“Such pride. Such defiance.” Her words came first from beyond the flames of the fire, he could see it the light of it gleaming in her eyes from beneath the hood of her cloak, “Even now, stripped and defenseless, you struggle against the inevitable. But deep down I think you know you deserve this, don’t you?”

As she came around to his side of the fire she reached out, running her hand gently down the side of his face in an almost warm caress. He jerked his head to the side to move his face from her and she gave a short laugh in return. “Still some fight in you. That’s good. I have just the thing to go along with that, a special gift for you.”

She cast off the cloak as she turned toward the fire, her nude form becoming blurry as she spoke words he didn’t understand. He could feel something, a presence, in the dark watching him hungrily from beyond the flames. The next thing he knew was the pain, the intense excruciating pain as if something deep within him was being split open and stitched to something else. The pain gave way to fear and the fear gave way to the wind through his hair as he ran. He’d gotten away somehow and all he could do was run. But all he found was more danger, more fear, but this time he didn’t run. As the torches came in around him and the steel caught the light of them in the night his fear gave way to something else. The urge to fight, the need to make them bleed, the desire to end it by his own hand. In nature there were hunters and there were prey and he was not prey.

“Well would you look at you.” she mocked, her voicing rousing him from the blackness of sleep, the taste of iron lingered heavily on his lips and even in the air. It was morning and he was laying somewhere he didn’t recognize, it looked like the middle of a town in the road itself. His head whipped from side to side trying to find the witch again, but he couldn’t see her. A growl rose in his throat and he was surprised at how deep and bestial it sounded.

“Oooo Scary.” she laughed, but he still could not see her. What he did see were the bodies. Countless bodies lay in various states of dismemberment up and down the street as he staggered to his feet, his stomach churning at the smell of them all.

“What…What have you done, Witch!?” he yelled now, his voice as surprisingly gruff as the growl had been a moment before. It wasn’t his voice anymore but something else.

His ears twitched and his tail lashed angrily behind him and in his rage it did not occur to him how foreign both things actually were,  “Show yourself!”

Her laughter echoed through his head and in his ears now, “Me? I did not do this. You did. You did all of this. To them. To yourself. These are the consequences of your actions. This is who you are inside. I’ve simply brought it out for you and everyone else to behold.”

His eyes went down to his hands, now larger and stronger looking than they had ever been before, each finger ending in a feline claw of some kind. From their tips to his forearms they were stained red with blood. His eyes widened and he began to shake, the fear began to set in once more.

“I wouldn’t linger there much longer. I shudder to think what might become of you when someone finds you at the center of that massacre. Farewell.” her voice trailed off as if she was calling to him from some great distance now and he swallowed hard as he fell his knees go out from under him. Pure anguish and despair rose within him and he let out a furious scream, a scream that didn’t sound like a scream at all, but rather the roar of a monster.

Sano’s eyes came open abruptly and he laid there for a long moment letting his heart rate come down. He took a deep breath and slowly rose from the bedroll where he had fallen asleep. The last embers of the campfire from the night before still smoldered in the pit a few feet from where he sat and he stared at them blankly as he ran a hand through his hair. It was more of a mane now since the change, thick and bushy with a mix of blonde hair and brown that ran down his back.

“Again?” Ryanth asked from his bedroll across the way, he was awake but he’d not yet sat up, simply watching his older brother for a moment.

Sano didn’t answer at first, letting the question hang in the air for a moment or so before running his hand down his face and sniffing briefly, “Yeah. Again.”

Ryanth, a young man about five years Sano’s junior and still fully human began to sit up. He looked as though he was about to speak, to offer some sort of comfort perhaps, but Sano rose to his feet abruptly and walked out of their camp with a bucket to gather water. His mouth had gone dry and he needed to excuse to be away from his brother and collect himself.

The creek nearby ran slow, as everything did in Southern Zelmesca as you got near the swamps. The water itself was murky and not fit to drink, but the nature of the water as he collected it in the bucket didn’t concern him, Ryanth’s magic would easily purify it before they put it over the fire to boil.

He’d had the nightmare of that day countless times over the years and it had not once lost any of its intensity. It was always the same and it always terrified him. In the nightmare he remembered vividly what it was like to have become the beast but could never recall the witch’s face. He had tried to find her but his mind had been so addled by the experience that by the time he had found his way back to where she’d held him with magical bonds to a wooden post, she was gone.

What was worse was that when he woke from the nightmare there was a part of him that was excited and ecstatic with the thrill of the hunt. He tried to ignore it and sometimes he could, but most of the time it was a futile effort. The feeling would remain with him until he satisfied it, one way or another. He took several deep breaths once more to try and calm himself, rolling the mantra his brother had taught him over in his mind as he did. A snap of a branch in the distance broke his train of thought and he immediately began to sniff at the air to see if they were in for trouble. His blood boiled and his heart began to race once more, a deer.

Without hesitation he dropped the bucket beside him and peeled his clothing off, running off into the woods. It was as it always was, the rush of the wind and the feeling of the ground falling away from him as he closed in on his prey. The collision with it was always satisfying as his weight overtook his prey and he brought it down to the ground. With his fangs he drew out the heat from within and only then did he feel the heat within himself begin to finally cool. He stayed with it for a long moment, it’s neck crushed in his powerful jaws. He couldn’t decide if the quiet that came in that twilight moment of the kill was one of respect or remorse. Worse still was the possibility that he was basking in it, savoring it for as long as he possibly could.

When Sano returned to the camp with the carcass of the deer he dropped it in a heap near the fire ready for skinning and cleaning. He could feel his brother’s eyes on him, watching and waiting for him to say something first but when Sano didn’t speak he took it upon himself to break the silence instead.

“We don’t need any more game, we have plenty of food and we’re about to head back.” he scolded. Sano glanced sideways at him but the reprimand did not earn a meaningful response from him, “And where the hell is the water?”

Sano thought for a moment, struggling to remember where he had left it. In the moments leading right up to relinquishing control to the beast, things often became fuzzy and difficult to recall. But he imagined that if he had first detected the deer by the creek that the bucket was likely still there, “I must have left it.”

Ryanth’s green eyes remained fixated on Sano, intent on continuing that line of questioning and chiding but he was not blind to his brother’s struggle, he could detect the faintest hint of shame in his voice even with what little he said. He dropped the line of inquiry, “No matter” he sighed, “We still have the waterskins I suppose.”

“I can just go get the bucket.” Sano offered gruffly, he was keenly aware of his brother’s sudden shift to go easy on him and it was almost worse than the nagging. It made him feel weak to be pitied in such a way by his younger brother who he’d spent years of their lives protecting.

Ryanth rose to his feet and opened his mouth to speak, perhaps to offer more words of comfort as he had in the past, but was interrupted by the groan of a person nearby. A thin brow shot up on his face and he turned to look over at one of the prisoners nearby, “One of our esteemed guests has decided to join us, it seems.”

Sano looked over at the pair of prisoners they had taken, both of them sitting in the wet grass just at the far edge of their camp, back to back and bound to one another by heavy rope. The one nearest them was regaining consciousness after the thrashing he had given him the night before when they had tracked them down. He got to his feet to follow his brother over to where they sat.

