Queen Yavara: Chapter 27

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Babes

Chapter Twenty-Seven

TITUS

The sinking sun cast the sky in crimson, illuminating the thick fog of the marshlands in ethereal red, the helms of the Highland army barely glinting through the haze. I watched it through the silk fabric of my mask, the rest of my body submerged in a murky pool. Topographically, this part of the Highlands was not part of the ‘high lands,’ for it was flat marsh without so much as a tree stump to raise the elevation. The border was drawn after the collapse of Alkandra to ensure that no army from the Tundra could surge into the Highland kingdom without first wading through thirty miles of treacherous bogs and swamp. It worked both ways though, for while one could almost see Glacier Lake from this distance, the elven army was still ten days away. Ten miserable days of wet clothes, unsure footing, squelching boots and rot. Not to mention the parasites. The marshlands were home to the worst flesh-eaters on Tenvalia; mosquitoes, leaches, flies, spiders, snakes, and oh yes, now vampires as well. The sun crested the western hills behind us, casting a long shadow over the army.

“Father?” Ivanka asked beside me.

“Yes Dear?” I responded.

“Is it time?” Tiffany asked from my other side, glancing at what I was doing, “Who’s your new friend?”

I stroked the carapace of the foot-long centipede, admiring the size of her mandibles, the clear poison dripping from the scarlet points. Her bite was said to be the most painful in the world, and one of the deadliest. Necrosis would occur within an hour of injection, and if the affected skin was not extracted in time, it would be carried into an artery, and the worst death imaginable would ensue. She crawled up my arm, her hundred little legs stabbing pleasantly into my skin, her antennae seeking, her mandibles clicking.

“I think I’ll name her ‘Gloria’ after my dear mother,” I smiled, guiding the creature along my shoulders and down my other arm, “they do share so very much in common.” I opened my hand, and the insect crawled down my wrist, and into the moss. The sky turned from crimson, to purple, and the fires began to ignite in the vast campsite. “Now, it is time.”

Hundreds of my children moved silently behind me. We took off our clothes and waded through the bog. We ducked beneath the muck and swam through the viscous waters. The task would’ve tired most beings, but our stamina was limitless, and our hunger great. It had been three days since we’d last eaten. We emerged from the other side, peeking over the bank at our quarry. A patrol of heavy infantry guarded the bank, about thirty strong. I ran my eyes along the perimeter until I found what I was looking for. Firewood couldn’t be foraged so far north, and so what they had, needed to be stored, and far above ground in this wet terrain.

Ivanka, Tiffany I called telepathically, Do you see that scaffolding?

Yes, father. They responded in unison.

Burn it down.

Ivanka and Tiffany swam a hundred lengths down the bank, then emerged silently from the water. They slipped from tent to tent, always staying in the shadows the firelight created. The massive wood pile stood in the center of the tents atop a platform, the workers quickly assembling it before dusk faded to night. Tiffany raced around the tents and ripped an unsuspecting worker out of sight. Ivanka silently scaled the twenty feet of scaffolding, keeping to the shadows and avoiding the vision of the other three workers. She got to the top, then rolled a beam off the platform. It crashed onto the head of another worker, spearing him into the muck. The other two held their hands over their head and rushed for cover, afraid that the whole complex would collapse. Tiffany took a burning log from a nearby fire and tossed it to her sister, who tossed it onto the wood pile before jumping from the platform. She landed gracefully on her toes, and both sisters rushed back into the bog without making a sound.

The platform was engulfed in minutes. Every able body ran to the site, forming a frantic bucket brigade and rushing to fill their vessels in the bog. The heavy infantry troop sat and watched, unable to assist in their clunky armor. We swam beneath the murky water until we were right beneath them. I mentally signaled out twenty-nine of my children, and got us into position. There we waited beneath the depths for the right moment when every soldier was watching the bonfire. It came, and we struck. Thirty vampires leapt from the water like breaching amphibians; wet, sleek and silent. Only three elves managed to scream out, but the chaos of the fire yielded no witnesses. We quickly dragged the bodies over a nearby bank, and stripped them naked. We drank the bodies to husks and dumped the shriveled prunes in the water, where pale hands moved like lightening to grab the leftovers and crack the bones for marrow. Those that rested beneath the murk would play a later role, but now was not the time to reveal our hand.

Coming up on your right. Please don’t eat me. Zander spoke into my mind. The wizard appeared as an elven scout, his staff disguised as a spear. With a twirl of his fingers and a thrust of his staff, the thirty of us transformed. One spell was a perception incantation to disguise our features, the other was more invasive. My body shrank two and a half feet to a squat five-six, my muscles and bones compressing into themselves.

“Goddamn!” I hissed, testing my fist and feeling every joint pop and crack. My children exclaimed in a similar manner, some of them brought to their knees with the pain.

“You’ll get used to it.” Zander whispered, sounding out of breath, “You’ll need to hurry, Titus; I can only hold that many spells for twenty minutes or so.” He produced a wooden box, and opened it to reveal scores of orderly vials. “These are the scents of your targets.”

I plucked out three vials, and examined the contents. “You made sure the samples aren’t contaminated?”

“I can assure you, they’re directly from the source.” Zander coughed uncomfortably, “Please don’t ask how I got them.”

I eyed the milky white fluid in one of the vials. “The things we do for queen and country.”

We dawned our disguises and dispersed into the camp. Eighty generals meant around three targets per vampire, but I suspected we’d be lucky if half of us notched our second kill. The first would be synchronized to ensure all thirty were dead before the alarm bells tolled. Everything done after would be improvised. I trusted my children to act at their own discretion. Zander might’ve been more than willing to throw them away for the sake of a few more dead generals, but I was not.

Remember, I broadcasted, be smart; I didn’t choose any idiots to be my children, and I damn-sure didn’t choose any heroes.

Yes, Father. They replied in unison.

Droughtius’s tent stood at the center of the camp. I wouldn’t have known it from the thousands of other canvas tents, were it not for the fully-plated guards. I stopped about three tents away from it, and took a deep breath, catching the scents surrounding me. It was easy to become nose-blind in such a crowded place, and so, much like listening to one instrument in a symphony, isolating my target took some concentration. Droughtius was around fifty-five, in solid military shape, but had poor kidneys and a nasty tobacco habit. I recognized another scent as well: General Polantius, serendipitously having a meeting with his field marshal. I also couldn’t help but notice the sour scent of Nadi sap on the bolts of his guard’s crossbows. There were ten guards, five outside and five inside. The five inside had their crossbow cranked and nocked, but the five outside favored their swords. I reached into my satchel and found a piece of parchment. I rolled it up into a scroll and tied it together. I took five paces to the guards and stopped when one held up a hand.

“I have a message for Field Marshal Droughtius.” I said, proffering the parchment.

“From whom?”

“Confidential, sir.”

The guard eyed me with the suspicion he undoubtedly eyed everyone with. He finally grunted. “Well, give it here.”

I stepped forward and held out the scroll. The guard kept his hand on the hilt of his sword and reached out with his other to grasp the scroll.

NOW!

