A.S. Etaski

Free Stories

The Sister Seekers begins deep underground, its residents living and dying in dayless night.

Sirana leads the reader through much of the tale, but there were always others around her with their own stories to share.

Etaski has written many side-stories from the view of characters who crossed paths with Sirana at some point in their own journeys. These stories are all interlinked, yet most can also be read on their own.

“I am so very thankful for these side-stories. Sirana’s journey was a pleasure but reading these books was pure exquisite indulgence. I absolutely loved very little bit of detail and backstory. Thank you so much.”

– Patron on Discord

 

Etaski writes dark erotic fantasy stories intended for mature audiences.

Featured Stories

Rohenvi

A Dark Elf heir seeks to stand as both a Matron and a Mother in Sivaraus.

Author rating for explicit
sexual and/or violent content.
2 out of 3 black rune daggers rating for explicit sexual and / or violent content

Vian

Sergeant Vian must bond with a Dragonchild, but she need not try alone.

Author rating for explicit
sexual and/or violent content.
2 out of 3 black rune daggers rating for explicit sexual and / or violent content

On Literotica

 

Etaski began posting free erotic stories on Literotica in 2012. Science Fiction and Fantasy has always been her favorite to write, often incorporating elements of Horror, as well.

She has more stories in settings for subgenres including gothic and urban horror, alien and futuristic dystopia, gritty noir, evil fey fantasy, and once (upon request), Star Trek’s planet of Vulcan.

You can find more stories by Etaski for free on Literotica.

Rohenvi

© by A.S. Etaski in 2016

This story is a work of fiction and intended for adults only. All rights reserved. www.etaski.com

 

Her Matron gripped her wrist. It hurt, but she bore it bravely. She did not blink, even as she felt her Mother’s gaze in the pitch dark like a hot blade pressed to the hollow of her throat. She was pulled closer, stubbornly down, until the Matron could whisper without anyone else hearing. The young Davrin had to hope part of her ear was not bitten off at this last moment, if only for her to have something by which to remember her.

“You can never show what you really are,” the dying Elf hissed. “Y-you are my sole heir, First Daughter. S-soon you will be Matron! Make it quick. L-leave me to suffer and you sh-shall run afoul my l-last weapon. It will come for you instead of them. Kill me… Quickly…!”

“Where did they strike you?” Rohenvi asked, feeling the tremors begin in the scalding, sweating body.

The Matron-Mother clutched her Daughter’s hand and clumsily slid it to cover her waist, where Rohenvi could just feel the break in the fine fabric. It was a very small hole.

“Quickly,” the Daughter agreed, embracing her Mother tightly to her and reaching for the hard-cased needle at her own belt.

It was the closest they dared be to each other in six decades, when the inevitable tests arose between a Mother and her Daughter. Would the all-too-necessary heir be a puppet, pliable and useful but lacking the necessary initiative to maintain power after her Matron’s death and thus dooming the House’s standing? Would she be a subversive competitor undermining her Matron’s and her House’s image well before her time as she dealt with the plots of any siblings?

Or would the First Daughter be a cooperative extension of the ruling Matron during her lifetime, loyal but always ready and waiting for her Matron’s passing? This was the best-case scenario for any House, assuming there were no latter-turn regrets to fray what should be clear severance at the end.

Matron Thalluen had worked hard to assure this cut was clean, and Rohenvi would not disrupt it now. She used the same puncture wound made by the poison dart to deliver the glass needle, breaking it and letting leak the rare toxin. The First Daughter had been holding on to it for three turns now, staying out of the plot as her Mother willed it, making her seem the pliable puppet to the Court…except for this one eve.

The First Daughter had waited out in the darkness to see if her strong, determined Matron made it out alive. She had, but it wouldn’t last. Finding Rohenvi, her Mother had pulled out the dart in her haste; her Daughter would have to find and recover it before she dared leave. For now, she held her Mother, feeling the heat lessen and the rampaging heart slow. Rohenvi exhaled, silent and sure.

Matron Thalluen’s mind would go black; she would fall into her last Reverie well before her tongue and glands swelled up and closed off her throat to choke her. She would be asleep before her eyes would bulge and begin to bleed. The pain of her entrails and her inner organs would cease as her heart simply stopped and her lungs quit drawing air.

Matron Surenat of House Thalluen would not suffer, and she would not leave behind an ugly corpse for witnesses. Whoever was watching now this moment would see this, and they would not come after her Daughter. They would let her live to rule in her Noble Mother’s stead, because she did not hesitate to do what needed to be done. She had proven herself worthy.

Rohenvi held the body for as long as she was allowed without seeming too weak or mournful. She lifted her head, swiveling her head to move her ears, inhaling above her Mother’ sweat. She could sense nothing, and might figure she was not being watched.

But she didn’t believe it.

Soon her Mother’s Head Guard came, having obeyed her last order and circled around on her lizard mount to wait a little longer. She dismounted now to help the First Daughter move the Matron’s body back to their House.

You can never show what you really are.

Last words as a lesson reinforced. Rohenvi had heard this many times. At different points in her life, it had meant different things. She could not show she was afraid of pincer worms as a child. She could not show she was covetous of her brother’s new slave as an adolescent. She could not show she was angry being jilted by a member of a Higher House at the last worship ball at Court, five turns ago.

“Here.”

Rohenvi offered the Head Guard her soup; the warrior tasted it without fear, and pushed it back. She smirked slightly and ate.

The First Daughter could still feel those emotions, could nurture them if she willed it—they all did—and she could act on them, possibly. But if she showed them, her competitors would know those thoughts well before she had any plan in place to deal with them—be it to deal with the adversary or the emotion itself.

She lifted her bowl into her hands to drink what her spoon didn’t easily capture, lowering it and making eye contact with the stoic female sitting across of her.

Stoic. The First Daughter—now the Matron, she reminded herself—licked the soup from her upper lip. That is how her Mother had gotten along for a few centuries, with stoicism. She had done well enough in her short time, had built their wealth and only just now raised their House from Thirteenth to Twelfth, and if all went well, Surenat’s “last weapon” meant there wouldn’t be any immediate retribution.

“How old are you, Fintre?” Rohenvi asked the silent Head Guard.

Her jaw was like stone. “Three hundred three, Matron.”

Almost her Mother’s peer. Now over double her own.

Surenat had only lived to be three hundred-fifty; she had birthed only one Daughter and had bet everything on that. Now Rohenvi thought she knew what it was that her own Matron had never been able to show. Not until the end. Surenat wasn’t really a Matron; she was a mercenary hired by herself, and Fintre, the Head Guard, was her Second. Her Right Hand. They didn’t want to lead an army, but they did want to get things done by their own wit and endurance.

Mercenaries also tended to die in their prime, and her Mother was no different.

Rohenvi wasn’t a mercenary, she knew. She wanted to live longer than that and be sure their bloodline would survive by more than the fortune of a single Daughter. If she didn’t, it meant her life would be half over in another few decades and it could all vanish in one assassination, as it had for many of the lower Houses, renamed and reformed again and again.