Ryanth circled around first, leaning down and placing his fingers down against the neck of the other and then holding his hand just under his nose, “Looks like it will be just the one though, this one must have passed in the night.” he sighed regretfully, “Shame.”

“Shame? Why?” Sano scoffed as he stood over the other one, “I’d expected a challenge from these two and was disappointed, that’s the real shame.”

Sano kicked the foot of the man who had let out the groan just a moment before, “I thought you lot were supposed to be tougher than humans. Faster. More Durable? I was expecting great things from this fight.”

Ryanth rose to his feet and circled back around to stand beside Sano, listening to a few more throaty groans from the crumpled mass of a man, “You might have broken his jaw.” Ryanth suggested as the two of them listened to a continuing string of nonsensical grunts and groans.

Sano let out a bit of a sigh, running his hand through his hair once more as his younger brother stooped over to get closer to the man. He was trying to understand what it was he could be trying to say. As Ryanth got perhaps an inch from the mouth of the man Sano heard him take in a sharp breath and on pure instinct reached out and took hold of the collar of Ryanth’s tunic and jerked him away. Ryanth squaked in protest only to be cut short by the man spewing forth a gout of caustic crimson red from his mouth. Had Sano not pulled him aside at that very moment, it would have been the side of his head covered in whatever hideous shit the vampire’s thrall was puking out.

Ryanth’s eyes went as wide as dinner plates, less in fear and more in amazement at the demonstration of the ability that they’d not previously known of. “Whoa! You didn’t say they could do that!”

Sano growled and swung his boot up into the bottom of the man’s jaw to slam it shut. The jaw hadn’t actually been broken before but it was now, along with nearly all of his teeth. The sizzle of the acid on the ground and down the thrall’s chin was followed immediately by a putrid smell. With another furious growl Sano leaned in and slammed his fist into the man-creature’s skull. He didn’t stop at one, nor was he sure how many times he actually did hit him before his brother managed to finally pull him back to his senses, tugging on his arm and calling out to him at a shout.

Despite the intense beating they were dishing out, Sano’s knuckles were hardly bruised, albeit they were covered in a layer of gore consisting of blood, pulped flesh and even flakes of bone that had been smashed from the top of the man’s skull.

“Fucking Shit, Sano!” Ryanth fumed, “It’s gonna be a little fucking difficult to question him now ain’t it!?”

“Can’t you just use a spell or something to get the information-” Sano motioned vaguely toward his brother.

“I need a brain for that! It’s the primary component to use the spell! A brain! Do you see a brain here? Motherfucker looks like a month old jack-o-lantern!” Ryanth pushed a finger into the mass and moved it around in disgust, “This is useless to me. Completely useless.”

Sano stepped back, frustration growing with the tone his brother was taking with him, “No matter. Olcaru will be pleased to know that there are a few less Vampire spies creeping around our territory.”

“Oh, sure! Great! Fine! But I wanted him alive to interrogate and study!” Ryanth stood again, turning to face his brother angrily.

“Yes, it’s always about what you want isn’t it?” Sano growled, unable to contain his agitation any longer, Ryanth made it difficult for him sometimes. He took a step toward his brother in a threatening display that would have cowed any man. But brother’s were seldom so easily intimidated.

Ryanth threw his hands up in the air as he rolled his eyes, turning from Sano now in a huff, “Oh, here we go!”

Sano advanced, pointing an accusing finger at Ryanth as he stepped away from him, “It is! Don’t deny it! You’ve always been this way, thinking first of what YOU want and everyone else comes in at a distant second! All those years ago in Tenebre Dontae you selfishly abandoned me-”

Ryanth spun to meet Sano, not at all cowed by his might and power. He was perhaps the only person in the world that Sano was still an awkward little kid to, just a normal person and not a therianthropic monster, “Abandoned! Who abandoned who? I wanted you to come with me and leave all that shit behind but you weren’t having it! You wanted to sit there in the shit while it circled the drain pushing Vishanti around until one of them put you in your fucking place!

A slap to the face would have been less startling, and for a long moment the two of them simply stared at each other as if in disbelief of the sudden turn things had taken. There was a glimmer of regret and guilt in his brother’s eyes before Sano reached up took hold of the front of Ryanth’s tunic, “You ungrateful little shit. After everything I did for you…”

Ryanth’s hands came up to Sano’s muscular arm in a vain attempt to free himself, but Sano was several times stronger than he was, “You did it for you! Not for me. That was all you!”

Sano froze, feeling the words of the Witch echoing in his mind, spoken from the mouth of his brother. Almost immediately after he said it he knew it too, Sano growled and let go of the tunic, instead taking hold of Ryanth’s skull in both hands, poised to crush it like a melon.

“Sano, Don’t!” Ryanth yelled, squirming and flailing. Unable to get away from his brother’s vice grip. Sano seethed with hatred and anger, not just for what his brother had said but for everything that came pouring from the wound he had ripped open. He didn’t squeeze, hearing his brother’s voice gave him pause. That pause was all Ryanth needed as his hand snapped down to his waistband and pulled a wand of his own creation from under his tunic and stuck it right against Sano’s chest.

Electricity began to run through Sano, locking his muscles up as well as his ability to process the moment. His rage melted away with each charge of the wand his brother dumped into him, there were perhaps four or five in all. When he finally removed it, Sano felt his legs go out from under him as he fell backward. Ryanth fell to the ground as well and took several deep breaths to steady himself, knowing he had been just moments from sharing the vampire thralls fate.

“Who took you in?” Ryanth yelled, despite Sano being just feet from him, “Huh? Who was it that plead your case to the Grand Cleric? I’m not a helpless kid anymore Sano.”

Ryanth scrambled to his feet, his chest heaving and for the first time since Sano could remember her felt genuine regret in how he’d acted toward his brother. Sano groaned, the regenerative qualities of his warped monstrous body swiftly negating the damage the wand had done.

“You need to start listening to me now.” Ryanth pleaded, his demeanor shifting now from anger to something else entirely now. Perhaps it was sympathy, “It’s time for me to look after you, but to do that you need to pay attention. You need to listen. And you sure as shit need to get that temper of yours under control.”

Sano’s first instinct was to fight or argue, to do otherwise would be to admit defeat. But the truth of his brother’s words weren’t lost on him. His anger, which had always been a touch troublesome before he was cursed, it was significantly more difficult to master now and the destruction that came of it equally so. He let a few long breaths out through his nose and then gave a few nods, “Alright.”

Ryanth returned the nod and stepped over to him, looking down on him with skepticism even as he extended a hand to him, “Alright?”

“Yeah.” Sano confirmed, taking his hand and letting his brother help him back to his feet. It was hard for him to admit, but the best thing for him was probably his brother now. He had to let the way things were before remain in the past, Sano wasn’t that person he had been anymore and it changed the fundamental nature of his relationship with his brother.

“Alright.” Ryanth huffed, placing his wand back in his waistband and smoothing out his tunic, “Now let’s get out of here, this shit’s starting to stink.”

The hike back to Willowridge through the swamp was a long one, not merely because of the distance but because of how slow it was through the stagnant water and boot-sucking marshlands. Sano and Ryanth said little to nothing to each other as they went, letting the fight they’d had sort of settle before they pressed for anything that might have been said between them. It gave Sano time to think a little, back on what Ryanth had said and how he had found himself in Zelmesca with the Abyssals.

