The True Source of Magic

An epic fantasy that will likely span a few books. Only chapter 1 is completed so far (which is 30,000+ words). The story starts off with Kadren, the cleric, Coj, the half-Elf warrior, and Dern, the unimpressive wizard trying to find their way out of the sinister underground dungeon full of enticing traps. The reader will come to learn how Kadren came to be what she is

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2. Chapter 1: The Longest Chapter

There were two paths in front.  Two choices.

 

Kadren tired of such dilemmas.  She had had enough of choosing between two.  It would be better if there were three paths, or four, or even a hundred - anything not to remind her of the most recent decision she had to make.

 

Using the strap on her shield, she slung her shield onto her back. She then rested her mace on her shoulder while still clutching the weapon, and with her free hand she made small adjustments to her cleric’s robe and her mail armor underneath.  All of this was to make herself slightly more comfortable, in order to make a not so comfortable decision.  In her new, slightly more comfortable pose, she pondered her options - both of them.  It was still either left or right.  

 

Kadren stared hard into the faint, gloomy light of the underground cave, as if she might be able to discern some sign that would indicate what the correct choice would be.  Sparse torches were mounted along the cave walls; their feeble light tickled the rocky faces of the walls, and lit the two eerie passageways ahead.  But other than the listless, dancing shadows made by the torchlights, she could see nothing of significance.  After a while of pointless staring, she looked back up again to where she had fallen down from, even though she knew full well there was no answer there either.  The opening in the cave roof in which she fallen through had been resealed by the devious, well-hidden trapdoor.  She could barely make out a faint gleam of its metallic components now, in the darkness of the cave high up.  

 

She had been mindlessly exploring aboveground in the abandoned manor, trying to have some time alone with her thoughts, and away from the others, when she fell through the trapdoor (or trap-floor as Kadren thought of it).  She barely had time to scream before she landed painfully in a net - midway - which saved her from a deadly meeting with the ground far below.  But the net was no friend; its purpose was only to keep her alive, not to keep her out of danger.  Through some unseen mechanism, the net, with Kadren in it, was lowered at a rapid pace towards the ground.  Kadren frantically tried to climb up the ropes that attached the net to the ceiling, but she was not quick enough.  The net, along with the ropes, detached from the whole contraption up above, sending Kadren downwards again, but from a survivable height.  She rolled with the momentum as she hit the ground, and the large net landed with a scattered thump next to her.

 

Kadren lay there for a brief moment after her fall, aching, panting, relieved, and a little bit giddy.  But her moment of reprieve did not last long, as she suddenly remembered how she got down there, and realized that someone or something had set the trap.  She was grateful to be alive, but aware at the same time that some mastermind had wanted her down there, alive.  She looked all around with desperate intent, and found herself in a large chamber of the cave, the size of a magnificent great hall.  There were two passageways ahead - the ones she would painfully mull over - that tunneled into the rocky face of the chamber ahead, one left, one right.  Other than that, it was just expressionless, rocky walls, looming over her, stony and immovable.  She then searched the cave walls closely for an escape, striking at the wall occasionally with her mace to test for weak spots, but she found none.  She kept on as such for some time, all the while keeping extremely aware of her surroundings, looking out for enemies.  But she could find no exit, and she continued to be left alone.  

 

Finding that her physical strength was of no use in escaping her rocky prison, Kadren decided to test the strength of her magic, which she believed was also a test of her faith.  All the magic that Kadren learned from the Order was in tribute and deference to the Infinite Father.  

 

“Please, God, give me strength,” she whispered, and she placed her mace and shield on the ground.

 

She then stood up straight and began chanting - a religious-sounding chant, while her hands were making fluid gestures to and fro, and her fingers were making occasional fluttering patterns.  As she continued casting her spell, a ball of fire began forming about two paces in front of her, starting off as just a speck of light, and growing larger and larger by the moment.  It was a bright flame, white and yellow, whiter and hotter than a regular flame, and much rounder as well.  This fireball was in the image of the Holy Symbol, the Solary - a symbol of the sun, bright and eternal - a symbol of God.  As the fireball grew in size, so did the volume of Kadren’s voice, and it became harsher sounding as well.  

 

She built up the fireball to a size that was a little larger than her head, before she could hold on no longer, and had to let it go.  She hurled the fireball at the cave wall.  There was some sizzling and crackling as the fireball made contact with the wall, and a burst of light ignited as the fireball expanded suddenly and spectacularly on impact.  But when everything cleared, there was hardly a dent in the cave wall, only an unimpressive layer of dust and fine rubble.  What was impressive, however, were the scorch marks, angry and black; they etched into the wall Kadren’s strong desire to escape.

 

Kadren stood there, taking steadying breaths, feeling a little drained, with a faint sheen of sweat on her forehead.  She was disappointed, but not surprised.  She had known that her magic would not avail her, but she felt she had to try, hoping for a miracle.  She wanted to avoid walking deeper into the enemy’s trap, and making her own exit was one way to do that.  She would not try magic again though; it would be prudent to conserve her strength, at this point, for any possible hostile encounter.  She picked up her mace and shield, then looked around again for new ideas, but none came to her.  Finally, in desperation, she yelled up to where she had fallen from, multiple times, risking her enemy’s knowledge of her presence, hoping that one of her companions might hear her cries for help.  But she heard neither friend nor foe reply, only the echoes of her own voice, the hollow silence that ensued, and the pounding of her heart.  After a while, Kadren decided that her only options were the two paths ahead.  And so there she was, staring pointlessly ahead at the two passageways, delaying the inevitable choice she had to make.

 

Kadren sighed as she thought about the others.  She hoped they were safe aboveground.  She regretted having separated from them, but it probably could not have been helped, given what happened the night before.  Everyone was ill at ease… mostly just the three of them, Coj, Dern, and Kadren herself, but the other two - Ilmik and Clarelle - sensed the uneasiness in the trio, and so were also affected somewhat.  Everyone spoke little, which was most unusual for Coj and Ilmik, the talkers of the group, and some distance was given and made between everyone and themselves.  Ilmik, the Dwarf, had gone off to investigate the strange pile of boulders they saw off in the distance, and Clarelle, the Ranger, had gone to explore the surrounding forests; all very reasonable actions, but, of course, part of the reasoning was to allow the trio to sort out whatever issues they had.  And so the three of them were left in the large manor, all by themselves, with no one to interfere with whatever conversation they needed to have; but they had none.  Only quick words were exchanged between them, and then they were each off re-exploring the various empty rooms of the once-luxuriant household by themselves, hoping to escape the awkwardness for now, and defer whatever needed to be said.

 

The events from the night before had left Kadren with very mixed feelings.  She was angry at Dern, then angry at herself; she felt sorry for Dern, yet hated him at the same time; she was sure of her love for Coj, but then was even more certain that it was only lust, and not love; she believed that she could love both Coj and God, but then felt like she had betrayed them both.

 

Last night was supposed to be the night she would finally give herself to Coj, fully.  It was easy to want Coj: his striking presence, tall and handsome; his cheeky ways, endearingly arrogant; his commanding air, natural leadership born of noble birth; his effortless charm, charisma that flowed from one that had always been well-liked, and rarely refused; and of course, his body - statuesque, vigorous, sleek, powerful - a warrior's body, a body that was not just for show as she had witnessed more than once now in facing their enemies.  But the reason she loved him, was because he was a good man.  His kindness was his most attractive feature, and his most well-hidden.  Much like finding an elusive gem, the difficulty in finding the treasure made the treasure all the more valuable, and she thought Coj to be the greatest gem in the world.  Why someone of his stature and beauty would want someone like her, she could not say; but oh! the elation it brought her, when he chose to be with her.  How she had longed for him, her virgin mind imagining the ecstasy and completeness that being one with him would bring.  How many times now she had been tingling, flushed, or even moist when she was with him, or near him.  Her flesh had been willing for some time, but her spirit had been struggling; she had her devotion to God to contend with.  A true devotee to God would not allow desires of the flesh to interfere with holy law, which forbade union of the flesh before holy union; but the prospect of marriage was a long and difficult one, and Coj had been so patient already.  She spent many waking hours debating herself, arguing for Coj, arguing for God, but she finally surrendered to her love for Coj, only to have Dern ruin everything.

 

Poor foolish Dern.  She loved him as a friend, loved him like a brother.  She had known a little of his feelings for her, but she never took him too seriously.  She thought it was just a fickle infatuation that would soon go away; she thought Dern’s feelings for her would quickly fade, as she and Coj grew more and more intimate right in front of everyone's eyes, so she did not change anything in her interactions with Dern.  Perhaps if she had been more distant, and less friendly, perhaps, then, Dern would have given up all hope of being more than just a friend, and left her and Coj alone; but perhaps this was an intervention from God, and Dern was only a messenger.  Even so, she hated Dern for fulfilling his ordained duties.  But, mostly, she was angry at herself; she hated her own indecisiveness and weakness.

 

She had no idea how to proceed, not only in escaping the underground dungeon, but also in her relationships with Coj, Dern and God.   However, Kadren felt that choosing a path in the cave was going to be a lot easier than any decisions she had to make about her relationships.  Choosing between two things she did not like seemed a lot easier than choosing between two she loved - left or right was easier than God or Coj, because either passageway was fraught with danger, so it made no difference to her, but she could not stand to lose her lover or her God.  Thus, having finished her contemplation, Kadren took one last look around, worked up her courage one more time, and forged on ahead.

 

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Coj swung at the creature with one swift stroke of his sword, and it lay fallen on the cave floor before him, dark blood seeping from the large gash in its neck.  It appeared to be a small goblin-like creature, unclothed and weaponless.   It was no bigger than a prepubescent child, and it attacked with the untrained wildness of one; it stood no chance against Coj.  Coj stuck his sword in the corpse, one more time, just to be sure, then took the set of keys that the creature had around its neck.

 

He looked around and back to where he had come from, to make sure there were no other enemies.  He saw no other dangers in the dimly-lit darkness, which he peered through with relative ease, due to the keen sight he inherited from his elven ancestors.  Coj had ended up in the same underground cave as Kadren (unbeknownst to him), through a secret chute that he had found behind the fireplace of the master’s chamber.  Rather than go back to his companions to inform them of his finding, he decided to climb down the stone chute and venture off on his own.  Everybody was in a dreary mood anyway, including himself, so he went down the chute just for a whimsical adventure.  

 

When he reached the bottom of the secret chute, it was completely dark, save for the barely visible light that trickled down from the opening directly above.  The only way forward was ahead of him, but it was pitch black.  Coj unsheathed his sword once more, and he made a gentle humming noise.  His blade immediately began to glow.  It was still very dark, even with the glowing blade, but it was enough light for Coj’s keen eyes to see fairly well.  He could see that he was in a narrow passage that led ahead to complete darkness.  He hesitated for just a moment, contemplating whether or not to inform the others, but quickly decided to continue exploring on his own.  There was no point alarming the others unless he found something.  He did.

 

No sooner had he taken a few steps, he heard a click, and he sprang back, quick as a blink, to avoid whatever trap he had triggered, but nothing harmful came his way.  There was, however, the sound of grinding stone, and then a thud; the secret entrance above had closed.  Coj thought it was a fairly ingenious design, to allow the residents of the manor to flee, and conveniently cover up their tracks from below.  He noticed now that he had accidentally stepped on the triggering mechanism, which was a large camouflaged tile set in the ground.  He looked back towards the entryway of the chute, and saw that the faint light from above had disappeared.  

 

Well, nothing else to do now…  So he ventured forth.

 

He walked through the narrow passageway and eventually came upon the exit.  When he stepped out of the narrow passageway, he realized that he was in an underground cave.  At the far side of the vast chamber he was in, he saw something that he welcomed: light.  It was very faint, but still very noticeable in the black darkness.  Coj was happy to know the exit was ahead; he headed towards the light.

 

But the further along he went, the more he sensed that something was amiss.  When he had first touched down on the cave floor, he thought he sensed a presence, but it was a very brief, fleeting thought, and he dismissed it as just something he had imagined.  But now the warning in his mind had returned, and though it was still very subtle, it would not go away.  His intuition told him that there was an enemy about, that he was not alone in the underground cave, and that perhaps the villagers had not been wrong after all; there really was something evil lurking around.  Right after having those thoughts, the light from the exit ahead ceased to delight him, because he now noticed that it did not look like sunlight to his keen eyes.  He also smelt in the air no escape ahead.  There were no sounds of freedom, no rustling of leaves, or whispering of the breeze, or distant birdsong.  He was now halfway across the large chamber, and close enough to the exit that if it were an exit to the outside, his keen senses would have picked up some signs.  But that was not the case: the light ahead was firelight, artificial; the air was old and stale; and there were no pleasant sounds of freedom.

 

Coj now wondered whether the activating tile he had stepped on, which closed the secret entrance, was built by the former masters of the house, or whether the entire contraption had been recently modified to trap victims down below.  He also began to sense some magic at work in the underground cave.  Elves, besides being blessed with keen senses, are also born with magic.  Coj was not a magician; he was a warrior.  He did not have the patience for magic as a formal study, but, like his elven ancestors, and like many powerful warriors, magic was ingrained in many things he did.  Part of Coj’s inherited abilities was the ability to sense the presence of magic.  He could sometimes even sense the general purpose and intent of the magic, and he did not like what he sensed in that underground cave, but he could not say exactly why he did not like it.  Perhaps the trace of magic was too faint for him to make that judgment.  It felt like the one who cast the spell had long since gone, or was still about but too far away.

 

He exited the pitch dark chamber and entered into another large chamber, where his suspicions were confirmed: torchlight (and no sunlight anywhere to be found).  Lit torches sparsely lined the walls, proving there really was someone down there.  Coj went on ahead, bravely, excited, and only a little afraid.  He was happy to do what he had trained his whole life to do, to do what he had always dreamed of doing, to be a warrior, to be worthy…

 

And so there he was, standing over a dead, goblin-like creature.  The chamber Coj was in now was smaller than the ones before, and at one end of the chamber, were housed three large jail cells.  The cells were built into the walls of the cave, so that the cave wall formed the unbreakable backs of the cells.  They stood side by side, with metal bars separating each of them.  As Coj peered ahead into the darkness of the cells, he noticed they were vastly empty, save for a small figure lying in the far corner of the middle cell.  It was a female… Human?  Coj quickly, but cautiously went up to the cell.  

 

When he was closer, he saw that she was definitely Human, or a person at least, and that she was a prisoner in need of rescue.  She had been lying down on a thick layer of straw, her bed, but she sat up with a start as Coj neared, surprised and alarmed, since Coj’s stealth gave her no warning of his approach, and the goblin-like creature had died a relatively quiet death.

 

“Don't worry.  I'm going to free you,” said Coj.

 

With his sword still in one hand, he used his free hand to insert the keys he had found on the goblinoid into the lock.  He tried several keys before the right one unlocked the cell.  He swung the cell door open and looked to the one he had just rescued.  The dim light of the cave was even weaker inside the cell, so Coj began humming his blade to glowing again, to shed some light on the dark cell so that she could see he was no threat.

 

“Are you alright?”, he asked.

 

She was a Human damsel, but there was something enchantingly refined about her face, and Coj wondered if she had some elven blood in her, from some distant ancestor.  She appeared a little frightened, but otherwise looked astonishingly well for someone held captive in an underground dungeon.

 

“I'm alright now.  Thank you kindly, brave sir.”  

 

Coj guessed that she was one of the villagers, based on her common garb and speech.

 

“Did they hurt you?  Are you in need of healing?”

 

“I'm fine, now.  Really.  Thank you.”  

 

Her gaze met his, but then it immediately fell downwards, away from his, her eyes fluttering demurely, and Coj thought he saw blushing.

 

Coj was taken aback a little.  He was quite used to having this sort of effect on females, but he usually saw this type of reaction while actively seducing his target; he did not expect to see it in a damsel he just rescued.

 

“There’s no need for thanks. It is my sworn duty to help those in need.  But come, let’s hurry.  We don't know what evil lurks around the corner.  Have you seen any guards around?”  He reached out his free hand to help her up as he asked his question.

 

“I didn’t see no guards.”  She took his hand and stood up with his help.  “We’ve nothin’ to worry about no more, thanks to you, my hero.”

 

She smiled at him, and Coj saw now that she was definitely blushing.  He felt a little awkward in front of this grateful admirer, a rarity for Coj, who tended to know exactly what to say, and what to do next in his vast experience with females.  With no witty remark or winning overture at hand, all Coj did now was give a reassuring smile back, which ended up a bit more twitchy than he wanted, as often happens when one forces a smile in stressful circumstances.  After holding the awkward smile for as long as he could, he quickly turned around and went to the doorway.  He was eager to leave the area as soon as possible, because alarm bells were ringing loud in his mind.  The presence of insidious magic had become significantly stronger in the jail area, and even though his new acquaintance denied having suffered any harm, there was something not quite right with her.  She seemed to have suffered no outward injury, but she seemed not entirely untouched inside.  He felt that she should be brought to a healer as soon as possible.  However, the urgency he felt was not solely for the damsel he rescued, but also for himself.  He feared that the enemy's magic had already begun its work on him; he felt that his senses and faculties had become less sharp.  There was also a fragrant scent in the air that he instinctively hated.  He covered his nose with the nook of his arm, but then quickly realized it was a useless, impractical gesture, so he resolved to focus on the main plan of action, which was to escape quickly.  For now, he mustered all his inner strength to fight the insidious magical assault.  Any lesser man would have been much more affected already, but Coj was still able to maintain sound reasoning.  At the jail door, he peered outside the cell to make sure the exit was still secure.  Satisfied that it was, he motioned for her to follow him.  But she did not.  

 

She stood there motionless, staring at him with a strange look.  Coj guessed that perhaps the sight of his sword gave her doubt, so he made a couple of quick, deft movements with his still-glowing sword to get some of the blood off, wiped his blade onto the ends of his surcoat, and sheathed his sword.  The cell immediately became dimmer.

 

“Come.”  He held out his hand.  “I mean you no harm.  I promise.”

 

“I know.  You’re my hero,” she said.  “But I'm real shook up.  I need some time to calm my nerves.  Won’t you be near me for a li’l while?”

 

“We haven't the time, miss!  We must go!  Please!  Muster your strength and courage.  Our health and security depend on it.”

