THE DEMON CROWN – CHAPTERS 1 – 10

Feature writer: Wulf

Feature title: The Demon Crown
Contact Address: marawuti@spiritone.com

Uploaded: ASSTR 1996
Copyright: This work is copyrighted to the author © 2007. Please don’t remove the author information or make any changes to this story. All rights reserved. Thank you for your consideration.
Story Codes: MFF, fantasy

The Demon Crown

Most people will tell you to steer clear of demons, especially in this business. Demons, they say, are
treacherous, violent and unpredictable. They’ll screw you every time. I must admit that I certainly did end up screwed after I met one particular demon. In several senses of the word. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 1

I’m a freelance by trade. From the two words “free,” meaning unfettered and unencumbered, and “lance,” meaning lancer, horseman, warrior, or soldier. In my case, I combine several talents — I’m a fighter, but not a great one, a thief but not a highly skilled one, an assassin but not a subtle one, a horseman but not an outstanding one, and a wizard but not an accomplished one. While none of my skills is first-rate, I am second-rate at enough things that I can work a variety of assignments at an economical rate, with holiday discounts.

I go by a variety of names — I’m not even sure which one I was born with. I prefer Wulf, because it conjures up an image of me as a grizzled, northern warrior standing at the prow of a longship, an axe in my hand and fire in my eyes.

It’s a nice image. Too bad it’s so far from the truth.

In reality, I’m tall and rangy, with about enough musculature to propel me out of trouble at high speed when the going gets tough. I can pull and eighty-pound bow with some difficulty, but I’m not up to extended power stroking with a Litharnan two-hander. My hair is naturally red, but it has a tendency to change, depending on who I’m running from, and what the current “wanted” poster looks like.

I operate out of Stoneburg, the Free City, crossroads of the world, and home of the most corrupt and bribeable civil officials known to man, elf, or any other species. I’m most often to be found in an armpit better known as the Goblin’s Eye, although I have a few other safe houses scattered around the Thieves’ Quarter (some “quarter” — it takes up two-thirds of the city…).

It all started in the middle of a job. Tev the merchant had made more money than the rest of us thought seemly, and I was busy relieving him of some of it.

Tev was certainly living well — his mansion was lined with marble hallways, granite pillars and a whole lot of valuable (and, just incidentally, hand portable) artwork. Most of this was penny- ante stuff; while I took a few pieces to stay in practice, the real prize lay in Tev’s crystal-roofed solarium, surrounded by alarms and traps, both magical and physical.

It was a lovely bit of work — a Xeshite erotic carving depicting a man, woman and tigress in an unlikely coupling which combined lyrical curves with skilled detail work. More than the aesthetic value of the piece, which was considerable, I wanted it because it was carved from a single chunk of Eish, a normally black mineral which refracted light shone on it into a shimmering rainbow of colors, and emitted light for several hours in darkness.

I was busy overcoming a tricky pattern-spell, which wove an invisible network of magical lines all over the room, setting off alarms and pre-set missile spells if the lines were crossed. I was kneeling in the middle of an enchanted circle which I’d drawn with chalk, mumbling a counter-spell which would make the magical lines visible when I noticed a dim red glow in the air.

At first I thought I’d set off a trap, but then I realized that nothing was happening to me, and no
alarms were jangling. Then, to my surprise, I discovered that all the magical traps had vanished, leaving the way to the carving free and clear. I was about to thank providence for the event when I noted the source of the red glow.

My heart leaped into my throat.

I’d spent enough time on the frontier to know a demon when I see one; this one was a demon in spades.

For the sake of the uneducated, I will now digress for a moment into a few paragraphs of exposition. Demons don’t belong here. They showed up some centuries ago, having been thrown off their home plane and proceeded to make things really crummy for the rest of us who lived here. In fact, their name derives from the original misconception that they actually came from hell. The name sticks today, but “demons” as a race are considered distinct from “daemons,” malevolent creatures of infernal origin.

Some theorists even go so far as to suggest that the demons’ arrival was somehow related to the cataclysm which shattered the old continent, transforming it into the scatter of islands, sub-continents and small seas which we live in today. After a time, things stabilized, and the demon realms remained separate from the realms of men, elves, dwarves, and all the other nasty little creatures.

Although we’re all technically at war with the demon isles, no one really takes it seriously anymore.
Occasionally, we raid across each other’s borders and cause miscellaneous havoc, and our various moronic rulers plan grand campaigns and threaten bloody war, but it generally comes to nothing.

Contact between the realms is pretty much limited to the diplomatic level. I know that the White Emperor has several demon ambassadors at his court, but he’s crazy and probably under their control, so he doesn’t really count. Most of the rest of us never see demons, except on the frontier, where they’re thick as flies.

The individual confronting me was a demon, do doubt of it. Demons are never ugly in the traditional sense. Instead, they are all exceptionally beautiful, but with a disturbing undercurrent of the perverse, the lustful, the cruel. Needless to say, most humans find them fascinating.

She was tall and voluptuous, all breasts and hips, with a swirl of night-black hair. Almond-shaped yellow eyes gazed at me from a chiseled, heart-shaped face, and thick, pouty, black lips parted to reveal sharp canines and a flicking, almost snake-like tongue. Her skin was a vivid crimson, decorated with flickering blue tattoos. She said nothing, but walked slowly forward, her high, black heels clicking on the marble floor. I continued kneeling, transfixed, in the center of my magic circle, unsure whether to fight, flee, or fall on my face and beg for mercy.

As demons are highly resistant to mortal weapons, clothing and armor are a question of taste and fashion. This one had taste, but it was tawdry at best. She wore a lurid mixture of black leather, silvery mail and lace as tenuous as spider webs, seemingly inadequate to the task of confining the dangerous swelling of her breasts, but doing so quite nicely, thank you. A variety of implements of death and torture hung from her belt, and I did not for a moment think that any were just for show.

“You’re Wulf,” she said, stating the fact with stark simplicity.

Her voice could be described either as a chorus of evil angels or the enthused shriek of a masochist on the rack. Hard to imagine? I guess you had to be there.

I nodded, dumbly, realizing that with all my considerable preparations, I had forgotten to pack a holy knife, one of the few items effective against demons and infernal guard-creatures. Shit.

“No heart cutter, either?” she said, smiling sweetly, using the demons’ name for the knife. “Shame, shame.”

She was reading my mind, too. Shit.

“Such language from such an innocent-looking child,” she continued, walking closer and squatting down at the edge of my circle.

I finally found my tongue. “Who…” I swallowed. “Who are you calling innocent-looking?”

If a viper could grin, he would look just like my voluptuous demoness did just then. “No one. I was just being complimentary. Actually, you have sin written all over you. I like that.”

“You would.” I had pretty much given up on continued existence, so I was going to get in as many shots as possible beforehand. “So, are you going to kill me or what?”

As she rose and stepped back, the viper-smile did not waver. “Or what? Exactly what does that mean? Do you mind if I get up?”

“Certainly, although I’ve always liked men on their knees.”

The snake-tongue flicked across her thick lips once more. “And step out of that pathetic circle while
you’re at it. I could break it, but I don’t feel like expending the effort.”

I believed her. My minimal protective spells had pretty much expired by this point in any event. I stood and stepped out.

“Hm.” She looked me up and down like a prospective horse buyer. “Not much meat on your bones.”

“Sorry to disappoint. I wouldn’t make much of a meal.” My heart raced furiously, but I kept up a bold front. “So, are you Tev’s watchdog, or what?”

She frowned.
“Tev? Oh, you mean the master of the house. No, you won’t have to worry about him or his
guards. They’ll be sleeping for quite a while. We’re all alone.” This last statement was punctuated with a lascivious glance through slitted yellow eyes. I shuddered.

“So you doped the entire household just to talk to me?” I asked. “I’m flattered.”

“You should be. You come highly recommended.”

“By who? I don’t have many customers who deal with your kind.”

“Her name is Livia,” she replied. “We’re quite… close.”

Gods… Livia. Sorceress, mercenary, fellow freelance with a moral code as flexible as a Xeshite python. We’d worked together in a variety of circumstances, and had actually managed to do some rutting under a waterfall in Kenth. Since then, much to my chagrin, she’d ignored my pleas for a return engagement, treating me as that most dreaded of companions, a “friend.” I’d long ago come to the conclusion that my love and lust for her was doomed to remain unrequited. That she was keeping company with demons came as no real shock to me.

“How close?” I asked, suspiciously.

A giggle is a particularly ominous thing when it issues from a demon’s throat. This demon gave it a rather lascivious twist in addition. I got the picture.

“So.” I said. “Exactly what did the little minx recommend me for?”

“A job, among other things,” she said with another secret smile. “My name is Narisha, by the way. Daughter of Lord Cammon the Flayer.”

My heart sank. “Defiler of Mie? Destroyer of Yitan? Assassin of the Nine Adepts? That Cammon?”

“None other. Don’t worry. He’s not involved in all this. He doesn’t even know I’m here.”

“Better and better. And if he ever does find out, I burn in hellfire and you get sent to your room without supper, right?”

She rolled her eyes. “Such dramatics. You would think you’d never been approached by a prospective client before.”

Prospective client? I sat heavily down upon Tev’s overly gaudy and expensive couch. It was the last thing I’d expected.

“So what does a demon want with a human freelance?” I asked.

“Not a well-known one, even.”

“Because it suits my purpose,” Narisha said. “The job is one which I don’t want other demons to know about, and I don’t want to attract the attention of hiring anyone famous.”

“Gee, thanks.” Praising with faint damns, this female was.

She stood in front of me, feet planted widely, pulled a black leather riding crop from her belt and brandished it meaningfully. “I’m not praising with faint damns, as much as you might think I am. You’re good. I know that. There is an item which I need retrieved, and you’re the freelance I want to do it.”

I cast a nervous glance at the crop. “What’s the item and where is it?”

“Do you accept the job?”

“I need more information.” I knew that I was skating on thin ice here, as demons have notoriously short fuses and distressingly final ways of ending arguments. “If you’re asking me to go steal the Gem of Ages from the Worldserpent’s horde I’m afraid I’ll have to refuse. If you want me to go knock over a beggar and take his cup, that’s another story entirely.”

She considered this for a moment. I considered the fact that the whip didn’t move to be a good sign.

“Somewhere in between the extremes, if you must know.” Her expression changed, becoming almost pleading.

Gods, this was a first.

“Yes!” she barked. “It is a first. I’ve never had to ask nicely for anything in my life. I lost something. Or, more accurately, something got stolen while it was in my care. Something that belonged to my father.”

“Go on.”

“We Only People — ” here, she used the demons’ term for themselves — “are nowhere near as united as you mortals think. We fight among ourselves constantly.”

“That much I know. I take it that a rival of your family took this ‘item’ and won’t give it back? And
your father will tan your hide when he finds out?”

“Worse than that, I’m afraid,” she said. “I could be banished.”

“Heavy,” I replied. Banishment was a virtual death sentence, removing all family and racial protection from its victim, turning him out into a wide world full of enemies, both mortal and demonic.

“I know that this is not a normal situation,” Narisha said. “I’m at what you mortals call the end of my rope. I need help. I can pay.” She reached into a pouch which hung at her belt between a coiled bullwhip and what appeared to be a pair of leather manacles, then held out her hand to me. My jaw dropped. There, nestled in her crimson palm, was a matched pair of ghost-gems, each worth an princeling’s horde. It was said that the demons distilled the gems from souls in torment, but
that was only a rumor. “One of these now. The other — plus five more — upon completion.”