I shot forward, gripped the guard’s wrist, and tore his arm clean from the socket. Before he even had a chance to scream, I’d drawn my sword, decapitated him, and split the man beside him from crown to crotch. I dashed between the falling halves of the split man, impaled the gawking guard behind him, then twirled around and flung my sword end-over-end at the fourth guard. It punctured his breastplate, caved it in like it was cheap tin, then exploded from his back. The sword carried into the next man, struck him in the crotch, and finished its final rotation by splattering his head with the crossguard. The five bodies hit the ground nearly at once, the whole act taking less than a second.

Too slow. I frowned to myself. I rolled into the tent, shot upright, punched through the helmed skulls of two guards flanking the entrance, and brought their bodies together just as three Nadi bolts twanged from aimed crossbows. The projectile thudded into the backs of my impromptu shields, and I retracted my hands from the mush of their hollowed faces, tore the swords from their scabbards, and sent the weapons spinning like boomerangs into opposite corners of the tent. The two guards there were chopped in half, leaving only the final guard staring down the sites of his crossbow, not yet realizing he hadn’t hit his mark. The two bodies before me dropped, the two bodies in the corners dropped, and the guard lowered his crossbow, blinking confusedly at me. I turned to my left.

“General Polantius?” I asked.

The old man mouthed soundlessly at me. I punched a hole through his neck, then turned to my right.

“Field Marshal Droughtius?” I asked as Polantius’s head thudded against the table.

The field marshal stared implacably up at me. “I understand you have a message for me.”

I nodded.

“And it’s from the Dark Queen?” He asked gruffly, his quivering mustache betraying his terror.

I nodded again.

He cleared his throat. “Well for fuck’s sake, deliver it then!” He roared, and I tore his head clean off his shoulders. His body slouched in his chair, then spilled onto the floor. Outside, the alarm bells began to toll.

“Are you going to kill me too?” The guard asked.

“That depends,” I said, setting the head on the table, “do you have a lot of friends?”

“What?”

“Are you a popular lad?”

“I guess I am.” The guard swallowed. “But I won’t tell anyone a thing, I swear it!”

“You misunderstand me, my dear boy; I want you to tell everyone what you just saw, and don’t be afraid to embellish! I am the greatest artist of death Tenvalia has ever seen! I am a ballerina of blood, a dancer of destruction, a… a…” I sighed, “…a poor poet to be sure. My name is Drake Titus -I’m sure you’ve heard of me-, and well…” I frowned down at the elven body I was stuck in, “…if you can believe it, I’m actually quite an imposing fellow. Tell your eleven lady friends that I was eight feet tall with jet black hair, eyes like rubies and the body of an Adonis.” I thought on that for a moment, “Actually, tell your good-looking man friends as well. Tell them that after this silly war is over, they can find me in the crypts of Castle Alkandra, where I’ll be hosting wonderfully lavish parties of the greatest debauchery. Oh, and do make sure to convey how charming I was, will you?”

The guard just nodded.

“Wonderful.” I grinned, and patted his cheek. Then I spun on my heel, waltzed out of the tent, and dropped to my belly just before a score of Nadi bolts porcupined me. There was a gurgling moan in the tent behind me, and the sounds of an armored man crashing to his knees, then to his face.

“Goddamn it.” I muttered, and sprung to my feet. I caved in one man’s skull with a quick jab, snatched his halberd, decapitated another man, drove the blunt butt of the weapon through another’s foot, spun, tossed the weapon in a wide arc, and toppled five men with the impact, the haft snapping and sending the heavy blade careening into a sixth man, folding him over before it exited his pelvis and chopped another man’s legs off just below the hip. I grabbed a mace from the ground, disintegrated a man’s shoulder in a fantastic spray of crimson, burst a man’s head like a watermelon on the backswing, then ducked a sword that seemed to be moving in slow motion, and turned my assailant’s knee backward with an indignant kick. I finished the motion by thrusting upward, and burying the head of the weapon into the jaw of a man would had been trying to chop me like firewood. The top of his head exploded like confetti, and I left the mace there, and grabbed his hand-axe as it slipped from his dead fingers. I pushed his body out of the way, grabbed a spearhead aimed at my chest, and split the man behind it down the middle. He stayed together for a moment, then peeled away to reveal a man with a crossbow aimed at my throat. I got my arm up just in time. I felt the impact, but nothing else. Nothing at all. The arm fell limp and useless to my side, the entire limb naught but dead weight hanging from my shoulder. It had been a very long time since I’d known mortal terror, but I felt it then. What an exhilarating thing it was. I imbedded my axe into the man’s skull, took a sword right in the chest, then impaled myself down the length of the blade to tear out the bastard’s throat. I ducked an axe swing, grabbed the sword in my chest by the blade, tore it out, and opened the axe-swinger from navel to sternum. His golden shell split to reveal the pink spaghetti of his insides, and he dropped to his knees just in time for my sword to pass over his head, and eviscerate the man behind him. Then I felt another pang, and my right leg folded beneath me. I dropped to my left knee, grabbed a spear, and launched it. It stuck the man who had shot me in the chest, and carried him screaming backwards, knocking over the men behind him like bowling pins. It was the path I needed. I dashed through the press of bodies on my one good leg, hopping like a fantastic jackrabbit as my lame leg flopped behind me. Then I was facing down fifteen men with wooden stakes, Nadi sap dripping from the sharpened tips. I dug my toes into the ground, pivoted, and launched myself into a tent. A very perplexed minstrel sat tuning his guitar.

“Play Raining Blood by Slayer.” I gasped.

“I don’t… what is…”

I shot out of the back of the tent and into the back of another one. One man stood gawking at me, while the other man leaned backward from his partner’s crotch and opened his mouth to yell.

“Shh!” I hissed, holding a finger to my mouth, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”

I left the two terrified and confused men in their tent and limped onto the promenade. The camp was in absolute chaos. Tents were catching fire like kindling, scaffolding was collapsing, horses were stampeded, and men were running in every-which direction with no semblance of order. Officers screamed futile commands and pointed at one disaster, then another. Platoons of frantic soldiers sprinted past me without so much as glancing sideways, and I grabbed a spear from a nearby rack, and played the part of the wounded soldier as I limbed my way down toward the bog. Then I heard a scream in my head, and felt a century-old connection snap. Igor. No. I gritted my teeth, and limped a little faster toward the bog. Another scream, and another severed connection. Vladimir. Then another. Ivan. Then another. Monica. Melanie, Helga, Vasyli, Bella, Nikita, Sasha!

What the fuck is going on?!

Mages! Ivanka’s panicked voice answered, hundreds of them, they came out of nowhere!

Time to abort! Fall back to the bog!

I dropped my spear, and charged toward the bank, no longer caring for subterfuge; it didn’t matter with mages anyway. A Nadi bolt shot into my back, collapsing my shoulder. I kept my pace, ducking between gawking soldiers, smashing weapons out of my way with my one good arm. Another bolt hit me right in the ass, sending me tumbling to the ground. They surrounded me like wolves before a felled buffalo, their spearheads like gnashing jaws, the smell of Nadi on their tips. I could see the edge of the bog a mere fifty feet away. So close. So close!

Now! I screamed.