 

“I can't!  Please, my hero.  Please come by my side for just a li’l bit. ”  She sat back down.

 

Being who he was, Coj could not say No to a maiden in need, despite all the misgivings he had for staying even a moment longer; so he went to her, in hopes that he could quickly convince her to start moving.

 

“Good-miss, I know you are frightened.  But you need to trust me.  It's going to be alright.  I promise.”  Coj tried to sound as reassuring as he could.  “I will get you out of this awful place.”

 

Coj sat down next to her and gently laid his hand on her shoulder.  She smiled again at him.  He noticed for the first time that she was rather alluring.  It almost seemed like her face had changed since they first met, even though he knew it had not.  When Coj first saw her, he had seen that she had a face that most might deem fair, but he did not recall her being this beautiful.  The alarms rang even louder in his head; this was probably part of the enemy's magery.  He also began noticing her figure underneath her simple chemise and kirtle, and she seemed rather… healthy.

 

Kadren!…  Coj immediately focused his thoughts on his love, to give himself strength.  He had a feeling he was going to be tested.

 

“I'm sorry I'm so useless,” she said, almost with a pout.  “I'm just so scared...  I’ll just be needin’ a moment of comfort, and bein’ near you comforts me so...  I wish I could be of service to you in some way... to repay you, to give my thanks.  I'm real grateful”...  She placed one hand delicately on her bosom in a gesture of sincerity, but something about that gesture and the way she subtly repositioned her body was rather suggestive.

 

Coj shifted uncomfortably.  The magic was getting stronger.  He had to get out of his current predicament quickly.  Coj had fought his way out of dangers before, with sword and skill alone, but this was a situation his sword could not solve for him - not yet anyway; his true enemy had still not shown themselves yet.  This poor damsel was just an unwitting puppet.

 

“There’s really no need for thanks.  I'm happy to be of service.  But my good-miss... you must, please, be brave… be strong!  We will be alright.  But we have to leave, now!  There is an evil spell about; I can feel it.  We must leave now before we succumb t…”

 

Coj stopped speaking, as she began unlacing the front of her kirtle.

 

“It's so warm in here!” she explained offhandedly.  

 

Coj did feel it had gotten warmer, but he was not sure if it was their environment that had gotten warmer, and he definitely did not feel it warranted undressing.  

 

“Are you warm?” she asked.  “Perhaps we’d both be feelin’ better with less layers.”  

 

She stood up and began slipping out of the half-undone garment.  

 

“I would feel better if we left this place!” said Coj, suddenly agitated, and he stood up and away from her.

 

The kirtle had come off, and she stood there with her chemise on, gazing at him with a quiet yearning.  The simple fabric did little to hide her curvaceous shape.  

 

“Please don't be upset with me, m’lord.  I’m not wishin’ to upset my hero.  I’m only wishin’ to spend some time in comfort before we got to face whatever be waitin’ for us out there.  I’m hopin’ to give you comfort too.  I want to show my gratitude… but I got nothin’ to give, but myself.  Please, m’lord.  Take me.  I give myself to you”...  She closed her eyes and opened her arms, as if offering herself up as a sacrifice.  

 

Coj swallowed hard.  The magic was getting stronger, and he could feel his will becoming weaker; any lesser man would probably already be out of his clothes, if not out of his mind.  Coj gathered the remainder of his inner strength to fight the enemy's increased onslaught.  He wanted to strike back at the enemy, but he still could not sense the physical presence of the enemy nearby; the enemy was somehow pouring in their evil magic from afar, and waiting until they were both vulnerable before striking.  

 

“My good-miss…  Please.  Compose yourself…”

 

She looked pained.  “Do you not like me, m’lord?  I’m all I've got to offer…”

 

“This is madness!” said Coj, and he angrily stormed towards the entrance and yelled, “Come out!  I know you’re out there!  Fight me now, you coward!”

 

But there was no response except the distant-sounding echoes of his own voice.  Coj peered out intensely into the dimly-lit cave, scanning every inch of the place, looking for something he could put his sword to.  He was tired of fighting a losing battle, and was hoping for a clash of swords, something he was used to winning.  But there was no fight to be had, only the ever-present force that was trying to bend Coj to the enemy’s will, which had already made a puppet out of his new companion.  Coj did not know what to do.  He could not just leave her behind.  

 

“Please don't be angry!  Please!” she pleaded.  “Come back, m’lord, please!  Please, be with me!”  

 

Coj sighed heavily, but did not turn around.  He was running out of time, and running out of options.  His defense against such an incessant magical assault could not hold up forever.  Thoughts of giving in were already creeping in on him, and he found his mind wandering towards her chemise and what was underneath.  He had to act quickly.  He would have to bring her along against her will.  He did not know exactly how to go about it, but he would perhaps tie her up, if needed.  Whatever he decided to do, he would have to do it quickly.  Thus resolved, Coj turned around to face the unpleasant task ahead.  

 

When he turned around, he encountered yet another complication: she was undressing again.  This was not totally unexpected, but it still managed to catch Coj by surprise, and he stood there dumbfounded as she stripped the remaining layers of clothing.

 

After she was done, she stood there completely naked, with desperate longing in her eyes.  She then made her way towards Coj, and her nude form looked more ravishing than he had imagined.

 

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Dern backed slowly away from her, as her ample breasts flashed before his sight and caused a fluttering panic in him.  He must not become attracted to her: that was the warning in his mind.  But that was an impossible task, for standing before him was a maiden of exquisite beauty who had just completely disrobed, her chemise, kirtle, and undergarments on the floor around her feet.

 

She had a lovely human face with features in it that made Dern wonder about possible elven ancestry.  Her figure was extremely voluptuous.  In fact, she was almost too curvy, like an exaggeration of some male fantasy.  Moreover, there was a lot about the present situation that was a little peculiar…

 

Soft skin, full breasts, inviting hips, and long legs lingered in his mind as he looked away quickly, with his hands held up, as if to shield himself from a bright light she was emitting.

 

“P-please, please put your clothes back on” Dern stammered.  She did not heed his request.

 

“Come, good sir.  I must repay you,” she said, and she began advancing.

 

He kept backing away, keeping his eyes on the ground, and darting his eyes behind him to find his next step.  “No, no.  It's okay.  No repayment necessary.  The least I could do, really...”

 

But still he saw her alluring form advancing in the periphery of his vision, and, despite himself, he continued to become more aroused.

 

“Alright.  H-how about just a couple of silver pieces then, when we get you back to your family?”

 

She did not answer, but kept moving towards him, as he kept backing away.

 

“Let's just shake hands?...” he asked feebly.

 

She kept advancing.

 

Dern had a fleeting sense of irony, that an unattached man should be cowering away from an overtly friendly female of desirable proportions, but he found several things unsettlingly odd about his current situation.  He wondered why a prisoner kept in a dank, dark dungeon would appear insatiably well; how her milky-white skin could still be so healthy-looking that it almost seemed to glow in the dim light of the cell; why the jail was locked with such an easily broken spell; why her first reaction after being rescued would be to become intimate with a stranger; and why a wondrous beauty like her would even want a common, bookish servant like himself.  No woman ever wanted Dern; they all wanted Coj - Master Cojil.  Even Kadren...

 

Furthermore, he sensed magic about.  Dern was born a common Human, but he had trained as a wizard.  He was a very unimpressive wizard - as he was often reminded, but, like any magician who has been immersed in magic for a while, Dern could often sense the general purpose and intent of nearby magic.  And he did not like what he sensed.  There was some entity that meant to do harm.  Dern did not believe (or did not want to believe) that the maiden was the source of ill-intent, but he had a feeling that she was not fully in her right mind.

 

Dern was also keenly aware of the fact that he was in enemy territory.  He had fallen down a trapdoor, much like Kadren had, but in another room of the manor.  In trying to find his escape from the underground dungeon, he had ended up in his present, erotic predicament.  As he kept trying to keep his unexpected admirer at bay, Dern anxiously felt every second slip away; the longer he stayed in the underground dungeon, the less chance he saw of escaping unscathed.  He was sure there were enemies just around the corner.  The more he thought about the possible dangers, the more he wanted to be free of his current situation.  He wished he had been more aware of where he was going, for he now noticed he was retreating deeper and deeper into the cell, and his lovely captor was between him and the exit.

 

But even as all these thoughts of danger and caution filled his mind, he felt like something was gently suppressing them, and he felt a persistent urge to give in to the maiden’s offer, even with all his misgivings.  In fact, Dern felt that he was only half-hearted in his refusals towards her.  Ever since stepping into the jail area, Dern found it gradually more difficult to focus on his stream of thoughts, like his thoughts were little fish slipping away quicker and quicker from his grasps.  He had to laboriously remind himself what he was thinking about, and, more than once, he had to think hard on why he felt such a tremendous sense of danger, as he had momentarily forgotten.  Dern was certain that all the struggles with his thinking was not just because an amazingly beautiful temptress was moving towards him; there was definitely some malignant magic in the air.  In fact, there was now a faint pleasant scent becoming more and more noticeable, and Dern wondered whether it was playing a part in fogging up his mind.  He could not tell if the scent was coming from the maiden or not; nevertheless, he reasoned that preventing further inhalation of the scent would likely be beneficial.  Yet, he hesitated, for he was afraid that covering his nose might offend his lovely new acquaintance.  He immediately admonished himself after having that thought, because it meant there was a part of him that was hoping to be able to take up the enticing offer.  Indeed, the thoughts of just giving in were becoming progressively stronger and more frequent, with deluded reasonings accompanying those thoughts, such as the reasoning that he truly did have enough time for a quick romp before making their escape, or that there really were no more enemies around, and they were completely safe now; all of which, he did not truly believe.  The opposing thoughts in his mind, the gentle yet persistent fog over his thinking, the indecision, the hesitation, the fear, the ever increasing arousal… it was all very dizzying.  He knew he had to act quickly, if he were to maintain his faculties and escape.  

 

Before he could muster up any plan of action, however, Dern suddenly felt an ice cold dread, for his back was now against the wall, and he had nowhere else to go.  All he could do was was watch, as his dreadfully beautiful doom moved closer and closer towards him.  

 

“Please!” he pleaded.  “We really should get out of here! We can talk about repayment once we've escaped.”  

 

She did not reply.  She only kept advancing.

 

He kept his eyes on her feet to track her progress; he dared not look up, in fear he would instantly succumb to his male weakness.

 

“Please, stop… please…” he uttered, weakly.  

 

No response.  

 

He felt it harder and harder to keep up logic and fear, as she moved closer towards him, but he knew he must somehow force himself to stay afraid and logical.  What could he do?  Should he threaten her?  What if she really was innocent?  She would not follow him after he threatened her, and he couldn’t just let her stay in the dungeon to meet her doom, no matter how inconvenient she made things; she was not the enemy.  Or was she?  Maybe his instincts were wrong, and she was the enemy all along.  But that didn't make sense; she just couldn't be the enemy.  There was no malignant intent coming from her.  Maybe he could just quickly give her a kiss; surely there could be no danger in that?  There was probably no danger at all; he was probably just imagining things.  After all, what would an unimpressive wizard like himself know about detecting an enemy’s magic.  If there really was a powerful enemy around, they would be able to hide their presence from such a lowly magician.  But, still…

 

Or maybe just embrace her, touch her, feel her, just let her know he was willing, and they could finish their encounter after they had escaped.  After all, it would be extremely rude of him to reject her show of gratitude.  And there really was no reason that he shouldn't be with this beautiful woman.  His luck had finally changed; finally he was wanted.  Why would he turn away from his overdue good fortune?  Who would care?  He had no one to call his own, no one who cared for him.  He had only ever cared for one, and she had made it plain she did not want him.  

 

Kadren...  Visions of her flashed before him.  Kadren and her voluminous, sheeny black hair; her kind, bright, brown eyes; her endearing smile; her darker skin hinting of southern origins - the skin she had learned to love… the skin he had always loved...

 

And suddenly, in a moment of clarity, he knew exactly what he had to do.  He could not figure out why he had not thought of it before; it was so obvious to him now:  Run!  It seemed absolutely absurd to him that he did not think of this before.  This was no time to worry about being rude.  He could always apologize later, once they escaped, but there would be no apology if the enemy came for them while they lingered down there.  He had to leave his persistent admirer, now!  He could regroup later, and figure out how to rescue her, but for now he had to get himself out of there, otherwise they could both be doomed.  

 

But it was too late.  She was upon him.  He could not move.  His limbs suddenly felt like dough, and only one part of him steadily became more rigid.  He had to steady himself against the wall.  His flesh tingled as she caressed him gently over his tunic, under his travelling cloak and leather armor.  Her scent was intoxicating.  Was it the scent he noticed earlier?  He could not say.

 

Mesmerizing eyes, a seductive smile, her enchanting face swam in and out of his vision.  She leaned in for a kiss, and his vision cleared into a tunnel, focused solely on her luscious lips.  He knew it was over.  The enemy had won.  He would not be able to refuse those lips.  And once their lips touched, he would be completely spellbound, and utterly doomed.

 

--------------------------

 

Kadren swung her mace threateningly at one of the creatures.  It backed away a little, but did not retreat.  The other five paused, but then resumed their slow advance forward.  They looked like small, ugly (uglier than usual) goblins, and more feral than any goblin she had ever encountered.  These were the same sort of creature that Coj had already handily dispatched.  They made shrill noises as they closed in, and gave off, what sounded like, cackles.  They also waved their arms wildly at Kadren, teasing or threatening her.  They had no weapons, but their claws looked sharp, and their teeth hungry.  Kadren wished she had dispatched the two she encountered first, instead of fleeing, because the other four joined the fray as she was running, and now she was backed into a blind section of the cave, having to face all six at once.

 

“Leave me be!” Kadren yelled.  “I'm warning you.  I will strike you down, if you come closer!”  This brought about more cackling sounds from the goblinoids.  

 

Kadren dared not put down her mace or shield to cast a more complete spell, but, with her shield and mace at the ready, she began her chant-like spell-casting, and a flame began forming in front of her, as before.  This flame, though, was less white and less hot than the one she had made before, and it was not round. The spell-casting was a lot more difficult without the free use of her hands and arms, and what she produced now was more like a regular flame.  She built it to the size of her head and no further, lest she should lose control of the flame, or deplete her strength too quickly.  But it was still enough to halt the goblinoids advances, and Kadren felt a small relief when she saw them stop.  Kadren strained to keep the flame alive, and to keep her focus on her enemies and her spell at the same time.  She had to think quickly on how to use her new advantage.  She kept up her spell-chanting as she advanced slowly towards the goblinoids, and was delighted to see them retreating.  Her mind raced to come up with a plan.  She decided to push them towards the large entrance of the blind chamber she was in.  Once she was close enough to the entrance, she could throw the magic flame as a distraction and run for it.  Kadren hoped the flame would be enough to discourage a pursuit, but she knew her spell was not powerful enough to incapacitate all of them.

 

Kadren kept a steady pace forward, and the goblinoids continued to retreat, baring their teeth, and hissing at her in displeasure.  Every step forward was taxing, the energy and concentration required was draining her relentlessly, and the progress was aggravatingly slow.  She began to have doubts as to whether she would even have enough strength left to run, if she reached the entrance.  As is often the case in unpleasant circumstances, time slowed to a snail’s pace, and it seemed to Kadren that it might take hours to reach her goal.  But steadily she inched closer, and Kadren began to feel a surge of hope as the entrance loomed just a few yards away. Unfortunately, her plan did not succeed.   

 

Whether it was because it had deduced her plan, or whether it just got tired of retreating, one of the goblinoids - after looking towards the other four, and exchanging quick guttural noises - made a sudden lunge at her from her left.  Kadren reacted quickly, and made a rapid movement with her mace arm towards the creature, causing the flame to hurtle at the goblinoid.  The flame flared up dramatically on impact, and faded rapidly; there was much screeching that ensued.  Kadren had no time to see the result of her flame attack, however, as the others had moved in on her the instant her flame faded.

 

Kadren fought off the five assailants for a while.  They pursued doggedly, and were wolf-like in their attacks, but Kadren was no easy prey.  They had trained her hard in the Order, and she had learned well.  But, eventually, shield and mace began to weigh too much, and her movements slowed.  Her legs also began to feel like cotton, protesting the running she had made them do, and now this deadly exertion.  She was thankful that she had decided to put on her coif before all this happened, for there were a couple of blows from teeth and fangs that surely would have been deadly, instead of just painful, had it not been for the mail headpiece.  

 

Kadren was able to down two of their pack, and wounded one, before she ended up locked in a deadly wrestling match.  She had a goblinoid on each arm and one leg.  Her mace had been knocked away and her shield she dropped due to exhaustion.  It was then, with both hands involuntarily occupied, that Kadren finally learned what effect her flame spell had had on the last goblinoid, for it was now charging at her, screaming with unmistakable fury.  Its face was badly burned on one side, looking like charred and melted dark green meat; the goblinoid had its one remaining, usable eye trained on Kadren with deep malice.   Kadren braced for doom.   

 

But then… by the entryway.... a blink of a shadow… a glint of metal… the charging goblinoid suddenly halted, and fell…  A man?... he was too quick…  She could not see clearly in the dim light… in the blink of an eye he was upon them.  Coj!?  No.  It was another.  His fighting, however, was similar to Coj’s, in that both men fought with effortless grace, and incredible speed.  Kadren was unable to follow all of his movements.  But there were only a few movements made before her assailants had fallen; the last sounds they made were screeches and gurgling noises.  

 

When all had stopped Kadren looked upon her rescuer and again thought of Coj, for this man looked like he might be half-elven.  Now that he was closer, she saw that he had hints of that fair race in his face.  But this man’s hair was black, instead of gold.  He also had a cape on, which was something Coj did not wear.

 

After the gruesome task, the stranger wiped the blood off his blade with the ends of his cape; the blade glistened unnaturally, even in the dim light.  He then sheathed his sword, and turned to Kadren. “Are you hurt?”, he asked.

 

“No, I’m fine.”  Kadren paused to take a breath; she was still trying to steady her breathing.  “Many thanks to you.”  Breath.  “I'm indebted to you for saving me.”  Breath.