I was astonished. I couldn’t help myself.

“Fuck me,” I whispered.

She giggled again, putting the gems away. “That could be arranged, too,” she said, “but I was thinking of it only as a fringe benefit.”

With that, she stepped back, loosening the silver skull-buckle of her belt. The leather-and-mail tunic
parted, revealing an expanse of crimson flesh, screened by black spider-web lace. She bore a variety of abstract blue tattoos, all of which flickered in the half-light.

Demons also have the ability to inspire various emotions in lesser creatures. I wasn’t sure whether the heart-hammering lust which swept through me was of magical or natural origin, and I didn’t care. My breeches were feeling remarkably tight, but I my business sense still hung on like grim death.

“What’s the item?” I asked, panting as she slid her jacket off, exposing her magnificent breasts, large and ripe-looking, with prominent nipples the color of dried blood.

“Oh, just a silly little crown,” she continued. Long-nailed fingers tugged at the lacing of her breeches.

They were cunningly designed, capable of being removed without first taking off the black, knee-high boots she wore. A sinuous dragon flickered and writhed along her smooth, red haunch. You have to give those demons credit; what they don’t know about sex isn’t worth knowing.

“And…” I muttered. Her hands pulled open my jerkin, effortlessly snapping the fastenings, and glided across my naked skin beneath. Her nails were long, black, and very sharp. “And…” I gritted my teeth. “…And who has this ‘silly little crown’?”

“Duke Janus, my father’s rival,” she whispered. “It’s at his fortress in Hellmouth. Simple job, really…”

She stood back, her exploring hands withdrawing. She was clad only in lace and her boots, inadequately covered with thin black spider webs. “So, do you accept?”

I was breathing heavily, so I was barely able to choke out, “Sure, what the hell?”

She grinned, revealing her sharp white teeth again. Red fire gleamed in her eyes. Then she dug her black nails into the lace between her breasts and pulled it apart. The twin prominences swung free. I noticed that her left nipple bore a twinkling green gem, set in a tiny gold circle.

“Like your ring,” I said, pulling my jerkin off. “Didn’t that hurt?”

“It certainly did,” she hissed, relieving herself of the last of the lace. “It hurt terribly. That’s why I did it.”

Naked now save for those damned boots, her black hair cascading down her back like a dark waterfall, she slid to her knees, and set to pulling down my breeches. I helped as best I could, finally allowing my now-engorged member to breath free.

“Oh…” she seemed enchanted with it, encircling the organ with her sharp-nailed fingers. She ran a claw up and down its length, barely breaking the skin.

“We’ve elevated pain to an art, human,” she whispered, hungrily. “There’s such a fine line between pain and pleasure. We cross it with abandon. Eventually, we can’t tell the difference.”

Gods, I’d seen this attitude before, in the perverse Countess Xylara and in the wicked Lady Thae’lynn of the dark elves, both of whom I remembered with a mixture of fear, loathing and uncontrollable lust. I groaned incoherently at the thought of once more dealing with such a female. There really wasn’t much else to say.

The snake-tongue flicked out, lapping my shaft. The dagger-like white teeth were just a fraction of an inch from my erect, painfully straining flesh. Fear mixed with ecstasy now.

“Ahhhh…” she breathed. “You feel it now, don’t you? Agony and longing together? You want it, don’t you? You want to feel my lips embrace your proud stallion?”

“Yessss,” was about the only thing I could say at that point, although, in retrospect, I realize that her
choice of metaphors was pretty appalling. For all the lust and desire which raced through my veins like boiling lead, however, there was also an edge of fear… fear of those sharp white teeth and razor-like claws. And the fear fed my lust. I knew then what it was to love a demon.

“Feel it, then…” her lips, black and shining, encircled the head of my cock, and the long tongue caressed it as she slid her mouth down, down, down…

Perhaps it was demonic sex-magic. Perhaps it was my fear continuing to drive me. Perhaps it was simply the exotic novelty of the situation… whatever it was, it was like nothing else I had ever experienced. Not with Livia, when we came together beneath the silver-white waterfalls of Kenth, not with Sarra the elf-druid in her grove at midnight, not with the lion women of the Veldt Lands, Ushandra the Warrioress, or any one of a dozen others — gods and demons, what she made me feel…

Her spittle was like fire, covering my organ with burning pleasure, spreading through my entire body, wrapping around my heart and my brain, transporting me to another place, beyond the moonlit recesses of Tev’s solarium.

The demoness and I seemed to inhabit a tiny universe all our own, floating endlessly in a void where pleasure and pain chased each other round and round, mixing and combining until they were indistinguishable.

I no longer feared the teeth, the claws… rather, I wanted them. I wanted to feel her nails score my flesh, and shed my hot blood. I wanted her teeth to bite deep and drink in the gushing fluids… I wanted pain from her, and — almost — I no longer cared if I lived or died beneath her lashing tongue and sucking lips.

Almost… Almost… I no longer cared.

Fortunately for me, I have a tendency to retain a small, calm corner of my brain where reason and logic still function, even in the face of the most mindless passion. There, deep in the cobwebby recesses of my mind, where little mice nibbled at my random thoughts and memories, I realized that I did care whether I lived or died.

I pulled myself back to earth along the rope which that thought formed. Back to where the naked demoness still devoured my hot, desiring flesh. Her mouth released me at that moment, and my cock, still slick with her burning juice, slipped between her heavy, sweating breasts.

“Yesss…” Now it was her turn. “There, my little human… Spill your seed there for me…”

Her nails clutched at the flesh of her breasts and nipples, digging furrows which oozed black blood. The blood mixed with her sweat and spittle, further lubricating the slippery tunnel between her mammoth breasts. So like her burning mouth… so like…

Final passion swept over me like a crushing landslide. I groaned deeply and felt the passion spew out of me, splashing white upon the dark red flesh of her breasts. I continued to thrust between them, mixing all our fluids together as her even as her own sighs combined with my moans. Gods…

I heard her mumbling something in her own language, chanting rhythmically as my climax went on and on, beyond the limits of what I knew was normal. Her tongue flickered out to lick up the hot seed and sweat and demon blood between her breasts. Then she leaned forward, grasping my head in both hands, thrusting it into the deep valley of her chest.

“Drink, child,” she whispered feverishly. “Share with me.”

A brief brush of apprehension was swept away by a new tide of lust, and our tongues met, sharing the different fluids that ran and mixed there. Fiery sensations chased each other down my throat and through my chest… I felt drunk. Gods…

“Now, my darling human,” her voice was hushed, full of emotion which I could not describe. “Now we are as one, you and I.”

I was too exhausted to inquire further. I slipped to the cold, marble floor and felt her smooth, sweating body slip down on top of me. I either fell asleep quite quickly at that point or — as is more likely — fainted, plunging down into moist, welcoming darkness, where Narisha’s claws still caressed and tormented me.

I woke some hours later to find that my dream had translated back into reality, and a more leisurely
coupling with my lusty demoness ensued. I don’t remember much of it, however, so I won’t relate its
details here. Suffice to say, when I staggered home an hour before dawn (with the Xeshite carving, might I add — I wasn’t completely befuddled by Narisha’s charms), I collapsed heavily and slept.

“Now we are one, you and I.” Little was I to know how important those words were to become.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 2

Life is full of rude awakenings, but this one was ruder than most. Being rousted out of bed by a pair of ogres in ill-fitting constabulary uniforms is not my idea of a pleasant morning experience, especially after the previous night’s debaucheries. And especially when their chosen method of awakening me was to kick my physically from under the covers.

I was still half-asleep when I hit the floor, dreams of Narisha still swirling in and out of the mists. Before I could wake up completely, one of the ogres grabbed me, yanking me roughly to my feet, pinning my arms behind me. When at last I opened my eyes fully, I wished I had kept them closed.

Ogre number two stood in front of me, looking ridiculous in his undersized blue and yellow jerkin,
but didn’t bother me. What was standing next to him did.

“Scrutator Niall,” I said with all the ill-grace I could muster that early in the morning. “Nice of you to drop in. Why aren’t you out in the forest somewhere, making merry?”

Niall chuckled, spitting out the spear of wood he had been chewing on. He was a short, odious little elf, thin and frail-looking, his thin hair swept up in a greasy pony-tail behind. The overall impression he left was one of a puddle of vile slime which had somehow taken on humanoid characteristics. As you may have guessed, I was very fond of him.

“Spare me the banter, Wulf-breath,” he growled.

“Someone knocked out Margal Tev and his entire household with magic and robbed him blind last night — I don’t suppose you know anything about it?”

I rolled my eyes. “Sure I do, constable. I met the demon who did it while I was robbing Tev’s house. She zapped him and his guards, then she sucked me off right in Tev’s solarium.”

“Don’t get wise with me, footpad.” Niall shoved his face directly into mine, eyes staring. “I’m a servant of the council.”

“You’re a servant of whoever bribes you the most,” I shot back. “The only reason you and your goons are here is because I won’t pay protection. How much did Tev pay you to shake me down, anyway?”

Niall was silent for a moment, then turned around and walked over to the single, sooty window, which provided a magnificent view of the adjoining brick wall.

“I’m not an unreasonable man, Wulf,” he said in a quiet, cultured tone. “Under other circumstances, we might have been friends.”

“That would be the day, wouldn’t it?” I met the gaze of Niall’s guard ogre, an unpleasantly pale specimen covered with brownish-green liver spots. “What are you looking at, Chim-Chim? I’m fresh out of bananas.”

The ogre looked perplexed. “Huh…”

“Never mind. You’d have to be higher up on the food chain to get it. Did you know you were awfully short for an elf, Niall?”

Niall grunted. “Such a sense of humor. Was that what got you kicked out of the academy?”

“That, and the fact that I had scruples.”

“Scruples?” The word seemed alien to Niall. “Hell, Wulf-boy, you wouldn’t know scruples if they snuck up and bit you in the ass! Tev says that several valuable items were missing from his house. You have any idea where they are?”

“Not a clue, scrutator,” I replied. “Isn’t that your job?”

Not that they were around here, either. I had had enough sense to secrete the items in a safe-house on the way home.

Niall smiled. It was not a nice smile.

“I was hoping you’d say that, my lad.” He motioned to the ogre beside him. “Grud, search the place. Don’t leave any cranny unexplored.”

“Duh, ya boss,” said Grud with ogreish enthusiasm, turning to immediately start ripping my writing desk apart.

“Skab,” Niall continued to the ogre who held me. “Take Mr. Wulf out back and do the same to him.”

“Duh, ya boss.” Skab nodded dumbly, a sadistic look gleaming in his eyes. He pulled me, not gently, toward the door and the steps down to the alley.

“Oh, yes,” Niall called just as we started down. “Leave him alive, please, Skab. I may want to charge him later.”

“Ya, boss,” Skab said with a trace of disappointment.

Well, despite the fact that I was not about to be killed, the notion of a beating from an ogre was not a pleasant one. To Skab, “leave him alive” could easily mean “reduce him to a crippled vegetable, but make sure that he still has vital signs.” In fact, that would suit Niall just fine, as I could not then speak up in my own defense. Therefore, as the ogre alternately shoved and pushed me down the rickety stairs, I ran over various escape plans in my mind. Much to my regret, none of them involved escape from a psychopathic ogre with orders to beat me into a bloody pulp.