Years ago, before Sano had been cursed by the Vishanti witch, the two of them had lived as orphans in Tenebre Donate. Humans had taken the realm from the corrupt Vishanti and restored what peace they could to the realm under King Sorin. Sorin, though a vampire himself, had defected from the rest of his kind and brought his power to bare on the Vishanti who had sucked the life from the land itself. In the years that followed though, the Vishanti continued to find ways to leech off of society and make fools of innocent folk all through the countryside. No amount of increasing sanctions on them seemed to make a difference and things for both of the brothers became strained.

Sano remembered it clearly when Ryanth had come to him and told him he was done with their home and was traveling north to Zelmesca, it had been raining that day and Sano had been in the middle of patching one of the many leaks. He worked as a carpenter among other odd jobs when he was a teenager before becoming a soldier, but no manner of patchwork could keep the rain out for very long at home, the place was falling apart around their ears. The two of them fought intensely on the matter. Ryanth had brought up the prospect of expanding his studies before, but there was no way for him to do so where they lived and it was likely he would not find the means to do so anywhere in the realm with all of the sanctions and restrictions that had been levied on magical research. Ryanth blamed the king. Sano blamed the Vishanti. Neither one gave an inch.

Sano had sat in the kitchen for perhaps an hour after Ryanth left, the door hanging ajar from when he’d stormed out, the sound of the rain thrumming on the roof in tandem with the trickle of the leaks in the buckets he’d set out while he did his patching. Ryanth had offered for him to come with him, even with the things they’d said between them. Sano refused, he wasn’t going to run from his home or be driven out by the cancerous Vishanti. Sano wanted to stay.

Sano let out a sigh, glancing ahead at his brother who was leading the way. He was familiar with the route they had to take to get back to Willowridge and knew which path would cost them the least amount of time on their return trip. When he’d come north to Zelmesca he’d fallen in with the Abyssals almost immediately who had all of the materials he could have asked for to advance his research and magical studies. Years later, Sano would eventually join him.

It had been by chance though, in part anyway. After he’d been cursed Sano had tried to locate the Witch who had done it to him, he’d burned through several Vishanti caravans and had several lapses of control in situations that involved humans, making him anathema to everyone. When he ran out of road in Tenebre Dontae he was forced to leave. His search for the Witch had led him to gather a great deal of information and it was the bit of information about the demon worshipping Abyssals in Zelmesca that had been cause for him to settle on heading north. In Sano’s mind, the nature of the curse within him couldn’t have been anything other that demonic in nature.

Passing through the ruins of the South Gate was an experience, it was the first time he had seen destruction on such a grand scale. The South Gate had been a massive wall that spanned the whole of the mountain pass that went through the Zelmescan mountains dividing the inner portion of the realm from the outer portion. He had seen it once as a child, a massive towering testament to the superior engineering of the Solacine Imperium in antiquity. It had stood the test of time, needing few repairs in the stonework and only requiring periodic replacements of iron and steel for the various portcullises that served to control the traffic that moved in and out. Seeing such a thing in utter ruin was awe inspiring to say the least.

He wasn’t even out of sight of the ruins when the ambush came, a group of Abyssals who had been patrolling or researching…he couldn’t remember which it was. The first blow to draw blood on him was the last thing he remembered of the fight, all other details had come from Ryanth who had been with the group at the time as the second in command. Sano had flown into a rage and shifted in to a bestial form that they hadn’t been prepared to counter. Several of the men had been torn limb from limb and strewn across the hillside before the commander of the group could even get his orders out or cast a spell. It was only seeing Ryanth’s face and hearing his voice that Sano’s rampage abated and he hesitated. And just as had happened at camp, Ryanth seized the moment and subdued him.

When Sano regained consciousness later it was the first conversation he’d had with his brother in a long time. He told him the story of what had happened to him, the whole time of which Ryanth said nothing, only listened. He showed him some of what his new body could do. His strength was enhanced considerably, as was his stamina, durability, speed, senses, and of course there was the regeneration. When he was done explaining, he shifted to questions and Ryanth answered them patiently. He had wanted to know where they were, who Ryanth was working for, what it was they did, and so on. Sano had managed to find himself exactly where he had hoped to be, but had to contend with the consequences of having slaughtered a half dozen or so of their members.

Ryanth had gone to Belias personally and convinced him of the value that Sano posed to the group in order to sway him. Sano, Ryanth reasoned, was easily worth several dozen men with the powers and skills that he possessed so to have only lost half a dozen was a bargain. It was shrewd, but it was exactly the kind of argument needed to pacify Belias. For the weeks that followed Sano would continue to try and gain an audience with Belias but realized quickly the only way he was going to do so was by proving himself and rising within their ranks, regardless of what chicken shit religion they ascribed to. He signed up for every mission he could, every strike, every offensive, and in short order earned a reputation as a one man calvary that could shift a battle in the favor of the Abyssals. It earned him the audience he’d wanted.

Sano had never been more disappointed than the day he set eyes upon Belias in his audience chambers for the first time. After a week of interactions with Belias, Sano had come to the conclusion that the little man was full of shit and hadn’t done even half of the things he’d claimed to have done. He couldn’t prove it really, he just knew. It was a sort of gut instinct he couldn’t explain but Sano had come to know prey when he had seen it and a man who could conjure gargantuan demons that could level the South Gate did not smell like prey. The betrayal Sano felt at the hands of the charlatan led him to become critical of everything else the Abyssals were doing and had him resolved to kill Belias to set everything back on track. It wasn’t that Sano wanted his position or even truly believed in Olcaru, it was more of a principle for him with how much his brother had invested in the faction and believed in Olcaru.

Days after he’d made up his mind was when Olcaru herself made her grand appearance. He remembered how the chambers of worship were rent asunder and she stepped through, deadly and beautiful but very likely a trick Belias had conjured up to reaffirm his place as Grand Cleric, mere smoke and mirrors to impress the rank and file. Sano wasn’t buying what Belias was selling and moved against him then and there in front of the entire congregation. The ease with which Olcaru not only defeated but absolutely crushed him was mind blowing. For all his strength, power, and regenerative abilities Sano was still as effective as a house cat in a fight against her. She had stood over him ready for the killing blow with an amused smirk on her face when he felt as though he was finally witnessing real power and strength for the first time. He was overcome with regret in missing out on it and for the mistake he’d made. But more importantly, he actually believed.

He felt her eyes piercing right through him, looking down into him and somehow turning over various aspects of himself within his own mind and soul. She was weighing and judging him in a way that made him feel more exposed and vulnerable than he had in his entire life. She did this and then she stepped back, sparing his life, and ordered those who had been gathered around to fix him up. What was it that she had seen in him that day that stayed her hand? It was always a question that lingered at the back of his mind, always something he asked himself but dared not ask her. Often he would have different trains of thought that would circle back to it and often he would consider actually asking her, but would doing so show a weakness that she would find distasteful? He couldn’t really speak to her the way he did with Ryanth.

“Hey.” Ryanth said as they approached the outer gates of Willowridge, “I…didn’t mean that stuff I said. I mean not really, you know? No one deserves what that witch did to you. She robbed you of something and you’ll never really get it back. I might not have thought much of home but you did, it was important to you and you were driven away. I’m sorry.”