One hard and stealthy strike, on which the middling and lower Noble Houses were always on the cusp to suffer—the most recent, Rohenvi suspected, her Matron had gone out this very eve to prevent. In this last desire, Surenat had been successful taking it into her own hands. And it was her last mission.

She should have been a Red Sister or something, she thought, burying her expression in a taste-tested wine glass as the Head Guard stood vigilant between her and her Matron’s body. But then she came into the title of Matron very young as well, just like me.

There weren’t that many truly elder Matrons below the Fourth House, those longest-lasting Houses with Matrons who had somehow borne children, raised them, and avoided death past the age of five hundred. The Matrons were all young compared to the Valsharess, the Red Sister Prime, a handful of Her Priestesses, and those top tier Houses. Beneath the Matrons, the average warrior was younger still, as were the servants and the slaves.

Something got to everyone, sooner or later, and no one saw all their children survive to bear their own.

“Your…Matron,” Fintre began quietly, “was glad you did not take after her, Rohenvi.”

The young Matron lifted her head. “Hm? How so?”

A shrug of strong shoulders. “You can be content inside these walls. You figured out a lot of efficiencies Surenat always hated putting her eyes to, much as they needed to be done. A lot of the recent profits and fortune was because you took that off her plate, you split the work. You deserve your inheritance, Matron.”

The young Noble waited, keeping her face placid as she was taught. This was oddly blunt between the two of them—Fintre did not even use her Mother’s title for Surenat—but perhaps it had been this blunt between Mother and Fintre, and Rohenvi was only taking her rightful place in the eyes of the Head Guard. It spoke well for a relatively peaceful transition.

Rohenvi nodded, trying to be graceful. The Guard accepted that acknowledgment, but it didn’t bring out the same level of manners.

“And I take it you enjoy male company?” Fintre asked.

Heh.

“More than Mother did,” Rohenvi said, well aware that her Matron had barely kept males around long enough to plant the seeds. Surenat might not have gone through a second pregnancy at all if the first child hadn’t been a male. “I also want more children. Four, at least. I’ve already decided.”

Fintre nodded, her rigid face softening a bit to look somber and relieved at once. “Good. That’s good. Makes it easier, Matron Rohenvi.”

She just started to smile hearing how the other said that, then remembered not to.

Easier. Easier to do what your rank dictates you must.

Surenat probably only smiled when she was out with Fintre, when no one else could see her. Rohenvi wasn’t sure; she was only guessing.

“We will light the pyre at waking, Head of the Guard. You will stand with the rest.”

“Thank you, Matron. Long live our House Thalluen.”

At first, Rohenvi did not have time for male company at all, outside of seeing her brother travel from Court to stand at their mother’s pyre, to stand witness, before he would be sent back at some point. The siblings had a short eve to talk following the funeral, to plan over a hot drink.

“What newest whispers have you heard at Court, Azed?”

He smirked and shook his head slightly, blowing on the surface of his taze. “They become ever more ridiculous each quad-span, and quickly forgotten when they don’t come to pass.”

“I am sure I can judge that. Just speak.”

“You’re wasting your time, Roh. I do not need to fill your head with Court gossip. You want to hear it, you can come to Court yourself.”

“I have to stay here and manage our land.” She squinted at him. “You never would have argued with Mother.”

“She didn’t give two hangs about Court gossip. She never asked.”

The young Matron sipped thoughtfully. “Why are you at Court, then?”

Her brother, older by only two decades—nearly making them twins—just shrugged. “She didn’t want to sell me to another House, I suppose. She bought her information on the streets, she did not have to put me at risk using me as a plant, so she didn’t.”

Rohenvi planted her fist on her cheek. “Are you grateful?”

Azed looked toward the ceiling, considering. “Court has its own petty spites and dangers, I don’t think it is any ‘safer.’ If that was her aim. I figure she could never decide what to do with me.”

With no one else could Rohenvi talk this way; somehow their Matron had not given either of them much reason to despise her. She merely expected them to take care of themselves, be self-reliant, and punishments the Matron’s children suffered were no worse than Fintre’s among her own Guard—and for very tangible reasons. Even young Nobles could do stupid things to endanger their security—that was the only time the siblings suffered. Growing up here had been more like living in a fortress than a Noble manor.

Rohenvi scratched her chin. “Do you want to come back home?”

Azed blinked but considered the option. He was quiet until her cup was nearly empty, as he weighed a lot in his mind.

“I do,” he answered. “But…well, there is one mention you should know, the only thing I’m sure isn’t just gossip. It’s coming from too many places.”

The young Matron straightened her back and watched her brother, waiting for him to continue.

“Word is the Priestesses have renovated one of their floors in the Sanctuary to house male children, kind of like the Wizard’s Tower, except…I don’t know, something like embodiments of beauty as well as magic.”

Rohenvi didn’t understand. “You mean…they’re going to claim yet more sons from among the Nobles?”

Azed shook his head. “No, I mean they’re making new ones. The Priestesses are giving birth to children with mage potential, and they plan to share the males as…well, the word I’ve heard is ‘consorts.’ They aren’t grown yet, but they say the Valsharess is going to introduce them at a worship ball in the future, and the Nobles most worthy will be gifted with the first generation.”

Rohenvi frowned, looking somewhat ahead and to the side of where a Priestess might wish. “So fewer Nobles will be chosen to be Priestesses? The daughters of the Priestesses will simply fill the ranks, it will become a hereditary position, and they’ll just farm the males out for favors and further wealth. The gap between the populace and the Sanctuary will grow.”

She thought that might not be a good thing, but Azed shook his head. “That’s the odd thing. Whispers only talk about male children. No daughters that anyone has seen. Supposedly a gift from Braqth to increase our Nobles’ beauty and magic.”

So maybe the Priestesses had already worked out that danger and decided only on male children as less threatening. Could they select the sex that way, then? Had they grown that strong in their divine worship? That level of power granted by their Goddess was frightening to think about, but were the Priestesses making deliberate choices and showing restraint to keep the power balanced in their city?

Rohenvi kind of liked the idea. Better balance in powers meant greater longevity for them all. The Valsharess is wise. What if we can gain one of those children? Perhaps my first?

She smiled a bit. “We haven’t had a real mage in our line in a while. Almost certainly that’s why our House hasn’t climbed much. All the powerful Houses have a good ratio of children becoming sorceresses and wizards and Priestesses.”

“Which benefits nobody but the Sanctuary and the Palace,” her brother comment boldly.

Rohenvi frowned at him. “You know, most Matrons would demand I punish you for saying that in public.”

“Which is why I do not say it in public, Matron-Sister,” he granted with an appropriately gracious bow in deference to her, even as he tried to suppress his humor.

“Do not play so lightly,” she warned. “I will punish you if you place House Thalluen or me in a position that gives any excuse to others to doubt our loyalty to the Valsharess. I would rather not, because I know your wit is better than some females and it should not be necessary.”

Azed’s lingering humor vanished and he lowered his eyes and nodded. “I understand, Matron.”

And so she had made herself plain. Good. She nodded in satisfaction.

“If I may dare,” he continued somberly, “I thought instead you would like one Davrin with whom double-speak wasn’t necessary.” He hesitated. “I know I would. I grow tired of the Courts, and my loyalty is and always will be to my House. To you, Matron.”

