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Fey Wine

by

R. Ander Wood
This book is dedicated to
G. D. Wood, III
Copyright © 2014 by R. Ander Wood

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof


may not be reproduced or used in any manner what-
soever without the express written permission of the
author or publisher except for the use of brief quota-
tions in a book review.

Editor: Sam Hunt

Proofreaders: Sam Hunt, James Ruhland, Heather A.


Caprio, and Carl Salminen

Cover Art: Alex Guillotte


Stock Photography: Streamy Stock

First Printing, 2014

Published by RAW Immersive Games


1
“Your god is dead!” There was spite, even joy, in the cold
feminine voice. “Come... come to me,” it whispered. “I will give
you all the love. I will plant eternity in your rose garden, with my
fire in your veins. I know you like no other, come to me. We are the
same. He is dead, come... to... me.”
The taunting sound of Thela Thorn’s soft freyaen voice shook A-Ya
Doon from his nightmare. “Are Elsam’s rays so different from her broth-
er’s that only they can wake you?” A-Ya Doon had experienced a vi-
sion, a terror, a calling like this one just before waking on each of the
seventy-seven days of the last cycle. He knew with sad certainty that
the voice belonged to Loptif, the Lady of Lies, the divine ascendant,
the self-styled goddess. A-Ya knew she was no goddess. She was born
mortal, a freyaen fey. Long before Pelgan had sculpted the humans from
the clay on the banks of the Red River, she had been the avatar, the liv-
ing voice, of his god Luk-Coo. A god who, according to followers of the
Enforcers, had been slain by the combined force of their gods fourteen
cycles ago, today. A-Ya knew these self-styled protectors of K’Vega-
Thale had pronounced Luk-Coo, the god of dusk, guilty of the heresy
of magic. They claimed Luk-Coo had trucked with trolls, the ancient
enemies of the gods. That he had learned the dark secrets of Nogus the
Necromancer. And even that Luk-Coo was preparing to bring the dead
sun, Ahuramazda, back as some kind of cursed undead. A-Ya knew dif-
ferent. His Lord was, in fact, planning to resurrect the murdered sun who
was his parent. Between their pogrom against his faith and the steady
conversion of churches to Loptif, his religion was dying. He embraced
the gloaming and would never submit his soul to Loptif, no matter how
many dreams she called to him in. As far as he knew, the temple on the
high hill was Luk-Coo’s last church. He aimed his thoughts backwards
towards his dreams, towards Loptif, willing her to know that this place
was for Luk-Coo. He would keep her cursed tongue away from it with
his life. Luk-Coo was not dead. The god of the dying could not die. This
was nothing. A lie all of them had propagated. These thoughts surged
through A-Ya’s mind as he made the transition to the waking world.

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“Get up, A-Ya! There is still much work to be done to prepare
for this evening’s festival. Hope I didn’t take everything you had last
night. I know how hard today will be for you, so I wanted to make
sure you enjoyed yourself. Hope you did,” she said, locking eyes with
the human momentarily, before tossing a deep-purple robe with velvet
orange lining on top of him. “Wear that, it makes the violet in your
eyes stand out. That interplay of color. It’s the way I always remem-
ber you. I’ve done a lot of planning to make this Day of Everdusk
festival unforgettable. So I expect you to get busy shortly.” With that,
the tall fey woman walked out of his bedroom.
“Planning?” he thought. Thela was the highest-ranking clergy
member of the Temple on the High Hill other than himself, but he
could not remember her doing any planning for the day of their Lord
in cycles past. Still, he loved surprises and was looking forward to
seeing what she had come up with for him. The thoughts pushed Lop-
tif’s visit from his mind as he rolled out of his goose-down bed and
made ready for breakfast. A-Ya ruminated on his sometimes-lover
Thela Thorn with special consideration paid to the pleasures of her
flesh. Although she had the tranquil disposition of her people, when
warmed with wine she could provide a night of explicit passion. Still,
the passion’s fires always evanesced as the day began. In truth, he
knew they were not right for each other. He could overlook the fact
that she could never give him a child. They were not of the same
people, nor of peoples who could mix. It was her cool, passionless
disposition that would forever keep them apart. For A-Ya knew that
accepting it would slowly kill his romantic soul. He knew they could
never be anything more than they were. Theirs was not love, but ap-
preciation for all that the other was and was not.
But A-Ya was not lonely, for he had known the face of love all his
life. It haunted him. He could see her without even shutting his eyes.
She was the essence of beauty. When he thought of her, he could never
get all the features right. The angles of her face just never matched or
lined up like they should. She was beyond the power of his imagination
to assemble but he liked her like that. A puzzle of love he had been piec-
ing together since he was a small child. He had tried to put the pieces

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onto Thela’s delicate features. They did not fit. Her ears were too short
and neither her platinum blond hair nor her crystal blue eyes were the
right color – but he did not know what the right colors were. By this
point in his life, he had hoped to have found her, or at least be looking
for her, but the church needed him. It needed him and unlike so many
others, he would not leave.
A-Ya could see Luk-Coo everywhere: in the moving leaves, in the
petals of a rose, in the cracks of the cobblestone and in the last breath
of the dying. The Enforcers had not, as their mystical orders claimed,
slain Luk-Coo. He still walked the heavens in the form of the setting
sun. A-Ya would swear by the face of beauty that on rare nights the
dusk’s wind spoke to him.
A-Ya arrived at breakfast to find Thela Thorn seated with Ejex
Myst, a tall, powerfully built, dark-skinned human from the jungles of
Shi. Erik, a half-wit bastard of no import, leaned over Thela as she ate.
He sniffed her hair as his gaze traced her form in an unwholesome fash-
ion. Thela had given the poor infatuated fool more than one thrashing
for his ill-advised advances. Despite being slender by human standards,
she was a well-trained, calculating warrior with astounding speed and
reflexes. “Erik! Stop now!” A-Ya bellowed as he entered the room.
The half-wit human began to cry out in a fashion similar to a ner-
vous optilang, a large lizard often used as a mount. It was a noise he
made a lot, for just about any reason. “You ain’t so big, you ain’t so
big no more. You can’t be talkin’ to me like that, not no more I...” he
said in a surly tone while backing away from the Dusklord. His jab-
bering was cut short as Thela slid her leg behind him, causing the poor
wretch to fall backwards headfirst onto the temple’s stone floor. Erik
grabbed the back of his head with both hands as he shot to his feet.
Red blood covered his hands as he slowly pulled them forward across
his face. He began to cry out again, only interrupting his cry to sob,
“My skin, my precious skin.”
Ejex then pushed his chair back, placing his hands firmly on the
table before him, “Boy, you shut your mouth or I’m gonna shut it for
you. There’s only one way we’re gonna settle this. You understand
what I’m talkin’ to ya about?” Ejex, who was as frightening as any

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whose clan name could be traced back to the assassin King Myst.
Ejex swiftly made his way around the table; like a shark he was
drawn to the bleeding man.
“Enough, please, this is a holy day, let us have peace in this tem-
ple. Erik, to the courtyard with you,” A-Ya’s voice was heavy, with
a hint of sorrow.
“I... of course, Dusklord Doom. It is only right that we have peace...
for now,” Ejex eyed the tearful half-wit as Erik slunk from the temple.
Thela’s eyebrow perked up, “Sit, A-Ya. What is troubling you?”
Her voice was hypnotically level as she patted the wide snakeskin seat
beside her while she spoke.
“I, uh...” he was about to lie, a practice he had easily engaged in
until deep reflection changed his ways. He now knew that with every
single lie one tells – no matter how trifling – one makes a small sacri-
fice to Loptif. Millions of these little prayers were uttered to her every
day. Could there be any other reason why this perpetrator of deicide
had grown in power so quickly? He would not lie, not for this, not for
anything. It was a vow he had made to himself. There was only one
god he would worship and his worship would be pure. “The visions, the
cursed Loptif still calls me.” Ejex eyed him with interest as he spoke.
“Are they the same dreams you’ve been having of the blood god-
dess? The ones that began on the first day of darkness last cycle?” Thela
asked as sympathetically as her tone would allow.
“Yes, I had not mentioned them to you for many days, but they come
with the end of each night’s sleep. I see her there: her golden skin, her
long blond hair, and her finely pointed freyaen ears. She’s dressed in
red, green, and yellow and she has a pear in her hand. ‘Come to me,’
she says. How could it be on this, this holiest of days that she could call
me? It is one thing in the darkness or even in the dawn’s light, but here
in the long dusk, how can it be? She should have no power here, not on
this day. Not on this day!” he clinched his fists tightly.
Thela rose and embraced him. She felt so cold against his skin.
“Loptif was the avatar of this faith. She turned her back on us, long
before we were even born and she haunts us still. I know you hate her.
I know you’ll never hear her calling. If only I knew why she still called

7
you, I would end your burden sooner. But I do not. Let these thoughts
pass from your mind. She is a vampyr.”
“The first vampyr,” Ejex interrupted.
Thela shot him a cross glance, “Yes, the first vampyr, cursed for
her sins by the god who’d elevated her so high. And it is that vampyric
nature that she plies upon our Dusklord even now, draining, if not his
blood, then surely his spirit.”
“She will never take this from me,” A-Ya shouted, throwing his
arms out wide, motioning to the temple. “I am like the white moths
of this rose-covered hill, always watching. You will not take this
temple, cursed one!”
Thela squeezed him tighter, “She was of my people, and she was of
my faith. I understand your feelings, but we are still here. We have not
left. You have not lost, not yet. We must hold on. Today is our day. Let
her not cast her shadow over another temple while there is still twilight
in the heavens.”
A-Ya nodded his head slowly, “You’re right. We have work to do.
No time for daemons from my dreams. Let she who is cursed be cursed
twice. Let no lie fall from any of your lips. Every action must be care-
fully contemplated. Give our enemies nothing but weakness. To give
them power, to give them prayer is treason. Let us all be true!” As A-Ya
finished, Thela pulled away enough to look slightly up into his eyes, and
they shared a smile as Ejex looked on.
“I have always been true,” she whispered, leaning in towards his left
side, brushing her long ear slightly against his cheek. “I will be behind
you until this ends. Let it be known now and be true forever.”
All who lived within the temple on the high hill made themselves
busy with preparations for the fading light at the end of the seventy-
fourth day of the cycle. The Day of Dusk, which was characterized by
a full day of twilight, was the last day before the Long Nightfall, three
straight days without light, which ended every cycle. As the appointed
hour was nearly at hand, A-Ya stood and rested his back against the gate
to the temple which looked over the grassy cemetery hill. The yellow
lights of Trade, the huge city to the south which sent the temple their
dead, blended with the orange, red, and purple hues of this day’s per-

8
petual twilight. A gentle wind begun to rustle his cloak as it wafted the
smell of the Red River into his nostrils. The scent of water mixed with
cooking food and burning wood. It triggered a memory from A-Ya’s
days as a young acolyte. The Red River was the place where Pelgan,
god of civilization, had bent down and scooped up two handfuls of clay
during the morning of each day for an entire cycle. And from this clay,
the god who became known as the father of humanity sculpted a man
and seven women each day, creating the tribes of humanity. He loved
this story, not because it told of his species’ creation, but because it re-
minded him how small and fragile all mortals are in the hands of gods.
With thoughts of gods and names of men ruminating through his
mind, the Dusklord set about the old marble tombs of his necropolis,
bending down and pulling from the ground the eight finest sunset roses
he could find. He relished this time alone to listen to the fluttering white
moths in the shadows of the gravestones. Examining the last rose be-
fore plucking it, he could see the power of his murdered Lord still strong
in the precision of perfection in its sculpted form, in the otherworldly
shade of purple, and in the beauty of the petals. A-Ya knew that Luk-
Coo may have been killed, but he also knew that his Lord was with him
now. He could feel him on the wind and see him in the face of the rose.
With that, he made his way back up the hill. His grasp fell upon one of
the handles set in the middle of the finely painted symbol of this temple,
a purple rose with a white moth resting atop it. This symbol was far
different from the one which had once been the universally recognized
sign of the god. It was the symbol A-Ya had chosen nonetheless. Pull-
ing back on the handle, he opened one of the oaken doors to the gate and
walked into the cobble stone courtyard.
Glancing up at the sky, he knew it was time. The vast courtyard was
well-maintained, and a large marble fountain containing a sculpture of
a beautiful woman with the wings of a moth dominated its center. A-Ya
knew this would be a special night. “I feel you,” he whispered to him-
self, his thoughts on his Lord. “I know I will see you soon.” He turned
to his assembled clergy, all seven of them were here. Each dressed in
robes whose color matched their station. A-Ya began his inspection
with Thela, who looked most tantalizing. Her robe was red, signifying

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her rank of Sunset Lady, which was the second-highest temple rank be-
hind Dusklord. She held A-Ya’s weapon, the Mace of Twilight, which
had been commissioned and mystically enchanted by Hycro himself,
and presented to A-Ya when he took the purple robe. Next, he cast his
gaze over his two orange-robed Twilight Preachers. The first was Ejex
Myst, holding a golden chalice in his left hand, his long dreadlocks
slipped from his hood to cast a shadow upon his face. Doim, the second,
a ferrum from the streets of Bale who was not more than four feet high
and clean-shaven, as was the custom of those of his kind who still fol-
lowed the gods. After them, the Dusklord looked upon his four white-
robed acolytes. The first, Evan Hycro, was five generations removed
from A-Ya’s mentor Hycro – the last avatar of Luk-Coo, who had been
slain by the avatar of Helena on the eighteenth day of the pogrom. Evan
Hycro stood tall, his lean pale form made the white-robe look a bit bag-
gy. His long purple hair, which was common for humans from the clan
sculpted on the Day of Dusk, fell about his shoulders. Koenus, the elder
brother, and Saia, the younger sister, were viagyshes who had never ut-
tered their house names in the presence of anyone here. Tall and strong,
they looked far more like warriors than ministers of funeral rites. A-Ya
walked over to his most recently added acolyte. Looking down into the
short Jypyr’s blue eyes, he did not like what he found there. The Dusk-
lord never did. The young freyaen acolyte rubbed him the wrong way.
He would never have accepted him had it not been for the Sunset Lady’s
request. Still, his hair was too blond, his skin too golden. He bore an
uncanny resemblance to the hated Loptif, which discomforted the Dusk-
lord. This was the youth’s first Day of Everdusk with the temple. A-Ya
knew he would never trust him and it showed in his eyes. Although
A-Ya held Jypyr’s gaze for an uncomfortably long time, it did not seem
to unnerve the younger man at all. Jypyr not only returned the look, but
added a smirk. A-Ya nearly snapped at the disrespectful creature, but
his thoughts were disrupted by the approach of Erik, the temple half-
wit, clad in a filthy brown robe, one boot off and one boot on.
Shaking his head, A-Ya raised his hands, extending the sunset roses
towards his clergy. They approached him by order of station, each tak-
ing a purple flower in turn while bowing their heads to him slightly.

10
When they were finished, the Dusklord fastened the last one to his cloak.
He then took the Mace of Twilight from Thela. Chanting a low prayer,
he touched each gingerly on the forehead with the mace, which whirled
with all the colors of its name. Finally, A-Ya placed the mace upon
the cobblestone of the courtyard before extending his hands to take the
purple amethyst bejeweled chalice of gold from Ejex’s left hand. A-Ya
chanted the sacred words:

“As twilight dies


Before gloaming’s glow
I scrape the sky
To drink your blood
Fill my chalice with your wine
And if it is flesh you desire
Then live here within mine.”

As he chanted, he slowly arched the cup above his head, collecting


the last light of the day within it. The light frothed and misted slowly,
but A-Ya kept spinning the vessel in a counterclockwise motion until
finally it settled into a form that looked something like liquid. “Thank
you my Lord,” he said as he raised the cup all the way above his head.
He then drank of the fluid of condensed twilight. It felt cold and empty,
but as he imbibed it, he could feel a closeness to his Lord that he had
thought lost. It was pure, perfect, and whole. He lowered his head, rel-
ishing the feeling as he handed the chalice to Thela. She did the same
and passed it down along the line in succession. Once all had drunk,
a cheer went out from the assembled. A wide smile spread across the
Dusklord’s face in the darkness, “I feel him, I feel him. He is... still with
us. Let no one doubt, I feel him inside me...” His voice trailed off as
he grabbed Thela and began to dance with her ecstatically. He whirled
her around in such an uncharacteristically joyous fashion that it caused
a giggle to escape the freyaen’s lips.
Then A-Ya let out a cry as something pierced his right kidney, his eyes
grew wide as his head spun. He felt the jolt of pain again. He turned to
see Jypyr gripping a bloody dagger and poised to make another strike.

11
The congregation fell upon their Dusklord, each in their own way, stab-
bing him over and over, riddling his body with dozens of wounds. A-Ya
looked into Thela’s eyes as his blood dripped onto the cobblestone. Her
eyes were cold. “Why? Why have you forsaken me?”
“You heard but did not listen. We shall die for your dead faith no
more. I will remember you fondly, purple eyes. I know now what you
will learn in a moment: your god is dead. No one will claim your soul.
I hope you will remember me as we were in the night. I wanted you to
enjoy yourself one last time. One last time, before having to endure an
eternity of loneliness out of the sight of the gods, in the deep pit of Hell.
You should have listened to her. Loptif tried to save you. Instead you
must die in the Long Night.” Thela Thorn saw her own face reflecting
back upon his eyes as she lifted the Mace of Twilight above her head.
Blood poured from A-Ya’s mouth as each of his clergy members, even
the half-wit, delighted in driving their daggers and sickles deep into
their former leader’s flesh. Thela leaned forward, kissing A-Ya deeply
on the lips as she pulled away, a trail of spit and blood connecting the
two of them until she sent the mace crashing down upon his head, driv-
ing his body to the cobblestone and crushing his skull. Licking her lips,
she tasted his coppery blood as she looked down with sadness upon the
soulless shell of the only man she had ever loved.
They did not stop. His followers, her followers, continued to bru-
tally butcher his body. She saw blood splatter their cloaks, especially
those of the acolytes. She bit her lip, cleared her throat and said, “Go,
take him from my sight... all of you, go!” Her final words were a shriek.
She felt the Long Night already beginning to sap her tranquility. She
fought to clear her mind and maintain the calmness within. As it fled,
she was forced to confront her regret at the hardest decision she had ever
had to make. The blood-frenzied murderers looked at her. For a mo-
ment, it seemed they might have plunged their blades into Thela’s flesh
as well. The moment passed as they dragged the lifeless form of A-Ya
Doon away, out the gate and down the hill. Uncontrollable tears rolled
from her eyes as she lost the battle to keep her composure.
“Shhhhhhhhhhhh, my little dancer, tremble not, you have no rea-
son for sorrow. You chose well. The power I promised you is worth a

12
thousand purple-eyed sentimental fools, times a thousand more.” The
words, in Dazazyaese, the language of the freyaen, were accompanied
by a cold so vile it made Thela’s thoughts turn to the last words she had
spoken to her beloved. For just a moment, she wondered if perhaps it
had not been she herself who had died and been consigned to an oubli-
ette of Hell. No, she thought, the ascendant divinity was here. Loptif
had watched and the liar planned on keeping her promise.
Loptif’s breath was visible in the cold exhale that blew over The-
la’s right shoulder. It wafted a smell like that of pear juice to the
Sunset Lady’s nose, “Yes, little dancer, the words written in stone are
for you. You shall be my gift to the Shadow King. You are the lovely
one who will dance as K’Vega-Thale ends. Luk-Coo was a fool and a
weakling. But you are strong like me – far too strong to be wasted on
a dead god.” Thela felt Loptif’s blisteringly cold fingers slide along
her shoulders above her red cloak. They touched the tender pale flesh
of her neck with the caress of freezing death. Thela winced, despite
her best efforts, as she felt the tears upon her cheeks freeze against
her skin. Loptif dropped Thela’s cloak upon the blood-splattered grey
cobblestone and whispered into her long fine right ear, “I have so
many wonders to show you.” The breath was so close to her ear that
Thela feared her eardrum would rupture under the assault of the words
as she felt the ascendant divinity’s icy arms wrap around her from
behind. She looked down upon the remaining blood from the brutal
sacrifice and wondered, what have I done?

13
2
A bemused look spread over Thur’s face as he crept up behind Aef-
finea. She was so deep in the daydream that he hesitated to wake her.
But his reluctance was soon overwhelmed by his itching anticipation. He
pressed his hands against the back of her soft neck, causing her to roll
forward into a ball. Her wide daydreaming eyes extended and then con-
tracted as her mind was hurled from the astral, the light above shown
down too brightly causing her to squint. Her thoughts swam. The calling
dream had touched her again, yet she had been yanked from its grasp. An
ogre’s rage began to burn within her lithe freyaen frame. Her tranquil-
ity fled under the abruptness of her rude reawakening. The vista of her
dream was tragically real. Her waking thoughts pulled hard to recapture
its string to pull it close and keep it with her, but it was gone. So hard did
she want to treasure it, its loss felt like true love dying in her arms.
With that, she finally became reoriented enough in the world to no-
tice Igvale’s kiss upon her soft white cheeks. The wind blew sweetly
and carried Thur’s scent into her small perfectly symmetrical nose. She
arched her neck backwards, planting her dawn-marked hair upon the
grass, piercing him with her bright amber eyes.
“Calm yourself, my love,” Thur spoke softly. He had not meant
to cause her such anger with his prank. All he had hoped for was
to bring his betrothed back to the world, back to his arms. He was
shocked by the look in her eyes, the savageness. He had never seen
her gentle spirit in this state before. His emotions were mixed with
remorse, but dominated by a growing anxiety as he noted the tears
whelming up in her eyes. She was soft, beautiful, and pure, but Aef-
finea was even stronger and did not cry. Still the tears were there, in
her eyes. What had he pulled her from? Who had held her there on
the other side of the wall of sleep?
Igvale, the spirit of air, calmed, leaving the grassy flatlands still as
Aeffinea rose. The look in her eyes caused fear seasoned with sadness to
flash through Thur. There was something, he knew it, but what? What
had Dazazya, the mother of the freyaens, shown her? Thur gulped,

14
the angst he had felt in his belly now infested his whole frame. Aef-
finea looked down at him, meeting his eyes. In a voice that was calm
but firm, she said, “My love, I wish you had not pulled me... yanked
me, from my vision. I had seen... I was seeing,” then a pang of guilt
caused her to trail off. She looked down, pondering the emotion. Why
did she feel this way? What was it in her dream that made it hard for
her to look her lover in the eye? Her thoughts moved from reflection
to recognition. Thur was standing before her trembling. She snapped
her head up, casting her pink locks about her as she looked deeply into
the smaller freyaen’s eyes. Stepping back half a pace, she placed her
porcelain-skinned hand upon his. She resumed in a voice filled with
kindness, “Thur, I’m sorry, you just broke a very important vision. I
should not have,” with that she pulled him into her arms, embracing
him reassuringly. She nuzzled her face against the blonde locks that
crowned Thur’s head. The tears of her loss were wiped upon the hair
of the man she would oath-swear in just under three cycles upon the
zenith of Dazazya’s day. As she did, it occurred to her that it would
never be enough. As Igvale’s whispers began again, she remembered
her fortune would be cast upon honor, upon love, and upon the wild
wind. Gleaning from the tether of the far fey world, Aeffinea recalled
aloud, “There was music, she was blue.”
“What?” replied Thur from the comforting embrace of the woman
he had idolized since they were children.
“Nothing my love,” as the word left her throat it felt like a ghost, a
relic that held no purchase or meaning in the light. As the words broke
upon Thur’s long finely pointed ears, she wondered did she say a thing
which was not true? Was Thur her past – or her future? She did not
know truth from lie. All she knew was a color and a song, a memory
that caused her pulse to race and her thoughts to wander. It consumed
her. She must dream it again. She must hold the chords in her hand.
They must be hers. What was the song?
The still seconds counted down. As she pressed for the dream,
Thur’s blurt, “Are you still with me?” sounded so brutish upon her el-
egant faerie ears that she recoiled.
Of course I am still with you, she thought. The lines of her thoughts

15
were those of annoyance, not comfort. How could she do this? How
could she not be true to a man that she had loved so recently? Or had
she, had she ever known love before the dreams began two cycles ago?
Whatever pulsed inside her must be addressed or she knew she would
never feel tranquility’s embrace again. As a dawn-touched warrior of
the sun, she knew well the fate of those who fell from inner peace. She
must indulge these dream demons, or risk the real possibility of spiral-
ing away from serenity, the shield given by the mother to keep away the
bat-winged beasts of Elsam, The Morning Star, who lived only to carry
off the souls of freyaens. She said nothing to answer Thur’s question.
Only squeezed him tighter, he felt like emptiness in her arms. It was not
his comfort but his silence that she desired. As he attempted to speak
again, she placed her right forefinger upon his lips, affirming her desire
for his words never to be formed.
After holding Thur for some time, Aeffinea pulled away, spinning
slightly towards her left. As she did, her pink hair bounced off her
shoulders, catching the glint of the high sun, which seemed to roll down
her hair. The sight caused Thur to flush with amorous feelings as the
tall freyaen woman walked away. Thur smiled to himself, knowing he
had the most beautiful and fair of all his kind to look after him, to be his.
Not wanting to be left behind, he began to follow her back towards the
sprawling home of their people.
Looming before them was Freyaheim: the ancient homestead of
Freya, the first of their people, the queen who had been woven by the
hands of Dazazya from purest daylight and the Sidhe, a perfect body
of astral haze spun by Opiate, The Liege of Dreams. The city was a
welcome sight to Aeffinea as she sought to rid herself of Thur, who had
become like a stray animal she had fed once too often. She took no no-
tice of the hundreds of assembled daygazers. Heads elevated meditat-
ing upon the high noon, seated in the lotus position upon the green grass
of the field just past the main thoroughfare of the queendom. Aeffinea
touched down foot to path quickly as she strode along this historic dirt
road, known to have been the burial site of the first wolf faeries slain
by Queen Freya. Her strides were long but it seemed that the shorter
Thur would not stop dogging her footsteps. Calm, calm, calm, she in-

16
stinctively reminded herself, she must keep calm. Rashness was not her
manner – but how quickly it had seemed to become so since she had
been awakened from her daydream.
Finally she reached her destination, a large dome four times her
height constructed of still-rooted gold reed which mewed with plea-
sure and shivered as she approached, quickly bowing to each side to
create a portal for her entrance. Aeffinea spun on the heel of her boots,
“Thur, I... I need to reflect, I shall see you soon.” The look on his face
was one of shock as his lover faded away beyond the threshold, disap-
pearing as the gold reed of her living home closed the opening behind
her with a slight rustling sound.
“I love you,” fell quietly from his lips. Thur ran his hand across the
gold reed, patting it gently before turning to head home.
Aeffinea went directly to her room, not wanting to deal with the
distraction of her parents once they returned from midday’s dream. In-
side her home the gold reed, a colonial plant, was used for everything
from carpet to furniture. This was of course most common among the
freyaens. Tenderly, she lifted Heimdall, her baby cockatrice, who be-
gan hissing softly as she cradled him in her arms absently stroking his
wattles while fishing out one of the crickets she had caught for him
last evening from the blue painted ceramic vase on her wardrobe. The
lizard-bird greedily snapped up the insect, then resumed its soft hissing
as Aeffinea gracefully laid him on her bed. Heimdall began to gnaw on
one of the gold reeds that made up her bed. Aeffinea did not notice as
she prepared herself to enter the daydream.
First she focused her mind. Thoughts of Thur, which only served
to confuse her, were banished. She could feel her stomach loosen-
ing as the place where tranquility lived within her seen to expand.
Relaxation began to release her from the fetters of stress. Aeffinea
rolled her shoulders as she undid the gold, dragon-embossed brooch
that fastened her tunic’s nearly chin-high collar in place. Then her
hands found their way down her front, unbuttoning each of her
cream-colored tunic’s six saffron buttons, which matched her leg-
gings flawlessly. Both pieces of clothing were made by Magir, the
queendom’s high mistress of the loom.

17
Magir, a light weaver, had woven the clothing from a combination
of seeds from the fruit of dragontear vines and early morning sunlight.
Dragontear fruit had a light sweet taste like a mix between mango and
pear with a smooth crunchiness. The major appeal of this delicacy was
its aftertaste, which left the eater’s breath fresh and floral-scented for
hours afterward. The pit of this fruit, once ground into a paste, had a
consistency like putty and great elastic strength. When made into cloth-
ing by a light weaver, the substance was extremely durable, comfort-
able, light weight, and retained bright color dyes wonderfully.
As she finished unbuttoning the tight-fitting tunic, she shimmied out
of it and dropped it back on the bed. Heimdall hissed with annoyance
and slithered away backwards as the tunic nearly fell on him. After
peeling her tunic off, Aeffinea slowly pulled her thin linen undershirt
over her head, depositing it over her shoulder to the bed behind her.
Nearly six feet tall, her pale, almost white skin had a lithe athletic tone;
her pink hair hung down to her small perky breasts. She rolled her
shoulders back, then forward as her chest rose and contracted. As she
breathed in deeply, she felt a great wave of relief at having freed her tor-
so of the constrictive clothing, which was her least favorite part of be-
ing a warrior. Then Aeffinea began to unbuckle her crocodile skin belt,
which came from the very same creature as her boots. She had slain
the beast over a cycle ago during her initiation into the Solen Krigers,
or Sun Warriors. On that day she had proven herself to be worthy of
the name Queen Freya had given them. As she slid the gold-studded
belt off her slender waist, she smiled slightly, thinking of how far she
had come. Her body could still feel the fear she had felt that day when
she faced the monster down with nothing more than her mother’s ritual
dagger, but the fear itself had evaporated. Fear was nothing more than
a memory and a lesson. Having faced down the fear of death, she knew
it would never claim her again. She had learned on that beast’s back to
be calm in the face of fear. It was that stillness of spirit that allowed her
to be the one left alive. The tranquility she found in the unity of combat
was one she worked diligently to incorporate into all aspects of her life.
Reaching forward, she placed the belt gingerly atop her wardrobe.
The gold reed shimmered at her touch, causing some of the crickets in-

18
side the vase to hop about. Stretching her flexible legs as she pulled off
her boots, Aeffinea then began to hop up and down lightly. The move-
ment allowed her to shimmy out of her tight leggings and undergar-
ments in one fluid motion. While her muscle tone was impressive, her
frame still maintained the delicate appearance common to her species of
faery. Except for her head, her nubile dainty body was totally hairless
and a precision of symmetry.
Aeffinea rolled her hair out of her face into a messy bun which fur-
ther exposed her long, delicate, pointed ears. She then slipped into a
sheer silken robe and sat cross-legged on the floor, which was noth-
ing more than the soft roots of the gold reed plant. Rubbing her hands
against her face, she let out a deep moan as soft pinpoints of energy
unbound within her. Caressing the lines of her high cheek bones, she
began to feel the daydream come upon her as a golden glow shown from
her skin. Warmth rose inside her as a smile came across her thin pink
lips. Happiness overcame her as the dream began.
The evanescent embrace of Opiate enveloped Aeffinea. The dream
bubbles burst around her as she walked into The Dreamland. The surreal
landscape was a field of wheat with stalk heads that were the changing
dreams of thousands of sleepers’ minds. As she looked down upon their
visions, her eyes fell to where the stalks grew from the black starriness
of oblivion which bellowed on like a carpet below her and sustained the
dreamers like fertile soil. A haunting song of ineffable beauty swept
in on the astral wind. Tears came to her dreaming eyes as the notes
wrapped themselves around her nude form in an embrace that taught her
more than she ever thought she could understand about the word love.
After what might have been moments or hours, she pulled herself
from the rapture and strained her ears. “Where are you?” Aeffinea’s soft
voice was full of restraint. The calling beckoning her left as the song
responded. Something in the sound of the voice, the song, left Aeffinea
feeling that she was at home. The beauty of the notes was such that
the young frayean could not distinguish whether they were living art or
strands of love lost on the purple-grey haze of the astral abyss that clung
about her. She followed her keen ears forward, brushing against the
dreamstalks of a thousand dreams as she lucidly walked the plane. She

19
must remember this, she thought to herself, and she must see it through.
She prayed a silent prayer to Dazazya, begging to not be woken until
she knew the source of this wonder.
Then Aeffinea stopped in her daydream, shut her large eyes, pushed
the music from her ears and dredged the recesses of her psyche for all
the poise she possessed. Before she could open her eyes, the musical
consonance bombarded her. It forced its way inside her like a deter-
mined paramour with gentle force in a loving embrace. It sundered
from her some intangible aspect of her naiveté. It was too whole, too
beautiful and too perfect. After bathing in the presence of the song, she
would never be a child again. Her eyes fluttered open. Before her on
the black starry field of dreamstalks and purple-grey haze, face down
knelt singing an azure-skinned woman with long red feathered quills
extending from her head where hair should have been. The quills were
long making their way past the center of her back.
Tears fell from Aeffinea’s eyes; she knew she was crying in both
worlds as the song aroused a euphoria in her that simultaneously
calmed and elevated her passions. Aeffinea blinked, having no idea
who or even what this woman was. She sought to speak but found her-
self too overwhelmed to dare attempt an utterance in the presence of
this song. A flush of embarrassment radiated back from the world of
flesh to her spirit as the unclothed azure woman stood, but the freyaen
did not pull her eyes away from the robustly voluptuous form of the
fresh-faced enchantress. Drinking in the sight of her alluring form as
she studied the shapeliness of her toned figure, this woman’s features
were so odd to the freyaen, who had only known the slim, athletic
builds of her own people. She marveled at the womanliness of the
singer’s form, with shapely hips over twice as wide as the freyaen’s.
Build was only the beginning of their differences. The singer had
sleek fin-like protrusions extending from her forearms and the back
of her calves. Aeffinea’s eyes trailed up past the singer’s ample chest.
As her gaze continued to roam up the other’s body, the freyaen noticed
three slit marks on each side of the azure-skinned woman’s neck. Fi-
nally Aeffinea, looking down slightly, locked her almond-amber eyes
upon the round electric blue eyes of this mystery. There was no wear

20
or worry upon the singer’s little forehead or her oval face, just a soft
acceptance which spread over her countenance. Still, Aeffinea knew
this creature was imprisoned, and she silently swore by her goddess’s
name that this chanteuse would be free.
The singer stopped singing, pressed her pouty lips together and said,
“Release me.” Even though she no longer sung, the notes hung in the
astral haze, or maybe they had just burned themselves onto the deep
recesses of Aeffinea’s mind. Either way, they were with the freyaen and
she knew they always would be.
The challenge, the duty, the honor, and the necessity all spurned
Aeffinea into action in concert. She reached towards her, saying, “I...”
but as her hand came within one inch of the seductress’s form, the frey-
aen felt it hit something hard and not dreamlike at all. Her eyes blinked
three times then were filled with the familiar vision of her room.
“No, no, no,” she pleaded. For the first time in her life she had
slipped past the wall of sleep. Stepping out of the dreamstalk, she had
emerged into the astral plane and remembered everything she had expe-
rienced there upon awakening. She pulled her knees to her chest, caus-
ing her silk robe to stretch as she sat on the floor. Then she heard it, that
song from her dreams. Her long ears perked up. The song was so far
away she could barely hear it, but here it was in this world. Joy surged
through her, “I swear I’ll find you, by the light of the sun, I swear I’ll
keep you free.” The emotions that raced in her turned to a deep calm, as
she focused on her purpose.

21
3
A trail of blood smeared across the dewy grass as Ejex Myst dragged
A-Ya Doon’s corpse down the hill, bumping his former leader’s crushed
skull against gravestones as he descended. Finally, in the dark, he ar-
rived at the old wooden fence around the base of the cemetery hill. The
cold night wind swept over Jypyr as he looked down at the latch. His
fumbling with the lock stirred up a dozen white moths, which fluttered
up into his face. He batted them away as the wind sent a shiver down his
spine. Nervously, he looked up at the night sky. “The eyes of Ahriman
are upon us tonight... ill omen,” he muttered to himself.
“Quit your stammerin’, freyaen,” Doim yelled at Jypyr in Daza-
zyaese. “I’d be soon rid of ‘dis corpse. T’ain’t nothin’ but dem same
two moons ‘dat been hangin’ in da sky since ‘dis world was built.”
Doim then pushed the freyaen forward. “Get ta it, light-eyes. Enough
of your fool’s talk!”
“Our tongue sounds horrid in your mouth, rockstump,” Jypyr re-
torted haughtily. “Go back to the godforsaken speech of your people, so
as not to befoul my ears with your iron-formed rudeness.” Jypyr was cut
off as Doim’s fist collided with the back of his head. The thin Jypyr fell
over the gate from the force of the blow. “Are you mad?” he cried out in
pain. “I am your...” But again his words were not to be finished, as the
strong little man’s course, broad hands seized the freyean’s long, luxuri-
ous locks. Doim gripped Jypyr’s hair between his fingers and twisted
to the right. The ferrum’s forearm went up and down as the freyaen’s
head crashed into the wooden gate four times. Doim grabbed the fey by
his long ears, using them as levers to direct the thinner man to the gate.
Once there, the ferrum mercilessly ground Jypyr’s fine features against
the top of the fence as he dragged Jypyr along its length before discard-
ing the howling acolyte to the grass.
There was silence from the others assembled until Ejex put his
hand to his face and began to laugh as Jypyr pushed himself up off
the wet grass. Blood spilled from a cut over his right eye and his
broken, twisted nose. As Jypyr made his way to one knee, the gout

22
of blood upon his once handsome countenance began to drip onto his
grass-stained white robe. Doim reached back to deliver a final hay-
maker, but Koenus caught his arm as he swung. The wild-eyed ferrum
wheeled around in a mine boxer’s stance. The white-robed viagysh
stood two and a half feet taller but no wider than the ferrum. Koenus
put his left hand up in a gesture of peace, and then spoke in Pelganese,
the tongue of humans, the only language the two of them shared, “You
beat him to death, then go tell new big lady, you killed her pretty little
boy with same pointy ears as her. What you think happen to you, iron
child, for acting like an ogre?”
Fires of violence raged within Doim, but that did not prevent him
from noticing Saia standing ready to help her brother. He gritted his
teeth and looked down at the blood-splattered grass. “You’re right boy,
you’re right, no need, no need,” he conceded. With that, he unclenched
his fists and stepped away from the battered freyaen. The ferrum cast
his eyes over the assembled looking for someone to take his ire out on.
As his gaze settled on Erik, in Pelganese he spat, “Senseless one, be get-
tin’ to the light-eyes or taste the hair on my knuckles!”
Erik, now wide-eyed with fear, grabbed ahold of the freyaen’s face
and wiped it upon his dubiously brown cloak, leaving brownness be-
hind on Jypyr’s destroyed face. Erik seemed to be doing far more harm
than good with his inept ministrations, prompting Jypyr to pull away in
protest. Ejex pushed past them, dragging his former leader’s carcass
behind him down the road. The other priests filed in behind him. Fi-
nally, Erik pulled Jypyr to his feet and walked the damaged man down
the road behind his fellows.
Soon, the powerfully built Ejex pulled the body off to the side of
the road, “We gonna go through there, drop this body in the woods.
You heard Thela this fool ain’t gonna have no rest. He’s hellbound,
ready for torture. He told us nothing but lies. His god is dead. I ain’t
gonna go to Hell no, no, not this one,” he pointed at himself, continu-
ing he said, “I’ll get with any god I needs to. I’m avoidin’ that pit;
know that. No need for us to make his body any better off. Let the
beasts do what they will,” he snickered to himself eerily. “I never
liked diggin’ graves anyway.” He pulled the body to a cove of trees

23
several hundred feet from the road. “Enjoy the long night,” he bade
his former leader, “and scream once for me in Hell, fool.” With that,
he kicked dirt onto the body, then dropped the purple rose A-Ya had
given him onto the dead Dusklord’s body. This prompted the others to
toss their roses upon his as well. “I don’t even know why we had to do
that ritual for you,” he muttered. As he walked away from the cove, he
glanced up at the night sky seeing the two large yellow-white moons,
upon the deep black heavens, so close to the ground it sent a chill
through him that had nothing to do with the cold wind that had been
blowing since dusk’s end. As the warrior-turned-clergyman from the
far off Jungles of Shi studied the orbs, he concluded they were closer.
He realized that Ahriman, The Shadow King, was looking down di-
rectly at him. His eyes fell to the ground and he reflexively began
chanting a prayer of protection, a prayer to Luk-Coo. “What have I
done?” he thought to himself. “What chaos have I fallen into to avoid
the fate of the faithless?” His eyes never left the ground again as he
ran full-force back to the walls and ceilings of the temple.
Doim, quick to assert his authority, stated in Pelganese, “Well, if ya
have anythin’ ta say ta ‘dis bastard, have it out now den. Den we’ll be
off ta da stonework of da temple, will be better off dan bein’ out here
in the cold.” The ferrum pulled his orange blood-smeared cloak about
himself. He could not recall having ever been out on a night this cold
before. He looked at the others, then shook his head and headed back
for the comforts of a stone hearth.
Once Doim had departed the group, Jypyr stumbled towards Koe-
nus, saying in Pelganese, “I... I just wanted to thank you,” he winced as
he spoke. “I won’t forget what you did for me tonight. I owe you and
a debt from me is as good as gold. You might have saved my life... I
cannot tell you how much that.”
Koenus interrupted him saying, “There needed to be no more
killing tonight. No one else dies, not even you, pretty one. We need
both, you and him, you need to know that too before you go and
cause problems between him and new big lady. You say you owe
me? Then you think, got it?”
Jypyr slowly nodded his badly swollen head. Then he turned to the

24
dead body and begun kicking it. This caused Erik who was looking just
over the freyaen’s shoulder to begin his high pitched nervous whine. Erik
turned towards the road and ran with abandon towards it. So thoughtless
was his dash that he crashed three times face-first into trees before making
his way out of the woods. With looks of disgust towards Jypyr, who was
still kicking the dead body, the viagyshes departed.
Evan Hycro waited for several minutes while Jypyr continued his
tantrum. Finally, the battered freyaen’s adrenaline rush began to wear
off and he staggered away from the corpse. As Jypyr made his way out
of the woods, Evan squatted down near A-Ya’s face. He pulled the front
of his own white robe forward towards the dead man’s eyes. Then he
stuck his fingers into the bloody eyelids and pulled them open. “Do you
see this?” he screamed in Pelganese, “This! This was all you thought
of me. I was nothing more than an acolyte in your eyes. It was my el-
der that died! The founder of my clan whom you claimed to have been
trained by, whom you claimed to have loved. But while he was fighting
for Luk-Coo, what were you doing? Nothing! And that’s why you lived
cycles after he died. That’s why the Enforcers’ minions haven’t even
come here. Because you were a weakling that saw the god of the dying
light as a god of beauty, of nature, of light! No, no, I say to you, the
rot that is already working your eyes A-Ya Doon is the closest you’ve
ever come to seeing this god, to knowing him. You know nothing! You
died a fool. As much an idiot as that half-wit you kept around. Even
that dog turned on you for the batted eyes of Thela Thorn. This, this is
what Luk-Coo was, the end of life. You get it? You get it now?” The
young human grabbed the crushed crimson head of his former teacher
and shook it by the ears. “No, no, if you were still here, if you could still
hear me, you still would not have understood. You wouldn’t have. Your
god, our god, was a god of growing old. It is ugly, it is terrible, it is the
voiding of bowels, and the ending of life. That is what made Luk-Coo.
That is why I worshiped him, for he had the power of death itself. The
power to end a life. And if he was unpleased with that life, he could
simply force the soulless body to get back up and live without life! To
curse them as he did Loptif, his vengeance was strong. He was power-
ful. He was not a god of white moths and beauty. You coward! His

25
power was so mighty that he was going to bring back the elder creator
Ahuramazda, the dead gold dragon that is the sun, as his undead thrall.
We would have ruled K’Vega-Thale, the priest kings of the true god.
All would have been ours in an eternal dusk, as the dead gold dragon
danced on the edge of the world. That is what the five Enforcers took
from us. That is why you should have fought and died like my elder
did. But you, you coward, you did nothing! The Hycro’s are the tribe
of dusk. We are Luk-Coo’s sacred warriors. You were found wanting,
but my blade corrected that. Your other clergy, they are fools, even big-
ger fools than you, to give their breath to Loptif, the whore of Luk-Coo.
Vampyrs are not gods, but the others are cowards who need someone to
protect them. I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you all of this, but I, I
too was a coward. I should have smacked you in the mouth the day you
said we would not be joining the frontlines of the fight for our god. I
should have gone and when the Long Night ends, I will go, for my place
is not amongst traitors.” His anger spilled, he dropped A-Ya’s head on
the leaves. “I just wanted you to know. I just wanted you to know this
was personal and I’m glad you’re dead.” With that, he turned from the
body and made his way back to the road. Upon reaching the road he
stripped his white robe off, dropping it into the dirt of the long trail to
the city of Trade as he made his way back to the temple on the high hill.
A-Ya Doon stood over his desecrated broken corpse as it lay upon a
bed of dried leaves on the forest floor. Thela Thorn’s words continued
to push to the forefront of his thoughts and the longer they did, the closer
he came to believing them. He whispered absently to himself. Though
he knew that even if others were about in the land of the living, they
would not hear the words of the dead. “Thela is wrong. You are out
there. Though I wait in anguish, unclaimed, still tied to my abandoned
flesh, I do not forsake you in my mind or my heart. I heard the words of
all the traitors. I was a shepherd who unknowingly tended wolves and
so was set upon by them when they felt hunger pangs of faith. They are
weak, they are ugly. I never saw how ugly they were before. In death,
my eyes are open. For that which is weak is ugly and that which is ugly
is false... only beauty is true. All this time you did not want me in the
church. I failed to truly believe that the face I saw when I closed my

26
eyes was my truth that was the truth you showed me, the vision was
your omen. How could I be so blind? I thought I must put you first,
I thought the vision of her was a test. I thought she was to be pursued
only when I was ready. I thought I’d have time for her when my work
was done. You sent me the visions over and over. It was you, my
Lord, who showed me this vision and only now, when it is too late to
act, do I understand. Only in her perfect beauty could I have found an
ally to rebuild your sacred church. You wanted us to burn the ugliness
out of your ranks. I failed you.” As the soft-spoken words fell from
his incorporeal lips, they sent a shock of shame so deep through his
essence that he fell silent.
He stood there in silence and waited as the eyes of Ahriman crept
closer to K’Vega-Thale with each passing hour. When the twin moons
finally turned orange, he knew that the last day of the Long Night was
beginning. Steadily through this day he prayed, beseeching his Lord
to claim his soul with the first rays of Elsam’s dawn. Luk-Coo held no
sway on The Long Night of the Hunting Moons. This was Ahriman’s
day. A-Ya understood that he had to wait for The Day of All Dawn
before his soul would be saved. Assuming that his Lord would even
consider saving the soul of such a failure. And if Luk-Coo would not,
then he would accept the Hell that awaited him with mute dignity.
Then there she was the only star that ever shown in the night’s sky.
With the appearance of the distant pinkish-white light in the heavens,
A-Ya knew his salvation or damnation was at hand. His soul would be
judged. If his god still lived and he knew in his heart that Luk-Coo did.
“It’ll only be an hour now and I’ll see you again. Please, please come to
me, let me look upon your radiance and make me a line upon the eternal
sunset. Though I failed you, do not forsake your servant, my Lord.”
A-Ya’s prayer was interrupted by a hissing sound. He followed it,
craning his neck to the right. As she came into view, he thought if
beauty was truth, then this thing was a living lie. Whatever she was, she
was impossibly ugly. Standing seven feet tall with skin the color of the
night sky, her nose was long, her flesh was wizened and warty, her eyes
were pinpricks of yellow-blue light, and her toothless face twisted into
a smile. She motioned towards him with her quadruple-jointed fingers

27
which ended in three-inch-long, wickedly curved claws.
“Child, you look so sad all alone with nobody,” the living obscenity
spoke in Cinderian, the language of the goddess of beauty. The choice
seemed so utterly at odds with the creature’s hideous appearance that
it left A-Ya trying to contemplate the language more than the words.
“Come with me. Take my hand. I will set you free of your pain... for-
ever.” She tried to twist her wretched face into a pleasant visage as she
looked him over hungrily.
“What are you? Who are you?” the priest asked.
“I am freedom, I am Baba Noc. Take my hand, trust me,” her eyes
shown with hate as she spoke.
“I failed in my life because I did not trust in the one thing I
should,” he said.
“Yes, yes, that is it. Trust. Come and I will wash you of your pain.”
She was interrupted as A-Ya said, “The thing I did not trust.”
Baba Noc cut him off, “Yes, yes, tell me, tell me what it was,” she said
as she circled round him, bobbing her head like a serpent about to strike.
“It was beauty and it is the only thing I will ever trust in again – now
get away from me, repulsive hag!” he bellowed.
Then A-Ya felt a singe of numb coldness rush though his form as
the beast tore at his soul. A-Ya knew the spirit world, and while he had
never heard of such a monster as this, he knew all too well that souls
had value and that there were scavengers on the periphery of the living
world that sought those riches for the most unwholesome of reasons.
He also understood that these beings were easily encountered on this
blasphemous night, which all sane people avoid in the sanctuary of their
homes. Baba Noc slashed him again. Reflexively, he cried out, “Luk-
Coo do not forsake me, to the talons of this hideous creature slithering
on the threshold...” he stopped in mid-sentence as the pink hues of El-
sam lit the black heavens.
Baba Noc eyed them with disgust, returning to her serpentine mo-
tions as she readied the final strike. “What necromancy be this?” she
shrieked in horror. And with that, she disappeared.
A-Ya could feel something surging around him as the wind picked
up. The leaves around his body rose up and swirled around his soul. As

28
he studied the veins in the leaves, they spoke to him and he deciphered
their messages in a low voice, “My cherished one, you are no fool. You
are the last true believer I have. The others – all the others – have for-
gotten me. They have betrayed me. But you have been true. From you
I have learned the wisdom of beauty.”
Then from behind him, a voice smooth as the night wind spoke,
“Though I did die at the hands of four gods and an angel, your faith has
sustained me. I am weak, my light nearly snuffed out. But if you go
now, we go to oblivion together. Love me. Fight for me.”
The thought passed A-Ya’s mind before it could exit his incorporeal
mouth, and by the time he could form the word, “Yes,” he found it came
not from the soul, but from the broken jaw of his body. He looked up in
amazement at the pinkish light of dawn as it shown down from between
the canopy of trees. Everything seemed so hyper-real, the colors were
brighter, the wind sharper against his skin. As he became fully aware of
his body, so too did he become aware of his pain. His body was broken,
destroyed and while he felt so much, he also felt oddly numb as if his
whole body were asleep. He looked around as he struggled to stand,
grasping the sunset roses that had been cast upon him by his desert-
ers in his left hand, but the voice from the leaves was gone. He felt so
hungry. He was starving, but not in his belly. It was a different kind of
hunger. He hungered for light, as he begun to stagger out of the woods.
A pounding sound was coming from somewhere out there. Why would
a drummer be out this morning, he thought? The sound called to him,
with promises of all he needed. For a moment he feared he might be
enchanted. Then he understood it was not the drummer. It was the
drumming which compelled his broken body forward.
As he came to the edge of the woods, there was no drummer to be
seen. Instead, his purple eyes were drawn to a man carrying a staff and a
mace. A man named Evan Hycro. A-Ya waited for the man to come clos-
er. The drumming became louder as he did. Instinctually, A-Ya lurched
towards him as if drawn by gravity. As his body moved forward, A-Ya
felt as if he had been relegated to passenger within his own flesh. Quicker
than he could have imagined, his hands were upon the treacherous youth.
The drumming grew louder as the man yelled in alarm.