Hundreds of my children launched from the murky water and tore into the unsuspecting men on the shoreline. My body burst from the ergonomics it had been confined to just as Zander came into view, energy streaming from his hand and staff like tendrils of light that canlı bahis melted the armored imperials it sought. Tall, pale figures sprinted from the campsite, discarding too-small armor that hung from them in tatters. So few had returned. I growled, dug my good foot into the wet ground, and shot toward the shoreline. Three bolts thudded into my back, one hitting the spine. I collapsed in a heap. Boots surrounded me, blocking my view of the waterfront. The points of Nadi stakes scraped against the ground before me, their horrible green stench burning my nostrils. Then I couldn’t see the points anymore, only feel them as they punctured my back again, and again, and again; each thrust seeking my heart, each one getting closer. In that moment, I realized I had never actually thought I was going to die. I wasn’t ready. Oh god, I wasn’t ready! Not now! Just one more day, one more hour, one more minute! Just one more-

Shut up, Dad! Tiffany snarled as she and Ivanka plowed through my attackers, ripping them limb from limb. I was hoisted between my daughters and dragged over the mossy rocks, the water shimmering in the fire of the campsite, safety, freedom, life! There was an explosion. Then there was light. Light that I could feel in my bones, light that tore through me like a blast of wind. Solar light. Hundreds of screams erupted in my head. Such horrific sounds, like the sounds of pig squeals after the fatal cut had been made. And it smelled like bacon, didn’t it? The stench saturated my sinuses, and in my horror, I realized what it was! I lurched to the side, the support on my right dropping away, an indescribable screech cutting into my ears. My god, was that a woman making that sound? I couldn’t discern it from the chaos of my mind, a discordant choir of tortured wails to accompany the blinding white heat that bathed me, that bubbled my numb flesh like sizzling fat on a cast iron stove. The support on my left was failing, whatever it was holding me seeming to droop on its own weight. I was on the ground again, or at least I thought I was. My eyes couldn’t see, and yet, there was nothing but that terrible light, that terrible light and the screams in my head. But they were getting quieter. One by one, the screams dwindled away until there were only twenty. Then nineteen, eighteen, seventeen, sixteen… blackness. Sweet blackness enveloped me like a mother’s embrace, taking me into its heavenly chill. Was it death? No, for death was nothing, and this oblivion was full of such bliss. I was in water. I was beneath the murky depths of the bog, but how had I gotten here? Oh yes, I’d been carried. Carried by…

Tiffany?

I’m here. She whispered, her voice so faint in my mind.

Ivanka? I asked, but I knew I would never hear her reply again.

Tiffany sobbed as she dragged me through the muck, leaving behind the sister who had been by her side long before she’d become my child. I didn’t think she would ever forgive me.

ELENA

“…how is it that a woman who lived her whole life in nobility doesn’t know a damn thing about fashion?!” Leveria bemoaned once again. We were in her closet, struggling through her extensive wardrobe.

“I don’t see why pants and a shirt won’t work.” I grumbled.

“Pants and a shirt?!”

“It’s utilitarian. If I’m going to Lord Ternias as myself, then shouldn’t I be wearing-”

“Shut up.” Leveria put her fingers to my lips, “You’re not shooting arrows in the forest, Ranger, you’re attempting to infiltrate a conspiracy in the highest echelons of the aristocracy. Would you wear a bright yellow dress to camouflage in the woods?”

“No.”

“Exactly. We need something elegant, but sexy. Ternias needs to see you as a noble woman’s daughter, but also an Alkandran loyalist. Something he can understand, and something that intrigues him.” Leveria paused at a dress, and cocked her head. “Perfect.”

The dress was a vivid crimson, strapless to expose my athletic shoulders and robust chest, but with a bodice that concealed enough cleavage to be tasteful. It formed tightly to my body, contouring me in a shapely silhouette from chest to ankles. I was absolutely shocked at how… pretty I looked. I’d never worn lipstick before, and it shown vivid red and luscious from my full lips. I’d never worn eyeshadow before, and it turned my eyes to luminous orbs within mysterious smoky depths.

“Wow,” I muttered, “I’m fucking hot.”

Leveria laughed and wrapped her arms around my shoulders. “Did you just realize it?” She breathed into my hair, “You’re the sexiest fucking bitch on this planet, and it’s taking every inch of my will not to tear that dress off you right now.”

I rotated in the mirror, marveling at the woman who looked back at me, the splendid curves rising beneath the lustrous fabric. There was one glaring discontinuity, however. “I guess I could just tuck it between my legs and keep it contained with my panties.” I mused.

“What? No, that defeats the entire purpose of the dress!”

“You want him to see it?”

Leveria grinned devilishly. “The nobles are notorious perverts, Elena, and on a beauty like you, your cock isn’t a deformity, but a novelty. It would’ve been uncouth to reveal yourself before the entire court, but in private, you should be anything but subtle. Besides, Ternias is expecting a true representative from Alkandra, and so you must not disappoint.”

“You want me to fuck him?!”

“I want you to string him along until he’s drooling at the mere mention of you.” Leveria tittered, “I wouldn’t ask you to give your virginity to Lucas Ternias, yuck!”

I looked back at her with a crooked smile. “You think I’m a virgin?”

Leveria raised her brows. “You’re a homosexual. I don’t doubt that Yavara’s shoved everything imaginable up your orifices, but that doesn’t really count.”

I laughed. “Babe, I’m half dark-elf; I fuck everything with a pulse.” I grabbed her and pulled her giggling into my arms, “So don’t think you’re so special. But you’re right, I am gay… in both genders.”

“Interesting…” Leveria gave me an appraising look, “So, are you a top or a bottom?”

“Oh, I bottom hard.” I giggled, “I’m such a hopeless little faggot.”

“I’d love to see that side of you.” Leveria grinned, running her hand along my jaw, “Who did you lose your virginity to?”

“Brock Terdini.”

“Brock Terdini?!” She gasped, “How?!”

“I’m very elastic.” I grinned down at Leveria’s awed face, “Though were it not for Zander’s healing spell, I wouldn’t have been able to walk the next day.”

“You are endlessly fascinating, you know that?” Leveria took a gentle hold of my chin, “I thought I at least had more experience in the man department, but you’ve had an eight-foot tall orc notched on your bedpost this whole time. I can’t compete with you, can I?”

“It’s a futile endeavor.” I chuckled, “Though, I’ve never actually given head before.”

“No?” Leveria raised her brows, then grinned, “Good thing you’ve been learning from the master then.” She dropped to her knees, hoisted up my skirt, and began teaching me a valuable lesson. I entangled my fingers into her fine hair and bit my lip as I eased myself into a chair, marveling at the sensation of her lips pulling so generously upon my loins, her tongue caressing me gently, then lathering my shaft in sloppy hedonism, tasting all that she could as she took me into her throat. She guided my legs to part with gentle hands, slid three fingers into my flowering slit, and pushed two more into my puckered anus. I groaned, my high heels scraping against the floor as I spread my legs even wider, my skirt bunching at my hips, my free hand brought to my mouth so that I could suck indulgently upon each finger.

“Leveria?” A masculine voice called from the other side of the door. She froze, her eyes going wide. “Leveria?” The voice called again. I recognized it the second time, though barely. What had once been a stately and commanding baritone was reduced to a rasping tenor, its inflection sounding like a plea. “Leveria?” Clartias Tiadoa asked his daughter a third time, his knuckles rapping the bedroom door. Leveria took a deep breath through her nose, then pulled my cock from her mouth.

“Father, I’m terribly busy.” She called, “I’ll go to your château later tonight, I promise.”

“I haven’t seen you in weeks.” He said, “I know you well enough to know you’re avoiding me.”

