"Another." Terell waved his cup at the barkeep. The light of the lanterns danced in the amber stream of liquid as it flowed from the decanter into his cup.
"There you go," the barkeep said. He waited while Terell fumbled for a copper coin to place on the bar.
As the barkeep walked away, Terell stared at the two drinks in front of him until they merged into one and decided he was drunk. Not only was he drunk but he was also tired. He was tired of being angry. He had tried being angry at Ava, but that didn't last. It was hard to stay angry at someone just for being right. He didn't love her and never had, at least not in a romantic way. He cared about her, and she was beautiful, but she was far too serious-minded for him.
It was their parents' expectations as well as the convenience of proximity that had pushed them together in the first place. Both had felt an obligation to give a relationship a try. If he was honest with himself — and after five drinks he was — the half dozen or so times they had slept together he hadn't felt any more for her than he had felt for the other girls he had bedded.
No, anger wasn't what he felt when he thought of Ava. It was embarrassment. He was ashamed and deeply mortified by how he had behaved when Ava had ended their dalliance. He badly wanted to find a way to undo his irrational actions, to take things back to the way they were when he and Ava had been just friends.
When being mad at Ava failed, he had focused his anger on the Outlander instead. Blaming Jack worked for a little while. It was the Outlander's fault that Ava's affections had waned. It was clear to Terell that Jack had replaced him as the object of Ava's desire. However, not being stupid forced Terell to face the absurdity of being angry at losing the romantic regard of a woman he had no romantic interest in. It was also very hard to hate the Outlander when Jack insisted on behaving like a man worthy of respect.
In the end, the only person Terell was mad at was himself. In fact, he had been furious at himself when he stalked around the ship pretending to be mad at everyone else. He had snapped at crewmen, avoided his mother and father, and had done anything he could to avoid facing the fact that he was acting like a complete ass. The whole thing was exhausting.
He was by nature a light-hearted, carefree lover of life, and with the clarity that comes with inebriation, he resolved that starting now he was letting all the anger and bad feelings go. He would apologize to Ava and hope for the best. He would stop strutting around the Outlander like a man looking for a fight and start behaving like the man he had always been, a man who lived for the joys life had to offer.
Having made the decision, Terell suddenly felt as though a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He sighed with relief and took a large gulp from his cup of ale. All he needed now was a comely young woman to celebrate his return to his festive ways.
As if on cue, a young woman stepped up to the bar on his right and waved for the bartender. "Ale," she said when he approached.
Terell eyed the girl and was impressed with what he saw. Her hair was almost as short as a man's but maintained a femininity that surprised him. Her dark, almost ink-black hair hugged her neck close but expanded into softly-curled bangs that framed dark, sculpted eyebrows and eyes of sapphire blue.
He didn't think she was a whore looking for a client. Her blue dress was cut just low enough to show a hint of the tops of her breasts, but it was by no means indecent. Her lips were full and red, but they weren't painted. Also, her cheeks weren't rouged in the way whores were wont to do. As he swept another admiring glance over her bodice, he figured she was there with her husband or lover. He was surprised when she stayed at the bar and sipped her ale rather than returning to a table.
"You're pretty," he slurred and gave her his most winning smile.
The young woman seemed to notice him for the first time when he spoke. She looked him up and down. "So are you," she said, arching a delicate eyebrow at him.
"I'm Terell." He gestured at his own chest, sloshing a bit of ale out of his cup.
"Belynn," she said and smiled at him.
"Where's your man?" Terell, unwilling to believe such a woman was alone, kept waiting for her companion to appear.
"At sea for another month," she said and leaned toward him slightly. She brushed her bangs out of her eyes then casually moved her hand down past her breasts to her lap. His eyes followed the motion down her lithe body and its unspoken promise of pleasure.
He cleared his throat and dragged his eyes back to her face. "The nights must get lonely," he said.
Her mouth turned down in a pout, and her eyes took a forlorn cast. "Oh, they do."
He took another drink of ale and summoned all his drunken charm. "You don't want to be alone tonight, do you?" he asked in what he was sure was his most seductive tone.
"I really don't," she breathed and licked her full lips. His manhood twitched in his breeches.
"Upstairs?" he asked, nodding toward the staircase. He frowned in disappointment when she shook her head.
"My house." She giggled when his smile quickly returned.
"How far is it?" He reached for her, but she slid away and headed for the door.
She looked over her shoulder at him. "Come," she said. "It's not far."
He stumbled in his haste to follow, and his mouth watered at the sight of her swaying bottom as she sashayed out of the tavern. Once outside, he reached for her again, but she giggled and pulled out of his reach. He laughed and pursued her down the dark street lit only by a torch on each street corner. This was a game he knew well.
He quickly caught up to her, grabbed her by the arm, spun her around and pulled her to him. Her body melded to his as though she was designed to fit him alone. She snaked her arms around him and slid her hand up to grab a fist full of his hair. She pulled his head back, denying him when he tried to kiss her. Instead, she ran her tongue from the base of his neck up his throat and over his chin, finally allowing his head to come down until their mouths met.