Sano smirked for a moment at his brother and clapped a hand on his shoulder, “Don’t worry about it.” He gave a little squeeze before releasing, “I know you didn’t mean it. I just let myself lose control. I’ll work on it.”

Ryanth’s brief moment of vulnerability passed and he shoved Sano, though Sano wouldn’t have moved from it if he didn’t really want to, “I think I can find you some self-help scrolls in the library if you think you’re up to the task of what the rest of us call ‘reading’.”

Sano resisted a chuckle with his brother’s clowning, briefly feeling like they were the rough and tumble kids growing up on the streets again, “I’ll pass this time. I have to report directly to Olcaru once we get inside.”

Ryanth nodded in acknowledgment, if the Goddess demanded an audience she got the audience. There would be no delay and no excuses, he just hoped that it was for one of their little trysts rather than him being in any genuine peril. But the thought of it brought him back around to the Question once more. What had she seen in him to stay her hand?

“I saw in you realization in the wake of doubt.” Olcaru whispered, a single claw running down his arm that bore the tattooed markings of both the Abyssals and Olcaru specifically. Sano’s senses returned to the present and he looked over at her, realizing that she had again been inside of his mind somehow, monitoring what it was he was thinking and feeling.

Sano was fairly certain that the markings she had inscribed upon his right arm and imbued with a portion of her power offered her unfettered access to his thoughts and emotions. It didn’t bother him really, Sano was the kind that didn’t leave what he was thinking about a person up for guesswork anyway, so magic that allowed someone direct access only eliminated the obstacle of vocalizing himself. Myanna too had markings like this, though on her left arm instead of her right, as did Belias, Ryanth, and a handful of others in Olcaru’s inner circle. The markings were awarded to those who had earned positions of trust with Olcaru over a certain rank, those who bore them had an aspect of her power they could use and displayed their rank and authority over their lessers.

“To know that this doubt was due to one of my own and that it inspired in you such a beautiful rage, I knew you could be one of my most faithful. You could be one of my most trusted.” she pressed her nude body against his and he could feel the white hot rage that she was talking about, the rage he always felt somewhere beneath the surface, begin to cool.

The rage was always there, gnawing at his mind. It was the driving force behind the senseless acts of violence and slaughter he’d committed after being cursed. It was a monstrous thing that robbed him of everything when it took over, but when he was with Olcaru her mere will was enough to cut through it and restore to him a portion of himself that he simply could not reach without her. It wasn’t something he could achieve with any other woman. He and Myanna had been on and off again from a time even before the Abyssals and again when he had fallen in with them, but it was far different. Myanna had been an outlet for the rage rather than a balm for it. He could savagely pound her with his cock and she’d thank him for it, he could throw her around and rough her up and she’d writhe with pleasure from it, he could say unspeakable things to her and her eyes would light up. But one of the most important things was that her stamina was on par with his own and when he cut loose she was able to keep up. She was no question as to her skill and prowess but Olcaru was able to make him feel as he had been before the filthy vishanti witch had cursed him, before he had been changed into a monster.

Olcaru gave a light little shove and Sano fell back into the seat of her great Black Throne, which stood at the center of the chambers where she was worshipped and issued edicts to her followers. It was made of a jet black stone, carved by the finest craftsman the Abyssals had to offer. The men who had made it had done so immediately after Olcaru had arrived, not sleeping for a week while they worked, and placing it where the statue of her had formerly stood.

She crawled into his lab to straddle him, the wetness of her pussy sliding invitingly along the shaft of his cock. He knew that this thing between them was not really love, it was her way of using him for her own base needs. But he considered it an honor to have been chosen for such a task, especially when he knew that Myanna had to work much harder for much less from Olcaru. It gave him a sense of satisfaction knowing that in the rivalry for Olcaru’s affections he was winning rather handily.

“So on the matter we discussed before, you understand what it is I’m asking of you?” she purred as she adjusted her positioning in his lap to bring her bare breasts level with his face. He knew what it was he was being instructed to do.

“Yes, Mistress. I do.” he acknowledged as he took one of the pierced lavender nipples into his mouth and began to suckle, his hand joining his mouth with a firm squeeze. He wasn’t gentle, doing so would have been unsatisfying for Olcaru. One of the reasons she made use of him so often was his willingness to leverage his strength and ferocity upon her sexually.

“After you’ve led them into battle,” she whispered darkly, “You’re to do as much damage to the vampires as you possibly can before making your exit. I want there to be no doubt in their minds that my wrath is upon them. It is essential that they believe it in order for the ruse to be effective. Show them no mercy, but come join me as soon as you can.”

His other hand took hold of her other breasts and began to work it with rough squeezes and tugs the way she liked. Her claws ran through his mane-like hair of blonde and brown, scratching his scalp in a way that only goaded him on. But there was a question about all of this that had been nagging at him and so, reluctantly, he broke contact with the nipple he’d been sucking on and looked up at her.

“And Belias?” his tone was intent, his hands squeezing a little harder to emphasise the underlying question, “Will he be among those who are left behind?”

Olcaru considered this for a moment, smirking a bit, knowing that to make him wait was to tease him just a little bit more on the subject. She knew how he felt about Belias and she knew that Belias was a primary example of how the Abyssals had lost their way.

“Well, I had intended for him to come with us,” she teased, tracing lines with her claws along the grooves of his muscular chest, “Despite his ambitions and lack of drive, his faith in me is still present. His skill with his craft is difficult to ignore and could prove useful.”

Olcaru’s grin widened as her ice blue eyes gleamed with an inner light, “Would you have me do otherwise?” She gave a move of her hips to grind along his shaft, slicking it further with the fluids of her lust as her tail wrapped around his leg tightly.

“I want him with the first wave.” he said bluntly, “I want him left behind with all the others who have failed to live up to your standards and who have failed the rest of us with their laziness.” Sano didn’t care if Belias could do even half the things that people said he could, the little grease stain of a man didn’t pull his weight in any other respect and was entirely too smug about it. Performing as the Grand Cleric to Olcaru was something that represented the heights of dedication and devotion to Olcaru, which meant that of all of them he should have been doing more work rather than less.

“Very well,” Olcaru laughed, her tail curling tighter around his leg, “In that case I shall give you the honor of leading the attack to him, while serving him as his adjunct. You will take your leave of the battle while he is otherwise engaged and leave him to his fate.”

A sharp toothy grin of satisfaction split Sano’s face before he turned back to the breast he had been suckling on before with renewed fervor. But before he could get his mouth in position her hand snapped down to take a hold of his face and tilt it back up to look her in the eyes.

“But this is my gift to you.” she warned, her gaze both playful and deadly serious, “Do not make me regret this. He has talents that we will now have to make due without and it will be up to you to compensate me for this loss.”

Sano took a deep breath to steady himself and let that savage grin return to his face once more, he’d earned his position with her by not backing down when challenges were presented to him.

“I think I can devise a means of compensating you right now.” he replied blithely, giving a small buck of his hips that cause his shaft to grind up against her firmly. Her eyes went a little wider as a dark light danced within them, her grip tightened.