 

“No need for thanks, because I’ll be needing your help as well.  We will save each other from this wretched place.  But first, a quick introduction: my name is Callum Rominel of Thinden.  Friends just call me Cal, and I think our common enemy makes us friends.  Now, I would like to know who my new friend is.”

 

“I am Kadren.  I am a Sister of the Shining Order, from the city of Borjes, of the Kingdom of Galicia.

 

“Welcome to Dritam,” said the man, and they both smiled at the humour.  “You are a long way from home, Kadren.  We will exchange full stories later, but for now I will tell you this: I had been trying find my lost friends who were last seen heading to the evil house above us.  As I was searching the house, I fell into a trap.   I'm guessing you are down here through similar circumstances?”

 

“Yes, that's right.  Except I was with my fr-”... the briefest of pauses - Kadren hesitated to say the word “friends for some reason…  “-companions before I fell, in the abandoned manor... well, what we thought was abandoned…  I had wandered off to a different part of the house.  They’re probably up there trying to find me right now.  I suppose I'm glad they haven't found me, or else it means we're all trapped down here. But, anyway, it looks like you’ve found me.”

 

The stranger smiled.  He was handsome.  Kadren felt a tinge of guilt and disappointment in herself for assessing a man's attractiveness in such an inappropriate time.  

 

“Yes. I was on my way past this area when I noticed something going on in here.  I thought I would be passing through as quietly as a mouse, but then I glimpsed someone [he waved his hand in her direction] being prey to those foul creatures’... awful pastimes…”  He paused, as if seeing something in front of him, far away.  “They delight in evil.  I've seen the remains of their victims… and I think I saw what's left of my friends...”

 

Kadren shuddered on the inside, and for a short time neither of them spoke.  During the silence, Kadren glanced upwards at him, when she had had her fill of the silence.  Kadren just could not help but notice that he really was beautiful.  She wondered how long he had been trapped down here, for he appeared none the worse for wear.  She did not recall the villagers mentioning a knightly party heading to the haunted house in recent days, but perhaps they did not want to scare Kadren’s party into retracting their offer of help.  The more she stared at this elegant warrior, the more she was convinced of elven blood.   His hair was pitch black, and his skin reminded her of the moon.  Moon Elf?  But it couldn't be; they had all been banished…

 

“There's more of them... we must escape before they find us in full force,” said Callum Rominel, breaking Kadren’s trance.  “It's a vast labyrinth down here, but I've already scouted extensively this wretched place, and I think we're close to the way out.  I can lead us towards where I think the exit is.  But first, do you need some rest?”

 

“No, I'm fine.”  Kadren was still a little winded, and also suddenly felt the fatigue that was due after surviving such a skirmish.  She felt her knees give way just a tiny bit when the idea of rest was presented to her, but she held on, willing herself to stay standing.

 

“I’m sorry.  I didn't mean for that to sound like a challenge.”  He smiled, a charming smile.  “I meant only to humbly suggest that you rest here while I scout ahead, to ensure the path is still safe.  I know you are a great warrior, tireless and stout of heart, but I think we would benefit from your full might in whatever trials we may face...  Some rest will help to bring out your full might.”

 

Kadren smiled back at him.  “I’m no warrior, Sir Callum, as you’ve seen...  I'm just a common cleric.  My strength and skill are far inferior to yours.  But I do want to be as helpful as I can be, and not be a burden.  There's little I can do to help you, but what little I can do, I'll probably do better after some rest… I understand your meaning… I will rest...  And I'm very grateful to you, my lord.”

 

“The name, again, is Cal, my friend, Kadren. And you are certainly most welcome to whatever aid my sword can provide.  As for skill and strength…  One must remember that both skill and strength tend to shine brighter when used on a preoccupied enemy, and both tend to dim with fatigue. We will likely have plenty of opportunities to test both, fully, very soon.  For now, you must stay safe and out of sight.  Wait for me at the back of this… tunnel, or whatever we might call it.

 

“Thank you, Cal.”  She smiled.

 

Cal tugged at something around his neck and a pendant appeared out from underneath his armor and garb.  He then whispered something into it, and the pendant began to glow with a pale blue light.  With the glowing gem lighting the way, he walked with her to the end of the chamber, where she could sit and rest, with her back against the wall, as far as possible from the entryway.  He handed her a small waterskin when she had settled down, and the water tasted sweet against her dry tongue.

 

“Here.”  He unclasped his cape and laid it over her as she drank.  “This will make it hard to spot you.  To passing eyes, you will appear to be a part of the surroundings.”

 

Kadren cringed a little bit on the inside as she thought about the goblinoid blood he had wiped onto the ends of the cape, but she did not want to appear to be an ingrate, so she smiled a small, tight smile, conveying as much gratefulness as she possibly could.  She wrapped the cape around herself, and placed the tail end of the cape on the ground by her feet, as far away from herself as possible.  Given that Cal was quite a bit taller, the cape was rather large for her, and the end where the blood might have been ended up at a satisfactory distance from herself.

 

She felt an inexplicable comfort and unexpected warmth with the cape wrapped around her.  There was also a distinct fragrance that made Kadren think of idyllic summer days.  She began thinking of her childhood and her bed back home, but then something inside her told her not to get too comfortable.  She took off her coif, and covered her head with the cape as well, so that her head would not betray her presence, should there really be passing eyes.  With her thus situated, Cal gave her a smile and nod, then turned to walk out of the chamber; it became dark as he walked away.

 

With Cal gone, Kadren sat there alone in the silent darkness.  She stared at the flames sitting on the torches sparsely lining the entryway, in the distance; there were no torches where she was resting, at the blind end of the tunnel.  She became curiously fascinated by the flames, which she thought was due to the fact that there was nothing else stimulating going on.  Even though they were many yards away, Kadren enjoyed them as if they were up close, noticing that they were adding to the warmth and comfort she was already experiencing.  They appeared beautiful to her.  

 

The flames were rather motionless in the still air of the cave, but Kadren saw such life in them, and she also began to see in them her own life… the warm and comfortable aspects of her life… the happy times she had… happy times she would have soon…  She saw dancing, and singing, and laughing…  And she saw… passion!…  She saw Coj…  

 

She felt flushed and tingly, in addition to warmth and comfort...  She saw Coj and herself holding a long embrace, each not willing to let the other one go…  She saw giggling, and teasing, and eyes lingering, and lips… lips meeting, not willing to part… lips brushing gently on skin, soft pecks here and there…  And nibbling… playful bites on the right spots…  There were caresses too… hands that would never be satisfied, hands that delighted in exploring … hands that travelled all over, and finally settled on the most secret of places…  

 

Kadren gasped as the images and sensations became vividly intense, and she felt a shudder, and a twitch in her nether regions.  She felt weird.  Something was not right, and she felt a dull panic, but she was more curious and delighted by her present state than frightened.  She wondered whether she was just giddy from having survived the attack.

 

Kadren rubbed her cheek against the surprisingly soft fabric of the cape, which was not expected of something worn by a battle-hardened warrior; but perhaps the softness was part of its magical properties, besides just the ability to hide her from sight.  The material gave her unexpected joy and pleasure, and she took off her gloves to savour the delightful feel of it in between her fingers, in her palms, on her cheeks, on her lips.  She wondered if it was silk, because the word “silky” came to mind.  She had only ever encountered silk once before in her life, and she remembered the material to be somewhat similar, but the feel of the cape was a lot more luxuriant and pleasurable than any material that she could remember.  

 

But she desired the feel of Coj the most.  The flames of the torches seemed to have ignited an unknown flame inside herself, and it burned inside her mercilessly, such that she wanted very much to have it quenched.  There was a voice inside her that warned of the inappropriateness of her desires in the current setting and situation, but that voice was small and drowned out by the roaring of these strange new fires.  Not having Coj nearby, yet desiring him so intensely, Kadren satisfied her urges by obsessively enjoying the feel of the cape, imagining that the tingling pleasures she felt from touching the cape were from Coj’s touch.  She kneaded and squeezed, trying to draw out every last drop of pleasure the cape might have to offer.  She plunged her face in and smelled deeply, trying to get more of that summertime fragrance, which had since turned into an exotic aroma; she sniffed and sniffed, trying to dig out a trace of Coj’s scent within the intoxicating aroma of the cape.  Everything she did now was for the purpose of getting closer and closer to Coj, and to get closer and closer to the ultimate pleasure that was overdue, the ultimate closeness she was supposed to share with Coj.

 

And as she was thus fully absorbed, she felt a light tap on her shoulder; it startled her so much that it might as well have been a slap in the face.  She looked up to see Cal with a smirk on his face.

 

“I'm glad to see you enjoying my gift to you.”

 

“Y-yes… I-I-I… uhhh…  I…” Karen struggled to find the right words.  How could she explain to him what was going on?  But the truth of the matter was that she had no idea what was going on.  She could not even explain to herself why she was behaving the way she was.

 

“That's quite alright.  No need to explain.  It is a wondrous piece of garment isn't it?” he said, the smirk never leaving his face; he seemed oddly satisfied about something.

 

“I'm sorry,” Kadren said apologetically, finally finding enough of her voice to utter something complete.  “I'm not sure what came over me.  Perhaps I'm more exhausted than I thought, and I'm not fully in my right mind…”  She hoped that he saw only her enjoyment of the fabric, and not the imagined pleasures it provoked.  “But your cape is, indeed… wonderful…” Kadren said, as she handed the cape back to him.  “It gives me great comfort.  It… it has some wonderful magic.”

 

“It was made with comfort in mind…  And pleasure…”  His smile turned up even more, and he looked extremely amused.

 

Before Kadren could fully dwell on why he said “pleasure” with such pleasure, he interrupted her thoughts with a sudden urgency.

 

“Come. We must go quickly. I've found our salvation.”  He offered his hand.  

 

She quickly took his hand, almost reflexively, spurred on by the urgency in his voice.  But when she stood up, Kadren wobbled, and realised that she had gotten up too quickly for her current state.  She fell into Cal, who steadied her effortlessly with his obvious strength.  Kadren felt a sense of security and comfort, and lingered in his arms.  She also filled herself with his soothing scent, the same scent that was in the cape, the same scent that seemed to be everywhere.  She looked up to see Cal smiling knowingly at her, and she noticed that she found him even more appealing now.  She chastised herself for being attracted to Cal.  She wished it was Coj holding her, for she desired nothing more than to be held in that instant, and she also did not want to feel guilty.

 

“I'm sorry.  I'm alright,” and she stood up straight, without his support.

 

“Are you sure?” he asked, still with a smile.

 

“Yes.  Let's go.  Please lead the way.”

 

She followed Cal, who led her out of the passageway, into the next chamber.  As their exodus continued, Kadren felt gradually stranger.  She found herself more and more in a dream-like state, and her thoughts lingered more and more on Coj, or Cal’s handsome face.  She did not keep track of where they were going, but it seemed to Kadren they had gone a long way.  They passed by so many rocky walls that all looked the same, and Kadren wondered at times whether they had circled around and retraced their steps.  Once in a while, Kadren would need to rest, leaning on the cave walls, trying to shake the daze from her head.  Cal would smile at her, and offered his hand several times, but Kadren declined, fearing the comfort she had felt in his arms, and the attraction to his appearance.  And all the while, Cal seemed to be holding in a restless excitement, which Kadren assumed was due to his strong desire to leave the underground dungeon.

 

Finally, they stopped just outside the entryway of yet another chamber.  Kadren thought she could hear some strange noises coming from within the brightly lit chamber, and she reached for her mace, but Cal motioned for her to relax.

 

“It's alright.  Come and see.  It is our salvation.”  

 

It took a second before Kadren realized what she was seeing; but when her eyes finally did believe what they saw, Kadren inhaled sharply, and her eyes and mouth opened wide in disbelief....

 

Bodies…  Bodies everywhere.  Naked.  Writhing.  Pumping.  Bodies on top of bodies.  Bodies side by side.  Some lay flat.  Some were bent.  Some stood.  Some knelt.  A few were contorted into uncomfortable looking positions.  But nobody looked uncomfortable.  Every face was showing expressions of pleasure.  Moaning, grunting, and yelps of delight filled the warm chamber.

 

High above, there were many sun-bright magic globes that seemed to just float in the air, and they shone down on the lust-filled masses below, illuminating the whole scene.  It was a scene of shameless debauchery on full display, and Kadren could not look away.   There may have been forty of them, or fifty; Kadren did not stop to count.  Her mind was too busy thinking: thinking of how all these people got here, how they all got to be this way, what her religious duties might be in this situation, and dozens of other tiny, transient thoughts that Kadren could not keep track of.   But mostly, Kadren struggled with deciding whether she was revolted or fascinated.  She knew she was supposed to only be disgusted, but she was also drawn to the spectacle, like it was some majestic wonder.  Even as thoughts of how sinful this all was floated through her mind, she caught herself envying the unbridled enjoyment the horde seemed to be having.  The faces, the noises they were making… they seemed to experience a freedom and pleasure that  Kadren was never allowed.  She hungrily took it all in, condemning and admiring, ashamed and curious…  She took in all the shapes and colors... the curves, the angles, the mounds… softness, rigidity… glistening, glowing... pinkness, redness...  It was a never-ending feast.

 

And Kadren started becoming involved.  She imagined Coj as the one thrusting, and she was the one lying there receiving thrust after pleasurable thrust; or that she was the one riding, and Coj was the one being driven quietly insane with pleasure.  There were some actions and positions that Kadren would never have even fathomed, let alone perform, and those bodies she glossed over.  She also found less appealing the bodies with more than one partner; she found more fulfillment in being one with one.  So she kept her eyes on the various lone couples that were in the arena - for that was how Kadren thought of the chamber: an arena made for contestants to grapple, and tug, and pull, and engage in the sort of wrestling that brought pleasure.  The cave floor in the centre of the chamber was covered extensively with luxuriant furs, to provide soft ground for the amorous contestants to perform their vigorous deeds in comfort and with abandon.  As she continued joining her mind with the sinful horde, Kadren abandoned more and more of her reason and fear, and embraced more and more passion and pleasure.  She soon stopped debating herself and fully immersed herself.  Her mind became awash with all the images before her eyes and her mind’s eye, and her body was drowning in a soft, self-inflicted ecstasy.

 

“Beautiful isn't it?” said Cal, close beside her. Cal’s voice was soft, but it pierced through the rapturous din like an arrow, brutally puncturing the awake-dream Kadren was having.  Kadren gasped, having been so violently awoken by his soft voice.  She suddenly and painfully recalled that she was living in this world - a harsh pleasureless world, a world where she was forbidden from certain things, from many things.  Kadren tried to compose herself, but could not quite do so.  She was dizzy from the lust… flushed, moist, and ashamed.  She tried to turn to look at Cal, but staggered back into the wall of the entrance.  She steadied herself against the cave wall before looking up again, and what she saw frightened her.

 

Cal looked unearthly beautiful, like some angel descended.  He had been handsome when they first met, but now he was so beautiful that it was terrifying.  Kadren could not find anything that had outwardly changed about his appearance; it seemed to her that it was she who had changed.  She had just grown to truly appreciate his beauty, and was, for the first time, seeing him as he truly was - a being of heavenly beauty... a being who, when gazed upon, would render the beholder helpless and mindless.  All she could think about was how much she wanted to rush into his arms, feel his lips, feel his caress, fling off his armor, tear off her own garments, feel his flesh, let him feel hers…  She wished it was Coj standing in front of her, so that she could unleash herself upon him.  She was holding onto her morality by a thread, hanging onto her religion, hanging onto her sense of loyalty, all of which were trying mightily to slip away from her.  Cal’s beauty was terrifying, because the things it made her think and want to do were so frightening to her.  It was as if she was losing herself… or perhaps this was the real Kadren, and she had never really known herself...  She did not know who she was anymore…

 

“It is my art… my masterpiece…” he said, as he moved slowly towards her.  “It is the most beautiful art in the world.  Desire is used to color, and passion is the brush.  The body is the panel.  You are my panel on which I'll happily ply my art…  You don’t have to hold back…  You don't have to pretend…  We are all very accepting here.  Feed your hunger.  Feed your desires…  Join us.”  

 

He stopped right in front of her, and held out his hand towards her.  His smile was welcoming, his face deadly alluring, and his whole appearance - his heavenly features, his tall stature, his steady posture that exuded strength - all of it threatened to consume her and enter her into a world of indomitable allure and exquisite pleasure.  And while she was teetering on the edge, with Cal’s beauty threatening to burn her with its searing brilliance, while the orgy continued on uninhibited in the background, with the contagious fog of lust seeping profusely from the sinful horde, she knew, at that moment, that Cal was the enemy.

 

She realized what she had been sensing for some time now: magic… powerful, covert, irresistible magic… all around her, pressing in on her, now inside her, having invaded her so surreptitiously, and so thoroughly.  What took her so long to finally realize, Kadren could not say.

 

“No…” she whispered.  “Stay away,” she said, somewhat louder.  But she feared that she did not really mean it.

 

He smiled.  A demon's smile.  And he moved in closer.  She had nowhere to go.

 

His hand came up to her face and gently stroked her chin, his face inches from hers.  It was just a simple touch, but it sent streaks of lightning radiating under her skin, from the spot on her chin to the rest of her body.  It was an unbearably pleasurable sensation, weakening her knees and her resolve.  It was as if her whole body had been rebuilt to only feel pleasure and nothing else.  Kadren gasped and moaned, and she feebly swiped his hand away.

 

He straightened up, leaning away from her, and issued forth a cruel cackle that sounded oddly high-pitched.  

 

“I love that noise you make,” he laughed.  “You are beautiful, indeed, my dear Kadren.  I can't wait to have you. Your virgin flesh will taste so sweet.  You will be my most prized student.  I will teach you true pleasure, good Sister.”

 

He stood there in front of her, not moving, just waiting, with an ugly smile on his heavenly face. The magic was emanating from him intensely now, with no pretense or subtlety.  It felt so dense that Kadren thought she could almost see the magic, a crackling haze all around her; and the sinful horde, affected by the increased outpouring of lustful magic, quickened their activities.  Kadren feared that, with one more move, Cal could win this twisted game instantly.  With one more move, she could be completely his.  But Cal seemed to be savoring his moment of inevitable victory, and was in no hurry to end the game.