Terell moaned as her tongue slipped into his mouth. She tasted amazing, like morning dew tinged slightly with the sharp taste of ale. Her silky tongue explored his mouth, causing his heart to quicken and his manhood to lengthen against his leg. He went to press his hardness against her, but she spun out of his arms.
"Do you want me?" She had a playful look on her face as she backed away from him. She ran her hands down her sides and over her hips while she pushed her chest out.
"You know I do," he breathed, his voice laden with desire.
"Then come and get me," she giggled before she turned and ran.
He laughed and staggered after her. He finally caught her when she stopped in front of a medium-sized house. She slipped back into his arms and kissed him with a passion that made his legs tremble.
She broke free of the fiery kiss to look at him. "Are you ready for me, lover?"
"Oh yes," Terell sighed as he looked into her eyes.
She took his hand and led him into the house. Once inside, she pulled him across the living space to the hallway that led to her bedroom. She released him but maintained eye contact as she slowly backed down the hallway, unbuttoning the top button of her dress as she went. He smiled hungrily and followed when she disappeared into the bedroom.
Belynn was already seated at the end of the bed when Terell entered the room. The bedposts were oak pillars that rose five feet from each corner of the bed to support a black lace canopy. She reclined on the bedcovers, propped up by her arms, and smiled invitingly at him. When he strode to her, she rose to her feet, and they collided into an embrace, arms caressing, tongues dancing.
Behind Terell's back, Belynn popped open the hidden compartment on her ring and rubbed her finger in the dream powder concealed within. She pulled her mouth off of Terell's and raised her powder-coated finger to his mouth. He sucked on it eagerly and rolled his tongue around the digit.
With a quick twist, Belynn turned him so that his back was to the bed. When she suddenly pulled away from him, Terell looked at her, confused, as the passion melted off her face and gave way to a look of blank indifference. The room began to rotate faster than a normal drunken spin, and his legs suddenly felt like they couldn't support his weight. His left leg buckled, but he righted himself with great effort.
"What's happening?" he asked. She didn't answer him, only tilted her head to the side and watched him with flat, dead eyes. A dull heaviness descended on him, and as the blackness closed in, she gave him a little shove. He fell back onto the bed and surrendered to the darkness.
Connil Argan had been a good man, once.
He had started out like most young men who had been tested and found able to access the leylines. He'd been given a choice between the Aramonic Priesthood and the Covenant. Unlike the others, however, Connil had no trouble at all coming to a decision. He was a devout boy, he attended church regularly, and he genuinely cared for the salvation of others. Choosing the Priesthood over the Covenant had been an easy and obvious decision.
Of course his choice had nothing to do with the rumor that most Warlocks of the Covenant died on the front lines fighting the Karokai. The fact that the Aramonic Priests remained safely under the protection of the Swords of Aramon at Caer Denwyn, the Priesthood's fortress, had not factored into his decision at all.
Caer Denwyn had been built in antiquity by Enec Orodu, the first priest of Aramon. It was said that he had wiped the blood from Lord Aramon's face and had given Him water as He lay chained to the rock. Years later, Enec received a vision from God giving him the sacred tenets on which he had established the order.
Enec built an outpost on the banks of the mighty Denwyn River and named it Caer Denwyn. As the years passed and the priesthood grew in number and stature, that outpost was repeatedly expanded and fortified. The city that grew around it adopted the name. Caer Denwyn became a city for the devout, a haven for those who wished to live a life of purity, basking in Lord Aramon's light.
It was at Caer Denwyn that Connil learned the true meaning of devotion. He embraced the Priesthood's tenets with all his being and glowed in the knowledge that everlasting salvation would be his. He devoted himself to mastering everything he was taught. He learned and innovated on the methods for using Lord Aramon's Gift. He served with distinction in every office assigned to him by his superiors until that fateful day came when he received a most wondrous offer.
A message had arrived, promoting him to Bishop and inviting him to serve as the Aide to Chancellor Titus Vallen, the leader of the Conclave. The Conclave consisted of the Chancellor and the twelve Cardinals that governed the Priesthood and the Swords of Aramon. As the Chancellor's Aide, Connil would be privy to events and decisions at the highest level. Surely, he was being groomed for greater service, perhaps as a member of the Conclave one day.
Serving as the Aide to the leader of the Conclave did not bring Connil closer to God as he had hoped. To his horror and disgust, he instead found a den of wickedness. It was not the tangible evil of the Karokai that infested the Conclave, but the more insidious malignancy of lust, greed, and corruption.
The Cardinals indulged in every immoral carnal desire known to man. They held secret orgies of the flesh in blatant violation of the Priesthood's tenets. They extorted brothels, gambling establishments, and legitimate businesses alike for protection money. The Swords of Aramon enforced the Conclave's demands without mercy. Any who opposed them was either excoriated as a heretic or was secretly assassinated.
Connil had been outraged when he came to understand the full extent of the Conclave's perversion. Armed with righteousness indignation, he had threatened to expose the Conclave's wickedness to the entire body of the Priesthood. The Chancellor had merely laughed at his threats.