“There’s a war.”

“I am well aware of the going-ons of state, though I care for them less each day. You used to make time for us no matter the crisis, now you won’t even open your door for me. Come girl, at least let me see your face.”

‘I’ll leave.’’ I mouthed, pulling away from her.

‘NO!’ She mouthed back, not letting me go. “Father, I will come to your château tonight, but I am busy now!” She said firmly, “I thought you of all people would understand the pressure I’m under.”

“Oh, I understand.” He croaked, “I understand it intimately. Do you know where that leads? Alone in a château to drink your days away like a retired horse sent to pasture, shunned by the ones you love for being nothing more than an inconvenience.”

“You made yourself an inconvenience, old man.” Leveria hissed with such venom that it made my blood cold.

Clartias didn’t answer for a moment, but I swore I heard weeping on the other side of the door. Finally, through a strained voice, he moaned, “Leveria?”

“Goodbye, Father.” She answered with cold finality. He shuffled away. She cocked her head, her pointed ear perked to hear the sounds of his waning footsteps. Then she rolled her eyes and smiled at me. “Now, where were we?”

“You’re a vicious cunt.”

“Mm-hmm.” She giggled, licking my tip.

“Sometimes I almost forget.”

“Don’t ever forget, Elena.” Her sapphire eyes twinkled as she sniffed the length of my cock, and shivered perceptibly, “My heart isn’t cold, but it is a terrible multitasker.”

Before I could question that statement further, she enveloped me into her throat, and all my worries and misgivings washed away.

ADRIANNA

Furia had her arms wrapped around my waist, her breasts pillowed against my back, and her crotch pressed against my ass as we rode my horse. I was used to having a woman in that position, but I wasn’t used to the feeling of her bulge nestled between my cheeks. Even more alien was the comfort I derived from it, and even worse were the tinges of excitement I felt when it pulsed against my crack. Even worse than that, was the way I looked back at her with my inviting smile, and shifted so that she could press herself deeper. It wasn’t just her body I liked. Furia was an unassuming girl with a curious mind and a quirky sense of humor, but beneath that was a warrior of limitless fury, and that was who I wanted to… taste..

It had been three days since we left Castle Thorum, and though I slept beside Furia every night, the breakneck pace Yavara set us upon left everyone, even the nymphs, too exhausted to do anything but collapse into slumber when night fell. During the day’s travel, I had gotten to know the other hybrids, those who once called me ‘Commander,’ and we’d become fast friends. I guessed it was a natural friendship, for our situation didn’t allow for much commonality with anyone else in the world. We rode together in Yavara’s column, sharing old stories and remembering lost friends. We even talked about the future, though I was loath to. I was surprised when the others didn’t share my sentiment. They seemed excited for a chance at a new life, and brushed away the loss of their old one. I wondered if Yavara was right about them.

The outline of Castle Alkandra was revealed as we crested a hill. It was a gothic structure, with twisting spires that cornered it, and imposing black walls that stood a hundred feet on a side. It was a strange sight in an empty field, where even the ruins of old Alkandra had been turned to rubble over the centuries. Yavara marveled at her new home as we approached it, but her joy soon turned to concern the closer we got.

“Oh shit,” Yavara said as she stared at the sprawling settlement that had sprung up around Castle Alkandra, “who the fuck are these people?”

“Former citizens of Ardeni Dreus.” Arbor replied, “They have been coming here for days.”

“How the fuck am I supposed to feed them?!”

“The soil is fertile and moist, and will bear fruit with the right amount of love.” Arbor said, sinking her bare foot into the ground, “My children and I can help you grow the crops, but I will need help to harvest them.”

“You,” Yavara said to a passing goblin, “who’s in charge here?”

“You are, my queen.” The goblin said, bowing dramatically.

“Who was in charge here?”

“Certiok Terdini.” The goblin pointed toward the castle.

We rode through the campsite, dodging unorganized traffic and navigating makeshift roads. “Make way for the queen!” Someone shouted, and a path of prostrators was formed before us. The Ardeni beasts numbered in the thousands, and were milling about setting up residency and hashing out territory with no administrators or regulations. They planted their tents where ever they had room, and room was becoming sparse. Conversely, the Protaki and Terdini lived in spacious huts they’d built close to the castle moat, giving them immediate access to freshwater and the security of living so close to the castle. The moat was a manmade tributary cut from the Knife River, and so flowed back to its source, carrying all the waste the Terdini and Protaki saw fit to dump in it. That waste was, of course, the water supply for the encampment. For all Yavara’s talk about how her kingdom would be different, it was certainly starting out on a familiar note.

Certiok Terdini was in a large hut closest to the castle, frantically shouting orders and losing her temper with every syllable. She looked near to weeping when she saw Yavara. “Thank god you’re here!” She cried, running up to us.

“Certiok,” Yavara said, “what is going on?”

“They just keep coming!” Certiok exclaimed, “Hundreds more every day off the boats from Ardeni Dreus! I was put in charge because I’m a chief’s daughter, but Dad’s method of population management was to just starve the citizens into submission, and well…” she gestured heatedly at the massive camp, “…I didn’t want to emulate him, but the surrounding forest’s been foraged and hunted to nothing, and the river’s been fished clean! Your Highness, I can’t keep-”

“Thank you, Certiok.” Yavara said, putting a calming hand on the she-orc’s shoulder, “You’ve done a wonderful job, better than anyone could’ve asked for.”

Certiok visibly relaxed. “Well, I tried my best. It’ll be good to have someone in charge who actually knows what she’s doing.”

“Yes.” Yavara said, then turned to me, “Adrianna, you’re now the acting governess of Alkandra.”

“Wut.” I said dumbly, not quite processing what she’d just said. The other hybrids gawked at me, and Certiok looked at us like she’d just noticed us for the first time.

“You were in charge of supplying, feeding, housing, training and governing a battalion for over a decade.” Yavara said, “Castle Thorum was essentially a city unto itself, so who better to govern Alkandra than you?”

“Um… you?!” I said disbelievingly.

“I’m much more of a figurehead than an administrator; you know, the big-picture kind of gal.” She flashed her winning smile, “Besides, I’m a bonafide weapon of mass destruction, and in case you haven’t heard, there’s a war going on.”

“With all due respect, my queen,” I said, completely thrown off by my new promotion, “I’m probably not the best choice.”

“Nonsense! Name someone else with your credentials.”

“Probably somebody who the entire city doesn’t want to kill.” Certiok cut in, narrowing her eyes at me.

Yavara turned to Certiok. “Thomas Adarian has paid dearly for his crimes against the tribes, but Adrianna is innocent of them. She is a most valued asset and ally of mine, and I will be very angry if her, or any of the other hybrids are harmed in any way.”

“So we’re to be ruled by elves again?!” Certiok growled.

“What am I, Certiok?” Yavara asked gently, “They are not imperials any longer, but creatures of my flesh and blood. That makes them nearly my children, which makes them nearly royalty. You will treat them with respect, you will follow their orders, and you will help organize this clusterfuck into something that resembles a city.”

“My queen,” I interjected, “I still don’t think-”

“Thank you for undertaking this monumental task, Governess Adrianna.” Yavara smiled sweetly, but her eyes were deadly, “I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I expect to see great progress bahis siteleri when I arrive.” And with that, Yavara launched herself from her horse and into the sky. I stared up, dumbfounded at what had just transpired.