 

“This is... sinful…” Kadren managed to utter, with incredible effort.

 

“The only sin is to deny yourself pleasure,” Cal lectured.  “God created everything.  He created our bodies, and He created pleasure.  Our bodies were created for pleasure.  To deny yourself pleasure is to deny God!” he boomed with unquestionable authority.

 

Kadren wanted very much to surrender to the truths he expounded, but she thought of her own soul.  She looked into the blank eyes of the horde and saw that they were nothing but slaves, slaves that enjoyed unthinkable pleasure, but at the cost of their souls.  She wondered if they still had souls, or were they only a shell of pleasure-filled existence.  At the present moment, Kadren still desired God to be the only keeper of her soul, so she did not wish to join them.  It was better to die… better to die a clean death rather than live sullied.  She also thought of Coj, and how she loved him, and how she wanted to stay clean for him as well.

 

And so it was, with thoughts of death and Coj and souls on her mind, that Kadren somehow mustered enough strength to counter this enticing new religion of pleasure that had been so forcefully preached to her.  Her hand found the handle of her weapon, and she stumbled forward with it.  The feeling of her grip was strange, a sort of numb-tingling that seemed to be on the verge of exploding into a powerful exhilaration; her feet also felt a similar sensation with every step she took.  Everything felt strange: she was not in her own body.  She struck at him, and he easily dodged her clumsy attack.  Kadren had suddenly lost all her skill, as if the years of training and merciless drills never happened.  Her hands and limbs (and the rest of her) were only intent on learning pleasure, and had forgotten the deadly, instinctual movements that had come with the long years of toiling under stern tutelage.  

 

Cal issued forth another high-pitched cackle, and laughed even louder when Kadren swung again and missed a second time.  He grabbed her by the wrists as he side-stepped her attack, and she immediately felt another lightning sensation coursing from her wrist, to the rest of the body, causing her to drop her mace, and gasp and moan.  His laugh was shrill now.

 

“Good, good!” he cried, in a sadistically delighted tone.  “Fight!  That makes it…”  

 

He was interrupted by Kadren’s sudden lurch forward.  Right before Kadren thought she was going to collapse from the unbearable pleasure, she managed to muster a feeble attempt at a head-butt, and for the briefest of moments she could feel a sudden flash of his surprise, and even annoyance, as Cal narrowly escaped the surprise attack.  The lustful air in the room dampened a little, and there was a change in the magic all around the arena, though the horde was too engrossed in their activities to notice.  But very soon, Cal had composed himself, and the sinful magic poured out of him like nothing had happened.

 

He cackled once more, less enthusiastically.

 

“Very good, Kadren.  But we both know your body can't withstand much more.  Give in to what's right, Kadren.  Come, Kadren,” he held out his hand once more.  “Shed your armor and your shield.   Shed your clothing.  Shed all your trappings.  Shed all those wrong beliefs.  What I have for you here is right.”

 

Kadren had collapsed onto her knees, finally unable to stand any more.  She had still not fully recovered from the skirmish with the goblinoids, and now fighting pleasure and desire made her knees even weaker.  Her shield was propped up in front of her, and she leaned on it, trying to steady herself.  She had taken out the shield with thoughts of charging at Cal one more time, but she thought better of it, now that she was kneeling on the ground.  She let the shield fall.  It was no use.  Her might was not enough to overcome him at the present, and probably had never been enough.  There was nothing else to do now…  Kadren began unfastening her cleric’s robe.

 

“Yes… that’s right…  Good...” said Cal, in a soft and encouraging manner, like a father might say to his child.

 

It took some time, as Kadren was not used to doing even simple tasks in her changed body, but finally all her armor was off, and she was in her tunic.  When she looked up, she saw a smile of victory on Cal’s face, and a delighted gleam in his eye.  She also noticed that a few men from the orgy had noticed her actions, and had left the horde to come over to her, their erect penises leading the way to her, like divining rods.  Some stroked their members while walking towards her, all of them with a blank stare and a hungry look.  

 

“No!  She’s mine,” Cal commanded calmly, and the men obeyed.  Most of them went back to the larger group, but a couple of them stayed standing there, staring at Kadren, touching themselves.

 

Even through the heavy fog of magic-induced lust, Kadren felt a tinge of disgust.  It was different when their penises were inside somebody, hidden away from full view, and she could use the sight of gyrating bodies to stimulate her imagined pleasures with Coj.  These men were not ugly, and neither were the rest of the men in the orgy, nor were the women.  In fact, it was rather strange that there should be gathered so many beautiful people in one place, and, stranger still, it seemed that most, if not all, had some elven ancestry.  But it disgusted Kadren that these beautiful men were looking at her with such blind desire; they did not even know who she was (and she did not know them), yet they were so comfortable pointing their lust at her.  

 

Most beautiful out of all them, however, was still Cal, and she knew that his would not be a boorish act of lust, but an irresistible, sophisticated seduction.  For a second, as she looked into his face, she had a compelling urge to be seduced by Cal, but then her righteous revulsion returned as she remembered God and Coj (and the boorish, beautiful men with their hands on their privates), and she acted quickly, while she still remained mostly herself.

 

She rolled up her sleeve and began chanting a fire spell, making the gestures with one hand while a thin flame began forming in the palm of her other hand.  

 

Cal was caught off guard for a second time, and he stood there in silence, with a small, curious wonder in his eyes.  He had probably sensed that Kadren had surrendered, but she had only surrendered to the fact that her might was not going to avail her.  She was, however, not going to hand over spiritual victory that easily.

 

It took a little longer than usual, but, when she was finished, Kadren stopped the spell-casting, and she looked up at Cal with unshakable determination on her face.  In the palm of her hand was a flame shaped like a dagger, long and thin, and she focused all that she had in that hand, which held the flame in a tight claw-like gesture.

 

“What are you doing?  That's useless. That feeble magic won't work...”

 

Kadren gritted her teeth, closed her eyes tight, and plunged…

 

A piercing scream filled the chamber.  Kadren hardly recognized that it was her own when it was echoed back to her, as she had never made that sound before.  Even though she knew it was her own scream, she experienced it as if someone else was screaming.  She only thought about her scream very briefly, as Kadren had no room in her being for the scream; her whole being was now engrossed in pain.  But she still dared not take the flame-knife away from her bare forearm, for her fear of spiritual death was still more terrible than her bodily suffering.  Her own magical flame kept searing and digging into her flesh, burning away all sin and evil from her being like an angry Holy fire, such that all thoughts of lust, of Cal, of naked bodies ceased to exist, and in that moment in time, all that existed was Kadren and that holy wrath.  She bore the agony until she thought she was going to lose consciousness, and then stopped, relaxing the hand that contained the spell, and the flame, along with her screaming, ceased.

 

The pain did not go away, but nor did it escalate anymore, and the initial shock of it was gone.  It lingered like a reminder, like an unwelcome house guest.  When she opened her eyes, she saw that her vision was blurred by pain, but Kadren was seeing clearer than she had been for a while now.

 

She looked at Cal, and saw that he was still very handsome, but only a beautiful mortal, and obviously not an angel.  The look of surprise was apparent on his face, but also… delight?...  Kadren stared at the horde and noticed that the participants now looked very unhealthy, abused, and not at all beautiful.  Many were malnourished, with a look of near-death darkening their faces.  The spell had lifted over Kadren.  Cal’s magic poured out uselessly now; Kadren had become resistant to its effects.  But the magic itself seemed to be weaker as well, and Kadren sensed that the power of his enchantment depended on how many were willing to bend to his will and give in to lust.  Kadren’s screams and agony had awoken the horde from the spell, or, at the least, dampened their lust.  The power of his magery seemed to also depend on Cal’s mood, and he was no longer of the mind to deliver pleasure.  

 

Even though Kadren was no longer screaming, the pain was still all-consuming and incapacitating.  She could do nothing until she did something about her wound.  Most of the wound was just the surface of the forearm being burned - blistering, and even blackened in certain spots, but there was also a crevasse that gave her a nauseating view of sinew, and Kadren thought maybe even bone.  Looking at the wound now, Kadren regretted having put the flame-knife to her forearm for that long, determining that she had most likely overdid it.  But at the time of her desperate gambit, Kadren wanted to be completely free of Cal’s magic, and so too much was better than too little.  Wincing and panting, she began chanting and weaving her hand above the wound.  She put a numbing spell over the area first, and this brought the pain down a bit.  She then cast a spell that caused a flesh-colored, translucent mud to start forming in the central chasm of the wound.  A full healing of the wound would have to come later, but for now Kadren meant to cover it so that she would not be in agony with every movement.  As the thick salve reached from the centre to the edges of the wound, the pain began intensifying drastically, for it was the burned skin that hurt the most, whereas most of the feeling had been burned away in the deeper parts of the wound.  Kadren grit her teeth, and grunted, but she kept up with the spell.  

 

Kadren glanced at Cal.  She was worried that he would not let her heal, but Cal just stood there with a calculating look, and Kadren thought she saw a ghost of a smile on his face, as if he was secretly delighted about something.  After a short while he walked towards his horde of spiritual prisoners.  His prisoners were getting restless, now that they did not have the orgy to occupy them.  Some of them began shuffling about, with a dazed look.  Some of them began moaning.  Some were wailing.  They were all lost without the pleasure they had gotten used to.

 

Cal pulled out the crystal that had lit the way in the dark tunnel, and began speaking something into it.  Cal then turned his attention towards the prisoners and began singing a lulling melody, in a crisp, soothing tone.  It sounded wonderful, and Kadren knew to be wary, but the pain from her wound seemed to help mitigate the spell’s effects.  It also helped that Cal was directing his focus on the prisoners and not her, so that she did not receive the brunt of his magery.

 

A tranquility overcame the prisoners after Cal sang for a while.  They sat or lay there on the fur-laden ground, with a strange peace.  Kadren herself felt just a bit calmer.  By that time, she had covered all the burned areas of her forearm with the salve.  The salve had hardened into a protective layer that looked like thick, ugly skin.  With a new layer of skin covering her own raw, damaged skin, Kadren was able to drape her forearm with her sleeve without wincing.  Seeing that Cal was still occupied, Kadren started donning her armour, as quickly as she could, grunting and wincing at certain parts of the process.  

 

When she was fully armoured and was about to pick up her shield, Kadren saw a band of goblinoids walking in from the far side of the chamber, about ten of them.  They were carrying large drinking vessels, and began to place them to the mouths of the prisoners, who drank obediently.  Kadren tried to quickly equip herself with the shield, but dropped it.  She had lost some strength in her limb from the burn, and it was still rather painful trying to equip the shield in that arm.  She gave up the notion of having a shield and went swiftly to pick up her mace.

 

Kadren turned towards her enemies, weapon in hand, and saw that the prisoners who had drank of the mysterious draught were now sleeping; it only took a few sips.  The prisoners’ faces were pathetic, and it seemed to Kadren that much of the unsightliness was due to some disfigurement.  She could not quite figure it out, but, in looking at them, Kadren got the feeling that the prisoners had been forced to look like Elves through some unnatural manipulation.  When she was under Cal's spell, Kadren did indeed think they were enviable beauties of some elven blood, but with the spell lifted, the overall effect was a pitiable appearance.

 

With her enemies still paying her no mind, and with her now armed and armoured, Kadren decided that this would be a good time to make her exit.  As she neared the opening she and Cal had entered from, however, a flame suddenly burst forth and filled the exit.   The fire was large, and the heat was intense, even from ten feet away, and Kadren knew that it would be death or deathly pain to go through it.  

 

“You didn't think it would be that easy, did you?” asked Cal.  

 

He was singing no longer, but he did not turn to look at Kadren.  Instead, he had a vessel in hand, and was helping to distribute the mystery draught, as if he was not concerned at all with Kadren escaping.

 

Kadren’s heart dropped.  For one fleeting moment she had tasted triumph and freedom, but now she realized she had never truly believed she would escape...  She surveyed her surrounding for what to do next.  She noticed that she felt somewhat refreshed, as if she had just awoken from a nap, and her thinking was rather clear.  She eyed the two exits on the far end of the chamber, saw Cal and the goblinoids in between, decided that she would have to fight for her way out, and steeled herself for battle.  An unexpected calm came over Kadren after her decision, possibly because she had faced certain death twice now, in such a short time; and knowing what she had to do, even if it meant certain death, was more pleasant than uncertainty.  

 

She headed towards one of the exits on the far side of the chamber, and met no resistance from Cal or the goblinoids.  The exit filled with fire, however, sooner than before, even at more than twenty feet away.  And this time, Kadren saw Cal casting the spell, drinking vessel in one hand, fluid movements with the other, muttering something inaudible, and a flame sprang up in the remaining exit as well.  That made things even simpler, and was along the lines of what Kadren was expecting.  With the brave calm she had mustered, Kadren faced her enemies.

 

Cal gave the vessel back to one of the goblinoids.  All the prisoners were sleeping now or were about to.  Cal walked towards Kadren, and stopped about ten feet away.  He then began stripping his armor and clothing.  Soon he was naked, completely comfortable in his beautiful body, and staring at Kadren with a smirk.  Kadren looked away a little, but kept him in her line of sight, watching out for any move he was going to make.  She would not let him have her; she was ready to fight to the death to preserve her chastity.

 

“This body does not seem to appeal to you,” said Cal.  “Perhaps another will do.”

 

And he began stripping again.  Kadren had to look directly at him, because she wanted to know what he could possibly be stripping when he was already fully naked.  What she saw horrified her.

 

It was his skin that he was stripping, his flesh, and he kept peeling it off like it was a large overcoat.  Apparently, it was also somewhat of an unpleasant experience for Cal, as he kept grunting while stripping away the layer of flesh.  And the grunts grew gradually louder, and higher-pitched, until it was a woman yelling as the whole layer of flesh finally came undone.  Underneath was a woman, slightly wet- and squished-looking, but very quickly, as she continued yelling, swelled and morphed.  And when the yelling and swelling had subsided, there stood a woman of angelic (or devilish) beauty... bewitching face, curvaceous features… seductive allure exuded from every part of this woman.  She was noticeably taller when she was Cal, but she still retained a regal height after her transformation.  And, like Cal, her long hair was pitch black and luxuriant, and her eyes were just as dark in color, but they glistened much more than her hair.  Her skin, however, was as pale as the full moon.   This being was surely a Moon Elf; if so, the stories did not do their beauty justice.  

 

“Well, Kadren,” the woman said in a husky voice, “is this better?”

 

The woman picked up the Cal overcoat from the ground, which looked like some bizarre flesh-colored mass of soft wax, and handed it to one of the goblinoids, who held it for her.

 

“Who are you?” asked Kadren, fear and determination both gone, now with just awe and wonder.  She could not help but admire the woman’s beauty, and Kadren also felt she understood a man’s lust, knowing that no man would be able to resist this woman.

 

“I am Lilith,” answered the woman, simply.

 

Kadren paused, afraid that what she was going to say next was silly, but she said it anyway.

 

“You're not real…  You're just a legend…”

 

The woman laughed.

 

“I am a legend, but I'm not just a legend.  I am real.  As a student of the faith, I'm sure you know the story of Lilith. The legend is much older than I am, but I think I've been Lilith long enough to start becoming my own legend.”

 

Lilith surveyed Kadren, then, seeming to be satisfied that Kadren looked confused enough, she went on.

 

“I was not always called Lilith, but the legend of Lilith suited me; it suited what I wanted, what I wanted to become, so I took on the name Lilith, and became the legend.”

 

“You’re a succubus?...  You... they… they exist?”

 

“I was the first of our kind; I am mother to all that have followed.  I was not always as you see me now.  I made myself what I am today.  I could’ve been called anything, I suppose, but the stories of Lilith and succubi suited, so I became Lilith, and let others talk of me and my kind as succubi.”  She paused, and looked meaningfully at Kadren.  “I want you to join us, Kadren.  You could be the most powerful of my daughters.  You are already one of my favourites.  Your will is strong, and many would bend to it.  Together we can tame and better this cruel world, this world full of wrong and suffering.  We could finally bring peace and happiness.  But we must do it with absolute certainty and authority.  We may have gentle hearts, but we must guide with stern hands.  And I will give you such power that all would obey you, and do what's right.”

 

Kadren looked at the sleeping prisoners and their pitiable faces, and said: “They don't look very happy.  They don't look like they've been ruled with a gentle heart.”

 

“Actually, they are very happy, but all good things do come at a price.  For great things to happen there must be sacrifices,” said Lilith matter-of-factly.  “But the paradise we would create…” Lilith’s eyes glistened even more…  “It will all be worth it.”

 

Kadren appeared thoughtful, but she already had her answer; she was only pondering her words.

 

“I cannot join you,” said Kadren finally.  “Your means are too sinful to be worth any good you might achieve.  There’s only One who can lead us to paradise, and that one is not you.  I beg that you use your powers to serve God.  You’ve been blessed with incredible talents and you could do a lot of good as a servant of God.  Please.  Look at all this sin and suffering you're causing.  I beg you to stop.”

 

“Sin and suffering?” Lilith laughed.  “That's preposterous.  I deliver pleasure, not suffering.  As for sin…  Is not one of the holy teachings that all of us are sinful?  It would be blasphemous to think one can be free of sin, so do not talk to me as if you are a sinless messenger of Heaven.”

 

“I…” began Kadren, but she was interrupted and dismissed with the wave of a hand.

 

“However free of sin you think you might be, it is still a fact that what I provide is not sinful.  It is not sinful to enjoy what God has given us, to the fullest extent.  My purpose is to reduce the amount of sin in this world, and to ease suffering.  Look at all the suffering caused by men in this world.  Killing, maiming, pillaging, burning, warring.  I would use my powers to put an end to all that.  If your mission is to rid this world of sin, then you must join me.”

 

Kadren had to think again.  There seemed no chance that minds would be changed today, but she tried once more anyway.

 

“But look at your followers,” said Kadren.  “They look near death.  Surely you can't say what you're doing here is good for them.”

 

“And what's so bad about death?” Lilith challenged.  “Surely a devout Sister such as yourself cannot say that death is evil.  It is the manner of death that matters, and all those that I have touched die free of suffering, and they have the honour of contributing to the greater good.”

 

“So you admit that you are killing these people.”