"Go ahead and try," the Chancellor had said. "You will be dead by the end of the day. A regretful suicide, of course. A letter will be found detailing your involvement in all kinds of wickedness. Poor fellow, you just couldn't live with the guilt." Vallen had smirked at Connil's shocked silence. "And lest you think your own life means nothing, I believe your parents still live in Murkenshire, together with your younger sister and her children."
"H-how do you know that?" Connil had stammered.
"Fool! Did you think we would offer you this position without knowing everything about you?" The Chancellor made no effort to hide his mockery. "It would be a shame if your relatives had to pay for your loose tongue, your niece and nephew especially. Still, if you feel you must, then by all means, go now. Go and tell the Priesthood. Tell them all and suffer my wrath."
Connil remained standing before the Chancellor, shaken by fear and immobilized by indecision. The Chancellor gave another mocking laugh. "That's what I thought. Perhaps now you will see the wisdom in keeping your mouth shut and doing as you are told. Do we understand each other?"
"Yes, Chancellor," Connil had said, head bowed.
From that time on, without question, Connil did what he was told. At the Chancellor's behest, he ordered raids on businesses that refused to pay. He signed the death warrants of men whose only crime was that of resisting the demands of the Chancellor or the Cardinals. He ordered atrocities in the name of rooting out heretics, but it was all to increase the Conclave's power or to get some local lord to fall in line by killing some of his peasants.
Chancellor Vallen took great pleasure in forcing Connil to attend the frequent orgies held at various locales for the members of the Conclave and their aides. Thou shalt not lie with a woman was the last tenet that Connil had not broken. Connil clung to the idea that if he could just hold on to that one final tenet, then perhaps he could still be forgiven. Perhaps he could somehow find redemption.
He couldn't stop his body's reaction to what happened at these gatherings, though. He stood to the side, but he couldn't ignore the moans of pleasure, the scent of sex that permeated the air, the sight of beautiful women fulfilling every licentious desire of the men in attendance. He slipped deeper into a self-loathing depression until he no longer cared enough to resist. He was already damned, had already committed more atrocities than he could remember. What was one more broken tenet?
The whore who broke his resolve sat alone on the sofa, surrounded by couples lost in the throes of passion, fucking and sucking with hedonistic glee. She reclined in a languid pose with her legs spread wide. The fingers of her right hand gently stroked her wet slit. He could see the light glisten in the moisture coating her fingers as they slipped between her enflamed nether lips, probing and teasing the pink flesh.
Her other hand cupped her left breast and alternated between pinching her distended nipple and squeezing the supple mound. Her hair was a rich, chestnut color and was swept all to one side and pulled over her shoulder so that the strands ended on the swell of her right breast, just touching the areola. A large yellow flower was tucked behind her ear, giving her lovely face the illusion of innocence. There was, however, nothing innocent about the smile she gave him when his eyes met hers. The wanton invitation in her dark brown eyes finally pushed him over the edge, and Connil surrendered to his lust.
He approached her, discarding his robes as he went. He was of average height, and the farming muscles of his youth had long faded thanks to the sedentary life of a priest, but he still had a full head of brown hair and hadn't grown corpulent as many priests had. She seemed pleased enough at his appearance and licked her lips when the last of his garments hit the floor to reveal his manhood jutting before him. When he was close enough, she grabbed him by his cock and pulled him on top of her. She guided him straight to her carnal entrance.
Poised on the edge of surrender, Connil hesitated and looked over at the Chancellor. Vallen sat in a velvet recliner with a whore on each side of his cock running her lips up and down his shaft. He leered knowingly at Connil, his final victory at hand.
Ashamed, Connil turned his eyes back to the whore who gazed up at him questioningly. He answered her by sinking his cock into her as far as it would go. He was unprepared for the luxurious, molten heat of her silky sheath. She squeezed him with her pussy, and the pleasure was too much for the inexperienced Connil. Just seconds after entering her, his cock spasmed and shot a massive jet of cum. He groaned in release as his pent-up desire ejected spurt after spurt into the carnal furnace that was her pussy.
As his orgasm waned, Connil was immediately overwhelmed by a wave of guilt. Unable to contain his despair, he wept. Over the whore's laughter, he could hear the Chancellor's mocking laugh as well.
When he finally regained his composure, he realized that his cock was still encased in the whore's twat and still as hard as steel. He withdrew his cock halfway then slammed it back into her. He did it again. And again. He fucked her hard. He tried to fuck the guilt away, and by the time he came for the second time she wasn't laughing anymore.
He flipped her over and took her ass, rough and hard, ramming her mercilessly. When he came for the third time, filling her bowels with his seed, it was she who was crying while he laughed the manic laugh of a man with nothing left to lose.
When the Chancellor traveled west to the Capital several years later, Connil went with him. As King Roadan's Advisor, Vallen's ambition grew until it consumed him like a thing alive. He saw a chance to be the ultimate power in Aramoor and naturally turned to his long-suffering aide to help him carry out his plan.
