”

She licked my finger. “You’ve been dressed in eveningwear while in court for two weeks. You’ve let rumors circulate about what you did to Ternias’s servants. You’ve cultivated a reputation of lasciviousness to bate nobles like me, so do not speak to me of sexual manipulation when you are the puppet master of the noble’s desires.”

“I wish.” I sighed, “It seems my Alkandran charm doesn’t have the effect I desired.”

Sofia laughed. “Elena, you know not what you do to them!” She turned to me with a twinkle in her eyes, “Their gaze follows you like their pupils are magnetized to your backside. Even Lady Catherine Jonias turns slightly pink when your member slithers beneath your dress. They hinge on your every word and movement, but they fear you.”

“Fear me?”

“You’re boisterous, charismatic, beautiful, and exotic. You’re Alkandran, a thing of evil legend, but they recognize your face as one of their own. None of them knows how to approach you, and none of them wants to be the first. They’re all waiting for someone to finally jump into the water.” She grinned proudly, “That someone was me. Now they’re just waiting for me to say that the water’s warm.”

I gave her an appraising look. “You have a plan, don’t you?”

She shrugged. “I know I’m approachable, because no one sees me as a threat; not like you. I can be your liaison to the court. I can make connections that you cannot. I will bring the curious members of the court to your doorstep, and you will do the rest.”

“Who are your contacts?”

“Sherman Huntiata is an old family friend, and Percian Feltian, the son of Lord Yanas Feltian, is my betrothed.”

“Your betrothed?!

She smiled guiltily. “It’s an arranged marriage, but we view it as more of a partnership. Percian never showed interest in me, nor in the court. He follows my lead when it comes to politics, and Yanas Feltian is very old.”

“You little schemer.”

“I like to think of it as long-term planning.” She said a little indignantly, “I also have some contacts with some of Feractian’s barons. Unlike the other high-nobles, Feractian often lets his lesser nobles represent him in court. If Feractian leaves his seat, you may have an in-road with them.”

“That would give me five votes.” I muttered.

“I can’t guarantee you any of them but my own, Elena.” Sofia said, “I can only make the introductions. You must do the rest.”

I drew my eyes across her slender naked body, then rested them on her disheveled face. “All I need is an introduction, Sofia.”

YAVARA

Destiny had transformed back into Zander when I awoke the next morning. I slipped from his sleeping arms, and made my way to the nearby stream. After a cold bath, I donned my leather armor, and went back to my tent.

“…what do you think? This one, or this one?” Brock’s gruff voice asked as he tried on one headdress, then the other.

“Why are you asking me this?” Elena’s voice came from my mirror.

“I need a woman’s opinion.”

“I never had a sense of fashion, and now I have a dick. Do you want me to get Leveria in here? She’s the one who clothes me.”

“You think I want to talk to that cunt? Come on, you were a ranger; which one of these would’ve scared you more?”

There was a pause. “The one with the skulls on it.”

“I thought you’d like that one,” Brock chuckled, “these here are all imperial generals. I wonder if you knew any of them?”

“That’s very macabre.”

“I think it’s honorable. Only great foes are displayed as trophies. Once I’m finally cut down, I hope my killer takes my head and wears my skull as a battle helm.”

“After getting to know some of these nobles, I think you’d probably be taxidermied and put on display in some estate manor.”

“Yeah, so in the wee hours the missus can come to the parlor and finish what her husband couldn’t!” Brock roared, and Elena laughed with him. I tried to keep my titters quiet, but Brock heard them, and he turned over his shoulder. “My queen,” he said, his face falling solemnly, “you have a call from the ambassador.”

My smile fell as well, and I felt almost like an intruder in the moment. “Thank you, Brock.” I said, taking the mirror as he left. “Elena?”

“Are you alone?”

I watched Brock walk into the camp. “Yes.”

She leaned toward the mirror. “Do you remember Sofia Droughtius?”

“Shy girl, never wanted to go outside?”

“That’s the one. Well, she’s taken charge of her family, and she’s offered to join my coalition.”

“That’s wonderful.”

Elena frowned. “Are you patronizing me?”

“No, I mean it.” I said sincerely, “It’s just… well, House Droughtius wasn’t ever a potent player, and now that their military assets have been destroyed, they’re hardly a great house at all. I suspect Sofia came to you out of desperation.”

“You’d suspect correctly, but it’s a start, Yavara. Sofia can get me inroads to Huntiata, Feltian, and Feractian.”