 

“No.  I'm helping them to live.  To have a good life.  What's the use of having many years if they are all terrible and meaningless.  Many would trade their long miserable lives instantly if they could live but a minute of the life I offer.  So many are born into meaningless servitude, serving a lord who cares not for them, letting them toil away in the fields with subsistence as their reward, and sending them off to battles that only enrich their greedy master's coffers, while making the servant’s life more miserable still.  How can you abide by this?  How can you stand by and do nothing?”

 

“But what about free will?  It isn’t right to take away God’s gift to us all.  I've seen how you recruit your followers, and how you keep them.  I see no freedom; I see no choice.  You do a similar disservice as the ones you accuse, by controlling and manipulating your followers as you see fit, for your own purposes.”

 

“Those who see reason should be given a choice, but those who do not, should not.  Choice should be a privilege.  You see the disastrous consequences all around you, when those who should not be deciding are given the power to do so.  But to answer your question, I give everybody freedom.  I merely introduce them to possibilities first.  Afterward they stay of their own free will.”

 

“You can't really believe that…  Look at the lengths you had to go to to keep them sedated.”

 

“That was your doing, Kadren.  You interrupted the wonderful life they had been living, and they, being so used to such comforts and pleasures that I provide, suffered immensely from your cruel interruption.  I had no choice but to soothe and calm them.”

 

“But…”

 

“Enough!” Lilith said suddenly.  “I tire of this pointless banter.”  She pointed at Kadren and gave a command to the goblinoids in their guttural tongue.

 

Several goblinoids rushed towards Kadren, but Kadren had no intention of engaging the soldiers; she wanted the captain.  Kadren was quick, and she reached Lilith before the goblinoids could reach her, but Lilith was even quicker.  Kadren’s mace hit only air, and Lilith got behind her in the blink of an eye.  Kadren swung around immediately with practiced precision, her body under her command again, and there was a brief moment of exhilaration as she welcomed back her reflexes like a long lost friend.  But Kadren’s respectable skill won her no victory.  There was a split second satisfaction as Kadren felt impact, but, right afterward, pain and utter terror.  

 

The pain was due to the fact that Kadren had used a two-handed attack, and her shield arm was now paying the price as the burn wound underneath the armour and salve protested.  Kadren’s terror came from the sight of where her mace had landed.  The stern, blunt instrument that could break metal armour was now held in Lilith’s hand, inches from her grinning face, as if it were nothing but a toy sword swung by a sickly child.  Such power was in Lilith’s talons that the impact Kadren felt was like that of striking a mountain.  Kadren could sense incredibly dense magic focused in that iron hand and long slender fingers; and the mace would not return to Kadren’s possession, tug as she might, for Lilith’s grip was stronger than a vise.  Kadren had never faced such a powerful enemy before; she had never even heard of such power in a living mortal, not even among the Elves.  Kadren knew that, even if she were well-rested and at full strength, she would not stand a chance against Lilith.  This was a demon she was facing, and Kadren was frozen in horror from the inside.

 

Kadren unfroze when her weapon was wrenched from her grasp and flung away where it landed with a resounding clang.  In a blink, the goblinoids were upon her.

 

Kadren was weaponless, but not hopeless, for she herself was trained to be a weapon.  She avoided the claws of the first one that reached her and welcomed it with a heavy fist to the face.  There was a successful crunch and a shriek, but the next moment Kadren felt a whomp on her back, and, after some flurry of activity, found herself pinned to the ground, three goblinoids on top of her trunk and limbs, her burn wound protesting loudly in the process.  

 

More commands in Goblin were spoken, and a couple more pairs of claws joined in Kadren’s capture.  They began tearing away at her cleric’s robe, until it was gone.  Her mail armour was much more difficult for the goblinoids, and Kadren ensured it was exceedingly difficult by putting up as much resistance as she could.  But eventually her armor was forced off of her as well, and only her tunic remained.

 

More commands were uttered and Kadren was hoisted onto her knees to face Lilith.  

 

“I’m sorry,” said Lilith.  “I should’ve warned you to keep your armour off…  We’ve wasted all that effort you put into donning your armour.”

 

She crouched so that she was about eye-level with Kadren.

 

“Beautiful…” said Lilith as she caressed Kadren’s face with her long soft fingers.  “I love the defiance in your eyes.  Your will is incredible.  I know you will become my favourite.”  And there was a mad gleam in her eyes, as if a treasure she had been searching for many years was finally in front of her.  “But first I must make you see reason; otherwise, all your strength and will is wasted.”  

 

Lilith's deceptively strong feminine hands ripped open Kadren’s tunic to expose Kadren’s chest, and those same hands began softly tracing, feeling, cupping the areas on and around her breasts.  Then she grasped Kadren’s face gently in her hands and kissed her.

 

So unexpected was the comfortable softness of the kiss that Kadren forgot for a moment to be affronted.  Lilith’s lips reminded her of stories about luxuriant featherbeds owned by kings and queens, where the sleeper was wrapped in clouds of heavenly warmth and dreams; and the tongue was very pleasing as well, both demonstrating desire yet not being too intrusive, darting lightly here and there to exhilarate and soothe.  By the time that Kadren thought of biting the tongue as a retaliatory attack, the kiss had already finished, and the last pieces of her clothing were being torn off.  

 

Soon Kadren’s wrists were bound, and she was led by the goblinoids to an area in the fur-carpeted ground some distance away from the sleeping prisoners.  She was tied to one of the three beds that Kadren had noticed before, but had not paid full attention to.  These were low beds of rather good material - not quite fit for a king, yet not something to be found in a peasant’s home.  The bedding looked washed and clean, which Kadren, even with all that was going on, somehow did notice.  As her naked body was forced onto the bed, she felt the softness of the mattress, and decided that it must have been stuffed with wool, and not straw.  The length of rope attached to her bonds was tied tightly to the head of the bed.  Her legs were left free, and she closed them tight.  Brave though she was, Kadren felt vulnerable in being exposed so, as this was one situation that Kadren did not train for.  She was more ready for death than being naked.

 

Lilith noticed her distress and gave a light chuckle: “Oh, beautiful Kadren.  How you delight me.  You need not fear.  I am not so cruel.  I only wish to teach you and to nurture you.  I will begin your training with something that you’ve been yearning for.  It’ll be my treat to you,” said Lilith with a devious smile.

 

Kadren did not like the sound of those words.

 

-------------------------------

 

Coj was there, yet he was also not really there.  In trying to keep track of what was happening, he could only recall various pieces, like one might when conjuring up memories long past; some pieces were rather clear, but many pieces were rather foggy - or perhaps he chose not to remember.  And he could not say what images were seen by his eyes, and which ones by his mind’s eye.  All in all, Coj felt like he was only a passenger, and someone else had taken over the reigns; yet he felt no desire to grab the reigns back.  

He looked downwards and saw the maiden’s round, fleshy bottom rippling lusciously under every heavy stroke of his hips.  He saw milky-white skin, healthy and glowing, flushed or covered lightly with sweat here and there.  He heard delightful yelps and moans from her that expressed pleasure, and those pleasant noises from her coaxed more and more enthusiasm from him.  He recalled feeling delectable softness... of her breasts, of her backside, of her everything.  He recalled moisture and wetness and warmth and heat, and how they slid, rubbed, and glided with each other, with various parts of each other, and how he had never felt so good, despite misgivings entering in and out of his mind, as he entered in and out of her; but the misgivings were fleeting thoughts, and seemed almost like somebody else’s thoughts.  He recalled knowing he should stop, but not having the capacity to.  He recalled thoughts of Kadren, and trying to draw strength from love, but found that he was drawing from a well that was too deep, and the salvation that it held was always just beyond his reach.  He knew things were terribly wrong, yet he did not care, or could not care.

How it came to be like this, he, again, could not fully recall.  Coj remembered deciding to carry the naked maiden out of the cell.  He remembered her protests.  He remembered trying words one last time, many times, but ultimately he had to resort to physical strength.  He remembered fighting the insidious magic that was hanging about, while the maiden was fighting his attempts to save them both; he remembered fighting a losing battle.  He remembered trying to tie her up, with her own clothing, while trying not to hurt her.  And his memory became foggier and foggier…

They became tangled up…  She enjoyed his closeness, the physicality of his rescue attempt…  She tried tempting him...  attempting to fondle him under his leather armour, to caress him, to kiss him…  He was frustrated…  She was making things so difficult…  He grabbed her wrists, but immediately let go when he thought he had hurt her…  But she was smiling…  She came up to him again…  She was soft…  The scent… her scent?...  Intoxicating...  She kept trying to get at him… kept rubbing against him… enjoying any reason to be close to him… enjoying his attempts to tie her up…  He became angry…  He held her down, on top of the straw…  She was delighted...  He became angrier…  And then he grabbed her… by the shoulders first... then he grabbed her breasts… to punish her… because she kept moving his hands towards her breasts, which angered him so...  She was ecstatic…  He became even angrier… and he kissed her, angrily, harshly… again to punish...  She enjoyed it…  And she looked sublime… completely naked, except for a pretty choker on her delicate neck...  And he began to enjoy as well…   He punished her some more... grabbing, kissing, even slapping… lightly on her face, harder on her buttocks…  And soon he found that the only way to release his anger was to punish her by giving her what she wanted… to show her how wrong she was…  He quickly doffed his light armor, and shed his clothing…  She helped…  And then he was naked… His member was unsheathed, hard and pulsing with anger, and he wanted to stab her with it, to punish her.

And so he did.  He slid inside her easily, as she was flowing with wetness, and she enveloped him, tight and warm.  Over and over and over again he stabbed her, on top of her, under her, behind her, and it was extremely satisfying.

How long they continued their activities on the prison straw-bed, Coj did not know; but it must have been for quite a while, for he recalled releasing his fluid into her many times, yet he continued to be ready and aroused after each round.  He was racked with pleasure each climax, and each time was more incredible than the last.   She reached heights of ecstasy many times as well, more times than him, in fact, gasping, screaming, quivering, or bucking each time she did.   Each time he released some of himself into her, he felt more and more of himself slipping away, until he did not belong to himself anymore.  She became more alive and vigorous with each passing moment, and he knew more and more of his life was being sucked away the longer he stayed with her.  He sensed the magic doing its evil work, but he did nothing about it; he could do nothing about it.  All he could do was enjoy a slow pleasurable death.

But they suddenly stopped what they were doing when a husky voice was heard, saying: “Bring him to me.”

Coj briefly saw a dark, piercing eye staring at him from a gemstone in the maiden’s choker.  He knew that the eye belonged to the puppeteer, the powerful magician he had sought to destroy.  But now he wished to serve them, for the maiden desired to serve them, and Coj desired to serve the maiden.

It was also at this time that Coj noticed numerous tiny insects congregating densely on the ceiling, barely visible even to Coj’s keen eyes.  Buried deep amongst the fog of lust and pleasure, Coj felt a sharp tinge of regret...  He sensed that the insects were the ones leaking the insidious magic, and he knew that his current circumstances could have been prevented by earlier detection of the swarm.  But it was much too late now.

He was led by his new mistress through various chambers and passageways, and he followed as an obedient slave; all he wanted was to be inside her again.  “Time to meet your goddess,” she had said.  They finally reached their destination, and he became aroused to bursting...  

Welcoming him was the most sensuous creature he had ever encountered.  Everything about this creature was sensual, every word she said, every movement she made, every look she gave.  Every part of her was desirable, her eyes, her lips, her moonlight skin, her mounds of breast, her incredible, shapely hips - all of it screamed at him, demanding his abject admiration, demanding the most erect attention his phallus could salute, demanding every last drop of his seed and all of his essence; and he was willing to give it all to her.  She was his mistress’ mistress, and she was immeasurably more beautiful than his mistress, more beautiful than words could say.  She was beautiful beyond imagination, beyond this world.  He had found his true religion, and he would worship her, for she was his goddess.

Coj also saw Kadren, tied down, naked, shocked, vulnerable, and he felt guilt, fear, and anger in the very recesses of his mind; but those thoughts were transient and unimportant.  He trusted in his goddess; she would make things better.  Kadren would soon understand; she would forgive him.  Once his goddess converted her, Kadren would worship as he did.  They would enter paradise together.

 

---------------------------------------

 

Kadren saw Coj being led into the chamber through one of the three entrances; the magic fires guarding them had since subsided.  Kadren choked back a sob as the meaning of Lilith’s promises hit her right in the chest.  Coj was naked, dazed and aroused, and he became fully erect when Lilith stepped in front of him.  The maiden who led him was beautiful, but, like the prisoners, something about her countenance, although much more subtle, again suggested forced manipulation in trying to acquire elven beauty; and her curves, though beautifully luscious, also seemed somehow unnatural.

But Kadren thought only very briefly of forged beauty, for fear dominated her thoughts.  She had been ready to die, but she had not been ready to see her warrior lover defeated, and defeated in such an undignified way.  

Coj was led to Kadren’s bedside by Lilith, and the maiden was left standing there, visibly upset about giving her prize away.  Upon seeing the man she loved coming near, Kadren shifted away from Coj, as if he were something to be feared.

Lilith smiled and said, “What's the matter?  Isn't this what you’ve been waiting for?  There’s no pesky boy to interfere in your union with this man.  And what a man this is…”  And here Lilith trailed her hands over Coj’s powerful chest and sculpted abdomen.  “I do see why you like him.”

“How do you know so much about us?” asked Kadren.

“My eyes and ears extend beyond rock and walls.  They extend beyond even towns and villages.  I know many things.  I also know that this man will provide you a wonderful experience for your first time, since he is so full of experience.”  Lilith chuckled to herself.
She then tugged at Coj’s erect penis, to lead him closer to Kadren, and Coj glided like a puppet towards Kadren.

“What do you want him to do?” asked Lilith silkily.  “Just ask, and it shall be done.”

“Coj…” uttered Kadren, barely above a whisper.  “Please.  Please, wake up.  Please!” she said more desperately.   “You must!  Please!”

But Coj did not move, and he did not answer.  He just stood rooted, hovering over Kadren, staring blankly at her, his phallus jutting out like a lone branch.

“Oh, but Kadren, he is awake,” said Lilith.  “He's never been more awake in his life.  He finally knows true meaning and purpose, and… satisfaction…”  Lilith’s lips curled up into an extremely satisfied grin.  “And soon you will too.  Come now.  Tell him how you would like him to satisfy you.  He'll do as you say, won't you Coj?”

“I'll do as you say,” said Coj, in a far-off tone, and Kadren was not sure who he was addressing.

“Please, Coj… fight!  Fight the enchantment.  Please...” Kadren pleaded softly.

“It’s alright,” said Coj with a gentle smile, and his voice was dream-like.  “It’s wonderful.  You’ll understand soon.  Trust in her.  Trust in our goddess.”

“Oh, how sweet!” said Lilith saccharinely.  “He called me goddess!”

Coj grinned, child-like, as if he just received the highest of praises, and Kadren hung her head silently, despair setting in darkly.  She could not beat Lilith, no matter what she tried, or how hard she tried.  Lilith was just too powerful.  

Kadren could sense the sinful magic emanating from Lilith, but it had minimal effect on Kadren now.  The spell felt much weaker than before - when Lilith had a horde of believers exalting her and her lustful religion.  The spell now was felt as a subtle warmth for Kadren, like one might feel after a small amount of drink.  Perhaps, also, the spell would forever lose its hold on someone once it was broken even a single time.  But whatever the case, the spell was still enough to keep Coj enchanted.  Kadren sensed that it did not take much to keep Coj spellbound now, as he had given a large part of himself away... his will, his dignity, his defenses, his love… or did he ever love her?  How could he give himself away so easily?...  Darkness grew ever heavier inside Kadren, and she continued hanging her head in silence, letting the darkness eat away at her slowly.

After a while, Lilith seemed to grow tired of Kadren’s inaction, and she sauntered over to the head of the bed, behind Kadren.  She did some unseen thing, and Kadren’s bonds loosened.  She walked back to Kadren’s bedside, and said, “Perhaps you would prefer to do something to your man, rather than have him do something to you.  You are free of your bonds now.  Do whatever you please.”

With her hands free, a small fire stirred inside Kadren, and she lunged out of bed to slap Coj in the face.  But even after the resounding crack, Coj still stood there under the spell.  His eyes flickered, a faint look of surprise on his face, but nothing else.  No love, no kindness, none of the Coj she remembered.  She slapped him again, and again, and again, but still he stood there; his cheek reddened from Kadren’s hand, but not from embarrassment, or guilt, or anger, or any other emotion Kadren wanted to see.  There was only a dull look of shock on his face.  Kadren fought back tears as she stared at her once mighty warrior, reduced to this shameful puppet...

Upon hearing Lilith chuckling softly behind her, Kadren whirled around to strike at her, not because she thought it would do any good, but because she was distraught, and there was nothing else to do.  And, sure enough, her half-hearted fist met only air; and in the next second, Kadren was flung handily back onto the bed where she remained, defeated, demoralized, destroyed.

“Come now, Kadren.  There is no point in fighting any longer.  Even your dear Coj embraces the good I do.  I'm letting you be with your man, as two lovers should, free from interference, free from the hateful rules and governance of lords and leaders with their own greedy motives.  What do you say, Kadren?  Would you like to finally have your man freely?”

Kadren stayed silent and stared at her feet.

“Still a believer in the sanctity of love, I see,” said Lilith.  “Very well...”

Lilith weaved her hands to and fro, and magic began invisibly trickling back to her.  It was from the insects that the magic returned from, the swarm of tiny insects that Kadren just noticed congregating densely on the ground.  It took a moment for Kadren to recognize what it was, for the swarm looked, on first glance, to be a layer of something shiny, like a layer of almost-invisible slimy moss.  There was a tapering trail of them pointing towards the direction Coj and the maiden had come from.  Upon seeing the insects, Kadren formed some ideas on how Lilith’s powers were extended beyond rock and walls.  Kadren also had a sneaking suspicion that the insects had been with her in the dark tunnel.

Lilith used the returned magic to strengthen the lustful spell.  After the heated exchange, Coj had become less lustfully entranced, his eyes blinking and wondering, his phallus beginning to sag.  Kadren herself felt a waning of the enchantment too.  Whether it was because Lilith was running out of magic to maintain the spell, or whether it required more magic now to maintain it, Kadren knew not.  With the spell bolstered, however, Kadren felt the drink-like warmth returning in herself, and she saw Coj gradually regain arousal.