Vallen first tried to control the King's mind, but this proved impossible. The King's will was too strong, and he couldn't be manipulated without destroying his identity. The minds of the young were much more malleable, easier to confound and manipulate with the power. Vallen turned his attention to the King's young son, Damoden, and plotted to remove King Roadan.
At considerable cost, Connil procured a rare, almost unheard of poison from the medicine man of the Nordg barbarian tribe. The barbarian tribes lived in the wastes east of the kingdom's border, and while trade with such heathens carried some risk, the tribes did offer a number of truly unique items. The poison was called the Nectar of Silence, and once consumed, lay dormant until the victim slept, never to wake again. The poison's most valuable property, however, was in the way it left no trace after death. Even a witch imbued with her powers would fail to find evidence of it.
After the King was found dead, Damoden was crowned and assumed the throne. Unaware of the danger and lacking the knowledge of how to defend his mind, the new King quickly fell under Vallen's unnatural influence.
Undeterred by her failure to discern the cause of the King's death, the Sorceress Amalee continued to seek answers to the riddle of the king's demise. When her research turned to poisons, Vallen felt threatened enough to take action. A cudgel to the back of the Sorceress' head, followed by a nasty tumble down the stairs relieved Vallen of the problem.
After Amalee's death, Vallen proceeded to eliminate all influences other than his own. General Forsith had spent the most time with Damoden prior to his father's death. He had trained the boy in swordplay and in the strategies of war. He would likely be the first to notice any change in Damoden's behavior.
Before any suspicions arose, Vallen convinced the beguiled King to order Forsith to the northern front to assume command of the armies defending the border. It was an unusual order, but it was plausible that a fearful young ruler would turn to his most trusted general and childhood teacher to protect him from the Karokai.
With the General out of the way, Vallen's next move was to get his own men around the King in place of the Sentinels. The King's Sentinels, especially Captain Chael Dovangi, were said to be incorruptible. Vallen knew it would be foolish to try, and as it turned out, a simple decree was all that was needed to replace the Sentinels with the Swords of Aramon. The King's Chamberlain, Lord Kardigan, raised such an outcry at this decree that it gave Vallen the opportunity to remove him and the Sentinels in one fell swoop.
In a matter of months, Vallen had manipulated and murdered his way to become the power behind the throne of Aramoor. Now his attention turned to the final disposal of those who were foolish enough or strong enough to mount a resistance.
"Are you sure this is wise?" Connil asked as he fingered the edge of the paper that was Lord Kardigan's death warrant. He and the Chancellor were seated at a table in the Chancellor's study, where they met daily to advance Vallen's power plays.
Connil knew that throwing Lord Kardigan in the dungeon was one thing, but a public execution by hanging was something else entirely. He raised his gaze to look at the Chancellor. "You can't expect Captain Dovangi and his confederates to stand idly by."
"On the contrary, I fully expect Dovangi to attempt a rescue." The Chancellor smiled at Connil's look of surprise. "I want him to publicly show his treachery so we can remove him once and for all."
Connil frowned. "Why the elaborate plan? Why not just have the King proclaim him a traitor the way you did the Chamberlain?"
Vallen gave Connil a look of contempt. "You have a commoner's grasp of politics, Connil. I fear you will never become a Cardinal and join the Conclave." He shook his head as though disappointed.
Connil shrugged off the insult. The Chancellor loved to show off his brilliance at political machinations and could not resist any opportunity to explain his strategy. Connil hid his smile when, as if on cue, the Chancellor cleared his throat to continue.
"The court nobles will accept Lord Kardigan's execution because he isn't truly one of them," the Chancellor said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "He's just a trumped-up commoner raised to prominence by the old King because they fought battles together in their youth. The nobility never fully accepted him.
"Captain Dovangi, on the other hand, is the third son of Count Archibald Dovangi, Lord of the Eastern Dells. We will need the rest of the nobility to support us if we make an enemy of such a powerful man. Captain Dovangi must first be proved a traitor in their eyes or we face open rebellion."
Connil wondered if Vallen did anything other than plot. It seemed as though the Chancellor always knew what everyone would do before they did it. Connil begrudgingly respected the man's thoroughness if nothing else.
With the question answered, Connil shuffled through the remaining death warrants. One was for a farmer who had smashed his neighbor's head in with a rock because the neighbor's goats kept escaping their pen and eating the flowers in the garden of the farmer's wife. Connil signed the warrant without hesitation; the fate of a murderous farmer was of no consequence.
The next warrant, however, gave him pause.
"Are we really going to hang a fourteen-year-old boy for stealing pastries?" he scanned the warrant for the boy's name. "Tomas Nald, a message boy for the King's Keeper of Birds."
"He assaulted one of the Swords," Vallen said, using the shorter term for the Swords of Aramon.
"He stomped on the man's toe whilst trying to get away," Connil said, exasperated by the silliness of it.
"These people must be taught a lesson!" Vallen raised his voice and pounded his fist on the table. "Any assault on one of us will be punished most severely." Spittle flew from his mouth. "I grow tired of your opposition to every decision I make. Have you forgotten that your family's welfare hinges upon your cooperation?"