I raised my brows. “I didn’t know Sofia had those kinds of connections.”

“She has a cordial relationship with Sherman Huntiata, and she’s betrothed to Yanas Feltian’s son. She also has a few contacts with some of Feractian’s barons.”

I laughed. “Such a strong coalition of the hypothetical you have.”

“It’s closer than you think. Yanas Feltian is frail, and Feractian delegates many of his decisions to his barons. Sherman Huntiata might be tough, but the old bastard only cares about money.”

I scribbled the notes down on a pad of paper, then glanced up at her with a critical eye, “There’s something you want to tell me, but you don’t know how to.”

She actually blushed. “When did you get good at reading people?”

“You learn fast when you’re queen.” I smiled, “Let me guess… you’re fucking Sofia Droughtius.”

She laughed. “Of course I am.”

“She’s cute.” I giggled approvingly, “Elena Straltaira, fucking her way through the noble court.” I sighed, “I wish I could be there with you.”

“I wish you were here too.” She smiled ruefully, “But… well, my escapades with Sofia aren’t what I wanted to talk to you about. Her help comes with a price.”

“Your cock isn’t compensation enough?”

“I daresay it almost was, but she’s a tough negotiator.”

“She must have a will of iron. What does she want?”

Elena took a deep breath. “When the war is over, she will rule the southern Maples as a hybrid governess.”

I snorted. “You can certainly tell her she will.”

Elena frowned. “Yavara, my word means something to me.”

“I’m not giving up the second-most valuable territory in my empire to some Highland traitor.”

“She is uniquely qualified. She has contacts in the southern Lowlands and southern Highlands, as well as good relationships with many dwarven merchants of note.”

“I’m sure I’ll have no problems making contacts of my own.”

Elena chewed on her lip. “This girl is betting everything on me. I can’t just leave her out to dry.”

“I have no use for elves like her, Elena. I chose warriors for a reason. The leaders of my nation are bold, brazen, and deadly like the beasts they rule, but most importantly, they’re a part of a sisterhood that they would never break. Sofia has never touched a blade in her life, and worse than that, she’s a schemer. Her kind only want what they don’t have, and so I will not have her. If you can’t stomach lying to her, then I suggest you leave the Noble Court right now, because it’s clearly not for you.”

Elena took two long breaths, then let them out through her nose. “If you won’t grant me any powers, I can’t operate here.”

“I thought we were enemies? Why should I help you at all?” I smirked at her.

“Because I can end this war peacefully!” She snapped, and took another deep breath, “Yavara, at least get me the funds to secure Lord Huntiata. He is key to all of this. If I have him, I have the largest paramilitary force in Bentius.”

“And you’ll use it to supplant Leveria. Excellent.”

She screwed up her lips. “No, I just want to keep it out of Leveria or Ternias’s hands.”

I scoffed. “Then the answer is ‘no.’ Elena, the path to victory is clear for you; why don’t you take it?”

“Huntiata would never use the city watch to help you; he hates Alkandra.” Elena said, scowling, “And I would never do that either; I love my country.” She narrowed her eyes, “I used to think you did too.” And she palmed the screen before I could reply.

“That judgmental cunt.” I muttered.

LEVERIA

Elena was visibly flustered when she left my office. I grinned at her. “Lover’s quarrel?”

“You Tiadoa bitches are the most stubborn people on the planet.”

“That’s because we know it’s only a matter of time before we get what we want.”

“Spoiled princesses.” She grumbled.

“Guilty.” I snickered, flicking the ash casually from my cigarette. “What did Lady Droughtius want?”

Elena froze for a moment, then gave me a dark look. “Spying on me?”

“Of course.”

She sat down across from me, and ran her hands through her hair. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. What she wants, I can’t give.”

“Lying always works for me.”

“Until you get called on it, and then your reputation is destroyed.”

“You simply kill the person you lied to before the lie comes to light.” I smiled around my cigarette, “Sofia Droughtius is hardly a major noble anyway. I doubt there would be much uproar if she were to be the victim of a tragic equestrian accident.”

“Don’t you ever get sick of being an evil bitch?”

“Not even a little.” I pushed out my cigarette, “Wanna fuck?”

Thirty minutes later, I was panting atop Elena, our bodies hot and slick with sweat. We kissed tenderly, enjoying the flavor of the other as her hard cock squelched within my cum-filled pussy. Hot rivulets of her nectar spilled from my ruined slit and ran down my taint to pool against my gaping anus.