Lilith then went up to Coj and caressed him here and there, and she stroked his member delicately several times.  Coj’s face and body became taut with painful-looking excitement, and his manhood was once again brimming with pulsing anticipation.  

Kadren saw this and looked away, tears welling up in her eyes, and Lilith, aware of this, chuckled.

“If you will not enjoy my gift to you, then others will enjoy him in your stead.”

Lilith motioned for the maiden, who had brought Coj in, to come over, and the delighted maiden came over to them, with a spring in her step.  And soon he was inside her.

Kadren had seen Coj’s powerful body in action before, thrusting effortlessly through their enemies’ armour and defenses, but now Coj’s powerful muscles were involved with another type of thrusting.  Each thrust stabbed into Kadren’s heart, and she died inside many times, yet she was forced to remain in that cave chamber and watch.

After Coj and the maiden had finished, they lay on the fur-laden ground, both looking satisfied.  But the maiden wanted more, and she coaxed him with touches, caresses, and her ready mouth.  Soon Coj’s manhood began rising from its brief slumber, awoken by the maiden and unnaturally invigorated by Lilith’s magery.

“Well, Kadren.  What do you think of love now?” asked Lilith.  “This is my first lesson to you my dear girl: that there is no true love between man and woman.  True love is an invention born from lust.  You've known that this man has loved and made love to others in the past, yet you still believed he would love only you.  I now give you proof that he is but a man, and a man is guided only by his loins and knows nothing of true love.  He is not your father; he is not even your brother; he is not family.  That is the only true love in this world: family.  I am your family Kadren; you will come to learn this.”  Lilith wiped away a tear from Kadren’s cheek before continuing.  “You will learn that I'm the one who truly loves you.  But for now, I must continue to hurt you.  I'm sorry, my dear.  It pains me to do so, but I must.”

And soon a deluge of carnal activities unfolded right before Kadren, as she sat there in the bed, incapacitated by a monstrous growing hopelessness, and mourning the loss of her dream.

As Coj and the maiden resumed their passions, Lilith gave some commands in Goblin.  The goblinoids had been lying idly about, or grooming themselves and each other like animals, which Kadren would have found peculiar, had she the heart to be curious about such things.  A couple of the goblinoids went to wake a female prisoner, who was then herded over to Coj, and she shuffled over in a clumsy stupor.  Another goblinoid disappeared for a while, and reappeared with a gleaming dagger and a chalice.  Lilith used the dagger to prick her forefinger, and instead of a drop of blood from the pinpoint wound, a thin but steady stream of bright red blood dripped into the chalice.  Lilith waved a hand over the finger and the bleeding stopped.   She then put the chalice to the lips of the prisoner.  Quite soon afterward the prisoner began rousing.  And then she became extremely aroused.  With a quick permissive command from Lilith, the prisoner shot towards Coj like an arrow.  Lilith’s blood induced such a frightening frenzy of lust in the sickly-looking woman that Kadren was sure it would be the death of her.  Although she looked ill and malnourished, and rather unattractive to Kadren, Coj looked at the prisoner with an insatiable appetite, and he handled her with such vigour that it was clear he had no thought of her poor health in mind.  Kadren knew that Coj saw only irresistibly sensual beauty through the fog of the enchantment.  A little while later, Lilith had another prisoner join Coj’s party in a similar fashion.  The new joiner appeared younger and much healthier, perhaps because she had been a prisoner for less time, and she may have even been quite pretty, but she was still marked with the same look of soul-draining illness as the others.  Only the maiden who had first arrived with Coj looked completely healthy, and Kadren sensed that she was favoured by Lilith in some way.

Whatever they looked like to Kadren, Coj enjoyed them as if they were the healthiest, most delectable specimens, and they enjoyed him tremendously in turn…  Moisture glistening, breasts swaying,  mouths open… a lot of giving, a lot of receiving… backsides fleshy or not so fleshy, but flesh there and everywhere nonetheless, rippling or squished or squeezed… upper lips and lower lips, red lips and darker fleshier lips, lips with tongue, lips on lips, tongue on tongue…  It was a haze of unhindered wants and needs.  At one point, Coj had all three of their backsides pointing towards him, lined up side-by-side like eager statues, and he thrust into them in succession with great fervor.  At other times it was just an indistinct mass of flesh… limbs tangled, hair messy, bodies intertwined… moans, yelps, and screams of delight…  They went on for a long time, many times, and the wombs overflowed with Coj’s fluid, the love sap dribbling down their thighs in a glistening display of ecstasy.  On and on it went as Kadren sat their with tears slowly trickling down, unbidden and unwiped.

Finally, the carnal haze subsided.  The two prisoners lay on the soft fur in a deep slumber, or were quietly dying - Kadren could not tell.  The favoured maiden was the only one ready for more.  Even though Coj appeared willing, his flesh was tired, and he was sagging, even as the maiden lovingly coaxed and fondled him.  A goblinoid handed a chalice to Coj, and Kadren stirred from her dark daze with a sudden panic, thinking that it might be poison; but Lilith reassured immediately: “It’s only water.”

Coj drank eagerly from the cup, as Lilith recalled the maiden to her side.  The maiden looked satisfied and proud as she skittered over to her mistress, like a girl to her mother.

Lilith spoke: “My dear Kadren.  You have now seen the truth of man.  I’m very sorry to hurt you so, but it is a lesson I must teach you, and I must teach it to you in such a way that it leaves no doubt.  You have now seen the true nature of man, and there is no true love in it.  Given the chance, a man will sard anything that is on all fours, just as you have witnessed.  They can’t help themselves.  They are sinful creatures.  They are pathetic creatures in need of our guidance.  Even the most noble and beautiful man…” - she pointed her hand towards Coj - “is victim to such base tendencies.”

Lilith turned to Coj as he finished his water and said to both him and the maiden: “Rest, my dears.  You’ve done well.”  

Coj complied with a childlike smile on his face, and lay down to sleep on the soft fur.  The maiden curled up next to him, and rested as well, while holding him and softly stroking his hair.

Lilith turned back to Kadren and continued on: “I loved a beautiful, half-elven man once.  He was much like your beloved Coj.  In fact you have met him.  His name was Callum Rominel.”

Kadren could not help but look up - from her downward stare of disdainful apathy - towards Lilith’s face, to confirm the truth of the words.

“Yes, it’s true,” promised Lilith.  “I was once much like you: a gifted Human girl… young, beautiful, talented… but stubborn, and foolish.  Even the men we fall prey to are similar… both are half-elven, both of noble birth, both extremely beautiful and irresistibly charming…  And they both have simple shortened names that they wield with such pompous delight.”  She chuckled.  “Yes, indeed… you are very much my daughter.  I want to protect you, to strengthen you, to let you grow and achieve greatness.  I would rather hurt you now with the truth than have you face all-consuming sorrow, as I did.”

Lilith looked into the distance.  “I was once foolish enough to blindly love a man, just as you do now.  What a waste of youth that was, such a waste of precious time, such a tragedy.”

She turned back.  “But I am grateful to him.  He was instrumental to my awakening.  I would not be who I am today without him.  And he continues to be useful even in death.  I use his very skin to wake others to the truths of this world.”

And though Kadren felt like she was dead on the inside, some flicker of something must have flashed across her own face, because Lilith responded with: “Don’t worry, I am not so barbaric to skin someone alive...”

Kadren looked away.

“I killed him first before skinning him.”

Kadren looked back, and saw a mad twinkling in Lilith’s eyes.

“He broke my heart and ruined me, just as your dear Coj would have, if I had allowed your foolishness to continue.  You think you have suffered hurt now, but I have actually spared you true misery....”  Kadren thought she saw a hint of genuine sadness.  “Anne was my name…  Anne of Boundless Beauty.  The most beautiful maiden in all of Dritam, I was called…”

And Lilith began recounting the long story of her past, beginning hundreds of years ago, and it included many lifetimes worth of events…  She told of youth, love, vanity, war, Elves, magic, betrayal, deep sorrow...  The later parts of her story included much suffering, hopelessness, then allegiance to the Dark King... gaining of incredible power… anger, vengeance... descent into darkness, and, eventually, a patronizing acceptance of the follies of all people.  It was the later parts of her story that seemed to have the most influence on Lilith’s current life.  And much like Lilith herself, her entire story seemed to be the stuff of legends… a beautiful Human magician who loved a young half-Elf lord, and who so loved elven beauty that she sought to become an Elf, but became a dark copy of one instead.  She became one of the Dark Elves... became a powerful and feared entity, became a demon in people's eyes. Yet Lilith’s story was also very human, full of naive ideals, faults and mistakes, much regret and misery.  Kadren felt she gained an understanding of Lilith, and even felt sorry for her…  Lilith was no demon, or at least was not born one, and Kadren saw a sliver of hope for Lilith’s redemption.

“Well, that was a long story…” said Lilith.  “I’m sure you’re bored stiff…  But I don't think Coj was bored when he was stiff…” and Lilith burst into an uncontrollable fit of giggles.

“I'm sorry,” she said, when she quickly regained her composure.  “I couldn't help myself.  My sincerest apologies” - and she appeared sincere.  “I don’t mean to demean you or make light of your suffering...suffering from all the horrible truths I have thrust upon you…  I just… just wanted to be a bit lighter of heart for a moment…  My heart grows heavy whenever I reminisce about my past… no matter how many times I retell the story - even after centuries…  You must know that it is with a serious and heavy heart that I decided on my life’s work.  I have balanced good and evil in all that I do, and I only do what I do, when more good comes of it than evil.  You must see that now, after all that I have told you and shown you.   As I have said, all of us are sinful - men, women, Humans, Elves.  And there is so much suffering from all the sinful acts in this world; we suffer from our own sins and the sins of others.  Because men rule our world, their sins are what we suffer from the most.  Men have been given too much power, and we must seek to restore balance.  It is through pleasure that we can seek this balance.  Pleasure is a power we can wield and enjoy, and it is through pleasure that we can tame men and ease suffering.  Women have more power than they know, but it is not through might and steel that we will become powerful, but through wisdom and kindness.  I am mightier than any man now alive, and I am tougher than most any steel that man can make, yet I know I will fail should I try to conquer men as men do.  I must win through their hearts and minds, and pleasure will be my weapon through which I forge victory.  Pleasure is man's weakness… as it is all of ours, but men are slaves to it.  Yet I seek not to enslave, but to ease suffering, for pleasure is not a dark weapon as many would have you believe; it has the power to enlighten…  It brings meaning to meaningless lives.”

She stopped talking and looked at Kadren meaningfully.

“I want you to help me, Kadren.  I cannot save this world alone.  Good help is hard to find, and great talent such as yours even harder.  Please, Kadren.  Join me.”

Kadren remained silent.  There were too many thoughts in her mind, and she did not know where to begin.  It was a lot easier when she was wholly against Lilith, when Lilith was a demon, completely evil, with no redemption.  But after hearing Lilith’s story, Kadren could not help but feel some sympathy for her.  She also agreed with Lilith that the world seemed cruel and sinful, and men seemed incapable of faithfulness (even noble men who professed love).  But Kadren also remembered that Lilith had produced such sinful spells that had entrapped many and changed Coj into an unrecognizable fool.  Lilith had also taken many lives so remorselessly and planned to continue doing so.  Yet Kadren recognized that not all who encountered Lilith’s magery became entrapped fools; Kadren herself was still herself.  Did the enchantment only work on those that wanted it to work?  If so, Lilith’s magic was a test of will, and all those who failed deserved punishment, or to be governed by stronger wills.  But stronger will did not necessarily mean good will… and what test was there to tell which will was good and which was evil?  Too many things to think about...

Finally Kadren spoke: “But how can I help?...”- her voice cracked, hoarse with the long silence and turmoil she had faced.  “...I have no such power that you have to do what you want.”

“Oh, but Kadren, you are more powerful than you know,” said Lilith; and she looked pleased that she was being asked that question.  “Look how you sit there, still untouched and unspoiled.  It is true that women are much more resilient against my powers of persuasion… no man caught unawares has been able to stand against my influence…”  Lilith glanced at Coj, and Kadren felt a pang of sorrow.  “But your power is beyond just being a woman…  I had been watching you, and I knew you were strong before setting my influence on you, so I used all that I had on you; yet it was still not enough.  Your incredible will is a power beyond any spell that is known to man, Human or Elf.  And yet you also have good strength of body and skill in battle, and your magery is stronger than many who call themselves magician.  And you are beautiful.  So beautiful.  I will make you even more beautiful.  I will improve on all your great qualities.  I will make you more powerful than any man alive, for I will give you incredible power most ancient.”

Kadren stared at Lilith to try to learn more from her expression, but there was only a smile full of mysteries on Lilith’s face.

Then Lilith gave the answer to the riddle: “I still have some of Valtus’ blood left, and I intend to give you some…”  Dark Blood!  No!  

Lilith had explained the source of her incredible powers as a gift of blood from Valtus...  Valtus, The Dark King, the Evil One - to his followers he was the Night Elf King.  He was a faraway figure in history, whose atrocious deeds were used by the Peoples of Daylight to incite a rallying cry against Darkness and evil.  But it seemed to Kadren that most stories of the Evil One she had heard were made up to scare children into behaving.  Kadren had always believed that most of it was myth - stories of vampires and undead armies, and demonic magic, and evil blood that warped and possessed.  And yet Lilith was proof of such magic and power, and she was now promising Kadren mythical powers.  She was promising Kadren Dark Blood, the curse of the Evil One.

“On the eve of the Final Battle, Valtus gifted to a few of us, some of his blood, stored in magic vials, that would preserve the power to change the world.  He knew it would be a perilous battle, and even he, with his great knowledge and powers, could not be certain of the outcome.  But he knew that true purpose must not be stopped, and he entrusted us to carry on the greater good, to find the right successors of our benevolent will.  And so here we are - a chance to further the cause...  It is exceedingly rare to find someone who might be able to withstand the King’s Gift.  It has been more than a century since I've met someone like you.

"You want to turn me into a... Dark Elf?... a Succubus, like you?" asked Kadren, still struggling with how fantastical this all seemed.

"Succubus... Elf…” Lilith seemed to be pondering.  “Neither... and both.  I want to make you even more beautiful... and I want to give you incredible power, as I've said before.  It is undeniable that elven beauty is the truest form of beauty...   It is magical beauty...  It is the beauty of magic itself.  And I can give you that form of beauty, for you have much strength of magic and will.  You may have noticed that many of my charges”- Lilith swept her hand towards the sleeping prisoners -“bear the mark of failure…  Unlike you, they are weak-bodied and weak-willed, and so they suffer the scars of being unable to receive my wonderful gifts.  But even a failed attempt at elven beauty is beautiful” - having seen the pitiful faces without the fog of Lilith’s enchantment, Kadren could not really agree.  “But all that is for those who are ordinary and inferior to you.  I can give you elven beauty, if that’s what you want… or even fuller breasts, rounder hips, brighter eyes - all the things ordinary people wish for.  But you are extraordinary, and I offer you something infinitely more important... I offer you Valtus’ blood - the Blood of the Gods.  With power beyond any mortal man, you can shape yourself as you please.  You can invent new spells and new enchantments, or you can learn mine.  You will have the magic to be whatever sort of beauty you please.  You need not become a Night Elf as I have done, but you can make all those that behold you to see you as beautiful above any mortal alive; for your magic will be beyond any mortal alive, and magic is beauty.  Magic is power.  With the power I give you, you will become a god.”

Lilith waited patiently with an expectant smile, waiting for Kadren’s enthusiastic and grateful acceptance; but Kadren said instead: “There is only one God.”

Lilith’s smile left her face.  Kadren continued: “You call it the Blood of the Gods, but I will call it Dark Blood as others have.  It may grant you power beyond any mortal, yet you remain a mortal.  The Dark King’s story shows us the truth, for in the end he died, just like any mortal.”

“Don't take my wording too seriously, Kadren,” said Lilith.  “I'm merely trying to convey the incredible magic and power you will receive.”

“No, Lilith.  I think the wording you used was your truth, and I take it seriously.  I’ve been noticing all along how God has been absent from all that you do, or how you willfully ignore or twist His word to your ends.  Yet I must admit I was fascinated by your story, and I felt pity for you and all the tragedy in your life.  I felt compelled to help you in some way, and perhaps join you in your quest to change the world.  But your wording has broken the spell…  No good can come from any act if it does not first come from God...  Your plans and deeds are based on the false truths you have come to believe in... yet there are higher truths than Beauty, higher truths than Pleasure, higher than Magic, higher than Power…  But the truth above all else is God.  I felt pity for you in hearing your tragedies, but I pity you now even more, since it is evident you have not found God in all your centuries of living.  You are mistaken to think that the Dark King’s power can make someone a god.  One cannot become a god, for there is only One God.  The Dark King is no god.  He is only a lost soul, a child… a gifted child, but a child of God nonetheless.  You have been worshipping the wrong god, and therefore all the truths you have learned are falsehoods.  You say you know the truth of Love, but I hear nothing of true Love in your story…  You say you loved Cal, but I hear only that you loved his beauty, and you loved the idea of possessing him…  And the love the Dark King taught you is born from hate…  True Love is freeing, and not possessive; it is generous and not hateful.  I think you have not yet known true Love…  Nonetheless, it matters not whether your love with Cal was true, or whether the love you learned from the Dark King was true, for the truest love is God's Love.  And so I pity you, for you have experienced so much tragedy in your life, but the greatest tragedy of all is that you have never accepted God's Love...  I pity you, and I want to help you, but I cannot join you, Lilith.”

Lilith stared at Kadren, brows furrowed.  Then her face lightened, and she began to chuckle.  Her chuckling grew into cold laughter, and then into mad cackling.