Rohenvi felt her chest tighten—similar to when her Mother had been dying in her arms—and turned her cup around on its saucer. She frowned. “If we speak such in private here, and you should mutter something at Court, under some influence…perhaps it is better we do not speak at all about how we would see Sivaraus run. It is not our place.”

Azed didn’t argue the point. He had already been drugged and abused once. He had confessed to Matron Surenat eight decades ago, when he’d allowed himself to be trapped by some gleeful females shortly after arriving at Court. It had caused problems for a time, the things he had said—but at least they had been innocuous enough to vanish quickly from the memories of the Court when the embarrassment was fully harvested and the scavengers found their next juicy bit. New male arrivals like him were always most vulnerable.

“Let me come home, Matron,” he said, “and I will watch my tongue.”

Rohenvi pursed her lips. “What if I need your eyes and ears to tell me when the consorts are going to be introduced?”

Azed did not look surprised to hear that. “Truthfully? It will not give you an edge over the other Nobles. It is not first-come, first serve, it will be by invitation. I would consider other ways of distinguishing yourself, as Mother did. I could help you more with that than listening to insipid rumors cycle in and cycle out, and you would not need to worry about what I might say.”

She exhaled. “Give me a cycle and we will talk again about how House Thalluen might be distinguished, to be noticed for the consorts. If I like our plan, you may stay.”

Azed smiled, both wry and relieved. “Yes, Matron.”

Before he left her suite, her brother paused, watching her. “No one at Court would have given me that option, Roh. That I told you any preference at all means the ‘correct’ answer is the opposite of it. To keep me in line.”

The young Matron frowned. “So you were testing me, brother?”

His eyes were not particularly distinct; red and a bit of on the dark side. Still, he had had enough taze to be relaxed. “I meant what I said. You do not have to do ‘double-speak’ with me. But it is up to you, as ruling Matron, how you run the manor. We’ll talk again at your tolerance, sister.”

After Rohenvi took down her own ward to let him out, and put it back up again, sweeping her room to assure herself privacy, she continued thinking about mages. All Nobles had some basic ability—the standards in privacy and security that no one survived without learning—and really only the street commoners might not use magic at all except in pre-made items bought and traded from more powerful Davrin.

Despite the overall youth of the Matrons and the fast fluctuations among them, the final status was still overall consistent with magical strength: the more Priestesses, sorceresses, and wizards in a House’s living lineage, the higher up on the ladder they were. The work was harder when one had to contend with spells and potions, incense and gems; unlike what some lower Houses thought, winning a windfall of magical items did not make things easier, only more complicated. But managing that complication sorted out the powerful Matrons from those who merely managed resources and added to the Valsharess’s army under the Sisterhood.

The consorts, if what her brother had told her was true, would be a new way for Nobles to change their status more quickly. If they were willing to work hard enough with the new influx of talent in their blood.

Yes, Rohenvi accepted, knowing even before the next wake cycle that she would keep Azed here to advise her. I accept. I want the blood-sons of the Priestesses to sire my children. As many as I can manage.

Her crotch tingled a little in delight at the thought.

Rohenvi rarely left her plantation for well over a turn following her Matron’s death, as she spent time not only to reaffirm her share of crop farming and mining, but to get a handle on her information network with the Merchant Guild and the House army left behind by Surenat. A few of the previous contacts were willing to meet with the Daughter—only once Fintre found them and insisted on a meeting. Though Azed could not be present for any of them, his Court-honed insights and opinions discussed both before and afterward were valuable to her in setting up these new arrangements and stabilizing her inheritance.

Only once it was stable would she be ready to climb higher once the consorts were formally announced. If there were any outsiders waiting to take vengeance on a new Matron for something her Mother had done, it was easier to see ripples when all else was calm.

So far, so good.

A few other Matrons called upon her, either curious or seeking deal, but otherwise Rohenvi had to await the next worship ball to be formally recognized as the Matron Thalluen by the Valsharess Herself. That could be anywhere from five to ten turns, but that was alright with her. She had plenty to do in the meantime to keep her busy and build her House’s wealth and martial strength together.

All the better to prepare the adult-heavy House for new children. That was one of the long-wave patterns among the Davrin ruling Houses as well; roughly a century when there were more children to be raised, followed by two or three with few to no new births. Eventually, all the children were grown—like in her House—and now it was time to make use of the dusty nursery again.

It was not this way with commoners and slaves; those births seemed to be happening all the time and it was just a matter of constant training and drilling and negative reinforcement. Rohenvi knew some Matrons delighted in punishments, they were looking for excuses to dish them out and perhaps it eased some of their sexual tastes, too.

Rohenvi knew she took after her Mother in at least one way: the punishments were not pleasurable, only meant to train and show to all that willful transgressions would not be tolerated. The other clear message was that they were an unwelcome disruption to a calm, stable House, and if one followed the rules, they would not be singled out for undue punishment—unlike many other places.

There was an unspoken understanding of good fortune in serving her House. Her Head of Guard Fintre could carry the negative reinforcement out well in the spirit of their late Matron, and Rohenvi did not often have to step in herself—though she made sure to put the fear of Braqth into the first one who did try her tolerance and patience this far. The old one wanted to see if the new Matron could stand up when needed; Rohenvi proved that she could. The old one was also ready to die, so the young Matron did not hesitate to make it a graphic execution.

Otherwise, with enough food, enough protection, and genuine, uncontrived examples of what happened when one did not cooperate in the best interest of House Thalluen, Rohenvi had fewer issues with rebellious slaves, greedy servants, and bitter soldiers than she heard about from many Houses both above and below her.

She could appreciate all she’d accomplished in her first two turns, and so could Azed and Fintre—who always spoke frank when asked and never bothered with double-speak to kiss her ass and tell her what she wanted to hear. Rohenvi perhaps could not tell them—just as Mother said, she could never show who she really was—but she was grateful to her brother and Head of Guard for supporting her as much as they did. As much as it was in their self-interest to do so, they still did not do it for fear of her.

Rohenvi could never be sure if this was typical or a rarity in other Noble Houses, but it worked well enough for this one. For the moment, they weren’t a focus of gossip or drama, covetousness or aggression, and this was where she wanted to begin. With a solid foundation. Once she started competing in earnest for the consorts, then more Noble Houses would be talking about Matron Rohenvi Thalluen.

“You seem a little…well, bored lately, Matron,” her brother commented over taze, with just enough caution for her to take him seriously.

She frowned. “I’ve been busy, Azed.”

He nodded in agreement and waited for a beat. She rolled her eyes upward and sighed.

“Speak your mind.”

He half-smiled. “Usually when I saw a Court Noble acting like you, I knew to hide for fear my ass would wind up bared to her riding crop.”

“I’ve not been like that!” she protested.

“Not exactly, no. You have more than air occupying your head,” he said, starting to grin. “But the theory is the same.”

She wiped the corner of her mouth with a cloth napkin. “So?”

Azed shrugged. “Some have been curious if you take after Mother more than it would appear. You never choose a servant or soldier from either sex, not even to indulge in healthful massages.”