However, as I’m fond of saying, fortune favors the lucky. The rickety steps were never designed to
accommodate the 400-pound frame of a fully grown male ogre, and they’d been substantially weakened when Niall and the no-brain twins had traversed them earlier. A lurch, a splintering sound and a grunt of surprise from Skab indicated to me that something was wrong. In the instant that Skab suddenly plunged through a broken step, howling with agony as a nail-studded piece of wood pierced his tough hide, I twisted away, tumbling down the remaining steps to the street.

I leapt upright (realizing as I did so that I was still shirtless, and my best boots were upstairs with Niall and JoJo the Caveboy) and cast a glance back.

Skab’s struggles had loosened the supports beneath the stairs, and in a moment the entire affair splintered and crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust and broken wood. Of Skab, I could see nothing immediately, nor did I care to. Heedless of my bare feet against the gritty cobblestones, I turned and ran, catching one last glimpse of Niall’s red and angry face appearing at my doorway, twenty feet above the street, and heard his hoarse shouts of rage. Then I was gone.

Within an hour I had visited one of my safe-places and obtained clothes and serviceable weapons. I then retrieved last night’s loot and with the exception of the ghost gems, of course — fenced it for far less than it was worth. Most of the resulting cash I spent on bribes to Niall’s superiors to get him assigned to the sewer patrol for a few days, and consequently off my ass temporarily. All things considered, a completely wasted morning.

I spent the afternoon in a funk, hiding out in one of my rooms at a dive called the Red Shark. I cast about desperately for someone to be angry at and, much to my regret, came up empty.

I wasn’t really angry at Niall. His kind are as inevitable as rats and roaches. He may have been a wart on the collective posterior of humanoid society, but even I had to admit that he was just doing his job.

As for Narisha, all she was interested in was hiring a no-name freelance for a difficult job. Besides, much to my intense regret, when I thought of her, I felt an emotion somewhat deeper than mere lust. Damn, what the hell what happening to me?

How about Livia — she had recommended me. Probably in the heat of passion, the way Narisha described it, but that was irrelevant. Hell, she probably thought she was doing me a favor. Besides, despite her changeable and somewhat dangerous nature, I actually harbored some degree of fondness for the treacherous little vixen.

After an hour or two of reflection, I came to the conclusion that I really didn’t have much reason to be angry about anything. I was just starting to wonder when I’d see Narisha again (and wondering exactly what we’d do to each other) when a faint scratching at the door grabbed my attention.

“Narisha?” I asked, not thinking, swiveling my head to look toward the door.

It wasn’t Narisha. The rickety door burst in abruptly, showering me with fragments of wood. As I sprang to my feet, fumbling for a weapon, I was confronted with a nightmarish vision.

The thing looked like a sickly pink amalgam of man, crab and spider. A pair of snapping claws extended from an obese, fleshy body, which sprouted manlike legs and was topped off with a hairy, eight-eyed “head.”

Hunting beast. The demons use them to track down criminals, escaped slaves and particularly hated enemies. They came in a variety of shapes and colors, and I recognized this one as a heavy-duty customer.

I was on the second floor, but a fall from that height was nothing compared to death — or worse — at the claws of the hissing, clacking monstrosity which lunged at me. I turned for the window, only to see a second thing — this one looking like some kind of bat-scorpion crossbreed shattering the glass and clambering in after me. It, too, hissed, opening a fanged maw, and sending a sticky, pink, spike-studded tongue shooting out right at my face.

I ducked, yelling for help, and the tongue instead wrapped around one of the bed’s cornerposts. I fell
flat and rolled beneath the bed. The spider-thing scuttled after, grabbed the bedframe and heaved it over. Fortunately for me, it struck the bat-thing, sending it sprawling.

My weapons went skidding across the floor. I ducked and grabbed desperately, reaching for a black-hilted dagger. My hand fell upon the grip and I pulled the dagger free.

The bat-demon had recovered and was dragging itself across the floor at me, its long, stinger-tipped tail waving ominously. I sidestepped, seizing the tail in one hand, slicing with the other.

Heartcutter, Narisha had called it. Demons have such a way with words. We call them holy knives or demonslayers. Whatever you call them, they do the job.

Demon-flesh parted. The bat-thing was sliced stem to stern, rotten bone, black blood and writhing entrails bursting out. With a second stroke I severed the demon’s tail — no sense in being struck by the thing while it flailed about.

Hunting beasts have no mind to speak of — they are simply set in motion and follow their orders until destroyed. They don’t follow logic, they can’t be reasoned with, and they don’t feel fear. I knew that, of me and the surviving beast, only one of us was leaving this room in one piece.

The spider-beast rushed at me, hissing with single-minded malevolence. A claw grazed my shoulder, ripping cloth, sending pain burning through my entire arm. I staggered, fell back…

It leaped, limbs spread out, seeking to crush me beneath it. To my horror, I saw a yawning pink mouth open up in its midsection, fanged with backward-pointing teeth. Desperately, I thrust up with my dagger.

My arm shot down into the creatures’ mouth, dagger pointed up. The thing’s momentum carried it down on top of me, driving the dagger deep through its maw, into its vitals, and, with an explosion of foul, black ichor, out through its back.

The demon was dead, but it didn’t know it yet. Its crushing weight bore down on me, and I could feel its maw gnaw away at my arm, its tiny teeth cutting into my flesh like needles. I moved my arm, cutting again, slicing upward through its body, seeking its head. Demon flesh parted before the dagger, slicing cleanly and falling away.

Then, I saw a human face, suspended above me. Then another. It was the Trus the innkeeper and his bouncer, Gralz. The bouncer’s arm swung back and I saw a sword — not a holy blade, but adequate for the task at hand. Gralz thrust down, driving the sword down into the beast’s head. More ichor poured out, burning me. The thing twitched once, twice, then lay still.

Trus and Gralz pulled the steaming corpse off me, and dragged me out, panting and retching. The acidic blood had disintegrated most of my clothing, and was burning away at my skin. Trus doused me with a bucket of water, leaving me sitting, coughing, pink- fleshed and nearly naked for the second time today.

“Gods!” Trus swore. “Gralz, get him some clothes. You all right, Wulf?”

I looked up. “I don’t understand,” I said with as jaunty a grin as I could muster. “You told me you just sprayed for demons.”

The Demon Crown – Chapter 3

I at least had the presence of mind to slip Trus and Gralz some coins and instruct them to spread a story of how I’d been rent limb from limb before they could kill the beasts. That at least might keep pustules like Niall off my case for a while longer. My next move was to go see the only person I could think of who might be able to make sense of this mess.

Livia maintains a neat little manor near the east wall, living a comparatively frugal life while she salts away the fruits of her illegal labors and mercenary work. She pays off the right guild officials and maintains some very tricky magical wards to keep her safe from unscrupulous individuals such as myself, and is generally considered a pillar of the community in the Thieves’ Quarter. You know the type — kind to animals, generous with beggars, and always sees to it that the attractive young men and women of the region have a warm place to sleep at night. Or any time, for that matter.

To give her credit, she showed more concern for my well being than I thought she would. As I alternated between recounting my tale of woe and taking huge mouthfuls of food at her dinner table (I hadn’t eaten all day), she gazed at me with wide blue eyes and made sympathetic
noises at all the right moments. Gods only know why she cared — as a friend and lover I was no prize, and I knew it.

“Gods,” she muttered, picking up a silver knife, inspecting it for a moment, then slamming it back down on the table, clearly agitated. “What a day. Are you all right, Wulf?”

I took a huge bite of bird (what sort of bird, I really didn’t care). “All things considered, I’m better than I should be. Now that I’ve eaten, I’m even better.”

“Damn that woman.”

I stopped in mid-chew. “You mean Narisha?” I asked, my mouth full.

She nodded. “I’m sorry I got you involved in all this?”

I swallowed, frowning. “Not to pry, love, but exactly how did my name come up? I mean, were circumstances…”

“Intimate?” She nodded. “I’m afraid so. You still want to hear about it?”

“It’s never stopped you before. Give me the bad news.”

xxxxx

Livia’s recommendation of Wulf as a suitable agent for the demoness Narisha’s mission had actually been the result of mixed feelings. On one hand, she wanted to get him work. On the other, there had been times when Livia had wished Wulf dead and burning in hell, which, given Narisha’s requirements, was not terribly unlikely.

There was, of course, one other possibility, and that revolved around the exact moment at which Livia had given the recommendation.

Narisha, naked save for a pair of long, lace, fingerless gloves, had at the time been crouched
between Livia’s thighs, her tongue darting in and out of the human woman as if it were a living thing separate from its owner. Livia, her short blonde hair plastered to her face with sweat and Narisha’s own juices, was lying back, fingering her own nipples as the demoness pleasured her.

Having been brought to the brink at least two dozen times, and pushed over a dozen more, Livia’s mind had pretty much wandered from mundane matters, concentrating exclusively upon the demon-woman’s tongue, hands, thighs and breasts. As yet another shattering climax rolled from her sore but still quite functional sex (these demons seemed to have an aura about them, Livia thought, that both enhanced and prolonged arousal — she would have to study it later), the sorceress was therefore taken off guard by Narisha’s next actions.

The demoness’ prominent lips embraced Livia’s own, lower set, and her tongue darted inside, as persistent as a man’s organ, but smaller and far more flexible. She felt ripples spread through her body once more and almost cried out, begging Narisha to stop. This she did not do, since such an entreaty would only spur the crimson-skinned creature on. And so, Livia hung suspended between desire and satiation, letting Narisha continue her gentle yet persistent exploration.

Then, she said it.

“Darling,” Narisha spoke, raising her head from her labors, her skin moist with Livia’s juices, her hair slick with sweat. “I have a job that needs doing. Can you recommend anyone?”

Ripples still raced back and forth through Livia’s body, lacing it with hot and cold flashes, and she barely had time to think on the question. It just so happened that at that moment Livia’s mind went back to a day nearly two years ago when she had crouched on hands and knees beneath a cascading waterfall, feeling the icy water sheet down upon her as a man thrust into her from behind. She could barely feel his hands spreading her buttocks apart for the numbing pound of the water, and barely hear for the roar. The only sensation she could feel was the hot hardness of the man as he thrust in, withdrew, and thrust again, alternating hot and cold deep inside her. And the man…

“Wulf,” she gasped, grabbing Narisha’s head and thrusting it down between her thighs again. “Oh, Wulf.”

Narisha’s tongue did its work, while her sharp-nailed fingers crawled up Livia’s sides to stroke and tease her erect, pink nipples. Livia rolled pliantly over the brink once, twice, thrice more before she finally fell back, gasping for breath, feeling secondary shocks tremble through her loins.

Narisha raised herself up on an elbow, none the worse for her exertions. “You will have to repay this favor soon, you know,” she said in her lyrical if slightly horrific voice. “All my little pupils must show their appreciation to their teacher.”

“Oh, I’ll show it, never fear,” Livia grinned. “I’ll have you begging for mercy once I’ve recovered somewhat.”

The demoness toyed with Livia’s nipple. “You should decorate these,” she suggested idly, indicating the gleaming gem which hung from her own breast. “The pain is exquisite, and once the wound heals, the pleasure of having them touched is redoubled.”

“It’s very pretty,” Livia said.

“So who is this Wulf?” Narisha asked. “What sort of work is he good for?”

Livia had to stop short for a moment to even recall what Narisha was talking about. Damn these demons, she thought. Hot and wet one moment, and all business the next.

“Not all business, sweetest little peach,” Narisha smiled, stretching like a cat. “But I do have a bit of
business which needs doing.”

“You know, most people do not take kindly to having their minds read,” Livia said with all the gravity she could muster.