“Oh my… ” said Lilith, after the laughter stopped… “what deluded nonsense!  But you are right… I've never found God, for there is no God.  I was humouring you before, hoping you might see some reason, if I did not object outright to your delusion of God.  It becomes very obvious that there is no God for anyone with intelligence and life experience.  You are very intelligent, but sorely lacking in experience.  You have been fed unwholesome lies throughout your life; and after having been filled to overflowing, you now vomit up those lies, like some young child reciting nursery rhymes, not knowing the meaning, only enjoying the sounds of the words.   But it matters not what you believe, for you will soon know the truth - not the deluded truths in your rhymes and children's stories, but the real truth of the world.  It matters not that you do not wish to join me now, for you will join us…  You will join our cause.  Years of experience will naturally lead you to us, unbidden... but we need not wait that long...  I will give you experience quickly.  You will have experiences you’ve never imagined, and you will begin to see the truth…  You will know what it means to be a god.  You will know that there is no God but the god people make.”

“I will not join you,” said Kadren quietly, willing herself to continue her defiance, knowing that pain was the likely consequence of her continued refusal.  “I can never sacrifice others for my own ends… no matter how great a good I think I can perform…  There can be no ‘greater good’ if the means used to achieve it is no good at all…  I would never take others’ lives just to maintain my own…  For me, it would not be gaining centuries of life, but centuries of torture… centuries of guilt…  I know not how you could live under such a burden, but I will never be able to do so…  I would sooner die…”

“We shall see…” said Lilith.

She issued forth some commands, and the goblinoids (goblin-dog mixes as Kadren had come to learn through Lilith’s story) began arranging for Lilith to produce some blood into a chalice again, with the strange, blood-letting dagger.  This time the chalice of blood was presented to Kadren.

“Drink,” said Lilith.

“I will not participate in your disgusting rituals,” uttered Kadren.

Lilith’s anger crashed like thunder, and she lashed at Kadren suddenly, pulling her hair and snapping her head back.

“You will do as I say!” Lilith screamed.  “You, who know nothing!  You are but a child!  An insolent fool spouting nonsense about God and truth, speaking to things you have no understanding of.”

There was quite a bit of pain where her hair was being pulled, but Kadren remained defiantly silent.  Lilith let go of Kadren’s hair and continued on, less angry and more deliberate:  “I have lived many lifetimes when you have barely lived one, yet you presume to know what's best.  But you will soon learn how wrong you are...”   And Lilith began to pour the hot metal-tasting liquid down Kadren's throat.

 

Very soon after, Kadren felt fog and desire return, the effects she had felt when she had been under Lilith’s enchantment before; but this time there was a fiery intensity about them...  Hate...  Anger...  Those were the words that Kadren thought best described the simmering feelings that accompanied the lustful and dreamlike state.   However, it was no sleepy dream this time; it was an active dream, full of relentless, uncontrollable vigour.  But Kadren fought off the desires, just like she had done before; and when the fog had passed, Kadren’s burnt arm was very sore, for she had squeezed the wound area with her other hand, to draw out pain and use it as strength.  She had squeezed hard enough that some of the salve came off, exposing parts of the still-raw burn wound underneath.

 

“Very good,” said Lilith, sounding pleased.  “You pass the test easily, as expected.”  Kadren did not think it was easy.  “But that was just a sip of my blood, and tasting my blood is different from having it running in your veins.  I have all of my blood coursing through my veins... you may well imagine the strength of will it takes to contain so much power as I have without being driven mad.  Let me show you what it means to have a drop of my blood flowing inside.”

 

She walked over to the two prisoners who had been with Coj.  She gently nudged them with her elegant feet.  The older-looking one was at death's door; the younger-looking one was sleeping deeply.  Lilith cradled the dying one in one arm, and woke her up with a spell.  The woman stared at Lilith with quiet devotion.  Lilith then kissed her on the lips, while wrapping her hand around the dying woman’s neck, and she began slowly tightening her grip.  The woman barely struggled, only tightening her fists.  Then it was over, and Kadren knew that Lilith had gained more youth and magic in exchange for the woman's life.  To her astonishment, Kadren saw a trace of a smile on the woman's peaceful, lifeless face.  Kadren saw that these people were more follower than prisoner.

 

But Lilith was not finished (she had not even started).  She gave some commands and was soon holding a device that looked like a bulky, misshapen dagger with a needle where the end of a blade should be.  The whole device, except for the needle-like end, reminded Kadren of an old, gnarled tree, but it looked much colder.  The needle first punctured Lilith’s skin, magically drinking blood from the vein in her arm.  Lilith then poked at the surviving follower's arm, and a little of Lilith’s blood was magically transferred to the sleeping follower.  After a moment, the woman opened her eyes and began an unbelievable rampage...

 

It was even more frenzied than when she had attacked Coj.  A pair of male followers had been brought over to her, woken up roughly (by the goblinoids) and then magically (by one of Lilith’s many spells), and the woman pounced on them.  It looked like she could not decide on which one to attack first, her hands frantically travelling back and forth between the two men.  The lustful men wanted her as well, but not quick enough or strong enough; it seemed to Kadren that nothing would ever be enough for the crazed woman.  The woman took the manhoods in her hands and in her mouth, desperately coaxing and forcing the impossible from them.  When the penises were ready enough, the woman stuffed one in her womanhood, and the other she kept in her mouth.  

 

She ravaged them.  Her mad lust would not be satiated.  The men did their best, but they could not approach her level of unbridled ferocity.  The men’s lust was unnaturally strong, yet it just was not enough.  She was the victor.  Over and over again she was the victor.  The men changed places... they changed positions... they licked… they tongued... they plowed deep… they plowed fast… they tried satisfying all her orifices… but nothing was enough.

 

Kadren noticed strange things happening as the carnal carnival went on.  Kadren felt like every time the woman swallowed the men's seed, in her mouth or in her womb, the woman gained more life and magic, and the men edged closer to death; this was possible based on what Lilith had said about her Dark powers.  But Kadren also thought she saw sparks of escaping magic, and was wondering if she was just imagining things.  It soon became apparent that it was not just imagination, but part of a nightmarish reality.  

The woman was slowly taking the men's lives, but she was doomed herself.  She did not have the capacity to handle the awesome power and the magic being given to her.  The more she engaged in pleasure, the more the men wanted her and to give her all they had; the more they gave, the more she wanted from them.  Their desires fed and strengthened her desires, and hers in turn theirs - it was a perpetual, unstoppable cycle.  Then, when the magic was too much for the untrained, and (sadly) magically-untalented young woman, the magic rebelled against her and began killing her.

 

It was only later that Kadren was able to fully put together what she had seen.  When it was happening, all Kadren saw was insane debauchery, sparks of magic (which she initially thought were sparks of her imagination), then some subtle and weird changes to the shapes and appearance of the participants, and then a series of horrible and not-so-subtle magical phenomena that hurt and mutilated them…  Fire? water? lightning? wind? earth?…  It looked like either one spell that could not decide what it wanted to be, or multiple spells fighting for the same space. There were flashes of light, sudden heat, sudden cold, dampness, a rush of air, rumbling, loud sounds, quiet sounds, strange sounds, and other more difficult to describe phenomena.  The woman shone at certain points in time, or became eerily dark… then certain parts of her grew, or shrunk, or shriveled, or bloated, or melted, or exploded, or burned with fire…

 

So strong was their lust that the three participants continued their activities for a while longer than expected.  But, eventually, the magical damage was too much, and they began writhing and screaming.  

 

Lilith swooped over to the woman first, and the sleeping kiss was given.  All of the magic phenomena stopped.  The screaming stopped.  The broken, charred, deformed body stopped moving.  Then the woman was dead, a trace of a smile on her disfigured face.  

 

One of the men had died before Lilith could reach him, from his injuries and from having his life drained through his lust.  The other one Lilith kissed as well, and he too died with a ghost of a smile.

 

When all was quiet again, Lilith turned to Kadren and said, “So now you see the incredible amount of power contained within me.  You can imagine the will it takes to live with such power.  Life and death is in your hands.  It is not easy to be a god, but someone has to do it…  Praying and hoping will not make the world better.  There is no god but the ones we make.  And the world needs another god, Kadren.  We need your help.  It is time to stop praying and preaching, and do some real good instead.”

 

She stopped talking to Kadren, and gave more commands to her goblinoids.

 

Lilith continued: “It will not be easy.  In fact, it will be very hard. To be a god is an enormous burden to carry, but it is not without its rewards…”

 

One of the sleeping male followers had been brought over.  He was a young man, of the age when one was finally acknowledged as a fully grown man.  And he was handsome, naturally handsome, without any signs of Lilith’s handiwork - perhaps a new recruit.  Lilith woke him up with a wave of her hand.  His eyes opened sleepily.  Lilith stirred him with a smile and elegantly provocative movements.  His eyes opened wider, and his manhood began stirring as well.  

 

Lilith then began shining with beauty, not a blinding sort of shining, but a hint of something otherworldly.  She became impossibly lovely, with the unseen, inner magery at work.  The young man himself looked more beautiful as well, bathing in Lilith’s light.  Such lust was in his eyes, but also such devotion, and his phallus was desperately reaching out to his goddess, rigid and full of worship.

 

Lilith rewarded his devotion with her goddess body.  And though it was a reward of the flesh, there was something spiritual about the whole process, something divine.  A scene of heavenly beauty and pleasure played out in front of Kadren, both participants screaming in ecstasy, sometimes with voice, but mostly with body.

 

Then it was over, and the young man was dead, with unmistakable signs of pleasure on his face.  Kadren thought she sensed a larger amount of magic created with this death, because of the young and vigorous life for which the magic had been exchanged.  And the delivery was not through a kiss this time, but through the womb…  It seemed inherently obvious that more could be channeled through the womb.

 

Lilith appeared unchanged, yet younger in some undefinable way.  Much youth and much magic had been gained through the young man's sacrifice to his goddess, and both had obviously enjoyed the process immensely.  

 

Lilith stopped shining, but was still inhumanly beautiful.  She walked over to Kadren, the needle-dagger in her hand, freshly filled with Lilith’s own blood, and said, “Your turn.”  

 

Kadren, still mesmerized by what she had just seen, did not even protest as Lilith punctured her vein, and gave her the demonic blood; there was not much Kadren could do to prevent it, anyway.

 

Then it happened... fog and desire... with hate and anger simmering underneath… but much worse this time, for there was also… pain!; there was no other word for it.  When she had fought Lilith’s enchantment before, she had only felt like she was struggling mightily not to slip away; but now it was intensely painful.  And it grew worse as the followers began waking up...

 

One by one the horde of followers were slowly being woken up.  Two male followers were now standing in front of Kadren, and she felt a compulsion to pounce, to attack… not attacking with steel or fist, but Kadren knew it could become a lethal attack nonetheless.  She remembered how the female follower had attacked the men, the mindless frenzy with which they performed their deeds, and she wanted to do the same.  But it was not just through lust and desire that the woman had attacked the men, it was also through fear - fear of death; Kadren understood that now.  The blood seemed to Kadren an evil entity with its own will… a demon… and it wanted to destroy, and possess, and take life… and it did not care whose life…  If the host did not please it quick enough, the blood would show its deadly displeasure.  That was why the woman had so frantically done the demon-blood’s bidding: it was a race to save her own life, a race she lost.

 

A dozen or so of the followers were standing in front of Kadren now.  They had turned their attention towards Lilith first, but Lilith wanted Kadren to be the centre of attention; so Lilith commanded her followers to pay attention to Kadren, and she also performed some mysterious magery that made the followers irresistibly drawn to Kadren.  They now stared at Kadren with undisguised carnal wanting, and Kadren enjoyed it; she enjoyed their desires.  She could feel their thoughts, and their wanting of her empowered her, exhilarated her…  She could sense that their lives were in her hands; and from what Lilith had been telling and showing her, Kadren surmised that she could indeed take their lives, and make it her own, adding years and vitality to her own life.  And she knew she would enjoy it immeasurably.  She had an overwhelming desire to crush them all, and her loins spoke this desire the loudest.  There was no love in it…  If she pounced, there would be no pretense of ‘making love’; it would be pure satisfaction of the flesh.  The more followers that gave their devotion to her, the more Kadren felt a demonic desire to crush them, to pounce at them.

 

But Kadren did not pounce.  She somehow willed herself to stay in the same spot, but she did not stay still.  She writhed, and yelled, and prayed, and suffered dreadfully...  Kadren was being pulled in different directions, and felt like she was going to be ripped apart.  It was a new kind of torment…  An insidious hate for these men, and maybe all men… a desire to crush them with lust and pleasure… a desire to appease the demon, to save her own life… all this amounted to pain.  She knew that pouncing on the followers would relieve the pain, but she also knew it would mean an irreversible slide into darkness.  

 

Yet even without pouncing on them, their mere desires and attention gave Kadren power.  She knew for a fact that she was already killing them slowly and gaining magic, without even touching them; Lilith’s Dark Blood had given her the ability to sense these things.  And the more she took from them, the more she wanted to touch them, to take everything from them.  And when Kadren looked at the followers, desiring her so, and with such devotion in their eyes, she began to believe she was being worshipped, and worship gave her power.

 

Kadren felt the magic building.  Then the magic began squirming, flashing, rebelling, trying to escape Kadren’s tenuous hold.  But even through her extreme suffering, Kadren was able to hold on to the basics of her magical training: focus.  Kadren reflexively focused on thoughts of God first, not allowing the growing and restless magic to take over; for thought drove magic, and only disciplined thought could discipline magic.  Kadren had never had this incredible amount of magic at her disposal before, but she found that the principles of magic were the same, even with copious amounts of magic.  Chaotic thoughts made the magic behave chaotically, with random spells being birthed left and right; that was what happened to the poor untalented, untrained young woman, who Lilith used as an example and sacrifice.  The irony, though, was that the dense abundance of magic caused havoc in the mind, as alien thoughts emerged unbidden, making unwelcome suggestions, or purposeful thought was simply, inexplicably derailed.  Magic needed focus, yet magic made it difficult to focus.  However, Kadren was magically trained, and much more talented than the unfortunate young woman, and she had the ability to fight back against the wild magic, though no ability to know if she would win.  So she fought on, locked in a life-and-death struggle to tame the beast.  

 

But Kadren found that the Dark blood was full of ironies.  For though the demonic blood threatened her life and sanity, it also gave her the ability to contain all the new powers and vitality.  Fire, or ice, or lightning, or magic never encountered before… she sensed the birth of many infant, elemental spells, and she knew instinctively where to store them inside her, in the intangible space newly built just for magic.  The colossal trouble lay in trying to direct the dangerously unruly powers into the appropriate space.  This took all of Kadren’s talent, training, focus, faith, and more.  

 

So it was in the middle of this tempest that Kadren hung on to her life with a death clutch, praying with all her might.  It was excruciating torment: the desire to crush the worshipers, the treacherous magic bucking and rebelling, the instinct to attack, to survive ...  Kadren held on, somehow… painfully, devoutly…  

 

After what seemed like days, the storm gradually receded.  The magic began settling into the right places inside her, and the desire to absorb and kill became a nagging whisper.  The demon had quieted for now, satisfied by what it had taken from the worshippers, and what it had taken from Kadren...  Kadren lay in a ragged heap on the bed, breathing deep.  The burn wound was fully exposed and rubbed raw, the salve having come off completely.  She could hardly believe what she had just went through.  Even more unbelievable: she had survived, and remained Kadren from Borjes, Sister of the Shining Order.

 

“Excellent!,” said Lilith, sounding genuinely pleased.  “I’m very impressed, and proud of you.  Now you have a faint glimpse into my world.  You had only three drops of my blood, but I have all of it!  It is my strength of will that allows me to live with such power, and not be driven insane.  But I know you possess the strength of will needed to do good.  You have done wonderfully…  Some don’t even survive a sip of my blood…” and she glanced at the dead female worshipper before turning back to Kadren.  “You have now started on the path of godhood.  It is far from over.  You still have much to learn, and much more suffering to endure before you will have the strength to do any real good.  How do you feel?”

 

Kadren felt worn out, beaten, traumatized, and like she had traveled great distances to be closer to Death.

 

“You could have killed me,” said Kadren.

 

“There was a small chance of that, yes,” said Lilith, easily.  “But it was a chance we had to take, for the greater good.  If I saw that your life on the precipice, I would have intervened, but I had to let you experience and endure in order for you to learn and become stronger.”

 

“I am not a god,” said Kadren, unprompted.  “There is only one God.  I remain Kadren of the Shining Order, a cleric of the One True God.  And you are no god, Lilith.  Just a very powerful magician.”

 

Lilith laughed.  “Very good.  But you are still only partly correct.  We are no gods, true, because gods don’t exist - there is no God.  A god is whatever people worship.  And people will worship us, for we are powerful, and beautiful, and people worship Beauty and Power.  Given time, your beauty and power will grow to the status of a god, just like mine has.  But you need not wait centuries to reach the height of your powers.  In fact, we have no time for that; our enemies are coming for us.  I will teach you and strengthen you quickly.  You will receive more and more of my blood, until you are powerful enough to withstand Valtus’ blood, undiluted - the closest source of Ancient Power.  I will have to quicken the process, and you will have to endure much, but I have high hopes for you…  I have measured you, and tested you, and you have far surpassed so many.  How I have desperately searched for one such as you.  I know you will be the strongest of my daughters, save perhaps for one.”  Lilith spoke increasingly in a rush, looking excited at the prospect of what she proposed.

“I don’t understand… the words you speak are confusing…” said Kadren.

Lilith laughed again, and said, “You need not rush to understand.  All you need to do is heed my advice, place your trust in me, and pledge your services to me, to the greater good.”

“But I don’t,” said Kadren.  “I don’t pledge anything to you.  I don’t trust you.  You keep speaking of being a god, and making me a god, but I tell you I believe in no such thing.  I believe only in God.  My God - the One True God, not the god of your making, or people’s making, or any making at all.”

“Yes, I know.  It is a nuisance I must deal with in exchange for such a talented and strong-willed daughter.  But let me ask you this, Kadren:  If God existed, why doesn’t He stop me from doing this…” and in a flash she was upon one of the men, and gave them the sleeping kiss… another worshiper dead, peacefully, happily.  She then moved on to the next, and did the same.

“No!” yelled Kadren.

Lilith paused, just to shout, “Well, where is He?  Where is your God?  Ask Him to stop me!”

And she swooped onto her next victim, this time a woman, who stood there waiting, welcoming.

“Stop it!” shouted Kadren.  But Lilith did not stop, and the woman died.  