29
“You, you are dead! I took you with my own dagger... you will not
have me, shade!” he roared with as much confidence as a trembling man
could exude, striking A-Ya squarely in the face with his staff.
The force of the blow snapped A-Ya out of his moving trance. His
eyes flared, shifting from purple to red as his right hand grasp Evan’s
chest, “In the twilight of dawn, Luk-Coo spoke to me. He has given me
salvation, resurrection, and he has sent me to you with a message.”
Evan’s eyes were stricken with fear but he pressed it out as he spoke,
“Resurrection? You, you are dead. You are cursed to the threshold of
two worlds. What message do you bring me from our Lord, revenant?
Speak it now and have your hands off me.”
A-Ya tried to focus on the words but the drumming was too much,
too loud, too beautiful, “He says there is beauty within you, but it is
encased within ugliness. He has sent me here to release it. It is time
for your salvation.” With the palm of A-Ya’s hand pressed firmly
against Evan’s chest, he said, “My body is twisted, broken, and starv-
ing in darkness. I feel the light beating within you.” With that, a surge
of all the colors of dusk spiraled down the high priest’s right arm in a
counterclockwise motion. They ripped into Evan’s form, sending him
into violent convulsions. Once the ritual’s assault had subsided, the
softer colors of sunset slid back up the Dusklord’s arm as he drained
the young man’s life force. As the drumming beats crescendoed into
a spastic disjointed cacophony, it dawned upon A-Ya that this was
the sound of a massive heart attack. The music it made was ecstasy.
The sweet nectar of the youth’s vitality flooded A-Ya with the danc-
ing beauty of life. Light replaced the darkness the traitors had forced
upon him. It was so gentle and complete, the way it restitched his
ruined flesh. Nearly a hundred stab wounds were repaired with liquid
life while dozens of broken bones, along with his crushed skull were
reconstructed in a popping symphony of healing. By the time the
Dusklord dropped the corpse, it no longer bore any resemblance to
Evan. Instead, it was like the dried out husk of an elderly man who
had been left to rot in the sun for twenty cycles.
In the presence of the young priest’s light, the hunger and dark-
ness that plagued the Dusklord were obliterated. In his revenge, A-Ya

30
felt a kinship with the lad as he leaned over the desiccated corpse and
whispered, “Thank you.” Evan’s words seemed so clear in the calm
stillness – and of course the Dusklord understood they were true. A-Ya
Doon had been brought back, but not by a god of resurrection, he was
no longer a man but a thing that lingered between the cusp of life and
death. Still, he had studied undead for years. Their intricacies were
basic knowledge for priests of dusk. In his form, he noted the absence
of nine of those conditions and the presence of an equal number of signs
of life. Upon pondering it, he concluded that he was not dead, alive, or
undead but something different. The energies that compelled him to re-
turn to the land of the living were the negative energies which propelled
and sustained the undead. But they were also the positive energies of
birth, light, and life. How could they exist together, he thought? He did
not know, but as his thoughts shifted to the face of beauty, his faith as-
sured him he would find the answer. She would be his and the children
she bore him would be the foundation upon which the new church of
Luk-Coo would be built. He plucked two petals from a sunset rose and
laid them over the corpse’s still-open eyes. A day would come for the
righteous destruction of those that infested the temple on the high hill,
but now he knew he must move far from here.

31
4
Nearly all of Freyaheim had turned out for the night-long celebra-
tion to wish Aeffinea well before she headed out of their ancestral home
to heed the call of honor. Despite her pink hair, which marked her to all
freyaen as one born under the hateful rays of Elsam’s dawn, Aeffinea
was widely respected by the adults of her community for her strength of
character and sincere manner, while many young freyaen idolized her for
her beauty and courage. This led to many people vying for her attention
during the night. Though she was betrothed to Thur, she received favors
from many men who still hoped she might one day be theirs. Many young
girls who one day wanted to be valiant warriors like Aeffinea swarmed
around her throughout the event, seeking any parting words of wisdom.
Aeffinea approached Thur, who had made sure she had seen him,
but avoided her throughout the feast, saying, “I know this is confusing
to you, but I have been summoned by something bigger than myself. I
must undertake this journey. I must see it to conclusion. Only then will
I be able to come back and be what this place needs me to be. I hope
you can understand. This is what I must do.”
“You were to be mine,” Thur said. “Our parents arranged this when
we were but children. Now that the time draws so close, you choose to
leave. Admit it. It is me. Isn’t it? I’m the reason you’re leaving!”
Aeffinea calmly responded, “No, this has nothing to do with you.”
“Something is different in you. Your eyes hold the truth of your
feelings back,” Thur said impatiently. “Tell me! Why won’t you just
tell me? Why are you keeping this a mystery from me, from every-
one? What is it you are hiding? Why can’t you be honest with me?
Is there another man?”
Aeffinea, “There is no other man. I don’t owe you or anyone else
an explanation for what I’m about to do. I’ve told you all I’m going to.
I’m leaving to take care of something. Something I must do. That is it.”
Thur snapped, “I don’t know what happened, I don’t know what
I did but it’s as clear as the amber in your eyes, you don’t love me
anymore. Do you?”

32
Aeffinea frowned, looking down into her betrothed’s eyes. “I…”
She paused, feeling her heart breaking a little bit at having to say, “I
don’t think I do.” She turned, not wanting to see Thur cry, and walked
away from him, mumbling, “I’m sorry.”
Although she remained level, the sadness of losing Thur clung to
Aeffinea, preventing her from enjoying the rest of the night. She sim-
ply smiled and nodded as the guests spoke to her of great tales and of-
fered their congratulations on her receiving a divine quest. All of them
seemed to think Dazazya herself had called the vivacious young woman
to holy adventure. While Aeffinea did not correct any of them, she did
not say anything to reinforce their beliefs, either. She did not know nor
did she attempt to convey that she had any idea who had called her, but
she was certain it was not the goddess of the daydream. The Song still
haunted her even over the noise of the party. Those far off notes pulled
at her attention, leaving her seeming distracted and nervous.
Aeffinea did not linger once the party had begun to fade. She
made her way back to her room and dressed for bed. Her bed was typ-
ical of her people, a vaguely circular shape which stood about two feet
off the ground. It was composed of soft golden reed roots which had
fuzzy retractable fibers. As she pulled those fibers back, she lovingly
scooped up Heimdall, embracing the baby cockatrice. She assumed
the resting meditative position of the freyaen – a people who did not
sleep to dream but sat eyes open as their thoughts ventured into the fey
realm from which they were spun.
A loud shaking of the reeds outside her door startled her out of her
trance. A fist-sized hole appeared, through which Aeffinea could see
her mother’s face. “Daughter, oh, I did not mean to pull you from the
dream. I see you are truly eager to be on your way to risk night rest.
While it may seem like a trivial thing to dare the Nightmare here in your
own bed, I pray to the light that you do not attempt such foolishness
outside of the protection of our home. The open road is a lonely place
full of fears and terrible things. Do not court their attention. I wanted
to give you this in the light after dawn in front of our people. But at the
first rays, I noticed you were nowhere to be found.”
“Yes mother, there were too many questions, just too many. I had

33
to get away. To be in my room a little while longer. To be a little girl
one last time. And then, well, Thur and I… I think I might have broken
his heart. I didn’t mean to, I just... I don’t know… I don’t think I love
him, I don’t think I ever did. Please, please don’t be mad.” She rose,
placing Heimdall upon the bed, walked to her mother and embraced her.
“I know you worked so hard to find me a good match from the time I
was born. I know it was not easy for you to find a man that would take
a pink-haired dawn maiden as his wife, but…”
“It’s fine, child,” her mother cut her off. “I see it written all over
you now. I had hoped this love I saw about your spirit was for your se-
lected. The matching, his family, it all made sense in many ways. Even
though it is my right, I will not force you into the arms of a man whose
children’s faces you could not see in your dreams. So does this calling
of yours have something to do with this love that seems to be distracting
you from all else?” she said with a thoughtful look upon her face.
“No… yes, I, I, I don’t know. It was so real it made life seem like
an illusion. All I can tell you is that I was called. And by my honor,
I will accept.”
She ran her hands through her daughter’s pink silky hair as she
spoke, “All your life you’ve embodied honor so fully. There is no moth-
er in Freyaheim more proud of her daughter than I am of you. Come
child, I have something I wish to give you,” and with that, they with-
drew into the living room. Upon a raised golden reed table Aeffinea
saw her mother’s curved blade and light woven armor. “These are the
finest things I have. Today, they are yours. I would be honored to put
Valdyr Daudadagr, my mother’s khopesh, into your able hands. You do
your name proud. I hope you will proudly wear this blade and armor,
quilted from the golden reed and the light of the sun. As a warrior of
Freyaheim, remember that your greatest strength is your mind – for your
will shall never be broken. May gentle winds be upon your back.”
“Thank you, mother,” she said as they embraced again. “Keep
Heimdall well,” Aeffinea’s father called as she pulled away, smiling all
the while. She embraced him as well, and turned without another word
to ready herself for the day’s journey. Thirty minutes later, with the en-
ticing song still beckoning from somewhere beyond her experience, she

34
left the only home she had ever known for the wonder of the road.
The road east seemed welcoming for the first day, with many kind
freyaen faces along the way, merchant neighbors she had known her
whole life. They were pleasant and readily shared their campfires and
stories with her. But as she progressed past the lands in the shadow of
Freyaheim, the smiles and invitations were replaced by suspicion and
whispers. They were her own people, pale or golden but to them she
was other. The way they scurried from the path as she approached and
whispered small prayers to Dazazya or Ahuramazda brought tears to
Aeffinea’s eyes. She tried to prove herself to the first few dozen, but it
seemed all that looked upon her judged her only by the color of her hair.
As the days passed, this began to wear on her. The lack of community
and being refused a place at the night’s fire as if she were some sort of
monster caused her to thank Ahriman for the first time in her life for
providing a time when others could not see her crying. The constant
rejection slowly eroded her calm disposition and may have caused her
to turn back for home, had it not been for the continual majesty of the
song, which seemed to get a little louder with every step. Try as she
might to pierce the wall of the dreaming with every meditation, she
could arrive at nothing more than dreams.
Nearly a third of a cycle had passed by the time Aeffinea could see
the massive stone, that marked the end of Roduland, looming in the dis-
tance. Easily still a day’s travel away the thought of stepping foot out-
side the lands of her own people filled her with exhilaration. It causes
her to redouble her strides and even skip her daily meditation. As night
fell, the marker stone still seemed impossibly far off. After pushing on
through the darkness for several hours, she eventually needed to stop
and rest her weary body. She sat by the fire for hours, watching the
darkness, but being a creature of the day, her eyes were poorly suited
to the task. Far down the road in the same direction from whence she
came, she noticed another light. It was moving. Across the open grass-
lands, it drew towards her, which struck her as odd. It was not the cus-
tom of her people to travel through darkness. Even though the pink star
which heralded dawn was moving through the sky, few of her people
would have risked starting out this early.

35
“Greetings,” a man’s voice called to her from the darkness as the
torch came closer. At first Aeffinea could only see a silhouetted form
behind the torch. The light filled in more and more details the closer it
came. He was tall, with pale skin and refined features. Unless it was
a trick of shading of the way his face was cast by the torch light in the
predawn, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.
Her spirit rose at the opportunity for company. The role of outcast
suited her disposition poorly. Aeffinea felt a smile spread across her
lips at the first kind word she had heard in over twenty days. Then the
smile fell from her face as she contemplated the truth. This stranger
could no better see her than she could see him. He surely thought she
was a normal maiden, not one touched by the dawn. Aeffinea knew
that the kindness would flee from the stranger’s countenance as soon as
he came close enough to discern the pink of her hair. She glanced up
again at the heavens, knowing that him finding her just before daybreak
might be enough of a start for him to become hostile. While she would
normally not give a second thought to the idea of a freyaen male posing
a danger, this one gave her pause, as he was the first she had ever seen
that appeared to be both taller and larger than her.
Aeffinea kept her eyes on the low flame of her campfire as the broad-
shouldered man approached her. “Gentle winds, what a sight you are.”
She shot to her feet, “I did not ask you to come to my camp! I did
not ask for this,” she pointed to her pink hair but then stopped as she
gazed into the handsome stranger’s brilliant pink eyes. “You? You
are one like me?”
The left side of his mouth crooked into a smile, then he tossed his
torch into her campfire, “Yes, girl, I too am touched by the dawn. You
would have done better to have traveled, as I, through the night. Our
greatest terrors are people not found there. Do not fear the dark.”
“I fear nothing, for I am a warrior of light,” she rebuked his words
in a fiery tone as she strode towards him. She extended her hand,
placing it on his shoulder. As she touched him, the anger fled her
form as it was quickly replaced by feelings of a whole different sort of
aggression. She could not believe how muscular he was. The contact
between their bodies caused her to swallow hard, “If you are afraid, I

36
will escort you from these lands. I think it should be no more than a
day’s walk to reach the border,” she said absently as her hand began to
trace its way down his body.
“Before your hand gets any lower perhaps we should exchange
names,” he said with a sly smile.
Blush rose from the dawn maiden’s cheeks, “Umm, I, umm, no. It
wasn’t...” she stammered, trying to think of anything other than how
firm the muscles of his stomach were.
He pressed his right index finger to her mouth, glancing down to her
hand, which was nearly to his belt. He placed his hands on her hips and
effortlessly pulled her forward, pressing her body against his. Aeffinea
could not believe how strong he was. She had never felt hands like
these or had to look up into the eyes of a male. It sent feelings through
her that caused the blush in her cheeks to intensify. As the stranger
breathed heavily onto her neck he said, “I am Mickoeliss.”
She thought it odd that she had never heard this name before. She
ceased to think as he held her hips tight against his and kissed her. Kiss-
ing him was so different from kissing Thur. As he laid her upon the
soft ground, she surrendered to him. Mickoeliss’s hands were strong
and busy as his lips worked hers with passionate precision. She obeyed
his moves but kissed him back deeply, releasing the fire of her anguish
upon his lips. Their kissing so enraptured her that she did not even
notice that she was completely naked until she felt his large, thick shaft
pressing against her maidenhood. Her amber eyes widened with fear as
he pierced her virginity. She cried out in surprise, anger, lust and ac-
ceptance as they made love under the pink rays of dawn.
With every thrust Aeffinea felt the void of loneliness within her be-
ing filled by his desire, by his acceptance. It was not just the road, the
road and those she had met on it had just exacerbated her condition to
the point she could no longer ignore it. She was born of dawn’s pink
light, not the pale light of morning or afternoon or the exalted golden
light of the high sun. She was little better than a demon in the eyes of
those who did not know her. As she coupled with Mickoeliss, she knew
the same was true for him.
A deep hot rush built quickly inside her as she arched her back,

37
gripping her lover tightly as her body became consumed by a relentless
shivering. Ecstasy so profound it changed her very way of looking at
the world. As it ended, she lay quietly unsure of what would happen
next. Then she felt him empty his swollen manhood insider her with a
chorus of moans and a cascade of soft kisses upon her lips.
With his final moan, Mickoeliss collapsed on top of Aeffinea. He
was still inside her, but as their lovemaking was done, she was unsure
what to do. So she simply placed her arms around him and grasped him
tightly, allowing him to remain inside her until he finally rolled off into
the grass. In the early morning light all the obfuscation of the night was
laid bare, so Aeffinea could study his nude body. Not only was he the
largest person she had ever seen, he was also the fittest. As Aeffinea ex-
amined his physique, she felt the fires of passion rise within her again.
“I am Aeffinea,” she said as she threw her leg over him, straddling his
waist she took his manhood in her hand and put it inside her. She used
all the lessons she had learned on riding lizards to bring her lovemak-
ing to a symmetrical rhythm. Her hips bucked up and down, taking her
lover’s manhood as deep as she dared while sitting straight up with her
hands on his chest.
Soon the quivering feeling of supreme closeness washed over her
again as she collapsed on top of him. Mickoeliss did not allow her to
rest instead he rolled back over on top of her. Putting her long, ath-
letically trim legs upon his shoulders, he drove himself into her with
relentless passion. She could not believe how deep he was going,
and Aeffinea quickly found herself on the brink of another shudder-
ing orgasm. She pleaded with short breath, “Slow down, I... I don’t
know if I can take this.”
He raised the left side of his mouth in a mock smile, “You’ll take
what I give you.” Confusion shown in her amber eyes as he spoke
to her, but despite the pain that accompanied his harsh invasion, she
could not help but climax again under the skill of his lovemaking. Just
when she could not take any more of his deep probing, he pulled out
of her roughly, flipping her onto her stomach then pulling her to her
knees. When presented in this way, her small toned backside looked
much like a ripe apple. She waited as he mounted her. Relentless in

38
his probing of her depths, the sex was dizzying to her. She felt her
calmness being stripped away as she surrendered another orgasm to
his manhood, which exhausted her so much that her face fell into the
dewy grass of the field. She concentrated on how close his breaths
were coming together, and then she felt him withdraw. A moment
later she could feel him spilling his speed on her backside. Once he
finished she collapsed to the ground.
“That was amazing,” she mumbled up to him.
“I’m glad you enjoyed it; thank you for giving it to me, thank you
for giving me the very last of your resistance.”
“Resistance?” she asked as she heard him stand.
“Yes, the last of your calm. Hold what I just gave you tight against
your mind. You will need its comfort,” his tone was haughty. As he
spoke, she watched his shadow move across the dewy grass. As the
shadow of his arm reached, it was obscured by another shadow – a shad-
ow that should not be there.
What was that shadow from? As she followed its outline, a shock
of cold ran through her limbs. Goosebumps rose on her extremities as
she realized it was cast by the wings growing out of his back. “How
could you be so stupid?” she screamed inside her head. “How could
you allow one of them to take you, to end your maidenhood?” Aeffinea
looked up as she felt something wet glide down her forehead; it was
coarse and had a deep groove running through it. When his long, split
tongue slid into her field of vision, her thoughts were confirmed: this
was one of Elsam’s children. Small barbs protracted from his tongue,
hooking into the undersides of her eyelids – and as it pulled them back,
she felt his rough tongue touch her eyeballs. Her body convulsed vio-
lently as she watched long, ghostly bluish-white tendrils emerge from
her eyes. The beast was drinking her essence. If her training was true
then it would only be seconds before it had devoured her soul.
Aeffinea summoned up what little poise she had left and flipped to
her back. Muscle memory took over as the revealed form of her lover
looked down upon her. Mickoeliss’s tongue extended over four feet
from his mouth. His eyes were now solid glowing pink, while his ears
were wider, bat-like as were the wings which jutted from his back. Aef-

39
finea’s primal survival instinct took over. She wrenched away so vio-
lently from the beast that her eyelids were nearly ripped from her head.
The stinging, burning pain that coursed through her face caused her to
vomit upon the ground as tears welled in her savaged eyes.
Mickoeliss retracted his tongue as he pulled a long, wicked metal-
spiked club from his pack. With a smile he swung the blood-encrusted
instrument of death at her naked form. The quickness with which she
flipped herself over gave her a slight advantage over Mickoeliss, who
had clearly not expected her to react at all. This advantage was the only
one she had, but it allowed her to reflexively place a kick to his stomach.
Aeffinea’s reflexes were sharp enough to allow her to keep the
morningstar from connecting with her face. But they were not quite
fast enough, as the weapon struck viciously against her left shoulder.
The snapping of her clavicle filled her ears as the metal pierced her
flesh, sizzling and burning upon impact. Never before had she felt
such pain. She knew the spikes must be T’Hoolian Blood Iron – the
scourge of her people. As she rolled away, it ripped through her shoul-
der, leaving vicious gouges which poured blood onto the ground. She
screamed, but only inwardly. She would not let rage strip her of what-
ever shred of tranquility she had left, nor would she give this angel of
dawn the joy of hearing her pain.
“I will have you now! This is over, your soul is mine. Do not fight
the pain. It is a blessing. Your death shall help the Princess of the Dawn
revive the dead sun. How dare you fight against the honor that is your
fate!” Though he still spoke the language, his voice sounded nothing like
the cocky freyaen who had just made love to her. The incubus swung his
morningstar down once again. But as he did, she found the pommel of
Valdyr Daudadagr, her mother’s sickle-shaped khopesh. With a flick of
her wrist, the mystical blade tore through the left knee of her attacker. Un-
like her, his howls filled the empty field, but no blood or sinew fell from
the wound. In its stead, there was a gooey orange-pink liquid that trailed
down his leg. As it reached the halfway point, the liquid began to turn to
mist which was caught on the light morning breeze.
The counterstrike skewed the trajectory of his blow, causing it to
land right beside her face. She could feel a stinging in her right ear, a

40
spike had grazed her. Aeffinea tried to lunge forward, but was trapped
under the morningstar which pinned her long hair to the ground. She
desperately thrust her blade directly upward, catching him in the stom-
ach. Once her blow had landed, she drove the blade deeper, twisting
it into the wound. The angel roared in pain and staggered backward,
pressing his hands against the open wound. It poured out not only
the same fluid, but also a bright white, wispy nearly translucent form.
Aeffinea gasped as she saw the soul of one of her people wriggle free
from the belly of this monstrosity. “Fly, may the wind usher you to the
light,” she quietly prayed.
The long iron spikes of the star dug deeply into the ground, pin-
ning her pink hair beneath it. Without a second thought, she placed her
khopesh behind her and sliced through her own silky mane. Before
the beast could regroup, she was upon him, slashing her blade in an arc
which cut its way upward, leaving a deep wound from his rib cage to
his shoulder. Then the nude Solen Kriger kicked him right in the open
wound of his stomach as she went to follow it up with another strike.
Mickoeliss’s clawed hand was upon her throat. She had been impressed
with his strength in his freyaen form. That seemed an illusion when
faced with the reality of his powerful vice-grip upon her neck. She
gurgled as the sleepless dream of unconsciousness began to envelop her.
As she passed from the world she saw the blue-skinned beauty kneel-
ing, waiting, and singing that rapturous song. A song that begged for
release, for help, a song that was true love spun through living art.
When her eyes opened, the pressure in her face was so great from
the mighty squeezing it endured that she feared her eyes would pop from
her head. In fact, she felt more fear than she had ever imagined pos-
sible. So much so that she had readied herself to die from its abusive
oppression. Life was not her own to surrender for she had vowed to save
the singer. Aeffinea would release her. Her body took over as the singer
played through her mind. She reached into the angel’s wound, which was
even now knitting itself together. The one word she could use to describe
how it felt to be inside the angel was wrong, utterly wrong. This thing
had no body of flesh. It was something of another world. Upon entering
him she felt things squirming unwholesomely over her forearm. Even in

41
the face of this alien feeling, she did not relent. Instead, she pushed into
him as deeply as he had pushed into her. When she felt she could go no
further, she gripped what she found and pulled it from his gaping wound
with all she had left within her. She could not see what she held in her
hand, but it was slippery, eel-like, and flopped around violently. As she
grasped the thing tightly, she heard a terrible snapping sound come from
her neck. Then everything went dark.

42
5
It was difficult to keep track of time on Elsam’s day, for it con-
sisted of nothing but a long dawn whose twilight lasted twenty-four
hours. A-Ya Doon had never been more glad to see the soft light.
Still, combined with the trauma of the past few hours, it had left him
more than a little disoriented as he rambled through the crude trails of
the northern hills. This was a dangerous land, full of creatures that ate
people. This fact returned to A-Ya’s mind as the wind shifted, assault-
ing his nose with a musky stench.
The smell gave him just enough time to turn as an enormous form
leapt from the shadowy hills above. “Father, place your hand upon my
heart, so that no other may find my flesh,” he chanted. As the words
of power escaped his lips, his body shuddered as he felt the force of
the dying light move up from his stomach, through his chest, down
his outstretched arms and into his hands, which were pressed togeth-
er at his skyward pointing index fingers. Upon finishing the chant,
he moved his hands apart quickly arching them downward causing a
crescent of dark purple energy to appear directly in front of him. The
creature struck the semicircular energy hanging in space as if it were a
stone wall. The force of the impact sent fine cracks spidering through-
out the ephemeral barrier. As the creature slid to the ground, the dark
purple light disappeared.
From the smell of the beast he knew she was lactating. She looked
something like a large grizzly bear with a wide protracted snout. Her
long yet powerfully thick legs, which were more similar to those of a
deer than of a bear, ended in goat-like hooves. As the creature rose,
her dark green fur began to writhe, lifting off her back and contorting
forward. Each fiber was three to four feet in length. The quills were
secreting balls of black liquid at the ends of each of a hundred pointed
whip-like hairs. Upon observing the poison, it dawned on A-Ya that this
must be a galrunda. He had never seen this creature before, but had read
several descriptions of it. He knew the beast’s instinct was to paralyze
him with this toxin so that she may drag his still living body back to her

43
layer to feed to her young over the course of the next few days. On most
of the other days on his life, this realization would not have angered him
as much as it did right now. As the beast whipped out dozens of her ten-
drils at him, A-Ya spread his arms out wide, allowing the tips to pierce
into his flesh. As they dug into him, they began to piston back and forth,
viciously injecting venom into the holes they made.
The poison did not stun him, though he found it burned within his
veins. And as that pain coursed through him, he felt utterly alive. He
threw his head back and envisioned her hauntingly elusive face, scream-
ing to that image of his love, “Truth, I come to you! Time, space, and all
obstacles they impose shall wither away until we are face to face. Beast,
you chose wrong! I shall feast on your quills as if they were a hundred
teats. As your life flows into me, I step closer to destiny.” The wind
stopped suddenly as his speech drew to a close. Everything was utterly
still as he drank the creature’s life force through her own long hairs. As
he finished, she dropped to the ground an inert shriveled husk.
He staggered away from the galrunda. The sensation of her life
force flowing through him left A-Ya feeling overwhelmed. A cascade
of images of his perfect love flooded his mind in the wake of the rush.
He fell to one knee and mumbled to himself for several minutes as
the feelings of life slowly ebbed from his dead flesh, ushering in the
abrasive return of cold reason.
“Well, that was the something new. What kind of freak are you?”
a gravelly voice called in Pelganese. A-Ya blinked. Raising his head,
he settled his eyes upon the speaker. It was a man of the mountains:
a seven-foot-tall, red-skinned, sharp-toothed creature, well known in
these parts. A-Ya had seen ogres before, but this one was particularly
well-muscled even for his brutish people. A-Ya recognized the black
hooking tattoo on the right side of his face that descended from the bot-
tom of his earlobe to his chin as the brand of the banished. This fey of
rage had done something so horrible that even other ogres had turned
their backs on him.
“I simply wish to return to my travels through these northern hills.
There is no need for violence between us. Let there be peace,” the
priest said in a humble tone.

44
“You know what I am, yet you say there is no need for violence,”
the ogre laughed. “What’s going to happen here? Well who knows…
wait, I do. You see purple eyes, what’s going to happen here is one of
two things and it’s the first that you want. ‘Cause the second is that
thing you don’t want to have happen between the two of us. That’s me
leaving you not in peace but in pieces. But the first, well, that leads to
me not leaving you at all. At least not until I’m done with your stink-
ing human hide. What I’m saying is, I ain’t so popular around here and
someone with your skill at, umm, eating life would be just what I need,”
the black-leather-clad fey said threateningly.
A-Ya pushed the residual dizziness from the taking of life from
his head. The words “purple eyes” made him think of Thela Thorn.
He knew that Loptif may well have commanded the traitors to trail
him through the hills and that the beast’s shriveled form was far too
conspicuous a clue to leave behind. This worrisome notion made the
idea of this wall-sized man accompanying him intriguing. Besides,
the fey had to know his way through these hills and a guide would
be welcome. A-Ya had seen a few of them before and done a lot of
reading on them, especially in freyaen books Thela had given him.
It seemed the key to dealing with ogres, creatures who were spun
from the essence of mountains and rage, was to always keep them
level. In the calmest tone he could produce, A-Ya said, “If you are
saying you want to come with me, you should know there are those
that wish to do me harm. Even now they may be following my trail.
If you are content to lead me out of these hills away from Trade, then
I welcome you. What shall I call you?”
“Well,” the ogre paused. “Whoever follows walking death must be
a senseless fool. If these fools come for us, they will find out why even
the children of rage fear He Who is Invaded with Violence. But you,
you may call me, Karn Krend, The Hawk That Flies. I’d be happy to
leave these hills. But know this: if you think you’ll be touching me with
that hand of death when we’re done, you’ll come to find out why I am
the Maxim of Your Mind!”
“Maxim of My Mind? That doesn’t even make any sense. Forget it.
I’ll keep my hands to myself,” his voice became lower. “As long as I can.”

45
There was something sad yet terrifying in these words, some-
thing which left Karn thinking perhaps this was a mistake. But he
was not going to walk away from this now. “We will go forward,
what is your name, killer?”
The word killer caught A-Ya by surprise. He did his best not to
show it as he answered, “You may call me A-Ya Doon, now lead us out
of here.” There was silence between them for a long time as Karn led
A-Ya through the windswept hills. A-Ya noticed the faerie carried no
weapons, only a sack and wineskin. They walked through the Day of
All Dawn and through the true light of the Day of Planting before they
reached the edge of the hills. Yet A-Ya continued onward, not coming
to a stop until the first hints of twilight crept into the sky. Upon gazing
upwards to study the heavens, he fell into a deep meditation.
Karn was confused by the human’s odd behavior but he was glad
for the respite. He had never known a human who moved so tire-
lessly. He took the opportunity to sit, pull his boots off and stretch
his legs. Then he sat his sack in his lap, opened it, and produced a
thick leather-bound book.
With the coming of night and the moons of Ahriman, A-Ya concluded
his devotions. Absently his glance fell upon Karn. “You are... reading?”
The words shook the ogre from his tome. “What? Yes.”
“I did not know your people knew how to read.”
A low bass growl issued forth from the fey. “I am not an unlet-
tered simpleton, human.”
A-Ya could see the violence mounting in the mountain fey’s eyes.
“Apologies, it seems I have received poor information. Truly, you have
my thanks for guiding me from the hill country Karn.” A-Ya reached
into his coin purse, producing a few triangular Trade mint gold crowns,
“Please accept this payment for your services.”
Karn slapped his hand away, spilling the coins to the ground. “I’m
not some simple guide to be bought off by that sum and from the mea-
ger jingle of your purse, it seems you need those coins more than I.
No! The reason I took you from that land,” he pointed back towards
the hills. “Well, it was for my own knowledge. Clearly you find it
hard to believe a man of the mountains can have a mind that questions,

46
but my mind does. And I’ll have my answers in full,” Karn stood up,
towering over a foot taller than A-Ya. As he invaded the human’s per-
sonal space, Karn leaned over A-Ya in a way that left him directly over
the top of the priest’s head.
A-Ya had spent very little time around ogres in his life. Still, he
knew they were prone to fits of violence that left the bodies of those
who offended them in piles. “Please, I did not…”
Karn cut him off, “No, you listen to me! I’ll have the answers to my
question before we part ways. I must know... what are you, killer?”
A-Ya thought carefully before looking straight up into the fey’s
eyes. In a voice that did not come across with nearly as much strength
as he had hoped, he said, “I do not know.”
Karn bellowed, “What! Do not lie to me, new man.”
“You may question me, call me killer, and even threaten me,” then
A-Ya raised his voice, “But you will not call me a liar! Liars took ev-
erything from me. Everything! There will never be a word that leaves
my lips that is a prayer to that filthy cunt Loptif.” A-Ya threw his arms
to the side as he looked directly up into the ogre’s eyes, “Rip me into
pieces if you must. If you can. But never call me a lair again or the
warmth in your body will replace the cold in mine, if for only a few mo-
ments of life. Do you understand me?”
Karn began to laugh deeply, “You have a great spine, new man.
Your fury is wondrous. A fire of revenge burns within your gut, fueled
by mountains of rage. Yet you have no idea what to do with such emo-
tions. After all, dead or not, you are nothing but a human. It seems
I shall have to be your guide through these mountains as well. For
you have no idea how to understand these feelings within your betrayed
flesh. But I do – and while I don’t like you, I feel that one day I might.
Now tell me your story,” Karn ordered, then suddenly shoved A-Ya
over, splaying him back-first upon the field.
The words of an offensive ritual began upon A-Ya’s lips, but died
as Karn sat upon the ground beside him. A-Ya did not know what to
make of this companion, but he knew if anyone could lead him through
these emotions, it was this fey, He Who is Invaded with Violence. What
a name, the priest thought to himself. But he was well aware that if he

47
could keep this outcast ogre from ripping him apart, Karn may be the
best chance the living dead man had to survive.
They sat long hours through the night, as A-Ya related his story in
full to Karn, including the face of his dreams and the whispering of his
god. The telling of this tale bonded the two of them through sorrow,
fury, and hope. With a thoughtful look upon his face, Karn spoke, “Well
all I can say is that your words have touched me. These monsters who
did this to you, they’ll be pushing up your purple roses by the time this
tale is through. A great story like this is the reason to live, as my people
see it. These deeds are worth fighting for. If you’ll have me dead man,
I will see you end this story in beauty and blood.”
A-Ya nodded his head several times before settling on words to ex-
press how deeply the offer touched him. But instead he merely said,
“Thank you. Sleep now, sleep for the rest of the night, for in the face of
Elsam we will be moving.” Karn lay down and pretended to go to sleep
as A-Ya stood looking out into the darkness, as the priest’s gaze fell
away from the ogre’s form, Karn extended his hand and slowly picked
the gold coins (the ones he had pretended he did not want) off the ground
before finally falling into dreams of great ancestors and glorious battle.
Ahuramazda had nearly reached its zenith before they found the
Sun’s Trail, the great merchant road, over fifty feet wide, which con-
nected the east to the west. This stretch of road was busy with caravans,
lizard riders, and peoples of many different species moving in each di-
rection. Karn turned to A-Ya saying, “Where to?”
A-Ya looked up and down the road, before saying, “I have no idea...
Let us continue to the west, at least that will put some distance between
us and...” His voice trailed off as they began walking the long even
earthen road. They traveled nearly ten days passing small villages and
farmlands before coming to the southern edge of the Dark Wood of
Fear, the largest forest in the world, home to the wolf faeries. A-Ya had
only read of these strange people in the books of Thela Thorn. In them
he learned, they were the children of Ajyra: god of nightmares and the
eternal enemy of the freyaens. The trees were taller than either of them
had imagined. Their tops seemed to grow together forming a canopy so
tight it virtually barred the passage of light. A-Ya whispered to Karn,

48
“This is a place wise men do not venture.”
Like all others upon the road, they found themselves moving to-
wards its opposite side as they traveled along the southern border of
the wood. Many hours passed in silence under the oppressive shadows
of the colossal trees. Night had fallen, but neither of them planned
to stop and rest in this inhospitable region. Sometime well into the
night, A-Ya began to realize they were being followed by something
or someone just past the threshold of the wood. The feeling left A-Ya
at the first rays of Elsam. In twilight’s illumination he could see the
forest’s end marked by a massive boulder.
“What is that?” roared Karn as an explosion of pink light erupted
from the ground past the large stone. A-Ya did not answer, but took
to his heels in pursuit of the light. Karn easily kept up with him as
they moved towards the lingering glow.
They ran for well over three miles. As they finally neared the glow,
they saw four men, freyaen merchants, gathered around something in
the tall grass. A-Ya grabbed Karn by the shoulder as he saw that one of
the men was removing his pants. But this was not all Karn had seen.
Standing tall, the ogre spotted a naked girl lying in the grass between
the four men. A-Ya’s grasp fell quickly from his shoulder as the ogre
rushed the four men, yelling in freyaen, “Rapists, I pronounce you de-
stroyed!” The man whose pants were down blinked in confusion as the
huge red ogre’s outstretched arm connected with his neck. The sounds
of breaking bones preceded a bellowing howl so mighty it caused even
A-Ya to stop in his tracks. The half-naked man was carried over twenty
feet through the air before crashing to the ground, his neck hanging at a
disturbingly unnatural angle as life fled his eyes. One of the men pulled
a khopesh from the ground, pointing it threateningly at the rage fey.
“Back, back beast,” the khopesh-wielding freyaen warned, his tone
betraying his fear. “We are within our rights, this is a dawn-touched
succubus before us and we will have our fun before she dies.”
One of the other freyaen merchants pulled his flagon from his belt,
“Here, here, take this. It is fine gold berry wine.”
Karn walked towards the man offering the wine. The ogre smiled,
accepting his wineskin. Karn then grabbed the light fey by the back

49
of his long blonde hair and drove the drinking horn’s hard mouthpiece
directly into his eye. The man wailed as his eyeball was severed, half
flying from his skull, while the other half remained within the socket,
dripping fluids down his face. But Karn was not to be satisfied by this.
So he drove the horn deep into the opening, piercing all the way to the
man’s brain. The other man produced a dagger. He and the sword-
wielding freyaen fell upon Karn. They cut Karn deeply with their steel,
unleashing a gush of bright red blood from the wounds in his stomach
and chest, causing Karn to roar in pain. As the ogre entered into the
rage, he spoke slowly, “You will know me, I am Invaded with Violence!
Obey my word!” With that, the ogre grabbed the two smaller faeries
around their throats, his hands so large they wrapped fully around their
necks. In his frenzy, he bashed their heads together, then lifted the both
of them into the air at once and shook them so violently he crushed one
of their windpipes before driving the two into the ground.
Karn yanked up the one whose windpipe had been crushed, “Well,
what do you think now?” The freyaen attempted to respond but could
only issue a panicked gurgle. “Not good enough!” Then Karn, palming
the back of the merchant’s head, pushed his face within one inch of his
own. The enraged ogre smiled and bared his sharp teeth before opening
his mouth and pushed the freyaen’s face inside it.
“Karn, what are you doing?” A-Ya screamed in horror at the ogre,
who was avidly devouring the merchant before his very eyes. The
sounds of a skull being snapped into bone shards by the powerful carni-
vore’s jaws was so staggeringly intimidating that the priest lost further
words. Transfixed, A-Ya was forced to watch the rage-mad beast eat
another man before his eyes. A-Ya turned toward the only merchant still
living and, taking him by the hand, dragged him to the freyaen maiden.
Upon looking her nude form over, it was obvious that she had just been
deflowered. The thought of what terror these men must have unleashed
upon her desecrated form filled him with revulsion. It was clear that
this last living man must repay her the only way he could. With that,
A-Ya looked to the heavens and grasped both of their hands, the man’s
as well as his victim’s, and felt their life flowing through each of their
bodies. “Luk-Coo, make this right,” he chanted. “Make this as close to

50
right as you can. Take his life and let it suffice to restore hers.” With
that, the merchant’s body convulsed as black-purple energy crept across
his skin, spiraling into his pores. Sweat formed all over the man’s body
as the energy of the dying sun excavated the life force from his flesh,
sending it back into A-Ya and warming the priest’s form for but a mo-
ment as the essence passed into the unknown girl. As it infused into
her body, he could hear the sound of her broken neck popping back
into place, while the skin and bone of her burned and crushed shoulder
wound reformed, leaving only a small star-like scar on her left clavicle.
A-Ya’s ritual complete, he paused, matching her face to the one of his
dreams before releasing her hand.

51
6
A loud gasp erupted from Aeffinea’s mouth as she inhaled violently.
The sounds of crunching bones and ripping flesh welcomed her back
into consciousness as her mouth desperately attempted to fill her oxy-
gen-starved lungs. Upon opening her eyes, the first thing she saw was
a tall stranger in a dark robe. “Who?” she rasped.
A-Ya pulled a wineskin off the merchant closest to him and care-
fully helped the girl drink. “I am Dusklord A-Ya Doon,” he said in
Dazazyaese, his voice friendly and level. “My companion, Karn, and I
found you here, naked and being assaulted by these four men. Through
the power of my risen god, you have been given a reprieve from their
violence. You have my deepest sympathies.”
Aeffinea blinked, looking around in confusion at the sight before
her: the mutilated carcasses of four of her kinsmen and the looming red-
skinned brute, but paid them little attention. Her thoughts were fully
fixed on finding Mickoeliss, but he was nowhere to be seen. She looked
at her hand, but whatever she had pulled from his innards had vanished
as well. It had, however, left behind a coating of pinkish-white liquid
all the way up her forearm. Then she noticed his morningstar still pin-
ning over a foot of her severed pink hair to the ground. Reflexively, she
reached for the back of her head and found that the hair had in fact been
chopped off, leaving only a tangled mess behind.
“This madness was surely real,” she muttered, as A-Ya handed her
clothes to her. Unconcerned with modesty in light of the tragedy that
befallen her, she put them on without embarrassment. And as she re-
trieved her sword from the dead merchant’s hand, she noticed the large
black patch burned into the grass in the form of a fallen angel. She
forced herself to look away and sit upon the ground. The sight of the
burnt grass had unleashed revulsion within her. She knew if she allowed
that revulsion to grow, it would only strip her of tranquility and expose
her to their attacks again. She hummed a freyaen song her mother had
taught her as she entered a deep daydream. The music was still there. It
was strong and perfect, in its radiance, she found calm.

52
A-Ya had heard that song before: Thela would sing it when she
did not think anyone else could hear her. He looked at the dead bod-
ies, then at the curious burn mark in the grass. It occurred to him that
he might have made a mistake here. Thela Thorn and Loptif, the two
greatest sinners in the history of his church, had both been freyaen
women. He could not help but wonder if this girl could be just as bad.
Then he noticed Karn was humming the song along with her. The
song seemed to smother his rage. “Are you full?” A-Ya asked, with
no attempt to mask his disgust.
“Yes, the meat of freyaen is sweet,” Karn smiled as he watched Aef-
finea. Casually, he reached for the flagon he had used to murder one of
the merchants and took a long pull off it to wash down the flesh. “I’ll
drink the dead man’s wine ‘cause he sure don’t need it back. They ain’t
making money anymore and dead men don’t need wealth.” Tossing the
drained skin down, Karn went about pilfering the dead merchant’s bod-
ies before he made his way to their lizard-drawn wagon. Karn’s gaze
never left Aeffinea as he filled his sack.
Aeffinea concluded her meditations, standing she faced A-Ya. “I’m
confused as to what happened here but it seems I owe you both my
thanks,” she lowered her head respectfully. “I do not know these men.
However, they were not the cause of what happened to me. But I do not
know you either. Actually,” the word rolled around in her mouth ques-
tioningly before she continued to speak. “My name is Aeffinea and I am
a freyaen, but I do not know what you are. You’re clearly not freyaen,
so what are you?”
“I am a human, a Dusklord, a priest of the god Luk-Coo. He
is an ogre,” he said, motioning to Karn, who was watching their
conversation closely.
Karn walked over, two filled sacks over his shoulder. “What hap-
pened with that?” he said to Aeffinea in Dazazyaese, motioning to the
morningstar still pinning her torn hair to the ground.
“It was… trouble,” she said guardedly. Thinking of the creature
she had just allowed inside her filled her with a mass of emotions that
worked directly against the calm she was attempting to enjoy. Shifting
the topic she said, “I see you are bleeding? Thank you for helping me

53
here, I am sorry you have been hurt in the act. I hope this doesn’t sound
rude… but why is your blood so bright?”
Karn was smiling pleasantly and making direct eye contact with
Aeffinea as he spoke to her, “Well, like all my people, my heart is filled
with rage. That rage is what drives us on and fires up our blood ‘cause
we live so close to death. Walking with the underworld in our shadows
just makes us that much more alive.” He ran his hand down his cut
chest, smearing the blood and raising his bloody hand to her face. Then
he reached down for the morningstar.
“No!” Aeffinea screamed, grabbing Karn’s hand with far more
strength than the ogre could have ever imagined the lithe woman pos-
sessed. She twisted her body, pressing her hips back against his. Then,
with astounding quickness she used his forward momentum to send
Karn crashing to the ground. “Poison… I’ve never seen one of you
before but I know the word ogre. You are from the great dream. That
weapon is ferrum-craft, forged to kill us.”
Karn lay upon his stomach, a smile spread full over his face, “What
fire you have within you. No woman has ever, ever, done anything like
that to me.” He stooped, picked up the morningstar and rose to his full
height. Karn could see in Aeffinea’s eyes that it was not the weapon
she was afraid of, but of his touching it, of it hurting him. No one had
ever acted like that towards Karn before. It left him feeling puzzled and
robbed him of the ability to avert his eyes from her.
After long moments passed, Aeffinea said, “It... it does not burn
you? How is this?”
“We are the fey from the forgotten places under the earth; T’Hool’s
Blood Iron is no more dangerous to us than the steel dagger that did this
to me,” he touched the wounds in his stomach. “I will send this thing
from your sight.” And with that, he hurled the weapon through the air
towards the highest grass he saw.
The wind shifted, bringing the sweet song to Aeffinea’s ears once
again. “I... I must go. There is something, something that I must attend
to. I thank you both of you for what you have done for me. One day,
I will repay you, but now I must fulfill another vow. Until our time
comes again.” With that she reached over, took Karn’s thumb in her

54
hand and squeezed it tightly.
Karn stood dumbfounded as he watched her head slowly fade from
view in the direction they had just come from. Once she had nearly
disappeared, A-Ya said, “You know you could go with her.”
The words startled the ogre, “No, no I cannot. She would not want
one such as I, and I would surely be all the less worthy of her company
should I simply abandon my own vows.”
“I absolve you. Go. Go to her, she is your heart’s desire. I
would never ...”
Anger edged into Karn’s voice, “It is not for you to decide, dead
man. She has her vow and so do I. Now let us find this face you long
for so we can set plans in motion to finished those who killed you. Then
maybe, maybe,” he said, wistfully looking down at the torn strands of
pink hair. “Forget about it, we are wealthy men now. Let us take that
cart. It is filled with smithies worth of worked gold.”
“As you wish,” A-Ya said absently as he bent over the burnt black
shape in the grass. “Luk-Coo, if you can hear me now, I beseech you.
Give your loyal servant one, just one clue. Just the slightest of hints, for
I feel she is not in this land.” As the priest began to despair that he had
not been heard, he noticed in the burnt grass what looked like a hand
pointing to the northeast. “I... I think I know where we need to go,” and
with that he began to walk.
“What? Are you a fool? That is the forest of the wolf faeries.
Did you not feel the place as we walked past it, the way it felt
over the night?”
“Yes, yes on both counts. But what I felt during the night was some-
thing watching us from the tree line. Someone inside that wood knows
something I’ve waited my whole life to learn. You should not come
with me – go to her.”
“I am no coward, I will follow you there, or into the depths of Hell
if I must. Only your enemies’ deaths will rid you of me. If only we
did not have to leave so much gold. Come to the wagon, you will fill
yourself with its spoils.”
A-Ya conceded, selecting several finely wrought pieces of gold jew-
elry and an extravagant bottle of perfume, before unhooking the two op-

55
tilangs from the cart. It interested the priests that the beasts did not react
to him any differently than they would have when he was still alive.
“You are having second thoughts aren’t you?” questioned Karn.
“No, I am merely thinking of how best to do this.”
“Say whatever you like, any man would have second thoughts when
walking into death,” Karn snorted with disbelief. “Lead on, dead man,
maybe your god will bring me half back too when this gets us killed.”
A-Ya’s purple eyes turned a blood red as he glared at the ogre, “I
will not tolerate blasphemy.”
“Mountains of rage,” Karn said with a smile, then walked over
to the priest and helped him get the slow-witted beasts to start mov-
ing. “I do not understand your god, but I am not your enemy. Save
that fire, you’ll get to fight soon enough. I wonder… what do wolf
faeries taste like?”
The red faded from A-Ya’s eyes as he spoke, “Why did you eat them?”
“I didn’t, I only ate one. I claimed what I killed. It is my right.
The taste of fresh flesh and hard bone is something I know you’ll never
understand, new man, be you dead or not. It is strength, it is power and
besides, I wiped my mouth before she saw.”
“Hmm, I suppose it does make a poor impression on the gentler sex
to know you’ve just eaten one of their kin. Please do not do that in front
of me again. It is most distasteful.”
“There was nothing gentle about that woman. She has a warrior’s
soul and is far too good for her own people. It looks to me like you eat
the souls of things, so you are hardly in a position to speak of what I
devour,” Karn rebutted. As they passed the dead merchants, the ogre
gave his meal one last look. All that remained was the back of an empty
skull and a matted tuft of blood-red hair.
The conifers loomed impressively high as they entered the forest.
A-Ya had spent much of his life in the woods. Never had he seen trees
such as these. The trees were packed impossibly close together. The
floor of the forest was covered in decaying leaves and strange kinds of
fungus, the likes of which he had never seen before. The only animals
they saw were immense millipedes with black and yellow coloring, the
largest the length of four men laying foot to head. A-Ya calmed Karn as

56
the ogre readied to battle the beasts. “They are only here for the rotting
leaves and fungus.”
“It is getting harder to see. Can your dusk god not allow you
some light? Even if it be dim, I’ll take it now.” Nervousness was
evident in Karn’s tone.
“I could perform such a ritual. But I fear the light would attract a
great deal of unwanted attention in this lightless wood. There are things
here much worse than millipedes.”
“My eyes are far keener than yours, new man, but even I can barely
see what is before me. I’ve already walked into three trees. We are too
deep in this wood. Make the light,” Karn insisted.
A-Ya, not used to being ordered about, glared at the ogre before
realizing neither of them could see the other’s face. A-Ya squeezed his
left hand into a fist, then said, “Let darkness yield to twilight’s glow.”
The ritual complete, the priest opened his fist, allowing a mystical ball
of purple light to illuminate the black forest. Once their eyes had ad-
justed, they saw dozens of different species of large arthropods moving
about the forest floor, in total silence. At the edge of the light, they saw
gargantuan pale green mushrooms that rose no less than thirty feet in
height oozing liquid from their trunks with large insect egg cases af-
fixed to the bottoms of their hoods. Dog-sized white beetles crawled
around on the fungus, lapping up the fluid. Karn began to make his way
towards them.
“No,” A-Ya hissed. “Those mushrooms are highly toxic. Think
... you have to think or you’ll end up a meal for something crawling
around our feet.”
Karn stopped, looking at A-Ya, he said, “We should both be careful.”
Time began to lose meaning as they journeyed through the wood.
The face of his lifelong love haunted the edge of A-Ya’s vision. “I know
you are here, somewhere in this twisted nightmare. I feel your spirit
and I will deliver you,” A-Ya whispered. Despite the hideous form of
the forest, there was something so pure, so untouched in its smell that it
gave the Dusklord a degree of peace.
The sound of carapaces cracking filled the forest floor. A-Ya peered
at the ground curiously before Karn’s hand twisted the priest’s head

57
towards the disturbance. At first he was confused, his mind unable to
process the nature of the huge amorphous form that swiftly approached.
But Karn’s frantic shout helped him center his thoughts: “Black death is
coming. Run now!”
They ran through the ancient forest as quickly as they could, trying
to put distance between themselves and the inky black pond-sized sheet
of liquid that slid along the ground. The hunter left hollowed arthropod
shells in its wake. The trees posed it no hindrance at all, as the ooze
merely separated to flow around them, rejoining its body once past the
trunk. And once they thought they could run no faster, mortal terror
took over to aid in their frantic dash as the entity closed in upon them.
Karn grabbed A-Ya, hoisting him over his shoulders, before vaulting
into the nearest tree with low-hanging branches. The large man moved
up the tree with surprising grace, unhindered by the extra two-hundred
pounds on his back. The fluid glided beneath them, hungrily extending
long pseudopods up towards them, probing the tree, prompting Karn to
clamber further up into its heights.
Uncounted minutes of heart-pounding distress and uncertainty had
passed before A-Ya could collect himself. “I think... I think it’s gone
now,” A-Ya said in barely more than a whisper.
“We don’t come down. Not yet, we wait. We’ll wait an hour; dead
men don’t tell tales,” Karn said as he scanned the ground.
Eventually they made their way to the forest floor. It was a grave-
yard of white exoskeletons. They moved with humble steps through the
dark wood, both knowing they were hopelessly lost. They wandered
aimlessly for a vast amount of time before Karn walked directly into
something large, sticky, and nearly invisible hanging between two trees.
He tensed, but as he tried to pull himself back, he found he only en-
tangled himself more. Karn felt the world close in on him as he realized
he was captured. Rage took him, causing the ogre to thrash mindlessly,
tying himself up completely in the ropey adhesive.
A-Ya began to address Karn, then saw the prodigious white spider,
her bloated abdomen and eight grotesque red eyes. “Child of Helena,
I will take pleasure in this.” He curled his lips into a grimace, then
thrust his arms out before him perfectly straight at shoulder level, with

58
his fingers stretching as far as they could. “Monster, feel the wrath
of my Lord!” Purple energy crackled like electricity through the still
air. The spider fell to the forest floor. Walking over to it, A-Ya lifted
a fallen branch and bashed the arachnid until greenish goo oozed from
its crushed body. He then lifted another branch and used it to free
Karn from her web.
Karn snarled deeply, letting his aggression and fear out, as he
stomped the spider flat.
“Quiet,” A-Ya spoke.
“Don’t tell me...” Karn was cut off as eight distinctly beautiful na-
ked women charged into their field of vision.
“Shiggin, shiggin shallie meehan ghe shallihan trihib Shu-Alp, shig-
gin,” one pleaded, trembling as she locked her huge round brown eyes
on Karn’s, while the others began to huddle behind his massive form.
“I don’t understand what you are saying to me,” the ogre said in as
gentle a voice as he could bring forth. The one before him had small
horns on the top of her forehead jutting out just before a long tangled
mane of wild blonde hair. A small white tail with a long blonde streak
running along its top emerged from the end of her spine. Her legs
concluded in coven hooves and wicked-looking black nails that could
only rightfully be called claws adorned her hands. Karn turned to
the ones cowering behind him. They too shared these characteristics
aside from hair and eye color. However, each of them had markedly
different facial features that made it easy to distinguish these cooing
women from each other.
“Something is here,” A-Ya said his voice not disguising his fear.
“I...” As Karn looked up, he saw dozens of tall alabaster-skinned,
hungry-eyed faeries looking at him. Each of these monsters had ar-
rows drawn back tight in their bows. The resolve in their gaze was
overwhelming. As the ogre looked into their eyes, fears forgotten since
childhood began force themselves into his internal monologue, taunting
him in a timid tone with a forgotten voice buried in cycles past.
They had been surrounded. The creatures’ auras oppressively
pressed against them. Trembling uncontrollably, the women’s gazes
fell to the ground, in sad acceptance of the brutality to come.