She exhaled in annoyance. “Who is talking about this?”

He shrugged. “The servants and soldiers. Mother usually plucked a female soldier or two, ignored most of the servants. The male soldiers never had anything to fear or to look forward to. For our sires, she managed to borrow a Noble cousin of Matron Tiel—always males who could fight, I’ll add—for a few quad-spans at a time.”

“You are asking me about my recreational tastes,” she repeated, narrowing her copper eyes at him.

“Do you have any?” he asked bluntly. “I wouldn’t know, I’ve been away.”

“My discoveries while you were at Court are none of your business.”

“Granted, but you have been working very hard for two turns, with none of it spent on pleasure. You want balance, Rohenvi, not sex only when you want to conceive. Even Mother wasn’t that celibate.”

Her expression would have wilted any male except her bold brother when they were in private.

“Here’s a question,” he began. “Do you know for certain you are fertile?”

She scoffed. “I have no reason to believe I’m not.”

“Ah, but if you get a consort, you want to be sure ahead of time, yes?”

Her brows lifted a bit; now she was listening.

“I did learn about a great many potions and spells available for the right price,” Azed explained. “To test for conception, to prevent it, to verify or enhance fertility—“

“I know about those, too!”

“But you haven’t sought any reputable sources for them yet,” he said with certainty. And he would know; he was often her messenger at the market. “You are the Matron. This should be well under your thumb before the worship ball introduces the consorts, not during or after when all the Matrons and their Daughters will be doing the same. And in the meantime…”

She waited. “What?”

Azed placed both his hands palm-down and atop the table where she could see them; an obvious sign that he meant no insult with what he was about to say.

“I’m not sure whether Mother ever told you this, but it is common for important females at Houses and at Court to test conception with a lower male prior to any binding deal for an heir-status male later. It helps the asking Matron’s negotiating power.”

He was right in that Rohenvi hadn’t known about that precedent, but she could follow the next logical conclusion. Otherwise many Houses would have First Daughters with undesirable sires. “Then they drink an expulsion potion?”

Azed nodded. “As soon as they confirm—with witnesses—that they conceived. The Valsharess and the Priestesses allow this. I am confident they will be watching Matrons who have this history—confirmed fertility—as they decide who gets the first consorts. If you are one of the few who doesn’t have it, it will hurt your chances.”

The young Matron shook her head slowly and chuckled. “So you ask me about recreation only to persuade me to make that my next turn of ambition, brother?”

He smiled. “You just need a nudge. You didn’t know there’s a precedent set that makes it acceptable to sample whatever low males you want until you conceive, but I’m sure you’ll find you can enjoy sex well enough on its own.”

Rohenvi did not thank him for this conversation, even as important as it proved to be. This was the reason, in reality, that “less useful” sons and daughters were sent to Court in the first place. There was no standard way of conveying things like this to Matrons and Nobles at large. One learned what one learned, observing and picking out truth from falsehood with varying success.

Perhaps it was time she left her plantation for a trip into the City.

“So,” Azed asked curiously, “how did it go?”

“Not very productive to be back only the next cycle,” she said as if she was sucking on sour fungus. “I was barely able to introduce myself to four apothecaries and confirm Fintre’s connection before they started throwing their sons at me! As if I would ride them atop their very counters!”

Her brother smothered a laugh. “I guarantee you that has happened once or twice, Matron.”

She made a face at him but commented no further on that. “In any case, I ran out of time.”

“Then stay longer,” he recommended. “A few cycles.”

“Our City has little use for high-class inns,” she objected. “Mostly for non-Davrin traders and secret meetings. Matrons don’t stay in them even a sleep cycle, Azed. If they are this close, they are expected to stay at the Palace.”

“Fair point,” he said. “And you do not want to stay in the Palace?”

“I do not want even to ask until the Valsharess formally recognizes me. Remember, we are trying to distinguish House Thalluen, not look like a beggar asking a room for rutting.”

“What about the First or Second Houses? They are close to the center and offer high-class rooms to Nobles.”

“I shudder to think of the price,” Rohenvi murmured, shaking off her cloak before hanging it on a wall hook.

Azed smiled lop-sided. “There’s just no pleasing you, is there, sister?”

She sighed. “I thank you for always thinking of alternatives. But I will simply have to keep it to cycle-trips and continue to spend my Reverie here for now. I am not ready to step into the Palace or top tiers. I will go into the City again next span. I have business to attend and some messages to write.”

The unspoken part, on which Azed didn’t comment, was the implication that Rohenvi intended to drag a City male back with her at some point. No wonder the merchants were offering up their sons to the young Matron once they understood she was casually “looking.” Just as she rarely saw central Sivaraus, few of the merchants had the time or connections to ever see the outer parts of it.

Both Matron and commoner were always working.

“Matron Rohenvi! Welcome back.”

“Hello, Polynia. Is your Mother here?”

“Oh! Yes. Let me get her.”

Rohenvi waited with a silent Fentri inside, her other two guards just outside the small shop. The main reason she returned to this apothecary for the fourth time was that they only had a young Daughter at the moment. No sons of mating age.

The Matron got a lot of work done as she learned for herself what potions were available to her and her House. She had taken to sampling a lot of them from Hirai’s Shop, those besides the fertility and pregnancy detection draughts so it wasn’t so obvious what she was doing. Still, the young Matron had had the opportunity to test those on two of her servants. They had worked, so she knew this was a reputable source.

Rohenvi also hadn’t made either of her servants try the expulsion potion, seeing the new mother’s face when her lower belly glowed a positive yellow after quaffing the detection position. Each servant wanted her child; they were ready. They were planning in their heads, practically as they stood touching their bellies, how they would add to the House’s strength. Their Matron approved.

Instead Rohenvi would keep the expulsion sample in reserve and wait for a soldier or another who might come to her begging for help to avoid a two-turn pregnancy. Fintre had already been quietly dropping the word here and there among the fighters, that there were options if something unplanned happened.

Sometimes it just wasn’t the right time, or the right sire. Occasionally one had been too drunk, or quite forced, or shamed. Even if few males would attack a female outright, that didn’t keep other females from using the males to humiliate a rival. Sometimes a soldier was just not ready to be a proper mother, not committed, and there was no adoptive female who would spend such massive resources on another’s offspring. It happened regularly; there was no preventing Davrin from fucking each other. They did not have the same reasons to abstain that she did; why would they? They were commoners.

In Rohenvi’s opinion, early expulsion was preferred over other practices she had heard about to deal with unwanted pregnancies: volunteering babies for sacrifice in the Sanctuary rituals for Braqth’s favor, and thus imprisoning the servant or the warrior for two turns, forcing her to bear it before going back to duty—while also planting the seed for resentful rebellion later at such treatment. Her Mother had never carried out anything like that among her fighting force, and Rohenvi did not want to, either. This might be why her House had not climbed much in centuries, but also why Rohenvi was excited about the consorts.

It was a way to change things without sacrificing newborns.

Rohenvi was doing her utmost to plan her family as well; she knew she would do what was necessary. She understood that the same option was not best for every female, and it suited how she would run her House. The Valsharess allowed them all the freedom to do as a Matron saw fit, so long as certain rules were followed.