At Vallen's open threat, Connil's deep-seated bitterness boiled and rose to the surface. "Even after all these years, you still throw that in my face." His next words came recklessly in his anger. "Why me, Chancellor? Of all the Priests you could have chosen to be your Aide, why did you choose me? I was a true believer. Surely you could have found someone base and despicable like yourself."
Vallen laughed the full-throated laugh of true mirth. "You still don't understand, do you? There were plenty of corrupt Priests I could have chosen, but I wanted to take something pure and taint it. I wanted to take your beautiful faith and destroy it. I wanted to take your salvation and corrupt you into damnation." The Chancellor gave him a gloating smirk. "That is true power, Connil. That is why I chose you."
Vallen's words slapped Connil in the face like a physical blow. The Chancellor had used him like a plaything, had ruined his life for no other reason than a sick, depraved desire to prove he had the power to corrupt anyone, even a devout priest.
A knock sounded at the door, interrupting his stunned silence. "Come," Connil called, his voice unsteady.
A clerk opened the door and came in. "D-dispatches, Bishop," he stammered, sensing the tension between the two men. The clerk quickly shoved the small stack of parchments into Connil's outstretched hand and beat a hasty retreat out of the room.
"Anything of import?" Vallen asked, indicating the dispatches and allowing the subject to change.
Connil shook himself and flipped through the various pages and envelopes. "Standard reports," he said as he continued to skim through them.
He hesitated when he came across a tattered parchment folded in half, addressed to him and sealed with the unbroken wax seal of the Murkenshire Magistrate. It was odd that his father's seal wasn't on the letter, but it had been so long since he had news of his home and family that he put it out of his mind. He quickly slid the parchment into the stack of dispatches before the Chancellor could see it.
"You will let me know if anything needs my attention," Vallen said. "Now, if there is nothing else, I have other matters to attend to."
Connil gathered up his notes and dispatches then left the Chancellor to his business. Once in the hallway, he hurried to his quarters, scurrying along at an almost undignified pace. He was eager to hear how his mother and father were doing. Had his little sister and her husband added one more child to their brood? He wasn't sure the old farmhouse could house more additions to the family without forcing his parents to move out to the shed. He chuckled at the thought.
Once in his room, he lit his desk candle with a flick of the power and sat down to read. He broke the seal with trembling fingers, surprised that he still found joy in hearing of their mundane lives. He frowned when he saw how short the scrawled note was. His joy turned to ashes in his mouth as he read.
Bishop Connil Argan,
The Office of the Magistrate of Murkenshire District regrets to inform you that a fire consumed your family's farmhouse on the third night after spring planting day. There were no survivors.
An investigation conducted by the constable has determined that the fire was most likely an accident.
In recognition of your status as the sole surviving heir of Abel Argan, this office will be transferring ownership of his properties and moneys to you. Final disposition of the estate will be decided upon once you contact this office. You have our deepest condolences.
Harven Kanter, Magistrate
The letter fell from Connil's numb fingers and slid off the desk onto the floor. He stared blankly at the flickering candle flame as the words no survivors sank in.
First one tear then another spilled out of his eyes and slid down his cheeks. His family was gone. His father, whose stern but loving hands had taught a young Connil right from wrong; his mother, who had been so proud of her son the Priest; his sister, who had worn her cornsilk hair in pigtails when he'd left, and had grown into a lovely young woman with a fine husband who loved her; his nieces and nephews who would never grow up to have children of their own. They were all gone, consumed by unforgiving flames. The floodgates opened, and he wept.
A sudden thought turned his grief to horror. Now that his family was with Lord Aramon, would they know of the things he had done? Would they learn of the lives he had destroyed, the men he had ordered killed, all in the name of keeping them safe? When he faced judgment, would his family stand behind Lord Aramon and cast looks of aspersion on him? The thought was unbearable, and he wailed in ignominious agony.
With a sudden clarity, he saw the irony of the situation. He had damned his own soul to save them from death only to have them die anyway. Not by some nefarious means, but by an accidental fire. His wails turned to deranged laughter, and crazed guffaws came from him until his stomach muscles hurt. "It was all for nothing," he choked out between peels of manic hilarity.
On the heels of that thought came another realization. With the death of his family, Chancellor Vallen's hold on him was gone. He never had to obey Vallen again. His mind whirled, and it felt as if a great, suffocating weight had been lifted from him. He felt light as air, as if suddenly released from a vise that had been constricting his chest for a decade. He was finally free. A great sense of relief washed over him, only to be overpowered by a crushing guilt for feeling deliverance at his family's death. His emotions swung between grief, amusement, anger, and guilt until he finally collapsed onto his bed in exhaustion.
As he lay on his cot, drained and on the edge of sleep, he tried to pray for the first time in years. He prayed for Lord Aramon to shelter the souls of his family. He prayed that the Lord would protect them from the shame he had brought upon them, for the mockery he had made of his priestly vows.
He knew better than to pray for himself. It would be a futile exercise. There could be no forgiveness or redemption, not for the likes of him. It was far too late for that.