59
Karn fled from his phantasmal torment, drowning the voice of doubt
within his sanctuary of rage. A perfect calm stilled the ogre for a mo-
ment before fury propelled him forward. “No! You will not have me.
I am not prey to be hunted. I am the voice of the mountain. Prepare to
know He Who is Invaded with Violence!”
A chorus of pings filled the quiet wood as each archer loosed their
shafts. The voice of rage became a roar of pain as nearly every arrow
pierced the ogre’s flesh. Karn crashed to the forest floor. The musk of
the naked women carried on a gentle breeze, mixing with the rot of de-
caying vegetation as the voice of his childhood fears began to whisper
to him again before blackness carried his thoughts away.

60
7
The vibrations of the song had pulled her along the trail like a
dandelion seed caught in the wind. It was hours before Aeffinea even
noticed that she was caught in a throng of travelers upon the sun’s
great road as she hummed the singer’s song. The multitude of un-
recognizable peoples that choked this wide road was daunting. Still,
on the road, she was one of them, just someone else with somewhere
to go. Her thoughts fell back to the men she had met at the end of
dawn, at the end of the only world she had ever known. She thought
of the red one, Karn. Though there was something terrible about him,
thoughts of him sprang to mind over and over throughout the day. He
had saved her from things she would not dwell on. He was a monster,
yet he was the reason she still lived. In her memory, what stood out
with vivid clarity was the way he had looked at her. Was it simply lust
or a longing for release from a life of chaos? Unbreakable, hard, and
handsome, in a rugged sort of way, that is what she thought of him.
There was nothing delicate or soft, nothing freyaen about him. And
she realized that she found that very attractive.
When the shadows of the grotesque trees grew longer and longer,
the sight of her hated enemies’ homeland was no longer something she
could push from her mind. The forest was imposing and she found
even its earthy smell repellent. She did not like the idea of traveling at
night, so in the final moments of dusk she stole to the edge of the wood
and gathered sticks for a fire. Crackling embers popped high into the
night’s sky as she began to eat her meal of dried fruits and licorice root.
A salamander squirmed free from one of the rotting logs encrusted in
white shelf fungus at the base of her campfire and scurried back towards
the forest. “What manner of omen may this be, Morghul?” she asked
the thousand-faced elder creator of fire as she stared into the flame. The
only response she received was the crackling of wood.
A booming voice from Aeffinea’s side startled the freyaen so badly
that she found herself instantly on her feet with her blade to the throat
of the man who had issued that alarming sound before realizing he was

61
simply another traveler who wished to share her camp. The flickering
flame reflected off his wide eyes, showing the fire, her steel, and his
fear. The emotion was so strong, she worried it might attract the wolf
faeries’ attention. The barrel-chested human was slightly shorter than
her, with a thin black beard, the hands of a field hand and a flat-headed
hickory walking stick gripped tightly in his left hand. A thin boy that
looked much like him hid behind the man. She apologized profusely
before realizing they did not share a common tongue. Still, he seemed
to take her meaning and accepted her motions towards the fire. He
spoke to her and the boy she assumed to be his son for many hours in the
darkness. Aeffinea did not understand a word he said, nor did she often
take her eyes from the hateful forest. She was exhausted from the day’s
ordeal combined with his monotonous voice and the crackling fire, she
found herself again in the astral fields.
The black starry ground, the long stalks of wheat which ended in
a kaleidoscopic image of the dreamer and the purple haze all seemed
too translucent. She could still see the dark wood – it was as if these
images from the Dreamlands had merely been superimposed upon the
landscape surrounding her material body. Something was moving in
the forest. An indescribable silhouette was slowly loping towards her.
As it crashed through the tree line, her mind reeled as she focused
in on its features. A massive twisted creature, its form grotesquely
indistinct as if a variety of foul beings had been cut into pieces and
amalgamated into a single body. Its face was akin to a dementedly
elongated goat’s head and it had fat, stubby vestigial arms, each finger
ending in what looked like a shriveled face. Had her drift into dream
called this nightmare forth? Only the sounds of its movements con-
firmed its corporeal nature. It awkwardly dragged three whip-like
tails behind it, rustling the leaves on the ground. Its legs were uneven
in size and ended in what looked more like tongues than feet. There
were black, rubbery wings on its back and its body was covered in
pimple-sized sucking proboscises that seemed torn from the faces of a
thousand flies. Then long dark shadows slid from the wood, appear-
ing behind the creature. As they moved toward Aeffinea, she saw they
belonged to black wolves of impossible size with fur that seemed to be

62
living tendrils of darkness. They each had seven dark tar pits for eyes;
the orifices that contained them seemed to move slightly around their
faces as they stalked forward.
Aeffinea’s body would not respond to her. At first she thought she
was paralyzed with fear. But as the thing obscenely strode towards
her, she realized what it had done: it had snared her between worlds as
she had begun to drift into the astral – and now it was coming for her
soul. She refused to lose her tranquility in the face of fear. If this was
to be her end, she would face it with dignity. Patiently, she awaited the
arrival of the wolves as she silently prayed to the divinities of light.
They began to circle her, growling, exposing row upon row of white,
viciously hooked teeth in their mouths. One abruptly opened its mouth.
Its tongue shot out of its mouth, and as the organ extended, she could see
it resembled a collection of a hundred warts – each ending in a silently
screaming distorted face. Looking into their faces, it struck Aeffinea
she had once read of the beasts that now confronted her. And she knew
what they were called: Night Terrors. And this misshapen thing that
ambled towards her was Ajyra himself, the god of nightmares and father
of the wolf faeries. Her calm cracked as she cursed herself for being
such a fool to stop so close to the Dark Forest of Fear. Her transgres-
sion had taunted the dark god into appearing in person. But there was
nothing more to be done about that. Not only was she to lose the very
spirit inside her, she would forsake her sacred vow to the singer. Aef-
finea could feel Ajyra’s malformed suckers press against her soul. She
could see inside them as they groped hungrily at her. The interior of the
insect-like mouths resembled flowers with teeth, slurping and pulsing
against her essence. The pain of being unwoven was so great it cause
Aeffinea’s very view of the world to shift. Although she was helpless
and dying, she refused to cry out in pain. Even in her mind, she would
not give Ajyra the worship of her terror.
A sound like music set ablaze filled this echo of the Dreamland. It
coursed with a ferocity that insisted on obedience. Aeffinea regained
consciousness some time past dawn. The events that occurred after the
glorious music were disorganized as they evanesced from her waking
mind. She remembered Ajyra slinking away when confronted with this

63
burning grandeur. The memory of a perfect orange flame lingered in
her mind; the color was so vividly real. The singer’s music filled her
ears again. Aeffinea stared off into the dying embers of her camp fire,
reflecting upon the events. Something or someone had saved her. But
how? Was it capable of thwarting Ajyra himself? And if so, why would
something so powerful even care to intervene? The color, the song and
the fact that Ajyra had been driven away filled her with unprecedented
awe, moving her to tears. She reaffirmed her vow: as she had been
saved, so too would she save the blue-skinned maiden.
So filled with purpose were her steps that by midday she had passed
the humans who had shared her camp the night before. Aeffinea felt
like a stranger in a daze, wandering through this alien land as she head-
ed towards The Song. The music became clearer with every step. As
the days rolled by, it became clear to her that her people were known in
this country – but not understood. So few of the people she encountered
upon the road, of this country named Through could even manage a few
words in her tongue, and those freyaen she saw kept a good distance
from her. The prolonged isolation bothered her. But with music as her
constant companion, the loneliness did not cut to her core.
On the sixth day of her travels, she noticed three broad, short men
who were walking from the opposite direction looking intently at her. It
was not merely that they looked (for she had been gawked at by many
on this trail since leaving Freyaheim), it was the hate that burned in their
grey eyes. As they passed her on the wide road, they circled back and
begun to follow her. She could hear them speaking, but did not under-
stand the bearded men’s tongue. After following her for nearly an hour,
Aeffinea had had enough. She whirled around, pointing her left index
finger at them. “I know you will not understand what I say. Though I
have never seen your people before, I will guess you are ferrums. Know
that I have never wronged you or your kind. Let your hate pass from my
path. Let the wind blow gently at your back and be gone.”
“Ugly boney thing, our hate will pass,” one of the ferrums spat at her
in fairly clear freyaen. “It will pass directly through you.” The three
men laughed, one gripped the hammer that hung at his side. “We will
wait for the right time and then,” he laughed loudly.

64
Aeffinea realized that none of the other travelers on the road could
understand these men, nor could she ask them for help. And drawing her
sword right there where all could see would only make matters worse.
“That’s right, think it over, girl. We have you. But the time will be
ours to choose.”
“Why? Why must it be like this?” Aeffinea objected. I’ve done you
no wrong. I’ve shown you no disrespect.”
“Your people did this to our lands,” motioning to the humans. “Your
very presence shows us disrespect. Were it not for you and your greed
for gold, we would not have been in such a debased position to have lost
this great kingdom to humans. We are the people of iron. You’ve re-
duced us to the serfs of clay. We’ll deal with you, for our fathers’ blood,
scrawny creature. Too bad you won’t see us at night, light-eyes.”
“I will not be a victim again. Understand, you have decided this, I
ask only for your children’s forgiveness.”
The three began laughing hysterically at her. “Our children, like
us, will spit on your grave. Look at that field over there. It is freshly
tilled; we will leave your body there. Your blood will do the soil
good. We will...”
The ferrum’s words turned to screams as Aeffinea’s khopesh sliced
across the front of his face. His nose and lips fell to the hard packed
earth of the Sun’s Trail Road. The blade whirled around, slicing through
the hand of the second ferrum, who was raising his hammer. Hand and
hammer hit the ground and a mighty gout of blood spurted from his
stump, staining a spatter of crimson tears upon the deep yellow of the
dusty trail. The third turned, running as fast as his stubby legs could
carry him, but it was only by Aeffinea’s mercy that her blade did not
sojourn through his flesh. The other travelers were horrified, clearly
unaccustomed to such bloodshed in their very midst. Some froze dead
in their tracks, others shouted and screamed, while others still took to
their heels in flight from the violence. Aeffinea grabbed the lipless man
by the throat, digging her close-cut nails into his leathery throat. “Are
we done here? Or do I need to keep cutting?”
Blood poured from his face as he stammered out words, “No, yes,
you are, go in peace. Please, please go.”

65
Aeffinea looked at him disdainfully, shaking her head. “Turn your-
selves to the trail behind me. Do not let me see you again.”
As Aeffinea turned to walk away, her ear caught the sound of his
hammer being unbuckled. Without looking back, she extended her arm
and spun towards him explosively. Her blade cut through his throat,
sending his head falling to the road. His body staggered forward before
collapsing upon the trail, ropes of blood spouting forth, bespattering the
bystanders and adding to the already considerable crimson carpet that
glistened upon the road.
The final ferrum fell to his knees. “Please, please, no. You took my
working hand, don’t take my life too. Enough, enough, I call for quarter.”
“You deserve no quarter. Coward, you only deserve to die by my
hand for what you would have done to me had your position been the
one of strength. But that wouldn’t be my way. It is pathetic the only
quest you have in life is to murder lone travelers. If your life ended
here, it would be a wretched story. Take from this day the wisdom to
mean more in the world than you did today.” She wiped the blood from
her blade on his tunic as the ferrum broke down into tears. The lake of
blood she left behind stood as a landmark which would not soon wash
away. Being forced to commit such gruesome acts of violence from one
moment to the next had left her shaken, but the death she dealt weighed
little upon her conscience.
The other travelers upon the road gave Aeffinea a wide berth and
eyed her nervously as they continued to travel. Towards the end of the
day, she noticed a large building on the side of the road. It was the smell
of baking bread emanating from it that first caught her attention, and the
sounds of music spilling from its windows that made it seem so invit-
ing. The wooden building was large, wide, and three stories tall, with a
well in front of it and a livery behind. Aeffinea walked in, the place was
filled with people, mostly human but a few ferrums and ogres. Upon
confirming to herself this was indeed a public building, she took a seat
as far from any ferrums as she could. Not graced with even a smatter-
ing of Pelganese, she made motions to the bread she saw others eating,
when a human wench attempted to take her order, then extended sev-
eral silver coins to her. The loud voices of the ogres were passionate,

66
demanding attention, and as she listened to them she could not help but
think of Karn.
Just after settling down to her meal, she was startled by a tap on
her shoulder and a man’s voice addressing her in heavily accented
Dazazyaese. “Excuse me I could not help but notice you and thought
perhaps – just perhaps – I might be rewarded with a few moments
of your time for my boldness? My name is Crag Tekach. I hope my
imposition is not disquieting to you.” His smile revealed the whitest
teeth Aeffinea had ever seen.
Before she could say anything, he sat down across the table from
her. Aeffinea cocked her head to the side, slowly casting her gaze over
him. His human features seemed hairy and unrefined to her freyaen
sensibilities and she was not sure whether she found them attractive
or not. “I have heard few in this land that speak my tongue. How is it
you come to know it?”
“I am a man of knowledge and as such would have been a fool not to
have learned your tongue,” the green-eyed man said flirtatiously. “The
epics, the poems, and the holy texts, all contain such majesty. I cannot
help but be entranced by the words of your people.”
Aeffinea blushed slightly at his directness, and then noticed he was
intently looking at her pink hair. The horrors of the road had heavily re-
inforced her childhood insecurities regarding the condition of her birth.
She lowered her eyes to the table. Gradually she noticed her head being
lifted up, until she met his gaze once again. She caught him around the
wrist, gaining control of his arm. The tension in her fingers begun to
relax as he nonchalantly traced his thumb up her chin to her bottom lip,
stroking it softly. The attention, the affection overwhelmed her and she
began to caress his hand, kissing his thumb slightly.
“Do not be embarrassed by what you are. You are the most fascinat-
ing girl I have ever beheld. I have never seen a dawn-touched before but I
could not imagine a sunrise nearly as radiant as you,” he said reassuringly.
Between his kind voice and tender touch, Aeffinea felt the trauma
of the road fade from her mind. She wanted nothing more than to hear
Crag talk all night and for him to keep touching her. He was strong,
but not too strong, and gentle, but not too gentle. Finally in this strange

67
land, she had found someone that did not make her feel like a freak.
Tonight his demeanor was just enough to restore her equilibrium.
Aeffinea ate as he talked, but she honestly did not care what he
said. It was only the way he said it that mattered and the way it left her
feeling normal. She hoped to find a home in this human, at least for a
night. After she had finished eating, Crag took her by the hand and led
her up the stairs. Aeffinea had totally forgotten the size of this building
when he opened the door to his third-floor room. And when she saw the
bed, she knew he was done talking. Aeffinea lingered in the doorway as
Crag walked in, but she could not think of any reason not to join him.
Crag kissed her deeply and paid great attention to her body. His
touch was comforting but it was not electric. The sex begun sud-
denly and ended abruptly, it was nothing like being with Mickoeliss.
It sickened Aeffinea that she thought of the incubus while this man
was inside her. But she did – and more than a small part of her wished
Mickoeliss was inside her now.
After Crag finished, he rolled over and went to sleep. While disap-
pointed, Aeffinea was pleased that now her only lover had not been a
fallen angel. As she compared the two experiences, her mind turned to
Karn. What would it have been like with him? The strength, fire, and
passion of the ogre excited her as she listened to her lover snore.
Late in the night as Aeffinea lay in bed, which in itself was an odd
experience, as it felt nothing like the golden reed bed she was use to,
she allowed herself to drift off into the astral. The song was so loud,
so close. The peaceful meditation rebalanced her tranquility. Soon she
would fulfill her vow.
A pinch pulled Aeffinea from her astral jaunt as her eyes dilated; she
was back in the waking world. Looking up at Crag, she saw strands of
her silky pink hair in his left hand, while his right held a dagger. Notic-
ing she had caught him, he began to attempt to defend himself.
“What is wrong with you? I lay with you because you made me feel
normal. Can’t I have just one normal night in this strange world? And
now… and now… forget it, you’re weird.” She began dressing.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I… I just had to. I’ve never seen one of you
before and I thought your hair might be something for my art.”

68
“Art,” she said cautiously.
“Yes, yes, I’m a practitioner of the Esoteric Path of the Witch. If that
interests you, I could show you things. Teach you, I would love to have
you as a student.”
“Magic is blasphemy. Be glad I say few prayers to the Enforcers.
There are many among my people who would drag you to the stake for
such heresy. And rightfully deserved – who are you to defy the gods?
Now give me my hair back, I will not have part of my body used for
your profanity.”
He reluctantly placed the hair back in her hand. “I’m sorry.”
“Save your apologies for the gods, you clearly owe them thousands.
As long as you sin no more against me, I will forgive you for what
you’ve done. Know that the road you walk leads only to Hell. At the
end of your days, no one will be there to greet you except He Who Has
Many Name’s descendant angels. You will be imprisoned with your
troll masters in the pit at the bottom of K’Vega-Thale.”
“No, it’s not like that…”
“I do not wish to hear any more of your words. Do not speak to
me, do not hex me, just let me go.” With that, she finished dressing and
walked out the door. She bought some bread and apples for the trail be-
fore leaving the inn. Once Aeffinea had made it several miles down the
trail, she began to say silent prayers to Dazazya, to protect her, to guide
her, and to help her make better selections for her nightly companions in
the future. She would have prayed for Crag too, but it was clear that he
had already talked to the thing in the mirror. His fate was sealed. The
gods did not forgive such sins. Still, she wondered if she had judged
him too harshly. Clearly he was odd but he had been kind to her, even
if it was just for some goal. The encounter left her feeling guilty. She
chastised herself for speaking such harsh words. Kindness must be at
the forefront of her actions from now on.
The storm clouds of F’Tash had been unkind, appearing three sepa-
rate times over the course of the next eight days. The thunderbirds
roared in the heavens, dousing the land with their fury. Never had Aef-
finea felt such heavenly rage. The storm goddess roared so loudly at
one point that she covered the singer’s song. When the final dark cloud

69
drifted away, the song was still there. It was so clear, it made the freyaen
forget how cold it had become.
Half a day later she beheld the largest city she had ever seen. It was
a mass of cobblestone roads, impossibly tall buildings, signs with writ-
ing in over a dozen languages and more species of people than she had
ever imagined existed. The city seemed to go on so far in every direc-
tion; she had no idea where to begin. Then she shut her eyes and just
listened. Opening them again, she knew where to go as she entered the
great city of Trade.

70
8
Karn’s roar echoed throughout the dense wood as his body hit the
forest floor. The naked women huddled together trembling as enormous
wolves slunk out of the shadows behind the archers. Low growls is-
sued from the beasts’ mouths as they stalked towards the women. A-Ya
strode towards the women, reaching them before the nine-foot-long
wolves did, then extended a hand towards the archers. “I beg you; this
does not need to be done. Call off your black wolves, please. If you
must take someone, take me. Spare him and them,” he pointed at Karn
and the women as he spoke.
“Chijiodah ftip hiueyt pgoan-ma,” said the largest faerie, revealing
his teeth. They were the teeth of a carnivore. His canines were the
longest and most robust A-Ya had ever seen in a humanoid. These were
the same teeth Luk-Coo had cursed Loptif with. A-Ya was now certain
these fey surrounding him were indeed the feared wolf faeries.
All their bows were now pointed at A-Ya. Since the Dusklord had
died, so many of his emotions had become mute. Now as he looked at the
rulers of this nightmarish landscape, he felt those silenced feeling return,
persistently demanding his attention. Anxiety rose within him as doubt
filled his confident frame. An arrow whistled through the air – the wolf
faerie that had just spoken to A-Ya had already launched his attack.
A-Ya felt an arrow enter his upper ribcage with a whistle, slice and
snap. It ripped through his flesh and snapped his rib, cracking it inward
so that it punctured his lung. A-Ya knew the shot was one to kill. The
searing pain from the arrow pushed the growing trepidation up past his
lungs and on to his throat. But once the loud feelings found the air, they
ignited into pure fury as A-Ya’s purple eyes turned red. “I am not your
trophy! I am not even of the living! I walk with the reborn god! Now
you will hear his whispers! Hear me, Father, and speak your name to
them!” With that, the still wind began to pick up, lifting dried leaves
into the air. They swirled around, forming strange symbols glowing
with a mysterious purple light as they floated.
One of the wolves lunged for A-Ya, knocking him to the forest

71
floor. A horrid crushing sound emanated from the Dusklord’s chest
as the beast came down directly on top of him, shattering his ster-
num. A-Ya grabbed ahold of the black wolf’s wet fur, twisting it; he
unleashed his pain upon the thing. There was a terrible whimper as
the creature’s essence was siphoned into the priest’s body. The dried
husk of the wolf toppled onto the ground as the bones of A-Ya’s con-
caved chest and rib reassembled themselves. The Dusklord could hear
Karn’s heart beginning to beat louder as he pumped the wolf’s life
force into his dying companion. The arrows that had mutilated Karn’s
flesh were being pushed out of his body, as the healing forces coursing
through him would not abide their presence.
A-Ya looked up to see childlike wonder on the faces of these kill-
ers as they watched the shifting colors of dusk illuminate the strange
patterns these leaves made as they were assembled upon the wind. A
strange feeling tingled through A-Ya’s throat. By the time he stood to
his feet again, his rage was gone. “I bring with me the god who lives
on the edge of light.”
A statuesque woman with long carefully braided black hair shift-
ed her focus from the leaves to A-Ya, her silver flecked blue eyes
revealing her comprehension of his words. “Cquil-at? Is this god
you speak of?” The words came from her lips in Ajyran but turned to
Pelganese upon the wind.
A-Ya superimposed the face from his dreams upon this enchant-
ing leather clan fey huntress. There was a certain similarity between
their countenances, but they were far from identical. Still, this caused
his gaze to linger longingly over her striking features. A smile slowly
spread over A-Ya’s face as he realized these creatures of darkness could
understand his words. “His name is Luk-Coo. He is beauty, power,
and grace in the form of the dying light. He has guided me here to find
her: the woman whose face has haunted my dreams since I was a child.
Understand this, all of you: I will find her before I leave these woods.
You can stand against me, you can defy my god’s will, and you can die
one by one, like your wolf.”
All of their eyes were now upon him. For a moment, they appeared
to be a single entity, rather than a group of individuals. This singular

72
look, this collective stare, caused the anxiety of a trapped animal to rise
again inside the Dusklord. He could feel the weight of each of his inse-
curities under the dissection of these faeries’ observation. They probed
his secrets. Their judgment drained the poise from his posture, leaving
him feeling itchy and trembling.
“You draw no breath, you walk with a mystery god, your eyes
change color with anger. You are not unknown here. Your god’s power
has been felt – but make no mistake, even a god’s power will not save
you from us. You have been seen and you shall come.” A-Ya was not
sure if all of the faeries had spoken as one or if only one of them had
spoken these words. Joy rose inside the priest as he pondered the impli-
cations of what they said. Submissively, he stumbled towards them.
Karn’s voice shook A-Ya from the trance of his emotional dissection.
“Get your hands off her, stickmen!” Karn roared, grabbing ahold of two
of the wolf faeries by their throats, ramming their heads together and then
lifting them high into the air before sending them crashing to the forest
floor. Their pale faces became nearly as red as the ogre that kneeled on
top of them, squeezing their necks under his tremendous weight.
A-Ya turned to see the deer women being forced to their knees, with
scimitar-wielding wolf faeries standing over top them. “No! I will not
allow you to execute them. These are innocent women!”
The female wolf faerie that A-Ya had spoken to stated plainly,
“This is not execution. This is the hunt and these are dinner. The
baobhan siths are vermin who lie in wait to drink the souls of our
men and then take turns raping them until breath forever leaves their
bodies. There is nothing innocent in the land of nightmares, nothing.
Outlanders, this many of them will make for a feast. We rarely hunt
for any but our mate and unreleased children but this meal shall be dif-
ferent. We have never had a dead human in our wood before. Ogre,
take your hands from my hunters or I’ll slice each of your fingers off
and eat you where you stand.” She pulled two-pronged daggers with
three serrated edges from each of her leather bracers and hissed, bar-
ing her fangs as she advanced on Karn.
“Stop! No… not today. No killing, no death. Please, please, we
will come with you. Karn release them, now! Just don’t kill them, I… I

73
will take responsibility.” Sparkling soft purple light danced around the
skittish baobhan siths as A-Ya pleaded.
Karn squeezed tightly one more time before releasing. Rising
slowly to his feet, the ogre’s eyes locked with the dagger-wielding fey
advancing on him. They did not need to trade blows for their duel was
one of menace.
The tension in the wood was redirected by the cruel laughter of the
male wolf faerie that had shot A-Ya. “However you’ll have it, follower
of the dying light. I see the fingers of your god touching them now.”
He then hissed, exposing his fangs to his people, “As Huntlord I com-
mand you, do not kill these prey. Not until the strange light has faded
from them.” Then, turning to A-Ya, he pronounced, “Their lives are now
in the hands of your god. Let us see how long his favor holds true.” A
sadistic grin spread across the Huntlord’s face.
The female fey continued her unflinching combat of wills with
Karn. “I see you so clearly, rage-born. Do you see me? No? Keep
looking. Don’t pull away until you feel the beating of my soul. Smell
my essence. Remember my scent so it can guide you, imperfect fey, as
you stumble naked into the sweeping fields of dreams. There, I will see
you again, child, and dance you into the black spiral of Ajyra’s waiting
love. Breathe deeply and hold me in, I want to profane your mind and
ready you for the descent which shall be our spiritual copulation. After
I finish with you, I shall depart, but not before blowing into you the
quintessence of my every nightmare. Come to me when you wake. I
promise you, I will kiss your neck gently and stroke you softly. I will
comfort you in the wake of your terror before breaking your neck un-
der the force of my fangs. Be assured, I will penetrate you deep and
hard. The unreal pain will be short-lived. You will go quickly into that
nightmarish abyss I have shown you, once your spine has been severed.
Then I will slowly relish your fear-fed blood and flesh. It has been too
long since I have broken and eaten ogre.”
Tears formed in Karn’s eyes as he looked down at the forest floor,
his body shaking uncontrollably. The woman walked over to him, trac-
ing her dagger across his cheek before running it down the nape of his
neck and back across his throat. She pressed herself closely against

74
him, until she could feel him getting hard. Then she pressed her lips
against his neck and began to suck on his bulging Demar’s apple. She
whispered, “It will be just like this… until it isn’t. I just need the fear to
ripen inside you before I harvest. Do you understand? Your death with
be spectacular,” she blew on his throat as she spoke, finishing by licking
from its base to his chin.
She turned from Karn, glaring at the baobhan siths surrounding
A-Ya. “Take care as to how you let them touch you. Those claws of
theirs pierce not just the flesh, but the soul as well. Upon initiation, I
was given the names Aurquim Davia. By that you may call me.” The
words came from her lips in Ajyran as ‘Aurquim Davia’ but as they
reached A-Ya’s ears, he understood the words in his native tongue of
Pelganese: ‘The Edge of the Moon.’ “I am Huntlady of this tribe and
life mate of Aiden Ka,” she motioned towards the fey that had nearly
killed A-Ya, as she spoke his name A-Ya also heard it as Eyes of Fire.
The trepidation A-Ya felt was evident on his face as he spoke, “I
give you my humble thanks, Huntlady and Huntlord, for sparing these
baobhan siths’ lives. But I beseech you, please do not eat Karn.”
Aurquim cut him off, ordering, “Do not worry, priest, I will only eat
him if he begs me first. You and your ogre slave will come with us now.
It has been so long since we have had the pleasure of guests in tribal
lands. We receive so few emissaries. You will speak with our dignitary.
But first, we shall feast.” She made a strange sound from deep inside
her throat which did not register as words to A-Ya’s translation ritual.
A moment later, a dire wolf even larger than the one that had attacked
A-Ya padded out of the darkness. Aurquim ran her hand over the beast
while singing a soft song to it. She threw her leg over the dire wolves’
back, then lay against it, pressing her body tight against the beast as they
disappeared into the darkness. Aiden did likewise.
Looking at the baobhan siths A-Ya said, “I’m sorry, I know this must
be difficult for you. I promise you, I will do everything I can to make
sure you come out of this. Come Karn, we must endure this. We will
survive, we will all survive.” Accompanied by the remaining wolf faer-
ies, they made their way after the alpha pair in silence.
Though the forest seemed like a deranged labyrinth to A-Ya, it

75
quickly became clear to him that those who called this nightmare home
had some deeper understanding of it. He found something almost com-
forting in the wolf faeries’ presence, although this feeling was clearly
not shared by his companions. And though he had ruminated at length
upon these remorseless predators throughout the silence of their jour-
ney, the exact nature of this redeemable quality eluded him.
“Stop,” the word was an abrasive command from one of the wolf
faeries behind them. A-Ya looked around in confusion. Though it was
hard to see in the dim purple light, he was nearly certain there was noth-
ing here besides the omnipresent conifers.
“It smells different here.” Karn’s voice was low; his words lacked
their usual fire. “The odor of tree sap is stronger here. It almost covers
up the smell of blood.”
Aurquim appeared from the darkness. Karn eyed her aggressively
as he took several steps back. “Do not burn all of your energy now,
ogre. I dislike the taste of listless blood.” She turned to A-Ya, gri-
macing, “I cannot present you looking so disheveled.” A-Ya could not
help but gawk at her fangs as she spoke. Hers were the whitest teeth
he had ever seen. Her wrists brushed against his face as she slid his
hood down, sending waves of excitement through his body. Warmth
rose in his cold skin as she began to groom him. The Dusklord would
never have guessed this cannibal’s hands could be so gentle. He lost
himself for a moment as she looked into his eyes. “There, you look
much nicer now.” Smiling lightly, she finished by delicately caressing
the scar on his forehead.
A-Ya reached forward, placing his hand on Aurquim’s cheek. His in-
dex finger caressed her with measured finesse, tracing a crescent over her
flesh. Up and down his digit moved, stroking her long pointed ear. Lean-
ing towards his hand, she shut her eyes, cooing softly. Suddenly her eyes
opened wide as she pulled herself away from his touch. She looked down
demurely, saying, “Surely, I’ve made you at the least… ready. Come,
I must make introductions.” A-Ya followed her eyes up, at the edge of
his light; he could make out structures in the trees. There were homes
right above his head. From what little he could see of the structures, they
seemed to be built in perfect harmony with this dark wood.

76
Turning to go, Aurquim was pulled back as A-Ya grasped her hand.
As they locked eyes, he said, “I had time to think while we walked here
in silence, following your wolf. I thought the whole time about your
people. It did not occur to me until after I ran my finger up your ear that
your ears remind me so much of a freyaen’s. It is like your peoples are
the opposite sides of a mirror, an image that seems so similar at a glance.
Yet you are the left to every one of their rights. All of my life, I have
heard you were monsters. And clearly you are – but there is an elegant
beauty in your way. You are creatures of wonderfully savage brutality,
redeemed by your utter honesty. Living in perfect unity upon a corrupt
world, you are nature’s ravenous hunger-given form. Could it be that
you are the most pure people upon Demar’s face?”
A quizzical look appeared upon Aurquim’s countenance. “That is
the first time I have heard words from one of another kind towards our
own that were not formed within hatred. Because of that, I will refrain
from severing your tongue for mentioning the name of our adversaries
directly below the homes of our children. Be glad, for you will need it
momentarily. Be as skilled with your speech as you have been with me,
or we may still dine on your dead flesh.” With that, she threw her head
back, baying loudly. Whatever the call communicated, it did not trans-
late through the ritual’s mystical energy. A moment later, a rope ladder,
nearly a hundred feet long, fell from the darkness.
Grabbing ahold of it, A-Ya turned towards Karn, who was looking
at him angrily, then glanced at the baobhan siths. “Keep them safe. I
will return.” With that, he made the awkward climb up the questionably
secured rope ladder. Aurquim followed closely behind him.
Many hushed voices filled A-Ya’s ears as he pulled himself onto
the branch from which the ladder hung. Looking around, he saw eyes
filled with amazement. There were too many voices, too many voices
all talking at once; with the overlay in both languages from the ritual
it was too much. He could not understand them. The young pawed at
him, smelling him. So overwhelming was the experience, he nearly fell
to the ground, before Aurquim pulled herself up behind him. She bared
her fangs and hissed at the other, backing them away from her guest.
Timidly looking around, A-Ya marveled at their construction. The

77
structures’ foundations were long, wide branches from multiple trees
grown together to form a strong base. Several different kinds of fun-
gus grew from the trees and each other creating large sculpted rooms.
Long, thick vines served as handrails and living ropes. The only build-
ing material they used in this area (perhaps big enough to be called a
town, but due to the limited light A-Ya was uncertain of its size) was
bone – and there was lots of bone. The style of architecture was most
odd; the rooms seemed to be twisted together and built on top of each
other. All the roofs had a single slant and sunken places in their middles
that sponged up water.
Finally feeling he had his bearings, A-Ya cautiously stood. A
screeching scraping voice split the air behind him. “Who are you to
dare come here?”
Aurquim slid herself behind A-Ya, and before he could even turn
around, she announced “I, Huntlady Aurquim Davia, brought him here.
He is to meet with the countess, she has requested him.”
Turning around, A-Ya faced a hairless, ebony-skinned creature with
compound eyes that rolled eerily inside their sockets. The beast’s coun-
tenance bore a vague resemblance to that of a wolf faerie. But he was
far taller, broader, and thicker than any wolf faerie A-Ya had seen so far.
He screeched again, “She shall not look upon the ugliness of this food
from beyond the wood. Skin him. The children shall enjoy his meat.”
“No. You do not rule here. I shall do as I have said.”
“You dare deny me? I will see you stripped and thrown into the
lands of sun for this indignity. I am your better, I am your count.”
“Thuztaxa,” Aurquim began, pronouncing the creature’s name – A-
Ya’s ritual translated the word as ‘Malignant Thought.’ “You are not my
count. You are not even a member of my tribe. Be careful how you con-
tinue, for I fear nothing you could do. With but one word, my people will
fall upon you and even if it takes us a cycle, we will consume every bit of
your flesh… dragon. Disrespect a member of this tribe’s nobility again
and we will all discover just how vividly your imagination can process
fear. You are simply a suitor – and there have been many suitors.”
“Best you pray by Ahriman’s dreadful eyes that I never become
more than that.” He moved his body to her side, looking down at A-Ya.

78
Ten long, wickedly hooked white claws sprouted from the ends of his
fingers. In response, Aurquim drew her twin daggers and began to hiss.
“Human, I shall watch you. I shall always be watching, until the end of
your world. You will not leave these woods. She has used your life as a
means to embarrass me; only death shall avenge that insult. I swear by
my maker Azi Dahaka, the three-faced dragon, Ahriman’s greatest son,
that I shall own both of your shadows. I call the word vendetta.”
With that, Thuztaxa fell backwards off the bridge. An eruption of
screeches combined with the sounds of ripping flesh. A-Ya looked
down from the village to see Thuztaxa’s mouth ripped open as some-
thing serpentine undulated its way from inside. As his body peeled
back, it bloated to twenty times its former dimensions. His leathery
flesh melted into inky blackness which expanded to colossal size. The
darkness of his form made it too difficult for A-Ya to distinguish as
Thuztaxa hurtled towards the ground.
The darkness seemed closer now. Luk-Coo’s light was not shining
as far as it had. A sudden flurry of cool air battered the priest. Then
A-Ya realized the vast accumulation of shade before him was just a little
blacker than the other shadows that fell in this forest of nightmares. The
outline of the dragon’s wingspan slowly became clear as A-Ya peered
into the darkness, eyes adjusting. The beast flew with impossible agil-
ity, situating its form between the tightly packed tall trees. Such agil-
ity could only be possessed by a creature existing only partially in this
world; the beast was a living mass of the energy of the Outer Darkness.
Thuztaxa’s true form was the ugliest thing A-Ya had ever seen. An
obscene motley, seemingly composed of the distorted shadows of a bat,
serpent, and some sort of parasitic sucking insect. It occurred to A-Ya
that this entity would have what it wanted: today its ugliness would be-
foul the beautiful body of Aurquim and end both of their lives.

79
9
A hundred languages wove a cacophonous cosmopolitan tapestry in
the background as Aeffinea walked wide-eyed down the thoroughfare.
She could never have imagined a city could be this immense. Yet even
in this throng she was alone, save for the singer’s sweet song. The fur-
ther she wandered the more offensive the smells of this place became.
It was a mix of fine scents, such as flowers and baking bread befouled
by cooking meats, the sweat of thousands and the droppings of animals.
The thoroughfare was bisected by many smaller streets, each con-
taining untold numbers of businesses within the bazaar. While the
exotic goods of these venders interested her greatly, she paid them
no more attention than an occasional side glance as she moved ever
closer to her destination. The voice was leading her to a street as large
as the one she currently traveled. The center of the area where these
vast roads met was dominated by an enormous limestone statue of
an elephant-headed woman holding a sign aloft with words in many
languages written upon it. ‘Divinity’s Street,’ the sign read in Dazazy-
aese. The song suddenly came clearer now than ever before. She fol-
lowed its enchanting notes, pulling her to the right. After only a few
steps down this road, Aeffinea’s eyes locked on a monolithic column
of ivory. She was certain the sound that had drawn her from Freya-
heim was emanating from the top of this cylindrical edifice. Trepida-
tion rose within her; never had she seen anything as awe-inspiring
as this gleaming white building. That, combined with the oath she
had sworn, prompted Aeffinea to summon up all the tranquility she
possessed to calm herself enough to approach this daunting structure.
Taking a deep breath, Aeffinea walked towards the building.
“Where do you think you are going?” The words in Dazazyaese shook
her from the trance she had fallen into as she wandered this cold city.
“I’m going into the…” her mouth froze as she realized she was
speaking to a wolf faerie. He was as tall as she was, with silky pitch-
black hair that cascaded past his shoulders. As he smiled, she could see
the long knife-like canines in his mouth. He was the first wolf faerie

80
(and maybe the best-looking man) she had ever seen. Her body flushed
with arousal as his eyes confidently wandered over her form.
“You’re going in there? Why?”
She looked down to hide the bush in her cheeks. “I… I… I heard
a song,” her stammering turned to anger. “You did this? Did you
trap the singer?”
“No,” he laughed. She wanted to be angry, this was her mortal en-
emy, the reason her people existed, but the only reaction her body would
grant her was nervous, sexually-charged energy. She swallowed hard,
pushing her knees tightly together, and began to fidget with the pommel
of her sword. “There is no need for that,” the wolf faerie assured. “I
do not know how you have heard The Song,” he pronounced the word
with emphasis, “but if this is true, then we are…” he took a long pause,
placing his hand on top of hers, “…friends.”
Aeffinea tried to summon up the harshest face she could as she
locked eyes with him. Looking at her reflection in his eyes, she knew
that she had failed at this. All she could think of is what would it feel
like to kiss a man with teeth as long as his. She shuddered as he ran his
hand down her ribcage to her hip.
“What is it we have here? I know I could not have heard the ex-
change between the two of you correctly.” The intrusion caused their
bodies to part slightly, the speaker was fey. He had cloven hooves, and
wooly legs; long goat horns adorned his head. Once she had seen a
statue that held a resemblance to him.
“Are you a satyr?” Aeffinea questioned.
“Yes, little girl, I am that, but most call me Jax. I am the Keeper
of The Song. My companion is Tilane. We are Knights of Elegance,
servants of Cinder, goddess of beauty. You will now stop your lies and
tell me who told you of The Song!” As he spoke commandingly to Aef-
finea, she noted that his Dazazyaese was remarkably good for a creature
not native to their part of K’Vega-Thale.
“How dare you speak to me like that? I am Aeffinea of Freyaheim
and I am not yours to command. No one calls me a liar! I have traveled
from deep inside Roduland, following The Song, the voice that haunts
my dreams. I have seen the blue-skinned girl. I have spoken to her. I

81
have sworn to free her from her prison and you will not stop me!” With
that she drew her khopesh.
Jax looked down at the blade, cocking an eyebrow. Smiling widely
he said, “You cannot possibly be serious. You did not hear The Song.”
She held her blade firm but spoke no words, only countering his dis-
missal by humming along in time as best she could with the notes that
issued forth from the temple before her.
“Taibhreamh na súl oscailte,” he exclaimed. “You do hear the
song!” Tilane had a curious and amused tone to his voice. “It appears
you were wrong, Jax. The calling of the knighthood can indeed be
heard by ears that are not male.”
“No, no this is highly impossible. There has never been a female
knight since the Great Lady founded our order. I cannot accept this. Put
your sword down girl, save your strength. You have a long walk home.
We cannot accept you.” Jax stroked his long goatee as he chastised her.
“Jax, even the Keeper of The Song does not have right of refusal.
She hears the song, and that was Cinder’s choice.”
Jax shot Tilane an annoyed look as he began to chew on his bot-
tom lip. “This must be a mistake. How can a woman be a protec-
tor? Women are to be possessed, as I shall possess The New Song
as I did the last.”
“Possess her? You shall not. I shall free her and protect her. She
shall be free. I will see to that. It disgusts me, little man, that you think
anyone could be your property. Let alone someone as special as her.”
Aeffinea stepped closer, stood taller and looked down directly into the
eyes of the shorter Jax.
The sound of Tilane’s laughter was so pleasant it nearly made Aef-
finea smile. “All right, it is clear she has journeyed far. For whatever
reason she has heard the calling, it is not our place to question. Now
before the two of your erupt into blows in front of our most sacred site,
I suggest you both calm yourselves. I do not wish to have to clean
blood off the front of Trade’s Temple of Gleaming Love. Come with
me, taibhreamh na súl oscailte, I shall make introduction.” Tilane
placed his hand within Aeffinea’s free hand. Opening the temple door,
he gently pulled her through it.

82
Aeffinea blushed as she realized he was holding her hand, but she
did not pull away. A strange mixture of feelings flooded her and she
desperately wished that revulsion had been one of them. Her head
whirled contemplating the myriad of emotions Tilane inspired within
her. None of them were aversion. She was beginning to find his pres-
ence very enjoyable. Stepping inside the temple, she could hear the sad
Song louder than ever before.
Past the foyer, which itself was amazing, was a high spiral staircase
and the grandest room she had ever seen. The room was filled with
ambient light and tastefully decorated with art, both ancient and mod-
ern. Hundreds of butterflies with stunningly vivid color flitted about the
room or perched upon its elegantly decorative furniture.
Tilane walked to a vase containing pink roses, withdrew one and ran
it softly across Aeffinea’s top lip. She felt weak in the knees as a moan
escaped her mouth. Reflexively, her hand was upon his face, as they
slowly moved closer together.
“What is this? Tilane, I told you I would not tolerate you engag-
ing whores of my people before my eyes. Keep such despicable
women out of this monument.”
The hostility of the interruption dazed Aeffinea. A gold-skinned,
blonde-haired freyaen who was entering the room from one of its many
doors continued his aggression. “Out, out, out, I’ll not have you in this
place, whore.” He had a sickened look on his face as he made a waving
motion with both of his outstretched hands.
“She is no whore, taibhreamh na súl oscailte, she is our ninth.”
“I’ve told you, I do not enjoy your sense of humor. And stop refer-
ring to me as whatever that means in your peoples’ foul tongue, crea-
ture. While it is only natural that a beast as base as a daga taka would
take to whoring in this metropolis, she is regrettably still of the blood of
Freya and I will not be made witness to this abomination. It is disgust-
ing enough that I have had to look upon the results of such couplings
every day since I arrived here. Quickly now, to the streets with you,
freak, and don’t try to steal any objects of art on your way out.” His
tone was more condescending than any she had heard over the course of
her entire life. Aeffinea found it difficult to remain calm as these insults

83
combined with the adrenaline that still surged through her.
A voice in Dazazyaese came from the room the freyaen had just
entered through. “I grow weary of your constant insults, gold one.
You like to mention whores so much, prepare yourself to become one.
I will disgrace, defeat, and enthrall you upon the dusk. Once you
belong to me, you will come to fully understand what it is to be a
pleasure slave, rented out on a nightly basis.” A six-foot three tall
magenta-skinned fey with short, spiked, violet hair and orchid-colored
eyes sauntered into the room.
Aeffinea stammered, “Kalfar?”
“Yes, he’s a kalfar whore. Is he your child?”
Tilane broke in, “She is our ninth. This means that the Knights
of Elegance can finally be reassembled and our quest for the key can
begin. This will give all of you the chance to fight something besides
each other. I am ill-made to play peacemaker, so if any of you have a
problem over that, we can discuss it over dinner.” With that he bared his
fangs and hissed.
Aeffinea withdrew from Tilane; the savageness of his expression
was unexpected and horrifying. The golden-skinned freyaen headed up
the spiraling staircase without another word.
The kalfar was looking Aeffinea over thoroughly. “I like your
hair; it reminds me of the first dawn I ever saw. I apologize for that
little scene there, a poor introduction surely. My people call me
Ionesa. I was the sixth to arrive. Which majestic sounds may I use
to form your name?”
The cosmopolitan nature of Trade had begun to thoroughly confuse
Aeffinea. How could it be that a wolf faerie, a kalfar, and a freyaen,
mortal enemies all, could occupy the same room and speak civilly?
How could they possibly be chosen to form a knightly order together?
She looked at both of them with a bewildered expression. “My name is
Aeffinea, I have so many questions; I do not know where to begin. It
seems I know next to nothing about any of this. If you would kindly tell
me about Cinder and The Song, I would be greatly appreciative.”
“Please allow me,” Ionesa said. “Cinder, the Queen of Freedom, is
the goddess of beauty, awe, love, desire, inspiration, and music. She is

84
also the mother of the seven races of nymphs. The Song you’ve heard is
the calling of her new avatar, the form through which Cinder shall work
within the world of flesh. The avatar is a person, or other being, uplifted
from their mortal life into an exalted form kissed by the grace of divin-
ity. Their footsteps are their own, but their shadow is their god’s. Long
ago, before the numbering of cycles, Cinder anointed her first child
as avatar and she came to be known as The Song for the preternatural
power and beauty of her voice. All was well for much time, before The
Song became deluded, forgetting her place. She had naïve fools build
temples for her, blasphemously naming herself a goddess and attempt-
ing to usurp her mother’s rightful place. Even though Cinder showed
great tolerance for these heresies, her patience eventually faded. In her
wrath, the true goddess of beauty cast her willful daughter out, cursing
her to forever inhabit the form of a dreadfully hideous monster. The
Order of Elegance was created by the goddess to protect The Song and
Cinder’s churches. The Keeper of The Song is the first among the Order
of Elegance and it is his right to possess The Song, in every way. Jax
has always been The Keeper of The Song. He was the husband of the
nymph, Yrkahe before her betrayal. While this position is still Jax’s
for now, with a new order formed, each of us having responded to the
call as you did, that position has become uncertain. You see, now that
you, our ninth and final member, are here, we can begin our quest. The
New Song is locked at the top of this tower – which is not a place in
this world, but in the Great Dreaming. Cinder has put her there, where
she is safe and undergoing the transformation that will elevate her to the
station of avatar. Our quest is to find the key which opens the door at
the top of the tower and release her. Whoever releases The Song will
become The Keeper of The Song.”
“Thank you for your kindness and generosity in this explanation. I
don’t know what else to say, I will have to meditate upon this. You have
given me much to contemplate. To hear that a goddess has selected me
for such a grand quest and position is awe-inspiring. I hope it will not
seem rude, but may I ask you another question? It is about your people.”
“I suppose.”
“Is it true that there was once an entire clan of daga taka freyaen?”