Better to have all options open.

A City male entered the shop while Rohenvi was waiting, glancing around and holding a package beneath both his arm and his cloak. He blinked to see her present and she guessed he thought again on whether his errand with Hirai could wait.

Rohenvi always met one of two kinds of commoners: those with sly glints as they thought to curry favor with her, and those with fear or wariness to set them on their toes. This one was the latter, and she hadn’t yet decided if she consistently preferred one over the other. Either way, they always deferred to her.

At least the wariness in this one was the intelligent kind; she trusted her assessment that he was smart the way Azed was: observant and quick of wit behind intense red eyes. He was pleasing enough to look at, slightly better than common, for a commoner’s face. He was easily stronger than Azed from harder labor, a bit taller, and confident on his feet. He had to be a century older than her; how City Guard had missed him this long was anybody’s guess.

In fact, this one was the first male Rohenvi had seen in Sivaraus that reminded her of Azed and Fintre in one body. She hadn’t realized it until she saw it now, but this was the form that she had been looking for.

He bowed his head and turned to go without a word.

“Stop!” she blurted, and Fintre stepped forward immediately as Thalluen’s guard turned outside to block the exit. At the same time, Polynia and Hirai finally came out from the back, alarmed at hearing the Matron’s voice raised.

“What’s wrong, is anything wrong, Matron?!” Hirai asked, and Rohenvi only shook her head, watching her Head Guard.

“Show what’s under the cloak,” Fintre ordered the Davrin, low and calm. “Slowly.”

He tensed but at least removed the framed, hide-covered box, almost as long as his forearm and twice as wide. He lifted it with both hands to offer toward the counter. “This is for Shopkeeper Hirai. Just components for her potions. They are delicate and apt to spoil if you open them.”

“Convenient,” Fintre commented, keeping her warrior’s eyes on his every move, evaluating him at the same time as she took the box in one hand and transferred it over to Hirai’s waiting arms. “What’s your name?”

He frowned a little, rightfully concerned. “I’ve done nothing.”

“Strange name.” Fintre chuckled at his expression but urged him with a gesture. “C’mon. Your real one. Matron Rohenvi of House Thalluen would like to know.”

The young Matron kept her mouth closed and her stance graceful and dignified, as if everything was going to plan; meanwhile Hirai and her First Daughter stared at the standoff in her shop. The Matron stood with poise even though she had no idea how Fintre would have known that, yes, she wanted to ask this one’s name. This wasn’t the first time Fintre anticipated her needs.

The delivery male smiled then, like there was some private jest in what she’d said. He turned on his feet to bow his head directly to her. “Well met, Matron. My name is Ruk.”

She nodded; her face placid with a Noble’s mask. “Ruk of which House?”

He shrugged. “No House. Of Sivaraus. I travel the outskirts, sometimes with caravans, bring supplies to the City.” He indicated the box Hirai still held. “Like that one. May I have my payment?”

Hirai nodded, collecting herself as the owner of the shop. “Let me get it. Matron? You will not take him until I’ve completed my bargain? Just…my reputation—”

“I will not,” Rohenvi agreed, although it was curious the way this was playing out. She shows interest in one male—at last—and all assume she will just take him straight away? Maybe the stories of other Matrons weren’t as exaggerated as she had thought. It was an option, though an impulsive one. She could get away with it.

Ruk himself looked disconcerted, even as she came closer to get a better look at him, Polynia and Fintre still looking on.

“Matron?” he asked.

She ignored the question but not his voice at first as she inhaled his scent. The latter should have been off-putting—she could smell the travel he’d mentioned, the dirt and the aged sweat—but it brought to her mind moments of excitement her Mother had described to her as a child, following a stint “outside these damned walls.” How Surenat sometimes referred to their home, their plantation.

This male certainly came from far outside what she knew during an average cycle.

“Do you have stories?” she asked him.

“Your pardon, Matron?” he asked, confused.

“Stories. About your travels.”

“Oh. Ah, yes, Matron. But you don’t want to hear them—“

If he wanted to fan her interest higher….

“Does any female lay claim on you? Any I would need to ask permission?”

He was silent then, staring slightly up at her eyes with his mouth open a little. He closed it and remembered to look at her chin. He was hesitant to answer at first. “Ah…no. Matron. I hire on by the job. I am…in between jobs.”

“How do you get away with that?” she asked, intrigued. “Wouldn’t any ranking female try to claim you?”

She loved the look on his face; confident but respectful. “They try. Sometimes they succeed. It’s short-term on the fringe, though. Circumstances change quickly.”

Indeed, they do.

That was the perfect answer, she realized, still staring at him. He could be claimed for short intervals; he was independent, took care of himself, just as Mother had always taught her and Azed. He had stories he could tell her, conversation to be had, but he wouldn’t want to stay. She would only give him yet another story to take with him.

So appealing compared to the simpering, clinging merchants peddling their dull, cringing, or silent whores to the highest bidder, and she wouldn’t have to answer to another female. No attached favors or conditions to test her fertility.

“Is there a room I may rent, Polynia?” she asked the younger female behind the counter. “Just for half a mark. Undisturbed.”

The fledgling merchant smirked a little but nodded just as her mother returned with Ruk’s payment. Rohenvi stepped up to the counter and offered an additional coin to Hirai.

“Private negotiation is all,” the young Matron clarified.

The shopkeeper nodded and relaxed a bit. “No bed or desk?”

“Not necessary. Room for my guards would be nice.”

“You will have to come upstairs.”

Hirai offered a small room with a child-sized bed in it, many odd trinkets and some tiny books lying about, but nothing interesting or revealing about the shop owner herself. Soon enough, it was just Ruk in a room with four intimidating females. Rohenvi thought he was holding up very well; he had experience negotiating for himself, this was clear, and really only someone older than herself would stand a chance. The Matron was privately very excited with her serendipitous find and hoping they could come to an amenable agreement; she couldn’t really show it, of course.

But she was very direct.

“I would like to hire you for a job, Ruk-Between-Jobs,” she said with a smile. “It would require you to stay at my House for a time, but you would be provided a room and food, and my House’s protection. When you left would be paid an agreed sum and, if you like, my guards will escort you back to the center unharmed. You will be free to seek your next ‘fringe’ job.”

Ruk watched her with acumen. She imagined him combing over her offer in his mind even as the most obvious use for his presence at her House was still unspoken. Rohenvi could imagine Matron Yenura from House Bovritz not recommending an intelligent male for this particular task, but Rohenvi could not stand the thought of rutting with a male unable to engage her with words, whether or not she intended to abort the pregnancy once she caught. She had already tried the awkward, wordless sex; she wanted more fun this time, after thinking about what her brother had said.

“You make a sound opening offer, Matron,” he granted. “What would I be doing at your House, and for what length of time?”

Rohenvi and Fintre exchanged an amused glance, then they looked back. “Entertaining us with stories of the fringe, giving back a little work to House Thalluen in exchange for the food, and sharing my private quarters when asked. For however long it takes for me to conceive for the first time. You would be helping me test Shopkeeper Hirai’s enhancement potions.”