“I know. Do I care? And besides, what harm is there in reading your mind, filled as it is with love and devotion to your sweet lover, Narisha?”

“Love and devotion…” Livia snorted. “Lust and envy, more like. In any event, Wulf is a friend of mine. He’s got a wide variety of skills…”

“So I saw. I’ve never made love under a waterfall myself. Would you like to try it some time?”

“There you go again… It can be very annoying, you know.”

Narisha shrugged. “I was along for the ride. I felt that hard stallion of his as well. Are you too
sensitive to share your memories?”

“No, not really. Anyway, Wulf’s a jack of all trades. He has skills far in excess of his years and he can be a complete son of a bitch sometimes. He’s been in love with me ever since Kenth.”

“And how do you feel about him?”

“Ah, so you can’t read everything. That’s encouraging. The truth, Narisha, is that I am enormously fond of Wulf, but I respect him too much to get involved. I don’t want to ruin our friendship.”

“And I know you, my dearest little kitten.” Narisha’s eyes glinted lustfully. “You only make love to those you know you can easily get rid of. The soul exception, of course, being my good self.”

Livia glared. “Wulf is my friend. I don’t want to mess up his life further by fucking him.”

A chuckle. “All the same, he was a fine gallop, right?”

Livia sighed, rolling her eyes. “Yes, he was. But I often wonder whether he’s worth the trouble.”

“Am I worth the trouble, my little pet?” Narisha said, rolling onto her back. She raised her knees up into the air and spread them apart, her black-tipped hands reaching down to stroke between them. “Frankly, I don’t care whether you think I am or not, because I’m going to feel your tongue here in a moment regardless. Aren’t I, darling?”

“Aren’t I, darling?” Livia made a face. “Why do I love you so much, tell me please?”

“Because you can’t live without the thought of being able to nuzzle my beautiful breasts and suckle at my nipples like the child you are,” Narisha replied. “Because you dream of my thighs and what lies between them every night. Because you love the taste of my juices and the feel of my tongue. Because I’m the only woman you’ll ever really love. Am I right?”

“Hmph. You’re not even a woman, really.”

“Oh, but I am. More of a woman than any mortal can imagine.”

She reached out and drew a nail across Livia’s nipple, leaving a tiny bead of blood. “Now come and taste me, my sweet, or I’ll have you punished.”

“Promise?” Livia asked, sarcastically. All the same, her pulse raced as she positioned herself between Narisha’s thighs and gently stroked at her distended, slick black lips, and she had to admit that at least some of what the demoness said was true. Love, faugh… But was it love she felt, or something else?

“I think I’ll get in touch with this Wulf, then,” Narisha said. Then she sighed. “Enough business. Come, young lover. Worship at the gates of my temple…”

Livia’s tongue and fingers explored the moist interior of Narisha’s cunt, tentative at first, but then with increasing force and authority. Soon, her face was slick and burning slightly from the rich juices which flowed there in abundance.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 4

It was not at all unpleasant. In fact, the demonic juices were somewhat intoxicating, sliding effortlessly past Livia’s tongue, and down her throat to burn like fine liquor deep inside her. A mad sense of abandon seized Livia, and she spread Narisha’s black cunt-lips apart, allowing the juices to flow down the demoness’ crimson thighs. She cupped her hands beneath them, feeling the hot liquid dripping down, then slathered it over her arms, shoulders and breasts. It burned so, but brought such pleasure as well, tingling through her nipples, warming her skin, racing through her veins.

“I love you,” Livia whispered, thrusting her face once more between Narisha’s muscular thighs, feeling the soft cunt-flesh against her mouth, drinking in the hot juices, licking and licking. “I love you so.”

“Of course you do,” Narisha purred, her voice rising to a fevered, husky pitch. Her fingers toyed with the jeweled ring at her nipple, pulling hard, digging deeply into the soft flesh of her own breasts. “Drink deep from me. Taste me, my love.”

It was as if Narisha had control even of the flow of her own secretions, for a new flood of cunt-juice
washed over Livia, more than she could have imagined possible; certainly more than possible for an ordinary mortal woman. Livia drank, but more flowed than she could take, and it dripped down her shoulders and back, soaking the coverlet beneath them. It was hot and sweet, and grew more so with each passing moment.

Narisha sighed and moaned. It seemed that the demon-woman was at last losing control herself. “You love me. You serve me. You’re mine, aren’t you?”

“Yes!” Livia’s voice rose to a strangled moan, muffled against Narisha’s soft, red-black lips. “I belong to you… Only you…”

Narisha splayed her thighs wider still, and Livia’s questing tongue thrust deeper. She was drunk on this woman, she realized, and saying things which normally came very hard for her. Yet now, as Narisha’s innermost depths opened up before her, her tongue clove dark, burning flesh, and the hot juices fermented inside her, a part of Livia really did love the beautiful demoness, if only for the moment.

It did not occur to her that some moments last longer than others.

Wulf:

I groaned. “You told her about the waterfall?”

“Told her, hell. She saw it. Lived it. You know what she’s capable of.”

Indeed I did. I still had one question. “You really love her?” Once more, I knew the answer, and was doing nothing more than tormenting myself. Of course, she loved Narisha. And of course, she’d never love me.

I guess the tone of my voice was a bit overly petulant. Livia did not respond well in any event. She stood up and approached me, eyes wild.

“I said I did, didn’t I? Is there something wrong with that? Because she’s a woman? Because you couldn’t love anyone or anything to save your own life, you arrogant little cutpurse?”

My jaw dropped. I stammered. “I… I didn’t mean… I’m sorry…” Livia was about the only friend I could count on right now, and I wasn’t about to alienate her. “I only meant…”

With amazing swiftness, the fire went out, and Livia drooped like a rag doll. What the hell?

“Damn,” she muttered, to herself more than to me. “Damn it to hell…”

“What’s wrong?” Now it was my turn to be worried. I knelt and cradled her head in my hands. I wanted to say no, no, I love you. I love you more than anyone else in the entire fucking, shattered world, but I couldn’t. I knew it would only make matters worse. Hell, maybe I’m a kinder person than I like to admit. Nah… not possible…

I helped her back to her seat, and she looked at me, her eyes wide again, this time with something that looked like fear.

“It’s not right,” she said. “It feels all wrong. She’s done something to me, Wulf. Made me feel things that I don’t want to feel. Gods. Has she done it to you, too?”

With a chill I realized that she probably had. My feelings for Narisha were remarkably strong for someone I’d only spent a single evening with, but I finally had to admit that buried deep in my heart there was a hollow, aching longing for the demon woman. Damn.

Suddenly, Livia closed her eyes and exhaled, as if finally discovering the answer to a childishly simple question.

“Of course,” she muttered. “I’m an idiot.”

“Well if you are, I’m a bigger one,” I said as solicitously as I could. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about body fluids, Wulf,” she said. It would have sounded ridiculous if she hadn’t been so deadly serious. “Blood, sweat, saliva… other things…”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said quickly, thinking back to the previous night. “You don’t have to draw me any
pictures.”

“They’re major components in sympathetic magic, aren’t they?”

I nodded, still thick-skulled enough not to know where she was going with all this.

“Exactly what have we both shared with that red-skinned bitch?”

Realization dawned with all the force of an ogre’s club. “You mean we’re ensorcelled?”

“Mm. Maybe more than that. Demon magic is different from ours, but it still uses most of the same elements. I would imagine that demonic bodily fluids have a hell of a lot more potency than ours, and if we’ve managed to mix them…”

“She might have a hell of a hold over both of us?”

“She might. And the worst part of it is that I don’t mind so much.”

I didn’t either. Intellectually, I knew that it was all part of the spell. If I was magically compelled to love someone, then naturally I wouldn’t see anything wrong with being magically compelled to love someone. The image of the demoness appeared in my mind, naked red flesh flickering with blue, fanged teeth bared in a sensuous grin. I felt my heart begin to beat faster…

QUIT IT!

I pulled myself back down to earth. My rational corner was still there, heavily besieged by external enemies, but functional nonetheless.

“So,” I said quietly, “exactly what do you think she did to us?”

Livia started to reply, but a voice both beloved and hateful interrupted her.

“Nothing you didn’t want, I assure you.”

I looked up. She was there, of course, as tall and statuesque as ever. She was dressed more simply
(obviously not out to make an impression this time, damn her eyes) in a long red satin robe, embroidered with silver, blue and gold dragons and birds. Her face was as radiantly wicked as ever, her pouty, blue-black lips curled back in what could only be described as an impish grin.

“Where the hell did you come from?” I asked, anger and desire fighting each other to a standstill. Beside me, Livia made incoherent noises, probably wondering how Narisha had managed to blithely walk through all her pattern-wards.

Someone once said that all demon laughter is mocking laughter.

Narisha’s response to this certainly qualified.

“I come and go as I choose. You should both know that.” She swayed across the room like a large, long-haired cat and sat backwards in one of Livia’s chairs, leaning forward against the backrest, her long legs splayed out on either side. Blue shapes crawled and flickered along her thighs. Dammit, I couldn’t tell if she was wearing anything under her blasted robe.

“What do you think?” she asked, and snickered.

“If you can read our minds then what the hell is the point of talking?” I asked, disgusted. “Now,
sweetheart, I think it’s time you provided us with a few answers.”

“Answers to what, my darling swordsman?” she leaned back, holding the chair back with her hands.

“Who set the hunting beasts on me, for one.”

She snapped forward, all seriousness now. Her coy, teasing manner vanished in an instant. “What hunting beasts?”

“The two drooling mutants who tried to turn me into sausages this morning at the Red Shark. If I didn’t have my holy knife I would be residing in a demon
gullet at this very moment.”

A moment of silence. Her intense, yellow eyes drilled into me, and I felt her enter my mind and absorb my memories of the incident.

“Damn.” She muttered. She actually looked distraught.

“Hm,” I said. “Two incidents of a demon showing real emotion in less than a day. Will wonders never cease?”

“It’s not funny,” she shot back. “Duke Janus knows I’m here. His spies must have told him that I talked to you. Damn.”

“Well if nothing else, Duke Janus is short a pair of hunting beasts,” I said, “and my friends at the Shark are spreading stories of my lurid death.”

Narisha smiled. It was a surprisingly friendly smile. “Good work, Freelance. Did anyone see you come here?”

“Not as far as I know. To the great city of Stoneburg, Wulf the Freelance is now history.”

“Pity.” Some of the old insouciance returned. “I was growing fond of him.”

Livia piped up. “Well, if Janus is thrown off the trail for the moment, maybe you could clue us in to exactly what kind of trebly-damned enchantment you’ve cast on us?”

Now my demoness was really back in form. She smiled sweetly. “You pretty much pegged it with your first guess, my pretty little kitten. I’ve found that I get much better service out of those who adore me.” Another giggle and toss of her head, and the transformation was complete.

I was not thrilled by her revelation. “I should be thoroughly pissed by this time,” I said, “but I’m not because you’ve ensorcelled me.” I took a deep breath. “And that REALLY pisses me off!”

Livia seemed to be experiencing the same conflict of emotion that I was. She spoke angrily, but I could tell the were hurt feelings underlying.

“How could you do this to me, Narisha?” she demanded. “Did it every occur to you that I might have fallen in love with you without being compelled to?”

A wry chuckle. “Consider the source,” Narisha replied. “Only People consider love to be a transient emotion at best. At worst, it’s an emotion you can manipulate and use to get what you want.”

“Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing to us?” Livia asked.