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“Look at me: you will see the answer is yes... and no. For they
were not touched by dawn’s rays as you, they were fully of the twi-
light. Their entire bodies bore the touch that your hair does. We are
the scions of the freyaen clan of dawn and the wolf faerie tribe of
dusk. Cruelly sentenced to the bottom of the world and banished from
the dream by the god and goddess your two peoples hold dear. We
have long lived in the darkness for the blasphemy our parents commit-
ted by saying we will love each other and end this eternal war. We are
the children of those monsters.”
A sympathetic look crossed Aeffinea’s face. She frowned slightly
and nodded her head respectfully. “I’ve never heard the story from
your side. My meditations will be full of thought.” She thought to
herself perhaps she could find kinship with this kalfar. He certainly
seemed far more accepting than the freyaen she had met. If this was
to be her life, she would have to find a way to live with this strange
collection of people.
Tilane placed his arm around Aeffinea. “Come, you’ve only met
half our order, there should be others about. Let us go look for them and
in the process you can see a bit more of your palatial new home.” He
led her through another door which opened onto a long white hallway
with many ornately carved doors each strained cherry red. After pass-
ing more than a dozen on either side; he placed his hand on the door at
the end of the hallway. She could hear sounds of combat coming from
the other side. Tilane opened the door, revealing a regal-looking man
in lustrous plate mail. The combat maneuvers the pale, yellow-skinned
man practiced with his glaive were so graceful, they seemed like danc-
ing. His hair, a charming mess of orange tinged brown locks, swayed as
he pivoted, twirled, and thrust his polearm with astounding speed.
Towering at a height of six-and-a-half feet, the lean man turned his
strong-jawed face towards them, fixing his silver eyes on her. He spoke
in a language she did not understand: “Verite uol igatis medigei cecoru,
hitigail Vykata O Res.” He then stretched his left arm over his head and
tapped the butt of his glaive three times in rapid succession against the
floor of his huge training room.
Aeffinea could feel Tilane’s lips brush her ear as he spoke. “I see

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by the puzzled look on your face that you don’t speak Hob. I feel you’ll
need to broaden your linguistic skills. Few in the wide world speak
Dazazyaese. I’ll have to put that on my list of topics to instruct you
in.” A warmth rose within her as he spoke, causing her to rub her knees
together awkwardly. “He has informed you that his name is Vykata O
Res. From the way you are looking at him, I’ll assume you’ve never
seen a viagysh before. The word ‘viagysh’ means ‘children of steel’ in
Hob. Vykata is his house’s name, which is what you shall address him
as. It means ‘The Mastery of War.’ I shall tell him in his tongue that you
do not understand him and introduce you.”
“Giui h’diela verxet faxum ornitical h’eus Aeffinea serectum w’erto
hail mehornus.” Once Tilane finished speaking, Vykata thrust his head
forward before breaking eye contact and returning to his training.
Aeffinea’s voice came softer than she would have liked to have pro-
jected. “Thank you. This world of yours is so strange to me. How
many languages do you speak? How many do you need to speak to
make it in this odd place?”
They stood, watching Vykata practice as they spoke. “I remember
feeling the same way when I left the forest as a child, in the entourage
of a nyxad. What I noticed first was the smell of the city. It is difficult
to get use to. It is so loud here, the customs are many and the laws dif-
ficult to understand. Hard still for a meehan-ghe, this is a place built
on economics. There is no word for economics in Ajyran. We do not
have money, we do not trade, and we hunt our own food. It took me
eight cycles to begin to understand why I should hoard valueless pieces
of gold like the one you wear around your neck. It was a lesson I only
learned when I understood you exchange it for, spend it on, viagysh
steel. To answer your other questions, I speak eleven languages and you
need to learn as many as you can. Being able to speak with someone
can prevent you from having to kill them.”
“Yes, yes, you are correct. What is a nyxad and what does ‘ehand-
guy’ mean?”
Tilane laughed. “You pounced that incorrectly, it is ‘meehan-ghe.’
That is the name of my people. We did not name ourselves wolf faeries.
That name comes from you, taibhreamh na súl oscailte, which is our

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name for your people. When Cinder lay with Ahriman they had nine
daughters, those nymphs and their daughters are called the nyxades.”
Aeffinea blushed. Looking down, she commented. “It is really
amazing how wise you are, it seems you know practically everything. I
meant what I said when I arrived here: I do not think The Song should
be owned by anyone and I will not allow Jax to own her.”
Tilane smiled thoughtful. “We shall see. He is old and powerful.
Feels she is already his. One thing I will not question about him, how-
ever, is his loyalty to Cinder. He has served this temple for more cycles
than I could count. While his focus can be narrow he is a bad enemy to
make. Be careful how you proceed with him. It could get ugly.”
Aeffinea reflected upon his words. He was right: she must be care-
ful. As she ruminated, it occurred to her that she was taking advice from
one of the enemy. But was he her enemy or was she just beginning to
see the truth the dawn-skinned freyaen had found so long ago? What
was to be won by their eternal war, except the death of both of their
peoples? They walked back down the hall in silence. Since leaving
Freyaheim she had seen an impressive range of peoples: ferrums, hu-
mans, viagyshes and ogres – but none of these other species so closely
resembled hers as the wolf faeries. They were cousins separated only
by the color of the sky. Boldly, she placed her hand in his, causing a
smile to come over his face. Noticing his fangs, she remembered the
sky was a very large place indeed.
The sound of Tilane’s knocking rattled her out of her daydream. A
tall, powerfully built, blue-skinned man that looked just like The Song
opened the cherry stained door before them.
“You are... you are like her. What are you?”

88
10
“Children... run!” Aurquim screamed as she studied the shadowy
monstrosity flapping before her village in the high trees.
A-Ya glanced at her, “Aurquim go! Protect the children. Better this
beast kills only one of us.” With that, the Dusklord invoked his god.
“Dragon, Luk-Coo is Ahriman’s child as well. Now know the regal
glory of the setting sun’s embrace!” He held his hands in front of his
face, pushing his wrists up, bowing his fingers and pushing their tips
together. A red-violet oval formed between his palms, which he flicked
directly at the shadowy fiend.
The dragon roared as the cool light assaulted his eyes, his breath
smelled like swamp decay. The ritual did not slay Thuztaxa as A-Ya had
hoped, but it seemed to have dazed the beast.
“I thank you, A-Ya, but this village is mine to defend. I do not fear
death; my soul is clean. You may have conceded this battle already, but
I have not. And if I am to die today, I will leave Thuztaxa’s body for our
tribe to devour.” There was no doubt in her movement as she leapt from
the bridge into the inky darkness of the dragon’s body. Aurquim drove
her twin daggers into the living blackness which was the dragon’s flesh.
The monster howled as she slid down it, dragging her blades through its
form as she descended towards the forest’s floor.
“You dare injure me, fool mortals! Your deaths will be immediate,
but the price of justice shall be an eternity of torment in my shadow
box.” Thuztaxa buffeted Aurquim crushingly with his wing, whipping
her into a nearby pine tree. The back of her skull connected violently
with the tree, sending her body in a free-fall towards the ground.
“No!” A-Ya screamed as the beautiful fey hurtled towards her
death. Extending his left hand with a rapid thrust, a long protoplas-
mic arm stretched from his palm. With incredible speed, the enor-
mous hand shot through the still forest air, catching Aurquim mere
feet above the forest floor. Before even shifting his vision from the
ground, A-Ya could feel the massive beast inhaling. Without a second
thought, he shot his right arm towards the dragon, causing another

89
ghostly arm to extend. The fist crackled with mystical energy as it
crashed into Thuztaxa’s huge head. Winding up, A-Ya struck the crea-
ture with both glowing fists. “Fiend, you are the inverse of beauty!
Your malignancy shall molest this place no further.”
The shrieks of Thuztaxa filled the wood. His throat rippled repul-
sively before letting loose a deep buzzing humming sound. A rain of
night shot from his mouth. The shadow liquid engulfed A-Ya, seeping
into his pours, crawling into his orifices. A-Ya tried to scream but his
body would not grant him that mercy. Collapsing onto his knees, he fell
face-first onto the planks of the town in the high trees. Even though his
body was not fully alive, he felt a fever beginning to burn through his
flesh. Confusion and fatigue spread rapidly through his body, sending
him into dizzying darkness.
Overwhelming shaking on the bridge pulled A-Ya’s fevered mind
back into consciousness. Glancing up, he saw Thuztaxa knock a dozen
archers off the walkway. Not even one of them screamed as they plum-
meted to their deaths. The dragon’s body was riddled with their arrows,
but he was not stopping. A-Ya wiped his sweat-drenched brow. “Luk-
Coo, if it is your will, call me home. If it is not, give me the strength to
prove to this disease that you are greater than his Lord.” The Dusklord
staggered to his feet, knowing that if he were still a breathing creature,
whatever horror the dragon had unleashed upon him would have conclud-
ed his existence. Long grey arms sprouted from his palms. As archers
continued to fire their arrows, the hands raced towards the dragon, but
veered off, touching two trees, sending the shock of death through them.
He furrowed his brow, straining so hard that blood began to ooze from
every orifice in his face. Thuztaxa breathed again, the sickness downed
nine archers who began to break out in violent sweats. Still, A-Ya would
not stop; he fought with the strength of true faith. “Die,” he screamed as
he fell backwards. He knew the perfect focus of his fevered mind was
about to break. With the last of his mental reserve, he uprooted the trees.
Thrusting the ancient pines together with tremendous velocity, A-Ya an-
nihilated Thuztaxa’s skull between the masses of wood.
The dragon’s shrill death-wail echoed through A-Ya’s mind as un-
consciousness enveloped him. He was too far from life for dreams, but

90
that did not stop memories from cascading through the blackness. The
sky was violently red on the evening his mother was laid to rest. While
he remembered everything, no detail stood out more vividly than the
soreness in his muscles as he stood listening to Hycro the Avatar of
Luk-Coo eulogize Mora Doon, his mother. The young priestess, who
had died in child birth, was well loved by many; the mourners on the
High Hill had been numerous. Lars had insisted they dig her grave to-
gether. Twelve hours of intensive physical labor in the hole had bound
the smell of fresh earth to the memory of his mother. Hycro had taken
his brother away the next morning; Lars was to be trained as an arm of
the faith. The few times the brothers crossed paths in subsequent cycles
always left A-Ya feeling as if they had buried more than their mother
in the ground that day. Lars had come out of that hole with a cold void
where his heart once beat. Still, Lars had handled it better than their
father, Garth Doon. Over the course of his life, A-Ya had yet to meet
two people as truly in love as his parents. Watching his father waste
away and pass from the world in the wake of his mother’s death nearly
extinguished A-Ya’s faith. How could the god of the dying have taken
them home? How could that god have taken them and left A-Ya, a mere
boy, to raise his infant sister? It took three cycles to find the answer.
The bitterness he had felt for his loss, lost in the face of a flower when
he finally understood life; he accepted death was its certainty.
As enlightenment flooded through his mind, he heard the soothing
call of Luk-Coo. The whispers infused him with knowledge beyond his
cycles, quickly he moved through the rank of acolyte, always seeing the
next step. The flow of time became jumbled and scattered in the reflec-
tion. Through a thousand images, the interest Hycro took in the young
prodigy was remembered. The last recollection of Hycro was from the
ceremony of gates when the avatar appointed A-Ya Dusklord of the
temple on the High Hill and gifted him with the mystical relic Mace of
Twilight – the same weapon that was later defiled in his murder. In this
oblivion happiness was rekindled within the memories of his time with
his sister. The fullness of his love for Vule played out over the stage of
his mind, followed in course by the pain of her disloyalty. In a landslide
of thought, he recalled her theft of temple artifacts, her blasphemy of the

91
gods, her disdain for his love, and her abandonment of the temple. He
found only temporary cures in the arms of other women for the holes
abandonment by his mother and sister had left inside him. The faces
of women long forgotten swam through his thoughts. There had been
many women, each he tried so hard to make fit the face he had dreamt of
for so long. None did. Finally, he almost found a match for the lines in
a fresh-faced Thela Thorn. They had been hot and cold, so many times.
While he relished her body and respected her mind, they never truly
came to love each other and in the end, her betrayal was simply another
abandonment. Love was the truth he had searched a lifetime for, only
ever finding its imitation, never its form.
The forms around A-Ya were obfuscated by the darkness as con-
sciousness slowly called the Dusklord back from oblivion. Karn, the
baobhan siths, and Aurquim all fought for immediate consideration
within his mind’s eye. “Aurquim, where are you?” The utterance
of her name caused a flashback to Thuztaxa and the constellation of
events which surrounded her. Was she was dead? No – he had saved
her. Uncertainty clouded his thoughts. The dragon was dead. At
least he hoped those were the beast’s death wails he had heard before
slipping into blackness.
“A-Ya, I am here.” The voice was like razor wire: light, strong,
and dangerous. Her face was so close the Dusklord could almost
see her. In this lightless world, her features, those he could make
out, seemed oh so close to that of his pressing daydream. Could it
be that this warrior of nightmares and dark trees was the one he had
searched for? As she took his face in her hands, he could feel his
heart beginning to let her in. “Thuztaxa is undone, that miserable
fiend will never plague us again. The dragon killed at least one hun-
dred members of my tribe in his rampage. You and your god have
my... appreciation for preventing my fall.”
A-Ya reached out, stroking her face softly. “It relieves me to hear
your voice. I was not sure... I thought I’d lost you. Your valor was
remarkable. Never have I seen a warrior so determined to protect her
people that she would leap from the trees to fight a dragon hundreds of
feet above the forest floor. You are utterly fearless.” As A-Ya reached

92
out to stroke her face, he felt wet, sticky liquid upon her cheek. Calling
forth the mystical precepts of dying light under the name of Luk-Coo,
the Dusklord again filled the village in the trees with purple radiance.
Aurquim’s face was a crimson mask and her right arm hung unnaturally
as he held her face with his hands. “You... you are wounded. Let me
get to my feet and I will help you.”
“Nothing but blood and bone, think no more of it. Many of my
people suffer true anguish still as they lie dying from the sickness
of the soul the dragon’s plague breath engenders. This was not
your fight, yet you stood with us,” her voice lowered and filled
with femininity, “with me. Why?”
“I see your people for what they are, though you are hard, you are
pure and intricately glamorous. You are an essential part of the world. I
would never stand aside to permit ugliness to vanquish beauty. Though
our road to your village was... interesting... your people have won my
respect and you have won more than that.” A-Ya pressed his lips to-
gether and slowly began to lean forward.
“Gratitude, outlander, for preventing my mate’s end with your
strange mysticism. For your aid to our village, I have decided to extend
the baobhan siths stay of eradication despite the failing of your light,”
Aiden said interrupting.
“Oh... yes... my thanks. How are those that were upon the forest
floor? Is Karn still…”
“Yes, your red ogre is amongst the living. It seems that only our
people paid the price for Thuztaxa’s attack. It leads me to wonder why
a dragon who had always been in accord with our tribe suddenly at-
tempted to destroy us immediately after you stepped onto our bridges,
human. Explain what has happened,” Aiden demanded. “Now!”
Aurquim spoke before A-Ya could. “Thuztaxa was a creature ill
at odds with the world. He was a thing unworthy of our air and most
undeserving of our countess’s time. The fault for the battle lies with
me or rather with the fact I would not be cowed by this fiend. The
dragon threatened to take my shadow for his soul box. I told him we’d
eat every bit of his flesh, if it took us a cycle.” She then turned back to
A-Ya. “While the beast was largely made of shadow woven from the

93
Outer Darkness, his body still contains much meat. You shall have the
first bite of his malignant heart, dragon slayer.” The words she spoke
were of honor and lust. Still, the idea of eating a creature of darkness
and disease, let alone its heart, made the Dusklord vomit. Fortunately, it
had been many days since he had last eaten and the wolf faeries did not
seem to notice his disgust.
Aiden and Aurquim exchanged a look that seemed to convey an
entire conversation, Aiden then turned towards A-Ya. “Gratitude for
your aid, I confer upon you the appreciation of our tribe. Excuse me, I
must find an appropriate axe to butcher Thuztaxa for our banquet. I’ll
see to it that you eat first, outsider, it is our custom that the greatest
share goes to the killer.”
“I’d like to help you with that. I’m... curious to see what the dead
wyrm looks like. And it would please me to speak with my companions.”
Another long look was exchanged between Aiden and Aurquim be-
fore A-Ya and he made their way down the long rope ladder to the dark
ground below. The bodies of the fallen archers laid in twisted heaps,
legs and necks bent at impossible angles. Thuztaxa’s body looked dif-
ferent: no longer shrouded in the shadow energy of the Outer Darkness,
it was shriveled and small. The ebony skin had faded to ash grey; black
particles slithered across the flesh, seemingly seeking a new form to
infest. With no regard for the condition of the dragon’s corpse, Aiden
brought a wood axe down upon the monster over and over again, hack-
ing the diseased carcass into manageable pieces. Lifting up a gore-
oozing segment, Aiden reverently offered the hunk of bone and flesh to
the Dusklord. A-Ya seemed less than pleased at the offering, but took
the meat from the wolf faerie nonetheless.
Aiden narrowed his gaze as he looked into A-Ya’s eyes. “Eat.”
Lifting the segment into the air, A-Ya could see the dragon’s heart re-
flecting in the twilight glow of his ritual. He bit down into the muscular
flesh which encased the heart like the shell of a nut. Ripping it with his
teeth caused the slick goo of the creature’s innards to run down his face,
drenching his hair and cloak. The taste was somewhere between overly
bitter licorice root and putrefied fatty flesh, with a heavy metallic after-
taste. As he bit down, he heard loud noises from the village above. It

94
was not until after he looked up that he realized the howling and stamp-
ing was the wolf faeries’ way of celebrating his victory. They were con-
gratulating him for eating this dragon’s heart. A-Ya was emboldened by
their fervor and tore into the muscle again, letting the ichor run down his
face. Never had he engaged in such savage barbarism, never had he felt
such adulation or utter acceptance. He reached his hands into the mas-
sive chest cavity. Pulling with all his might, he wrenched the dragon’s
heart from its chest. It tore away slowly, the root tendrils breaking one
by one, but it came. Covered in black blood, he held the heart of Thuz-
taxa high above his head. It sparkled in the purple light. There was a
hush of awe from the wolf faeries as they looked down upon what had
been pulled from the dragon’s chest. Being hunters, they had all seen
hearts before. It was not the fact that what A-Ya held in the air was
larger than his head, it was the way his purple light refracted off this
thing that caused the blood-drenched diamond to enthrall their atten-
tion so fully. The faeries began to cheer as A-Ya was hoisted into the
air by Karn. They howled so loudly and rattled the tree bridges so
violently that the Dusklord could not understand how the entire vil-
lage did not collapse and plummet to the ground under their joyous
assault. The sounds that rained down from the trees above conveyed
many feelings, but more than any other sentiment, they expressed ac-
ceptance. Acceptance so utter it elevated A-Ya to an ecstatic state.
Watching Aurquim joining in with the celebration above, he wondered
whether this could be the love he had been searching for? At no point
in his life had he ever felt as accepted, as purely or as fully a part of the
world as he did in the midst of this adulation. He whispered quietly,
“Luk-Coo, thank you for showing me this could be life. Thank you for
letting me come to know these beautiful savage wonders.” A wave of
silence fell upon the revelers. A-Ya could see a form in shadow mov-
ing behind the wolf faeries.
“Who dares to hold the heart of my suitor above his arrogant head?”
The harsh words wrenched the euphoria from A-Ya’s chest. Then he
saw her, there was no need to match her face. It was the one he had seen
in a thousand dreams. The Dusklord’s mouth fell agape as he looked
upon the living personification of beauty. The purple glow his ritual

95
produced expanded to fully illuminate the forest floor as a breeze began
to blow through the underbrush. White moths began to flutter around
A-Ya. Karn placed the priest on the ground, looking around nervously.
The moths increased quickly in number to the point there were so many
around A-Ya that he was no longer visible. Slowly his form re-emerged
as the swarm lifted him into the air. He was gracefully carried up to the
town in the trees. The moths brought him face to face with the face of
his dreams. Her skin, which glowed like the moon was offset by her
hair, lips, eyes, and finger nails which were the color of night.
A-Ya drank her in before speaking. So vividly did each of her
features stand out, it seemed as if she dwelt in a place of greater real-
ity than K’Vega-Thale itself. He cast his eyes down, looking at the
carpet of moths beneath his feet. “I am Dusklord A-Ya Doon and I
have seen you every time I’ve closed my eyes since I was a child. I’ve
looked for you in every woman’s face I’ve ever met since your visage
was somehow burned into my mind. My god has led me here, so that
I might show you all I am, so that I might prove my love for you. I
beg only for the chance. I brought you treasures of gold and gems, but
looking upon, it would seem insulting to even lay such pedestrian ar-
tifacts at your feet. I slew that creature that you called your suitor be-
cause he threatened this village, these people, and because the dragon
was ugly. Looking upon you, I can think of no greater profanity than
to allow such a thing to possess you. There is only one beautiful of-
fering I can make you. It is the truth of my life.” With that, he set the
diamond heart onto the bridge. Reaching into his pack, he produced
the twilight rose and laid it gently across her feet.
She lowered herself elegantly and picked up the rose. “Understand,
Dusklord, if your offering does not please me, if I do not find great
worth in the truth of your life, my tribe shall rip you apart.” Her eyes,
pure dark orbs striped with nine white lines, studied the flower closely
before she inhaled its scent.

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11
“Of course we look alike to you, sun child – she is one of my fiancés.
Even in another world, her calls could not be kept from my ears. Her song
is sad and sweet. I know not why any of you heard it, but she sings for
me alone. She calls me to save her from the clutches of your goddess. I
swam the whole of the Red River to be here. Soon I shall return her to our
ocean home.” Although his tongue pronounced the syllables with a pitch
too low and aggressive, his Dazazyaese was commendable.
Jealousy coursed through Aeffinea’s body at the sound of his words.
She mouthed, “I will be the one to save her.”
The three two-foot-long feathers upon his head stood up erect as he
pressed himself against Aeffinea. “Leaf eater, you dare challenge Meto-
dite? I have heard the ravings of these other ‘knights’ and they are fools.
She is no prize to be won. My sweet Gahlodi is no slave; I will see you
all dead before I allow any of you to possess her. Karei, Gahlodi, and I
all learned to sing and spear fish together as children. I have passed ev-
ery rite to prove myself worthy as their mate, only to have her abducted
the cycle before the joining of our trinity under the sacred heavens of
F’Tash. I will strike you down and leave you for the crabs, as I have
every siren that’s challenged my mating rights.”
The muscles in Aeffinea’s hand twitched, she was ready to draw
her khopesh. “All I hear is another man who seeks to own her. My
vow is that she shall be free and you will never live long enough to
see me dead.”
Aeffinea felt hands wrap around her from behind. Reflexively, she
took top wrist control, slammed her hips back and rolled her shoulder
to throw her assailant, before she felt Tilane’s fang run its way down
her ear. “Calm,” he whispered. The deep, sultry tone of his voice com-
bined with the pressing fight impulse which Metodite’s challenge elic-
ited caused war to break out between the instincts within her. Metodite
backed away, confused by the carnality which flooded Aeffinea’s vis-
age. The sound of the door closing was followed by the sound of Aef-
finea’s clothes hitting the stone floor.

97
The danger of kissing him made the act all the more intoxicating as
her tongue carefully slid between his fangs. His timing was precise as
he played her body like a mandolin. With gentle command, he posi-
tioned her against the wall, sliding into her from behind. As he pulled
her hair tight, she shivered and screamed his name, bowing her back as
she came. In a declaration of submission, she bared her neck to him.
A tumult of emotion cascaded through her thoughts; she knew this was
an act she could never come back from. The kindness of this forbidden
man highlighted in her mind the cruelty of her own kind. There was so
much that attracted her to him; it was not just his kindness, his voice,
his beauty, or the skillful way he handled her. As she climaxed again,
she realized for the first time in her life that she had found someone she
completely trusted, even if he was a wolf. When his breathing became
too heavy, she knelt and finished him off with her mouth.
They lay gazing at each other upon the cool stone floor. The love-
making had left Aeffinea so relaxed that she slowly slipped into a day-
dream. The astral curtain parted as she looked into her lover’s eyes,
the world all around began to breathe the sad beckoning Song that had
summoned her. Many difficult choices would soon need to be made.
But not now, now was a time for the past; the future would be here
soon enough. Her past played out on Tilane’s face in that state between
this world and the living dream. A face that ever so slightly hinted at
that thing, that terrible thing she had seen at the edge of the dark for-
est. She knew Tilane was that thing, of course. Still, in this state she
could feel the presence of nightmare; it undulated out of every crevice
of her faultless lover’s form. As they penetrated the dream world, they
trance-merged; the act shattered her previous conception of intimacy.
The dark, shimmering shadow of Tilane’s astral body slithered around
her golden soul. In a moment of rapture, she came to know him utterly.
His secrets, hatreds, loves, and even fears were laid bare upon the altar
of her understanding. She lived the ecstasy of his hunts; the pleasure of
drinking terror-laced freyaen blood was incomprehensible, as was the
crippling loneliness of losing his pack. He was part of a whole, a piece
whose damage she overwhelmingly now understood. And she knew in
their union that he understood her too.

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“I have never seen anything so sickening. You creatures copulate
against the command of your creators and have the audacity, the unmiti-
gated gall, to bring the abomination which is your love into Opiate’s
holy realm of dreams, into the house of the goddess! You will be cen-
sored like the kalfar who did this before you; you will be cast out from
the paradise of our birth. The rite you profane, by tasting each other’s
souls, is only to be practiced within the sanctity of marriage. I thought
you a whore when you first walked through these doors, but there is
no word I know which can convey the loathing you now inspire within
me.” The golden-skinned freyaen finished, eyeing the dazed lovers his
tirade had yanked from the deepest of intimacies. With one last con-
temptuous scowl, he closed the hallway door, leaving the lovers to face
each other in the aftermath of his assault.
Aeffinea pulled her clothing on quickly and raised her sword. “You
dare to tear us asunder? Come back here and face me!” The slur of her
words revealed that her mind had not yet fully rejoined her flesh.
Tilane grabbed ahold of her wrist. “Now is not the time for this.”
“How can you say that, after what he did to us?” Aeffinea countered.
“He ruined it, he ruined our time,” her words were cut short as tears
streamed down her cheeks.
“Time cannot be ruined, only delayed. Our final secrets shall be saved
for now and relished as they are revealed in our souls’ final exchange.”
“How can you remain so calm?” she sobbed.
“It is the greatest strength of your people. Only through the grace
of your soul have I come to understand why tranquility matters.” Tilane
pulled her close.
“So you’ll just let him dishonor us like this?”
“Having drunk of my soul, all that I am is within you. Answer that
question yourself.”
Aeffinea rested her face on Tilane’s chest. “You’re going to kill
him. You are going to hunt him and kill him and drink his terror-laced
blood.” Her voice was soft, calm, and full of trust.
Tilane stroked her head, nuzzling her face against him. “Of course
I am. Of course I am, but only when the time is right. Your sunlit soul
has taught me the great importance of timing, of patience. The taib-

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hreamh na súl oscailte, known as Verar, will not see another cycle.”
The red hues of embarrassment rose in her cheeks as she spoke.
“I cannot believe what I’m about to say. After you, do what you
must to him. I... we must trance-merge again I need to feel it, the
exhilaration of tasting his death. Vengeance mixed with fear, the
pleasure must be unimaginable. As your darkness coiled around my
light, I was with you on every hunt you’ve ever had. I did not know
that taking life could be a religious communion. I was oblivious that
a moment of existence could be that perfect. Thank you, thank you
so much for showing me... the night.”
“Nik toruiol nab hull yttil casupit.”
“In Dazazyaese please, Cyssus. Though I appreciate your address-
ing me in my people’s tongue, Aeffinea does not understand Ajyran.”
Looking down, Aeffinea saw an impeccably dressed eleven-inch-
tall lizard-faced man. Although she found it difficult to take someone
the size of a doll seriously, he did pique her curiosity.
“From the brouhaha at assembly I deduced Verar may not have de-
livered Jax’s message to you, yes? It is nearly the time of Cinder’s most
envious antagonist. Being that Jax appointed this time for departure, as
we are all now in attendance, let the both of you come directly with me.
Adventure awaits and we must be at it before the face of dawn is cast
upon the long street. Yes, yes?” The little man delivered his words with
the flair of an artist, yet maintained the poise of a soldier.
Tilane tensed his jaw. Furrowing his brow, he took Aeffinea’s hand.
A swell of excitement rose within her; soon she would have a chance
to prove her worth, to fulfill her vow to The Song. “Both of you please
excuse me,” Tilane said as they exited the long hallway. “I will need a
moment to compose my attire for this journey.”
“Well at least you look ready. Come. Come on then, Aeffinea, was
it? Your optilang awaits. The trail of destiny beckons.” Stepping onto
the streets of Trade, she instantly locked eyes with Verar, willing the face
of fear found in her lover’s dark soul upon her own countenance with all
the concentration she possessed. She could feel it, the black intimacy.
But if that feeling had even crossed her face, it evanesced before Verar
could register it. Fear was not the freyaen way. In the periphery of

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her vision, servants, slaves, or priestesses were readying eight saddled
optilangs. Each member of the Knights of Elegance was assembled,
including a human she had yet to meet. The tall, wide-shouldered man
had copper-flecked eyes that sparkled like green jewels and a scruffy
five-day beard. He carried an outlandish sword which had a long blade
protruding from each end of its grip.
The cool predawn wind filled this holy street with the unpleasant
smells of the metropolis. The ruffling of fabric behind her pulled her
attention from her rival. Tilane emerged from the temple adorned in a
fluttering red cloak that hung just loosely enough to reveal his copper-
studded black leather jerkin and twin hand axes. He looked neither at
Aeffinea nor Verar; walking with purpose, he was the first to mount an
optilang. Jax raised his bastard sword high into the air. “Regardless of
what path has led us here, we are the elect. The events that begin with
the dawn’s light shall be recited for a thousand times a thousand cycles
to come. Go forth, my brothers. Know that you have been chosen by
unadulterated beauty. You have all heard The Song that comes from
the top of this tower. It is time we deliver her. It is time we fulfill the
goddess’s plans. Cinder has pulled me past the surreal, granting me
lucid vision. I and I alone have been charged with the directive of our
destiny. We go towards magic; it is the north which beckons our beasts’
shadows. Know that great danger awaits us. In the end, you shall all
have the reward of serving out the rest of your lives as Lords of Love.”
With that, the satyr threw his goat leg over a large lizard’s back, nudging
the beast’s ribs with his hoof. And so their journey began.
Divinity’s Street was shrouded in the shadows of all its churches in
the breezy predawn. The thoroughfare was empty as they embarked
upon their travels. Many of the holy sites they rode by showed signs
of morning rites being begun within their walls. A loud commotion
coming from a temple alcove caught Aeffinea’s notice. A dark-skinned
human and a ferrum were heatedly arguing as a freyaen woman seemed
to be attempting to break into what appeared to be an abandoned temple.
“What is that building?” she asked Tilane.
“It is a temple of Nif – the dead elder creator of cold. It has been
derelict ever since I arrived in Trade. What use does anyone have for a

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dead divinity? The law of Trade states that each of the throned – each
power that holds the rank of divinity, each that is honored with a day to
call their own – be given a place of worship.” Tilane prodded his mount
in the direction of the assembly. “You there, what are you doing?”
The men looked up, but it was the woman who addressed him. “By
the rights of conquest, we claim this sanctuary for the one true divinity.
Now be away with you, ulfur, I care not to truck with the likes of you.”
“One true divinity, what nonsense are you babbling about, taib-
hreamh na súl oscailte? This street is monument to the diversity of
divinity! Are you a witless fool? Do you not know that the number of
divinity is seventy-seven?”
Three more robed figures crept from the ally on the far side of
the temple. “Fool? Base animal, I am The Witness, The Dancer, The
Mistress of Night. I am Thela Thorn, the hand-chosen disciple of the
only entity that can endure. This temple is a monument, as you say,
a monument to the lies of imposters. Divinity cannot die – though
gods and creators can. But she who sups upon their souls is forever.
Persist in your intrusion and your blood shall be the sacrifice that
consecrates Loptif’s temple.”
“Apologies, I did not know you were followers of Loptif.”
“Very well, be on your way.” Thela’s voice was firm.
Tilane turned towards Aeffinea. “Take a good long look, my dearest.
These wretched, deranged cultists actually pray...”
Aeffinea interrupted Tilane. “The story of Loptif, she who betrayed
her god and was cast into darkness, is known to me. You worship a
sad, twisted parody of Tilane’s beautiful people, yet you slur him so
violently? I will pray that the light finds you again, for I have seen dark-
ness and, my sister, it is nothing any sun fey will ever be the mistress of.
May gentle winds be upon your back.”
As Tilane and Aeffinea rejoined their companions, they could hear
Thela’s parting words: “I will not be condescended to by a daga taka
and her ulfur concubine. I mark you both. Soon you shall learn the
secrets of the cold night. Ulfur, your kind is obsolete; your peoples’
time approaches its last grain of sand. We stand ready to take all you
thought was yours.”

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Aeffinea could sense that the words cut Tilane deeper than his non-
chalant demeanor revealed. Now was not the hour of vengeance, so
she exhaled heavily, focusing her mind to control the rage that burned
within her. It pained her not to immediately avenge the insult to her
love, but they would have their dance soon enough, if this twisted
freyaen could be believed.
In the light of the coming sun, they exited Divinity’s Street on the
northern road out of Trade. The small homes past the city proper began
to peter out, giving way to a regal edifice. “The chariot track of Trade,”
Tilane began to describe. “Colloquially known as the ‘Sunshine Copper
Flip.’ Yes, that’s really what they call it, very popular with the drunken
ferrums. Personally, I’m puzzled by the thrill others seem to get out of
vicariously placing their lots with beasts. We, meehan-ghes, have noth-
ing like gambling in our culture. Even after I began to understand the
concept of coins, I could not see the wisdom in wagering them on lizard
and spider races.” Tilane shrugged, pointing at the track. “Those five
helmed men over there near the stables, dressed in red plate mail. They
are members the elite city guard. Named the Judges of Trade, they are
vested with the power of the Regency Council of Trade.”
Jax dropped back to their position. “That means stay out of their
way. The law is on their side. Can the both of you feel it? The fingers
of fate that hide within the wind that now blows on our faces. It whis-
pers the first words of a tale that will be told around hearths until the end
of time. See to it that the both of you play your part.”
“When the time is right,” Aeffinea was quick to respond, “I will
perform my part as I have vowed.” Jax merely smiled as she spoke and
retook his position at the head of the pack.
The day went by slowly as they traveled northeast, skirting the hills.
Tilane spent the day teaching Aeffinea the basics of Ajyran as they rode.
So thoroughly did she immerse herself in the lessons that the words
began to form in her mind effortlessly, leading her tongue to perform
precise pronunciation only several hours into her training. By dusk, her
command of the language was so complete that all agreed that the edu-
cation had merely been a tool for awakening the knowledge his soul had
left sleeping upon hers. The faintest outline of great ice-capped moun-

103
tains loomed ahead as they prepared the evening’s camp in the cold
rocky viagysh wastes. Vykata O Res appeared from the darkness with
some scrub bush. Tilane moved away with a clearly involuntary look
of disgust as the wood was kindled to a flame to serve as their campfire.
The smells of roasting meat and carrots filled the air as Ionesa tended
the bucket pots hanging from the two small tripods he had erected over
the flames. Tilane narrowed his eyes, hurling one of his hand axes into
the darkness.
“What is it?” Aeffinea asked. Tilane returned from the darkness,
holding up a white rabbit, its fur stained with the spray of its own blood.
His jaws opened wide, far wider than Aeffinea could open hers. The an-
imal’s blood rolled down his chin as his fangs pierced into it. Aeffinea
looked away reflexively. The act was more shocking in person than it
had been in the memories she had seen through their love. As she raised
her eyes from the stone-littered ground, she saw that Verar was looking
down on her mockingly.
Verar handed Aeffinea a wooden bowl full of cooked carrots. “The
face of your love isn’t so pretty in darkness, is it? Assumed you’d
rather enjoy these than eat the scraps your wolf leaves you?” A thou-
sand words rushed to her tongue, but were silenced by the truth before
they could escape her mouth. She knew she could not turn around
and enjoy her supper with her lover. Verar laughed as he walked to
the other side of the fire. “At least tonight, when you decide to couple
with that monster, you’ll have to do it far away from the flame. I’m
sure he won’t come near it.”
Aeffinea glared at Verar as she walked over and sat down beside Io-
nesa and the human. “Ah, Aeffinea you must hear this. Atlas Eros was
telling me the most interesting story. The story of how he received his
name. It seems his mother was even more twisted than mine. And mine
sold me into the pleasure trade. So where were you, lovely Atlas?”
“I’m sure she doesn’t want to hear this,” Atlas said in Dazazyaese.
“No, please, I’d love to get to know you better, all of you,” Aeffinea
said with a smile, placing her slender hand upon his.
Atlas took a long pull off his horn cup. “Very well, then I’ll start
my story at the very beginning. The first memories I ever had were of

104
men’s pants and frantic groans. My mother was an opium whore when
I was nothing but a small boy. Sadly, her vices could not be limited to
the drug of dreams, so they grew further and further. She took strange
poisons into herself with a ravenous desire to experience the exotic.
And the exotic she found in the form of the Cult with No Name. At least
that’s what I call them, for I never learned any proper name for these
sinners. They were merely hedonistic, weak-willed humans, at first,
but slowly, I saw more and more of the masters. The serpent people,
who I later learned call themselves the typhon, would ply their minions
with venom in exchange for acts of unspeakable depravity. The cult
members regularly engaged in kidnapping virgin girls for the blasphe-
mous magical exercises of the typhon. I’d grown to be so broken and
numb inside that I became but a mere shadow upon the stonework, al-
ways forced to watch, to experience the corruption that so many of the
cultists reveled in between their poison-induced stupors. One windy,
drizzling night, my mother returned with three strong men hauling a
big brown sack. Inside it was a struggling girl. They laid her upon the
blood-stained obsidian-encrusted stone altar and removed the sack. She
scratched, kicked, bit, and fought harder than any other victim I’d ever
seen them drag back. I try to tell myself it was her passion for life, but it
was just as likely her enchanting beauty that first moved me to take pity
on her. And as the pity began to form inside my heart, I heard a voice.
A voice of pure beauty that spoke from my chest. It was the first time
the goddess had ever spoken to me. I remember Cinder’s words with
utter clarity: “Do it, take action, save her now.” The four degenerates
held the thrashing flame-haired girl as a typhon slithered over to the
altar, holding a wickedly curved dagger above his head. As he chanted
unknown words in his hate-filled tongue, a power came over me unlike
any I had ever known before. It was the power of purpose, of cause,
which transformed into the power of love as her dazzling, green eyes
locked with mine. ‘I’ll save you,’ escaped my mouth. I leapt across the
room with strength I’d never possessed and grabbed the typhon by its
scrawny neck, which I squeezed mercilessly as I took him to the ground.
Three times his ceremonial blade dug into my flesh, but I did not stop
squeezing until the cultists pulled me off. But once they finally did,

105
we all stared with blank shock at their master – or should I say, at their
master’s lifeless body. As we looked on, aghast, the girl took hold of
the dagger and slid the curved iron across each of the men’s throats in
turn. My mother somehow noticed what was happening and ran across
the room, charging the girl with a fury. The girl stepped out of the way,
and my mother crashed onto the stone altar. She thrust the dagger into
my mother’s back without relent, driving it so hard I saw a small piece
of the iron protrude from my mother’s breast as blood poured from her
mouth. A curse escaped her lips with her dying breath. She never had
a name for me. Atlas Eros, a bastard name that means nothing to most,
was the invention of this girl who killed my mother. She gave it to me
as we made love upon the cultists’ altar. Her name is Seidera Brom;
her great-great grandfather is the most powerful human alive, the age-
less King Brom of Bale. She showed me faith and I found a family in
this church. It is for her, for this church that I fight. I do not want The
Song. I will not win her. I will not take her. My love is only for one,
only for Seidera. But Cinder has now called me twice and I will listen
every time. For I know it is only through her grace that I have been
made complete.” He took another drink of his wine as he finished his
tale before the crackling fire.

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12
Exhaling, she raised her head with a contemplative look upon her
countenance. Even the wind was silent as all awaited her verdict upon
his truth. Shivering sensuously, she rolled her shoulders, tracing the
rose across her supple form. “The smell of the yawning breath of the
unseen world below is upon your truth: soil, wind, and rain, hunting
moons and dying light. Supplication, fascination, and fantasy grown
in desire, duty, loyalty, and seeded in death; moist meadows and red
light, pain and loss; the story of your life, told on each petal. Each
petal a reflection of my face, for you have loved these flowers as you
love me now. You know me from dreams under the great god’s moons,
but I dream too and I knew you, then and now... forever. Step onto the
bridge, cast the diamond to the ground and let other suitors be turned
away. But only if they will allow your steps.” She turned to her tribe.
“Will you strike him down as he steps foot on the bridge, or would you
follow him? Would you make him your Count?”
Raving howls of savage acceptance erupted from the night fey.
There was a marked undercurrent of relief in their collective voices as
they released that nervous energy into adulation. The moths fluttered
wildly, covering his face, as he stepped off the living carpet onto the
wooden bridge. As the living veil dispersed, all traces of the dragon’s
blood were gone from the priest. Feelings of acceptance surged within
him once again as he stood face to face with the face which had in-
habited his dreams for so long. Being this close to her, he could see
upon her moonlight-colored skin a dusting of tiny orange freckles. Her
pheromones enraptured him as he stepped in closer. Her scent had an
appeal reminiscent of that first bite into perfectly ripe fruit mixed with
decadent spices, seasoned with the purity of the morning dew and bound
together with the crispness of the night air.
“You were the unrest that haunted my spirit throughout the first sea-
son of my life. Every moment you were upon my thoughts or in the
back of my mind. Now that I no longer draw breath, I find myself doing
so, so that I may inhale you as you have inhaled me through the heart of

107
my rose. I cast all others away to live only within your grace. Beautiful
lady of this strange wood, tell me, what is your name?”
The entire village watched as they stood in silence, her haunting eyes
studied him as the moments’ dragged by. Finally she said. “Walker with
a god, I am Countess Melantha, Ruler of the Tribe of Ravenousness.”
“Countess Melantha, know then that just as you rule them, so too
does your amaranthine beauty rule my soul.” With that, he kicked the
diamond heart off the bridge and pulled Melantha’s slim body against
his. Pressing his lips against hers, he kissed her deeply, his skill clashed
with her unsophisticated fumbling. Disengaging, he rocked his head
back, narrowing his eyes in confusion. Her eyes flitted from left to right
as an orange hue filled her cheeks. A-Ya cocked his head to the side,
smiling toothsomely. “Never been kissed before?”
She pursed the full lips of her small mouth together, then furrowed
her borrow. “No.” She looked down, the word hung in the air for nearly
a full minute before A-Ya began to laugh. She flashed him a look so
ferocious it stilled the Dusklord’s laughter.
“I meant no disrespect. It simply shocked me that one pursued
as greatly as you had never...” A-Ya blinked as his voice trailed off.
“You’ve never... been touched before, have you?”
Her words were soft, almost filled with shame. “No, for I am a nyx-
ad nymph. I, like all nymphs, can only know the touch of but a single
man ever in my whole life. By your people’s telling of the cycles, we
are nearly immortal, but only as long as we refrain from the carnal act
of joining. Once a male ends our purity in union, our life force expires
and we live on only through him. Even though you are half-dead, there
is still enough life force within you for us both. If we are to join, our
fire will be as one. I am enticed by your strength, power, and passion,
but it is your imagination which enthralls me. You may live for a very
long time, being what you are, and this, combined with everything else
makes you... suitable. But do not think you have victory within your
grasp, human, you have proven worthy only in possibility. Possibility is
only your key to court me. Now you must validate the vistas of your po-
tential. Show me, by the purple light, that you are worthy to rule at my
side. Never impose your kiss upon me again, unless you prove yourself

108
to be worthy of more than merely my lips.”
As A-Ya turned from Melantha to consider her words, his gaze fell
upon Aurquim, who made an ill-fitting contortion with her mouth. A-Ya
cocked his head to the side, trying to figure out what the expression was
supposed to mean.
“Let wind pass your lips quickly to tell me: why upon heaven’s
looming moons are you watching my suitor like a wolf on the trail?”
Melantha demanded of Aurquim.
Aurquim’s posture became more formal as she spoke. “Apologies,
Countess Melantha, I simply look on with interest as the fate of our
tribe unfolds before me.”
“Veracity is amongst those aspects I cherish most in the meehan-
ghes, and I shall make certain that it remains so, Huntlady. Remand
your hunger to Huntlord Aiden, thirst not for another’s scent.” The
pointed command, despite its undercurrent of sensuality, was dan-
gerous. In the silent exchange that followed, Aurquim’s will slowly
broke under the might of the girlish fey’s dominance. A-Ya breathed
deeply of the sweet fragrance Melantha exuded as his eyes turned
from Aurquim. “The time for others has ended. Nevermore shall
your waters mingle in their effete streams.” She placed her finger in
the middle of A-Ya’s chest.
Shutting his eyes, he pulled her in close. Breathing in deeply, he
said. “You are enchanting beyond all others. The elegant epitome of
femininity, never debase yourself before the mocking frailty of jealou-
sy,” he whispered into her long pointed ears which ended in thin black
hooks, as he slowly caressed the back of her hand with the knuckle on
his pointer finger, tracing it slowly against the flesh between her fore-
finger and thumb. Melantha’s breathing became heavier; A-Ya could
feel her heart beating rapidly within her chest as a scent filled his senses.
He tasted honeysuckle and ginger upon his tongue, mixed with the wet
freshness of night which crept into his nose. And there was another
smell he could not place, but it was emanating from her, from her arous-
al. The smell was as intoxicating as it was alien, and within moments
the fey wine had left him dizzied and drunk. “The only water I wish is
within your pool. I have fought for you, laid myself bare before you,

109
searched a lifetime’s worth of faces to find yours and even overcome
death itself to hold you in my arms.”
Melantha swayed her hips, nuzzling her nose against A-Ya’s neck.
“I have seen your purple eyes dancing across the astral haze since before
humanity was born, the slippery silvered soul of a human king calling,
demanding nothing less than perfection. I whispered divine names for
you in the lonely darkness, for I had no true name by which to summon
my king. My heart fought an unending war with my mind, proclaiming
you to be more than gossamer. I felt you before you stepped into my
woods... these woods. I sent my packs in seven directions to find you.”
She began to thrust her pelvis against his, exploring the contours of his
face with her hands.
In a deep voice, he whispered into her ear as his body followed the
rhythm of hers. “Yes, I will have a kingdom, in unity, under the setting
sun of Luk-Coo. You will serve my god with me. You will bear my
children, who will die as saints, and reign as my queen until He calls us
home.” He began to gently kiss her neck.
“I will be your queen – but only once you have sworn the hallowed
oath by the names of the eleven elder creators.” She pressed her hips
against his, thrusting slowly. “Do it. Do it. Do it.”
A-Ya pulled away slightly, looking deep into her eyes. “Then by my
station as Dusklord, I invoke a hallowed oath by the names of The Void,
Demar, Igvale, Opiate, N’Thraxu, Leviathan, Morghul, Ahuramazda,
Nif, T’Hool, and Ahriman. By each and every one of their names, and
by the name of my god Luk-Coo, I swear, I will love you with all that I
am for as long as my soul exists.” Karn and the meehan-ghes watched
on, cheering in the ways that were their customs. “Luk-Coo, in your
vast kindness you guided me here to rebuild your church. Look now
upon Melantha, the vessel by which your saints shall be born, and know
her as my wife Melantha Doon.” A wind picked up as ten thousand
white moths filled the air. The Dusklord threw back his hands as Mel-
antha gripped him tightly and gazed upward in awe: the canopy of trees,
which was woven so tightly above them that it did not even let light in,
suddenly parted and bathed the assembled in purple radiance. “See the
truth that walks with me. Fall to your knees before the glory of your

110
brand new god!” His words resounded with utter conviction, and one
by one the assembled fell to their knees and praised the name of Luk-
Coo. A-Ya felt energy rushing through his form, as if he was being
electrocuted, in the midst of the conversion of his new people.
All shades of sovereignty were replaced with complete astonish-
ment upon Melantha’s face. “Take me. I am ready for the threads of
our fates to be joined.” With that, A-Ya lifted his lifelong love into his
arms and carried her into her home.
The ancient plant which served as her home looked like an enor-
mous fuzzy pear. Its outer layer was completely composed of tiny roots
which wriggled unwholesomely as A-Ya approached. The inside was
made up of a soft white fungus which seemingly was all that gave the
plant shape. Pushed into the creases in the fungus were parchments,
clothing, and trinkets which sparkled in the soft purple glow. Seeing no
bed and knowing nothing of her customs, he gently laid her upon the
sponge-like floor. Affection dueled with confusion in the black pools
of her eyes as he slowly unlaced her form-fitting black leather dress.
Melantha pulled his face toward hers, greeting his lips with unskilled
eagerness as the Dusklord slid out of his robes. Beneath the veneer of
her cool flesh, A-Ya could feel a core of tremendous heat within her as
their bodies pressed tightly together. Despite his overwhelming desire,
he stopped and cast a long and careful look over her body. She felt so
truly different from any freyaen or human woman he had ever bedded
before. Her enchanting scent, silken skin and conflicting temperatures
drove home how utterly alien she was and how completely different
the two were from one another. In that moment of clarity, he realized
that he was about to attain his greatest dream. He silently praised his
god as he looked down upon his nubile wife. He could see the soft
orange freckles which covered every inch of her moon-white hairless
skin. Melantha hesitantly wrapped her legs around her husband, pulling
him back on top of her. A-Ya answered with carnality, wildly kissing
her lips, ears, and neck before taking her small black nipples into his
mouth and worshiping her breasts. She whispered into his ear, “Make
me yours.” And with a single thrust, he did. Upon impaling her maid-
enhead, A-Ya felt a sonic pulse surge through his form. Each one of

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his senses briefly overloaded with stimulation. Dozens of hands were
upon him as whispers in a hundred tongues placed unknowable myster-
ies within his reach, preparing him to be propelled into the great voids
at the edges of time which were so vastly beyond his comprehension he
could only take from them the scent of creation and annihilation but it
was the in between which he nearly grasped. In between the edges of
time were images beyond number. All that ever was – and all that ever
could be – unfolded before the priest. It was far, far too much, like try-
ing to empty and ocean into a drinking skin. The deluge left the taste of
the waters of time upon his tongue. But, in the process, it nearly washed
away all self and sanity from the priest’s mind as he collapsed in the
throes of orgasm on top of his consummated wife.
A-Ya felt Melantha’s long nails tracing their way down his spine as
he regained awareness of the world around him. “It... It was ineffable.
I saw The Void from which all comes, the eldritch face of darkness, and
the first sunrise. I saw... I saw everything. My life, my love, the entire
expanse of eternity unfolded before my eyes. I looked upon everything
that will ever live. I witnessed the birth and death of species as un-
named gods died. There was so, so much more, but I cannot recall. It
was far beyond vast. And you! I can feel you even now growing inside
me.” A-Ya was filled with awe, wonder, and hope as he spoke.
“Do not try to put to words that which is not for this world. My
mother read me epics from long ago of men’s minds shattering under
the burden of the soul consumption. In truth, your climax opened a
silver door into your soul which I slid through to inject my essence
deep within you. I have eaten part of you to make room for all of
me. Likewise your essence has settled inside me with its natural de-
mand. Through the journey of your years, you will be the carrier of
my spirit. Husband, we are bound by love’s perfect sacrament. The
art which our great mother taught the nymphs will be the beginning
of your new church.”