“My, my, you are an arrogant one aren’t you? Such Insolence.” Sano could feel the claws at the ends of her fingers beginning to pierce his flesh as her grip tightened and she leaned forward and licked his lips with her long silken tongue. “At this rate you’ll be lucky if I even let you cum.”

She suddenly pushed him back, his head bouncing off the back of the stone throne. He made a move to sit up again and she slammed him back once more with a laugh, “You had better make this worth my while.” she warned as she lifted her hips to allow his erection a moment to stand on its own before sliding her way down onto it.

Sex with the Goddess was always a little different than every other sexual encounter Sano had had in his life. When he’d woke in his own chambers the next day the vivid memories of the encounter were fresh in the forefront of his mind as if they had happened only moments ago. She’d ridden him viciously on her own throne and he’d struggled to keep himself from cumming before she was fully satisfied. The way her cunt milked at him would have been too much for a lesser man but Sano’s lessons in self control with the Abyssals extended beyond merely keeping the curse within him in check. They’d shifted position a few times before she had given him permission to fill her up. She was on her back, legs spread with one dangling over the arm of the throne as she poured spring wine over her breasts for him to lap up like a beast. She said as much too, calling him all manner of degrading names as he shamelessly rutted on her, and he loved every minute of it.

But the memory of their encounter wasn’t simply in his mind, it was imprinted on his body. He could still feel that orgasm echoing in his loins even now. As the images of her greedy eyes and bouncing breasts moving under the force of his thrusts flashed through his mind, he could swear he could feel her softness, tightness, or wetness on him in that moment. It was there while he washed up that morning, during the morning meal, during the briefing, and even when he was marching with the other soldiers to their rendezvous point. Each time it was like it was happening over again and it would set his teeth on edge and get his adrenaline pumping to the point where he was becoming impatient for the fight ahead.

The rendezvous point itself was a set of stone arches about a 3 hour march north of Willowridge in the depths of the swamp itself. The arches were protected by the restless dead and several shades, none of which were a concern for them when one of their necromancers was able to seize control and command the creatures to join their ranks. Belias was given the command as Olcaru had said and he had them remain in formation while the mages he had gathered began to do their work. Sano remained with the soldiers.

It was a shame, in Sano’s mind, that so many of them lacked the faith that would have earned them at least a spot in the second wave. He had trained many of these men since rising to his position and he knew many of them to be formidable in combat, but Olcaru needed more than the strength of their sword arms to be counted among the worthy. Even so, he remained with them in what he knew would be their final moments. They might not have been faithful but they were still soldiers and warriors who had earned his respect in other areas, perhaps in death they would earn a place at Olcaru’s side.

Belias and his mages cleaned the overgrowth of plants from the archways and began to set up the ritual they needed to activate the power within them. The language they spoke wasn’t one that Sano knew, though he had heard many of the infernomancers speak it before in the past. Sano wasn’t an uneducated man but when he’d come to the Abyssals he’d learned just how much there was out there that he still didn’t know in just the field of language alone. As the words rose up from their circle the sounds of the swamp went completely quiet and the soldiers began to hold their breath. Sano had not realized how much background noise in the swamp that he ignored every day until there was none to be heard at all.

As the ritual continued each of the mages gathered presented their hands and ritually cut across their open palms, letting the blood drop into bowls at their feet which in turn were positioned at different points in the arcane circle they had drawn. An eerie purple light began to form within the space of the archways.

“Now then, one we have stepped through we shall be upon them!” yelled Belias over the crowd as he took position near the archways, “They will not be expecting us and will be unable to provide an immediate response. Give no quarter, kill as many as you can, stay with your squads, and be aware of sendings from commanding mages!”

Sano had to admit that when the man was pressed to actually do something he could be an able commander of others. He called out the first part of the Abyssals chant and the crowd answered back with the second half. He repeated the process again louder and the crowd of soldiers once more answered him, this time louder. After a third refrain the purple light of the portals grew brighter and solid and Belias gave the command for the soldiers to advance.

Sano stood in the fifth line and when they rushed through the swirling purple light of the portal the swampy forest gave way to a forest of ancient oak around them. They had been transported from the southernmost point of inner Zelmesca all the way to the westernmost point in the blink of an eye. The forest in this part of the realm was a great deal older than it was in the south and considerably more dry. The mistwood was filled with old growth trees that surrounded and protected the cities of Zelmesca Falls and Water Town, which were both well defended by the faction of Vampires there.

Years ago the vampire queen had arrived in Zelmesca to bring law to a group of lawless vampires that had been terrorizing the area and shortly after she had begun her work the South Gate had been destroyed. While the policy of the Queen was to not interfere in mortal affairs to have a measured approach to how their kind fed on people, she extended an offer to the mortals of Zelmesca Falls and Water Town who were suddenly cut off from the rest of the realm. She would protect them from any and all forces that would seek to threaten them in exchange for blood tithes. The people accepted these terms and ever since there had been no getting close to either of the cities without being noticed by the Queens forces and sorted accordingly. Here in the forest as they began to push through the treeline and onto the defensive walls of Zelmesca Falls was actually the closest any Abyssal army had been in years.

They had some prisoners they had recently taken to thank for it. Sano had been told that there was a scouting force from the Vampires that had come through the gate stones that they themselves had just used. Indeed two weeks ago the Abyssals had not even known of the gate stones much less the function they served. Using the portals of the gate stones had allowed them to move right into striking range of the defensive walls of Zelmesca Falls without providing any early warning to the opposition. This meant that there would be no lines of archers mustered on the walls, no combat mages with spells at the ready, and no artillery primed and loaded.

The Abyssals fell upon the walls like a force of nature. Archers within their ranks rained arrows while combat mages let fire and lightning fly freely into defensive positions, completely destroying them. Sano, however, was the one responsible for providing access to the other side of the wall for the bulk of the infantry. The power that had been imbued within the markings on his arm granted to him a unique ability to interact with the nature of a thing and send a pulse of chaos directly into it, thus destabilizing it. Every object in all the world had a “pattern” that was part of the overall woven tapestry of existence and by unmaking that singular pattern you would unmake the thing itself. This was how it had been explained to him anyway by Olcaru.

The infantry rushed across an open expanse of old mausoleums, crypts, and graves that were fairly common in this part of the realm. Though Sano had not been in front, his superior speed was he sprinted across the open ground put him in front almost immediately. When he and a dozen of the soldiers behind him reached the wall he pressed his right hand to the old stone and willed the energy from within to come forth. The markings that ran down his arm and ended at the back of his palm shimmered briefly the pure energy of chaos pulsed into the stone of the wall he touched, exploding inward and showering anyone who might have been within thirty feet of that section of wall with debris and rubble. The massive fissure in the wall that resulted gave the rest of the infantry coming up behind them immediate access. Whatever defenses might have been possible on the walls were overrun and the servants of the vampires were forced to fall back.

Sano’s strength allowed him to wield large weapons single handedly with ease. Because of this he had recently taken up using a Greatsword that had been sized for a giant rather than a man of his own size, and he used it to great effect on the first men he met in battle that day. Single swings were enough to cut down two to three men at a time, regardless of what they were wearing for armor. As time went on and more fell before his blade soldiers began to attempt to flank him, circling up and trying to get into blind spots where he could not possibly defend on both sides. But what they found out instead was that the power within Sano’s arm did not work solely on inorganic material but worked on living flesh as well. It was a considerably more complicated act on Sano’s part, as it required him to take a moment to perceive the nature of the thing before he could destabilize it with a chaos pulse. Organic bodies were complicated with a lot of different things together that made them work, but Sano had learned how to do it a long time ago thanks to Olcaru’s personal instruction.