To my astonishment, Narisha’s expression softened again and she spoke in earnest tones. “I’ve never been like that, Livia. I’m what you call a demon, and my emotions are different from yours.” Pause. Almost as if tears were fighting their way up. “But I can still feel emotions like yours. They never seem as transitory as they do for other demons. I do feel something for you, Livia. I suppose I used binding magic because I wanted you to feel the same.”

I rolled my eyes. “Would you two like me to leave?” I asked. “Remember, I’m the guy with the claw-marks all over him. I’m ashamed to admit to some affection for both of you. Do I enter into this equation, or am I just a handy poke?”

They both looked at me — Livia with sympathy, Narisha with amusement.

Smoothly, in a single, graceful motion, Narisha stood up. “I reset your wards, Livia,” she said. “And I threw a few of my own. I paid particular attention to anti-demon spells.”

“You’ll have to teach me one sometime,” Livia suggested. All business sometimes, that woman…

“Not to worry. Just don’t use it against me.” Narisha’s yellow eyes narrowed. “I wanted to make sure we weren’t disturbed.”

That aura of hers (I can’t think of anything better to call it) seemed to expand somewhat, and I felt a sudden urgent pressure somewhere below my beltline. Oh, hell.

Livia felt it too. I saw her uncross her legs rather too slowly, then swallow hard.

Narisha smiled what was by far the wickedest smile I’d seen from her yet.

“Watch me, Wulf,” she purred. “Watch me and see if you can contain yourself.”

Gracefully, like a Red Temple nautch dancer, she tugged at the belt of her robe, and it slid smoothly open, revealing what seemed like acres of supple, red flesh. She shrugged it off, and it slid to the floor, and Narisha was standing before us, naked and proud, abstract blue images flickering up and down her body.

I glanced at Livia. She was staring, mouth open, her expression that of a starving prisoner presented with a freshly roasted boar. Hell, I probably looked the same way.

Narisha spoke. “Livia. Come here.” It was the voice of authority. Although she did not speak to me, I almost obeyed nonetheless.

Livia certainly snapped to, standing up and approaching our mutual crimson-skinned mistress. As she did so, she stepped out of her shift, leaving herself dressed only in a short undertunic, which left off about mid-waist. I watched, slack-jawed, almost physically unable to move without Narisha’s say-so.

Gods, but Livia is an attractive woman. Even half-dressed she’s finer than a dozen lesser woman fully nude. Her hips are substantial, but not overly so, curving gently from a slightly rounded stomach, leading into a pair of muscular legs. If I hadn’t been thoroughly aroused by this time, I would have been when Livia silently kneeled down at Narisha’s feet and reached out her hands to stroke the demon-woman’s sides.

“What a good girl you are,” Narisha whispered. “Now, show him how much you love me.”

Narisha’s skin was warm beneath Livia’s hands — warmer than human skin. The flickering tattoos twitched across the demoness’ thighs as Livia moved close, sliding her hands around to cup Narisha’s buttocks.

“See her, swordsman?” The warm purr of Narisha’s voice slipped through the air like falling rose petals. “See how she adores me?” She looked straight at Wulf. “I think she loves you, too, Wulf, though she’d never admit it. Perverted little minx, she only makes love to those she holds in contempt. I’ve told her that opening that sweet pink box of hers to those she truly loves and desires might make her a happier woman, but does she listen to me? Disobedient little whore… mmmm…
Lick me, little whore…”

Inside Livia, anger at Narisha’s words fought with love, was defeated, and finally swept away by sheer, heart-pounding desire. Livia’s tongue sought out the softness of Narisha’s belly, then quested lower, grazing the tops of her thighs, and finally the silky hair between them. Heat seemed to roll off the demoness’ sex as if it was a furnace, but she resisted the urge to bury her face in it, instead grazing it lightly with tongue and lips, reveling in the shudders of anticipatory pleasure which shook Narisha’s body.

“She’s a cunning little one,” Narisha whispered, the hissing sound filling the silent room. “She likes to make her lover wait… ah… the agony of pleasure delayed, my little love…”

Livia ran her hands up and down the demoness’ thighs, scoring the red flesh lightly with her nails. She glanced up to see Narisha’s face contorted as if in deep concentration, her black- taloned hands massaging the overflowing mounds of her own breasts, tugging at the gold ring that pierced one nipple.

“Ah… I can’t wait…” Narisha’s voice was cut with an edge of what might almost be called agony. “Love me, Livia… Worship me…”

A strange sensation filled Livia, as it so often did at moments such as these. It was as if she, a mere human, held an unearthly being — a demoness — in thrall, balancing on the edge of ecstasy, forcing her to beg and plead for pleasure. It was not a moment to be wasted, Livia knew.

“On the couch, demon,” she whispered. “Sit there and wait for me.”

Amazingly, Narisha obeyed, stepping backwards with feverish haste and sitting down on Livia’s leather sofa, leaning back luxuriantly, her eyes feral and narrow, her black lips slightly parted, large breasts rising and falling, the gem at her nipple glittering in the light as they moved. Slowly she opened her legs, hands planted upon her thighs, exposing the blue-black of her cunt lips.

“Please put your lips there, little kitten…” Narisha pleaded now, in near-human tones. “Show me your love…”

Again, Livia kneeled, and began to stroke at the crimson skin of Narisha’s thighs. Her tongue flicked out, stroking the now-wet softness of the demoness’ sex.

“You want it now?” she asked, softly.

“Yes…” Narisha moaned. “Please.”

“How much do you want it?”

“More than…” Narisha’s words faded into an incoherent groan.

She writhed on the couch like a sinner in torment. Her hands moved frantically along her thighs, as if urging Livia to devour her, and end her agonized anticipation.

“More than what?” Livia asked. She kissed the moist black lips lightly, just enough that her lover could feel it.

“More than…” Rather than give a coherent reply, Narisha simply placed her hands behind Livia’s head and thrust her sex against the blonde woman’s face.

“Show me. Love me, little kitten. Love me.” Demonic joy \laced the words, joy and fulfillment.

“I’m your kitten now?” Livia whispered. “Aren’t I still your whore?”

“Mmmm. Yes, dearest. You’re my favorite little whore. You’re my sweetest little kitten. You’re whatever I want you to be.”

Caged by the hot smoothness of Narisha’s thighs, Livia at last allowed her tongue to slip between the swollen black lips, cleaving to the hot sweetness inside. Again, the demonic juices filled her mouth, filling her with a terrible intoxication. Like a long-denied drunkard with a bottle of liquor, she drank deeply.

“Drink from me, little one…” Urged Narisha. “Take all you want from me…”

Livia obeyed, tongue working at the slick prominence of Narisha’s clitoris, feeling her lover’s cunt-juices flow into her mouth, down her chin, across her shoulders, soaking her shift.

“Say you love me.” It was both a command and a plea. “Say you love me now.”

“I love you,” Livia murmured, mouth against soft, secret flesh. She felt light-headed and disoriented, but the truth of her emotion was like a shining beacon. As she continued to lick and bite at the tender skin, her thoughts took wing and flew rapidly with heart-felt intensity.

Did she speak, or did the words flow freely from heart to mind? Whatever it was, she knew Narisha could hear them, and the demoness’ pleasure was redoubled. I love you. I want to belong to you. I want to dance naked with you under the moon. I want to suckle at your breasts like a child. I want to embrace you in the waves of a warm ocean. I want to lie with you in the rain and watch it moisten your skin. I want to taste your sweetness beneath the boughs of a dark forest. I
want to hold your body against mine on a wind-swept mountain top. I want to feel your tongue inside me as I lie under the desert sun. I want to kneel at your feet and wear your collar and be your slave. I want to rule over you and make you obey. I want you to call me filthy names. I want to scream at you and make you feel my rage. I want to worship you, make you my goddess. I want you to worship me.

“I love you,” she repeated, out loud this time. Narisha stiffened, moaning deeply, and Livia felt contractions raced through her body. The blue tattoos flickered in time with her as waves of orgasm wracked her.

“Oh, dearest…” Narisha’s climax lasted for a full minute, then another. Her back arched, her belly straining upward, her breasts straining, hands curled into claws.

“Dearest… Livia… Oh, fuck… Oh, fuck… Oh, my darling. Oh, my filthy little slut. Oh, my angel…” Her words were choked, forced from a constricted throat, finally merging into incoherent animal sounds, until at last she lay limp, sweat glistening on her breasts and belly as they rose and fell.

“My love,” she sighed, stroking Livia’s face with a long- nailed hand. “My best beloved. You move me like no one else.”

“Mpph,” came a muffled grunt from Wulf. Livia turned, ashamed that she had forgotten him.

The mercenary looked somewhat nonplused at Narisha’s comment. He also looked extremely uncomfortable.

“You aren’t finished yet, my dearest little pet.” Narisha lazed back on the couch and languidly motioned Livia to rise. “Show him, too. Show him what you showed me.”

The Demon Crown – Chapter 5

To say I was aroused would have been like calling the Third Siege of Xath a minor disagreement. As before with Narisha (damnably predictable, that woman), my breeches had grown incredibly tight, and I had an erection you could attach a pulley to and lift an obelisk with. I was still mildly annoyed that much of my mixed love and desire for both the women so amply displayed before mewas a result of magical intervention, but took comfort in the fact that any man not exclusively attracted to his own gender would be as uncomfortable now as I was.

Livia’s declarations of love for Narisha still echoed in my ears. The analytical corner of my mind wondered, even as the object of my speculation swayed gracefully toward me, slipping off her soaked shift, whether Livia really meant it or whether these words were also the result of ensorcellment.

Clothed, Livia could corrupt even the most dedicated Idrianic Cenobite. Naked, she was nothing short of divine. Or — if the sensual Narisha, now reclining like a vast, shapely mountain range on Livia’s couch, could be discounted — diabolical. Smooth, white shoulders and slender arms; breasts pleasantly large and shapely, but not excessively so; and a belly and legs which have already been adequately described.

Even considering this preternaturally exquisite body, Livia’s face is really her best asset — softly curved, pale-skinned, with a delicately upturned nose and a light spatter of freckles. Her eyes were a transparent blue, and as she licked her full lips, I saw a pearly flash of teeth. I suppressed an anticipatory shudder. I had dreamed of this moment for endless seasons, finally convincing myself that it would never happen. Now, here it was, offered up to me like a holy sacrifice in temple.

“Take the pleasure she gives you, swordsman,” Narisha said, with husky excitement. “It’s our gift to you.”

Livia’s lips caressed my cock, and her tongue moved to lick it up and down. From the couch, Narisha watched, eyes rapt, her breaths growing quicker. She tugged at her nipple ring, and her long, flexible tongue flicked out to moisten her lips.

“Tell him you love him,” Narisha ordered. “Like you told me.”

Livia kissed my cock once more, then looked up at me, blue eyes wide and sincere. When the words came, they were at once painful and exquisite. Joy and sorrow combined in me as Livia spoke.

“I love you,” she whispered. Her words were stark with clarity, and I knew that she meant them. “I love you, Wulf. I love you both.”

“Oh, gods, Livia,” I whispered. “I’ve always loved you.”

On the couch, Narisha tossed her head back and groaned briefly. It was as if the emotions of others were as intense as their caresses for her. A tiny spark raced through my mind, and I felt a small portion of the demoness’ climax. Gods, what had she done?

“I’ve made us all one, Wulf-cub,” Narisha said, softly, as Livia’s lips again encircled my shaft, sliding it inside her beautiful mouth, filling me with renewed sensation. “We’re joined, now. Joined in love and pleasure.”