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13
Although Aeffinea had resisted Tilane for the first hour, the second
found him deep inside her. Despite her efforts to clear them out from
under her, loose rocks kept finding their way under her back and ground
against her flesh. However, the pain was not nearly as distracting as
the knowledge that others were witness to their love-making. She kept
glancing over to find Verar’s face, unable to tell if he was meditating
or watching, judging her from the other side of the sweet thick smoke
swirling up from the burning scrub bush of their campfire.
“Stop looking at him while I am inside you,” Tilane whispered
into her ear, punctuating his strong commanding words with a hard
thrust of his hips.
Aeffinea moaned loudly, much louder than she would have liked to.
“Apologies, I mean no disrespect. By the whispering wind I cannot help
but feel he is watching us, judging me.”
“So what if he is? Are you so ashamed of your wolfish lover?”
“No, I just... I just hate him so much. I never felt hate like this be-
fore I left Freyaheim, but it is becoming too much to bear.”
“You sure there is nothing more to it than that?”
“No!” She forcefully flipped him over, keeping her eyes on Verar.
“I hate you so... so... so much!” The words fled her mouth far louder
than she had intended as a shuddering climax fell over her. Bucking her
hips ferociously, she rode her mate, her eyes never leaving Verar’s face.
A cool, wet hand reached across worlds to pull Aeffinea back into
the predawn light. Surprise turned to rage as her post-coital medita-
tion ended with Verar standing over her, holding a tilted ladle, which he
slowly spilled onto her face. He sneered as the water washed over her.
“I so, so, so hate to waste good water on a whore, but I figure something
as dirty as a dagga taka wouldn’t know how to clean itself.”
The ladle clattered against the rocky ground as she pounced upon
the smaller Verar. “By the sun and wind, I will take your tongue!”
The low, demanding voice of Jax filled the early morning’s mist.
“Quiet down your love-making, freyaens, before you pull others from

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the great dream. We have a long ride ahead of us and your need for sex
is less important than their need for rest.”
“We... I... no!” As embarrassment flooded over her, she calmed her-
self enough to notice that she was barely clothed, straddling Verar with
her hands around his neck. It was insufferable to her that Jax thought
they were mating. As she relaxed her hands upon Verar’s throat, she
noticed that Tilane was watching her, too. “It isn’t what it looks like.”
She cast her eyes to the ground, unable to meet the gaze of her lover. As
she did, she saw a smirk upon Verar’s face and could not help but notice
his hardening manhood as her position pressed her firmly against it.
Her cheeks reddened, the touch of his swollen (albeit clothed) member
against her womanhood sickened her. But what sickened her more was
the tiny part of her mind that found it exhilarating. She stood up slow-
ly, running her hands over what little clothing she had on to straighten
them. “If you ever pour water on my face again,” she spoke in a low
voice, “I will leave you for the southern wind.”
Five bleak days passed as they moved closer towards the mountains,
towards the dead body of Nif that was the center of the world. With ev-
ery optilang step, the bitter wraith wind reminded them that this was not
a place for the living. Two hours before dusk, they arrived at the foot
of the great mountains. Looking up, Aeffinea said to Tilane, “Had you
ever imagined anything could be this enormous?”
“Stone and ice, its majesty and might are all that set it apart from the
rocks beneath us. I welcome the shadow this giant casts. It has been too
long since great shadows have shrouded me from light.” She meant to
give Tilane a sympathetic look, but her eyes drifted to Verar’s. “Excuse
me. I think I’ll take this opportunity to replenish our food reserve. This
landscape does at least provide an interesting challenge for a hunter.”
Ionesa began to set up camp at the base of the impossibly large rock.
Atlas sat with Cyssus and Metodite sharing stories, while Jax began to
ascend the mountain. Before Aeffinea could approach Jax to see what
he was doing, Vykata O Res grabbed her by the wrist. The viagysh let
out a grunt in his strange subterranean tongue and struck the butt of his
glaive against the ground three times. “I accept your invitation.” She
was not sure why she bothered to speak to him, for they had no way of

114
understanding one another, at least not until they engaged in the war-
riors’ dance. Nearly an hour flew by as her copper blade did its best to
deflect the flurry of strikes he launched with his long weapon. The art
of the polearm was foreign to her, as was the strength of the steel which
his weapon bore. None of the training she had ever received had left her
sword arm as tired as it was after this session. She was truly in awe of
the viagysh philosophy of battle.
“Some warrior you are. You only threw three shots at him, I
counted. Pitiful.”
Aeffinea shot back at Verar. “By the midday sun, you could do
no better!”
Verar waved his hand dismissively. Outrage at the slight sent a rush
of adrenaline through Aeffinea’s exhausted form. “Girl, if you don’t
even understand range, how do you think you’ll survive the ordeal that
is before us? Not that I care, of course. But if I were to care, I’d men-
tion to you that you have to move in close and get inside when your op-
ponent has that amount of reach on you. Brace for his shot, parry it, and
step towards him. Move fast. Don’t let him circle back away from you
once the strike has been thrown. Then you’ll be able to unleash strikes
of your own and use his weapon’s length against him, understand? You
must be able to adjust quicker on the true field of battle. Understand
that your opponent can pivot or circle in several directions. As soon as
you had one pattern figured out, he was already beginning another. But
there was still a pattern there. He wouldn’t have seemed nearly as dif-
ficult to defeat if you had seen it. Allow me to demonstrate.” With a
bow and beckon of the hand, Verar drew his rapier and began the dance
of violence with Vykata O Res.
Verar’s footwork was vastly better than Aeffinea’s, making the
glaive seem slow and awkward. Within a minute, Verar had faked and
circled inside and struck the viagysh four times with the side of his
blade before deftly stepping away and signaling an end to their training.
He stepped into Aeffinea’s personal space and held his thin sword near
her face. “Do you understand? It is about the motion of the hips, the
quickness of the ankles, and the sureness of the feet. Nothing above the
pelvis really matters. You understand that, right?”

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Aeffinea’s breath was coming heavy as each of Verar’s words held
her fascinated. Her cheeks flushed as she spoke in a high girlish voice.
“I understand.” She placed her left hand on his sword, slowly running
her palm down it until she reached the base and lowered it from her face.
A long silence passed between them.
“Aeffinea, I return successful.” The joy of the hunt was thickened
by Tilane’s words. Verar and Aeffinea fumbled awkwardly, moving
away from each other. She made her way to her lover, while Verar
headed for the campfire. She repressed the revulsion she felt, not allow-
ing a sickened look to pass her face as she saw the three large, crimson-
stained white rabbits he held by the ears.
Even the white rocks of this empty land seemed majestic under twi-
light’s gloom. As the wraith wind howled in the darkness, Aeffinea
withdrew into her own thoughts. She scooted herself slowly closer to
the flame without even noticing that she found herself across the fire
from Verar. She turned away, pressing a knuckle into her mouth as he
caught her gaze. The thoughts that filled her head shamed her, so much
so that she abandoned the sanctuary of Morghul for the icy hate of Nif.
Even by the light of the two great moons, her diurnal eyes saw poorly
in the darkness. But as she walked back to Tilane, she saw something
large moving in the distance. Aeffinea let out a shout: “What are you
doing there in the dark?”
“We create images with our minds and then worship them. I made
Niz’Taasa. I made him in the dark. The people of before worshiped him
back when he was a god, long before the time of burning seas and ash
skies. I blasphemed those old things and so was cast into the light. This
wretched cold keeps me hungry for heat – and heat I taste in you. Let
me caress you tenderly, as Taher caressed the First, and we shall wor-
ship the words inside my mind.” The voice echoed outside of language
inside Aeffinea’s head as the figure shambled towards her.
Tilane spring to his feet, his long cloak caught by the wind and flap-
ping wildly as he drew his twin hand axes. Standing side by side with
Tilane, Aeffinea drew her mother’s sword. “Beware: it is magi.” Aef-
finea’s tone was grave.
As the ropey, rubbery-armed, pot-bellied, stooping thing lurched to-

116
wards her in the darkness, its voice penetrated into the sanctum of her
thoughts again. “Magi... no... no longer. I am accused of being that
which denies reason, abhors law, and defiles essence. The mathematics
of all life is within my mind. The ravager Irq-Dibe’Oun knows this,
for she joined me in the breaking of oaths. Come to me, poor child, my
tongue will sooth you into dust with words of anti-life, I will keep you
warm in your heart’s last beat and regale you with fables of times that
have been cast to sand.”
In tandem with Ionesa, Atlas charged the creature, red light radiat-
ing from the blue iron of his twin-bladed sword. Before they could
even reach him, the ten-foot-tall monster standing on the ancient rocks
brought a tremendous hand, with odd digits which stood out an extra
knuckle, down on top of Atlas’s head, crushing him and driving him
to the ground. With its other hand, it grabbed firmly ahold of Ionesa,
whose body began to shiver and glow faintly with pale-green light. A
cacophony of noise beyond description flooded Aeffinea’s mind, driv-
ing her to her knees as blood leaked from her eyes, nose, and ears. The
words filled her with revulsion past comprehension. Nothing of sound
mind could understand such words, but she knew they were a formula
for what was happening to Ionesa before her very eyes. And more than
that, she knew their tone was one of adulation. The soft glow which Io-
nesa emitted, green as a freshly formed bud, grew brighter as his purple
skin became translucent, revealing the skeleton beneath his outer cover-
ing to all observers. His flesh began to unwind, resembling patterns of
cloth being unwoven, before what remained of his body collapsed in a
disassembled heap of meat and bone. Trace orange lines of heat slid up
the being’s arm as it rocked back and forth. A strange whistling sound
came from its mouth which was reminiscent of the cracking of bones.
“What is it?” Aeffinea pleaded to Tilane through blood-streaked eyes.
“A horror that has pushed past the story of creation. Annihilation
encased in flesh. Run, Aeffinea, it has hold of you and will take you.
Run! I will fight it as long as it takes you to be gone from my sight. Do
you not understand me? That thing is a warlock, a servant of Ahriman.”
Tilane’s face was a model of composure, but Aeffinea knew him too
deeply to be misled by his bravado. The nearly indiscernible current of

117
fear hidden between his syllables could not hide from her ears.
“By sweet wind and golden light, I would never leave you to such
a fate. We fight together. Now move forward, we have to save the hu-
man.” Her words were labored and slurred slightly by her blood-filled
mouth as she stood cautiously.
Verar pulled Atlas away as Metodite, wielding a long wooden pole
covered in jagged shark teeth, Cyssus, tiny copper sword in hand, and
Vykata O Res circled the creature, positioning themselves upon each of
its flanks. Metodite gripped his club with both hands and delivered a
powerful blow to the thing’s torso. The shark teeth ripped and tore at its
ragged cloak, mangling it and pulling it from the warlock to reveal the
body beneath. Its flesh was green, dotted with black warts, its nose was
pointed and nearly a foot long. Odd hair-like tendrils grew from the top
of its head, and its eyes seemed to be nothing more than sunken holes in
its face. The tearing of its clothing distracted the thing long enough for
Vykata O Res to land a blow from his glaive. The steel carved through
the thing’s flesh, leaving a trail of green blood in its wake. Cyssus
maneuvered behind the monstrosity as it howled in pain, cutting the
tendon in its right heel with a clean strike, an impish grin upon his face.
Metodite landed another blow against its jaw, and the sound of broken
bones echoed through the still night. As Vykata O Res positioned him-
self downwind for the killing blow, the flesh that had been divided by
his steel began to bridge the chasm he had cut as the wound closed itself
before their eyes. With deceptive speed, the thing grabbed Vykata O
Res and Metodite by their necks, lifting them into the air, squeezing all
the while. Then, with a measured breath, it began its strange whistling
again. Five horrible spheres wrapped in iridescent razor wire spat forth
from its mouth. They streaked through the air and hunted Cyssus down,
seemingly of their own accord. The orbs of unmaking ripped through
the small fey’s flesh and left him broken and dying upon the ground.
Vykata O Res took advantage of the opening the monster had provided
with its bizarre magic to bring an overhead strike down upon its back.
His steel sliced through flesh, like a knife through fresh bread, severing
the thing’s spine. It dropped to the ground, green blood oozing from the
wound. Metodite moved to check on Cyssus.

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“No! Do not look away; you have not killed the... troll!” Verar
screamed in his people’s tongue as he rushed toward the monster, burn-
ing branch in hand.
The sudden noise diverted Metodite’s attention to the freyaen rush-
ing towards him, until his vision was obscured by the thing’s massive
hand digging into his face. The monster’s long black nails pierced
the siren’s flesh, releasing small rivers of blood which covered his
handsome features. As the troll rotated its wrist counterclockwise and
sliced its nails though his skin, Metodite emitted a scream so brutal
it nearly deafened the lot of them, not even ending as the siren’s face
was stripped from his skull. The troll held the mask of skin high in the
air like some grizzly trophy before one of Tilane’s hurled axes severed
its hand at the wrist.
Verar reflexively dropped his flaming branch to protect his ears
from the crippling shriek. Aeffinea approached and drove her blade
deep into the troll’s heart, but it grabbed her with its other hand and
began to crush her head with a strength she would never have thought
anything could possess. As the vice-like hand tightened its devastat-
ing grip, the rambling whispers entered her mind again. The troll
spoke of bygone, improbable times and caressed Aeffinea, learning
the companionship of her warmth.
Just as her light was about to be snuffed out, she felt a warmth above
her as Verar thrust the burning bush into the troll’s mouth. “Die, crea-
ture, die!” he screamed over and over as he thrust the sharp point of
his blade into the troll’s eyes. The smell of blood and burning meat
blended together to form the stench of death as Tilane hacked the troll’s
other hand off. This freed Aeffinea who, despite tremendous pain, still
pressed her sword into the troll’s chest. Verar and Tilane both reached
for her, awkwardly lifting her to her feet at the same moment. Aeffinea
opened her mouth and gasped as she looked into Verar’s face. Return-
ing her gaze Verar said, “It pleases me that death did not claim you,”
with that he released her and moved away quickly.
She could tell he wanted to say so much more, with the rush of
emotions from the battle, many feelings were stirred within her. She
too wanted to say more, but settled for, “Verar, thank you kindly for the

119
advice, staying inside that thing’s reach might have saved my life.”
“You don’t have to thank me, dagga taka. It is not even worth the
words. Others did not fare so well, so my attention shall be with them.”
His words were rash, hasty, and full of fear.
“By Cinder’s blue eyes,” Tilane’s voice conveyed stunned shock.
“Metodite... his face is nothing more than a bleeding skull.”
Verar ignored the injured, concentrating only on piling branches of
flame around the troll in a circle. Once the circle was finished he knelt
before the troll’s feet and began to pray to his goddess. After several
seconds the smoldering flames of the burning scrub brush ignited into a
roaring, billowing storm of flame. The smell of burning flesh intensi-
fied, the nausea overcoming both freyaens until they doubled over vom-
iting. And even though it sickened them, they both took comfort in the
roasting flames which cleansed and consumed and rid the world of the
oath-breaking troll.
Aeffinea steadied herself as she inspected Cyssus’s body. “Igvale’s
wind no longer passes his mouth nor can T’Hool’s drumming be heard
within his chest. May a thousand fires light your way into the un-
knowable bliss you deserve, Cyssus.” She moved over to Ionesa and
examined the mangled remains of the strange kalfar. “Ever since I
first heard the name of your people, I was told you were my enemy. I
was told many things that do not stand up as true in the light of fire.
You are beautiful beyond this world, my friend, and I pray that Cinder
has already sent a hundred fire nymphs to call you home upon great
Phoenix’s back.” Aeffinea helped Vykata O Res move Ionesa’s re-
mains into the great fire, which ravenously consumed the troll while
Verar gently placed Cyssus’s body into the blaze. Aeffinea caught
Verar’s hand as he pulled away from the inferno. “With all that has
now passed between us, admit it.”
His stare was grave, full of anger. “Admit what?”
She gripped his hand firmly, almost painfully, and then pulled the
smaller male towards her. “Admit you want me.”
As Verar glanced around nervously, Tilane’s image reflected in Ve-
rar’s eyes in the light of the flame. “Who could possibly want you?”
The words stung Aeffinea as Verar retreated from the bonfire into the

120
bitter wraith wind which was steadily picking up. She looked at him
pleadingly until he turned his face and vanished into the darkness.
“Are we not surrounded by enough pain for you, taibhreamh na súl
oscailte? Did hateful vexing words truly need to pass your lips?” Tilane’s
words hung in the air as naturally as mist in the night.
Verar glanced at Tilane derisively. “Child of the moons, while I can
nearly respect your feeble attempts to rise above the base conditions of
your birth with your self-styled pseudo-chivalric arrogance, I cannot
abide the presence of fools who speak of that which they do not know.
Know then that her lascivious mind seeks only to cuckold you. But the
mockery you shall earn through her deeds is of no concern to me, so
stop delaying my attempts...”
Tilane unleashed a menacing hiss and bared his fangs, which gleamed
white in the solemn pyre’s glow. Aeffinea could feel his hurt before it
slithered from his body in the guise of violence. In a surge of anger, Ti-
lane tackled Verar from behind and drove him to the rocky ground. His
fangs pierced the back of the freyaen’s neck in the light of the burning
bodies of their fellow knights. His instinct overwhelmed Aeffinea with
excitement. She knew he was just about to end Verar’s life and devour
him. Nothing in the whole of her life had ever turned her on so much.
The bites were wild and vicious and stained the white rocks with wa-
tery freyaen blood. Verar screamed in terror under Tilane’s domination,
which was ended swiftly as the butt of Vykata O Res’s glaive slammed
into the back of Tilane’s skull, sending the aggressor into unconscious-
ness. Vykata O Res glared at Aeffinea, berating her in the harsh tongue
of his people, as he rolled Tilane off the badly mauled Verar, who lay
decimated, hovering upon death’s door. The viagysh knelt face-down
in rapt concentration and intoned a prayer. And though Aeffinea did not
know the words, she understood what they meant as orange light ema-
nated from his hands onto Verar’s deathly pale flesh. A cough escaped
from Verar’s trembling lips as he rolled to his back and gazed up at Aef-
finea as dawn cast its glow upon the white rocky landscape.

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14
Luk-Coo’s purple light illuminated the shadow-shrouded under-
brush, sending obscene crawling things scurrying for sanctuary into the
obscure spaces between aerial roots. A-Ya thought of the days before
he had entered this strange pine forest. In his mind, they had begun to
seem like vexing dreams. The stark purity of this place had stripped
him of his civilized ways. The way of lies, lying, and deception were
but a fading memory. In the unity of his new people, he discovered how
to live. Melantha taught him the lore of the odd plants, fungi, insects,
and of the old wood as they journeyed along the hunting trails, the safe-
guarding violet rays of his ritual piercing through the dim local light.
He instinctively knew that the secrets she showed him were known to
no other human. His esteem for her grew with every day that passed.
He loved her at first for her face, for her flesh, but with the passing of
time that love seemed like a piece of stale bread replaced by a sumptu-
ous bounty as he could claim the knowledge of truly knowing her.
A-Ya’s body bristled as his pupils dilated. “It is the moths! I see
through one of them: there is an intruder. I have never seen his like be-
fore,” A-Ya said as he reeled dizzily, trying to condense the multiple im-
ages from the moth’s compound eyes into one in his mind. “He is a thin
man, as thin as bone, with paper-like grey skin. His arms dangle past his
knees. His head resembles a bloated pumpkin and bobbles awkwardly
upon his slight shoulder. He is naked save for a belt around his chest,
which contains bottles of black glass with strange, depraved sigils upon
them.” A-Ya squeezed his eyes shut hard, ending the draining vision.
As he regained his senses, he noticed a peculiar look upon his wife’s
face. Having never seen that expression upon her before, it took him a
moment to place it. “What is it that makes your lips tremble with fear?”
“I wear your purple brand by choice. But regretfully it seems choice
was never mine to make. Darkness cannot abide a shadow of light in
its heart. Regardless of how badly we want all to be as it was before,
you looked through that moth’s eyes. We have forever been cast out of
the balance of that serenity. Unless the image you painted was woefully

122
inaccurate, what you have seen shall mark the end of us. He has no
name, so we simply call him The Planter. The epic poem Tiugulo Yiup-
Nenmup speaks of a time before fairies, when this great forest was noth-
ing but an ugly flat plain. It tells of Ajyra beseeching Ahriman for an
advocate, for a place in the world. And so Darkness gifted The Planter
to Ajyra. We do not know what The Planter is, but esoteric studies of
certain poems hint at him being something older than the gods them-
selves. He grew this forest from yellow seeds and shadow. Your light,
our love: here we are vulgarity, abominations before the god of the pine
forest. We have led all that follow into a horror even my mind cannot
comprehend, but the bliss we have shared, even if it has only been in the
blinking of an eye, leaves me without regret, even in the face of this.”
“No! I will not allow this. I shall stand over those that found peace
in the brand new god I brought them, as a shepherd of his flock. This
unknown shall not be allowed to cull them as is his want.”
“We cannot fight him!” Melantha’s face was filled with panic
as she spoke.
“I can fight... even if I can’t win. I want you to go, to go far from
here. Maybe you can escape, even if we all must die.”
She smiled, “A-Ya, when you die, I die. They were my people long
before they were yours and I will not abandon them to the unnamable
horrors The Planter has in store for them. We go together.” Her voice
was unyielding. “Have you learned the forest well enough to lead me to
the place you saw through the moth’s eyes?”
A-Ya broke into a stride in response. They passed through miles
of old hunting trails and thick milky fungus patches. The stranger was
long gone by the time they reached their destination. Looking around,
neither of them could find any signs of his passage. A-Ya lowered his
head, shut his eyes tightly and squeezed his right hand into a tight fist
as he cast his mind outward, hunting for moths. He found one, then
another, then another, then another; his thoughts jumped from moth
to moth, looking out through hundreds of eyes. The priest collapsed
to the forest floor. Still, he did not stop projecting his mind. On the
verge of delirium, he finally saw through compound eyes the face of
the thin man called The Planter.

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“Crimson tears escape your eyes,” Melantha said with concern.
“Don’t worry about that now Melantha. We must go. He is far
too close to the village.” A-Ya staggered woozily to his feet and be-
gan to bound towards their home. Howls of war broke the silence of
the forest as they raced through the underbrush. “Luk-Coo, do not
let us be too late.”
As they approached, the purple light illuminated the surroundings.
Meehan-ghes swung down from the high trees on ladders of rope with
weapons of wood, stone, copper, and steel. The forest was alive with
violence as arrows rained from the blackness which obscured the vil-
lage. Then they saw him. He was no taller than A-Ya and thinner
than Melantha. The Planter seemed oblivious to the pack of snarling
meehan-ghes bounding down upon him as the nude man calmly drew
a black glass bottle from the belt around his chest and tapped it seven
times with one of his nailless fingers. A whispering hum responded
and grew in volume with each of his taps until it was all that could be
heard. He casually tipped the bottle towards the approaching meehan-
ghes. And as he did, a strange-looking thing scuttled out of the top.
It was no more than an inch high with a glowing multifaceted electric
blue head, flat and devoid of any features, save ridges. It sat upon a
darker blue cylinder which was supported by a small disc, from which
six leg-like tail fibers sprouted. Upon reaching the top of the bottle,
the thing flung itself into the breeze, landing on one of the charging
fey. The thing screwed its glowing head into the fairy’s flesh, leaving
the rest of its body to fall lifeless upon the forest floor. The meehan-
ghe collapsed nine paces later, sweat beading upon his brow as liquid
begun to ooze from each of his orifices. Dozens more of these things
climbed out of the bottle, catching rides upon the breeze, impaling
themselves into oncoming meehan-ghes, who succumbed to their rav-
ages as quickly as the first victim.
It was not until Aiden hit the ground that the ravages which The
Planter had unleashed upon his tribe became fully clear to him. Draw-
ing his bow, he steadied his hand to deliver a long-range killing shot.
The Planter began chanting in some language that was not Ajyran as
Aiden released his carefully aimed missile. The arrow sped through

124
the breeze directly towards The Planter’s head but was cut short as the
thin man rigidly extended his left arm. He rolled it sharply clockwise,
invoking a nebulous darkness, which coalesced around him into a pal-
pable form which sundered the arrow into four harmless pieces. Karn
then hit the forest floor, along with ten more meehan-ghes. The eleven
of them dashed towards the aggressor, who produced a different bottle
into which he spat an orange paste. He then let the bottle fall casually
to the ground. As the defenders approached, a thin green blob covered
in tiny hairs seeped from the glass. Its body was composed of hundreds
of small circles pressed together that vaguely resembled closed eyes.
The meehan-ghe easily outpaced the ogre. The fastest of their ranks, a
tall female, covered the ground too quickly to notice the seeping slime.
As she stepped into it, it slithered up her form, vibrating against her and
undulating its thin hairs against her flesh. She fell as it inserted itself in-
side her, oozing in through hundreds of her pores. She fought, refusing
to cry out, even in the face of this horror. An arrow from Aiden relieved
her of her pain and allowed her to remain silent. The darkness carved
through the next six fey, dropping them into bleeding lifeless pieces.
The aerial roots of trees broke free from the soil and wrapped around
the legs of the other four, dragging them under the trunks of the pines.
Horrible snapping sounds followed. Just as he was being pulled under,
the rage within Karn unbound itself. He would not allow such an igno-
minious fate to be the end of him. With strength unknown, he yanked
away from the dirt-covered roots, snapping them against the straining
bulge of his calves. The red that now colored his face was three shades
deeper as he ran wildly towards the thin man.
“Know the violence of my soul!” Karn screamed as he threw a
charging haymaker at The Planter. The blow connected solidly and sav-
agely against the frail man’s broad jaw. It rocked his huge head and sent
him crashing to the forest floor. Karn stopped, pulling the bone-thin
man to his feet. The ogre positioned his head against The Planter’s left
hip and then wrapped his arms around his waist. With a mighty roar he
screamed, “Into the ground you go!” Karn popped his hips, throwing
himself up and back, propelling the thin man through the air and send-
ing him crashing forehead-first against the forest floor. The Planter’s

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neck was bent unnaturally as Karn stood over him, raising his arms high
in victory as he shouted into the sky. But The Planter slowly uncrum-
pled himself and rose back to his feet. His twisted neck rolled back into
position as seven long, boney protrusions sprouted from his skull. A-Ya
shouted to warn Karn, but before the ogre could turn, the hand of The
Planter slid through his back and burst through the bottom of his chest.
Karn gasped in a futile effort to breathe as The Planter held both of his
lungs outside of his body.
Several hundred fey were now positioned on the forest floor. Ar-
rows rained down upon the thin man as he held Karn’s lungs firmly,
ringing blood from them as he spoke ancient words. A dark shimmer
burst from his blood-ringing hand. The mysterious undulating wave of
darkness engulfed the majority of the fey, unleashing a cacophony of
screams as their flesh melted from their bones.
“Save all you can. Go now!” A-Ya screamed to his wife, before
intoning words of power. A long purple tendril extended from his hand.
It took hold of The Planter from behind and begun to leech the ancient
creature’s life force.
Melantha ignored her husband’s command and pulled her horn
bow. With uncanny speed and accuracy, she sent eight arrows into
The Planter’s legs, buckling the thin man. “My love, our assault is
but a dam. The dark water that is he will flood over the top of it and
shred our indigo union until we are but silver mist.” She ran to the
small remainder of her tribe. “Arrows to the air!” she ordered them.
“Let your bows howl with the rage of the scorned. Then we leave this
nightmare-drenched place forever.” Her words were sad but strong
and were obeyed without question.
The Planter collapsed. A-Ya released his mystical grasp from him
and ran towards the others, who were already mounting their huge
wolves. Aiden, Aurquim, and nine other meehan-ghes were all that re-
mained. Even as they began to ride, A-Ya could see The Planter begin-
ning to stand in the farthest distance of his illumination. The woods that
were but moments ago an extension of the tribe had become a hateful
enemy, no longer yielding and allowing the fey easy access through
their confines. Now roots rose from the earth at every turn and trees

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closed together to bar their passage. A-Ya twisted his hands into the
wolf’s hair, gripping it tightly as he rode before shifting his thoughts to
other eyes. He searched from one pair of moth’s eyes to another until
finally he gained sight of The Planter. The thin man moved effortlessly
through the forest floor towards them. A-Ya called to Melantha, “The
unfathomable force is closing in on us. The trees bow before him as if
he were their beloved father. I hear them whispering something in their
shifts and creaks. They are saying... they are telling him where we are.
Melantha, look out!” Roots exploded from the soil and branches bent
down low as each of the thirteen travelers was lashed to trees in rapid
succession and held tight by the firm embrace of the wood. “Melantha,
he’s coming! Death is coming. Forgive me for bringing this gruesome
fate upon you. I should have left you sequestered to my visions. I
should never have sought you out. My intrusion into your world has
cost you everything. Now because of me, you’re going to die.” A-
Ya’s struggled, but his bonds were too tight to allow him even the three
inches he needed to extend his hand to touch his wife.
“Never let such words fall upon my ears from your tongue again.
Even if I come to silver now, my lavender love, I would regret only the
time in my life I did not spend within your arms. Speak no more of his
approach; your words only taint the air.”
Footsteps silenced their conversation. They were held too tight to
see what approached and there was not a single white moth in this part
of the forest for A-Ya to look through. A-Ya felt the lower tree roots that
held his feet tighten and then loosen as they became dry, withered, and
weak. “Melantha,” A-Ya screamed as his wife fell from the branches
which held her, disappearing from his vision. Panic began to set in
within the Dusklord. Then the remainder of his bonds contracted and
expanded. His face slammed hard into the forest floor. It took him a
moment to recover, but as he looked up, he noticed odd fresh carvings
in the lower trunk of the tree which held him.
“Light was never welcome in the great darkness. It could only last a
slight moment before calling doom down upon your soul. Despite your
arrogance, you showed us kindness that we’d never known before from
one not of our skin. And for the lives you spared, we now spare yours.”

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In his time among the meehan-ghes, A-Ya had come to learn the Ajyran
language thoroughly. And even though the dirty blonde baobhan sith
had a thick accent, placing a strange inflection upon the words, he un-
derstood her completely. As he looked upon her, he noticed there was
bark embedded under her needle-sharp fingernails. Scanning the area
surrounding him, he saw his twelve companions and their mounts free.
The seven baobhan siths, who had saved them, seemed nervous as they
crouched back-to-back.
“I give you my gratitude a thousand times over for freeing us. But
by doing so, you’ve put yourself in a deadly path. While you might
not like the light, the vengeance of that which is in the darkness is
surely something you’ll like even less. I will not have you free us only
to die in our place. Come with us. There is no time left to talk.” With
that, he pulled the beautiful cloven-hoofed fey who had saved him
onto the back of his enormous wolf. Several meehan-ghes followed
suit, hesitantly taking his lead.
They traveled a vast span of time through the lightless wood. A-Ya
dared not summon the twilight colors for fear of making his group an
easier target. Melantha rode in front, leading them east. Only when her
wolf collapsed did they stop for rest. Over the many days that followed
hunger, thirst, and exhaustion became the feys’ constant companions.
The trees hampered and slowed their movement but seemed far less
intolerant of them since the baobhan siths had joined their ranks. Trepi-
dation filled the fey, who had only ever known darkness, as they looked
out past the last of the pinelands into the golden light of the windswept
Blue Ocean. The poisonous sands of the vast desert unfolded in all for-
ward directions. The sun shone brilliantly in the cloudless sky, causing
the blue grains of sand to gleam like miniscule sapphires. Far in the
distance loomed a lone structure of impossible size.
Dismounting their wolves, the group followed A-Ya to the forest’s
edge. Through squinted eyes, the fey looked on with disbelief at the
radiant colors which assaulted their senses. A-Ya could feel their eyes
upon his back as uncertainty flowed through their ranks. Melantha
strode to her husband’s side. Turning purposefully, she faced her tribe:
“We are three souls, woven of night’s mist and long shadows, birthed

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in the eldritch roots of antiquity. Like that which may grow in soil, we
too may be uprooted. In those moments that existed just beyond this
one, we forge ourselves anew, as our unfathomable journey through the
world of daylight begins. Meehan-ghes and baobhan siths surround me
now so you may swim in the whispered prophecies the astral haze has
made known to me upon our flight. We are to be the blessed vessels,
the seeds of the resurrection of twilight’s lone god. Join with me in
sacrament to anoint my soul’s warden as our new king and know that
all those who grant their blessing through water shall gain his blessing
through blood. A baptism in red looms for all the faithful, providence
shall be our guide, victory our destiny.”
The fey that had encircled Melantha fell to their knees and began
digging at the base of the pines. Finding the trees’ roots, they severed
them, squeezing water from the fibers in order of greatest to least, they
anointed their new king. Melantha bound her fingers and intoned old
words, before placing a kiss upon her husband’s sanctified brow. The
kiss dislodged the bitter water, causing it to run into the priest’s eyes.
In between blinks to clear his blurry vision, A-Ya saw the small num-
ber of fey who stood before him multiply by hundreds into an army,
into a future. The vision cleared as A-Ya saw the meehan-ghes bid
their mounts farewell as the nightmare spun wolves slunk back into
the shadows of their birth.
“Before us looms the last remnant of an ancient war. A land poi-
soned by dead blood and the rotted body of a goddess who hears prayers
to her no longer. Before we sojourn into the unforgiving land before us,
let us all say a prayer of thanks that we still walk – and one of sorrow
for all those we left dead in the woods, in our past.” Pulling his cloak
tight against his face to keep the grit from his eyes, A-Ya took his first
step into the bright light and harsh winds of the Blue Ocean.

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15
There were no words. Between their gaze flowed only an acrid
mineral scent carried by the cold wind under the pink sky. The freyaens’
eyes were upon each other. Metodite sat before the funeral pyre as it
burned low, looking into a mirror as he sewed his once handsome face
back onto his skull.
Verar spoke in a sad, low, wistful tone. “Even now, as this hateful
cusp between worlds gnaws at the ragged scraps of our resolve, you still
do not see. The darkness harbors only abominations. The thing you let
between your legs,” his voice began to tremble as his face contorted in
despair. Aeffinea leaned close to hear Verar’s whispered whimpering
words. “I can still feel him inside me, as if he were still penetrating
me.” Tears rolled from his eyes as he spoke, “I have been desecrated,
violated in the most utter fashion. He was in me. He was in me, there
to eat me. Sister, we are nothing but food to him.”
The image of Tilane falling upon Verar to devour him rolled
through her mind’s eye, changing each time to fit the continuously
readjusting nature of her mood. The more she thought of it, the more
it disgusted her. The more she thought of it, the more it aroused her.
With Verar, she would have to be strong and in control. She would
have to dominate him, take care of him, and make him hers. Although
Tilane wore a guise of civility, beneath its veneer he was a savage
beast who could hold her neck in his mouth and sever her spine with
one bite. He was darkness and danger, but he loved her and made her
feel utterly safe. As much as she wanted to be Tilane’s, she could not
take her eyes off the traumatized Verar.
“What is this long fire that greets my return?” The raspy voice
drew everyone’s attention to the bowlegged goatman as he descended
the mountain. With the casting of his hand, Jax silenced the voices of
those who attempted to explain. He began to bleat words in a bestial
tongue as he examined the bones of the fallen. Jax spoke while picking
through the charred remains with his bastard sword, “In the ice upon the
highest peak, I saw the orange flickering face of the goddess. Through

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her reflection she commanded me. Her words told of glory, beauty, and
danger. The lingering ghosts of our brothers confirm what she alluded
to, not every knight here will return to the streets of Trade. Get him up,”
he motioned towards Tilane. “Once I break my fast, we shall ride.”
Verar called out in alarm, “No, you cannot! Jax, that beast attacked
me, nearly killed me. It tried to eat me!”
Jax’s voice was level as he spoke, “These are your concerns, not
mine. It is Cinder’s will that you are here. Thank her that he did not eat
you. And if you are alive tomorrow, thank her a second time. Question
me again and it will be the butt of Rynus that finds you,” he patted his
bastard sword, “instead of words to remind you that we are here to serve
the goddess’s will, not our own wants.” Jax turned towards Tilane as he
was being revived. “Attack a knight of this order in my presence only
if you wish to spend the last moments of your life looking up at your
decapitated body. It is pitiful that I need to explain this to you while I
examine the remains of our dead.”
Verar looked down as Tilane fixed his gaze up him. With slow steps,
Aeffinea made her way from Verar’s side to stand in Tilane’s shadow.
“We must leave within minutes. Come with me now to the shade of the
mountain. We must be as the wind, but I must have you inside me first.”
The seven remaining knights saddled their optilangs and departed,
following Jax in a new direction. With each passing day, the wraith
wind’s icy bite faded until the cold was only a memory. The rocky land-
scape was slowly replaced with leafy nut-bearing shrubs, powdery yel-
low striped butterflies and fat-necked lizards; however, the terrain had
become even more mountainous. The velvety green and lilac flora of
the fabled Ergei valley vanished before them as they came to its highest
point between the Crowning Mountains. The rampant life was replaced
with a lifeless sea of sapphire blue.
“Have your wits up,” Jax’s spoke in a commanding tone. “We stand
upon the toe of goblin country.”
Atlas spoke in a derisive tone, “Goblins? Surely Jax, you cannot be-
lieve in such lowborn foolishness? These are the sorts of stories passed
around the gruel bucket by unlettered peasants. Next will you tell us
you’ve fallen for the superstitions spread by the southern tradesmen?

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Do you believe, as they say, that those rich lands are infested with a can-
nibalistic horde?”
Metodite glared at Atlas and spoke words for the first time in many
days. “I was past my fiftieth cycle before I even heard of a human.
K’Vega-Thale is a wide place full of terrible things. The stories of the
horde you speak of, the sirrushs, had reached my ears long before tales
of your people. How is it hard for one who tells stories of typhons to
believe in goblins and sirrushs? I was born on a beach and lived on
sand every bit as golden as dragon’s blood every day of my life before
Gahlodi was stolen from me. Never have I seen sand bluer than my
skin. This place is strange and in a strange land live strange things.
Whatever lurks in these lands is only an obstacle and there is nothing I
will not overcome to place Gahlodi back in my arms.” Metodite did not
take his eyes from Jax as he spoke.
Aeffinea drew close to Tilane. “What is this they are speaking of?”
“The sirrushs are legendary creatures of the south, lizards that stand
and think as men. It seems impossible that creatures like these stupid
beasts we ride upon could ever be capable of such. I do not know if
there is any truth to these stories; however, I do know goblins are very
real and that they taste horrible.”
Jax returned Metodite’s gaze for over a minute before speaking.
“Some obstacles are within your power to overcome, some are not. Be
certain which are which: some will take more from you than just your
handsome face.”
Metodite charged Jax so abruptly it caused the satyr’s optilang to
rear up and toss its rider. Jax fell somersaulting directly into the blue
sand. Vykata O Res, who now had learned enough Dazazyaese to fol-
low the conversation, grabbed Metodite in a rear waistlock before the
siren could bring his jagged club down upon Jax. “My face! You dare
mock me. I only play your pitiful games for her! I have battled, sacri-
ficed, and lost! What have you given up? You greedy jupikul, by the
end you will feel loss as I have felt it.”
Jax drew Rynus. “Let him go. We do not need a creature of the sea
to cross a blue desert. Through blood I will teach this cretin not to mock
our goddess.” In his fury his base voice grew even deeper.

132
Verar’s voice was sharp and high. “We are not alone. There, at the
edge of my sight: something is moving towards us.
Jax took several steps back so he could position Metodite between
himself and the direction Verar was looking in. In between the great,
crumbling, sun-baked remains of dying mountains that loomed in the
largely flat desert skulked dozens of humanoid silhouettes. Suddenly
the forms stood still, and then a moment later the collective charged
towards the knights.
“They know we’ve spotted them,” Tilane whispered to Aeffinea
over the low nervous hums of the optilangs.
“We stand and fight. These foul stench-ridden beasts cannot bar
our path,” Jax commanded, sniffing the dry breeze disagreeably as the
creatures drew closer over the open ground.
Smiling at Tilane, Aeffinea drew her khopesh, “May the wind guide
your axes true.” They shared a long kiss before launching themselves
onto the sand.
The shadow and glare faded, revealing the features of over thirty
squat, green-skinned wretches. The pointy-faced men, less than four
feet in height, were more lizard than bird and had a strange plant-like
quality. Their nude bodies were covered in thin coats of hair-like spores
which writhed repulsively in the sun’s glorious light. As they closed in,
the unit split into three prongs with the two groups now running diago-
nally, picking up speed. The knights stood unified upon the sand, in a
triangular pattern, with Jax standing at the point. Before the unarmed
goblins could close, Tilane hurled his axes through the air.
“Mah ga gagago-mah,” the first goblin screamed as the gleaming
axe severed the filthy vermin’s left arm, eliciting an eruption of goopy
red blood which intermingled with the blue sand, staining it purple. The
second was unable to manage more than a pitiful gurgling as his throat
was severed. The knights (other than Tilane) were caught off-guard as
the goblins leapt over ten feet into the air, pouncing upon their quarry.
Their strong, thickly muscled legs were easily able to ground their sur-
prised opponents as their long black razor-like front claws tore at the
knights’ flesh, attempting to position them for the excessively long kill-
ing hooks that grew from their heels. Tilane stumbled, nearly losing his

133
footing, but hardened as he drew deeply of the fear emanating from the
members of his order. It intoxicated the fey to an enrapturing level, al-
lowing a rear running goblin to pounce upon him. The sudden jostling
pulled Tilane from his ecstatic indulgence. As the goblin raked at his
face, Tilane extended his jaw wide before snapping down upon the gob-
lin’s ankle, severing it. The sudden trauma to the beast caused it to yelp,
lose its hold, and fall to the sand, where Tilane finished it off with three
well-placed boots to the face.
Meanwhile, Aeffinea struggled for her life beneath four goblins
while they callously tore at her face with their wickedly clawed feet.
Though the fall had jarred her, it did not disarm her and, with great ef-
fort, she was able to free her right arm and plunge her blade into one of
the goblin’s stomachs, causing its punctured intestines to slowly slide
from its belly onto her face. The stench was more than she could with-
stand and, despite the other goblins ripping at her flesh, she heaved the
contents of her stomach, discoloring the blue desert floor. As she looked
up into one of the goblin’s overly large eyes, a glint of metal behind its
head caught her eye before the thin blade slid into the goblin’s ear. The
creature howled in utter agony and fell off Aeffinea, revealing Verar’s
face as he pulled his rapier from the savage’s head.
Metodite’s powerful form erupted from beneath the writhing mass
of clawing goblins, his left hand vice-like upon one’s throat as he stood.
The filthy creatures began to dig their talons into him as they climbed
up his body. They tore at his face and throat as they sought to pull him
to the sand again. He bellowed in horror as he felt his freshly stitched
face begin to come loose. The sonic vibrations of his frantic cry echoed
for miles around, causing several goblins to fall and clutch their ears.
In his rage, he unconsciously crushed the throat of the one he held be-
fore bashing those that fell around him with his shark-tooth-encrusted
dokimby. The wooden staff-club smashed and lacerated the creatures,
covering the dry sand in the liquids of their death.
Shimmering as it sliced through the stagnate desert air, Rynus
claimed the lives of several goblins, whose impaled and decapitated
bodies fell unsung to the sand. Even Jax was stunned as the siren’s
voice shattered the violence. As the satyr recovered, he approached

134
Metodite, swinging his sword at the siren, plunging it into the back of
the last goblin that hung from his neck. Pulling his steel from the crea-
ture’s severed spine, he came face to face with the much larger Meto-
dite. Jax smiled with the left side of his mouth and leaned in, “Could
you hear the sound of steel meeting bone over the echoes of your pain,
primitive? I hope you could, so you will know what it will sound like
once Cinder has finished with you. Remove illusions of romance from
your mind. Such things are for your betters, not for you. You are but a
stepping stone polished smooth by the ocean’s tides. The one you call
by a name only relevant to your people is no longer yours. The great
goddess in orange has given her to me. Do you not understand? I am
the Keeper of The Song.”
Blood poured from his opened scars as his countenance twisted into
a storm of violence. Rynus parried back the first blow, sending several
sharpened shark’s teeth to the sand. “Your pitiful weapon will break,
then your spirit, then...”
Jax’s words were cut short as Metodite surprised him with an un-
orthodox front kick to the gut. Jax doubled over, allowing Metodite to
clasp him around the waist and then gut-wrench him high upon his head
before sending the goatman hard back-first into the sand. The impact
drove the breath from the satyr’s body while filling his eyes with tears.
Rynus fell from his hand as the shadow of Metodite’s boot closed with
his face. “Now you die, jupikul! Gahlodi is mine!”
“Enough!” Aeffinea shouted through busted and bruised lips. De-
spite the still-bleeding gashes covering her battered form, she stood de-
fiant before the imposing siren while placing her foot upon Rynus. “She
is not yours! She is not either of yours. I have seen her. She is sad,
frightened, and alone. She called, she sang to me. She chose me. And
by the gentle wind I will save her. And not for either of you! For her,
for she deserves to be free and free of both of you!”
As Aeffinea drew her khopesh, Metodite’s gaze trailed off past the
end of her blade and stopped at something behind her. Thoughts of gob-
lins returned to her mind as she spun towards a pile of the beasts bodies.
As Atlas Eros, his body and two-bladed sword covered in blood, pulled
two spore-covered creatures away they saw Vykata O Res’s body lying

135
upon the sand. There was a long, curved gash running the length of the
viagysh’s throat, accompanied by dozens of other, smaller heel claw
marks upon his face and head.
Jax used the distraction to crawl away, slowly staggering to his
feet. Verar began to help Atlas pull the goblin corpses off of their fel-
low knight. As Atlas spoke, “I do not know which saddens me more:
his death or your lack of concern for his life. Clearly it is a fool’s joke
that we are an order, a brotherhood, or any other word that stands in
for loyalty. You bicker over a girl like she is gold. I am not here for
her. I am here because I love Cinder. I love our beautiful lady because
she gave me the kindness of hope in the stirring of love. All love is
from her and there is someone I love who is waiting for me. It sickens
me that I am kept even a moment from her to do work that is not the
goddess’s. What you say means no more than optilang dung if you
love so little you’d rather add to our dead than aid one another. All of
you need to learn what loyalty is. We were all chosen and now three
of us are dead. Three of us! Could one of you please tell me that this
has at least some small meaning in your selfish hearts? If not, then the
five of you might as well kill each other now, for we’ll never survive
this hoary desert without unity.”
Bitter looks passed between the members of the order before Aef-
finea finally spoke, “You may be an oracle, Atlas, as the words you
speak leap from your tongue and drift hanging in the arid air like a
prophecy of doom. May the winds cleanse the tendrils of darkness from
each of our souls before this desolate waste claims us all and leaves our
bones for its great shadowy birds.”
Tilane stood beside her, taking her hand in his. Gazing at Verar, he
spoke, “Let us banish time that has come and not let it come again. May
Opiate lead us all into the gentle hazy recesses. Let peace and kindness
be the way of each of us to the other. Verar, I apologize for hurting you,
for touching you, for tasting you, for piercing you. I should never have
entered where I was not welcome.” His tongue, lips, and teeth wove in a
fashion finer, faster, or more expertly than even a freyaen loom matron.
They made his words true. It was only his eyes that leapt with lies.
Verar fidgeted nervously upon the face of the sea, dividing his at-

136
tention between the threat and his concern for Vykata O Res’s lifeless
form. Finding Tilane’s gaze too heavy a burden, he feigned a respectful
bow, “I... I seem to recall it is the custom of his people to ride fire into
the next world. Entombing him within the sand would only lead to the
wind exhuming his corpse for the hateful things circling above to defile.
We owe him more than that. Someone please, we must anoint him with
flammable oils and entrust him to the flame.”
An hour later, in the midst of the goblin bodies, Vykata O Res burned
as the six remaining knights began their expedition into this eldritch
land with a solemn funeral march. Reverent thoughts faded along with
the day. Jutting remnants of weatherworn mountains loomed skeletal,
like ravenously eaten apples, in the vast open blue nothingness. The
spectacle of twilight, framed by flapping grey clouds, seemed so pure.
Its perfect beauty stilled even the angriest of the knights’ souls. Each
color refracted in turn upon the sand dunes in such brilliance it led Jax to
remark, “See this heavenly opulence and know that it is proof that Cin-
der has taken Vykata O Res into her bosom and through his sacrifice and
that of Ionesa and Cyssus, we have won her favor. She smiles upon our
courage and will show me the way so that I may lead you all to glory.”
As night’s rainbow yielded the sky to darkness’s eyes, Tilane stood
and spoke, “Jax, you have led us without explanation to this blue grave-
yard. Now beneath the eyes of Ahriman you shall speak.”
Jax stretched to his fullest height, brushing the top of his hair against
Tilane’s bottom lip. “You are a monster of darkness and in darkness you
shall remain. Make another demand of me and...”
“Do not threaten me!” Tilane abrasively interrupted him, “Unlike
you, I did not lose my fight. You are correct though, I am a monster and
it is not unknown for my people to run with the wolves through these
lands under Ahriman’s cloak. I know what I am, where I am, and that I
am hungry. You are a blind little man, so arrogant and stupid you don’t
even know what will happen if you do not submit to my demand.”
Jax thrust his stocky chest into the thinner meehan-ghe, bumping him
back several steps. “All that will happen is that your severed head will look
up at the rest of you from the sand.” With that, Jax’s hand reflexively went
for Rynus’s hilt as Tilane hissed, bared his fangs and shot his head forward.