Connil Argan may have been a good man once, but that man was long gone.
When he finally drifted into a restless slumber, Connil dreamed of the day he would kill Chancellor Titus Vallen.
Terell tried to open his eyes, but his lids, heavy as lead, had ideas of their own and settled back down. A moment later, he tried again with more success. A black, gossamer cloud floated in front of him like a curtain of ebony smoke. He blinked and tried to force his eyes to focus on the floating darkness.
He reached out for the ethereal black veil, curious as to what it was and why it was blocking his path. He frowned when his hand halted with a metallic clank after having moved only a few inches. He lolled his head to the side and peered at the iron manacle around his wrist. A wave of dizziness threatened to empty his stomach as his brain reoriented itself. He wasn't upright; instead, he lay on his back on a large four-poster bed. The dark cloud above him was a canopy of black lace supported by the tall, oak bedposts.
The black, iron links of the chain that ran from the manacle glistened as though recently oiled. Terell's gaze followed the links to a rusty, iron ring fixed to the bedpost. He didn't understand why someone would oil the chain and not the ring. That was just complacency. He would find the sailor responsible and give him a good dressing-down.
He tried to sit up only to fail. He turned his head and saw that his other wrist was likewise bound to another post, holding him down. Something wasn't right here. He shook his head and fought to clear his mind, to pierce the fog that dulled his cognizance. Slowly, ever so slowly, the understanding that being bound was not a good thing clawed its way into his consciousness. A knot of alarm formed in his gut then shot along his nerves, gaining force until it reached his brain as full-blown panic. He convulsed, thrashed, kicked out in fear only to cry out in pain as shackles cut into his flesh and bruised the bones of his ankles. He raised his head and looked down at his throbbing ankles and gasped when he saw that someone had removed all his clothes before chaining each of his limbs to a bed post.
"Don't struggle. You'll only hurt yourself," Belynn said.
Terell flinched at the sight of her standing at the end of the bed. It was as if she had appeared between one blink of his eyes and the next. She stood there, her blue dress complementing her sapphire eyes as she gazed at his nakedness with cold indifference. One hand absently fingered the top, unfastened button of her dress.
"Belynn!" Her name suddenly came to him. "Help me," his voice was frantic.
She tilted her head slightly. There was something chilling about the gesture, something that reminded Terell of the way a serpent held itself poised to strike, confident that its prey was incapable of escape. With horrible certainty, he realized she was his captor and not his rescuer.
"You drugged me," he said as the memory of their encounter returned.
"Because I was told to," she answered, her tone matter-of-fact.
"You don't have to do this, Belynn. I think we both really felt something for each other. We could run away together, start a new life," he cajoled.
She laughed. "You gonna make me your lady? Take me away from this horrible life? Love me and father children upon me?" Her voice was tinged with bitterness. "I think not."
"Fuck!" He yelled in frustration. "Let me go, you bitch!" He jerked his arms taut against the chains and thrust his torso toward her as far as his restraints would allow.
Someone snorted derisively, and Terell suddenly became aware of others in the room. A man stood near the bed on Terell's left. He wore a look of mild amusement on his face. His intense, brown eyes were merry, and the corners of his mouth were turned up slightly. His hair was the shade of sand, and his clothes were the common, brown tunic and trousers worn by the masses. Unlike the typical commoner, however, the man clothes were clean and neat, as though they'd been chosen for show rather than utility.
Next to the man, in a sturdy-looking chair of weathered wood banded with iron, sat Monch. Terell's eyes widened in recognition. Monch was bare from the waist up. A mat of coarse brown hair covered his chest and bulging abdomen. His arms and legs were securely bound to the chair with ropes of hemp. A woman's scarf was tied around his head and wedged in his mouth, forcing his jaws open to display the gap where his front teeth used to be. Monch didn't try to speak through the gag, just stared at Terell with helpless eyes.
"Who the fuck are you?" Terell demanded of the smiling man. His fear had given way to reckless anger.
The man ignored him and instead shifted his gaze across the bed. "Urniri, get the lust powder."
Terell followed the man's gaze, rolling his head to the right to take in the visage of the voluptuous red-haired girl. She stared down at him with green eyes that gleamed with a cruelty that seemed out of place on her lovely face.
"Ah, Rynech," she whined as she reached out and grabbed Terell's flaccid cock in a rough grip. She grinned as Terell hissed in discomfort. "Are you sure he'll need it?"
"Just do it," Rynech snapped, irritated by her failure to instantly obey.
Urniri waited three heartbeats then gave Terell's cock a cruel twist before she flung it against his leg, allowing him to gasp in relief. She turned and sauntered to a mahogany escritoire butted up against the wall. She opened a drawer and removed a small porcelain container and a tiny silver spoon before returning to Terell's side.
"For God's sake, cover me with something," Terell barked to anyone who would listen.
"I'm afraid not," Rynech said and nodded at Belynn.