Livia enveloped me again, and I realized that I still didn’t mind what Narisha had said. If I was joined with these two, so be it. I could think of worse fates.

“Ride him now,” Narisha said. She was sitting up now, watching us with (if possible) even greater
fascination. “Ride his stallion.” There was that damned overblown metaphorical sense of hers again…

I reclined on the floor, a thick rug insulating me from the cold marble. Livia crouched above me, slipping my organ between her legs, stroking it against her sex. Dammit, it really did seem to buck and caper like a wild stallion. At least, so I thought at the time.

“Put it in,” I said, feeling the same intense desire as Narisha had. “Please, let me feel you all around me.”

Livia smiled, opened her mouth wide, pink tongue touching ivory teeth, and slid down my shaft, my cock penetrating her wet cunt, deeper and deeper… Her soft cunt-flesh surrounded me, pulling me in, and then she rose up on her knees again, slipping me out, then down. Again and again… Gods… For the second time in as many days, I felt transported to paradise.

Then, black-tipped red hands slid to surround Livia’s pale white breasts, and Narisha appeared behind her.

“You make my lover happy,” Narisha said. “Can you make us both happy?”

Two faces, one pale and angelic, the other devilish and crimson, gazed at me as Narisha kneeled behind Livia and matched her movements, as if they were both the same being. Her hot demon- flesh was smooth against my sides, complimenting and contrasting Livia’s pale skin. They moved up and down together, my cock straining inside Livia, her pleasure translated directly into Narisha’s brain. Their expressions melted into open-lipped looks of intense pleasure.

“Now me,” Narisha gasped. “Put your shaft inside me.”

As one, they moved forward, and without a break, my cock moved between Narisha’s thighs and inside her inhumanly hot and moist cunt.

I’d never have been able to accomplish such acrobatics if I’d practiced for a month, and now I was performing like a Xeshite pleasure slave. Gods… Livia.

It was an indescribably sensation Livia had felt, the hardness of Wulf’s cock inside her, and the hot supple flesh of Narisha behind, hands stroking as the demoness’ vast breasts pillowed against her back. The tiny ring and gem in Narisha’s nipple bit against Livia’s tender flesh, further enhancing sensation.

Then they moved, and Wulf was inside Narisha. She felt no jealousy that the hot shaft had moved away from her, only joy that she and Narisha could share this man, whom she finally realized she loved. Narisha’s moans joined Wulf’s in a chorus of sensual agony.

“I love you,” Livia whispered, to both of them. “I love you.”

I didn’t know where all the energy came from. It was probably more of Narisha’s sex magic, but I can’t be certain. The upshot was that all three of us ended up in Livia’s bedroom, sprawled in curious conjoinment on a bed large enough to comprise a small country estate (upon which, might I add, many a young male student or knockabout had learned the true meaning of the word
“ecstasy” only to be tossed out on his ear the next morning).

Livia lay near the head of the bed, her legs drawn up and splayed, stroking Narisha’s head as the demon woman’s tongue delved up and down her thighs and flicked in and out of her exposed cunt. As for myself, I was on my knees behind Narisha, entering the demoness from behind, gripping her soft, shapely buttocks and watching the blue patterns flicker and change as my cock slid in, then emerged, slick and tingling with her inner sweetness.

Everyone seemed extremely happy.

Sensation spread from my Narisha’s center to my shaft… That burning, tingling feeling which I had felt when I tasted her rolled through me now, entering the taunt flesh of my organ and extending out through my body. It was as if every sense was sharpened, heightened to an unnatural degree. Every sight and sound was magnified, every touch and scent redoubled. For a few moments, I perceived the world as a demon did.

I felt that I could thrust in and out of Narisha’s moistness indefinitely… I never wanted to stop, but
only to remain this way, suspended on the edge for all time, forever joined to my two lovers, forever both master and slave. Again and again my cock slid into the demoness’ beautiful cunt, gaining energy and desire with each stroke in an ever-growing cycle of fleshy pleasure.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 6

Livia:

The demon-woman’s tongue moved freely through Livia, seeming to reach beyond the mere physical reaches of her cunt, and slip like a thin, vastly long snake deep inside her to touch her heart, her mind, and — if there was such a thing — her soul. A thin wailing slipped from her throat, growing louder, involuntarily rising to a heady cry of increasing desire.

Narisha’s hands encircled her buttocks, pulling Livia’s hot moistness closer, thrusting the endless tongue deeper and deeper. Livia laced her fingers behind the luxuriant black hair, thrusting with increasing urgency. How the demoness could breath, Livia did not know, but it didn’t seem to matter.

Behind Narisha, Wulf stroked her with his cock, thrusting between the firm red expanse of her buttocks, entering her again and again, seemingly tirelessly. Livia had experienced it before… it was Narisha’s doing, and afterwards she knew that they would all sleep for a day or more.

Narisha’s tongue seemed to coil and writhe inside her, touching her more deeply than Livia had ever thought possible. Heat and desire swelled in her loins, her belly, her chest, growing hotter and hotter until she couldn’t contain it. Orgasm rose slowly like a silvery bubble through a tropical ocean, gaining strength and intensity as it did so. She knew it was coming, she could feel it, but it still shimmered and glistened in the distance, growing closer by the second.

Wulf:

Narisha absorbed me, and, as if echoing the sentiment of her words, I felt that we were one. All three of us had joined to become a single entity, dedicated only to pleasure. Emotions roiled inside me, ones which I had only recently denied even existed.

“Narisha,” I gasped, only barely able to form words as I pushed inside her again. “Narisha, I love you.”

Then, I think the most astonishing event of the past days occurred. Narisha continued to lavish attention upon Livia, but she replied with the same intense sincerity I had heard from the blonde sorceress.

“I love you, Wulf,” she said. Gods, I thought, there’s a lot of love in this room right now. “I love you both.”

That was enough for me. Words are the greatest aphrodisiac, and these seemed to push both Livia and me over the cliff we’d spent all afternoon climbing. Her cries rose to a wordless wail in which every desire seemed embodied. She tensed, released, tensed again, and I could see uncontrolled orgasm crashing endlessly through her.

It was enough for me, too. I finally came, feeling the hotness of my cock gushing into Narisha. I had been loosed like an arrow, plunging on without regard for myself or anything else. My seed flooded into the sweet demon-cunt, mixing with her flowing juices, dripping down the carven columns of her thighs…

I felt Narisha’s climax as well, and her cries joined those of me and Livia. All three of us seemed instantly united in a single orgasm, which rocked through our bodies, bounced back and returned again and again, like a massive bolt of lightning over a storm-tossed sea. Yes, we were one now, and I knew it was what I wanted.

We slept then, twined together like the branches of an ancient oak, and dreamed of each other.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 7

We didn’t stir until late afternoon of the following day. My dreams wandered from Narisha to Livia and back again, inspecting every inch of their bodies and minds, running endlessly through lush fields of flesh, feeling again and again the hot softness of their touch.

Once we had finally roused ourselves from that damned bedstead (not that I wanted to leave, mind you), we ate in Livia’s dining room, served by a number of sprites who seemed to serve our sorceress out of heartfelt devotion, rather than magical compulsion. I ate (again)
ravenously, but Livia (damn her) seemed to have retained the appetite of a bird. Narisha took her meat =rare, and ate noisily with her fingers. Well, I guess they weren’t ahead of us in all the social graces.

After that, we retired to Livia’s sitting room, which provided a lovely view of the Thieves’ Quarter, with the noble realms misty pink and green in the distance. The glass was enchanted, of course, providing outside viewers with a boring, empty, mundane room no matter what orgiastic rites were actually going on inside. The room was pleasantly paneled in red flamewood, lined with leather-bound books, and furnished with deeply upholstered chairs and a desk large enough to raise cattle.

We’d all dressed properly at last, Livia in the pale blue robes she favored, myself in clothes she’d
provided, and Narisha in one of her lace, leather and chain mail numbers (gods only knew where she kept them all). It was with physical effort that I pushed all sensual considerations aside and concentrated on what Narisha was saying.

“The crown is an important artifact,” she said with calm authority. “Among other things, it symbolizes my family’s primacy and our position as defenders against the Outer Darks.”

“Hey, wait a minute,” I interrupted. “I’ve never heard of that. What are the Outer Darks?”

Narisha looked thoughtful. “I suppose you could say that they’re the realms we were driven out of.”

“You mean hell?”

She laughed, but there was little cruelty in the sound. “No. You listen to your own legends too much. The Only People are from another place, yes. But it’s not a fire-and-brimstone realm where sinners are punished. Well, perhaps it is now. We haven’t been back in quite a time. In any event, our enemies still live there, and it’s important that we keep them there.”

Now Livia spoke up. “That’s your family’s duty, then?”

“Among others. Also among other families’. It’s a very influential position. Unfortunately, you need the crown to symbolize it. Duke Janus apparently feels that my father’s been falling down on the job, and has stolen the crown. I’m sorry to say that it happened on my watch, while my father was in the White Empire, so I’m responsible for getting it back.”

“Okay,” I said. “Now we know what we’re going after,
perhaps you could tell me how to get it.”

“You’re the freelance, you tell me.”

I growled. “A little more information about Janus and his palace would be in order, I think.”

Narisha rummaged around behind the desk, and pulled out a bundle of rolled parchments. She selected one and unrolled it on the desktop, weighting it down with an inkwell and paperweight (another Xeshite erotic, I noticed).

The parchment was a nautical chart, scribed in bright colors with fanciful notations in some angular script I didn’t recognize.

“This is one of our charts,” she said. “It shows the way to Arak Island and Hellgate keep.”

My eyes widened. “There’s not an admiral in the realms who wouldn’t trade a roomful of gold for this chart,” I said.

“Don’t I know it. I’m lending it to you in the hope that you won’t betray my trust and sell it.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m unscrupulous, yes. But I don’t betray my friends.”

“Or lovers?”

“Or lovers. Get on with it.”

She then showed us, in quick succession, a number of other diagrams, depicting the island itself (a tangled jungle, apparently), the interior layout of Janus’ Keep (whose architecture would only be logical to another demon), and finally, a crude rendition of a number of secret escape tunnels which Janus had had constructed.

“Two of our best lost their lives making this diagram. You can use the tunnels to get into the keep. After that, it’s up to you.”

I raised my eyebrows. “You’ve got it pretty well figured out, love. Why didn’t you just send a regiment or so of your own warriors?”

She shook her head emphatically. “The place is crawling with anti-demon wards. Some of them would melt the flesh of anyone from our household if he so much as glanced at them. Janus doubled the guard after our spies got this information.”

“What assurances do you have that the layout hasn’t changed?” Livia asked. “The tunnels may be gone, they may be rigged with traps, or they may be in another location altogether.”

“It’s a risk,” Narisha agreed. “The tunnels are sure to be trapped, but it’s unlikely they’ve changed the layout. Janus wouldn’t want to waste all that slave labor.”

“Slave labor?” I asked, alarmed.

“Human slave labor. Hundreds died making those tunnels.” Narisha looked away. “Please believe me when I tell you that not all the Only People are like Janus.”

“I believe you,” I said. “I’ve known dozens of humans who can be as cruel as a demon.”

Livia still seemed concerned about the practical. “Once they’re inside the palace, what then? A band of humans will stick out like a whore at a Rexxaran feast.”

“I’m counting on stealth,” Narisha said. “But I brought some items which might be useful.”

More rummaging, and the demoness withdrew a number of small, silver amulets. I looked at one. It was a cunningly crafted image of a mouse.