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16
Tears rolled from the Dusklord’s dead eyes as he found in the sun’s
light trembling childlike awe. Turning to share this moment with his
tribe, he was overwhelmed by their singular terror. To him, this was glo-
ry, but to these creatures of eternal darkness, it was horror. Yet each and
every one of the fey bravely yet tentatively ventured into Ahuramazda’s
light despite its brightness, leaving them barely able to open their eyes.
“Is all past the great trees as empty as this, my king?” asked Fetain,
a stone-grey-eyed young woman of seventy-two cycles.
The innocence of the question caught A-Ya so off-guard that a
chuckle escaped his lips. “No, my child, there are rivers, lakes, moun-
tains, and even cities beyond this barren landscape.” She looked at him
oddly when he said the word ‘cities,’ as he formed it in Pelganese, for
there was no word in Ajyran to describe these places that only humans
seemed to build. “A city... imagine... a place with parts of every tribe
living in it, close by each other, nearly on top, and all in little boxes.
There are buildings of wood and stone with copper and iron, there is
glass, ceramic, and brick. There is fire, light, and men in armor. There
are those so poor they have nothing to eat and those so rich they have
no need to ever stop eating. There are even streets upon which humans,
ferrums, ogres, and others push past each other without a word on the
backs of their optilangs on their way to shops which sell every kind of
thing you don’t need and even a few things you do.”
Fetain’s garb, like most of the meehan-ghes’, was far too revealing
for the harsh sun’s light which had already kissed her alabaster skin,
claiming the beautiful young warrior’s flesh with an ever reddening hue.
After a long contemplative look, Fetain spoke, “your people’s places do
not sound good at all. I would not like to go to them. But what per-
plexes me most, is why do these poor simply not eat these rich?” A-Ya
smiled as she butchered the pronunciation of the words and placed his
arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. “If all these indolent rich
do is eat, surely they must be wonderfully fat and tremendously slow?”
“Yes, they surely must be,” A-Ya laughed, “However, they have

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many of the slightly fed to keep the ravenous away... with fire and iron.”
“We should stop talking of these rich, for they sound too deli-
cious. And as my stomach growls for the hunt, I could not imagine
there being enough fire or iron in the whole of existence to keep me
from one of their throats.”
A-Ya noticed that the rest of the fey were listening to their con-
versation with interest. “I know you are all hungry. If my recounting
of days is correct, this is The Day of Soil, the day of Demar, which
means there are many more hours of light left in the sky before night
shall grant you the vision to hunt.”
As the hours crawled by, the fey’s eyes found the oppressive light
impossible to adjust to. While the meehan-ghes did their best to conceal
their fear, the baobhan siths made no such attempt and huddled close to
the Dusklord. Shuddered gasps escaped many of the feys’ mouths as
the majestic tones of the glooming filled the sky. Never before had any
of them experienced this and its grandeur soon silenced their murmur-
ing voices as they beheld the splendor of the sky’s beauty. The ideal
their king had brought them now imposed upon them a revelation of
personal epiphany through its true presence. A-Ya did not worship, did
not look to the sky, but instead cast his gaze down to the kneeling fey.
Understanding played out across their overly expressive faces as confu-
sion supplanted doubt before giving birth in purple light to belief. On
the warm blue sand, A-Ya saw the seeds of faith he had planted within
the fey grow into long-stemmed roses budding with piety. The spiritual
sickness of uncertainty within him was eradicated as he found resolve
greater than any he had ever known. In their truth he found providence.
A cool wind picked up, and as the fey prayed, A-Ya heard Luk-Coo’s
voice in the yawning breeze. The gentle song promised to guide A-Ya’s
people to a new land. And while the words filled the Dusklord’s heart
with joy, he did not need his god’s reassurances, for he believed.
Some long time after Ahuramazda’s body had been pulled past the
sky, causing the fearsome structure they had avoided during the day to
vanish into the oblivion of night, Aosh Pul, whose skin was now blis-
ter red, lowered himself into running position and disappeared into the
night. The other hungry fey quickly followed behind. In their haste,

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the much faster fey left the Dusklord behind. Even with thousands of
extra eyes, it took him nearly all the remaining night to find his tribe.
The dying moans of a languishing sand titan boomed through the cool
night. All nineteen of the fey were carefully keeping the colossal whale-
like lizard alive as they feasted on its fear-fed blood. The meehan-ghes
bit and licked it while the baobhan siths, nude and badly burned, thrust
their claws into its flesh, writhing seductively as they drained the crea-
ture’s essence. Only once the great beast finally expired from their tor-
ment did the fey begin to eat its raw flesh. In the early morning’s light
the sated fey covered themselves as best they could with the carcass,
some even digging their way into the titan’s innards for a reprieve from
the hateful sun while they entered their long overdue meditative rest.
Melantha was the first to break her trance. Finding her husband she
said, “The baobhan siths have consumed me with scintillating orange
vibrancy. My mother spun many tales of these fey, each hiding truths
of their nature, some whose meanings were so esoteric that I only grasp
them now. I rejoice in your wisdom, my husband. You are enlightened
not only in the ways of divinity, but in those of mortality as well. In the
darkness of our wood, you saw what I could not. Though I had been
told, I did not know. They are one with my people. You feel it, though
you do not know it. So know it now. They have no men. Nearly every
baobhan sith’s father is meehan-ghe. Meehan-ghes will not eat each
other, yet they eat their deer-daughters. They eat them because we kept
this truth from them. We kept them from the love they could have found
in each other. We thought them unclean and unworthy. But it is plain
now that was a lie we told ourselves. They have proven themselves on
this journey and I am orange with excitement to be the first nyxad to
welcome them into her tribe.” A-Ya smiled, grabbed his wife, and made
passionate love to her under the radiant sun.
With each passing day, the fey begun to learn more of this new world.
Survival forced them to adapt and before half a cycle had passed, they
learned how to endure this strange place. Great hunters reduced to eat-
ing whatever small game they found skulking about the desert under
the pale moons. Burnt violent red by the sun’s hateful rays, their skin
ached, itched, and peeled as their innards raged with pangs of hunger

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and thirst. The fey of the pine forest were predators, hunters who could
run twice as fast as any human. While this awed A-Ya, he thanked Luk-
Coo that in this state between life and death, his lungs no longer burned
under the exertion of running, for even though his tribe did not move at
their full speed, the Dusklord still had to run every moment the moons
hung in the sky, only stopping when the brightness of the day became
too much for them. When this happened, the fey buried themselves in
the sand, indulging in their needed meditation. The hours of the high
sun were a lonely time filled with thought as A-Ya watched over his
reposing companions.
In the middle of the night, Aurquim, who no longer looked directly at
A-Ya, approached Melantha, “My queen, the sand moves oddly tonight.”
“The sand moves oddly many nights,” Melantha said uninterestedly.
“Yes, my queen, but there is no wind tonight, and in the stillness I
feel subtle movements from below. Tonight we are not the hunters. I
will handle this, I only wished you to know that there is something be-
low.” Melantha dismissed her with a slight upward flick of her fingers.
Aurquim nodded her head obediently while the muscles on either side
of her upper lip twitched as she tried to suppress an outburst of animos-
ity. “Jesswa, Vezie, Mouka, Recri come with me. Huntlord Aiden, take
the other side. We will find what is below.” The four female meehan-
ghes Aurquim called appeared beside their Huntlady. Each in the hunt
position accorded her status. Aiden assembled the other three male fey,
Aosh, Jazhilo, and Kalla, and set off into the darkness.
The trembling vibrations grew stronger against Aurquim’s bare feet
as she slowly backtracked towards their epicenter. Ripples began to
form in the desert around her before the sand directly below her be-
gan to buckle up. Something pressed from beneath. It pushed up the
ground, raising it into the air like a hill. The five fey were lifted a
story above the point they had just stood. Before they could do more
than brace themselves against this sudden change in elevation, the ris-
ing sand below them gave way. The sudden sand slide opened into a
concave vortex-like sinkhole. Only Vezie was near enough the edge to
leap to safety. Despite their efforts, the others could find no hand-holes
in the swirling blue grains as they quickly tumbled down the funnel.

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Four tentacle-like mandibles slithered from the hole’s center. Writhing
hair-like sensors covering the inner edge of the protrusions twitched
hungrily in anticipation as the meehan-ghes’ bodies plummeted towards
its maw. Aurquim, unable to right herself, fell forcefully, crashing face
against sand a dozen times, before her descent was abruptly ended as
she landed upon the opening’s rim. The mouth parts coiled around the
breathless fey, grasping her nervously, pinching at her soft flesh before
finally wrapping tightly around her neck. Spit flew from her mouth as
the thing yanked her with violent force towards the crevasse. A burn-
ing secretion which smelled like pine sap and stagnant bog water oozed
from its jaws; the sizzling pain of the liquid was quickly replaced by
a feeling of serenity. Aurquim’s eyes twitched erratically as a smile
spread over her face. Her fear and pain were transmogrified into peace-
ful passivity as her body drank in the acidic poison. Mouka and Re-
cri were entangled by the strangling feelers, succumbing to the unseen
creature’s acidic sting. Its fourth appendage wrapped around Jesswa’s
left ankle. She braced hard on her left leg as she unwound her copper
nightmare whip, a length of metal chains covered on one side by ser-
rated razors. Forgoing the handle, Jesswa grasped the smooth side of
her weapon. She began to use the whip as a saw, sliding it back and
forth against the chitinous mandible.
The soothing paralysis of the burning narcotic granted Aurquim a
respite from the waking world. She was wrapped in white as she stood
lucidly upon the astral field, where the wind began to blow, ruffling her
silken shroud. Looking down she saw her face reflecting back in the
thought bubble of a dream attached to a long wheat stem rooted in the
starry ebony ground of the Dreamland. Millions of dreamers’ swayed
in the astral winds as the breeze swept through the field. A painted
thought form of black, purple, and red floated by. As she touched it, it
shimmered, spinning a tapestry of imagination. The thoughts were no
revelation, they were simply the totality of her swirling passions. The
images were those of A-Ya and Aiden. She had seen the possibilities of
these fantasies a thousand times but never outside her own mind’s eye.
She was taken aback at how vulgar her thoughts were towards her king
as fifteen different futures unfolded. Seeing it in vivid color, she knew

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it was erratic, irrational, and unstable, all the things loyal Aiden was not.
It could never work, but those thoughts drove her to want it even more.
On the periphery of her senses, she noticed a form floating over her
wheat body. She had no idea what it could be. It looked like a legless
man, floating in the air, composed of a squirming mass of bright purple-
blue things that vaguely resembled sea urchins being loosely held to-
gether by long, protruding, bright orange and deep pink whip-like barbs,
each with eleven digits and pale red needles which periodically thrust
out of them. What passed for its arm grabbed the top of her wheat stalk
and ripped it from the dream. She saw her image upon the head of the
dream wheat fade as the vibrant yellow stalk became brittle and grey.
She blinked and the world around her was black, etched outlines of
shadows propelled themselves over less dark areas in this vast abyss.
Aurquim knew she was not dreaming anymore. The way one of the
shadows squirmed around this vacuous world stirred a thought within
her. “The sand! The thing! I am dying! Or am I already dead? Calm...
I feel so calm, utterly at peace. That was its trick. To lead me to hap-
pily resign my life. I will not! I will not! I will not die like a freyaen!
I will fight like a warrior! I will live! Creature, your death will not be
peaceful! You will know perfect fear as I end you!”
The taste of bile was upon her tongue as the sight of blue sand greet-
ed her eyes. She was halfway down the hole and could feel the back of
her hair brushing against the stone-like maw and bloated, rubbery white
face of the thing buried just under the pit. Its mouth hole was huge and
it appeared as if it planned to pull Mouka, Recri, and her into its greedy
gullet all at once. From above, she saw Aiden standing precariously at
the top of the pit, raining down arrows into the creature’s mouth. The
sand under her began to slide quicker and then she was pulled into its
elastic throat. The small, hard teeth bit her as she disappeared into its
mouth – but Mouka’s and Recri’s bodies shielded her from many of the
biting teeth. She felt a sharp pain in her right leg as Jesswa’s nightmare
whip wrapped around her ankle. Copper tore against flesh as her blood
poured down the creature’s throat. The copper chain abruptly stopped
her descent, giving her enough time to fumble for her twin daggers.
The thing bellowed in pain as a whirlwind of dagger thrusts severed its

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throat from the inside. Its mandible lashed wildly in its death throes
as Jesswa and Aiden pulled her from its mouth. She collapsed into her
mate’s arms, wrapping her left arm around him. She reached over and
pulled Jesswa in with her right, pressing herself against them both tight-
ly. A tear fell from her right eye as she looked down. No one else had
crawled out of the beast’s gaping orifice. She fell to her knees, clawing
furiously at the sand. The wounds in her hands and legs burned as the
grit of the sand rubbed against them.
Aiden spoke, “They are gone. We must leave this hole before we are
buried in an avalanche of blue.”
“No! I have killed this thing and I will not be denied its flesh! It ate
two of us and now we eat it! All of you down here now! Help me dig it
out. This was a hunt and it will not be the only one that gets to eat! Do
not touch its mandibles. They are covered in a poison that may reduce
your mind to that of a lowly freyaen.” Her face was stained with tears
and blood as she shouted raspy orders to her tribe through her nearly
crushed throat. It was well past dawn before they completed their un-
earthing of the giant, bloated white grub. It had a thousand small hair-
like legs on all sides of its thirty-foot long segmented body. The grub’s
face was covered in over a dozen arrows. Aurquim cut a blubbery seg-
ment from the creature and begun to eat, “This flesh is as disgusting
as goblin. Still, I shall eat until I pass out. Let this be a lesson to all
creatures of this blue world: now that we walk its face, you have been
replaced by new alpha predators.” Cheers came from the other meehan-
ghes, who also began to eat the foul-tasting flesh of this grub.
Junjer, the palest and smallest of the meehan-ghes, stood over the
creature’s midsection, offering silent prayers for her deceased tribe-sis-
ters. Once finished, she produced three tanned deer bladders into which
she milked the worm’s poison glands.
A-Ya stood before the grub, “Luk-Coo, we raise our voices to you,
asking you to send the demons that bear your name upon swift winds
to bring these faithful souls home to the eternal twilight so they may
rejoice in your presence until the end of time. Please do not allow
them to suffer the ravages of the spirits of the desert. Although their
bodies are gone, their souls are here, waiting and confused. Lord, we

144
beg you, take them home.” With that, A-Ya began to speak in a tone
that none of the assembled could understand – except Aurquim. He
addressed the ghosts of the dead, assuring the souls of Mouka and Re-
cri that they would be safe.
The sacred tones which the Dusklord spoke caused Aurquim’s sens-
es to focus uniquely. As she looked at the spot which A-Ya addressed,
she saw them there: the scared, confused ghosts of Mouka and Recri.
The realization that they were forever lost to this world hurt Aurquim so
much it nearly drove the vision from her head. She pointed and shud-
dered, “No! I will not let you have them! They are to go to the eternal
twilight. You could not have my soul and you will not have theirs!”
She drew her daggers and leapt at the legless floating man-like thing
which was taking hold of Mouka’s and Recri’s essences. Lunging at the
creature, she struck true, but both she and the blade passed harmlessly
through the figure as if it was not there. A look of confusion consumed
her countenance as she prepared for a second strike.
Vexed by the situation, A-Ya spoke, “Huntlady Aurquim, you can
see them? All three of them?”
“Yes, this monster plucked my stalk from the Dreamland and has
followed me here. It is the thing you spoke of, the predator that stalks
the helpless souls. I have more than enough fight left for my tribe-
sisters, even though their fight is done. This thing will not take them.”
She studied the thing, narrowing her eyes as she prepared to strike.
“I do not know how you can see them, but I do see a strange mark
upon you. Something has happened. You bear the sign of the dying,
the mark of Luk-Coo. You have been weakened through the ordeal
you’ve just suffered. Save your strength. What you somehow see be-
fore you is not a predator seeking to scavenge the essence of a ghost.
It is a demon of the dying. Do you not see? It has come. It has heard
our prayers and these loyal souls are going to the Land of Dusk with-
in the Island of Freedom to enjoy their eternal rewards.” A calming
smile spread over A-Ya’s face. “I am most pleased to tell you that you
have the ghost sight. Even though they are confused, they can hear
you. They will only be here for moments more, put down your blades
and say your final goodbyes.”

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“Could it be? You are a thing of our god? I... I trust you, my king.
If you say it, then it is so. Mouka and Recri, know that I... that I love
you. It was my great honor to fight beside you, you died as warriors and
I will sing your names across this treeless land until the hollow echoes
boom back. I look forward to one day seeing you again in glory. I will
never forget you, either of you.” Aurquim’s speech ended abruptly as
she noticed Melantha glaring at her. The nyxad could not understand
the words Aurquim spoke, but as far as she could tell they were words
to A-Ya, special words between her Huntlady and her husband.

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17
The bleating echoes of Jax’s pain reverberated through the still des-
ert. Tilane’s left hand squeezed the satyr’s throat while his fangs, fully
piercing Jax’s leather jerkin, sunk deep into the thick muscle of the sa-
tyr’s left shoulder. Jax could feel his clavicle begin to give way under
the pressure of Tilane’s canines as the sickening damp feeling of his
own blood warmed his left side. Verar leapt upon Tilane’s back and
drove his thumbs deep into the meehan-ghe’s eyes. Jax’s red, soupy
blood oozed from his mouth as Tilane released, throwing his head back.
Tilane stuck his forefinger into Verar’s mouth, driving it deep inside the
freyaen’s cheek as he gripped the back of his head with his other hand.
The fish-hooking created the momentum Tilane needed to whip Verar
from his shoulders. Strange, deep brown dots and squiggles floated
through Tilane’s field of vision, “My eyes! Coward you dare try to take
my sight from me! I have your measure. Learn now the scope of my
cruelty.” Tilane shifted his grip, moving from a fishhook, he grabbed
Verar’s tongue with all his strength and began to pull it out of his mouth.
Rynus’s hilt collided with the back of Tilane’s skull, forcing the child of
fear to collapse upon the blue sand. Jax raised the sword over his head,
gripping it with both hands. Murder lurked within his eyes.
Blood flew from the satyr’s mouth as Aeffinea’s elbow connected
solidly. Grappling his wrists, she left herself open to a vicious head-
butt. The satyr’s forehead was impossibly hard. As it connected with
Aeffinea’s skull, it opened up a gushing cut above her eyebrow. The mo-
mentum of the impact sent both of them to the sand. The much heavier
Jax was quickly able to impose himself upon the lithe freyaen. She kept
control of his hands, but was unable to prevent him from mounting her.
Jax conceded wrist control to her, opting instead to press his forehead
against her nose. This allowed him to aggressively grind it against her
face. Realizing how unprepared she was for these unorthodox tactics,
he grew more bold in their use. Pushing himself up higher on her, he
began to use the top of his head instead, driving his two small horns into
her face. The horns reddened her face, opening angry gashes as they

147
passed over her flesh. “Pray your lungs do not cause you to falter. You
will need every drop of my blood upon this sand before I ever allow you
to place your filthy goat hands upon The Song. Unworthy coward. The
thought of you with her causes sickness to grip my stomach.”
“I tire of your babbling, fool-whore. You know nothing of Cinder’s
beautiful plan,” Jax growled through gritted teeth while ramming his
horns against Aeffinea’s face. “How dare you question he whom you
are here to serve! Best you die now for there is no respect in you. All
you do is prattle on about how I will not be her master. About how she
will be free. She was made for me! I am the Keeper of The Song. Do
not confuse your lust for her with nobility. All you wish is to be be-
tween her legs as every man here has been between yours.”
The words upon his tongue repulsed her as they entered her ears,
but as they became part of her thoughts they filled her with excite-
ment. Even in the midst of this battle, she could not keep the thought
out of her head: what would it be like if she were The Keeper of The
Song? All thoughts left her as Jax reared up to make room for a crush-
ing head-butt. The thought left the satyr’s eyes as cool steel came
down from above to rest upon each of their throats. Atlas’s double-
bladed sword touched each of their necks just firmly enough to leave
a slight red kiss upon their flesh.
There was a disappointed look upon Atlas’s face, “Jax, a leader is
meant to inspire and build confidence in his order’s ranks. You have
torn yours apart and pissed upon the sacrifices made by three good men
to get us here. I love the Lady of Orange, but you, you only love your-
self. Once we are done here, I never wish to see you again. But I will
not die in this desert and I will not fail our mother. Get off of Aeffinea
unless you want her covered in your blood.”
Jax slowly relaxed his muscles and stepped off of Aeffinea. He
spoke in a low somber tone, “I... I am sorry, Atlas Eros. You... all of
you… deserve more from me. This place, this vast endless Blue Ocean
sits ill with me. You are right, I owe you more than this,” he winced
as he rubbed his bleeding left shoulder. “I can offer nothing to excuse
myself. Seeing those of our order dying and knowing what has come
before, I cannot fail our Lady – not again, never again. Metodite, Atlas,

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Verar, Aeffinea, and even Tilane, I will lead you. I will show you that
you can trust me. I promise you, no more of us will die and soon we will
have The Song.”
Atlas relaxed his blade slightly, still pointing it at Jax. Metodite
glared at Atlas, “Do it, finish him. Drive that ugly blade into his flesh.
Spill his innards upon this false ocean. Let it be done, let it all be done
now. This order is good, and I stay for that reason alone. Yet he is the
rot inside our barrel. His blighted soul will spoil us all. He is ruin made
of fur and flesh. If you have not the stomach for the work, proclaim
your cowardliness loud enough so that the thunderbirds up in the distant
heights may hear it. Then step aside, for this man’s dokimby is fit for
the task. He has profaned the name of my sweet Gahlodi enough. She
is not The Song and all of you will stop referring to her as such. She is
to be the completion of my family trinity, my second wife. Mine!” The
three long feathers upon the top of his head stood tall as he spoke. “I
will not hear her spoke of as another’s again. Let each of you know that
or soon come to know this dokimby.”
Jax took a half step back and lowered his eyes respectfully, “Cin-
der is all beauty, all wonder, all passion. But that passion she has
given us at times is too much to bear. Passion is the esoteric essence
of existence, the silver hope that keeps us working in the mine of life.
Pushing past all the bad for the knowledge that something worth living
for may be just behind the next rock and we don’t give up, because
we know somewhere in that mine is something that if we are strong
enough to dig it out will make our life worth having lived. Please let
us all calm the flames of our passions – for many of us, and especially
me, have descended into the acts of ogres. There is no glory there, but
together we may find it still. If you will listen, I will tell you the his-
tory of the Knights of Elegance.” He paused, composing himself for
the tale he was about to reveal.
“Gahlodi was not the first chosen by Cinder,” he began. “The
original Song’s name was Yrkahe, Cinder’s first daughter, a thaliad
nymph. For those unfamiliar with the name, I shall tell you: thaliads
are the greatest race of the greatest species of fey. Of the true queens of
K’Vega-Thale, Yrkahe was the first, the greatest, and the most beauti-

149
ful.” At this point Aeffinea was attempting to awaken Tilane, but was
listening just as intently as the rest of the knights. “She sang with a
voice that marked perfection, it was as beautiful to hear as she was to
look upon. She lived for a very long time in an eternally fed magma
spring within the volcanic mountain Lulkoitig, attended by seven of her
younger sisters. For cycles beyond counting, I dreamed of her before
her voice and Cinder’s hand brought her before my gaze. I won her,
my mate, my love, my perfect life. She made a home inside me and my
seed made eight children inside her. I had a grand ivory tower built in
tribute to her. Although it was dedicated to Cinder, there was a single
small jade statue of Yrkahe in the central worship hall. Having this
statue commissioned was the greatest mistake of my life,” his voice
cracked as he spoke. “If I hadn’t, then maybe, maybe things would
have been different. Maybe I’d be sharing her company tonight instead
of that of wind, sand, and anger. All things I put in my path, to be sure,
but she was one I accidently pushed aside. People of all types – fairies,
talos, mers, shians, dracoids, and stranger things still – came to witness
the world’s most perfect beauty. Her love moved from me to the awe
she beheld in their eyes. It fed her and as it grew, slowly somewhere a
line between awe and worship was crossed, by them and by her. Soon
the small statue was not enough, so I had another one built – and then
another and another, each taller, wider and greater than the last.”
“Then came the day when I returned home, to the temple of Cinder
on the thoroughfare which is now dedicated to the divine. Long before
there was a city named Trade, long before there was another temple
within five days’ ride. I found the great statue of Cinder which once
adorned the worship hall lying smashed to pieces in the muck before
the temple. I thought of her, for when I thought of her, I could feel her
within me and beyond, I knew where she was and that she was safe.
But as I felt for her, she was not there, where she’d lived within me was
a hollow empty space. At that moment, I experienced a fear so great
I question to this day if everything that happened since then has truly
taken place within the world of flesh. While she was not within me,
while I could not feel her, hope fleetingly rekindled within me as I heard
her soft giggling voice. I ran, I ran up those stairs to the highest point.

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To the point that now bears an unearthly lock. As I flung the door to the
top of the ivory tower open, my heart relaxed as I saw her, only to suffer
the trauma of betrayal a moment later as I saw the rest of my order with
her. She was a nymph, destined by her mother’s design to give herself
over absolutely to only one man. She was to be with only one man!” He
hesitated briefly in shame at what he was about to recount.
“I found her with eight, cavorting in acts so despicable I cannot
bring myself to think of them even now, hundreds of cycles later. She
looked at me with eyes empty, devoid of love, for she cared nothing of
the heartbreak she saw in my eyes. All she cared to see upon a man’s
face was awe. She was my wife, my lover, but not my goddess and she
hated me for that so much that she learned the profane ways of the anti-
magi to sever our bond of eternal sacred love. Under my own watch she
had started a cult, a cult that bore her own name. She had proclaimed
herself the most beautiful, not only of K’Vega-Thale, but of all worlds.
She claimed to be the very face of awe itself – a direct blasphemy. As
I stood in shock, it occurred to me how little I had meant to her when
she did not even stop her lovers from fornicating with her in my pres-
ence. Heartbroken, I prayed to Cinder, I prayed that she would see
this abomination. To this day I do not know whether my prayer was
formed for my love of the goddess or by my own pride. Either way, I
saw my prayer answered as orange light so bright it was nearly blinding
descended upon the room. The events I am about to recount are limited
greatly in their clarity. I saw huge hands (disembodied, perhaps, or if
they had a body, it was beyond my ability to see) grip Yrkahe, the most
beautiful woman to ever live, and turn her flesh on a sculpture’s wheel
as if it were clay. The sound of her bones snapping still rings out in my
loneliest hours. I wished at that moment I could take it all back, but in
my heart I knew this was what she deserved. Do not misunderstand my
tale: she did not die, she only stopped being her. Her flesh and soul were
transmogrified, her beauty stripped away. She was forever twisted into
something dreadful to stand as a caution to any foolish enough to dare
challenge the beauty of Cinder.”
Sadness and compassion hung in the air as many minutes passed in
silence after Jax finished speaking. Aeffinea said, “I did not know. I am

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so sorry for your loss. That level of suffering is unimaginable. In its shar-
ing, I hope the wind will unburden you with at least some of this pain.”
Jax attempted a smile as he placed his hand upon Aeffinea’s head,
“Thank you, child, you have a kind heart full of love. I wish I had not
been such a fool to have paid no notice to that until now. I have lived
the lifetime of a dozen satyrs and somewhere along that long path,
I lost sight of the small things that make life complete but I am old
enough to know what to do now. Come, all of you, join with me now
in this sacred oath of Cinder’s knights. Know that time is different for
the gods, but that does not shorten the wait I have endured by even a
moment. I have dreamed of and hungered for the resurrection of this
order. Now that this stands before me, I am ashamed of how poorly I
have handled it. I have looked above and ahead when I should have
been looking at each of you,” he froze, readying himself, his silence
commanding absolute attention.
“Each of you kneel, raise your hands, and repeat these words with
me: We are the walking skins of passion within this repulsive world of
grass, dirt, and clay. We are the children of awe-filled flaming dreams,
chosen to be greater than all we see. To inspire all whose gaze falls upon
us to be greater than they otherwise could. For our Lady we pledge our
last breaths to defend all beauty as it is a manifestation of her grace. We
pray that with our diligent work she may one day have the strength to
make this hideous place as beautiful as her.” Jax said the words slowly
and each of his knights in turn fell to their knees and chanted along with
him. By the time they had finished, they had said each word nine times.
Many minutes passed in silence before Aeffinea stood: “Jax, let the
Blue Ocean’s winds wash from us the anger that has come between.
My heart trembled with the telling of your story. I can offer no better
words, for in truth I’ve never known pain like that. To see in light the
suffering you’ve experienced for so many cycles in darkness, surely all
actions that have transpired here must be understood in the revelation of
that tale.” The top of Jax’s curly hair swept across her cheek as she em-
braced him, it took all of Aeffinea’s willpower to not cry out in pain as
the hairs slid back and forth over the multitude of open cuts on her face.
When he finally pulled away from her, she emptied the contents of her

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waterskin onto her face, rinsing the sand grains from her open wounds
before she returned to the unconscious Tilane.
The pink star of dawn had already risen by the time Tilane’s eyes
opened. He wished to kiss Aeffinea’s smiling lips, but her joy illumi-
nated her face so brightly it forced Tilane to look away. As he did, pain
surged through his body from his skull down his spine. He staggered
to his feet instinctively, unable to find his balance. After taking a dozen
steps, he collapsed upon the sand, driving the air from his lungs. Aef-
finea gasped and ran to him, cupping his head in her hands, she said,
“I love you, Tilane.” He could smell the fear she exuded. It danced
delightfully across his nostrils like a pheromone. It stirred his hunger so
greatly that he nearly lost the battle with his primitive nature to drive his
fangs into her so he could taste the ever-changing flavors of fear which
rode upon her blood.
After dominating his primal hunger, Tilane retraced the actions
which led to him lying upon the sand, “Jax? Verar? Where are... are
they dead? I remember that coward, Verar, attacking me from behind,
leaping upon my back as I fought Jax.” Before Aeffinea could answer
his question, it resolved itself as his head rolled to the side. He saw Jax
kneeling, engaged in the dream trance and Verar sitting near the smoky
fire pit sharpening his rapier. “How is this? They live and I live?”
Aeffinea repositioned his head in her lap, “Yes, after Jax smashed
the hilt of his sword into your skull, I fought with him for some time
before Atlas separated us. I thought one of us would have to die, but
neither of us did. Don’t you see? We’ve worked everything out. There
was healing between us. Jax revealed the story of the first Song and of
his family. It was a tale of unspeakable tragedy and his suffering can
scarcely be imagined.”
“He’s been through so much? Have you forgotten all this arrogant
fool has put us through? You care so much and I love you for that but
can you not see within him there is no love for any other than himself?
Cyssus, Ionesa, and Vykata O Res are dead but to him they were merely
sacrifices upon the altar of his quest. Have you forgotten how sickened
you were by his claims to The Song? His ideas of owning her? Make
no mistake: as far as I’m concerned what he does with her is irrelevant.

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But what is relevant is how you seem to have forgotten yourself over
some contrived teary-eyed words. You are stronger than that – do not
let this charlatan manipulate you.”
Hints of anger penetrated her tone, “Irrelevant? If what happens to
her is so irrelevant to you then why are you even here?”
Tilane’s demeanor softened as he took a moment to compose him-
self before speaking, “I heard The Song’s call, but unlike others I did
not come for it, because I did not care. I did not fall in love with
her.” He took a long pause, studying Aeffinea’s face before continu-
ing, “I did not come until I received a vision – a vision from The Lady.
Much of it I did not understand but what was clear to me was that if I
came I would find completion. You cannot begin to understand how
shocked I was when the perfect reflection of my soul walked into the
tower of ivory and her eyes were full of light. I’d never thought I’d be
completed by anyone other than a meehan-ghe. I was so lonely for so
long, but when I saw you...”
Aeffinea’s face grew even brighter at his words as she lowered it
closer to his, stroking him carefully, “It is the same water that reflects
back the moons or the sun. So too does the story of the sidhe hint that it
is for our people.”
Tilane’s head turned towards Jax, “This story he told you, it was all
a distraction. It was only to keep us from knowing where he was taking
us, or am I wrong, did he say?” He waited only a moment before say-
ing, “I thought not, I don’t trust him.”
Aeffinea pressed her finger against Tilane’s lips, “Shhh, you don’t
need to, just trust me. Just trust me.” Carefully she slid her hand down
his leather pants, erecting him before she removed his leathers and grati-
fied his manhood with her kiss.

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18
“No more.”
“What do you mean my love?” A-Ya asked his wife, puzzled by the
curtness of her statement. Aurquim interlocked her thumbs and flared
her nostrils (a meehan-ghe expression for ‘until we meet again’) to-
wards the ghosts of her departing friends before quickly making her
way to Aiden, who embraced her firmly.
Melantha glared at Aurquim’s back and then at A-Ya, “The avarice
of her desires for you ring out across the great dream. I will not see
them fulfilled. No more.” She turned abruptly and strode away from
the Dusklord.
A perplexed look crossed A-Ya’s face. “I was only trying to teach
her how to use the gift our Lord has bestowed upon her.” Melantha’s
body language was not difficult to read. Seeing that his words were
only increasing her jealousy, he simply stopped talking and turned back
to the demon as it took his subjects’ souls.
For the whole chain (a period of eleven days) following Mouka and
Recri’s deaths, Melantha claimed to be in mourning and refused to lay
with A-Ya. During this time, she was distant from the meehan-ghes,
keeping company with the baobhan siths instead. Fiona, Adat, Brean,
Abhilin, Islin, Cayleen, and Kessyd became her constant companions.
On the eleventh day they began to see a titanic form looming far off in
the distance.
Fetain pulled on the hem of A-Ya’s cloak, “What is that thing in the
distance? Is it what you call a… city?”
A-Ya looked carefully with his weaker vision he was barely able
to make it out. “No, it isn’t. But I do not know what it is. Perhaps we
should avoid it.”
Melantha spoke up, directing words, for first time in days, to her
husband, “We shall not change the stream of our course. For it is to the
zenith of that edifice we travel.”
“What is it and why do you wish to go there?” Melantha only re-
turned an icy stair to A-Ya’s question.

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The enormity of the object seemed to grow with the passing of days.
The white orbs of Ahriman hung low in the night’s sky, causing the
shadows of the desert to stretch long and move often. Aurquim came
close to A-Ya pressing her lips to his ear before he noticed her, “There:
in that quivering shadow under the high dune. Do you see them?”
The Dusklord strained his eyes but saw nothing but shadow in the
veil cast by the piled sand, “No, I... no, I see nothing. What is there?”
Aurquim placed her fingers firmly upon her king’s temples, control-
ling his head she tilted it to his left, before saying, “They are goblins
– skulking there, waiting for us like the dancing spider waits for the fun-
gus sweat fly. As soon as we are close, they will strike.” His thoughts
were torn between the danger and her body, which she continued to
press against his, even after her soft breath ceased to tickle his ear.
He held his tongue as long as he could, savoring the intimacy of this
moment before speaking, “We shall not play the role of prey tonight.
Divide your pack into two groups, one to capture their attention and
another to spring an ambush once the first has distracted them.” She lin-
gered, holding her position against him for a few moments longer before
withdrawing to attend his orders. As she gathered the other meehan-
ghes and departed into the darkness, A-Ya’s gaze did not leave her form
until she had completely disappeared.
Aurquim took the remaining female meehan-ghes with her: Jess-
wa, Vezie, Fetain, and Junjer. Moving in a rhythmic run, she came
to the edge of the long, deep shadow of the dune. “Loathsome crea-
tures,” she warned, “squirm your way out of that dark spot and grovel
before me. If you force me to come in there, I will have to remind
myself how foul you taste.”
“Yes, no, no, you not come to us, big one,” a pitiful voice replied
in Ajyran. “We is small in size and worth, soon on bellies we stand for
you.” The strange fibers which covered the goblins’ bodies twitched
frantically as they slunk out of the deeper darkness of the shadows. Au-
rquim could barely contain her seething contempt. Vezie recoiled in
disgust as she caught the monster’s scent on the soft wind. It had a dry,
unwashed smell like wet moss and rotting feces.
“Idiots, I shall not deign to speak with the likes of you. Thank Ahri-

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man that I do not keep the commandment of killing tonight and water
the desert with your base blood.” Aurquim pointed one of her daggers
towards the way they came. “There are many different trails you could
head down at this moment in your lives. Only the one I point to con-
tinues as life. Go now, journey down it.” The presence of her will en-
gulfed the goblins, strangling all opposition from their minds. Cowed,
the nineteen of them departed without another sound.
Jesswa turned towards Fetain, “Young sister, know that these low,
pathetic abominations hate us even more than they fear us. These twist-
ed fey resent that we are better, higher creatures who were chosen by
Darkness while they are merely here as refugees. Never forget that
these degenerates are dangerous, despite the display of cowardice you
have just witnessed.” The curiosity upon Fetain’s face was evident as
she watched them leave.
Sliding three fingers up A-Ya’s arm and under his robe, Melantha
said, “Those small green clawed things slumping in the darkness now
only show us respect because their numbers are small. Already now,
they are losing their pride in a swirl of fear. If they return swollen in
ranks,” she shuddered, “life for me will only last as long as my endur-
ance can withstand the horrors they inflict upon me.”
A-Ya placed his other hand on top of hers. “They may take my
life and yours along with it, but they will never take you from me,”
he said, smiling. Standing on her tip toes, the thin nymph reached up,
caressed her husband’s face and kissed him for the first time in days.
As their kiss ended, she promptly stiffened her body, strung her horn
bow and sent an arrow through a goblin’s ear, penetrating deep into the
creature’s skull. The remaining slinking creatures bolted in panic at the
sound of its impact. Twice more Melantha fired. Each arrow’s whistle
answered by the thumping sound of fresh bodies upon the sand seconds
later. As the goblins scattered, a few ran directly into Aiden and the
other male meehan-ghes, who ended their lives brutally. So quickly
did the survivors run that their footfalls could still be heard slapping
against the desert sand long after they themselves had vanished into the
night. While the slaughter of the goblins filled them with momentary
glee, it left them all feeling apprehensive as the night wore on. They

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traveled swiftly over the sand, wanting to put as much distance as they
could between themselves and that place where they felled the goblins
before Elsam rose to welcome the day. As the pink hues kissed the sky,
Melantha welcomed A-Ya to share her burrow for the first time in two
entire chains.
Halfway through the next night, Aosh approached Melantha, re-
spectfully bowing his head before speaking, “My transcendent queen, I
have just returned from scouting the far reaches of our trail. I thought it
best you know there is a broken place of oddly piled strange old stones
in the distance. We will pass by it tonight on our path towards the thing
that touches the sky.” She smiled at him and dismissed him with a flick
of her wrist as a contemplative look spread across her face.
A-Ya, overhearing the conversation, approached his wife. “I know
this news must be disturbing to you. I do not know what this structure
he spoke of could have been, but before Eish-Mee’s blood fell from
the sky and poisoned this land there were many peoples who made this
country their home. It may well be...”
A-Ya was cut off as his wife said in a worried tone, “Goblins, gob-
lins, it could only be a writhing ugly nest of their pestilence.” A-Ya
thought to continue, but decided to simply hold his wife instead.
Angst and strife bred and festered in the slight whispered con-
versations which moved between the running fey as the news passed
between them over the course of the night. When the subject of their
collective thoughts finally materialized in the darkness, A-Ya spoke,
“Aurquim, Fetain, Aosh, Kalla, and Junjer will come with me to ex-
plore this odd structure. The rest of you are to continue on towards the
object of our journey.”
Melantha replied, “My husband, your words are strong and full of
power, yet I must decline them. If you are to die, so too will I die in your
name. Do not think that I need you to keep me safe or that by risking
yourself you could keep me thusly. We are as one, in a unity, in which I
grow within you. We go, we go together.” A-Ya seemed displeased by
his wife’s refusal to obey, but did not dare to broach the subject.
As they neared the ruin, A-Ya leaned in close to Fetain, “Although
the architecture is unlike anything I’ve seen, this place may once have

158
been a city, or town at least.” A-Ya fumbled on the word ‘town,’ as in
Ajyran the word carried a connotation of a place high in the trees, which
this was obviously not. “Regardless, it is a place of crumbling stone. I
thought it would be interesting for you to see, since your mind seems to
have come alive with a great wonder for all the wide world holds.” She
looked up at him and smiled, exposing her long white fangs.
The first stone they came to was long, flat, and had been eaten away
in many places by the harsh desert, leaving worm-like tracks through its
surface. The rock was clearly once worked by a stonemason in some
forgotten time. There was a curious form of writing etched across its
side. But as A-Ya slid his hand along it, he realized it was far too eroded
to make out. As he turned to inform his followers he noticed Fetain was
examining the stone in a fashion that could only be called imitation. As
she explored it with her hand, the Dusklord nearly laughed. “Have you
made a discovery as to the nature of that writing?”
Fetain looked at him; furrowing her brow in concentration, she said,
“No, I do not know what this is but this city…” the Pelganese word
sounded odd and ill-formed on her tongue, “…looks very old. I could
not imagine there will be any rich here for us to find.” She seemed dis-
mayed by her conclusion. A-Ya placed the top of his hand on her head,
rubbing her reassuringly. As they continued to explore, A-Ya began to
examine the strange flat triangular cuts of the stone. That, combined
with its overall thinness, puzzled the Dusklord.
Kalla turned to Aosh and said, “This place was not made by goblins.
These filthy things do not build, they merely inhabit at best, but usually
they only destroy.”
“Who are you?” Aurquim’s voice was a demand wrapped in a ques-
tion. All eyes immediately turned towards the direction of her interrog-
atory. A tall, athletically built human with long, flowing golden blonde
hair stood silently against two upturned stones watching them. Before
any more words could be spoken, a group of six goblins appeared.
One goblin, who wore the feathers of a desert vulture woven into
the rhizoids of his chest and back, stepped towards Melantha. Shutting
his eyes, he inhaled deeply through his nose, before begging in Ajyran,
“Master, master, let me have her. Let me cut her open and eat the thing

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growing inside her. I am so hungry and her child would feed me so
nicely. Yes?”
Melantha shuddered. Anger twisted across A-Ya’s countenance as
light, purple as his eyes, coalesced onto his left palm, “God of the dying,
grant this swine your sacred gift, allow him to pass from this world.”
A-Ya could feel the spark of dark ritual power beginning to swell within
the goblin as the feathers upon its chest began to vibrate. Whatever
prayers the green thing planned to offer his divinity went forever un-
heard as A-Ya touched the goblin on the forehead, silencing him as the
Dusklord distilled the offender’s life force into greyish-white wispy ten-
drils which seeped like smoke from his eyes, nose, mouth, and ears.
The goblin’s dead body, a dried husk, slumped onto a thin triangular
slab. The lowly fey that remained were poised to strike as A-Ya readied
another ritual.
The golden-haired human put his right hand up, “Necromancer, do
you come here for my heart?” he whispered in Pelganese.
The question caught A-Ya so off-guard that he stopped his rite and
replied to him in the tongue of humans. “Your heart? No, I have not
come here for that. One of my followers found this place. We thought
it might hold something of interest.”
“Indeed it does.”
“I am no necromancer. I am not a magi, I am a Dusklord, a priest
of Luk-Coo, god of the dying. He whose power is in the passing of life
and light from this world.”
“Indeed, you are no necromancer, Shepherd of Wolves. This is not
the first run-in my servants have had with you. I grow despondent in
the company of your cohorts. The sweaty smell of murder wafts so
strongly off your lot that I feel as though I’ve been transplanted onto
the streets of Bale.” As he finished whispering, he closed his eyes, as
if imagining some past time. The goblins around him seemed to be
growing increasingly tense.
“Shepherd of Wolves? What do you mean?” A-Ya questioned.
The man did not bother to open his eyes as he whispered his reply,
“It is you, a human who has flocked together with the most dangerous of
predators in an effort to keep them safe from that which is wholesome.”

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“What is a human doing all the way out here? And what is your name?”
“I could ask you the same question,” the man whispered. “My name
is Guyren Helios. I journeyed out here many cycles ago. I came to get
away, to get away from there. The city, the people – everywhere people,
death, hate, liars. And noise! So much noise, everywhere noise. Here
in the secrets of the stones, there is nothing but quiet. You have taken
that from me, Shepherd of Wolves, and by the law of the fallen city of
the aqrabuamelus, you owe me.”
Junjer pointed the severed root of a pine tree at Guyren Helios and
mumbled to herself before raising her soft, hollow voice, “My king,
there is an uncouth quality to this man. He is touched by a malady of
the spirit. It is as if he is a ghost wrapped in flesh.”
“How do you know this?” A-Ya asked Junjer, speaking in Ajyran.
“Because she is a necromancer. When I asked, I was not speaking
to you, but it was impossible for you to see that. That is the taint of
arrogance inflicted upon the heart of every clayman sculpted by the
Father. It is not your fault, merely your fatal sin.” Guyren’s words
were in Ajyran.
“She is not a magi, we... we are all loyal followers of the purple god.”
“And yet she is,” Guyren contradicted, whispering in Ajyran.
“It is true, my king. I learned the old speech and ancient arts from
my grandmother as a child. She taught me well and I beseech you to
heed my warning. This man that leans against the old stones is more
than he appears to be – or perhaps less.”
“What? You practice the thing the gods hate most? Why did you
not tell me you were a magi – and most of all a necromancer. Do you
not know that our people, followers of Luk-Coo are burnt at the stake,
whipped to death, and drawn and quartered by the churches of the En-
forcers under the false accusation of necromancy? It is a bane to our
church, a falsehood they spread to justify our deaths, and here I am har-
boring a necromancer!”
“Then, my king, it seems you and our god need to rethink your posi-
tion. For you should not waste your hatred on necromancers when there
are those murdering our spiritual people.”
A-Ya seemed taken aback by her statement. “I shall have to think

161
about this, we will discuss it later.” Shifting from Ajyran to Pelganese
he said, “What does ‘aquarbuamenlis’ mean? And why does she seem
to think there is something off about you?”
“I have no idea what ‘aquarbuamenlis’ means,” Guyren replied;
A-Ya beginning a ritual as he spoke. “However, the aqrabuamelus were
a species that lived and built in this very spot, long before it was poi-
soned by dead blood. They were long and flat and wore their skeletons
on the outside, though theirs looked far different from ours, having more
in common physically with a crab, beetle or mollusk. They looked noth-
ing like humans or fey, for they were made by the troll kings, the ones
who, if my translations are correct, lived in the underworld at a time just
after the ferrums were forged. They were just a hapless casualty in the
Gods’ War. The one they waged against the trolls. Following a god, I’m
sure you are confused, but you must come to understand that the trolls
were here before K’Vega-Thale even existed. Before there was death or
dreams, the trolls were here. And in their utter arrogance, the gods, led
by an angel – the greatest angel – sought to bring the trolls low. In the
beginning, there were forty-four trolls and those same forty-four trolls
are here now! You see? They are eternal. It was for this reason that
the greatest war was fought. He Who Has Many Names, the greatest
angel of all, is the enemy. Think not that it is Helena who leads these
Enforcers against you. She and the rest of them are but pawns in the
celestial cannibals’ game. There is a look upon your face as if you did
not know that. But it is true indeed: this greatest of angels is a cannibal.
That is how he gained so many names. He was a spirit of low power and
great ambition who, by accident as I understand it, learned the secret of
solar soul-feasting. He gruesomely drank soul after soul until he had
devoured all sixty-five of his kin. Soon after, he devised a plan to bring
stability and order to K’Vega-Thale. A world in constant fear of your
people and their kind,” he motioned towards the fey. “For in the cha-
os of night, Ahriman wishes to annihilate the world. The angel stands
against that, while we must praise him for finding a way to be strong
when even the sun who fathered him was too weak to survive. We must
condemn his unfathomable avarice. He manipulated the gods into this
war so he could sway them into allowing him to build The Pit, the great

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place of forgetting.” Once A-Ya’s ritual was complete, he looked with
the spirit sight upon Guyren and beheld his life force. “The very eldest
of the trolls could not be killed, so a place had to be made to keep them.
With the gods’ blessing, the angel built the bottom of the world, an ou-
bliette for the still-living trolls, who persist there in the horror of eternal
torment. I am far from divine and could not guess at the angel’s plan,
but He Who Has Many Names is farming them or harvesting them or
somehow gaining power from them and all the souls he has since col-
lected into his own private paradise. Some magi I’ve met say the angel
is building himself up to become the new sun and thus subject K’Vega-
Thale to his absolute rule. The problem is that, by removing the trolls,
the first children of N’Thraxu and the true champions of order, the gods
have removed the support beams of the cosmos. Soon enough, all that
is will be eaten away by the hungry, bleak winds of unmaking. Magic
is the key to protecting this world and, as you have said yourself and as
I have seen many times over, we burn our magi in the noisy streets for
public mockery. And in so doing, we cast our world into damnation in
the name of the gods!” As he finished, the goblins retreated back to less
visible areas, disappearing into the shadows.
“I have heard hints and whispers of some of what you’ve said,” A-Ya
chose his words carefully. “There are parts of your revelations which
have been made known to me, but your words have illuminated other
cryptic esotericism I’ve encountered. Still, the whole of what you say
sounds like the ravings of a madman! While you have answered much,
you made no explanation for the disease which contaminates your life
force and taints your very soul!”
Guyren opened his eyes, “Through the eyes of the gods, I am laid
bare. As you see, I am a thing of spiritual sickness. I am cursed, hail
from a long line of cursed, reside in a place that’s cursed, and speak
to a man who is also cursed. The two of us are both dead and yet we
live on and on and on. Me, a lonely contemplator, revisiting bygone
philosophies in the open air, you the rambling Shepherd of Wolves,
guiding your pack to tomorrow’s tomorrow. Since you so greatly wish
to push into my secrets and since you owe me under the sacred laws
of the aqrabuamelus, which state: ‘body for body, blood for blood,’ I

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shall present you with the education you demand. It is not just angels
who have learned the secrets of the strength of our brother’s blood.”
As he finished whispering the world seemed to move in slow mo-
tion – or perhaps he was just so fast everything else looked slow in
comparison – and a previously unseen broadsword appeared in his
right hand. The blade sliced through Kalla’s neck, sending his head
flipping through the air. It hit a thin, vertical piece of triangular stone-
work and toppled down, leaving a thick smear of blood against the
stone. Fangs dropped from Guyren’s mouth as he lapped, sucked, and
drank the fey’s sweet blood. He shivered ecstatically before he and
the body disappeared in a disorienting flash of movement. Guyren left
only Kalla’s decapitated head, looking up lifelessly at his companions
from the blood-splattered stone.

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19
The granular blue shifted and shimmered subtly as a gentle breeze
caressed its face, lifting its grains before casting them with disregard
to the ground. Even the dry wind offered no respite from the heat of
the day. The desert was so hot it felt like an oven, like a punishment.
Atlas pointed, “There in the distance butting out between those
dunes, I see something. The Lady be pleased it shall give us some
reprieve from this vicious sun.”
Aeffinea replied curtly as she fanned herself with her hand, “Do
not blaspheme against our dead sun Ahuramazda, for light is all that is
good. It is shade, shadow, which is vicious. Do not forget that.”
“Kneel in the heat of the hateful noon glow and worship if you
like, light lover. I curse this sun and would gladly have its burden
removed from me. In this place, darkness is far kinder than light.”
As Atlas finished speaking, he glanced at Tilane and then back at Aef-
finea, smirking as if he had proven his point.
Fat black flies harassed their optilangs with buzzing and bites. As
they crested the high dune before them, the object Atlas had spied was
fully revealed. In the distance a lone monolithic slab stood defiantly
erect over a pile of broken stones.
Verar was dumbfounded as he spoke, “Is that...”
Metodite smiled widely and slapped the freyaen on the back,
“Yes... yes it is. Water. Even here in this broken land there is life.
Lonely stone, in the name of F’Tash I dub you the Pillar of Rain.
It has been so long since I have submerged, too long since I have
swam in the great form of Leviathan. My skin aches for it, my soul
demands it.”
They urged their lizards on with Metodite recklessly taking the
lead, galloping down into the valley before them. Life teamed, the
blue grains were replaced by flowering bushes of pink, yellow, red,
purple, and green. Locusts leapt from Metodite’s path as he crashed
through the flora, riding his optilang directly into the water.
“Calm yourself, Metodite,” Aeffinea yelled. “This place might be

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dangerous. We must examine it...” Her words trailed off as the siren
dove into the water.
The pain of his chapped skin was simultaneously aggravated and
soothed by the water’s embrace. Metodite’s pink gills fanned out of his
face within the crystal blue water. So depleted was his form, its rehy-
dration overwhelmed him so completely that his grip on consciousness
slipped away.
Jax fell to his knees and drank like an animal from the waterhole’s
shore, before filling his skins and eating the fresh buds and berries of
the abundant plants. Atlas stood on the bank squinting at the stone face
before him. It was slightly shaded by its own form, the shadow was just
deep enough to obscure the strangely angled writing beneath them.
Aeffinea rose from filling her skins. “What are you doing, Atlas?”
“There, past the water, on the island of broken stones: there is writ-
ing upon the last one that stands. I cannot make it out for sure but what
I see stills me. Fills me with pause.”
Aeffinea put her hand on top of Atlas’s, “Shadow is never a good
thing. Good things only exist in light. I will show you what loving the
light has given the freyaen.” As Igvale gently rustled through her hair
she exhaled, relaxing, her eyes closed as she extended her right hand
towards the standing stone. Glowing radiance illuminated from beneath
her closed eye lids. Slowly the golden light spread, exuding from her
face, then her neck and finally winding its way down her right arm. She
squeezed her fist tight, as the light pooled in her hand, before raising her
palm to her chin and whispering the first words ever spoken in Dazazy-
aese: “Tezfp isin kgar rodul ashif.” My heart glows as the sun. As the
words left her lips, she blew onto the golden ball which floated along
the course set by her breath like a feathery flower seed. Stopping at the
face of the stone, like a torch the ball of luminescence revealed the worn
script the shadow concealed.
Atlas’s eyes widened, “It is as I feared: the ever circular nature of
that scrawl, it is the blasphemous tongue of the typhon. I thank you, sis-
ter knight, for unfurling the blessings of your fey blood to aid my sight;
however, I must ask for your help further. This is a godless place full of
echoes of unimaginable profanity. We must all leave at once!”