Belynn inhaled slowly then exhaled. "All right then." She unfastened two more buttons on her dress then pulled the blue material off her shoulders, allowing the dress to slide to the floor. The fabric pooled around her feet, the folds of blue giving her the appearance of a goddess rising from cerulean waves.
Terell gaped at her nudity. Her breasts weren't large or small but perfectly proportioned to her lithe body. The soft flesh stood out proudly before her as though defying the existence of gravity. Her nipples were puffy and a rose pink color that begged to be suckled. Her flat stomach and taut belly button paved the way to a silky patch of black curls. The gentle, ebony swirls drew his gaze, hinting at the treasure hidden below. Normally, the sight of such sensual beauty would have thrilled him, but now, here, arousal was the farthest thing from his mind.
"W-w-what are you doing?" Terell could not look away from Belynn's exquisite form.
"She's going to fuck you, stupid," Urniri said, a manic gleam of anticipation in her eyes.
"You people are crazy," Terell yelled. "I demand you release me and my shipmate at once—"
Rynech leaped forward and grabbed Terell by the chin with one hand and the top of his head with the other. He nodded at Urniri, who scooped some of the lust powder out of the porcelain jar with the tiny spoon. She quickly positioned the powder-filled spoon just below Terell's nose, hovering near his nostrils.
"Snort it," Rynech ordered.
"Fuck you!" Terell struggled to turn his head away from the drug, but Rynech's grip on his head was like iron.
Urniri placed her other hand over Terell's mouth to keep him from breathing through it. He held his breath as long as he could but eventually sucked in much-needed air through his nose, inhaling the lust powder with it. Rynech released him immediately.
The powder burned like fire deep in his nasal cavities. Terell shook his head and fought the sensation to sneeze. He let out a breath when the burning finally eased. "What did you give me?"
"You'll see." Urniri laughed as she walked over to Belynn and unceremoniously thrust her hand between Belynn's legs. "Dry, Belynn?" she scoffed as she stepped away from the other woman. "Someone doesn't enjoy her work. I'm wet. Maybe I should take him."
"He's mine," Belynn hissed at the other woman and glared at her. "I caught him."
"Fine." Urniri shrugged, held a scoopful of the lust powder up to Belynn's nose then eyed her with a smirk. Without breaking eye contact, Belynn snorted the drug deep into her sinuses.
"This is a madhouse. You people are truly insane," Terell cried. Without warning, a warm sensation swept through him as the drug began to take effect. His heart started to race, his legs began to tremble, and his cock stiffened until it was as hard as it had ever been.
Belynn watched as Terell's manhood grew rigid and waited for the drug to hit her as well. After a moment, she felt the rush of the intoxicant wash over her. Her sex tingled as it grew moist and before long, she was swollen and dripping wet.
Her drug-induced arousal did nothing to calm her nerves. Belynn had trained for this for years, had studied with the masters of her craft until she could perform the techniques flawlessly. She had strengthened the muscles of her pussy until she could milk the cum out of any man alive. She had practiced hundreds of times with artificial cocks of all sizes. She was ready, but this was her first real man and beneath her calm exterior, she was terrified.
Terell could only see a goddess of passion. He was mistaken when he'd thought her serpentine earlier. She was feline, if anything, in her grace as she stepped out of the pooled blue dress and crawled onto the bed. He knew intellectually that his desire for her was fueled by the drug but that thought was immaterial. He wanted, no, needed to be inside her so badly that he pulled on the manacles binding his wrists and arched his hips toward her, straining irrationally to get his cock closer to her.
Belynn, too, felt the almost overwhelming desire to impale herself on him, but she had used the drug in training many times and had a greater understanding of its effects. She looked calm and controlled as she moved to straddle him. Her soft hand reached down and took hold of his swollen member. She was mildly surprised at the heat of it and the way it throbbed in time to the thuds of his heart.
She placed his engorged head at her entrance and her enflamed labia nestled around it in a welcoming embrace. She slowly lowered herself inch by inch until he was fully seated inside her. "Karak," she breathed, unaware that the sensation had elicited a verbal response.
She looked down at Terell's face and was shocked to see the wonder in his eyes. He looked like a man glimpsing nirvana after a lifetime of suffering. She hastily looked away and focused on the headboard. It would be foolish to focus on how beautiful this man was and how he felt so much better than the artificial cocks used in training. She had a job to do.
She hadn't moved since sheathing him and he wriggled beneath her, his impatience palpable. Her training kicked in and she began the technique known as Petal on the Wind. Terell gasped as she quickly fell into the sensuous thrusts and rhythmic squeezes prescribed by this basic technique.
Terell was in awe of her. The way she bit her lip in concentration as she rode him, the way her breasts with their puffy nipples swayed, and the way her pussy grasped and fluttered on his cock as she moved was unlike anything he had ever felt before. He wanted so badly to caress her, to pull her close and kiss her until she felt the same wonder that he felt.
Belynn relaxed into the rhythm of the form and didn't realize she was letting out small gasps of pleasure. So engrossed was she in the wash of sensation that she had failed to notice that Urniri and Rynech had begun the chant in old Karokai, the chant of the succubus. When their voices finally broke through the haze of pleasure, she realized the ritual had begun. She switched forms mid-stroke to the more complex Lily on the Pond.