The more complicated something was the harder it was to channel the energy, but at the same time more complicated things unraveled in much more spectacular a fashion. Sano turned on the first man to attempt to flank him and caught his sword arm at the wrist, followed immediately by a chaos pulse. The arm was undone in a vortex of shredded flesh and bone up to the shoulder, a fine mist of blood erupting in the space between the two men and soaking everything in dark red. The poor man hardly had a moment to take stock of the situation before Sano finished him off with a mighty swing of his blade.

It wasn’t the last victim he claimed with the maneuver. Time and again he would take sudden hold of someone with his right arm, send a pulse of chaos into their bodies, and detonate them from the inside. The exploding bodies created blasts of showering gore on the victims allies, sending many of them fleeing in terror or locking up in place to be slain a moment later. Behind him his own men swept up like a dark wave across the unsuspecting forces but as time passed and they drove deeper into the enemy territory they began to meet with more competent opposition and more well trained soldiers with their own powers and abilities.

“They’re beginning to Rally!” Belias cry moved magically through the forces of the Abyssals, “Advance! Don’t give them a chance to regain their footing!”

Sano agreed, strangely enough. The vampires themselves could not act in the middle of the day, which was precisely why they chose to attack, but there were scores of mortals who protected them that were capable of putting up a fight. The scouting party they had taken prisoner two weeks back had consisted of mortals, though each one of them had been strengthened and altered through vampiric blood magic of some kind. They had not been taken without a fight and they had lost several men in the process. Sano had to imagine that there were many more of these kinds of mortals serving in the main body of the Vampires forces, ready to lay waste to anyone who underestimated them.

A half hour into the fight Sano found himself pushed much farther ahead of the main forces he had arrived with. He was covered in the blood and gore of his enemies and stood alone among them, killing one after the other in a state of ecstatic battle rage that he had surrendered himself to in Olcaru’s name. There was little that could shake him from such a state once he had hit a stride but when the day began to suddenly grow dark he felt himself jarred back to his senses to look skyward.

There, high in the sky, the midday sun was becoming occluded by a murky black blot of some kind. It wasn’t unlike an eclipse in the effect it had, but it wasn’t the moon that was doing the occlusion. It was magic of some kind, there was no doubt about that, but it was something that he was wholly unaware of the vampires being capable of doing. Things grew quiet on the battlefield around him as numerous soldiers on both sides had the same reaction to the event as Sano had. He briefly looked around to see both his men and the mortals under the vampire queen’s banner looking skyward in awe and confusion. To Sano, this meant that even the mortals here had been unaware of such capability on the part of their masters.

The smoke of fires from the battle made it difficult to see what was happening on the ground beyond a certain distance and it even served to confuse Sano’s sense of smell, but his ears were unimpeded and the low rushing rumble of the vampires taking the field from their underground sanctuaries and hiding places was immediately evident to him. The awe of the event above them had barely had time to settle before the vampires swept over the battlefield like a plague of darkness and gleaming white fangs. This had been what Olcaru had predicted, this had been what she was sacrificing her non-believers on. Somehow, Sano thought, she had known that it would be like this. It wasn’t as though he had doubted her, but when they had initially broken through and made such short work of the forces against them Sano had wondered if perhaps it hadn’t been possible for them to overtake the vampires and claim victory. But that was never possible it seemed, not really.

Sano couldn’t help but smile and let out a low chuckle. Each time he let his pride and vanity lead him to question he was proven wrong by the Goddess. It was a lesson he hadn’t thought he would need to learn again but it was one he was thankful to learn outside of her immediate reach less it have been considerably more painful to have learned. A short distance away he could hear Belias barking orders, the panic in his voice clearly audible even from here. Sano imagined that to him this was even more terrifying as he had a deeper understanding of magic and thus knew enough to know what kind of terrifyingly powerful mage had conjured up such a thing as a spontaneous eclipse of the sun.

All this meant to Sano though was that the clock was ticking, he had come to lead the men in behind the walls and do damage. Now all that was left was to make his way out while doing as much damage as he could in the process, and that was exactly what he set to doing. Just as he’d set to cutting down more of the men he’d been intent on before the interruption he took notice of a lone figure making its way through the smoke and debris as if out on a casual morning walk.

Sano froze once more, his eyes moving from one side to the other to see if others had noticed what he had. His own men seemed confused, looking to him for direction while the enemy…began to withdraw?

From the smoke emerged a man of unremarkable build and unremarkable features. He was pale with dark eyes and dark hair and wore no armor. He was dressed in a roughspun tunic and loose fitting breeches with some beat up jewelry on his fingers and soft worn hiking boots. Sano kept his sword at the ready, not lowering his guard.

The man looked at Sano and the half dozen men with him and then looked up at the sky, placing his hand just over his eyes to shield them from what little light was remaining, “Neat trick, right?” His gaze then returned to Sano, “It’s one of my favorites but I hardly ever have the chance to use it.”

Sano had less than a second for it to sink in and to react as the man hurled a small blast of debris at them with a flick of his wrist. The flat of Sano’s blade was wide enough to deflect any of the sharp stone from striking him in the face but others tore at his armor across the rest of his body. Many of his men were unable to react as quickly and their bodies fell to the ground lifeless with long spikes of stone sticking out of their skulls and necks. The others, to their credit, immediately responded by trying to advance and rush the man as one.

A wind rose from the man but to Sano’s eyes it was no wind at all, but rather several distinct movements on the man’s part to strike at each of the men in turn five or six times a piece. It happened almost instantly and the force with which he hit them with was enough to cave helmets and punch through armor entirely. Sano’s blood immediately began to boil with the thrill of a worthy opponent, but lingering too long here would make it more difficult for him to get off the battlefield unnoticed.

“That’s just the beginning.” the vampire threatened before exploding forward toward Sano.

Sano found his reflexes up to the task, or so he thought at first. He moved to the side avoiding the claws that had formed on the vampires hands and brought his sword around in an overhand chop only to have it pass through the space the Vampire had occupied just a moment before. He pivoted and brought his right hand out anticipating an attack from behind from such a swift opponent and found his movement halted by a hand that caught him at the wrist. The touch had barely registered to Sano before he felt his arm twist and a fierce blow lance up to collide with the bottom of his jaw. Teeth cracked and broke along the bottom and the pain radiated out from his jaw to the rest of his skull.

He jerked away and swung wildly with his sword as he tried to put distance between them. In the brief moment that they had touched Sano had been able to perceive some of the vampires pattern and the resonance that it had. It was dark, cold, and unwholesome, very different from how the pattern of any other given person might feel. The vampire watched him with mirthful eyes as he moved away from him, seemingly thrilled with the prospect of a decent fight the way Sano had been just a moment ago. It wasn’t something Sano had at all expected to find among the stuffy aristocratic ranks of the vampires. Perhaps it was a stereotype that had to be rethought.