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“Over here, I found something,” Verar’s voice was full of nervous
energy. As the other knights approached they saw a five-foot-long oily
white and black, yellow-flecked discharge floating against the shore.
Tilane scanned the pool for Metodite, but the sun’s light shimmered so
brightly upon the water’s face his eyes were unable to see much beyond
the water’s surface.
“Knights, heed my words: we must leave this ill place!” Atlas’s
voice was pitched, nearly to panic, as he began to make his way back up
the dune on his optilang.
“I smell your cowardly core, human, and though its aroma should
excite me, it leaves me feeling nothing but disgust. I am of a dark wood,
not a deep water, yet I will not leave it if that means leaving Metodite’s
flesh as a sacrifice.” Tilane shimmied out of his leather jerkin and cast it
and his other belongings upon the shore as he dove into the bright water.
Though not a creature of water, Tilane’s lithe, well-muscled form lent it-
self naturally to the exercise at hand. He swam fast, punishing his lungs
as he pushed deeper to the pool’s depths to find his companion. As he
felt his air beginning to run out, he spied the limp body of his compan-
ion floating at the edge of his vision. He surged on, stroking wildly,
moving faster than before. His lungs felt as if they were on fire as he
grasped the much larger siren. Holding Metodite firmly, Tilane began
to surface. The extra weight and lack of air caused him to struggle. As
he did it dislodged several angel-pressed square gold port coins from
Metodite’s belt pouch. Tilane looked down at the sparkling coins as they
descended through the blue void. As they fell, the meehan-ghe noticed
something gargantuan moving beneath them. Small backward-moving
waves pushed against the creature as it undulated towards the knights.
Never so truly had Tilane felt like he himself was the prey – but the feel-
ing engendered no empathy within him towards those he had consumed.
Instead, it caused his adrenaline to push him with great vigor towards
the surface. A ferocity for life burned within him, he would not die, nor
would he abandon the unconscious Metodite to that lonely fate. The
surface shattered like fine crystal against cobblestone. As their heads
erupted past its plane, Tilane filled his hungry lungs with Igvale’s great-
est gift. The fey began to swim at a panicked pace, and Tilane did not

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need to look to know this monstrosity of the depths would soon be upon
him. As he looked to the shore and into Aeffinea’s hopeful eyes, he
knew they were too far away. He had been on the hunt many times and
he knew how this was going to end. He braced himself for the pain as
he took comfort in knowing he could spend the last moments of his life
gazing upon his lover’s face. As he felt something probe his foot from
below, the gills in Metodite’s face contracted and his eyes opened. The
two glanced at each other without speaking. Tilane wrapped himself
around Metodite’s midsection as the siren hurtled towards the shore.
Their glistening bodies erupted from the shining pool in a cas-
cade of water. Metodite hit the heavily flowered sand hard on his left
shoulder, absorbing much of the impact before he twisted suddenly,
the hulking siren nearly crushing Tilane as he rolled on top of the slen-
der fey. Breathing heavily, Metodite asked, “Fear... I’d never before
seen fear in your eyes. It sparked me, I rushed us to the shore. What
was...” He abruptly ended his question as he watched an unnatural
wave begun to crest.
Metodite had driven the air from Tilane’s lungs, leaving the fey
barely able to speak above a whisper as he pointed at the water, “It...
the huge hungry thing is slithering beneath the water. Be ready, the
chase closes.”
Verar pointed at the water, “I see a line, color, a face. Death rip-
pled beneath life.” He drew his rapier while backpedaling across the
field of bushes.
Aeffinea stood before her mate, legs spread in a defensive stance
that allowed her to easily shift her weight. Valdyr Daudadagr was in her
right hand as she waited for the threat to surface. The wave grew higher
before cresting as the displaced water returned to the pool like rain as
the creature’s head burst through its surface. Its face was serpentine yet
stunted but rounder than a snake’s. What could be seen of its body was
covered in a hundred shades of bright blue and green scales. The water
sprayed by its emergence soaked Aeffinea. Pushing the long tresses of
her pink bangs from her glowing eyes, she shifted to a two-handed grip
upon her khopesh. Locking gazes with the majestic entity of the depths,
she stood defiant. Though looking upon its splendor filled her with

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trembling awe, she knew she could not look away. If she showed this
monster weakness, it would show her death.
“Idax tyxiniteelrin unik-kelpez’cutorux kripcrih-kotilbij pofnizix’kipef
huloffi kizoboz-norec imbyul baatazz-iffmaire konetarn.” The words
boomed in Aeffinea’s ears as Metodite lifted his voice into a brutally glo-
rious song. The creature’s head bobbed back and forth as it listened to the
words. Then it darted with uncanny speed towards Aeffinea. Its opened
mouth contained curved fangs which, if detached, would easily stand
taller than any of the knights. Aeffinea accepted the dry wind’s caress
which surely signified death, willingly sacrificing herself for the one per-
fect moment to drive her blade through the roof of the creature’s mouth.
The behemoth’s body bludgeoned her, slamming her into the bush with
disregard. The blow from her khopesh left no mark against its scales as it
sunk it fangs deep into her optilang. The bite paralyzed the lizard before
the monstrosity unhinging its jaw and pushed the beast down its throat
with surprising speed. Jax leapt upon the great snake’s back, ready to
drive Rynus through the serpent’s hood into the base of its skull.
“No! Do not attack the naga! What it is eating, I have offered it!
I have offered it all of them in sacrifice, so that it may feed and yet we
may live! Fools, do not break my bargain and throw all our lives away!”
Metodite spoke in a voice that was louder than any of the knights had
ever heard; its presence was commanding and compelled each of the
knights to obey. The knights regrouped around Metodite, who contin-
ued to speak to the naga in its strange tongue before returning to Daza-
zyaese, “What you see before us is a naga, one of the sacred children
of Yurgha, the Mother of Snakes. They are the apex predators in the
blue world of waves. In the submerged grottos of my people they are
respected, feared, and even worshiped by some of my backwards kin. I
speak to it... her I think, in Thuban.”
Jax interrupted, “Thuban – isn’t that the language of...”
Metodite talking over Jax continued, “Yes it is. She is a dragon. A
dragon of water, of the depths and I am surprised to find her here in the
middle of an ocean of a different kind. By the size of her, I’m sure she’s
been here for an impossibly long time. If the rest of you will trust me,
now that we’ve made a sacrifice to her and sated her hunger, I think I

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may be able to learn much about our surroundings from her.”
Aeffinea spoke up with an excited voice, “This is surely the most
heroic of quests to have led us here. We are Knights of Song and I feel
this day will be sung of for many cycles to come. I trust you, Metodite.”
She placed her hand reassuringly on his shoulder as the others agreed
through silence.
As the dry breeze blew in, sending semicircular ripples across the
pool, the naga rolled its head backwards, curling itself into a ball which
vanished into the lake. A green light momentarily shown from under
the water before a strange-looking thin woman walked onto the shore.
She was less than five feet in height and her scaly body was covered in
long, thin, salt-and-pepper colored hairs. The tops of her scales were as
alabaster as Aeffinea’s skin, but they darkened as they neared their end,
taking on an elegant sea green tone. Everything looked different except
her lidless vivid blue-green eyes. These were the eyes of the dragon,
which all five knights recognized immediately.
She pushed her six fingers together, spinning her hands up and down
four times while saying, “D’fykoluz nient’triax-muphora. You may call
me Nineteen,” while her lips did not forge the syllables of the words
they heard, each knight found her speech as natural as if they had been
spoken in their native tongue. While the other four seemed to become
more relaxed by her new appearance, something about it sent Metodite
into a state of silent confusion.
Aeffinea recognized what the naga had done: it was magic and it was
unclean. Though it left Aeffinea feeling queasy, she was overwhelmed
with curiosity towards this strange creature. Boldly Aeffinea strode to-
wards her, “I am Sir Aeffinea of Freyaheim, Knight of the Song. It is
my great pleasure to meet one as awe inspiring as you, Nineteen. Thank
you for gifting us with words we may understand.” She bowed deeply
as she finished speaking.
Nineteen craned her neck forward, pressing her tongue against the
roof of her mouth as she spoke, “Your offerings have pleased me so
greatly that I will extend to you the greatest of gifts, that of continued
existence. Treat neither time nor life with disregard. The threads of
these gifts end quickly for each of you... some sooner than others. An

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epoch of silence spanned between the last time I interacted with a mind
more elevated than that of a base animal and this moment. The last time
I had reason to form words was the seventh hour of the nineteenth day
of the nineteenth cycle. This place was once fertile, was once known
as Nug-Tu’Tondin. That was before the rain, the rain of poison that
lasted for sixty-eight days, four hours, ten minutes and fifty-one sec-
onds. I recall each of those seconds with perfect clarity. Never have
I worshiped a god, nor loved one, but when Eish-Mee fell, when hope
died, even I was moved. As the rain fell, I cried. The oracles that
served me said Loptif, the killer of hope, the bringer of desert, looked
much like you, bright-eyed Aeffinea. Four-thousand nine-hundred
and forty-three cycles ago, magi, moon readers and generals called
me queen. Wise men from far-flung places made pilgrimages to seek
my council and see my wonderful palace which now crumbles to ruin,
but once stood as a wonder of the world, sitting at the heart of four
rivers. From the top of my highest tower all I could see in every direc-
tion was mine... mine. After the Blue Ocean came, it swallowed up
my rivers, leaving me only this single pool. When my magic proved
useless in restoring this cursed land, the typhons who had called me
queen decided I was too weak to rule. Eighty-eight magi: summoners,
witches, necromancers, domini, and even oracles joined together to
bind me with their combined esoteric might, making me a prisoner in a
jail that’s slowly crumbling to dust. My typhon consort, Zelewir, said
I must be preserved as a warning to all who would so pathetically fail
their people. My brood sisters said I was a fool for trusting typhons.
I thought these were words of envy, for at that time I ruled an empire
while they ruled mere waterways. I feel certain their names are still
whispered in fearful tones upon those watery expanses, while I rule
dry wind, blue sand, and broken stone. Merely a number lost, forgot-
ten, sliding through the stream of life without point or reason.” She
stopped, looking distracted before stepping closers to Aeffinea and
continuing, “An etched column of stone, a split blade of grass, a post
of rotted wood, beware the shadows of time’s sprawl, little Phoenix.”
Jax tentatively approached Nineteen, “Do you know the name Yrkahe?”
The dragon looked towards the sky for a long time before answer-

171
ing, “That name is not unknown to me. Once it was held by a nymph of
fire, was it not?”
“Yes, once she was a nymph of fire. Now she is a slithering servant
of Yurgha, the same zenith dragon you serve. She is near here, what
do you know of her?” His voice regained its usual base tone as his de-
meanor shifted from supplication to demand.
“You confuse yourself upon your companion’s words. I serve noth-
ing, not even my maker. My story was told for your clarity. Clearly I
know nothing of that which is near here. Despite its condition, Nug-
Tu’Tondin’s queen endures and on the shores of my lands that tone is
not taken with me.”
Metodite, attempting to conceal the fear the queen’s words instilled
in him, said, “Through sacrifice I have invoked pax. Surely you will not
betray that.”
Nineteen’s face curled into a snarl, “Lowly siren, your wishes mat-
ter less than sand.” The naga then grabbed Jax by his beard. “In
atonement for this insolence, goat, you shall die!” The dragon’s
tongue passed her lips, wriggling agitatedly. Aeffinea felt that same
sickening, exciting pulse in the air as Nineteen’s magic uncoiled upon
Jax. As the spell finished, confusion consumed Nineteen’s counte-
nance, “How...” was the only word the dragon was able to utter before
Aeffinea silenced her with a right hook. The blow connected perfectly
with the naga, causing her to bite her tongue as one of her fangs was
knocked from her open mouth in a spray of saliva. The force of the
impact sent the dragon to her knees.
A frenzy of excitement followed as the knights abandoned their
remaining optilangs and rushed towards the dune’s peaks. Aeffinea
tripped on the brush and was quickly pulled to her feet by Tilane.
Behind them they heard Nineteen scream, “Stay... stay with me... stay
with me. I command you! I shall not have another age of silence!”
As her words finished, they heard a strange crunching, twisting sound.
None of the knights were foolish enough to waste a moment looking
back. They knew the sound meant the dragon’s full form was now
behind them and closing.
Verar crested the dune first. Tucking his body he tumbled to the

172
bottom of the far side. Metodite followed, then Jax, leaving Tilane and
Aeffinea in the rear. The fairies of light and darkness ran side by side,
pushed forward by the sounds of snapping wood and giant snake skin
slithering across open sand. The further up the dune they ran the more
arousing the dragon’s scent became to Tilane. Never before had he
smelled such potent fear. As Tilane recognized his resolve was crum-
bling under the hunger of his primal instincts, he summoned the tranquil-
ity Aeffinea had shown him during their trance-merge. It was enough,
barely enough, to keep him from turning and leaping onto the dragon.
Instead, he hurled Aeffinea over the dune, sending her crashing down
the hill. The naga was nearly upon him as he turned to face her. Inhal-
ing deeply, he luxuriated in her scent before throwing himself backward
into the air, onto the sand. Nineteen screamed through a mouth missing
one fang as he disappeared behind the dune. Her terror was enchanting.
At the bottom of the dune, Aeffinea spat sand from her mouth as she
stood. Taking two handfuls of Tilane’s hair so tightly it caused water to
run down her wrists, she pulled him to his feet. “Never do that again!
You could have easily outdistanced me. You should have been the first
up the dune, but you nearly left yourself to die. I will not have you dy-
ing trying to save me.”
Metodite grabbed Aeffinea effortlessly pulling the two apart as the
naga screamed frantically, begging them from behind the dune to re-
turn. “He has saved us both today. We will not repay him by ripping
his plumage out. I do not know what happened to me in the water, but
you saved me and my gratitude is yours.” Metodite knelt before Tilane
while pressing the fey’s hand against his forehead. Rising he said, “I
respect you and I call you friend.”
Tilane closed both his hands into fists, hitting them lightly together
signifying in the body language of the meehan-ghes that Metodite’s
words had humbled him. Then he extended his left hand towards Aef-
finea, “I thought you should have this.” As he opened his hand, it re-
vealed the dragon’s fang. The long, curved, hollow tooth was still the
size of Nineteen’s humanoid form. “A trophy for a great victory. The
goddess has smiled upon us all this day and this shall stand as memo-
rial of that favor. And a great punch.” She took the fang from his hand

173
unable to contain a smile, “Your smile’s as beautiful as ever. But sadly,
this dragon’s never will be again. Keep it close to you. There is great
magic in the bones of dragons. Surely at least it will bring good fortune.
Come, let us move, we must find Atlas, he has the last of our supplies on
his optilang.”
Jax approached Aeffinea as they moved, saying, “I thank you for
your action and Cinder for your placement. Everything seemed to go by
so slowly as you struck her. I am no delver into the occult but it seems
to me her magics were a tampering in the stream of time. Whatever she
tried to do to me, it didn’t work. It didn’t work because of the blessing
Cinder bestowed upon me long ago. I am ageless, and Nineteen’s at-
tempt has shown me that I am favored by the Lady. I will be as I was
before, for she loves me. Thank you for being her vessel to show me
that love.” And with that, he embraced her tightly.
Aeffinea responded awkwardly, “Umm, think nothing of it. It
was simply my training coming back to me. I saw a threat and an
opening and reacted,” as she finished she slid away from his embrace.
“Metodite, I was impressed with how you handled the dragon in her
full glory, but confused by the reaction her scale-woman form elicited
from you. Will you put words upon Igvale’s back and make the reason
known to me?”
A long silence passed as Metodite began to form words then stopped
before saying, “By her size, I knew that naga, whatever her real name
is, was ancient but when I saw the form she chose... I could not believe
it. The hyosubes have not existed for thousands of cycles. In Pheshu-
lis, the colony I hail from, there is a place called the Hall of Legends.
And in that sacred space, there is a life-sized coral etching of these mer.
Every child learns their tale. They were a people without fear, and that
scared us. So we exterminated them. When I saw her I could not help
but think her form was a specter of vengeance. I know I have lost face
before you but I swear, I thought she had crawled through a sea of time
simply to end my life. I am ashamed but that is the truth.”
Aeffinea furrowed her brow, “Metodite, you have nothing to be
ashamed of. You are a great warrior and I’m proud to stand side by side
in arms with you.”

174
Tilane interrupted as he reached a dune’s zenith, “Atlas, there you
are. We’ve been looking for you. The dragon took our beasts. You
have the last of our supplies.”
“I have not stopped praying to Cinder for...” Atlas began, sliding off
the optilang as Tilane approached him,
“Tilane, what are you doing?” Aeffinea yelled, cutting Atlas off.
“You are not the only one that can hit people,” Tilane said as he
looked down at Atlas’s unconscious form. “He’ll learn better than to
desert us again.”

175
20
“Where are you, false fangs? Come forward from this tomb and
take my blood!” Fetain snarled while mockingly baring her neck to an
exaggerated degree.
Junger swept his hair from his eyes and gently picked up Kalla’s
head. “Come little sister,” she said in a voice barely above a whisper.
“The shadows linger too long upon these old stones and chatter words
the wise do not wish to hear. This is a place not of dying, but of death.
We need be on our way to rejoining our tribe before the sky is pink.”
Aurquim’s eyes darted back and forth from A-Ya’s face to the crum-
bling stonework. “My king, what is your command?”
“My impulse is to turn these ruins into an altar and claim all life
within it as just sacrifice. But that is rage and it would only heal my
wounded pride. Their deaths will do us no good. I will not risk your
lives for vengeance alone. Guyren is cursed. What punishment could
we lay upon him that would surpass that of the gods?” A-Ya took Mel-
antha’s hand as he walked away. “Is it?” he said in a low tone. “Were
the goblin’s words true?”
Melantha remained silent for several minutes before speaking,
“Your water, my garden, the first green buds of a new pine forest grow
within me. Such a blessing to be visited by one who stands between
worlds, your... our god has favored us and the new church shall rise in
the image of our daughter.”
“Daughter...” A-Ya’s head fell dumbfoundedly, stunned by a wave
of disbelief. “I’m... we’re... A daughter?”
“It is as I have said, Lavender, I am light now but soon shall be
heavy with the weight of this princess you planted within me.”
A smile crept upon his face. “I don’t even know where to begin.
I’m going to be the father of a nymph. You have filled me with happi-
ness, pride, and hope for the world to come. You are my queen...” he
was interrupted as Melantha began kissing him elatedly.
“Do not make it too evident,” Aosh suggested as he pushed Aurquim
forward, breaking her gaze from the loving couple. Aurquim attempted

176
to form a retort but found words evading her. “Don’t bother, our god
does not like to hear that which is not true.”
It was nearly midday before they caught up with their resting com-
panions. Exhausted and drained by the sun’s rays the fey collapsed
while A-Ya stood watch over them all. “Thank you my shepherd,” Mel-
antha said playfully before preparing for her astral venture.
As the faeries’ consciousnesses began to migrate back to the wak-
ing world, A-Ya spoke, “On our road we lost and we gained. Kalla is
dead, killed by a thing of disease. His body is gone and his soul with
it. Let us all pray now that the demons of dusk find him and liberate
his ghost from this painful place. The world has put upon us but no
test shall break our spirits. In the end we will triumph because we
have faith. And in that faith we find love and in that love, we find the
strength to overcome every tribulation that is placed before us. Kalla
showed this strength as every one of you has, but know that even as
that life expires, so too does new life grow within our tribe. Melan-
tha carries my seed, and as the moons ripen we shall have a princess
whose shadow shall cast long in the dying light.” A-Ya spoke the
words without allowing a hint of his true feelings to show. In his heart
he was terrified. What sort of life could he give his daughter? The
deaths of those she loved? The horror of uncertainty? Something
died inside him each time he thought of another thing he would have
to deny her. Upon finishing their prayers, the fey began to converse in
somber tones mixed with excitement.
With each day that passed, the looming form in the distance be-
came clearer and larger. It resembled a broken, leaning tree more than
a mountain, but was bigger than anything any of them had ever seen.
On the fourth day, the blue sand abruptly ended, giving way to bleak
cracked grey mud which bowed out of the ground, revealing deep brown
undersides that looked like giant lily pads. The days of travel through
the badlands proved even slower and more difficult than those through
the sand. Unwholesome things the color of bone marrow flitted through
the sky. “Does anyone know what those red tarry things soaring above
us are?” A-Ya asked.
Junjer strained her whisper-like voice as she answered, “My king, I

177
do not know what they are. But the look of them, the way their single
circular wing vibrates, tells me they must be a sign – an omen of death.
As I scry our shadows I feel them thinning to grey.”
“Thinning to grey or not,” Melantha interjected, “our shadows will
be cast long under the red sky from the zenith of the heights before us. I
will not abide skulls that rattle with cowardice. Our future is before us.
We shall not shrink from its challenge. The promise of Luk-Coo is at
hand; let it lift your weary spirits to dazzling heights. New doors, new
days, and a beginning to be embraced to the greatest degree. Once we
ascend faith’s last step our god will know our love.”
It had been three days since the faeries had last hunted or rested.
Their bodies moved slowly as they ascended the broken structure. The
sun’s light glaring off the surface of the muddy reddish stream which
flowed from the structure’s peak only served to heighten their exacerba-
tion. Junjer spoke to Aurquim as they hiked, “I feel it, this thing we are
climbing upon. It is alive somehow – barely clinging on to life. It is in
pain. It has been suffering for a long time. As I step upon its back, I feel
it groan under the pressure.”
“It squishes beneath my feet like the underside of a mushroom. But
under that, I feel something moving like a swallow breath. I agree with
your thoughts, sister, but share little of your concern. I only wish to
reach the top of this living pyramid so that we may experience the event
Melantha continually jabbers on about, if there is any event at all.” Au-
rquim could not conceal the bitterness from her tone.
“You doubt our queen?”
“Nearly our entire tribe has died under her rule. What could she talk
about other than resurrection? If her vision is a lie, or a delusion of false
hope, she will not return from the apex. I promise this now.”
“If this is how you feel, why are you even here?” Junjer then ab-
sently glanced at A-Ya. “Never mind,” she said, lowering her eyes.
The fey staggered forward towards the sky for two solid days. They
meandered in a dreamless trance until howls of pain snapped the fa-
tigued faeries into alertness. “Aiden!” Aurquim’s voice was frantic as
she ran towards her lover who had taken point. Only his face was visible
through the writhing mass of long, ropey red bodies which bounced ex-

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ultingly while trilling in satisfaction through the center of their horn-like
wing. The creatures’ worm-like bodies ended in hooks which they used
to fasten themselves to Aiden while hundreds of budding thorns on their
veiny skin opened into boring mouths. Hungrily, they pulsated against
his flesh, growing redder as they consumed him. Aurquim fell upon the
things, slashing several of them to pieces with her twin daggers. Blood
gushed from the fatty body segments as they fell upon the structure.
One of the trilling beasts breathed in through its horn and inflated itself
before taking to the air, vibrating as it went. An arrow from Aosh and
the copper nightmare whip of Jesswa littered the slope with the boring
worms’ remains. The blood from their severed forms bathed Aiden in
crimson spatter. His body was thin and covered in finger-print-sized
round holes. Aurquim cradled Aiden in her arms, “Their blood is upon
you, their blood that was your blood. The sky worms have taken you
from me. If only I’d been by your side. I was lazy and tired and you
died because of it. My Huntlord, I always loved...” Aurquim’s words
trailed off as Melantha appeared. “You! This is all your fault! He’s
dead because of your ‘vision.’ You killed him!” Before Melantha could
protest, the much larger Aurquim drove her shoulder into the nyxad’s
stomach. Aurquim hooked her hands around Melantha’s waist, lifted
her into the air, and, with a twist, drove the nymph onto her back. A-Ya
cried out as Melantha’s pain surged through him, dropping him to his
knees. “You are a worthless leader and a fool who won’t be happy until
she’s made us all dead!” Aurquim connected with a right hand to Mel-
antha’s jaw, causing red blood to run across her black lips.
Aosh punctuated a long dash towards the struggling women with an
explosive kick to the side of Aurquim’s face. As the Huntlady tried to
stand, she found a nocked arrow fifteen inches from her eyes. “I will end
you now for the queen’s honor,” Aosh menaced. “How dare you touch
her? Arrogant creature, she is your ruler and she carries our future within
her.” Confusion swept the ranks of the remaining meehan-ghes, as they
had never seen this level of violence between their own. It was as sicken-
ing and alarming as it was real. None knew how they should react to it.
“No,” Melantha’s voice was nearly a whisper as she spit blood upon
the slope. She crawled towards Aiden. “I’m sorry,” she whispered,

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collapsing on top of him. “I glow blue for you, for all we have lost. I
hope only for a new day. I hope, I believe.” Aurquim bared her fangs
as Melantha approached. “Hurt she who rides inside me and I will peel
your skin off. In your grief, I will forgive you this once – but only be-
cause I need you. Now get her to her feet.”
There was no way to dig into the slope for a proper burial so,
after a long prayer, they simply rolled Aiden’s body into the shallow
stream. After concluding the ceremony, A-Ya approached his wife,
“I would ask but I can feel it, you, her, both of you. I could feel your
pain when she struck you. I know you are fine now, but at that mo-
ment I felt terror greater than I ever knew could exist. We must send
her away. We must exile Aurquim for her sins. Everyone must know
that no one lays a hand upon you.”
“It is past and that future shall not come. You need her, so I will suf-
fer her presence.”
“All I need is you.”
“Do not be a fool. There is much beyond me that you need. You
are the builder of purple, orange, and red. Prince of sunset, you need an
army. My decision is final. We move.”
A-Ya turned at the sound of splashing. A thin man with orange hair
and a long bushy tail was pulling Aiden from the water. He swirled his
lips around several times and then unhinged his jaw to an unbelievable
degree before swallowing the larger man’s body whole. Behind him,
A-Ya heard hissing and he knew he was not the only one who had spot-
ted the grave robber. “Eater of the dead, I am a priest of the god of dy-
ing. Pray now, for in a moment, I will send you to that state.”
Melantha interceded, “Weave no mystical patterns against this fox
fey. This kitsune has danced in my mind’s eye as the guardian and the
guide. Aiden played the sacrifice. We aid him now not in vengeance,
but in acceptance. I feel we have walked past it a dozen times. For the
flesh paid, will you usher us through the gate to our new land?”
The kitsune smiled with the right side of his mouth and spoke in
Ajyran, “Eater of the dead, I like the way that sounds. But my name is
Xeghi-Zibahalia, although you may call me Zib. Yes, Zib, Eater of the
Dead, and owner of all that is in the streams. Those are the rules as I

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have made them and we will all abide by them. Few have seen the home
of my master, but even I dare not mock a nyxad, although I did consider
it. Please ask your wolves to stop snarling at me. I never liked wolves,
let’s not add another reason to my list. Now, as it appears to me, you
have two choices: number one you do what I say and number two, you
don’t. Either way is fine but unless you choose number one you’ll never
find what you’re looking for. Of course I could be lying. We do that,
you know. So what will it be? Remember, I did say stop snarling and
do what I say, so let’s put those two together, shall we?”
A-Ya looked at Melantha and then Zib, “Very well, we shall do as
you wish. Please lead us to your master’s home.”
“Nyxad, take my hand and then each of you join hands to form a
chain. You will know when you can let go.” Melantha took his hand
and reluctantly the rest joined in. As the chain was complete, the air
around them swirled and undulated, shimmering like whale oil in the
noon sun. Everything became tiny red and blue dots. When the world
became normal, each of them was left with a disorienting feeling as if
their skin had been lifted off and reset. They stood at the summit of
the slope and from their vantage point could see the whole of the bad-
lands and beyond. But it was what occupied the slope’s apex which
drew their attention: a massive lake of dark red water from which four
streams ran. As each looked into their own reflection, they found some-
thing both lesser and greater than themselves reflected upon the cool
liquid’s surface.
Smiling slyly, Zib said, “Welcome to the Spire, the broken home
and eternal resting place of Thogqalix. Once the greatest marvel in
the whole of K’Vega-Thale, a living structure which in bygone days
reached to the heights of the heavens. It was built by the hollow trolls
as a port, or aerie, for the thunderbirds. After ripping the essence from
Thogqalix and drinking his soul, Loptif hurled him from the heavens.
My god’s body smashed through the tower which sprouted in this very
spot, sending it broken to the ground. The collision created this lake,
which is fed to this day by his blood. Of course, parts of this might
not be true. These are only my best guesses, gleaned from visions and
the sights around me. I witnessed none of it. Still, the waters are dark

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and they tell many tales. Although you see your faces now for the first
time upon them, I have already seen your visages upon these waters
time and again. I have been waiting a long time for you, followers of
the dead, dying, setting light. I leave you to do what you will. To do
what I have seen play out a thousand times. Embrace the moment and
dance with destiny.”
Melantha, eyes wide in amazement, spoke softly to A-Ya, “A peak
of rain and pumping spring of blood. This is the place to which our
risen Lord had guided us. Rejoice, for the birth of your holy empire
begins today as sin is washed away. It is in the wolves where our
prophecy is revealed. Eleven left the wood and four have since left
this world, leaving us with seven. Seven in this world and four in the
other: seventy-four, the number of our god. Take your warriors each
in turn. Take your meehan-ghes and cap them red. Start with her.”
She pointed at Aurquim.
Anxiety flushed the face of the Huntlady as fear tempered faith.
Shaking slightly, she strode towards her king as the other meehan-ghes
and baobhan siths watched with nervous excitement.
A-Ya took Aurquim by the shoulders, positioning her back to the
lake, as thousands of white moths fluttered about, “Luk-Coo, I offer
unto you seven warriors to form the foundation of your army to come.
Through your glory, grant them enlightenment to overcome the ordeals
ahead. We thank you for allowing us to serve you, our Lord. Let the
hold of all others wash away. In these dark waters, allow Aurquim to
become a perfect vessel of your will: unstained by sin and forever con-
sumed by your love. In the blood of a god whose life was claimed in
antiquity, the resurrection of your order begins, old life for new.” The
Dusklord hurled his charge back first into the lake of blood.
Aurquim hit the water hard, splashing and thrashing around it in.
She sank before realizing how deep the water was. Swimming back
to shore, she pulled herself from the water. Her soaked clothes clung
tightly to her form as black blood rolled off her body. Wiping the blood
from her eyes she noticed the rest of her kin looking at her with wonder.
Aurquim spoke with nervous confusion in her voice, “What? What is
it? What are you looking at?”

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Fetain replied, “Your hair, sister: it is black no longer but bright red.
The same color as the ruby our king showed me refracting in the desert’s
sun.” Fetain stepped in front of A-Ya, “Me, I want to go next. Please
my king, make me as beautiful as you have made my tribe-sister.” Fe-
tain hit the water without a trace of apprehension. She embraced it, rev-
eling in the transformation. She was followed by Aosh, Jazhilo, Jesswa,
Vezie, and finally Junjer. As Junjer swam under the water’s surface,
she released the head of Kalla which was quickly and hungrily pulled
towards the bottom of the lake.
A-Ya called, “Junjer, come forth from the water and join your tribe
in genuflection. Wolves baptized in the blood of a dead god, your bodies
are branded with faith. The mark of dusk is upon your crown. Meehan-
ghes of the darkness arise in the light as Luk-Coo’s Redcaps.”
As they rose, their hair glimmered in the bright sun, their dark locks
stained dusk-red. Although this physical change was easily noticed, it
was the other changes that the fey were concerning themselves with.
Everything seemed hyper-real to them. As the wind blew in, they could
smell the faintest traces of scents upon it and its touch registered so
acutely upon their faces they could feel temperature as if it were a vis-
ible thing and detect the presence of even the smallest particles upon the
wind as it touched their skin. Above all else, they noticed the light of
the sun no longer bothered them. They did not fear it, it was not hateful.
It simply was.
Melantha spoke, “We fled our home as exiles across an ocean of
terror to find a land I had only dreamt of. That is faith. And today, our
faith is rewarded. All that my husband has prayed for and spoke of will
soon come to pass. My daughter shall be the face of a perfect religion
to come and each of you shall play your part as fingers and nails. This
is our new home, our promised land.”
Wrapping his arm around his wife, A-Ya turned towards the kit-
sune, “We are here, you are here and she whose name I shall not
speak has wronged us both. She who has killed your faith and tried
to kill mine. We are at war with her and would welcome you into our
ranks. Allow the purple light of resurrection to release you from this
lonely existence.”

183
Over a minute passed as Zib held A-Ya’s gaze before finally snap-
ping his thumbnails together, “Then let it be so as the prophecy upon the
water comes to pass.”

184
21
“I think you broke the base of my tooth,” Atlas said.
“How long will you keep complaining? It’s been six days since I hit
you,” Tilane replied, curtly paying no attention to Atlas’s glare.
“Save your anger, it will find purpose soon enough. The Spire draws
near and for the dangers it holds you’ll need all that fire,” Jax remarked.
“So tell me, Jax, what is so important about this Spire?” Tilane inquired.
Jax bleated before he spoke, “It is not the place itself, it is the pres-
ence within. Your questioning grows tiresome, wolf. You must learn
patience – the goddess’s plan shall be revealed in time.”
“This cursed land of broken mud erodes my patience. Speak now of
this plan Jax,” Metodite’s voice was commanding.
“Though I have come to care for each of you in different ways, do
not push my limits. When I went to the top of the mountain I heard the
goddess’s words, which were for me alone as they burned in the wind.
Upon unraveling the enigmas of her divine plan, I could not ignore the
persistent hints within her words. One in the order cannot be trusted.
I do not know whether the traitor has already perished or persisted on
to this point. But what I do know will remain with me until by neces-
sity it cannot. Now you all share the burden I carried alone through
the hills and blue sand,” as Jax finished the members of the Order of
the Song fell silent.
That night Tilane spoke to Aeffinea, “For hours I have tumbled the
words Jax spoke through my mind. Are they truth or lie? If the latter is
so, then it is merely a trick to deny us the information he possesses. But
if not, then which one of us is the traitor?” Tilane’s eyes fell to Verar as
he finished speaking.
Aeffinea spoke reflexively, “No... no, not him. It couldn’t be him.
Maybe it is Metodite?” she whispered to her lover.
“Perhaps… or it might be that we have been given this information
now by the goddess’s will, to let us know not to trust he who delivered
the message. Jax’s motivations are highly questionable. All I am cer-
tain of is that it is not you, my love. Whatever dangers we face at the

185
end of this journey; I am grateful for every last moment I get to spend
with you, my light-eyed love.” As he finished speaking, they fell into
an embrace and made love under the pale moonlight.
The aggravation the knights felt was exacerbated over the next two
days with each word spoken between them. “That... the pointing finger
that guides,” Jax announced, “there in the broken baked brown mud.”
As he finished, the groups’ tension was washed away by the wonder
evoked by the enormous object buried in the ground.
“What is it?” Aeffinea asked. “It looks like the stem of a flower
plucked last chain. Filled with veins and pores that merge seamlessly as
if by organic design with carved (or is it etched?) iconography.”
“A broken piece of the Spire,” Atlas remarked. “Justly damned to
dwell in the dirt, as is the right of all blasphemous occult articles. The
gall of the troll court knew no bounds, and so the righteous gods smote
them down, burying them with chains of loneliness after smashing this
effrontery which dared to touch the sky.”
Aeffinea stretched her hands down placing her palms flush against
the withered brown husk. Closing her eyes, she spoke, “Even pressed
upon the face of Demar, I feel the wind’s soul upon this reed that once
beheld heaven. Ancient life animated this colossus... so long ago. Yet
I can still feel the wind upon it as if it lived today. No... no, there is
more. Something lying deep within this plant... this... animal?” Radi-
ant light began to spill out from behind her closed eyes as her voice
filled with confused excitement. Images from an antique world swept
through her mind at dizzying speeds. “This is... this... beauty impos-
sible. This thing is between and beyond, plant and animal, servant and
savior. Persist. Something inside it remains, waiting immortal for a day
still yet to come. Though broken, it will bud. I feel it, trembling with
small whispers. It echoes all that has been.” With tears rolling from her
eyes, she asked, “Atlas, how can you claim to worship beauty when you
rejoice in the destruction of something so perfect?”
“Beauty? Blasphemous girl, you perceive no beauty, merely hol-
low allure used to bewitch your simplistic mind. I need not so much as
touch this thing to know its true nature. Ignobility wafts from it like a
swarm of horned-headed grass flies. Praise be to the gods for hurling

186
this abomination from the heavens. I’ll hear no more talk of it from
you, understand?” Atlas’s posture was aggressive as he towered over
the crying freyaen.
“Get away from her,” Verar demanded as Tilane and he interposed
between Atlas and Aeffinea. Before another word could be spoken,
Atlas’s twin blue blades were pressed in a flash against both Verar and
Tilane’s throats.
“You’d be surprised how much better I am when aware of an enemy.
I have thought long on Jax’s words. It is one of you who will betray us.”
“We are here,” Jax called from ahead, his voice filled with trepida-
tion. Atlas took three measured steps back, keeping a defensive posi-
tion. As he retracted his double-bladed sword from the faeries’ throats
it left thin red lines in its absence. “There! Past the crag, do you see it?
The fissure, within it recesses...”
Metodite interrupted, “Yes, there is light and shadow within and
where they mix, occupancy is betrayed. There are three of them.”
“Those flitting shadows will lead us to the presence. Believe, for
the goddess’s will shall soon be realized. I promise, I shall pray for each
of you that die this day.”
Slowly, the six of them crept towards the Spire. Tilane prodded, “We
are almost to the opening, by Cinder. If there is anything else you know
that will keep us alive, Jax, tell us now!” The meehan-ghe’s words, a
mixture of aggravation and trepidation, were met by nothing but silence.
Rushing into the opening, Jax was met with the sweet smell of un-
gala leaves and honey-coated whale oil. It had been so long since he
had smelled these scents. They instantly filled his mind with a myriad
of images of his life with Yrkahe. A tear slid down his cheek as he
mumbled quietly, “You stole happiness from me.” The cavern in this
strange construct rapidly descended into a spacious chamber which
more closely resembled a museum of art than a den of occultism. The
illumination of burning braziers revealed artistry both ancient and oth-
erworldly. The sound of the closest typhon’s severed head striking the
floor echoed through the hollow space. All eyes were upon Jax as he
stared longingly at Yrkahe.
“What is that thing in the burning pool, that monster? I cannot look

187
away,” Tilane’s voice was filled with awe.
“She is a nymph, she is the one Jax spoke of,” Verar replied.
“Your clothes, your bodies,” Aeffinea gasped. “Look away now!” the
freyaen screamed. Tilane and Verar lazily rolled their heads back towards
her. A vibration and blue-green glow from her belt pouch caught Aef-
finea’s attention. Thrusting her hand into the bag, she produced the naga’s
fang. Closing her eyes, she said, “I’m sorry... Verar... I love you.” With
that, she jabbed the naga’s fang into Tilane’s throat as if by instinct.
Verar reached towards her, “Daga Taka, I...” his words were soft and
loving as he stroked her cheek, his hand became stone.
Tilane fell to the ground, coughing and vomiting up a thick leafy
green liquid. With each pain-wracked regurgitation, Tilane’s body
slowly reverted to normal.
Looking at the statue that was once Verar, it slowly dawned on Aef-
finea that many of the objects in the room were not in fact lifelike art
at all, but the terrified remains of the dead. “Do not look at the thing in
the pool,” Aeffinea screamed, as a typhon struck at her. The front of the
serpent’s face slid to the floor like sliced beef on the butcher’s slab as it
collided with her khopesh.
The room shook under the force of Metodite’s roar, “Though I know
not what part you play in this abomination, you will not stand between
Gahlodi and her return to me. Pray now, for in death it will be too late.”
As Metodite spoke, he bashed his dokimby against a typhon’s head with
such force the serpent’s eye flew from its socket as its head cracked
against the floor.
Atlas’s blue blades were stained red as he joyously slaughtered ty-
phons. “Your profane mockery of the gods ends this day vermin.”
Yrkahe rose from the pool, living liquid dripping from her nude
form. Her body, which ended in a long snake-like tail instead of legs,
was covered in dainty bright scales which begun as orange and ended
as green. “In the glow of flame, old sins stand dripping blood. Our
time gives way to the needs of the son. I have promised him this... you.
Embrace your only son,” oceans of hate welled in her empty red eyes as
she glared at her once husband.
From the shadows of a far alcove appeared a satyr with red eyes and

188
perfectly proportioned features. Sword in hand, his haubergeon rattled
slightly as he strode towards Jax, “Father? Father!” Jax noticed a red
glitter within the satyr’s mouth as he spoke.
Jax staggered back, “No, no this cannot be. How? All those others
you were with and you tell me this is my son? I will not believe it.”
Yrkahe spat, “His face is mine. His face is yours. We are one in his
flesh, the flesh that shall deliver my heart’s desire upon you and Cinder
both! Your death shall come at Elique’s hand!”
Reflexively, Rynus parried the other satyr’s blow. “Son... son, I do
not wish to fight you. I see it in you, you are mine but your mother has
poisoned you with fruits of hate. You do not know me. Come... come
with me away from this place. We will forget all of this horror together.
You will have the life you deserve.”
“The only life I deserve is yours, father and I shall have it now!”
With that, the sounds of clashing blades rang out through the cavern.
Jax bleated wildly, “I will not – cannot – harm you. I will not play
this vile game of yours, Yrkahe!”
Metodite viciously raked his dokimby across the throat of a typhon
he had pinned to the floor. The shark teeth slowly serrated the serpent’s
throat into chunks of bloody meat. Metodite, keeping his eyes from
her face, watched Yrkahe’s feet moving closer towards Jax. The siren
charged across the room, avoiding several stone statues, before tack-
ling the thin Yrkahe, driving her to the ground. Metodite kept his head
tucked against her stomach as he raised his sharkstaff above his head.
An object that felt like a sowing needle pricked him in the head and then
in each arm several times. “What? What are you doing? What have
you done to me? My body… it will not obey.” Drool poured from his
mouth as he finished speaking and he collapsed on top of her, his mind
spinning, filled with images of Gahlodi.
Two more typhons fell before Valdyr Daudadagr as Aeffinea strode
towards Yrkahe, who was wriggling her way free from underneath
Metodite. Breathing in deeply, Aeffinea cleansed her mind of the rage
that was overwhelming her senses. As Yrkahe stood, it first became
apparent that the red braids upon her head were not hair, but a writh-
ing mass of furious serpents. Aeffinea felt the protective magics of

189
Nineteen’s tooth as Yrkahe attempted to mesmerize the freyaen with
her glowing red eyes. “Nymph, your madness ends today. My order
shall be avenged. Verar shall be avenged!” Aeffinea fainted left and
then connected with a backwards sweeping blow. She could feel the
nymph’s ribs shatter as the blade connected, but was unable to pierce
her scaly hide. The elasticity the serpents possessed took Aeffinea by
surprise as they extended to more than four times the length the warrior
had prepared for. Her quilted jerkin prevented most of the fangs from
puncturing her flesh – but one pierced through and pricked her wrist.
The venom flowing into her was an intrusion that in some unquantifi-
able way almost seemed welcome. Aeffinea’s body began to tremble
violently. Her muscles no longer responded to her orders. The clatter-
ing sound of her blade against the floor was followed by her collapsing
to her knees.
Yrkahe pulled Aeffinea’s face against her stomach, stroking her
blonde hair, “Quiet yourself, soon the pain of this world will pass you
by. Welcome the release of oblivion.”
Aeffinea, her eyes full of tears, looked up as her mind began to suc-
cumb to the poison-induced fever, “I... I am going to die?”
“Yes child, my venom is strong, go to your end. Go to it now.”
Yrkahe’s face blurred into three images as Aeffinea looked up at her.
Summoning all of her training, she focused her mind into a state of pure
tranquility. As that focus began to combat the venom in her veins, she
lunged upward, connecting with an uppercut to the smaller Yrkahe’s
jaw. Aeffinea staggered and nearly fell as she tried to focus on the mul-
tiple disorienting images of the nymph before her.
Yrkahe spat, “I should never have extended kindness to you. For
your abuse, your life shall end in horror.” Clinching her fist, Yrkahe
shot her right arm forward. Fire leapt from her palm as she extended
her fingers. Aeffinea fell forward, tumbling to avoid the searing flames.
Stumbling as she attempted to take her feet, Aeffinea fell to her knees.
The women were face to face on the ground. “Now you die!” As Yrka-
he’s serpents were lunging at her, Aeffinea stabbed the nymph in the
forehead with the naga’s tooth an instant before the serpents bit into
Aeffinea’s face. The nymph burst into a howl as blood poured from the

190
open wound. Feeling new venom entering her flesh, Aeffinea used the
last of her energy to drive Nineteen’s fang through Yrkahe’s eye. The
nymph screamed as her brain was punctured by the curved tooth.
The heat of the chamber amplified the fatigue caused by Elique’s
barrage. His son’s pace pushed the old satyr to his body’s breaking
point. Wobbling, Jax stumbled backwards before a flat-bladed strike
sent him down on one knee. Jax gasped, his voice betraying his com-
plete exhaustion, “Now... now do it. Do what you have to, what she
raised you for. Fulfill the hate your mother forced upon you. End me,
but know as I lay here bleeding my only wish is for your forgiveness.
Forgive me for never knowing you.” Jax bared his neck smiling at his
son while he awaited death.
Elique hesitated as he raised his sword above his head, thinking
his father’s words over. Finishing his thoughts, slowly he lowered
his blade. Before Elique could speak the air was driven out of
him by a liver kick from Atlas. As Elique stumbled backwards,
Atlas, his body covered in lacerations, connected with the satyr’s
left thigh. The blow opened a deep gash in Elique’s furry flesh
which nearly caused him to collapse. Sensing the fight was won,
Atlas charged in. But as he pressed, he created an opening which
allowed Elique to connect with a brutal counterstrike. Elique’s
sword sliced through Atlas’s leather jerkin, barely missing the hu-
man’s neck as the satyr cut him from shoulder to shoulder. The
force behind the blow dropped Atlas flat on his back, sending his
double-bladed sword clattering to the ground. Looking up, the
knight saw Elique’s blade as it intruded into his flesh. With a twist
of Elique’s wrist, pain like Atlas had never known surged through
his midsection before darkness claimed him.
Sliding his sword from Atlas’s gut, Elique’s eyes fell upon his
mother. Hysteria raged through him like wildfire as he looked
upon her gory, lifeless form tangled in a heap with Aeffinea’s.
“My mother is gone,” he stammered, hearing the sound of clop-
ping hooves behind him. “All that I know lies broken and dead.”
Father, you are all I have left in this...” As Elique turned to look,
his words were ended as Rynus invaded his flesh.

191
“The only thing left for you in this world is death. I want noth-
ing from your mother, especially not you,” the satyrs’ eyes locked
as Jax reached into his stunned son’s mouth, ripping his glinting
tongue from his head. Perforated intestines spilled onto the floor
as Jax withdrew Rynus from his son. Jax watched as his son’s
forked tongue began to quiver in his hand. Slowly, the ruby tongue
began to vibrate and sing. “Yes, yes my Lady, it is as you showed
me upon burning wind. All that has gone before shall be erased as
I turn this key and prove worthy of your grace.” His hand shacking
he lifted the twitching singing tongue towards the brazier light. “I
told you all... The Song is mine!” His voice reverberated through-
out the chamber. Wiping the sweat from his brow, he began to limp
out of the cavern.
“No!” Aeffinea rebutted, staggering to her feet. “She is not to be
owned. Beauty is no man’s slave.”
Jax broke out in laughter at the sight of her. “You have the audac-
ity to challenge me! The venom has taken your sense from you. Stand
down, girl, you’re green with fever. The poison will call you home soon
enough. I have a long optilang ride to Trade. Today I have killed my
son. There is no energy left within me to waste on you.” With that he
turned, resuming his departure.
“Coward! I said no!” Pointing Valdyr Daudadagr at Jax’s back,
Aeffinea yelled, “As a Knight of the Song, you must accept my chal-
lenge. In this hellish place, we shall duel for that ruby key.”
“Simple girl, you are no knight. You are merely... a mistake... a
mistake that my whore wife saw corrected.”
The caustic words stung Aeffinea, “I... I am a knight. She chose
me. She chose me for a reason. The Song reached out to Roduland,
to Freyaheim for a reason. She wants to be free and I swore to her she
would. There is death in me now, but I will not succumb to it if to die is
to leave the world in the hands of men like you.”
Jax smiled condescendingly as he spoke, “Self-aggrandizing little
girl, you think you are the reason for all of this? In your mind all of
this is secretly about you, isn’t it? Lost in your own love-struck fantasy
in which she is yours and you are hers. In which she loves you? How

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pathetic. She is a parasite who feasts on bleeding souls. Of course she
wants a victim like you. You could never understand her, command her,
or be one with her. You could never own her! Only I can see her for
what she truly is! Only I have the strength to own her! None of this is
about you, light-eyes! It is all about me!”
Valdyr Daudadagr fell from her trembling hand as her sword arm
began to spasm. Fumbling for her sword, she stumbled to the ground.
Fear coursed through her, she knew Jax would be upon her in a moment.
Gripping her sword firmly, she thrust it up as if to parry back a blow.
Her khopesh met with nothing but air. As she looked up, she saw Jax’s
back. He was casually walking away from her. “You... you are just
waiting me out, aren’t you?”
Without even turning around, Jax said, “I was, but that time has
finished. Your display is but a sad specter of a battle I will never have.”
He patted the statue that was once Verar as he walked past it.
Stunned confusion filled Aeffinea’s voice, “This... this was all a
trap, wasn’t it? You... you knew what her gaze would do, didn’t you?
You knew and you led us all here as sacrifices for your desire. Her eyes
locked with yours for so long, why didn’t her face turn you to stone?”
Jax laughed, “Remember the story I told you, little girl. The Lady
cursed my wife for betraying me. Do you think our goddess, my god-
dess, would be such a fool as to allow Yrkahe revenge? She could
not hurt me and I knew if I looked long enough, you followers would
do the same. I wasn’t sure what effects her powers would have upon
backwards sun worshipers. It seems even living amongst cockatrices
wasn’t enough to prepare you for her visage. Well, not enough for Verar
anyway,” Jax paused to study the statue’s face. “The pain you inflicted
upon him as you let him die is captured so perfectly upon his face, truly
a remarkable piece.”
“Mock me if you will, it matters not. Judgment is coming. I see you
as you truly are: a frail, weak, little coward that slew his own son. You
lied to your son. You lied to all of us. You said what we were...”
“I never cared about any of you. I never cared about anyone... any-
one but her… and you killed her!”
Aeffinea’s eyes flared as she spoke, “She was a monster,” her words

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came softer, “both of you are monsters. But at least... at least she would
answer a challenge.”
Jax’s countenance twisted as he snarled, “Then have your exile from
life at my hands, fool!” He charged across the room, gripping Rynus in
both hands.

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22
“What is that smell?” The words were wonder as they fell from
Fetain’s tongue.
“It smells like the fear of failure and failing life,” Vezie commented
as she craned her head, sniffing the air in amazement.
“A scent carried from some beautiful dream like a falling flower
filled with blood,” Jesswa remarked.
“Whatever it is, I want to eat it,” said Aosh.
Aurquim spoke, “Within Opiate’s delicate dream or this world there
is only one thing that smells like that. That delicious aroma is fey wine,
the golden blood of a broken freyaen, shuddering in abject terror. The
freyaen is near. And the wind offers it up to sate our hunger. We are
reborn and our first meal already awaits us.” She bared her fangs in
excitement as she finished speaking.
“I never knew anything could smell that good. I so wish to eat a
freyaen,” Fetain said, smiling wide-eyed. Fetain walked over to A-Ya,
who was gazing into the lake. “My king, we are hungry and we smell
something that will be so good to eat. May we be allowed to chase it?”
“The Spire’s top is sealed with impossibly powerful mysticism,”
Zib interjected, “Thogqalix’s last gift to the world. You are safe here,
with or without wolves.” Zib produced a small bent branch and said in
a language that was not Ajyran, “Tiur hebumus golanie,” as he bent it
straight. A faint triangular doorway appeared. “Wolves will need this
door to return.”
“Yes, go, you need to hunt. Take the baobhan siths with you. They
are starting to look weak. They need life force,” A-Ya said.
“Gratitude, my king,” Fetain called as the fey bound down the slope.
“I’m going to eat my first freyaen.”
“Your what?” A-Ya’s thoughts shifted to Thela Thorn as he looked
into the dark water, forcing him to relive the pain of his own death.
“Do not be so concerned, love. The weak things of light are to be
eaten. It is the way of this imperfect world and of the people you have
chosen,” Melantha said as she entwined arms with her husband.