“Stealth enhancement, I take it?” I asked, fascinated. “More sympathetic magic?”

Narisha nodded. “It won’t make you invisible or anything so useful, but it will help keep you hidden, especially from demons. They work better if you keep still.”

“Thanks.” I’d used such things in the past, and knew better than to depend on them, but they were a hell of a lot better than nothing.

Then Narisha held up a brass amulet, which dangled from a chain, dancing and sparkling in the light of the setting sun.

“There’s probably something guarding the crown,” she told me. “You’ll have to deal with it alone, or else this won’t work. Hold the amulet up and say…” Her lips, tongue and throat contorted in a string of words in some obscure demon dialect. “Got that?”

I shook my head. “No, but we can go over it later. What else have you got there?”

Narisha looked straight at me, yellow eyes locked with mine, deadly serious. “I have one more present for you, swordsman,” she said. “I am taking a terrible risk in giving it to you. I must have your assurance that you will use it properly.”

“I’ll know better when I see what it is,” I said, “but I give you my assurance anyway.”

Without another word, Narisha bent down, reaching behind the desk again, and stood up holding a long, narrow bundle covered in gray rags. She handled it gingerly, and when she set it on the desk, atop the unrolled charts, she seemed relieved to have it out of her possession.

“Open it,” she said.

Sensing the fatal seriousness of her words, I hastened to comply, tugging at the leather thongs which bound the package, and unwrapping the rags. When the contents were revealed, I stepped back with an involuntary cry.

It was a sword. But no ordinary sword. It most closely resembled a Litharnan two-hander, but seemed much older. The pommel bore a large red gemstone, its grip was wound with weathered black leather, its crossguards in the form of intertwined dragon’s heads. The blade was the strangest of all, however. It was a glossy black color, and bore gleaming silver runes. They were very old, but I could read them.

“Pierce the demon heart,” I read. “Strike in the name of justice.” I looked up at Narisha. “It’s a holy
sword! I’ve never seen one so large.”

She nodded, face shot through with apprehension. “Yes. It was carried by the warrior Sir Goltha of Litharna, over a thousand years ago.”

“From the demon wars,” Livia declared. “That must be Lawgiver, the sword of justice. Everyone thought it was destroyed when Goltha was killed.”

“His ship was sunk and he drowned,” Narisha said. “Our swimmers brought it back, and we’ve kept it ever since. We can’t destroy it; it’s magic is too powerful. But we could keep it out of human hands — prevent it from ever being used against us.”

My heart lurched. “You’re giving it to me?”

“Loaning it, my beloved,” she said. “But you must swear never to use it against me or any member of my household.”

I’ve never put much stock in oaths, faith or religion. But now I did, and I fortunately knew the right words to say. I kneeled before the desk, bowed my head, placed both hands on the great, black blade, and spoke softly.

“By all the gods, by all my ancestors, and by all that I hold sacred, I swear I will never use this blade against you and your household, nor against any who bear your arms, wear your colors, or swear fealty to you. This I swear, from this day until the end of the world, or until you release me from this oath. May my soul lie in torment should I violate this oath, and may my name be cursed to the seventh generation.”

I raised my head. Narisha was staring at me in flat-out disbelief. Black tears ran down her cheeks. Her dark lips trembled.

“You do love me,” she said.

I nodded. I had meant it, for once.

Evening lengthened shadows over the eternal city, from the squalid huts of the Barrens to the jagged, evil towers of the Forbidden Enclave and the graceful curving structures of the Noble Quarter. I gazed out the windows of Livia’s sitting room, wondering if my death lay out there, and if it was anywhere near as savage as what these two women had put me through.

I picked at my food, my mind racing over plans for the coming endeavor. Livia ate as delicately as ever, while our demoness slavered and tore at her rare beast. I could have sworn her fangs had grown longer, but I couldn’t be certain.

“I have the most delicious plans for after dinner,” Narisha said, delicately wiping her blood-stained face with a white napkin. “There’s a Xeshite sex ritual which requires three participants. First, one of the women lies on her back with her legs.”

“I hate to interrupt,” I said, “and I hate the thought that I’ll be missing the evening orgy even more, but in all honesty I’m going to have work to do tonight.”

Livia nodded, “You need to get ready to go.”

“I do. I also want to get my team together; I’ve got a few people in mind, and the sooner I contact them, the sooner I can leave. I don’t want the news that I’m really alive to spread too fast.”

Narisha pouted prettily. “You make me sad, beloved.”

“Sorry. Hold the thought, though. It’ll keep me going through the journey.”

The demoness sighed, and her vast, soft bosom heaved and quivered alluringly. “Well, at least my Livia will be here.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “You two do as you please. Think of me once in a while, though.”

“Always,” Livia said, and took a sip of wine, “Always.”

They were already together on the bed when I left, moving in a luscious tangle of red and white flesh. I gritted my teeth, counted backwards from a hundred, and walked out into the night, Lawgiver securely scabbarded on my back.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 8

Stef is normally an extremely companionable fellow, even of temperament and jolly of disposition. He is a handsome, chisel- jawed man with deep blue eyes and curly blonde hair. He is usually smiling and almost never has a cross word for anyone. Unfortunately, these delightful character traits vanished the minute he caught sight of me.

“You!” he thundered, taking up a ceramic pot from a nearby table and brandishing it threateningly. “I hate you! Get the hell out!”

“Stef,” I began in my most diplomatic tone, “I just want to.”

He let fly with the pot. It smashed against the lintel over my head, showering me with water and broken crockery.

“I warned you!” he continued, face contorted with a strange mixture of anger and fear. “I told you to get out and you didn’t! If I killed you right now, no judge in the city would convict me!”

I was getting a little tired of this. “Dammit, Stef,” I barked, “didn’t know the dragon wasn’t really dead! I want to make it up to you!”

A silver tray splanged into the wall beside me.

“Make it up to me? You are a walking, talking omen of pure catastrophe! Despair and failure follow in your wake! What can you possibly do to make it up to me?”

“I’ve got a job.”

A pair of candlesticks this time. I dodged, but one of them caught me upside the head.

“Go to hell, Wulf! Every time you offer me a job, disaster strikes within the hour! It took a month to
get my arms back after that last fiasco! Get the hell out of my life! NOW!”

I stopped and glared at him. “Phaedra’s flaming tits, Stef, enough is enough!” I barked. “You throw one more household object and me, so help me I will pull out your pancreas and tie it around your neck! I’ve got a job for you!”

By the grace of all the gods, Stef finally stopped heaving things at me, and only stood, glowering and panting.

“What limbs do you want me to sacrifice this time, Wulf? I’ve got two legs left relatively unscathed.”

I took a deep breath. Maybe we could talk now. “None if we’re lucky. How are the new arms working out, by the way?”

His scowl deepened. “Considering the fact that one was taken off a Skyrian wrestling eunuch and the other was from some effeminate White Empire sorcerer, not badly. They should be the same size in a year or so.”

I mustered all the sympathy I could spare. “I’m sorry. I really could have sworn that dragon was dead…”

“Never mind.” He waved one beefy arm at me, then gestured with the other (noticeably thinner, I could see) to sit down. “I can see I won’t get rid or you until you give your pitch. So sit down and tell me so I can tell you to go fuck a hunting beast.”

“Thanks, I just did,” I mumbled, sitting down.

“Huh?”

“Nothing. Anyway, here’s the buzz.”

The Demon Crown – Chapter 9

I found Odo the dwarf, not surprisingly, sleeping off a drunk.

Vurrg, innkeeper at the Goblin’s Eye, had hung Odo from one of the torch brackets in order to get him out of the way while he dirtied up a little. I retrieved Odo from this humiliating position and dragged him home. He growled and mumbled a little, but did not wake, preferring — apparently to remain in his dream world where he was ravishing some chesty human temptress named Ula.

I’m surprised that the little runt doesn’t constantly have a swarm of flies around, given the fact that he rarely bathes and never combs out his beard. Despite his odious hygienic habits, however, Odo is the meanest little son-of-a-bitch who ever swung a battleaxe, and takes a perverse pleasure in killing such traditional foes as elves, goblins, other dwarves and especially — demons. I figured that we’d be well underway by the time he recovered from his drunk, so there wouldn’t be much he could do to prevent being dragooned into our little band.

***

The reams and reams of cheap fiction which the Litharnan printing presses crank out each year seem always to feature the same rag-tag band of adventurers — the beautiful sorceress, the brawny barbarian, the crafty thief, the plucky dwarf, the mysterious elf, and so on. As usual, reality doesn’t jibe.

I was, at best, an imitation barbarian, our thief was reluctant at best and had only just recovered from having his arms pulled off by a sadistic dragon, the dwarf was a drunk, and the elf was on the police force trying to bust our ass. The beautiful sorceress seemed content to stay at home and be repeatedly ravished by a demoness, and our best warrior wasn’t even brawny.

Not that she had to be. Xitaa (pronounced “Zee-tah”) was a priestess-sister from the Temple of Rexxara. For those of you who don’t know, Rexxara, the Mother of All Battles, is a southern import who has managed to gather a considerable following here in the heart of decadent civilization. Dedicated only to the joy of righteous battle, Rexxarans must, among other things, shave off
all their body hair (yes, ALL their body hair) save a small scalplock or strip in the middle of the head, practice a regimen of strenuous daily exercises, contribute all battlefield booty to the temple, and forsake all worldly pleasures. As might be expected, this means no booze, no sex, and only the most simple, nourishing food. (This, mind you, is just what I believed to be true at the time; the facts of the matter were considerably more interesting.)

All this meant that Xitaa was one of the best warriors around, unlikely to be swayed by the pleasures of the flesh, and possibly able to persuade Rexxara to grant us a miracle or two if things looked really bleak. I had met her on several occasions in the past, and she had made it clear that she was available for any righteous sword-cleaving which needed to be done. That night, I contacted her at the Rexxaran monast, where she and her fellow righteous warriors were preparing to retire and dream of killing cringing orcs and savage trolls.

Besides (and here we have Wulf being an obnoxious male who thinks with his gonads again), she was damned easy to look at. Clad in her traditional Rexxaran plate armor (gleaming silver and brass), she cut a magnificent figure. She was muscular and well-proportioned, and kept her kinky black hair in the single strip favored by most Rexxaran women, with a single one of the goddess’ runes tattooed on her bare pate.

She had enough vanity to paint her well-shaped lips blood red, and line her cool, almond-shaped eyes with black kohl, with a single spiral painted at the outer corner of each. Her eyes, which could drill you as surely as a crossbow bolt, were vivid violet and rarely if ever blinked. If I hadn’t known that she was as unreachable as Phaedra Herself, I’d have been lust-smitten the moment I saw her. As it was, I ignored my baser instincts and told myself that she was just a fellow warrior.

“You say there is killing to be done?” she asked. Delightful woman, really…

I nodded. “Probably a lot. Demons in particular. We’re heading for the heart of demon country and trying to steal a valuable artifact. I suspect your sword will get a lot of use.”

She eyed me up and down, as if I was a horse she was thinking of buying.

“Do you have the courage to stand beside one of the Faithful?” she asked.

“If I do not, let me die honorably,” I replied. I know that Rexxarans dig that kind of talk.

She smiled. It was a grim smile. “We shall see how worthy you are to bare your sword and be blessed by Rexxara. How much will you donate to the temple for my assistance?”

I named a figure. It was large, but only a portion of what I would get for one of the ghost gems.

She bowed her shapely, smooth head. “It is good. May the Mother of All Battles bless our endeavor.”