Furia embraced me tightly from behind and kissed my cheek. “You’re going to do great.”

ELENA

Lord Lucas Ternias was a very dangerous man. Leveria had told me as much, but I hadn’t realized the breadth of it until I met him. It wasn’t that he was physically imposing, for I was sure I could’ve killed him a hundred different ways with just my hands; it was his talent with people that made him deadly. He was much like Leveria, and that made me wary. For the one time I’d faced off against Leveria, I’d done so with the advantage of a day’s preparation, tactful deception, and the element of surprise, and she’d still crushed me like an insignificant bug.

“My lady.” He said with a sweeping bow, kissing my proffered hand. He was a handsome man, I supposed, though older.

“My lord.” I answered, my voice echoing in the atrium of his expansive estate house in Ternianas, the fiefdom of the Ternias family. I was used to the pomp and pageantry of noble houses, having grown up in one myself, but the shear amount of ornamentation in the Ternias estate was nearly nauseating. The lord escorted Glendian and I up an expansive staircase, and into a lavish office. He bid me to sit, then poured wine for the three of us before sitting opposite me.

“So,” He said magnanimously, swirling the wine in his glass, “you’re Lydia’s daughter. You can imagine that I’ve heard many stories about you since your arrival.”

“I imagine we’ve heard quite a few stories about one another from quite a few biased mouths.” I said, leaning back in my chair, “Perhaps we should hear it from the source.”

“You might find that the source is the most unreliable mouth to hear it from.” Ternias smiled, “But sometimes the face shows what the mouth won’t tell.”

“You fancy yourself a reader of people, don’t you?” I uncrossed and crossed my legs, “I’m sure you can read between the lines.”

Ternias might’ve been well-trained to keep his eyes off a woman’s chest, but he was wholly unprepared for what moved between my legs. He stared for a long second before recovering, but when he met my eyes, he wasn’t in the least bit bashful about it. “Some rumors I couldn’t believe until seen with my own eyes.” He said softly.

“Sometimes even seeing isn’t enough.” I replied over my glass, drawing him into my azure gaze.

Ternias glanced at Glendian. “The headmaster told me you were a captive of our merciful and kindly monarch, yet you seem to operate with autonomy.”

“Glendian also told you about the threat facing my mother if I disobey her majesty.” I replied.

“Ah yes, the assassin.” Ternias said with amusement, “Leveria has shadows following all the nobles at all times. It’s her security blanket in case things become disastrous for her. She has a healthy amount of paranoia, I believe.”

“And do you have one of Leveria’s shadows, my lord?”

“I’ve had several, but after sending eight of their heads back to Leveria in gift-wrapped boxes, she apparently couldn’t find another to take on the job.” Ternias said lightly. He took a sip of his wine, “I know who shadows your mother. I know where he lives, I know when he reports to the queen, and I know how he intends to kill Lady Straltaira if so ordered. What I can’t account for, is you.”

“You think I have a shadow?”

Ternias cocked his head. “I think you are a shadow, my dear Elena Straltaira. I just don’t know whose.”

“My allegiance is with Yavara.”

“Is it?” Ternias smiled crookedly.

“It is, and it always will be.”

“That performance you put on for us yesterday was absolutely spectacular. The shear audacity of it!” Ternias barked a laugh. Then his smile faded, though the mirth didn’t leave his eyes. “The game played between houses is a subtle one, and our queen is one of the best there is. There are layers to the game, you understand, and-”

“You sound just like her.” I laughed, interrupting him.

“We’re very much alike.” Ternias smiled back, “Although, I’m less prone to murder than she; it’s a tactic that must be used sparingly to have the greatest effect. Isn’t that right, Headmaster Glendian?”

The headmaster was asleep in his chair, his wine glass resting on his bulbous belly. A belly that wasn’t rising with slumberous breaths, for Glendian was not sleeping, nor breathing. I stuck my finger down my throat, and emptied my stomach onto the floor.

“There was no need for that, Elena.” Ternias said, offering me a handkerchief, “If I was going to kill you, I would never warn you of it first.”

“You’re sure I won’t return the favor?” I spat, pulling off my stiletto heel.

“I’m sure you’re more than capable, but I’m also betting that you’re smart enough not to.”

“That’s a hell of a lot to gamble.”

“Am I wrong?” Ternias raised his brows. He reached into the bowl next to him, and proffered a small candy. “Peppermint? I imagine the wine wasn’t half as good the second time.”

I wiped my lips, then took the mint from his hand and popped it in my mouth. “Why?” I asked.

“Headmaster Glendian would not have brought you here unless Leveria asked him to; he was too much of a coward to do that. I have no more use for him, and frankly, neither does she. I think I did everyone a favor, including you.”

“How’s that?”

“By giving you plausible deniability. With him dead, you and I can speak plainly.”

“And what do we have to talk about, Lucas?” I asked, putting my shoe back on.

Ternias stood up and offered me his hand. “If it will please you, my lady, I much prefer to conspire without a pool of vomit between us.”

Ternias led me through the ornate halls of his estate, the baroque décor turning to marble pylons and statues. The sound of running water met my ears before we entered a large, bright room. Gold leaf speckled the tan-marble walls, which vaulted a domed ceiling completely covered in glass, letting soft sunlight bathe the circular pool that took up most of the floorspace, a two-story statue of some heathen elven goddess standing naked in the center of it.

“Diodratias.” Ternias said, gesturing to the statue, “Legend said she was an Earth Former who carved the Bentius Bay. That is why the cliffs there are so precise. Do you prefer men or women?”

“Come again?”

“Men or women?” Ternias asked simply. He rang a bell beside the threshold, and two dawn-elves emerged from the other side of the room. They were both in their late teens, their olive complexion painted over nubile bodies, their long scarlet hair tucked behind their pointed ears. One was a boy of modest build, his body supple and lean; the other was a girl of slender proportions, her smooth complexion equally soft. They were both topless, only a velvet cloth to keep their modesty. They both had gold chokers wrapping their elegant necks.

“My lord Ternias, slavery is quite illegal in the Highlands.”

“Is it?” Ternias laughed, “Maybe someone should arrest me then. Elena, this is Lilith, and her brother, Mateo. Mateo, Lilith, this is Elena.”

They each bowed, their faces cast downward demurely, their hands laced before them. I walked around them, examining each carefully, looking for signs of abuse. There weren’t any. I feared that these elves were more slaves of the mind than of shackles. I doubted they’d known anything else their whole lives. I caressed the tantalizing shadow of Lilith’s spine, and she shivered in anticipation, a small whimper escaping her lush, dark lips. I did the same with Mateo, and he reacted almost identically to his sister. It stirred something in me to see such vulnerability in a boy. His face was hairless and angular, his features so fair they were pretty, the androgyny only exaggerated by the way his long scarlet hair flowed over his delicate shoulders, the tips tickling his flat boyish chest.

“I think I’ll have… both.” I said airily, filling my hands with their asses. They both hissed in desire, their nubile bodies bowing into my touch as I squeezed tighter. I looked between them at their master, “If that’s alright with you.”

“That’s more than alright.” Ternias said, easing himself into a wicker chair.

“You won’t join us?” I raised a brow, “So I got all dolled up for nothing?”