His eyes widened a little. He was not surprised to hear he’d be used for sex; he was surprised about the intended outcome.

Rohenvi continued with a large smile on her face. “You will come to no harm as long as you do not thieve anything, harm anyone, do not make contact with any from another’s House while you are in residence, and do not speak of my private tastes to any others once you leave. You will also not rut with any other females of my House. Your body is exclusive to me while beneath my roof, but only short-term. As you are accustomed.”

Ruk was appropriately sober hearing the terms. “I see. What happens to me if you do not conceive, either in short-term or at all? I am concerned with such a bargain being open-ended, Matron. I will gladly agree to never speak of your private tastes to others, but if conception fails, will you still let me go unharmed and short-term?”

Rohenvi’s expression sharpened. “Do you know yourself to be infertile, trader?”

“Ah…on the contrary,” he answered, showing discomfort, “I am aware of a likely daughter, though the mother did not confirm it before she died.”

She nodded smartly. “Will you submit to a fertility indicator potion before we leave here if I pay for it?”

He squinted a bit. “Those are not foolproof, Matron.”

Rohenvi was delighted with that response. She looked him over once again in appreciation. “Perhaps not, and they tend to make one a little nauseated, I understand. But agree to that and if it is a positive indicator, then I will agree to a fixed period of three quad-spans using Hirai’s potions, and if I do not conceive you still may leave unharmed. But I reserve the option to call upon you again if I so choose. The message would come from Hirai.”

“Getting a little forward in time, aren’t we, Matron?” he commented, daring to tease her if only because she had made it clear she wanted him.

Not to mention this was far more exciting than any other negotiation she had ever done.

“If you do not conceive and I am released, I ask that you not call on me again immediately,” he refined. “I would need a minimum period of three quad-spans to maintain all my contacts and remain known for hire on the fringe. Be missing for even six quad-spans and everyone assumes you are dead or compromised.”

“Agreed,” she said, lifting her chin but smiling. “Do we have a bargain, Ruk?”

He was just nervous enough when he exhaled for her to believe he took it seriously. “Yes, Matron Thalluen. I will take the potion and come to your House for three quad-spans for an agreed sum.”

A good sign that he was so confident of the outcome when he took his swig later on. Shopkeeper Hirai would know what was going on, of course, but Rohenvi saw no harm in the merchant knowing. Other Matrons did this, and Rohenvi had to test the expulsion potion sooner or later.

Her main concern was having good conversation for the next three quad-spans, in addition to at least decent, functional sex. She did not require him to be a stunning beauty, or sexually talented, or uniquely endowed. As long as he could become erect and climax inside her, as long as she became pregnant, she’d be content with the stories.

The stories did not begin on the way back to House Thalluen. Ruk sat beside her in the carriage but was nauseated from his first test, as expected, while Fintre and her guards rode outside on their lizards. The Matron also thought Ruk was contemplative, possibly reflecting on the fact that he had stepped into a shop to make a delivery and was now being escorted out of the densest Davrin population to a private plantation. Not dazed or bewildered despite the unsettled stomach but thinking. Again, like Azed, though unlike her well-groomed brother, Ruk most certainly needed a bath.

Rohenvi wondered how Azed would react when she got home. She hoped it wasn’t with petty jealousy; this had been as much his idea as hers! Her Head Guard had only shrugged, quite neutral toward the male trader.

*As long as he’s functional and doesn’t cause trouble,* the stoic warrior signed privately when Rohenvi asked her opinion.

The first was highly likely, following Hirai’s potion; it even had the side-effect of causing an erection in males. The second remained to be seen, but her own instincts weren’t sounding off and neither were Fintre’s. It was a good sign.

The House was still standing as they approached on the Valsharess’s road; Rohenvi noted this with dark amusement, even as Azed had proven quite capable watching over things for a cycle at a time when she granted him the authority in her absence—backed up by Fintre’s own trusted second, Honaqi.

The young Matron could not do this too frequently or there would be talking, and opportunity for conspiracy if another got the right leverage over her brother. She was well aware of how many letters he received from Court asking for an invitation to his House, the damned slits! But now Rohenvi did not expect to have to leave her plantation again for some time.

She would be entertaining her “guest.”

“Azed,” she greeted, climbing out of her single Uroan-drawn carriage.

“Matron, welcome back,” he said with a very Courtly bow. There wasn’t a hint of irony in his performance, and the servants always noted that.

She smiled and climbed down, turning to offer her hand to help Ruk out, but saw the trader was already well past the midpoint of stepping down on his own. He realized too late he should have waited for a sign from her, and it was surprisingly amusing to watch him try to stop mid-step, half-falling out of the carriage in the process.

Rohenvi allowed herself an elegant, confident laugh as she stepped to make space for the unwittingly clowning male, and more of her watching servants hid smiles behind their hands even as they collected the Uroan and carriage for later settlement. Ruk made his feet without tripping or falling against her, then immediately bowed to show he realized his mistake.

“My deepest apology, Matron,” he murmured, his face heating notably in the dark. “My hands are not very clean, I thought I would spare you…”

“I shall let it slide this once,” she said. “From now on, wait to be summoned to meet someone new. This is the First Son of House Thalluen, Azed. My brother by blood. Azed, this is Ruk, trader of Sivaraus.”

It was clear Ruk was only guessing when to bow; he began to, then hesitated, then confirmed Azed wasn’t bowing first and completed it with passable grace. Her brother’s face was placid but Rohenvi detected some recognizable humor as he mildly lowered his chin to acknowledge the other male. With his status, Azed did not have to bow to a mere trader, but his Matron-sister did not think he was insulted or contemptuous. He’d never be openly so without clear cause; he was too smart.

“I am famished,” she announced, and Chio from the kitchens stepped forward attentively so she turned to him. “Bring enough for three to the second guest suite as soon as may be. Include taze and something sweet.”

“Yes, Matron.”

She gestured for Azed and Ruk to come along and led the way herself while the rest dispersed to their duties, and Fintre to her own downtime. The Head Guard had already thoroughly checked Ruk’s person and took possession of his dagger and short sword, the small collection of pouches, a roughly hewn gem, the ring on his finger and earring in his ear, even his payment from Hirai— everything he’d had on him would be kept for when he was leaving, and he would not see them until them. Ruk hadn’t had a choice about that.

As he entered her House, the trader possessed only the clothes on his back, his boots, and his cloak. Rohenvi smiled privately to herself. Soon, he wouldn’t even be wearing those.

Azed waited while Rohenvi introduced Ruk to his room—not the largest guest suite, that had to remain open for a surprise guest of honor—but it was luxurious compared to anything Ruk had ever seen, she would wager. The commoner stared at the comfortable bed large enough for two, the private bath, the balcony and the wide floor space with a desk not far from a visiting area with a tray table and three plush chairs. He didn’t smile with any greed or glee, but he was aware of the wealth in which he stood.

“This is how you run it warm,” she showed Ruk as Azed took one of the visiting chairs, and the tub began to fill with splashing water. “Here is your soap. Now remove your clothing, set them here, and bathe yourself. Put on the robe there when you’ve finished. The servants will clean your clothes and bring new ones.”