“So that’s what a vampire’s pattern feels like…” Sano mused as he began to pace a wide circle around the vampire who began to do the same, though with his hands casually clasped behind his back.

All around them the battle raged on as the Abyssals continued to clash with the vampires who shredded whatever they could get ahold of to pieces with fang and claw. The commanding officers would make use of refined weapons the way any person would, but in combination with the speed and power of the undead it somehow made it all the more terrifying. Somewhere Belias was barking his panicked orders while some creature he had conjured took the brunt of the punishment meant for him.

“Not even a dinner and a show and you’re already trying to get a feel for my ‘pattern’,” the vampire chuckled, “Look I’m not that kind of guy. I’m not easy, you’re gonna have to woo me a little bit more.” the vampire grinned as he advanced toward Sano, seemingly gliding over the ruined landscape as if completely at home.

Sano shifted his stance to ready himself. To his right on the other side of a fallen section of the wall he could hear one of his men begging for mercy as three or four vampires tore him limb from limb. Sweat began to bead on Sano’s brow as he considered that perhaps he had missed his chance to quit the field and that he too was going to die with the unfaithful.

“A joker,” he growled, “That’s going to make this all the more satisfying.” Sano gripped his weapon tighter and prepared to leap forward when suddenly the vampire stopped mid step as if someone had just thrown an ice cold bucket of water on him. He looked confused, his eyes darting around rapidly to take stock of the situation.

“What will?” he queried, brows furrowed in genuine confusion.

Sano didn’t know what this act was for and he didn’t care, he immediately took advantage and sprung forward with a savage overhand chop of the massive blade. It found a home in the meat between the neck and the shoulder and cleaved down to the middle of the vampires chest before coming to a stop. With a jerk Sano pulled his blade free and prepared to strike once more when the wound he had just opened in the vampire seemed to pull the two pieces of the man together through blood tendrils of gore from within and seal itself closed with such perfection as to look as though it had never happened. Sano was dumbstruck, even for someone with his own form of regeneration this was beyond the pale.

With a gesture from his hand and a word or two in a language he didn’t recognize the vampire opened a long split in the earth between them from which a blast of heat and fire erupted. Sano leapt back with all the strength he could muster to get clear of the heat, but found much of his mane singed nonetheless.

That was it, he had to leave. Sano could sit here and dance with this vampire allday but the fact was that he had been told to leave when he had the chance. He knew that there were a dozen or so more only half as powerful as this vampire that came to aid him it would be too much for him to handle. Just the one was proving to be difficult enough. As if to punctuate the point the vampire began to manipulate the path of the fissure he’d created and send it moving toward him.

Sano switched hands, passing the sword from his left to his right then brought it back in a heavy wind up. As he came forward in the throw and only a moment before he released it from his grip he sent a chaos pulse into the weapon itself. The weapon hurled through the air, passing through the superheated ar and fire without issue and was immediately caught in one hand by the vampire beyond. Sano turned and broke into a desperate sprint, trying to put as much effort between him and the weapon as possible before it detonated. The more dense the material that he pulsed, the more violent and powerful the explosion from it would be when it unraveled. As far as things went, forged steel of a sword was fairly dense. The explosion that issued forth from the weapon was enough to hurl Sano forward and send numerous other soldiers on both sides to the ground with traumatic internal damage from the concussive force. Sano was briefly airborne before colliding with a half collapsed section of the wall which he spilled over to the other side of after hitting.

After several moments of laying in the collapsed heap on the other side of the wall Sano could feel his bones knitting and flesh beginning to repair and rose to his feet slowly. It took him only a moment to find a break in the fighting and spot the treeline in the distance. At first he moved in a staggered shuffle, dragging one leg behind him and holding a broken arm, but with each passing moment of his regeneration at work he could feel himself getting a second wind. As soon as he was able, he broke into a run, weaving through the field of broken moldering tombs toward the treeline.

No sooner had he reached the treeline that he felt his feet go out from under him, his face slamming into the packed earth before being suddenly dragged by barbed chains wrapped around both legs. The world turned and cartwheeled sickeningly as he was turned over several times in mid air by the chains. More joined the first set, wrapping around him and digging cruel hooks into his flesh to rip and tear at him. When he finally came to a stop he expected to see that mirthful vampire once again, unharmed by the explosion from the sword. But instead it was Belias’ arrogant face, which made him all the more angry. Beside him stood a female figure wrapped in the same chains that were holding him suspended in the air, the chains appeared to be a part of her somehow, or otherwise magically animated by her. Either way, it seemed as though it was a creature that had been summoned to work on Belias’ behalf.

“The Brave and Mighty warrior…” Belias sneered, his reddened face smeared in sweat, smoke, and blood, “Fleeing the battlefield as soon as things look bad. I can’t wait to tell our Mistress what a complete coward you were and the lack of faith you had in her.”

Belias couldn’t suppress the wicked greedy smile from splitting his greasy face, no doubt he was imagining all of the rewards and benefits of revealing Sano as a coward and a deserter.

“I can’t imagine what it must be like to be such a simple man with such limited vision as yours.” Sano growled, shifting his weight to one side despite the agony of the hooks in his flesh and then suddenly jerked to the other side to rip himself free.

The sudden imbalance came as a surprise to the demon and he was dropped to he ground below almost immediately, pulling the last remaining hooked chain from his skin. With the chain in hand he send a chaos pulse through the first few links, shattering them to pieces in a chaotic blast before rising to his feet.

“How dare you insult the vision of the Grand Cleric you filthy traitor!” Belias screamed indignantly, his little hands grasping at nothing in his rage, “It is through me that the Goddess’ judgment shall be brought upon you!”

Belias grasping hands began to form the hand motions for a spell now and he spoke in a tongue that Sano recognized as one of those used for spellcasting. He broke into a sprint off to his right to try and put distance between them only to have the chains from the demon immediately give chase. Branches exploded with the force of the chains hurtling toward him, smaller trees were cut in half by their swinging, and it was all Sano could do to leap and dodge through the storm of them.

The chain demon, the proper name of which Sano couldn’t remember right then, moved gracefully a foot or so above the ground as she commanded the chains. The more of them she seemed to send in pursuit of him however, the more of her dark blue flesh seemed to become exposed. It was small comfort to know that her supply of chain was not infinite, especially when she seemed so capable with what she had available to her already. With each passing moment he managed to evade her however, the more time his body had to repair itself and give his full range of movement and power back to him.

The two moved in time with each other as pieces of the forest fell down around their ears. The two moved in time with one another, as if they knew each other’s little dances step for step. They would attack and counter each other over and over, while Sano distantly registered the crazed shouting of Belias somewhere behind the chain demon. He couldn’t tell if he was barking commands at her or if perhaps he was just hurling insults at Sano and had forgot to shift back to the common tongue. Sano destroyed another length of chain with a chaos pulse and knew that if he continued to do so he could, in theory, exhaust the demon’s supply of weaponry. But even as he was gaining ground against the demon he was losing it to Belias who had begun to hurl his own spells into the midst of their combat.

Outside of summoning Belias was a mediocre mage from what Sano could see. His offensive spell capabilities didn’t do a lot of damage and they didn’t have a lot of stopping power, but what they could do well was distract him. With each lick of flame or jolt of lightning there was a possible opening to be created for the demon to strike at Sano and do serious damage. Just as some of his wounds were beginning to close new ones were being opened by the creature that seemed to laugh gleefully, taking pleasure in his pain.