As I watched her get dressed, I was nearly overwhelmed with the need to ask her to stay, but I knew she wouldn’t, and it hurt more than I thought possible.

“I love you.” I said.

She looked over her shoulder at me, and beamed so brightly that it seemed to light up the room. “Are you trying to get me back in bed?”

“I just want to hear you say it.”

“I love you, Leveria.” She said, then kissed me goodbye, and closed the door behind her. My smile stayed glued on my face for a moment, then faded away. A unique silence fell over the room, the kind of silence that occurs when joy has walked out the door, and leaves only you. I had not realized how alone I was until Elena started living in her mother’s estate. I had not known loneliness all my life, even when I was by myself for days on end. Now it felt like weeks were being stretched into years, and I counted time not by the minutes or hours, but by the precious moments I was with her. Then she would leave me, and the light dimmed, and a shadow would fall over my mind as I faced the cold and bleak realities of the world.

What was the path to victory? How could I save my country? “Peace,” Elena would say naively, but she couldn’t see that there was no such thing. That even if temporary peace was achieved, it would result in a long defeat. It seemed so simple to her because she was half Alkandran and half Highlander, but the line that had been blurred within her was stark and uncrossable for the rest of us. This was the Highlands only chance. If we gave up now, we were dooming ourselves. It would take decades, maybe centuries for the final nail to be struck, but it would be inevitable. And me? If I sued for peace, and admitted defeat in a war I had started, I would be voted out the next day, then hung in the square the day after. That was, if they didn’t hand me over to Yavara to placate her. The very idea was enough to keep me up all night.

ZANDER

I cleaned the old crown that adorned the skull on my staff. Once Alkandi was nice and pretty again, I carefully dried out her eye-sockets and brushed her teeth. This far south along the rift, the tundra gave way to short trees, the perimeter markers of the Great Forest.

“You called for me?” Gorlok growled.

“I did.” I said idly, not looking up from my chore.

“Speak, wizard.”

I looked up at him then. “You’ve proven yourself to be an extremely effective battle commander, Gorlok.”

“You mean I’m just hard to kill.”

“Being alive is a prerequisite to leadership.”

“Martyrs would say differently.”

“Martyrs aren’t leaders, they’re symbols. This army has enough symbols, but a shortage of capable commanders.”

“You killed all the capable commanders.” He snarled.

“I suppose we did.” I chuckled, folding away the towel. Gorlok had fresh wounds all over his body. He’d been scarred before, but now he was disfigured nearly to the point of mutilation. Orcs always thought they were invincible up until their death, but Gorlok was about the toughest sonofabitch I’d ever met. “I won’t ask you to go up on the wall anymore.” I said.

“Because you’re going to kill me right here.”

I smiled at him. “Gorlok, if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead. I sent you up on the wall so much because you and your warg-riders are uniquely brutal, and I want the Highlanders to know horror.” I stepped out of the stream, and onto the grass, “I’d like to speak to you in confidence now.”

“Who would believe what I say anyway? I’m a nameless, disgraced general.”

“Indeed.” I said, and stopped before him, staring up at that terrible face. “The queen is not going to invade the Highlands. Your raids aren’t to test the rift for weaknesses; they’re to break the enemy’s will, as well as your own.”

“Our own?”

“If orcs want to fight, there’s not much that can be done to stop them. Like letting an unruly child act out until he realizes his foolishness, the queen has decided to give her army an outlet for bloodshed.”

The revelation didn’t surprise him. He just grinned, and snorted. “Some of us will never be satisfied, wizard. If the queen wants this war to last forever, then I will not complain.”

“She wants the Highlands to capitulate, but they are taking their time. I want you to expedite the process.” I looked to the south, “There are no more rangers to guard the banks of the Knife River. You and a small company of warg-riders could cross it at night.”

“And once I’m in the Highlands, what do I do?”

“Whatever you want.”

He narrowed his black eyes. “The queen sanctioned this?”

“You’re officially going rogue, Gorlok. The queen would never sanction this. If you come back with a beating heart, you will be tried and executed as a traitor.”

He thought about it for a moment, then his scarred face opened into a grotesque grin. “Alright then. I’ll tell the boys it’s time to have some fun.”

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Chapter Forty-Four PRIVATE HESIA OF THE HIGHLAND ARMY “…I’m telling you, you’re safe if you don’t put the helmet on.” Alex said to me. We were stationed in the Crescent, a part of the Rift that bowed inward. It was the safest part of Sector Two, as the...

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