"Oh, God." Terell moaned when Belynn suddenly altered her rhythm. She was grinding and squeezing his cock in ways he had never experienced. Her pussy seemed to grow hotter and wetter. The intense pleasure, along with the gentle sighs emitted by this most beautiful woman, completely distracted him from the guttural chanting of his captors.
He didn't notice when the room's shadows lengthened, when the light grew dim as though unable to hold the darkness at bay. He failed to see Rynech push the chair that held Monch against the bed, or the panic in the sailor's eyes as Rynech pulled a knife with a serrated blade from its sheath.
Belynn's years of training allowed her to see the subtle hints that Terell was nearing his finish. The change in the timber of his moans, the urgency of his hips as he attempted to thrust up at her, the widening of his eyes, and the flutter of the veins in his neck told her that it was time. She changed forms once again to Thorn of the Rose, the technique designed to elicit the most powerful of eruptions from her target.
Terell was mindless with pleasure. A deep-seated pressure built, pulsed, and yearned to escape from him. When Belynn changed her movements yet again, it became a pleasure that could not be contained, a pressure that could not be denied. It crested from within, and he came with such force that his vision darkened around the edges. "Oh, Belynn," he cried out as his semen erupted into her, his cock pulsing, filling her molten pussy. His legs trembled and jerked from the intensity of his release.
"Oh, I can feel it." Belynn moaned as his warm cum gushed into her, filling her with a pleasurable sensation that her instructors hadn't prepared her for. She suddenly remembered her duty and looked over at Rynech to find him standing behind Monch, still chanting. "Now!"
Rynech pulled Monch's head up by the hair and dragged the serrated blade across his throat. Monch's eyes widened in pain then panic as a hot spray of blood showered down on Terell and Belynn. His fingers scrabbled on the arms of the chair and his feet kicked in futility against his restraints as his life's blood pulsed out of the gaping wound. His eyes darted around looking for help that would never come then slowly closed.
Terell, still in the throes of his orgasm, flinched when Monch's blood sprayed them, covering them in crimson droplets like some kind of macabre rain. He recoiled in horror, but he couldn't stop the biological imperative that was his orgasm.
Then the blood magic took hold and Terell knew pain like he never imagined. The blood was lava. It was fire. It was acid. It burned him, seared him and Belynn both. He joined her in a scream that tore his throat raw. All the while, his cock continued to deposit his seed deep within her.
The looming shadows around the room seemed to coalesce until it completely swallowed all light. Rynech and Urniri's chanting reached a crescendo until the darkness seemed to explode and the light returned.
The pain evaporated as the darkness receded, and Belynn collapsed on Terell's chest. He felt something like a net settle on his mind and he knew that he belonged to the woman who lay panting above him. He cooed to her reassuringly as she rested her head on his shoulder.
"You are mine," she whispered to him.
He wanted to touch her. "Release me," he begged Rynech and rattled a manacle at him.
Rynech laughed and complied. As soon as Terell's hand was free, he began gently stroking Belynn's hair. She murmured at his touch then pushed herself back up. Only then did Terell realize that whatever magic they had performed had absorbed all the blood. Everything – the bed, the room, their skin – was completely devoid of blood. Monch's corpse looked like a dried-up husk, his face frozen in a rictus of horror.
He was also keenly aware that his cock was still deep inside Belynn. He knew he should be horrified at what had happened to Monch but the only thing that mattered was the soft, feminine warmth of Belynn's body and the heavenly flesh of her pussy wrapped around his cock, still hard from the lust powder. He suddenly thrust up with his hips, and she yelped in surprise.
Rynech laughed. "Get off of him, Belynn. I have questions for him, and we have to figure out how to get you accepted by his friends and family."
Belynn rose up until Terell's manhood slipped from her, and if she regretted the loss, it didn't show on her face. She stepped back into her dress as Rynech freed Terell from the remaining manacles then pointed him to his clothes piled neatly in the corner.
Terell wanted to wrap his hands around Rynech's throat and choke the life out of him, to dig his fingers into the soft flesh until the villain's windpipe collapsed, but he knew Belynn wouldn't want that. He looked at her and she nodded at his clothes.
Rynech waited until Terell was dressed before speaking again. "Now, tell me everything there is to know about you, your father, your captain, and the Outlander."
Terell didn't want to answer, didn't want to betray his friends or the Outlander. He knew from the dark magic he had witnessed that Belynn, Rynech, and Urniri were servants of Karak. He shook his head in defiance. He wouldn't tell them anything. Aramon help him, he wouldn't.
"Tell him," Belynn commanded.
He opened his mouth to tell them both to go to hell and was shocked by the words that came from his lips. "We were docked at Franeer Island..."
Author's note: Please take the time to vote and leave a comment. Your votes and comments are my only reward for this endeavor and are greatly appreciated. I also want to thank my editor JilliB. I'm not sure what I would do without her.
Sep 2, 2018 in romance