“I fear my participation would only mar the masterpiece.” Ternias poured himself another glass of wine, and regarded me, “I have read extensively of Alkandra’s history since the return of the Dark Queen. It is said that the dark-elves’ beauty rivalled the fairest princesses, and their prowess in the arts of lust was unearthly. Voyeurs would travel hundreds of miles just to stand audience in the Dark Queen’s court, and witness the way she and her daughters bestrode the beasts of Alkandra.”

Mateo and Lilith moved on me, their touch as light as a feather’s as they undid the lacing of my dress. My breasts burst from the red bodice, and I guided both scarlet-haired beauties to suckle from me. I pressed Mateo against me, and felt his stiff cock against my thigh. I pressed Lilith to my other side, and she felt my stiffness against her own leg. She gasped, pulling away from me to stare with mouth agape at the bulge in my skirt. Then she blushed furiously, and began to apologize.

“Don’t.” I smiled, pressing my finger to her pouty lips. She regained herself, and wrapped those lips around my digit. I pressed Mateo’s face deeper to my breast, feeling his muzzle smoosh around the molding fat of my bronze dome, his lips nursing so tenderly. I reached down and caressed him beneath his loin cloth, gently running my fingers against his testicles and shaft. Both were bound by a metallic ring, causing the sensitive flesh to bulge around the constraint. He shivered when I touched the area around it, his modest cock leaking its desire onto my palm. I pulled him from my breast, and tasted his kiss. Oh, he was submissive, nearly feminine in his liquid movements, but the pathetic thing in my hand was a masculine tool, and he moaned in my mouth each time I squeezed it. I withdrew from the kiss, smiling possessively at the boy, taking my finger from his sister’s mouth to caress his clean-shaven face.

“You know what I want, don’t you Mateo?” I whispered.

“Yes, Mistress.” He said, such a soft voice for a man. He descended me, his big emerald eyes watching from beneath his scarlet mane as he took the hem of my dress, and rolled it up until my cock sprung hard and leaking from it. He grasped it with the lightest touch, then opened his mouth around my tip, and took me in. I closed my eyes, and marveled at the wet tenderness of his tongue, the hot suction of his lips, the coiling embrace of his throat. With grace, I lowered myself to my knees, and guided Lilith behind me. I felt her little fingers delicately pry my cheeks apart, then I felt her little tongue slither into my leaking slit. She joined her brother between my legs, and the siblings began consuming the parts they were the most intimately familiar with. I rocked between them, my hands entangled in their hair, my dress becoming dark with the perspiration of pleasure. With each thrust forward, I slowly pushed myself down Mateo’s throat as I stared into his subservient gaze, his lips so succulent against the base of my cock. With each push back, my spine arched to press my nethers into Lilith, and I looked over my shoulder to see her emerald eyes twinkling as she tasted the ovule of my flower, the point of her narrow nose pressing pleasantly into the center of my anus. I tilted my face toward the ceiling, sounding a hedonistic growl as I indulged in the sibling depravity, the wet heat of their mouths working so pleasantly upon my lewd options. I leveled my gaze on Ternias to see him examining me like a work of art, not attending to the erection that bulged from his pants.

“What do you want of me?” I hissed at him.

“I have a proposition that I believe will suit both mine and Yavara’s purposes.”

“And that is?”

“Kill the queen, kill her husband, and kill their unborn child.”

I actually laughed. “So that you can capture me, mute me, and put me to the rack before the wrathful masses? If you want to kill two birds with one stone, I suggest you find another rock.”

Ternias shrugged. “Can you blame a man for trying?”

“I can, actually. Even Leveria didn’t ask me to kill you, and I would make such a perfect scapegoat for your assassination. If you don’t show me the same respect she does, then you can show me the door.”

“My apologies, Miss Straltaira. I only thought to appeal to the direct nature of your ranger background. Glendian gave me a poor account of your character; I see you play a subtle game as well.” Ternias took a sip of wine, “While you were in transit to Ternianas, I received a message by mirror from one of my generals in the army. One of the few generals left, anyway. There was a vampire raid early this morning, and we lost fifty-three commanding officers. The army has been thrown into utter chaos.”

I chuckled as I brought Mateo against my groin. “You’re a civilian, Lord Ternias, so I forgive you for not knowing this, but there’s a thing called ‘rank’ in the military. When one man falls, the next man takes his place. Fifty-three deaths cannot cripple an army of eighty-thousand.”

“Yes, well the army was stirred up a bit last week. It’s my fault, really; my military influence is sparse at best, and I wanted to weaken Leveria’s as much as I could before I made my move. If I’d done it myself, we wouldn’t be in this mess, but I’d used the good Lady Jonias as my pawn, and Leveria turned her into a rook before I could counter. Catherine Jonias, bless her sweet heart, is an idiot, and so military rank-and-file was absolutely decimated. It will take weeks to repair.”

The pulling in my loins intensified, and I had to force myself from Mateo’s mouth before I emptied myself into it. He coyly licked the cum that bubbled from my tip, awaiting my next desire. I guided him to turn around, and lie on his belly. He rocked back on his knees, and his cheeks spread before me, the olive flesh darkening along the crack, but his aperture surrounded by bright pink skin, hairless and coiled tightly. He looked back at me with eyes full of vulnerability, biting his lip in anticipation. I grinned at him, and brought my lips to his anus. He gasped, his knees sliding apart on the tile floor, the arch of his back deepening. My tongue pushed through his fleshy resistance and burrowed into his tight channel, lathering his smooth bore with my spit, tasting the decadent tang of his filth. Behind me, Lilith transitioned to my ass, wrapping her lips and sucking as her tongue outlined my spokes. I quivered in delight, and brought my hands together between her brother’s legs. With one hand, I gently massaged Mateo’s testicles, and with the other, I milked his stiff cock. My grip twisted down his length, pulling on his cock-ring to send the pressure surging to his tip. He groaned in pleasure, shimming his hips in a way a man never should, his toned backside clenching around my consuming mouth. When he was ready, I planted a final kiss, leaving a red print of my lipstick around his swollen, winking anus, and rose languorously to face Ternias once again.

“So,” I said breathily, “that’s why you didn’t kill me with Glendian. The outcome of the war is no longer certain, and all your carefully laid plans are crashing down.”

“Everyone’s plans are. You and Leveria’s ruse of a rebellion won’t hold up once Wentz learns that Yavara has gained the allegiance of the Ten.”

I laughed. “I wish I could say I was party to that ruse, Lord Ternias. That ‘performance’ was me trying my best to represent Yavara.”

His brows raised a fraction. “I’m surprised Leveria let you live after such a betrayal. Why would she do that?”

I grinned wickedly at him. “Let me show you.” I pressed my tip against Mateo’s tight aperture, slowly increasing the force as his pelvic floor bowed inward with tension, the flesh growing taut. Then it loosed, his taint relaxing into place as his resistance gave way, and I penetrated a man for the first time. He moaned with me, his rim clinging to my shaft, his channel squeezing me into his vile heat, welcoming me. I gripped his supple glutes and spread him to see the full extent of his violation, enjoying the sight of me disappearing into his pink center. I met resistance halfway in, and he whimpered pathetically, his shoulder-blades jutting from his back.