“Will I not see this particular set again until I leave as well, Matron?” he asked.

She smiled. “Correct. New habits are best learned in new clothing.”

Ruk sighed softly and removed his cloak first to set aside, untucking his shirt from his pants before pulling that over his head. Rohenvi and Azed were both looking him over from their chairs when her brother spoke.

“You have a fair number of scars for a merchant, Ruk,” he commented.

“I am a caravan trader, First Son Thalluen,” he replied, pausing in removing his boots. “That type of merchant goes into the wilderness. We learn to use a blade out of necessity.”

“You can fight?” Azed asked curiously. “How well?”

Ruk shrugged. “Not well enough to evade the marks, First Son.”

“I see. What sort of creature caused those on the lower left of your back? They look ragged, like claw marks.”

“Rare Deepearth beast,” the commoner muttered with a nod, removing his boots. “I…didn’t get a good look at it before they chased it away.”

Rohenvi was grinning as she met Azed’s eyes. “He has stories.”

“Ah.” Her brother nodded like this made all the sense in the Deepearth to him.

Ruk dawdled before removing his bottoms, when he would be completely naked. He checked the water level and temperature first.

“I’d like to see the rest of you,” Rohenvi said bluntly.

Ruk loosened his belt, but he was tense as Rohenvi glimpsed the first white puff of pubic hair. Finally he simply gripped the trousers and pulled them down, bending over to pull them off his feet. He was mostly in profile but twisted to show more of his backside—probably by accident—and Rohenvi leaned a bit to glimpse his scrotum hanging between his legs as he balanced on one foot. Then Ruk tossed the pants aside and climbed into the tub, and she stared at his flaccid penis until it went out of view as he lowered himself in with some amusing sounds of surprise at the heat of the water. His face was funny, too.

She only realized her smile was a bit too eager—not dignified at all—when a glance at Azed showed him raising one playful eyebrow in comment.

*What?* she signed, her hand hidden from Ruk’s view in her lap.

*You’re acting as you’ve never seen a naked male before,* he signed back, blocking with his one leg lifted and crossed over the other.

She lifted her chin proudly. *Not one that was bold enough to bargain with me on his own, and has traveled. I like his roughness.*

*Indeed,* Azed signed with a nod of understanding. *No other bartered him?*

*No. He is independent.*

*Interesting.*

The sounds from the tub drew their attention back to Ruk, who apparently thought he had only a few ticks to scrub clean, and that was all. No lounging or relishing the luxury, no performance or posing. She always had thought a male Davrin with wet hair and droplets on his skin was alluring, if only he wouldn’t speed through each body part like a checklist.

Rohenvi thought it a waste of a full tub—they could have gone with a pitcher and a bowl in this case—but she was going back and forth herself how soon she wanted him finished. Males could not read the females’ minds, after all, and he was trying to please her. Plus, he was grubby; the water was probably collecting enough silt to turn the bottom muddy.

Oh, well. She’d have time to try again, maybe when her brother wasn’t present.

The trader seemed a little smaller, more delicate, when he donned the white silk robe and took the third chair, now nice and clean. He looked almost forlorn as the servants took away his regular clothes and brought their food. The three waited for the servants to rinse out the tub—by the look on one’s face, yes, there was a lot of grime—and take their leave before each plucking a small plate from the platter and selecting what they wanted from a communal assortment of favorite foods.

Ruk was either very hungry or he was simply used to consuming all he could quickly before something happened to interrupt him. Azed seemed to be drawing just as much amusement from this as she. The siblings looked at each other, smiled mischievously, and waited for the moment Ruk realized his hosts weren’t even halfway done and his first plate was empty.

“Oh, um,” he began.

“Do that again and I may find something else to fill your mouth while we finish,” she teased wickedly, and his face flushed with heat again.

“I will slow down next time.”

“Next time? You mean seconds? You can have more,” she said.

“At least if there’s any poison in it, you’ll show sign first,” Azed commented, and Ruk’s eyes went wide. Her brother laughed. “No, actually, that’s why the shared platter with guests. Fewer poison-detection spells needed and you know we’re not trying to drug you, although you did not even give me the chance to show you.”

The trader swallowed, but Rohenvi waved her hand. “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine. You’re paranoid, brother.”

“I have reason to be, I spent turns at Court, remember?” he drawled with a smirk, continuing the charade that was only partly a charade, all with the purpose of quickly solidifying the message that the siblings of this House were allies and not to be driven apart by a temporary stud.

Although, again, Ruk did not look about him with obvious greed on his face, and he was quiet but responded to questions in deference to her brother. Rohenvi was further reassured that she had made a good choice, and this could be a pleasant task on her path of ambition.

After they finished their sweets, Azed sighed contentedly. He signed a good eve, stood up with Rohenvi and Ruk following, and Rohenvi escorted him to the door. Azed signed again with her body blocking the other male’s view while he spoke at the same time.

“I have a few things to look after then I will be retiring for the eve. I will make sure you are not disturbed, Matron.”

*Not an obvious schemer,* his hands stated. *But intelligent enough to become one. Observant. Do not underestimate because he’s acting the fool to put us both at ease.*

“Thank you, Azed.”

Rohenvi signed an affirmative and let her brother out, securing the door behind him. She had only to half-turn to look at Ruk, who stood with his hands at his sides and a strange look on his face. She came closer to him, her hips swaying more as her confidence and interest rose. She studied his expression, as he was clearly offering her one.

“What is it, Ruk?” she asked directly. “Were you sorry to see him go, now to be left alone with me, as you agreed?”

“No, Matron,” he answered, trying to select any following words with care.

“Then why look as though you’re surprised? You’re clean, fed, rested. You might know what comes next.”

“I might, Matron, but the flavor of what was coming I did not know.”

“Oh?” She gently took his arm and led him toward the bed. “Tell me more. Be clear.”

“Your comment about filling my mouth with something else while you and the First Son ate…”

“Mm-hm?”

He watched her expression in return, trying to read it without saying more. She frowned.

“You are not being clear, Ruk.”

He looked surprised, and he backpedaled. “Ah. In that case, I apologize for bringing it up.”

“Bringing what up?”

“I’m sorry to concern you, Matron, forgive this fool.”

“Ruk!” She turned him to face her using both hands as they stood beside the unruffled bed. “You are not forgiven! I—”

She stopped as something occurred to her and she brought a finger to her mouth as she thought about it. “Wait. Our bargain. You agreed to be exclusive to me.”

“And not rut with other females, yes,” he said as if he wished they weren’t discussing the details of the bargain right now.

Rohenvi was enough of her Mother’s Daughter to see the hole she hadn’t realized before, but Ruk apparently had—and if he had seen it back at Hirai’s shop, he hadn’t even protested it. She felt more the fool for allowing him to see now that this unspoken part of the bargain hadn’t even crossed her mind until, as he said, he’d brought it up. Sort of.

It was too late to pretend to be anything else but caught flat-footed.

“No females, but perhaps other males,” she said, her eyes narrowing at him as he tensed again. “Were you hoping I’d keep my own brother here to share you between us?”