“Please!” Kadren screamed.  “Stop!” and she tried to get to Lilith, but crumpled to the floor next to the bed instead.  Lilith did finally stop though.

“Well, my daughter.  Where is God?,” asked Lilith.  “Why did He not stop me if He exists?  Surely, such outright blasphemy cannot be endured by an all-good, almighty God.  You must see the truth… there is no God.  If there was, He would not let terrible things happen in this world, and I would not have to become a god to save it.  Well?  What do you have to say!”

Kadren looked down, as Lilith’s stare was intense - sad and accusatory all at once.  After a while, however, Kadren mustered the courage to face the pitiful, angry stare.  She said: “Terrible things happen in this world, that is true; but so do many beautiful and wonderful things, yet we forget to blame God for those things as well.  We will never know the mind of God, but we can be certain that He loves us.  He so loves us that He allows us to be free, to make our own destiny.  It is inevitable that we will run into mistakes and evil, when we have the freedom to make our own choices… much like a small child will fall and hurt herself when allowed to run free.  But that is good, for it is through struggling and striving that we truly succeed.  It is only through suffering, that we can truly appreciate the Good of God.  And it is only then will we feel we truly deserve a place in Heaven.  We must embrace all that is given to us, for with every fall and hurt we face, we become stronger and closer to…”

“Silence!  You keep spouting such nonsense!” shouted Lilith in annoyance.  “Well, that’s quite alright,” she said more quietly.  “You need not believe me now, for you will experience it yourself.  If my blood does not change you, Valtus’ blood will.  Once the Blood of the Gods touches your vein, you will change, and you will change your mind.  Your strength of will has allowed you to survive the receipt of my blood without having to take a life so far, but you will not be able to preach from your pulpit on high for long.  You will come down to join the rest of us very soon, and you will come down hard.  But I will be here for you, Kadren.  You shall see… you shall see that I am the one who will love you the most, and I am the one that has been telling you the truth…”

There was a brief silence as the two stared at each other, both believing their own words, but with no more words to convince the other.  Finally Kadren spoke:  “How can you take a life so easily, Lilith?  Why do you continue to be so angry through the centuries?  Have you not learnt to forgive?  It must be such a heavy burden to carry... such anger and hate.”

“I was angry once,” replied Lilith.  “Just as I'm sure you are now.  But you are directing your anger at the wrong individual.  I am not the true source of your misery; I am merely the messenger of truth.  You should be angry at your Coj for being so weak, and betraying you” - and Kadren could not help but feel a pang of hurt at those words.  “Better yet, you should be angry at all men for being such inconsistent and cruel creatures.  But most fitting of all, you should be angry at your God, for making all these horrible things happen in the world, or, at best, allowing them to happen, and do nothing.”  

Lilith paused, but Kadren had no retort.  Lilith continued: “No, Kadren, I have long been done with being angry.  I was angry, long ago - angry at all the men in the world, about how ‘sinful’ they are - as you like to say, but I have since learned that we are all sinful… men, women, Elves, Humans…  It is a fruitless dream to hope for complete good in this world; what we can hope to do is make this world less sinful.  I have come to accept the sinful world we live in.  It is full of wrong and misery, but I did not cause all the evils in the world; I only intend to fix them as best I can.  I shall not commit the sin of doing nothing… just preaching and praying.  You say what I do is sinful, and I will not waste time arguing that point, but I tell you earnestly that what I do is the least of all possible sins, and that is all we can strive for in this world: less sin.  If we all strive for less sin, this world will be a paradise compared to what it is now.”  

Lilith paused to survey the dead worshippers before continuing.  “I know you accuse me of being a murderer, and I will accept the title of life-taker, if I will also be given the title of life-giver... happiness-giver.  Surely, you must have noticed the delight and contentment I give them… these poor souls” - Kadren could not deny it.  “I give these poor souls life - not just a life of toiling and dying for some unworthy cause, or some uncaring person they have to call ‘Lord’, but a good life… a life filled with joy and pleasure, up till even the very last moment” - and, again, Kadren could not help but mostly agree, recalling the smiles of the dying.  “I will carry the burden of being a god; I will suffer the slings and arrows of blame, and accusations, and misunderstanding...  I do not ask for thanks, but thanks I’m sure I will receive in the end.  For now I only ask for help, your help.  I need your help to begin our campaign of good, and we need worshippers… just a small number of them to begin with.  A god is nothing without worshippers... and worship means sacrifice… sometimes with a sooner end to life...  But it is a price my worshippers pay willingly for a good life, a happy life.  It is time for a real god to rise.  It is time for a woman god.  I would think it obvious to all who use reason that the concept of God was man-made.  It is womankind who birth, who create, who make, who build.  Men only use and destroy, even to their own destruction.  If God exists, then we should be praying to Her, not to Him.  But God does not exist… not yet.  I will be the people’s God, and so will you; a real God, a God who cares and is actually there.”

There was a silence, Lilith giving Kadren time to ponder, and Kadren taking that time.  After a while, Kadren asked, “What do you plan to do, exactly?”

“I plan to build an army,” replied Lilith.  “Not an army of might and steel like Valtus, but an army of my beautiful children, with you at the head of it, alongside me.  We will not conquer by brute strength, but by winning hearts and minds.  We will enter the sinners’ kingdoms through their bedrooms, and we will then sit in the throne rooms.  But we need a large enough army to conquer many kingdoms at once, otherwise there will be needless war and bloodshed.  And I need your help, for I cannot build and lead an army that large all by myself.  I have only recently regained enough strength to start on our campaign of good… which should have started a century or more ago, had I not been betrayed.  But alas! I have been forced into a century of slumber... and the world has become a century darker…  But it is not too late.  Now is the time to act.  It will be an extremely hard but worthy endeavour.  We will face powerful enemies.  We will face lords and kings, and enemies with Ancient Power like us…  And if the betrayer shows up… well, we will have to kill one of our own…”  

It seemed to Kadren that the last couple of sentences were more spoken to Lilith herself rather than to Kadren, and Lilith now stood silently, staring at invisible things from centuries past.  But the words Lilith just spoke brought so many questions to Kadren’s mind, and she wanted Lilith to answer them.   However, before she could even ask a single question, five very beautiful figures entered the chamber.

“Ah! it is time to meet some of your sisters, Kadren,” said Lilith.  “You are all sisters through my blood.  You will meet all of them eventually, but most of them have scattered far and wide to do my bidding.”

Lilith’s blood-children were all Elf-beautiful, with moonlight skin... in the image of Lilith… in the image of Dark Elves, a corruption of the once proud Moon Elves.  But none of them were nearly as beautiful as Lilith herself.  Some could be mistaken for Elves, but most still had a subtle commonness about them that announced their humanity.  Kadren guessed that these were worshippers who showed some magical talent, and had survived the blood-giving, so were elevated to status of “children”.  The healthy maiden who had brought Coj in (and performed carnal deeds with him) had gotten up to stand beside her sisters.  Kadren could tell that she was the least of all of them, her look being the most human of all - an indicator of her juvenile powers.

“You love elven beauty so much; why did you not just recruit Elves?” asked Kadren, with a light taunt in her words.

Lilith gave a short patronizing chortle, then said, “Well, my clever Kadren, it's because Elves are an arrogant bunch, beautiful though they are.  They feel themselves to be superior.  But we need not learn their foolishness, only their beauty, and we can let them think us inferior.  Valtus, however, was wise enough to see the qualities in everyone, and so took me in - a Human; and he was defeated by a Human, yet Elves are quick to forget that.  I could easily crush any regular Elf, yet many of them still foolishly, or stubbornly refuse to follow me as leader.  It matters not.  Once our cause is set into motion, we will have followers and worshippers of all races.  But before you think you have made some clever jest at my expense, let me remind you that your beloved Coj is half-elven, and you, like everyone else, obviously admire elven beauty.  Now…” and she turned to her children before Kadren could retort - “you have something to report?”

One of them, who was dressed in camouflage, almost like a Ranger, spoke something to Lilith that could not be heard by Kadren.  Several added their piece afterward; and after some interchanges, there seemed to be a disagreement brewing, but Lilith broke it off with a wave of her hand.

“It seems we have run out of time.  Our enemies are near,” Lilith announced.  “I could keep you in bondage while we escape, Kadren, but I think I'd rather have a daughter in need of nursing than a prisoner that might aid the enemy - ignorantly and to her own detriment,” she added, somewhat vehemently.  “I know I have not converted you to our cause yet, and I have no time to continue our debate.  I’ll let my blood do the talking.  I'm sorry, Kadren; you must suffer yet again…”  The needle-dagger was in Lilith’s hand again.  “You've done well with three drops of my blood…  Let's see how you do with an ounce…”

The tempest rose again, stronger, more hellish!... perhaps, in part, because this time the whole horde was used to incite and seduce Kadren to Lilith’s cause - dozens of worshippers, men and women, wanted to give all they had to Kadren.  But though the forces pulling on her were stronger, Kadren felt empowered by her survival of the previous ordeal, and she resolutely suffered on, prepared to die as Kadren of the Shining Order, if she had to.  However, it would not be so easy…

They decided to use Coj this time...  Coj standing there… so handsome, sturdy, erect, and… infuriating!  Kadren felt an anger she had been trying to hide from herself, but the demon found it, and was now using it to grow strong.  Oh! how she wanted to swallow him whole, this infuriating, beautiful man, this love of her life, this first love, this last love, this betrayer, this end of her life…  If she should lose to her base desires, she might as well lose herself with Coj, but she knew she could not; for she knew she would not be able to stop until he was dead, and that was what Lilith wanted…

“Go, Kadren!” yelled Lilith.  “Take him!  Let him play his part.  It will be an honourable death.  Take him as I took Cal.  Only then will you be free of your shackles!  If he loves you, he will gladly give you his life, his everything; and if you love him, you should gladly give him this honour, this status as your first step to godhood.  Take his life, Kadren!  If not, you will die!  Do it!  Do it now!”

Kadren looked for alternatives…  She could take those other men, but that would mean her first would not be Coj…  But if it meant saving Coj’s life…  No!  Why should she take these innocent men's lives?  But were they innocent?  She had seen some things that said otherwise.  But then was Coj so innocent?  She could just die… but were any of them worth dying for?...  She wanted to live…  Now she was battling herself on top of battling the tempest - what hellish torment!

And in the midst of all that... a memory?...  It felt to Kadren like she had been there, but that was impossible… there was no such event in her history…  Perhaps it was Lilith’s memory…  A couple…  The woman was dark-skinned… darker than Kadren...  And there was destruction!… Fire…  Blood…  Kadren felt an attachment to the couple… love?...  But there was no love now… just fear… and desperation.... desperate for the couple to help her… desperate for them to stay alive…  She needed them… she was so small… and helpless… why couldn't they help her?...  But they couldn't even help themselves… they… died?...  Kadren could not really see… but… slaughtered! - that seemed closer to the truth… and pain!...  Their pain?...  No, it was Kadren herself… she was being tortured… by Lilith... by Coj... by the worshippers...

Kadren could not recall how exactly, but she eventually was able to hang onto one purpose, which was to stay put and suffer.  It must have been God -  “Thank you, God.”  She prayed and thanked, even as she was being torn to shreds by the pain - thankful for the strength to suffer, and die if needed... thankful for a short but good life, a devout life...  She wondered briefly if this was the exact moment of her death, for how could she be so thankful when being tortured so…

Then it was over.  Kadren could not really remember how long, or how…  It seemed her mind or soul hid from her or rid her of much of the torment, so that she would never have to experience it again, not even if shielded by the thin veil of memory.  She opened her eyes, vision blurry, limbs and body refusing to move as if in protest of all that Kadren had put them through.

Through the blurriness she saw Lilith’s face… some disappointment, but mostly excitement…  Coj was still standing there, staring stupidly, and with… concern?… maybe he was still capable of that.  And the horde of worshippers seemed subdued as well.  Perhaps Kadren had really put on a show.

But importantly she had won.  She had paid a terrible price for victory.  She felt old… thin and stretched.  She had travelled all the way to Death’s gates for the victory, but Kadren felt it a fair price to pay.

Kadren laughed, her voice weak and hoarse, and she said, “I have defeated you twice now.  Your Dark blood has no hold over me.  I felt in your blood that you are scared and angry… like a child…  You say you are no longer angry, but I have felt anger in your blood.  This is still all about petty revenge for you.   You are no god, Lilith, and your cause is far from righteous.  You are an angry child, Lilith, and I pity you.  I pity you, but I'll never join your cause.”

“This is excellent,” Lilith replied.  “Your will is incredible.  Your hold on life and onto yourself is unbreakable it seems.  But you will be converted, Kadren!  We will not leave this place with you still being a defiant fool!”  And Kadren saw in Lilith’s expression a bit of prideful anger.  “Valtus’ blood leaves no one unchanged.   I just did not know that I would be giving you the King’s Gift today.  This should be a joyous occasion…  a successor to our benevolent will is to be born today.  But we must celebrate your rebirth quite a bit later, I'm afraid.  We have to make ready to depart, and you will likely be fit only for a long, deep sleep after your rebirth.  But we will guard you closely; you will be the most precious cargo on our journey.  Let us begin to pack all the essentials, and bring whatever we can.  Unfortunately, we must bid some of our worshippers a fond farewell...”

And Kadren saw Lilith’s children descend upon the worshippers, to milk the last bit of life from the cattle, to feed before a long journey.  But many were saved for Kadren, including Coj.  “You will need much worship for your rebirth,” said Lilith.  Lilith herself did not feed, but disappeared for a time.  With Lilith gone, Kadren lay there naked, in a half-dream, the warm rays of the sun-like globes high up softly bathed her skin.  She believed for a brief moment that she was taking a nap in the garden back home.  She awoke from her reverie as the chamber filled with moans, and yelps, and screams of pleasure.  She opened her eyes to weakly survey the orgiastic scene, and she saw Lilith’s squad of succubi enjoying their carnal meals, both men and women.   Kadren guessed that Lilith had spiced up their meals with enchantments, for the succubi enjoyed ferociously the unhealthy and pitiful-looking worshippers, as if they were the shapeliest, most desirable creatures; and the sickly worshippers responded with unnatural vigor.  However, none of Lilith’s children had anything close to Lilith’s power or appetite, for their prey remained alive after the feeding.  Only a couple of the sickliest-looking prey had their last drop of life drained from them, but it took a longer time than it had taken Lilith to polish off an entire young, vigorous worshipper by herself.  Both prey that died were men, and Lilith guessed it was easier to steal life through men’s seed than it was through a woman’s seedless climax.

When Lilith finally returned, she held something dark in her hand, and said to Kadren, “It is time for you to die and be reborn.”  And for the first time, Kadren believed Lilith absolutely...

It was a small vial, almost empty except for a few drops of blood.  And though the blood was red, there was a darkness to it that made the mind see black even though the eyes saw red.  And that was all Kadren could see at first glance - darkness.  The blood lay in a clear vial that seemed to be made of precious crystal, but it could not shine because of the darkness within.  When Kadren saw it, and when Lilith spoke the words quietly, all hope was extinguished from Kadren.  She had not felt such fear before.  Kadren sensed an awesome power in those few drops, and if Lilith’s blood was a demon, then this vial contained the king of all demons, the Devil himself…

The vial of blood sat in Lilith’s hand with a sinister smile, telling Kadren, without speaking, that it had been plotting something unimaginably evil for her for centuries now.  There was no escaping.  She thought she was strong; she thought she was favoured by her God; she thought she had defeated all evil.  How naively arrogant she had been.  She had not even begun to suffer...

“This is Valtus’ blood, the King’s Gift,” said Lilith.  “Even after all the centuries, my blood has never even come close to the potency of Valtus’ blood.  One drop of this will turn you into a god… if you survive…  But you will survive Kadren, you must...  ”

“Please…” Kadren whispered, “please, don’t…”

Lilith was not listening.  She was preparing the needle-dagger.

“Please,” begged Kadren.  “Don’t give that to me.  Please.”

Lilith opened the vial, and Kadren felt an unnatural chill; she was sure her soul was being sucked away.

“No!” she screamed, and Kadren’s dead limbs suddenly came to life.  But it was no use.  She was barely strong enough to stand, and Lilith easily held her with a spell that wrapped vines of black smoke all around her.  The vines looked incorporeal as smoke, but held tighter than the strongest rope.  Kadren lay in bondage on the bed, writhing, screaming, tears flowing…

She eventually stopped screaming, and just lay there quietly sobbing, horror slowly giving way to the blackest of despair...  This was the end.  What a long and tragic chapter to end such a short life.  She hoped it would end in death, but that would be a miracle.

Kadren caught glimpses of the needle-dagger, ready to end her in the most evil way.  She saw Lilith’s face, determined, merciless.  She saw Coj standing there, beautiful, ready to be sacrificed.  He would die this time; she was certain.  She would become something that cared not of preserving anyone’s life, not even Coj’s; she would become like Lilith.  Kadren thought it silly that she ever pitied Lilith, or to think that Lilith was human.  She wondered if she would still remember what it was like to be Kadren; or did the Devil forget all that was good?  Perhaps that’s how the Devil was capable of such evil.  So these would be her last thoughts as Kadren.  She prayed for God to take her life.  She prayed even harder for God to take her soul before the Devil took it.  And in that infinite moment of waiting for the end, Kadren sorted through flashes of her whole life, as if she might find a clue that foretold it was all going to end like this.

 

End of chapter 1

 

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Endnote:
Is this the end?  I hope not.  I really want to keep writing, but if I don't get enough support, then I'll just have to be resigned to the fact that I'm stuck at a regular job, and I'll just have to write in a diary or something.  
I haven't even begun to tell the story, really.  So many questions to answer.  What will Kadren become?  Will she still be loved?  Will she be capable of love?  What will become of Coj and Dern?  Is being an unimpressive wizard all there is to Dern?  Will Coj survive?  Will he find redemption for what he has done?  And, ultimately, what is the true source of magic?
The next chapter will take us to Kadren's past, but this story isn't just about Kadren.  There is also Coj and Dern, and it is Dern's story that I most want to tell.  But if no one wants read about it...
Well, you guys let me know.

Follow me on Twitter (@ASGicha) or Facebook (Geildreams)

A.S. Gicha

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