I guided his sister out from behind me, then took Mateo by the hips, and gracefully pulled him bahis şirketleri into a seated position atop me. He cried out, his arms straight and rigid as he held himself up by my knees, the last few inches of my cock throbbing beneath his spread buttocks. I cooed soothingly into his ear, petting his leaking phallus with gentle fingers, stirring his rectum with sensual motions of my hips. Lilith crawled to his front, and rose to meet her brother. She kissed him sweetly on the lips, a sisterly peck that would’ve looked innocuous from the shoulders up. Then she smiled against his mouth, and their kiss devolved into a lecherous consumption of tongues. They had crossed the forbidden line long ago. She descended his body, then took his cock from my hands, and devoured it to the hilt. Mateo’s body turned languid, the comforting nature of our lust sapping his strength. He eased down my shaft until his olive cheeks pillowed against my crotch, and I was buried all the way inside him. I kissed him on the shoulder, then the neck. I turned his face to mine, and slithered my tongue into his mouth. I was dominating, yes, but I was so gentle with the boy. When I thrusted into him, it was with long, slow motions, letting him acclimate to every inch of me, letting him enjoy the contours of my cock as it pierced him, as I violated the most intimate places within. But so tenderly, so maternally. Each thrust turned his stiff posture into a languorous sprawl until his legs splayed outside mine, and he was arching his back in pleasure, pushing his plump ass against me and clenching from within.

I guided Lilith to cease her suckling, and bend over before her brother. She looked back with expectant emerald eyes while I moved to my knees with Mateo, our homosexual joining like an intimate dance of swaying hips and locked lips, his neck craning to receive my kiss still. I grabbed his ringed cock, positioned it against his sister’s slit, and thrusted. She cried out, a sound of relief and ecstasy alike. She moved against her brother in a practiced manner, but it was I who controlled his love. I drove into him harder, and harder, and harder; mingling roughness with sensuality, compelling his hips as though they were my own. I saw the shock on her face, her mouth falling into an oval, her eyes widening. Then I saw the awe dawn across her portrait, her brow knitting, her agape mouth quirking into smiling corners. Mateo cried out with each penetration, his asshole trained for me now, garnering no pain from my sudden impacts and deep insertions, but only a pleasure that made his prostate churn with delight against my shaft, compelling him to clench around me, compelling him to move like the little faggot he was to take me deeper. And Lilith, so coy and timid before, now showed me the brother-fucking slut she truly was, her body undulating to meet his thrusts, her back bowing in hedonistic splendor as her olive-toned ass jiggled to our fervent rhythm. Faster and faster we went, out flesh glistening with exertion, our contact becoming slippering. Mateo began crying out with each thrust, his lightly-muscled shoulders tensing, his neck striating. Lilith spun around on his member to press herself front-to-front with him, and we kissed over his shoulder as we assaulted him from both sides, making him a captive of our feminine curves, squishing busts and writhing hips. The boiling in my loins reached the point of no return, and I grabbed Mateo by the hair and railed into his shithole until his eyes were rolling back, his prostate churning in pulsations of release. Lilith hyperventilated against her brother’s chest as she ascended with him, and at once, we surged into a final motion, ending in a paralysis of incalculable tension with every muscle fiber standing on end, enraptured by the ecstasy coursing through us. Then I emptied myself into Mateo’s rectum, and he did the same into Lilith’s pussy, and we folded atop one another in a heaving mass of release.

With the torpidity and fluidity of a basking snake, I slithered into the sibling pile, parted Lilith’s legs, and sucked the nectar from her flower. Oh, dawn-elf was absolutely decadent, and my eyes rolled in satisfaction as Lilith sounded her whimpers. Then I withdrew myself from her brother’s ass, grabbed her by the hair, and made her taste the seed that flowed freely from his gape. Mateo lied on his back and grabbed his legs to allow her better access, and my eyes fell to the wilting organ in his lap, the flesh swollen and thin about the golden ring. I licked my lips, and tasted a man from the source for the first time. I put to practice the things Leveria had taught me, and with my lecherous instincts running the show, I soon had the young dawn-elf writhing in the floor with all four inches of him nestled on the flat of my tongue, my throat coaxing his tip until it spewed without pressure down my throat. Lilith’s tongue tortured his prostate with gradual back-and-forth motions, emptying what was left onto my wanting palate. I withdrew with smiling suction, quite pleased with myself, and the worshipful look on Mateo’s face. It made me somewhat nostalgic for my own slaves, of whose fate I did not know.

“Thank you.” I whispered to both of them.

“No, Mistress, thank you.” Mateo whispered back, his eyes full of satisfaction. Lilith gave a concurrent nod, her cheeks flushed in contentment. I kissed each, then bid them to leave. Mateo walked away with a slight limp in his step.

The sound of clapping hands reminded me that I’d had an audience. “Bravo!” Ternias exclaimed, “Absolutely magnificent!”

“I’m glad you enjoyed the show, my lord,” I replied, wiping my lips, “but I’m not so weak as to be swayed by flesh. I would speak candidly now.”

“Of course.” Ternias scratched at his chin, “I suspect Leveria’s put two-and-two together by now, and realized that Wentz is working with me.”

I didn’t respond.

Ternias laughed. “By ‘suspect’ I mean that it’s an absolute certainty, but keep your secrets, Elena.”

I slid into the pool, and began washing the sex from my body. “Leveria could only raise such an army so quickly if she had the full support and resources of the Noble Court. You are the voice of the Noble Court, Lord Ternias, and Wentz was ignorant of the army. You intended to betray Dreus in the end.”

“Dreus’s backing of Yavara was a betrayal against me. He sought an alternative route to achieve his goals, one that would not necessitate me on the throne. Thus, I was forced to vote in favor of removing Dreus’s alternative route.”

I frowned as the picture became clearer. “Lord Ternias, how much did it cost to raise the Highland army so quickly?”

“Everything. The coffers of every noble house are empty, and the Royal Bank of Bentius guards nothing. The wealth of our entire nation is marching toward the Tundra.”

“And now Yavara has delayed your army for a fortnight at least, and in that time, she will raise a force that can challenge yours on the field. All she needs to do is stalemate the first engagement, entrench, and wait. Then Dreus will have enough confidence to fully back her financially while he cuts away at the Highlands with tariffs. Eventually, you won’t be able to pay your soldiers.” I dipped my head in the water, and flung my hair back from my face. “The best outcome you could hope for is economic collapse.”

“And the worst is an invasion.”

“Yavara would never invade.”

“So you say.”

“You think I’m trying to deceive you?”

“I doubt that Yavara, former princess of the Highlands, former pride and joy of the entire kingdom, harbors any hatred for her former people, but those beneath her harbor a thousand years of it, and a ruler must bend to the will of her people, or she will not be a ruler for long.”

“Leveria said the same thing, and I didn’t buy it then.” I stepped from the pool, the water dripping from my bronze form. “Now, tell me what you want, or I will leave without another word.”

He admired the nudity I displayed, then looked me in the eyes. “If we don’t win the coming battle, if things play out as I fear they might, this nation will be on the brink of catastrophe. Leveria will know her position is threatened, so she will entrench herself with those loyal to her: Lord Shordian, Lord Droughtius, Lady Straltaira, and Lord Xantian. I want you to convince them to support me.”

I laughed. “And you think I can do that?”