I stood up. “I hope to leave at first light, if I can secure a ship.”

“Let it be done. Let many souls be shriven and face Rexxara’s mercy.”

I repressed a shudder and left. Xitaa made me think of a sleek, jungle cat — all sensuous movement and beauty, but with an underlying current of sheer, unrestrained violence. I hoped that it would never be directed at me.

The Demon Crown – Chapter 10

There still remained small matter of a ship. As the fog rolled in, shrouding the moon Little Sister with a silvery veil, I thought quickly of the captains I knew who could be had at short notice.

I was still thinking when I arrived at the docks. They’re a forbidding place, even during the day. A vast wilderness of dark warehouses, rotting piers, seedy inns and mysterious vessels with cloaked lanterns and unknown cargoes. The quiet sound of lapping waves and creaking ropes constantly fills the air, along with the scent of rotting fish and seaweed. Rumor has it that the Cult of Slaerth controls much of the activity on the docks, but no one has ever proved it.

Tonight, with the moon riding at full sail through an unsettled sky, the docks were even less welcoming than normal. A few cracks of smoky yellow light showed through closed doors and shuttered windows, but for the most part, the region was bathed in lambent silvery-blue, and the shadows were deep indeed.

In my mind, the search had narrowed down to two candidates. Captain Fish (it was a nickname, of course — I didn’t remember his real name) had brought in his sloop, Bluefin, two days ago, and was still in port for lack of cargo. Unfortunately, he had let his entire crew go, and it would take at least one more day to attract another. Even then, the crewmen who could be recruited on such short notice would not be ones I would trust to sail us into the heart of the demon isles. They would, however, be cheap.

Skate was a mercenary cutter, small and fast, with a sharp crew and professional captain, one Kamaz, a serious woman with gray-streaked hair who swings a mean cutlass. The problem with Skate was that all this professionalism didn’t come cheap. With the amount Kamaz charged, I could practically buy my own ship and sail it north alone.

I walked along the misty docks, more or less lost in thought. That was my mistake — the docks are the last place in the realms where one should wander, lost in thought. Then again, after the last couple days’ events, including as they did bouts of mindless violence interrupted by orgiastic debauchery, my alertness wasn’t what it should have been even in the best of times.

In any event, I was taken by surprise. The hatefully familiar silhouette which appeared from behind a pile of crates caused me to jump a good foot, and stagger backwards, only to find myself held by a pair of powerful — and equally familiar — arms.

“Wulf!” Niall’s contemptuous words lashed out like a whip. “You bastard! I knew you weren’t dead!”

He approached, moving out of the shadows and into the full moonlight. “Two days on sewer patrol because of you, you piece of troll vomit! I’m going to make you sorry your father ever porked your mother!”

“Well, well, if it isn’t the littlest elf,” I grunted, trying to remain flippant while my mind frantically
tried to come up with an escape plan and failed miserably. “What’s the matter, lose your pointy-toed
shoes?”

The ogre behind me tightened his grip. I suspected it was Grud, since Skab was probably recuperating from his wounds with the aid of a quart of Old Dragon’s Breath.

A shudder passed through Niall, then the affected air of a calm, detached city scrutator returned.

“Mind you, Wulf, I don’t really care what you did at Tev’s. For all I know, a demon really did go down on you in his solarium.” He paused, and drew a deep breath, idly scratching one of his pointy elf-ears. “What really bothers me, Wulf…”

“Is the fact that you have no penis?” I asked. “That would certainly bother me.” Yes, it was crude and not all that funny, but it was the best I could do at the moment.

It didn’t phase him. Gods, I was in trouble.

“No, Wulf,” Niall continued. “I am not bothered by your petty trivialities. What I am bothered by…”

Without a second thought, punched me in the stomach as hard as he could. Pain and cold shock exploded through me, and I tried to double over, but the ogre held on tight.

“Heh, heh,” said Grud. Damn, but ogres are easily amused.

“…is your absolute contempt and lack of respect,” Niall continued with a straight face, “for the law.”

I looked up, mustering up what defiance I could. I coughed heavily and said, “The law, Niall? What the hell did you ever know about the law?”

Niall chuckled. “I’ve forgotten more about the law than you’ll ever know, you insignificant little footpad.” He moved close and shoved his face directly into mine. “But that’s not really the point is it? What’s really important is what the law represents. What it accomplishes. Am I right?”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, scrutator.” Niall was apparently even crazier than I’d thought.

“You don’t? Ha!” A single syllable of laughter exploded from Niall’s throat. “That’s very funny. Isn’t that funny, Grud?”

“Duh, yah boss,” Grud rumbled, clearly so far lost in our conversation that he couldn’t have found his way home with a map.

“It doesn’t surprise me that you don’t know what I’m talking about.” Niall’s voice was icy-cold and logical now. I began to wonder whether my quest was about to end before it started. “You may think that I’ve come a long way from my ancestors, who lived in white towers and fought noble wars and rode dragons. You may think that I’ve turned my back on everything that an elf is, and become just as grimy and unpleasant as you humans. But you’re wrong, Wulf. I remember. I remember that my people wrote the first laws, and made the law what it is today.”

“You’ve lost it, Scrutator,” I rasped. “Whatever you might have had once upon a time, you’ve lost it
completely. Why don’t you just admit that you’ve got a height complex and let it go at that?”

It was as if I hadn’t even spoken. “You see,” Niall continued, “the real point of the law is its end
result. The route it takes to that result is irrelevant. That’s what my ancestors believed, and it’s still true. Oh, I’m sure that there are those repulsive little wizardly philosopher types who whine about how the end never justifies the means, but what do they know, really? They spend their lives cloistered away in academies and towers and dusty libraries — they have no knowledge of what it’s really like on the streets, in the gutters, in the…” He drew a breath. “…Sewers.”

Niall turned and walked toward the gleaming water, but his ratty little voice continued to echo across the docks.

“No, the real point of the law, the real intent… That’s what was important to the old Dragon Kings, and that’s what is important to me. Through all the voluminous, labyrinthine laws which are necessary to run a cesspool like Stoneburg, through all of them there is a common thread. And that, my friend…”

He whirled and advanced rapidly, shaking a finger at me, until his face was once more inches from mine.

“…is to keep lowlife pieces of filth like you down on your knees and out of the way of the important people! Now you and your disgusting kind may scoff at us — the people in charge of enforcing the laws. But you scoff simply because you fear the law, you hate the law. You know in your heart and soul that the law was conceived and designed specifically with you in mind. You and the legions of scum and perverts you associate with.”

Nearing the end of his rant, Niall relaxed, contemplating my fate with near orgasmic satisfaction,
eyes closed, face beatific.

“But I shouldn’t blame you for being what you are. You are unavoidable, Wulf. You’re an occupational hazard. My only joy in life comes from making the laws work, which is something I am about to do.” Another deep breath, slowly and luxuriantly exhaled. He smiled, a razor thin little smile. “Grud, pull this bastard’s head off.”

“Duh, yah boss,” Grud replied, predictably.

Good-bye, Narisha, I thought to myself. Good-bye, Livia. I really did love you…

Fortunately for me, my final declaration of love was premature. Not only did Grud’s grip not tighten, his entire warty, stinking body began to relax and slide to the ground. Again not questioning good fortune, I dodged away, disentangling myself from the collapsing ogre and tugging Lawgiver free from its scabbard.

I needn’t have bothered. Grud’s collapse did not stop when his body reached the ground. The ugly beast continued to collapse, deflating like a punctured bladder, exuding a pool of disgusting, ogre-colored slime. My ears tingled, feeling the faint crackle of magical energy. Magical?

Livia stood nearby, a short rod clasped in her hand, her grim gaze fixed directly on the disintegrating ogre.

A shriek from Niall riveted my attention. I stared in mixed horror and amazement.

Niall writhed and struggled in the grip of a horrific creature. Outwardly humanoid, it was a muscular, clawed thing with black-striped red fur. Its snarling, tigerish head bristled with white, dagger-sharp teeth. As I watched, the long black claws scored deep slashes across Niall’s belly, sending entrails gushing, while its maw took a huge chunk out of his neck, chewed, and swallowed a mass of torn flesh and jagged bone.

I shuddered. Not that I ever liked Niall, but no one deserved that kind of death. I wasn’t too terribly
alarmed — I suspected the thing was one of Livia’s servitors and under her control.

“Are you all right?” she asked, looking me up and down.

I nodded. “Who’s your friend?”

Livia looked uncomfortable. I followed her gaze to where the thing was still rending Niall’s remains, which by now resembled the beef stew served every Friday at the Goblin’s Eye. As I watched, I let out an involuntary cry of shock and horror.

It was Narisha.

She had returned to her voluptuous womanish shape, but still retained her red and black stripes, and crouched on hands and knees like an animal, ripping and tearing at what was left of poor Niall and stuffing bloody gobbets into her mouth. The fact that she was naked only added to her animalistic appearance. She looked somewhat like a Kaitian tiger-woman, but far more heavy-bodied, muscular and savage.

Narisha saw that I had noticed, and stopped short, sitting back, and leaning against a crate, panting.
Blood ran freely down her face, slightly darker than her crimson flesh, soaking her shoulders and dripping from the heavy curves of her breasts. The jewel at her nipple glittered faintly. Slowly, the stripes faded, and in a moment she was her old self.

“W-Wulf,” she said, weakly. “I’m sorry you had to…” Her words trailed off and her head fell forward.

I could only stare at the mess she’d left. I had heard of demonic shapechangers, but I’d never actually seen it. Now, I had proof.

Narisha composed herself and looked up, head high.

“I try not to show that side of my nature, Swordsman,” she said at last. “But he was going to kill you. You, Wulf. I realized that I couldn’t let that happen.”

I finally found my voice. “I… I don’t begrudge that.” I swallowed. “I’ve seen worse. Thanks.”

All the same, I was troubled. Niall had been about to have me murdered horribly, true. But had the situation been reversed, I would never have done the same to him. Damn, I thought. Have I got a hidden streak of decency or something?

“You said to think of you,” Livia said. “We did. We checked in on you in one of my scrying crystals. When we saw what was happening I cast a transit spell, got us here instantly.”

“Gods,” I muttered. “You probably set off every proximity ward for a league around. Someone’ll know what’s up.”

Narisha joined us. Niall’s blood had begun to dry, scaling up around her mouth and neck. Damme, but she was still beautiful.

“Not too terribly unhappy with me, are you, lover?” she asked, tracing a bloody pattern on one breast. “I’ll
never do that to you.”

“I should hope not,” I replied. “No, I think I’ve accepted you as you are, regardless of what you turn
into. You don’t accidentally change while making love do you?”

She looked at me, smiling. “As a matter of fact I do,” she said, “but I’ve got other shapes as well. Maybe you’ll see them some day. Wouldn’t you enjoy making love to a snarling panther?”

“I usually leave such things to dark elves,” I said dubiously, “but I’ll take it under advisement. Not that I’m ungrateful, but you two had better get back before this place is swarming with scrutators. Naked demons tend to arouse suspicions.”

“Among other things,” Livia muttered.

I stayed long enough to make sure that they ‘ported back home safely, then rapidly left the vicinity. Skate was at the other end of the dock, well away from any official attention.

I found Kamaz asleep, but woke her up anyway, barging past the officer on deck, and cut a quick deal with her, agreeing to have Skate ready and under full sail at dawn. With that, I headed back toward Livia’s, taking a much more circuitous route than normal, and staying close to the shadows.

TO BE CONTINUED