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“It... it is not that. I was just thinking. These dark waters took me
back to another time, to a lost life and old friends.”
“More than that, something in the river of your past haunts you. We
are one, the burden of your secrets is no longer yours to shoulder alone.
Enlighten me, so we may be of one mind.”
“I was simply thinking of my temple, of what was.”
“Your thoughts lend truth to the fox’s tongue. These are not the dark
waters of regret. They are a lake of prophecy. Do not mourn the past,
rejoice for the future. That temple shall be yours again. All temples
shall be rebuilt in the purple glow of the new church.” She whispered
seductively into his ear, “It is your destiny.”
“We are leaving the deer in the distance,” Aosh commented.
“The red lake’s vigor burns in our blood,” Vezie replied.
“Velocity of body and thought were our reward. We grow in strength
with the Dying Light. Be ready, I smell other prey upon our path,” Au-
rquim added.
The other six eagerly began to sniff the wind which was blowing
up from the base of the Spire. Many minutes passed before they saw
the serpentine form of a typhon slinking up the structure. The serpent’s
eyes widened in horror at the sight of them. Reflexively, he began to
weave his three-fingered hands together in an occult gesture. His hisses
turned to gurgles as Fetain leapt through the air, driving her jagged bone
javelin through the snake man’s throat. Terror gleamed in the dying ty-
phon’s eyes as the remaining pack members swarmed him, sinking their
fangs deep into his leathery flesh.
Words edged with awe spilled from Aurquim’s gore-covered mouth,
“Even as we moved down this slope, I did not comprehend the fluidity
of our movements. Your swiftness was uncanny, your grace unparal-
leled. We truly have been blessed in dark water.” Her speech finished,
she returned to ravenously consuming the snake’s flesh.
The stringy, salty flesh was chalky and held little nutrition. In their
great hunger, the ravenous redcaps stripped the typhon’s carcass so thor-
oughly that even the most determined scavenger would have found it
difficult to make a meal of the remains. “The clashing of metal dances
upon the wind,” Fetain said, cracking the last bone between her jaws

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and sucking it clean of marrow.
Aurquim stilled herself and listened, “Let us tarry no longer. No
other shall take the golden blood from us. That kill is ours.”

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23
The clanging sound of their swords reverberated throughout the hu-
mid chamber, which was becoming overrun with the smells of death.
The determination in Aeffinea’s eyes reflected upon Rynus. More than
that, the sword showed her as she was: exhausted, delirious, and close
to death. The image was banished as a backhanded pommel strike con-
nected flush with her nose. She reeled backwards under the force of the
blow. Tears welled in her eyes as blood poured from her broken nose.
Reflexively, she parried back Jax’s next blow.
There was a triumphant tone in Jax’s words as he bleated, “Stop
fighting, fool. Bow before me and I will give you the coward’s death!”
“Never! Slaver, I will take your hands from you and leave your
body in a loveless pile with your monstrous wife. There shall be no
honor in your dying – may a warden of the Oubliette come for your
soul!” While Aeffinea’s words were sharp, her mind was not. As she
staggered, she could see Jax was waiting for the last opening she would
ever give in her life. She thought of her mother, of her early lessons.
“My will shall never be broken!”
“Your will doesn’t matter when your body is no longer able to re-
spond!” Jax said haughtily.
A stabbing feeling radiated through Aeffinea’s leg as Jax’s cloven
hoof connected with her knee. “No!” Aeffinea screamed in desperation
and pain as she toppled to the ground.
The pain was tremendous as Jax ground his hoof into Aeffinea’s
hand, slowly crushing her bones in a circular motion. With deliber-
ate poise, he forced the khopesh from her hand. Rendering her sword
hand useless, Jax kicked Aeffinea in the chin, causing her teeth to slam
together so violently that several were nearly knocked loose as she
blacked out momentarily. Upon regaining her senses, she saw Jax’s
hoof heading for her face. The freyaen reflexively twisted her body
away from the satyr as his stomp landed where her head had been only
milliseconds before. Propping herself up on her uninjured hand, she
laced her legs around his, one in front of his calf and the other behind his

198
ankle. Aeffinea then hooked her left foot behind her right ankle. With a
quick pivot of her hips, she sent Jax to the ground and scrambled to take
his back. Aeffinea grabbed Valdyr Daudadagr with her off hand but was
restrained as Jax grasped her wrist. She slammed her forehead against
his ear several times. Jax flailed back with Rynus, nicking Aeffinea’s
arm. Summoning up all of her resolve, she bent her mangled hand into
a hook. Placing her crushed palm against the face of her blade, she
pulled it with all her might against Jax’s throat. The antique blade cut
deep into her hand as it entered him. Jax gasped in disbelief as a long
red line was opened across his neck. Aeffinea’s hand gave out, causing
Valdyr Daudadagr to fall away from the old knight’s throat. Without
the pressure of the copper blade against his throat, blood came gushing
out. Jax reflexively put a hand over his wound. Looking back at Aef-
finea, Jax saw Valdyr Daudadagr shimmering in the braziers’ light as it
sliced through his hand. With his hand gone, the blood flowed. They
exchanged a look as a peaceful grin spread across Jax’s face. It was a
shared understanding that she had killed him.
“Aeffinea my love, how badly are you hurt?” a voice called, startling her.
“Are you true or merely a haunting hallucination bought on by this
fever?” Aeffinea responded.
Taking Valdyr Daudadagr from her hand, Tilane lifted her to her
feet. “Something is wrong with your knee? And your hand? You’re
sick? Tell me where you hurt?”
Running her uninjured hand across her lover’s face, she said, “I
thought you had perished in the battle. But now you seem so strong. I...
I don’t understand.”
“Quiet now, save your strength, you are badly wounded. All will be
made clear as night, soon enough,” with that Tilane pulled Aeffinea in
and kissed her passionately, “Time to go.”
She wheezed gratingly as Valdyr Daudadagr awkwardly pierced her
flesh. Tilane stepped away with no more concern than someone who
had just tossed rubbish down a back alley. Without support, Aeffinea
slumped to her knees. The jostling caused Valdyr Daudadagr to fall
from her back, as the blade did, blood gushed from the wound it left in
her spine. Pain radiated throughout her mangled hand as she braced her

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fall. While the feeling was excruciating, what bothered her more were
the parts of her body she could no longer feel.
Tilane casually retrieved the ruby tongue from Jax.
“Why... why? You were what mattered to me most in the world,” the
words in her mind were fire but they broke like thin glass upon her tongue.
“Clearly that is the case, as you left me ‘dead’ on the floor to save
your precious Song. From the moment you arrived within the tower of
ivory, I knew you were my only competition. I told you I would find
love on this quest. Of course, in your arrogant naivety, you assumed I
meant you, light-eyes. The Singer is love and I shall have her. Not for
the same reasons the rest of you wanted her. The concept of slavery
sickens me as does the way the rest of you fought to own her. I do not
wish to own her but to set her free. Free upon the altar of my king.
Love is an impure thing that must be snuffed out. In its annihilation, the
fourth world moves closer to the echo of oblivion.”
“How could you do this to me?” the words were muffled by her
sobs, “Verar was right about you.”
“Are you really so surprised that a man spun from the inky black-
ness of nightmare would turn out not be your friend? Your world crum-
bles around you while your mind spirals out of control. I tremble in
intoxication from your blooming fear. Sadness overwhelms me that
I must allow you to suffer. I despise suffering so. Do you not under-
stand? It is in that imperfection you feel now that the lie of light lives.
This world, like the three that came before it, is not a good place. Soon
though, it like the others, will be gone and creation shall move closer to
perfection. It is not enough to wish pain away; action must be taken to
end suffering. Forgive me. While I desire to end your life now, I am too
weak to deny myself the scent of your terror.”
“We trance-merged...” the words were barely coherent as she at-
tempted to plead with him.
“Of course we did. Not only did it allow me to win your trust, it
gave me free reign over the library of your mind. Every one of your se-
crets was made naked before me. Sadly you are unforgivably ignorant
of the Great Dream’s workings. But that is the problem with taibhreamh
na súl oscailte, you only want to see what is beautiful, not what is real.

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Hiding my dark truths from you was far easier than I’d imagined. You
simply gave yourself over to me, never pushing and never hunting. You
only wished to be guided like a lost child. I was not content to merely
be your rebellion against a cruel society that sought to break you. For
you, I had to be everything. So you would never give in to the words
of every taibhreamh na súl oscailte you ever met. I could not afford to
lose your trust. It would have made all of this so much more of a suffer-
ing. I enjoyed my time with you. Know that there was truth in my lies.
Imperfect creature of light, I will remember you even as the new world
begins.” With that, he bent down, brushing his fangs gently against
her scalp as he softly kissed the top of her head. “Find that tranquility
within your soul one last time so that you may prepare for your trip into
the eternal darkness,” he finished, as he turned and departed.
Upon the cavity’s floor Aeffinea faced the dissolution of her resolve.
The tears that fell from her eyes upon the moist ground were the deluge
of a broken soul. In the delirious haze of pain and poison, she thought
she heard the sound of someone approaching. “You have conquered
me,” she slurred. “Can you not even grant me the dignity to die alone?”
She was answered by a voice that sounded like a thousand songs:
“You invited me.” The voice was at once masculine and feminine and
devoid of any accent, yet she knew it was not issuing forth from one of
her people.
“Incubus, you need not circle my soul like the blue desert’s vulture.
Come have your meal now. Know that my fortitude has been surpassed,
I lay defenseless and broken before you,” her words were without mal-
ice or concern.
“While I, like you, am a child of light, I am no fallen angel. The
goatman’s soul is already gone, so I regrettably cannot perform as re-
quested. Within this chamber stand the ghosts of many sinners. Rotten
from within by the malignancy of magic, they scream so loudly that I
must wonder, pale child, can you hear them in your world?”
“No, no, I only hear you,” her voice was filled with hope and fear.
“Despite their sin, they clamber loudly for their dragon queen.” The
speaker’s voice was no longer aimed at her, “Yurgha is not here. With
the endorsement of the gods, I claim your souls. Lay aside prayer. It,

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like hope, is no longer needed. This tally shall mark well upon my el-
ephant scrolls. The Taskmaster shall have no choice but to announce
my worth through vested promotion. The record of your capture alone
shall mark well upon the prison ledger. The essence of a cursed nymph
shall shorten my number within the hierarchy.” As it finished speaking,
it began to make a series of sucking sounds, each followed by a pause of
about 40 seconds.
Hearing the speaker moving closer to her, Aeffinea summoned the
last of her strength to look up. Shielding her eyes with her uninjured
hand, she beheld features that seamlessly melded the quintessential
aspects of masculine and feminine beauty. A nimbus as bright as the
sun surrounded the six-winged spirit. Standing three times Aeffinea’s
height, the feathery winged being regurgitated several long bluish-white
columns of wispy light into a round wooden bowl, which bound and
confined their forms as they landed inside it.
“To be bound to the shape of the space you’re in,” Aeffinea said
absently. “That must truly be the absence of freedom. What are you
and why am I able see you?” Raging eyes of anguish looked out from
the last column of soul stuff… and as they locked upon Aeffinea, she
recognized that they belonged to Metodite.
“Aeffinea of Freyaheim, you knew what I was when you called me.
My gratitude to you for doing so, the soul of the first gorgon is a true
prize. My apologies for my inability to serve your hatred and bind the
target you called me to take. Your soul has been freed from your flesh
three times since you entered this chamber. Final death can only be
staved off for so long and your closeness to it is the reason for your
conversation with me.”
Through a spark of hope, Aeffinea found her will reinvigorated,
“Great angel of the depths, as a child of Ahuramazda I beseech you. If
light’s power is within you, heal my dying form. I ask not for myself
but so that I may halt the plans of a servant of Ahriman – who works to-
wards unweaving this world by slaughtering beauty even as we speak.”
The angel smiled gently, “To the War of Light we have given more
than any others. Through the foresight of He Who Has Many Names,
we spiritual things have abandoned the heavens for a realm of stone and

202
black iron. Living so far from the sun, its light has become a fable in
the minds of our wardens. We are the keepers of the true immortal trolls
and all who practice the blasphemy of their magic. Only through the
order we impose upon flesh may K’Vega-Thale find salvation from the
clutches of darkness. The fool errands of vapid knights of beauty are of
no concern to me. If you remember these words in your next life, know
my mercy for I refrained from taking your soul. When you live again,
choose your divinity more wisely.”
Aeffinea fell into despondency as the descendent angel sunk
through the floor. The room became darker in the reaver’s wake.
Through her teary eyes the shadowy chamber seemed to spin. Bab-
bling in barely a whisper, she said, “Everything is so warm. I just...
I just need to... mother just let me... rest. I’m sorry... sweet Singer. I
have failed you... Gahlodi.”
As Aeffinea’s eyes closed upon this world, the sensory orbs of her
astral body opened wide. She was not in the Dreamlands by her own
strength. Instead, she had been pulled here like a fish on a string line.
As the music of The Song consumed her senses, for the first time in
several cycles, she began to orient herself to this world. From what lay
before her, it seemed clear she was in the Great Dream, but the precision
and clarity of the sights before her were like nothing she had ever dreamt
before. The realm conformed to no higher law than spectacle. Vistas of
probability and impossibility tested their likelihood for entrance into the
world of flesh in the theaters of realities most beautiful imaginations.
These images produced themselves both small and vast, dueling with
floating dewdrop cities for space in this perfect dream. The architecture
in these ornate edifices of opulence possessed a character impossible for
her to rectify in that they did not conform to the limitations of dimension
placed upon her waking world. This allowed for angles that extended
and twisted in dizzying ways. The marvel of this craftsmanship was
heightened by the substance of the materials used in their construction.
Blocks of frozen flame served as foundations for buildings woven from
glittering butterfly dust and bedecked with living orange jewels of im-
possible cut which accentuated the surreal. All that lay before her was
colored with colors that could not be in any place outside a dream.

203
Like a leaf on the wind, Aeffinea gently floated towards the per-
sistent Song. Desperation edged the lyrical voice with panic, making
the serenaded all the more moving. A dizzying array of emotions be-
gan to influence Aeffinea’s thoughts as the music completely consumed
her. Dark orange ambient light illuminated The Song’s face within the
window of the highest tower of the grandest castle. The orange sheen
cascading over Gahlodi’s blue flesh highlighted the awe-inspiring maj-
esty of her countenance. Extending her arm as far as she could, Aef-
finea interlocked her fingers with Gahlodi’s, apprehensively caressing
the siren’s hand. Pulling Aeffinea’s arm into the mouth of the window,
Gahlodi began to sensually kiss her way up Aeffinea’s forearm. At no
point had Aeffinea ever felt more alive, more worthy than she did as
Gahlodi’s kisses came with a reverence that was tantamount to wor-
ship. Amorous feelings flooded Aeffinea, washing out shame and guilt
for pleasure’s expanse. The siren’s sharp, shark-like teeth dragged too
deeply, causing Aeffinea’s arm to bleed, which left the freyaen confused.
The pain felt real, too real for a dream. As she looked into Gahlodi’s
eyes, the siren said, “Wake up! Wake up now!”
Terror filled Aeffinea as the dream state began to dissolve around
her. All she was left with was the echo of amorous feelings and faint
whispered words from forever away. “Save me,” They called. Still, the
kisses upon her arm felt real. As she reached out with her hand, she
felt hair, not feathers. Someone was licking her. There were so many
hands upon her body. The touches were so erotic they disguised the
pain she knew she should feel. As she opened her eyes, she saw them
shiver. It was the fear that leapt within her as the horror of reality be-
came clear that drove them to an orgy-like frenzy upon her flesh. Their
fangs opened pinpricks upon her skin, seven tongues lapping at her nude
form. Moaning, her back arched wantonly as they intruded upon her.
Her breathing was heavy, “I know what you are and what you are doing.
Please, don’t let me leave this world.”
“Gold-honey blood, you are my first freyaen,” a female voice called
in the dark words of Ajyra. “Your scent lingered upon the mountain’s
high wind like a sacrifice to the gods beckoning us to you. Nothing has
ever tasted as sweet or pure upon my lips as your blood. Anticipation

204
swells within me to know the taste of your body. My name is Fetain
and your life is mine to end.” Her introduction finished, Fetain lowered
herself down and begun to kiss Aeffinea. The kiss was one of clumsy
naivety, yet in its expression of eager dominance, Aeffinea found that
immediate submission was her only recourse. From the trance-merging
Aeffinea understood what this meant: the thanking of food, an erotic
ritual meehan-ghes often performed on choice prey to excite and terrify
their victims. Though she found herself near the brink of ecstasy, she
knew their pleasure was not sexual, merely a mockery of love.
“If the winds have offered me up to you and I am yours, give me
everything you can in my last moments,” Aeffinea returned Fetain’s
kiss, as if she were him. Fetain’s mouth tasted like Tilane’s after he
had made a kill. She had always hated kissing him after he had eaten.
Aeffinea made hate to Fetain’s mouth as if the power of thought could
somehow exchange her hole for Tilane’s. The hatred showed through
so strongly in her kiss that her eyes began to glow. Fetain was over-
whelmed by the passion.
“You are not meant to enjoy this,” Fetain’s voice held anger and
confusion as she grabbed Aeffinea’s ears firmly in her hands in an at-
tempt to reassert control.
“I will not go to my end in horror, my life deserves better,” with that
she began to suck passionately on Fetain’s bottom lip. She could taste
her own blood in the meehan-ghe’s mouth. Her eyes grew brighter,
“Beautiful monster, it pleases me to deny you whatever pleasure I can.”
Aeffinea head-butted Fetain in the mouth. Blood mixed with saliva
poured into Aeffinea’s eyes.
“I will know all the pleasure your body contains! You shall fear me as
I learn the secrets of fey wine,” Fetain bit down hard on Aeffinea’s bottom
lip, grasping it tight between her lips and lapping the blood from it with
her tongue. Forcing Aeffinea’s head back, Fetain licked down her neck,
opening up new wounds as her fangs grazed her victim’s soft flesh.
“No!” the word was as explosive as the vunna ball kick to the side
of Fetain’s head. A cacophony of hissing greeted Atlas Eros as the other
six redcaps disengaged Aeffinea’s body. Atlas gulped, never had he
been so afraid in his life. But if he was going to die here, he would do

205
so enjoying one last beautiful battle. “So... who wants to get kicked in
the head next?”
Aurquim moved with bewildering speed. Cinching Atlas’s long
brown hair into a handle, she pulled it tight as she bared her fangs.
“Stop!” a voice called out, firm yet urgently. The redcaps obeyed
as if by instinct. Standing upon a living carpet of moths, A-Ya floated
into the chamber. His words were in Ajyran, “My permission to eat this
light-eyes has been rescinded. Now away from her! Aurquim, release
that human as well.”
“He hurt Fetain,” Aurquim protested, pulling back tightly on At-
las’s hair before pushing him with one foot against his spine to create
distance between them as she released him. “Please, my king, let me
have him.”
“Why must we spare her, my king?” Aosh’s tone was respectful,
though it did a poor job of masking his frustration.
A-Ya snapped, “Since you clearly need your orders explained to
you,” he paused, pondering his next words, “I know this freyaen. We
met on the edge of your dark wood and she will not leave life by my do-
ing. Now all of you move away from her. It is best to put space between
you and the temptation of her blood.” He walked over to Fetain, who
was on all fours with a dazed look on her face. “Aosh, since you saw fit
to question me, come here. Through you, Fetain shall be aided.” Bend-
ing down, A-Ya placed his hand on Fetain’s already swelling temple and
on Aosh’s belly. Aosh felt his stomach tighten as he fought back the
urge to vomit. His king’s touch was a conduit for anti-life to Aosh but
regeneration to Fetain. The dilation was gone from her eyes and as she
stood, Aosh slumped to one knee. Extending his left hand, A-Ya curled
his middle finger into a circle with his thumb while extending his other
fingers outward. The mystic might of his risen Lord flowed through
him, revealing the state of life in each of the fallen. Finding a still living
typhon, A-Ya said, “Jazhilo, pull his body close to hers.”
“Jump away from here,” Aeffinea began to jibber as A-Ya placed his
hand upon her chest, “it is not now... I…”
“Get away from her,” Atlas said, lifting his double-bladed sword.
Ignoring Atlas, A-Ya said, “Quiet, girl, still yourself and save your

206
strength.” Gripping the typhon around the throat, A-Ya gently traced
his hand along Aeffinea’s body. With but a touch, bones popped and
realigned themselves within her mangled hand. The holes in her lips
filled in with flesh as the Dusklord stroked her face. The dozens of little
punctures all over her body slowly disappeared, leaving only residual
red marks and the stain of blood. With a loud crack, her knee slid back
into joint and her eyes opened. The typhon’s body was now grey and in
an advanced state of decomposition. It resembled a mummified corpse
more closely than a fresh kill.
Aeffinea inhaled deeply and began to cough violently before vomit-
ing a green soupy slime upon the floor. Her face was full of confusion
as she looked up, “A-Ya?”

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24
“It fills me with sorrow to hear that Karn is dead. When I saw your
face, my next thoughts were of him. Great joy leaps in my heart to see
you have found the object of your desire. It is clear how she captivated
you even in your dreams. By the winds, I will never forget that I owe
you my life. You have my sword whenever you call. What you have
built is a beautiful tribute to your god.” Aeffinea then looked around
to see who was watching, leaned in close and lowered her voice. She
switching from Ajyran to Dazazyaese and whispered, “Be careful my
friend, I once trusted a wolf too.”
Before A-Ya could respond, Zib approached, “The great flying thing
has been made ready.”
Looking around nervously Aeffinea said, “So what does this ‘thing’
look like?”
Zib laughed, “Something old that I borrowed – left behind by the
trolls. It has grown bloated on the blood of dead Thogqalix. You
will come to know it soon enough.” A shrill wail emanated from
Zib’s carved bone flute.
On heavy flapping wings that were at once bat-like and insectoid
came the great flying thing. Its body was black and rubbery with skin
that looked too dry. Stiff spine-like cilia stuck out of its fat segment
rings every four feet. As it approached the ground, it folded its body
in two, turning what appeared to be two tooth-filled heads into stumpy
legs. In what was now the middle of the creature was a saddle with
skins for water and bags for provisions. Aeffinea backed away from the
abomination, trembling with horror.
Seeing her revulsion, A-Ya stated, “My apologies, Aeffinea but this
is the only way your quest may still succeed.”
Turning her back on the great flying thing, she breathed deeply, ex-
pelling the fear from her mind and filling her thoughts with Gahlodi’s
sweet song. Even as Gahlodi’s calling lifted her spirit, the memory of
Tilane mingled amongst the lyrics tainting her tranquility. Under her
breath she said, “I will save you,” raising the tone of her voice, she said,

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“How do I keep this leech-like monstrosity from eating me?”
Zib replied to her, “There are old words and old pacts, and more
important than that, old signs which I have made. Take the reins and
whisper ‘unotu appa’ when you want it to land. The rest has been done,”
he stopped and smiled slyly, “All you have to do is ... not fall off.”
Every instinct within her identified it as an obscenity. Asserting
her will over her impulses, she strode toward the thing and mounted it.
With a grimacing bray, the thing capered from the Spire’s slope into the
night air. Once aloft, she called, “So few in this world would bother to
lend aid at the cost of displeasing their subjects. What you have done
will always be remembered within my heart. Until I may repay you,
you have my eternal thanks.”
A-Ya said to Melantha, “The only payment we need is her success.
An ally in the house of beauty will be well placed for what is to come.”
“My thoughts remain the course you lay leads to enemies within
darkness,” Melantha replied. “We, our god and our people, are children
of primal darkness. Never forget that, husband. These forays into light
may serve us now, but what of the end? How do we win a war on two
fronts?” Uncertainty turned to jealousy within Melantha as gravity con-
torted A-Ya’s easy expression. The thought that it was not her words,
but the sight of the light fey’s departure that caused such weight upon
her husband inundated her with protective intolerance.
The thin, moist, crisp air at these heights left Aeffinea lightheaded.
Not only was it harder to breathe, when she did, she tasted the wrong-
ness of the flying thing in the back of her throat. Hope fueled adrena-
line coupled with flight-induced anxiety coursed through the freyaen
leaving her queasy. Settling in she grasped the thing’s cilia which were
slick, wet with night’s dew.
As the flapping thing disappeared into the night’s sky, Fetain whis-
pered, “Goodbye, sweet gold blood. If only I could have known you
more completely.” Turning to Aurquim she continued, “The wind danc-
es with her scent even as the darkness fails to show her face. How long
must we wait to taste fey wine again?”
Aurquim responded absently, “My sister, her blood was the purest
light I have ever lapped. How I wish we could have shared her flesh –

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but that wish may still linger in the realm of possibility.”
“But our king has said we must not consume her.”
“No, he merely said we had to stop. If future opportunity presents
itself, I think it best we prevent her rescue permanently by not allow-
ing our kill to languish. Practice your apologies now. We must seem
sincere when we beg our king’s forgiveness. The god who is half light
would not have expanded our senses of smell, touch, and taste so vastly
and then placed the most majestic of feasts before us only to deny us
that ecstasy. Think of this only as a respite. The blood we shared was
only an appetizer of a course still to come.” Shutting her eyes Aurquim
threw her head back and breathed in the scent held upon darkness until
it was gone.
“Much of what you have said confuses me. In the days that come I
shall think on this. Deceiving our king is wrong, but then again, it does
seem that not to know the taste of fey wine would be a greater sin still.
You are right, our new god must have wanted us to have her. This must
simply be a test. Though, in fullness of truth, I do not understand the
reason to take such wondrous food from us after we have suffered so
fully in his name.”
Aurquim put her arm around Fetain, “Have faith, our time will come
in glorious golden splendor. The feast of flesh and bone will be all the
sweeter in the memory of the sacrifice we now make.”
Smiling faintly, Fetain said, “I hope so, I just want to make her... mine.”
The hours of hateful darkness seemed to pass begrudgingly slowly
upon the back of the great flying thing. In the pink light of dawn, the
expanse of hills and tops of trees reinforced how impossibly high above
the world she was. The slightest lapse in concentration could lead to
her plummeting to an ignoble death. Before she could still herself, fear
crept through her form. The thoughts of the fear Gahlodi must even
now endure in the uncertainty of her destiny gave Aeffinea the strength
to fight back her nerves, “While my body recoils from you, with my
mind, I accept you, beast. Upon Igvale’s face, we are one.” Through
the day, she saw the crumbling constructs of ages past. These edifices
erected in antiquity seemed to serve no use in the modern world; how-
ever, the signs of smoke from a few reminded her that from this distance

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things were very different. Looking up, she asked, “Is this how you see
it? Is this why our small lives own so little space within your minds?
Do you even see us at all?”
Six days into her flight, the calling of dreams became impossible
to deny. After the third time she had stared wide into the Dreamland
before snapping back into the waking world, she realized that she
had no choice but to surrender. Grabbing some rope, she decided
her trip to the astral would be on her own terms. Looping it through
the stirrups, she knotted it after wrapping it around her waist. The
frequency of astral trips during her meditative trances had increased
greatly since she had left home. At times, they became so vivid that
every interface seemed to register a direct connection. She knew this
was rare even amongst the most studied daygazers. Still, it was the
tether to her quest. She whispered to herself, “Gahlodi is well,” as
she plunged into the eternal dream.
Within moments, her silvery soul was caught upon the current of an
ocean of music which pulled her swiftly along the channels of dreams
far into the places of possibility. As she traveled she saw floating bub-
bles full of dreams never lived that were set to perish as the last mo-
ments of their hosts’ lives expired before her. Wild colors faded to grey
as the dreams of the dying concluded. Then she was there, the orange
glow of the grand palace illuminated the silhouette of love. It became
harder to push from her mind her true reason for coming here. Awe
led to nervousness as she pushed closer to the object of her thoughts,
to the maiden she had sworn to save. As she crept closer, she noticed
a shadow was falling over the realm of beauty. Entropic dilapidation
consumed the castle’s elegance as darkness slid across beauty, trans-
mogrifying its wonder to ruin. Through the window she saw Gahlodi,
but it was what was past the siren which captured her attention. The
glass of the dressing mirror rippled like water as Tilane pressed against
it from the other side. Helplessness showed in Gahlodi’s eyes, trapped
in her own song even as she recoiled from the wolf’s hand as it broke
the plain of the mirror. The song emanated from her mouth as always,
but her lips moved, working the words, “Help me. Save me. Deliver
me before time slips away,” into her lyrics.

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Aeffinea leapt through the window and spanned the room in nine
steps. The one-time lovers’ nude souls embraced in violence. “What
form of trickery is this which stands before me?” Aeffinea questioned, un-
certain whether she could trust her eyes. “Are you phantasm or specter?”
“Cinder, I know she is no dreamer,” Tilane stammered in bewilder-
ment. “I watched as her spark of life extinguished before me. Aeffinea
is as dead as your realm soon shall be once it has fallen to the cosmic
unity of Ahriman. Your gaudy absurdity shall blockade the progress to
perfection no longer.” By the time Tilane had finished speaking, he had
pressed Aeffinea up against the wall in a clinch and slid his arms into
double-underhook position, torquing his hips. Aeffinea found herself
hurtling towards the floor. The feeling of falling consumed her.
Blinking, Aeffinea found herself plummeting through space. Look-
ing up, she saw the belly of the great flying thing. A cascade of images
consumed her. The cataclysm Tilane had prophesied played out across
the stage of her mind in a series of scenes which moved a thousand
times faster than the speed her mind was capable of processing. Reality
was reduced to but fabric as the twin moons peeled back the day like a
master lightweaver unweaving the mistake of an incompetent appren-
tice. With day gone, time quickly became unraveled, unbinding the
elemental composition. The lightless world existed simultaneously as
The Shadow King consumed each force apart from the others. Inconse-
quentially, gods and trolls died as the elder creators were extinguished.
Life was gone and all that remained was nothingness and quiet. Bile
rose in her stomach with the realization that this was in fact perfection.
A cold, electric, numb feeling spread through the muscles in her right
ankle and calf as her descent was abruptly terminated.
Securing Valdyr Daudadagr within her scabbard, she grasped the
stirrup rope which she had bound tightly around her ankle. Pulling her-
self upright, she resembled a child flying a kite. Placing one hand above
the next, she ignored the burning in her flesh and pressure on her ankle.
The vow of her quest gave her the drive to overcome the impossibility
of her plight. Her hands were raw and bleeding as she grasped the cilia
of the great flying thing’s underside. Its girth was too fat for her to get
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strength to climb from one cilia to the next. Throwing her leg across the
indifferent beast’s saddle, she collapsed upon its back. With tears in her
eyes, she whispered, “Cinder, I feel you here, working with me. I will
never deny you again. With my life, I will not allow darkness to quietly
consume love, beauty, and everything worth fighting for.”
Hours later, the crisp wind of F’Tash roused Aeffinea from her ex-
haustion-induced stupor. The damp air left an aftertaste of electricity
upon her tongue. Thunderbirds were coming. Small holes in the black
blubber beneath her expanded as the thing drank in the moist afternoon
air. The wind’s ferocity increased as she soared upon black wings to-
wards the great spirits of storm. The afternoon’s dim grey light was
gone, blotted out by the cover of the midnight blue clouds. Awe con-
sumed her in the face of the living storm. Thunder filled the heavens as
lightning erupted illuminating the skies. In the light, the thunderbirds
were made clear. Their forms were closest to that of hunting birds of
prey, with long, majestic tail feathers composed of violent, brooding
blue-black angry clouds. The wind produced by their beating wings
became so strong that the great flying thing was forced to dive. Rain
poured from the spirits’ bellies, dousing Aeffinea as they entered the
thunderbirds’ airspace. Raising her head, Aeffinea drank in the new-
born water as lightning flashed all around her.
The murder of thunderbirds was so large it was well into night before
Aeffinea finally escaped their downpour. The twilight which rose to end
Ahriman’s time was not the hateful dawn, but the welcomed dusk. The
Day of Everdusk had rolled around once again – Luk-Coo’s day, upon
which all was awash in the purple and red colors of the glooming. Her
thoughts immediately turned to A-Ya Doon and how he had saved her.
A small prayer to Igvale formed on her tongue in hopes of quick winds,
as she dreaded being stuck in open skies during the Long Night. Before
she had finished the prayer, a tinge of guilt radiated from her core. Her
prayer remained similar but Igvale’s name fell from it, being replaced
by Cinder’s. This prayer she repeated silently upon the open sky until
far in the distance, she saw a skyline of fires. Smoke curled towards the
heavens as ten thousand lights welcomed her to Trade. The closer she
came, the more the sight consumed her. Never had she seen the gran-

213
deur of such a place from the vantage of the birds. Even at this distance,
a staggering array of architectural choices crowded together. The roofs
were closest to her and easiest to see: shed, sloped, and thatched roofs
stood beside intricate pyramid designs with imported tile shingles and
cut-up roofs with over a dozen gables. The long rolling span of hills
below her came to an end. Looking down, she noticed the high pitched
steeple of a marble church upon the final hill. The graveyard which sur-
rounded it was overrun with purple roses.
Exhilaration coupled with anxiety as the great flying thing soared
low through the thoroughfare of the divine. As onlookers from below
gawked at her grandiose entrance, the reality of Aeffinea’s quest fully
consumed her. Speeding past the temples, she made out a priestess of
Shi holding her hands to the sky who was performing the flame-in-
darkness warding sign in her wake. At that moment, she recognized that
her feelings of revulsion towards her mount had disappeared. It was
more than simple familiarity; she appreciated the beast and what it had
done for her. Her respect had been earned, she knew that without it she
would still be wandering hopelessly within the badlands or lost within
the Blue Ocean. It had brought her here quickly with a competence for
navigation she greatly wished Jax had possessed. As they approached
the imposing tower of ivory, she took the reins, saying, “Unotu appa...
and thank you.” Circling twice, it bent itself in two, landing on its faces
upon the cobblestone. Dismounting slowly, Aeffinea attempted to work
the cramps out of her saddle-sore legs. So pleased was she to be upon
its face, she wished to embrace all of Demar. But she dismissed the
thoughts, knowing that the growing crowd was watching and judging
her dignity. Before she could even place her hand upon the great flying
thing to offer thanks, it capered into the air, flapping so heavily the loose
dirt of the street rose and spattered in all directions.
The exhausted freyaen smiled, wiping the grime from her face as
she strode into the temple. Even in their absence, the tower had re-
mained as if it had been attended on a daily basis. With each step she
took upon the spiraling staircase she thought of a different face from
her quest. A pang of regret moved her as she thought of Atlas. From
what she had been told, it seemed that he had helped her, perhaps even

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saved her, but in the wake of her betrayals, even an act as noble as that
would not win her trust. Ascending the next step, she wished him well
and hoped he would find his way through the badlands, mountains,
hills, and other dangers that now separated them. In the future, they
could stand beside each other and build a new order. In this last battle,
Aeffinea would stand alone. Her opponent’s face crept into her mind:
his skin was paler than hers and his teeth were longer. Still, it was
the face of her first love and the thought of killing him filled her with
nothing but sadness. Reaching the top of the steps, she traced her hand
along the door to Gahlodi’s dream prison. Kneeling, she immediately
fell into the longest daydream of her life. It lacked concrete detail
but was filled with music. Upon awakening, she sensed that the Long
Night was upon K’Vega-Thale, but even within that grim omen, she
found her spirit lifted with the hope of dreams.
Days turned to chains as she waited. While the luxury of this pala-
tial temple eased her body, it left her mind free to wander far. Images
of Tilane savaging Verar played through her mind’s eye, climaxing with
Tilane’s fangs impaling Verar’s neck and severing his spine. In Verar’s
last moments of life, his face became Aeffinea’s. Each time the door
opened, dread flooded through her form only to dissipate as she found
a peasant or pilgrim upon the threshold. Their questions were a wel-
come relief from the thoughts which filled her open hours. Most simply
stayed for an hour or two, a day at the most; however, one girl lingered.
She was young, just past the bud of puberty. Her face was an echo from
a future that could never have been, with eyes that reflected the truth of
Aeffinea and Tilane’s union as if they were mirrors.
Cornering the girl in the butterfly-filled atrium towards the rear of
the temple, Aeffinea demanded in a tone that did not hide her disdain,
“Who are you and why have you come, kalfar?”
Flipping her magenta hair from her face as she rose, the bright-pink-
eyed girl tested Aeffinea’s gaze for a moment before lowering her head
submissively. Her silky mauve skin and elegant facial features would
qualify as beautiful anywhere in the world and seemed to be in perfect
harmony within these ivory walls. A low, timid voice issued forth as
she spoke, “Prayer is what has called me here, as it has on each of the

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goddess’s days since my brother left. Each time I come upon the Day
of Elegance, I stay a little longer, losing myself more completely as I
reflect upon her awe. You are the first person that seems to belong here
that I have encountered since I began my regular attendance. My name
is Kelra and I humbly beg your forgiveness. I did not mean for my pres-
ence to disquiet you.”
So lost had she been in the phantasm the girl stirred loose, Aef-
finea had not even made the connection, “You’re Ionesa’s younger
sister, aren’t you?”
A deluge of emotions answered the utterance of his name. As time
slid by in silence, hope extinguished within her eyes. With each word
Kelra spoke her voice rose, “On your face I see you detest me, for the sin
of my birth but I beg you, tell me... tell me what you know of Ionesa!”
After a delicate pause, Aeffinea spoke with a tongue filled with
kindness, “As Elsam crested the sky; I was kissed with life just like
your forebears. Being dagga taka, I’ve shared the stain of your first sin
all of my life. And having been in love with a wolf, I know your second
sin intimately. The forgiveness is mine to ask for, you... remind me of a
pain that is too tender to mention. We fought side by side, your brother
and me. He was the most fashionable man I’ve ever met. Yet his flair
did not hide his honor. I treasured him as a member of the Knights of
Elegance and more so as a friend. He died upon whitewashed rock in
the cold as we were beset by a relic from a bygone age. With the soul
of a warrior he fought, but in the end his fight was done. His soul has
risen on wings of fire and now wanders upon the Islands of Freedom in
Cinder’s eternal love.”
Fighting the fall of tears, Kelra nodded gracefully, “Thank you for
telling me the truth. Now that I have heard your news, there is no need
for my vigil to persist. My presence shall disturb you no longer.”
Recalling the horrors of Ionesa’s upbringing, Aeffinea realized the life
path that lay before Kelra. The city of Trade left no one unused. “Non-
sense, you shall do as your brother wished. Your future is within these
halls. You shall be...” Aeffinea’s mind raced, attempting to find a solu-
tion that would keep Kelra from the horrors of the streets of Trade, “My
squire. Your first task shall be to cut new roses for this vase. Then...”

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Aeffinea turned casually as the temple door opened. The glittering of
ruby against the late morning sun caused her to let the glass vase slip from
her grasp. As it shattered upon the floor, she locked eyes with Tilane.

217
25
“You!” the word lingered in the air after shattering the silence which
separated the knights. There was no longer a place between them for
anything but the violence of death. Looking into his beautiful eyes, she
saw a future plagued with regret for what she must do. But in those
same eyes, she saw not a hint of regret for what he was about to attempt.
The knowledge that she had been but a dalliance to him of no more sub-
stance than the vapor of a misty morning evaporated the last ounce of
compassion she felt towards her first love.
Loosening his twin axes, Tilane stepped towards Aeffinea as she
drew Valdyr Daudadagr. With a scream, Kelra fled the room. Seiz-
ing advantage in the moment of her distraction, Tilane sped towards
the staircase. Without hope of matching the fleet-footed fey, Aeffinea
grabbed the nearest tapestry. Carelessly dropping the woven image
of Jax upon the floor, Aeffinea hurled the rod which had supported its
weight at Tilane. Like a javelin, the rod’s flat head struck Tilane in the
thigh, causing him to stumble and crash upon the steps. Aeffinea sprung
across the room and lunged towards Tilane. Overzealous in her attempt
to behead him, she exposed an opening. Aided by the momentum of
her leap, Tilane’s counterstrike landed devastatingly. The backhanded
swing of his throwing axe connected flush with her stomach, doubling
her over as the air was driven from her body. However, the awkward
angle of the blow caused the axe to fall from his hand and skitter to the
floor below. Even with airless lungs, Aeffinea pushed forward – the
sweet Song that called from above reminded her that she could not lose.
“Never could maintain control when it truly mattered. Despite your
training, you fight as clumsily as an ogre executioner with a heading
sword. Did you not think I would be capable of moving, mindless girl?
That idiotic confusion that consumes your countenance reminds me of
a deer struck by an unseen archer, too stupid to realize it was about to
die,” Tilane hissed the words through gleaming fangs. But Aeffinea
slammed into him before he could launch another strike. Reminiscenc-
es of intimacies once shared in similar positions were conjured in each

218
of their minds as they struggled to assert their will. While attempting to
keep his left arm pinned, Aeffinea was forced to allow him an opening.
In the first moment of contact, she was reminded of the soft kisses with
which he used to paint her body as he slowly dragged his fangs across
her flesh. The piercing filled her mind’s eye with the horror upon Verar’s
face as he was entered. Screaming in equal parts for each of them, she
fully grasped the horror her people were created to unmake. And as her
forearm shattered under the force of his jaws, she knew that Tilane would
be the greatest part of her call, of her quest. Holding her composure un-
der the pressure of pain, she wrested the axe from his grasp. The space
separating them allowed her limited mobility, but it was just enough for a
pommel-whipping. The hilt of her sword connected four times with his
skull before he withdrew. Her onslaught left his face a crimson mask – a
color he shared with her in a desperate head-butt. As she staggered back,
he sprung to his feet and grabbed her pink hair in both hands, forcing her
face forward. So tight was his grip that he nearly ripped her hair from her
head as he sent her face crashing into his knee again and again. Instinc-
tively, she lashed out with her blade as she fell from his embrace. The
blind blow from Valdyr Daudadagr found Tilane’s calf, cutting deeply
into his flesh as Aeffinea collapsed and tumbled down the steps. Hesi-
tation held Tilane as he pondered whether to finish her off or claim his
prize. “With one swing of my axe, your pointless fantasies and pathetic
ideals shall be ripped from this world. Do not be jealous. In the intimacy
we shall share, I’m sure she’ll think of you.”
By the time Aeffinea recovered, Tilane had vanished up the spiral-
ing staircase leaving only a trail of blood in his wake. Pulling herself
to her feet, she took the stairs two at a time. As she reached the top, she
saw the limping Tilane. The ruby tongue glimmered in the faint torch-
light which illuminated the hallway. Ever so slightly oversized, the key
only entered the lock by force. As Tilane inserted it, Aeffinea’s heart
stilled with anticipation. The former lovers stared into each other’s eyes
as the door opened under the key’s twist.
Purple smoke poured in serpentine gouts of sound from the entrance-
way. The cacophony of awe overwhelmed their senses, causing tears of
every emotion to flow down their faces. Silhouetted past the undulat-

219
ing silver-shadowed purple wisps was the form of earthbound beauty.
Hypnotized with anticipation, Aeffinea peered intently into the forbid-
den space were dream met flesh. Disbelief gripped her that the day was
finally here. Shuddering under the weight of a thousand ill-conceived
thoughts, she calmed herself as her body began to glow. Glancing at
Tilane, she thought that perhaps there could be forgiveness. The sounds
of the song that called her to quest echoed with unfathomable rever-
berations. The music came louder and more pure as the form behind
the mist became more substantial. As the purple haze of the dreaming
curled into the hallway, Aeffinea was held as if by sleep paralysis in
the presence of this consecrated space in which desire, lust, and love
mingled in equal parts tangible and ephemeral. In that moment, she
grasped the essence of these emotions.
Fright filled her as she fought to battle back to her epiphany as it
evanesced into the astral. She collected herself from the steps as the
dizzying pain from Tilane’s kick dissipated. Utter horror gripped Aef-
finea as Tilane led Gahlodi by the hand through the forbidden gate of
dreams. Tranquility abandoned Aeffinea as a deluge of ogre-like rage
filled her soul, snuffing the glow from her skin. Never had a desire for
dominance so utterly overpowered her will. The idea of her former
lover touching her ideal sickened the freyaen.
Gahlodi strode hand-in-hand, serenading the man who wished to
annihilate her. The siren’s plumage and shark-blue skin was a sharp
contrast to the temple’s sand white walls. That difference coupled with
the fading fog of the Dreamlands made her shapely nude form stand
out as if it possessed a greater degree of life force than anything around
her. “This ends now!” Hate burned behind Aeffinea’s eyes as her gaze
locked with Tilane’s.
“My dear, it already has.” Tilane replied with the candor of a gentle-
man. “I have taken my prize from Cinder’s Song Room. By the rules of
the Knights of Elegance, I am her owner. I am the Keeper of The Song.
Know, my love, that this Song shall be kept gently in darkness until her
last note signals the end of the world.”
The fey lovers locked eyes as Aeffinea stalked towards Tilane,
“Stop singing! He’s going to kill you!” Gahlodi continued singing,

220
arm-in-arm with Tilane as if Aeffinea was not there. Through tear-filled
eyes, Aeffinea watched Gahlodi acquiesce to Tilane’s caress, the contact
breaking her heart on each side.
“Do you wish combat? Or simply attention?” The stark truth of
the questions froze Aeffinea’s hand in space as a prickling, numbing
sensation filled her body in the words’ wake. “Don’t worry yourself,
light-eyes, this has nothing to do with love. Not for either of us. It is
simply what must be done,” a look of sincerity filled his countenance as
he smiled regretfully.
As her rage subsided, Aeffinea said, “I... I can’t let you do this. She
will not be an accoutrement upon your altar to oblivion. Even now, it is
not too late Tilane, come back. Pull back from the edge of darkness.”
Conflicted concern broke Tilane’s calm visage, as he carefully pon-
dered his words, “Light-eyes, if I was ever on the edge of darkness,
it was only in those rare moments when your heart eclipsed my life.
Know that I do this for a world in which nothing ever has to end... this
way,” there was long silence between them before he spoke again. “It is
not profanity but perfection in utter glory that lies at the other end of the
hole. In ignorance you look upon Ahriman as a profanity, but it is the
people of this world and the faiths they hold dear which are profane.”
Caressing Gahlodi, he continued, “The herald of the world’s end has ar-
rived. And though she was never... my wish.” His words held long in
the air as the once lovers’ eyes locked. “Gahlodi is mine and she shall
sing as the world ends in the annihilation which is the Shadow Purge.”
“Life is not broken!” she spat back at him furiously. “It is ugly, vi-
cious, and imperfect. It is full of tears and hate – but it is more. And that
is why you are here. It is love and your master knows that, while love
exists, life is too strong to be ended. I know you see the beautiful face of
creation for I have seen it through your eyes! In the well of your memory
is such beauty that I – no, that we – fell in love! Lie as you like, your truth
cannot hide from me. It is in your eyes. Come back... stay with me.”
The look upon Tilane’s face made it obvious that her words had
affected him. Reaching out, he interlocked his fingers with Aeffinea’s
hand. Rubbing her fingers back and forth across his, reconciliation
seemed very real. As the hallway became silent, Aeffinea cast her

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gaze upon Gahlodi. The Song was quietly watching her knights with
a disdainful look.
Pulling his hand from hers, Tilane said, “Enough of this! It cannot
be the way you want it. No longer will I entertain this cruel fantasy. My
love, your purpose had already been served long ago. Prepare yourself
to die again,” he hissed, tossing Gahlodi to the floor, he struck at Aef-
finea with his axe. “You will not have her!”
Surprised by his outburst, she replied as she parried back his blow, “Fine,
take her. I will let you have her if it means you will stop this madness.”
Tilane snarled, “Those words were not for you, but for the shark-
skinned succubus upon the stone floor.”
Regret clung to her words like an odor, “Damn your Shadow King.
Don’t you see? In these moments you are made. And after them all you
are is the result of your own decisions. Be more than an interchange-
able heart under the thespian’s mask. There is capacity for so much
more within you, why play this horrid role? This is not you! It isn’t!”
Dancing around him like a needle through cloth as she pleaded with
him, Aeffinea established her range. Using her longer blade, she fought
defensively, until Tilane overreached. The opening, though minuscule
and momentary, seemed immense and eternal. There was no thought
in her reaction. Valdyr Daudadagr cut through Tilane’s leather jerkin,
sending pieces of copper studding and hide to the floor along with her
lover’s blood. As she breathed again, thoughts of their life together van-
ished from her mind. Blood gushing from his stomach Tilane launched
himself at Aeffinea. Twisting out of his way, she hooked his ankle with
her khopesh. Falling forward, he tumbled down the steps out of sight.
The stillness she had achieved during combat fled under the ex-
ploratory touch of Gahlodi’s hands. Aeffinea’s heart beat rapidly as a
cacophony of thoughts roared through her mind. Silent clarity reflex-
ively replaced turmoil as her body responded to Gahlodi’s kiss. Pain
was pushed aside as the feelings she had fought back for so long, over-
whelmed her. Between kisses, she told the beautiful shark, in a breath-
less, husky tone, “This is not something you have to do.”
“Like all who stood before you, my knight, I too shall be con-
quered. Finalize your courtship by sating yourself upon me.” The

222
words in silted Dazazyaese aroused Aeffinea to such heights that she
nearly forsook her vow.
Not until she pulled away from Gahlodi did Aeffinea realize that her
would-be lover had stripped her nude, “No... I swore upon the wind that
you shall know freedom. No one will know you as slave.”
Gahlodi only responded by positioning herself as a prize with back
arched and large cheeks spread. The sight of the Song’s sex so com-
pletely overwhelmed the freyaen that she too became victim to the in-
toxicating desire for conquest. Through twisted instinct, Aeffinea squat-
ted behind the object of her quest and began to perform the male act
upon her as best her form would allow. As their hips slapped together,
Gahlodi began to sing again.
In the rapture of her lovemaking, she never heard him until the
sounds of his entry filled her senses. Her ears rang from the internal
puncture of the wolf’s fangs. With pressure mounting against her verte-
brae, orgasm shuddered through her form as her windpipe was crushed
under his intrusion. As her neck broke under the force of his bite, she
relaxed submissively, rolled back and whispered into his ear, “Don’t do
this to her... in your soul... you are better than this.” Aeffinea kissed Ti-
lane a final time as the essence of her life slipped away. Falling from his
mouth, the golden glow faded from her pale skin as she passed through
the realm of Luk-Coo into the land of T’Hool.
Lightheaded from the taste of her exhilarating blood, through wide
eyes, Tilane mouthed her last words. His mumblings ceased at the inter-
ruption of Gahlodi’s finger upon his lips. As her other hand slid down
his body, he absently murmured in F’Tashan, “What are you doing?”
“Giving you what you want, what you won. What you need.” As
she attempted to undo his belt, her words were reduced to gurgles as he
squeezed her neck tightly.
Rage twisted his stunned countenance into an ogre’s mask. “Give
me what I want?” he snarled. “All I want lays naked and dead, broken
upon the stone flood!” Pointing at Aeffinea’s body, he hissed, “You
seduced her, with your thoughts through the dream and with your flesh
in this hall! For a moment in our trance-merge, I thought... I thought
her light could offer me more. I thought we could be as one and this...

223
this thing I must do,” he paused for a long moment, still squeezing the
siren’s throat, “could be passed from me. But I see clearly in the cruelty
of your greatest virtue that what I was born to do must be done. Tempt-
ress, I am not your conqueror. I am your executioner. Keep yourself
silent, you will sing again only on the appointed hour when you call for
the war that ends the world. This last song will be sung by the blood
which gushes from your ripped-out throat.” Dropping her to the floor,
he added, “Never touch me again.” Sitting upon the floor, he pulled
Aeffinea’s head into his lap, carefully stroked her pink hair, and whis-
pered through bloody lips, “If only we could have been.”

224

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