He flashed his winning smile. “I know you can. I know the Noble Court better than anyone. When you stepped onto the floor three days ago, every nobleman and woman was transfixed by you. A woman of such exotic beauty, mystique, intelligence and danger is a rare thing, but combine that with the dark-elf’s terrible attraction and the noble blood in your veins, and you have a combination that could make you the most powerful person in that court.”

I was flattered, I couldn’t deny it. “And what will you offer me in return?”

“Your mother’s safety, and your freedom.”

“I need more than that. If the battle is not won, you will help me push for peace in the Noble Court.”

“You know I can’t.” Ternias sighed. “As I said before, a ruler must bend to the will of his people, or he will not be a ruler for long. I have very powerful people, Elena, and I cannot betray them.”

“Your coconspirators in court. You promised them more territory in the Midlands than Leveria was offering. If you don’t keep your promise, they’ll defect.”

“It’s not just greed that compels them. They won’t care much for Midland territories if they think the Dark Queen will invade, and they will never trust her words of peace.”

I nodded. “What if I were to convince them?”

“What?”

“They all think I’m a spy in Yavara’s court. Let me convince them that Yavara’s words of peace are true.”

Ternias pondered that. “You are here on the behest of the queen. If she knows as much as I suspect she does, then she sent you hear to uncover my factors. We’re not playing politics anymore, Elena; once Leveria knows the breadth of the conspiracy, she will have me, those who support me, and our families all executed for treason.”

“If you’re not willing to trust me, then I cannot trust you, my lord.” I said, dawning my dress.

“The point is rather moot until we know the outcome of the battle. So, until then,” he planted a delicate kiss on the back of my hand, “I hope you take the time to consider my offer. Leveria has undoubtedly warned you of my treachery, but I have always taken care of those who are loyal to me.”

“Is it loyalty you want?” I smiled, charmed by him despite myself, “I thought your proposition was a partnership.”

“A mutually-loyal relationship then.” He bowed, “I will, of course, keep my mouth shut about the spectacular performance you gave me.”

“Why would you do that?” I laughed, slipping on my shoes, “If the rumors surrounding me have so lifted my standing that I gained a private audience with you, then I would have my legend grow. Go whisper in the ears of the worst gossipers, and cultivate my reputation. I want every nobleman and woman who sets eyes on me to have in the back of their minds the knowledge that the right combination of words said to me may unlock a night of pleasure they cannot comprehend.”

Ternias laughed. “Elena Straltaira, you are the most dangerous woman in Bentius.”

“But not the most dangerous man.” I mused, looking him over. “I don’t think you’re a voyeur, Lord Ternias. I think you were studying me. I might lie with half the major nobles and all the minor ones, but never with you, will I?”

“No.” He smiled, and walked me from the room.

LEVERIA

The sun set behind Bentius, the points of the dwarven Bearded Peaks in the west shadowing the landscape like jagged teeth. The royal château stood atop a gentle hill, the vineyard surrounding it ordered in perfect rows. I had not gone to Father that evening. Even though Elena was gone to Ternianas the whole afternoon, I still hadn’t seen him. My thoughts drifted from him, to her. She was lounging on the balcony, smoking one of my cigarettes and wearing a bathrobe that she left open, much to my delight. She’d come back without Glendian, as I’d expected she would, but I still felt a touch disappointed. A new headmaster would be hard to find with almost every mage marching to war. I didn’t have any reason to trust Elena to stay loyal to me, but I did. Maybe it was foolish, maybe she was the blind spot that concealed the fatal knife, but I didn’t have a choice. For the first time in my life, I had to rely upon faith. It was surprisingly comforting. I admired the sight for a while, then sighed, and touched the mirror. King Albert Dreus’s visage appeared, stately and handsome as always.

“Your Highness.” He said, nodding a bow.

“Your Highness.” I replied, doing the same.

“To what do I owe the pleasure of your call?”

“I’m afraid I bring you bad news. Ambassador Fran Wentz was murdered.”

King Dreus blinked, and that was all the reaction he gave. It might as well have been a scream of shock. “By whom?” He said as though asking about the weather.

“Vampires. It appears Drake Titus has betrayed Yavara, attacked the relief force we sent to aid her, and attempted to kill both Ambassador Straltaira and Ambassador Wentz. Fortunately, Straltaira was in the country when the attacks occurred, but Wentz was in the consulate.”

Dreus rolled his eyes. “Shall we speak candidly then?”

“It would be a nice change of pace.”

“Is Lord Ternias still alive?”

“Lucas Ternias is tenaciously difficult to murder, and a failed attempt would disrupt the delicate balance we have here in Bentius. So he lives, for now.”

“But you killed my ambassador without a second thought?”

“I put quite a bit of thought into it, actually. I decided that a foreign agent whose sole job was to supplant me wasn’t worth keeping around.” I narrowed my eyes at him, “You disappoint me, Albert.”

Dreus stared back implacably. “So what now?”

“Now that the pretense is gone, should we not end this silly trade war?” I asked, “I can’t imagine your merchant class is too pleased with it, and unlike you, I have unfettered access to dwarven markets.”

“I don’t? Funny, I could’ve sworn I sent a trade emissary down the Maple highway just yesterday, and not a single ranger stopped him for papers.”

“And by the time he comes back with their answer, there will be eighty-thousand soldiers asking for his credentials.”

Dreus stroked his beard. “Your flaw always was your arrogance. The battle hasn’t yet been fought, yet you already count your winnings.”

“And what if she wins?” I smiled, “What if, just for fun, we pretend Yavara wins, and the kingdom of Alkandra is established for good. Where does that leave you?”

King Dreus remained silent.

I leaned toward the mirror. “It leaves you fucked, Albert. Fucked like an Ardeni dock whore. All that cheap labor your merchants love so much? It just migrated back to its ancestral homeland. Your economy just crashed, and whoops, there’s suddenly a military powerhouse right next door, and whoops again, you never signed a nonaggression pact, much less a formalized alliance! So, yeah… she’s going to have to invade you, and she’s really sorry about it, but your ports are so nice, and she wants to trade with Drastin, Hektinar and Terondia.”

“Your sister isn’t you.”

“No, she’s not. I was never someone else’s tool. Face it, Your Highness; she was just a way to hedge your bets, but your real dog was always Lucas Ternias. You gambled with both, and you lost with both. Now, let me pose you this then: when I am victorious, and have crushed the fledgling Alkandra, do you want to be in a trade dispute with a nation that has eighty-thousand battle-hardened soldiers fifty miles from your borders?”

He narrowed his eyes. “That sounded like a threat, Your Highness.”

“That’s because it was one, You Highness.” I smiled sweetly, “But I’m prepared to forgive all your meddling with the Noble Court if you’re prepared to lift you tariffs. Once you do that, I will lift mine as well, and our two nations can resume the healthy friendship we’ve had for centuries.”

King Dreus broke into a smile almost as disingenuous as my own. “I can agree to these terms, but I must offer a contingency.”

“Which is?”

“If your sister stops your army, and the trenches are dug across the map, and the bills pile up, I will be there with my purse. There is much to buy when wars drag out, and it is often sold cheaply. Even debt can be bought; your debt, perhaps. When the hordes of Alkandra blacken your border with only an unpaid, ill-supplied, worn-out army there to stop them, I will be there for your nation, Your Highness. But you won’t be.” He placed his palm on the glass, “Goodnight, Queen Tiadoa.”

“Goodnight.” I replied to my own reflection.

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