As another of the chains came arcing his way he raised his unmarked left arm to let the chain wrap around it and then rolled himself up in it’s length on  purpose. He spared his marked arm to sever some of the links further up the length with a chaos pulse causing the chain around him to go slack. From here he was able to spin it back out to full extension with it anchored now on his arm by the hooks. Without a sword, any weapon would do to gain an advantage. Now with the benefit of some reach he shifted his priority from the creature to it’s master, Belias himself. He knew that if he could handle him, it was possible that the creature would return back to the plane from which it came.

He rolled away from another of the chain demon’s attacks and whipped the chain around to strike at Belias. There was a brief shimmer of a translucent shield shape a mere inch or so from Belias face that intercepted the attack and shunted it aside uselessly. Belias cackled at the absurdity of it, “You honestly think I would battle you without having established proper counter measures for such simple weapons? I’m the Grand Cleric of the Abyssals and you would presume to bring me low with a simple length of chain!?”

Sano growled and advanced despite the sound of the Chain demon hot on his heels behind him. Belias laughter turned to panic and he immediately began to form the motions of a new spell with his hands, “I hate to agree with you.” sano remarked darkly, “But when you’re right you’re right. Let’s try something else.”

He lunged now at Belias’ face with his right hand, only to be met with another intangible yet solid force a mere inch from his flesh, as expected. Like solid objects and organic bodies, spells too had patterns. By making physical contact with it for a moment it was even easier for Sano to perceive, even if only for a moment. Sano impulsively channeled a much larger pulse of chaos energy than he had earlier, not considering the effect an exploding spell might have. There was a brief high pitched whining followed by immediately by a heatless concussive blast.

Sano felt his eyes crushed inside of his head as he was hurled sightlessly through the air and through the trunk of a tree. The ringing in his ears was mostly his imagination, because he had little left inside his ears that could have served to provide him with proper hearing. Things fell on top of him and for a long time he lay limp in the underbrush without moving, regretting every second of suffering he endured because of his impulsive rage. His body began to mend itself slowly and eventually sight and sound returned enough for Sano to take stock of his surroundings while his tissue and bone pulled itself together for what felt like it most have been the dozenth time today. Trees all around him had broken and splintered under the force of the explosion and smaller ground plants had been cleared entirely. He turned his head as he began to make out the sound of Belias screaming and begging for his life.

Sano pushed himself to his hands and knees, mostly naked due to the explosion peeling most of his armor and clothing right off of him. Over the sound of battle in the distance he could hear the demon laughing and Belias’ pained screams. Once on his feet his made his way toward the source of the sound, stumbling every few steps still dazed from the amount of punishment his body had taken. He came to rest on a smooth cracked boulder that overlooked a shallow gully that had been near the explosion. Belias had been thrown into it and was on his back, scrambling backward on his hands with what looked like a pair of broken legs. Despite this the damage to Belias overall actually looked less severe than what Sano had experienced, why that was he didn’t know. Sano supposed other protective spells could have been layered in such a way as to save him from the brunt of the blast.

The demon followed him, having already sunk of the hooked chains into the fat flesh of his calves. Even as he desperately scrambled backward she was reeling him in like a corpulent fish. Belias flailed and spun, trying to grab on to anything that he could, and in his frantic search he saw Sano looking down at them.

“Sano!” he wailed piteously, “Help me! Please, you know I only did what I did for the glory of Olcaru! If you help me… I’ll not speak a word of you quitting the field! I swear it! We can leave together!”

Belias continued to grasp and flail as he spoke until he spotted something mere feet from where Sano stood. Sano’s eyes too fell upon it, gleaming amid the leaves of the forest floor. It was Belias amulet, the one he always wore and what had always been treated as his badge of office. Sano glanced over at Belias and the Demon who had both frozen still and realization began to set in for him.

Sano came off of the stone and limped over to where the amulet sat and turned it over with a foot. “This…is what you’ve been using to control them. Isn’t it?” Sano’s eyes went over toward the chain demon standing motionless and tense in anticipation of what he might do.

“It was never you at all. With any of them. It was all this thing and the power within it.” Sano felt his rage beginning to bubble to the surface once again. The whole of the faction had been led by a Charlatan afterall, and no one had known.

“Of course it was me!” Belias stammered as he reached out to Sano, “I just use it to help with my concentration! To keep myself free to perform other tasks, that’s all!” The lie was so obvious to Sano now, he almost laughed despite the pain wracking his body.

“Give it here and I’ll put an end to this!” Belias wailed, a hint of command beginning to creep into his voice, “Hurry before the vampires find us here.”

Sano leaned down and picked the golden amulet up out of the dirt with his right hand and turned it over. It was old, neither Zelmescan or Solacine in make by the looks of it. The large gem at its center was scuffed slightly from years of abuse, though it seemed that the explosion had done little damage to it save for it’s broken chain.

“As I said,” Sano replied coldly, “Your vision is limited.” and though he considered destroying it, he wasn’t in a rush to repeat the experience of using a chaos pulse on something magical any time soon if it could be helped. Instead he tossed it over to the chain demon who caught it easily with one hand.

“This was always how it was supposed to be, Belias.” a hint of the anger he was experiencing gave way to a certain sense of triumph in being able to tell him this right before the end, “There are no reinforcements. There is no team of saboteurs. There’s no Victory for you this day. I was always supposed to quit the field before things got out of hand and you were supposed to die with the rest of the unfaithful.”

The chain demon behind Belias let out a surprisingly musical laugh now upon hearing this and resumed her advance on him. For a moment the only sound in the forest was that of her chains and bare feet through the leaves as she closed the distance between herself and Belias.

“N-no! That’s…you’re lying!” Belias stammered, the hand of the demon closing around his ankle jarred him back to reality. He began to flail and swat at her with his swollen fat hands, “No! No!”

Belias seemed to suddenly remember that there were still spells he could cast and began to move his hands and speak the words. One of the chain demons hands took hold of his smoothly and clenched down, crushing the bones in both hands with little effort, leaving him unable to cast even the simplest of spells that he knew.

“Now, Now dear..” her voice was venomously condescending, “I have pleasures in store for you. Don’t go spoiling the moment when I have such little time left before we return home.”

Sano remained only for as long as he had to in order to let his healing run its course, the demon stripped Belias of his remaining clothing and began to drive hooks and barbs through the rolls of his corpulent flesh. When he did finally move the demon looked up surprised as if she had forgotten that he had been there.

“You’re not going to stay and watch?” she inquired confused, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, “It’s going to be beautiful. He has so much extra flesh to work with after all.”

Sano shook his head, “No. No, I’m not going to stay.” he turned away from her and from Belias. Leaving him and his tortured screams behind as he ventured deeper into the forest, a faint smile on his face at the fitting end the pretender had met with. But as he walked he couldn’t help but wonder about the amulet. In the time that he held it, he’d been able to get a good sense of what it was capable of and the level of power it had at its command to summon and bind demons. The kind of creature everyone described in the stories of the destruction of the South Gate was well outside of its capabilities by a vast margin.

So then, if Belias hadn’t done it and the amulet had not done it. Who did?

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