Ruk had a strong somatic response to that but he ignored his own body’s heat flush to try and read her, accurately and quickly as he could. Azed was right, this one was observant.

“It’s…not unusual among Nobles, as I understand it,” he said warily.

Rohenvi exhaled irritably. Did every male in Sivaraus know more about what other Matrons and their families did in their bedrooms than she did? Even though she was a Matron in her own right?

“What’s not unusual?” she demanded, letting the irritation and insult show. “Matrons rutting with their own brothers?!”

Ruk’s shoulders lifted as if he meant to cower at her voice raising. He started explaining, sounding rightfully desperate to speak now. “No! I mean, no offense intended to you or the First Son, Matron Thalluen, I beg your tolerance, I’d never presume to know! I meant only that some females enjoy using their status to command some males to rut with each other, especially to remind one or both…or more!…of his place. I thought you were suggesting you’d like to see my face in the First Son’s lap while you ate, that my mouth would be filled with his—“

Enough!”

Ruk snapped his mouth shut, and the room was blessedly silent as Rohenvi tried to collect her composure. She was furious—with him, and with herself—that she hadn’t seen any of this coming. So much for her elegant, confident appearance as a sexually experienced Matron!

Azed was right , she bemoaned to herself. She simply did not know enough about sex to pull off playing games. Mother had not encouraged the exploration much, and her own tastes never matched up with her Mother to learn from her… Except in the one way: public shows of power were nonexistent at House Thalluen. All pleasure and breeding happened behind closed doors, even if some were suspected of peeking.

Were some Matrons so…gleeful in letting others watch, then? She supposed she could see this. To be naked and doing various things, even conducting the show, and being confident someone wasn’t about to scrape a Matron with a poison needle or attack her without her armor on?

Mother would never have been able to tolerate that, Rohenvi thought with a huff as she sat down on the edge of the bed.

Ruk remained as he was, afraid to move at this point for fear of displeasing her further. Rohenvi felt her anger and embarrassment receding in the quiet, and her mind started working again.

“Have you ever been in that position, Ruk?” she asked curiously. “A powerful female instructing who you fondled and sucked, even another male?”

He swallowed. “Yes, Matron. …she was one who included her brother in her play.”

“Who was it?” she asked, nearly a demand.

“You would not have known her. She was from the fringe, like me. Not in your social sphere, Matron, and I’m not certain she is even still alive with how many enemies she made around her.”

“So she wasn’t a Noble?”

His smile was wry, but now he was trying—in his own strange way—to reassure her. “I’m sure she assured herself she was, Matron. Her mother had a creepy obsession with her own nephew, as I understood it.”

Creepy. Rohenvi had never really heard that word in this context before. The young Matron liked it. That was how this felt to her, to have the suggestion that Azed should remain here and laugh while Rohenvi commanded Ruk to do things to him…

As if her strong-willed brother would even sit still for it. He disliked being laughed at and had good reasons for it; as a result he rarely laughed at others. If nothing else, such a “show” would shatter the loyalty and respect he held for his sister, even being so young a Matron. She had listened to him when he’d told her how, at Court, his expressing any preference at all meant it would be used as a weapon against him. Clearly, Ruk was used to the same expectation from his females—even if they weren’t Nobles.

Rohenvi had not come up with a good reason to do the same as those at Court, and a better one to refrain. As long as she did not humiliate and laugh at him, Azed would watch her back. Like Fintre already did. Rohenvi needed her brother to help watch things around her; neither of them knew whether the House that Mother had attacked in her last mission had plans against House Thalluen or not, whether they would pay for the actions of their Mother.

Rohenvi pursed her lips and shook her head, her nose wrinkling. “Hmph. Well. Then let me be clear, Ruk. I will not ask you to ‘play’ with my brother. In fact, as an addendum to our bargain, I forbid you to rut with any other males, either. Just me, Ruk. That is our agreement now, and that was our agreement back at Hirai’s shop, whether you realized it or not. For the time you are here, you are to couple only with me.”

He nodded very quickly. “Yes, Matron. Thank you for clarifying.”

Rohenvi nodded, took a deep breath, and let her eyes trail over him. She was distracted, unsettled, flustered, a little too warm… and yet…

She blinked. Is his member pressing up a beneath the silk robe?

“Are you aroused?” she demanded.

“And relieved, Matron,” he admitted. “How may I pleasure you this eve?”

Rohenvi looked up at him, stared at his chagrin, looked down again at the bump of his groin, looked up again. Her jaw firmed. “Open your robe, Ruk. Drop it on the floor.”

No hesitation this time; he stripped and did exactly as she said. She watched the silk crumple onto her clean floor and drape partly across his bare foot, touching one of his ankles, and for some reason that one sight made her middle tight, her crotch tingling. She lifted her eyes up his legs to his genitals; he was partially erect, and she watched his penis pulse and lengthen a bit more under her gaze, lifting up from his tender sack.

Rohenvi had decided to wait for this part; seeing the size and shape of his cock. She hadn’t made him pull it out and show her when he’d become hard at the shop, although she could tell about everyone there had expected her to. It didn’t matter how it looked—straight, curved, bent, whatever—this wasn’t for real breeding, and she did not require a specific appearance.

In a way, she had wanted to be surprised, to save something for later. She liked his face, he didn’t limp, and he was functional. What more did she need to inspect in public?

Now, she could take her time. They were alone and…well.

He was all hers.

Rohenvi eagerly smoothed her hands up his thighs and he shivered a little, his erection pulsing again, as she took hold of his hips and positioned him just so in front of her. The bed, fortunately, wasn’t too high off the ground, so her eyes were almost perfectly even with his crotch. Letting go of his hips, she cupped his balls with one hand and wrapped her fingers around the other, massaging him, testing the impressive heat and vast array of textures—hard, smooth, soft, squishy…

Male parts are so fun.

She was staring at these particular parts closely like a novice, as if she’d never seen a male naked before, she knew… She should be embarrassed.

“I’ll remind you,” she murmured, “the bargain includes not discussing my personal tastes to anyone outside this room.”

He trembled. “I…I recall, Matron. Yes.”

“You understand the consequences if I discover otherwise.”

“Yes, Matron.”

“Good.”

She leaned forward, nuzzling his white bush first with her lips and inhaling through her nose as she still held him with both hands. She released his shaft and gently trailed her fingertips down his length, hearing him inhale in surprise at the sensation. She held just the tip, very delicately, and planted light kisses from the furry base all the way to the ridge of his glans, gently tugging on his scrotum.

The trader made further amusing noises as he struggled with how to express his feedback to her. She did not want to cause pain—he’d likely go limp on her—but she wanted to play. She left him to it, nuzzling and nibbling on his erection as it neared its apex.

She could detect a change in his scent, too, an added musk to his groin as she manipulated him, and this made her mouth water. She sniffed and licked him, stroked him once or twice at a time, noticed when he began to leak clear fluid from the hole at the tip. Impulsively she rubbed her cheek against it, smearing the pre-cum and causing both his glans and her cheek to glisten with the stretchy wetness.

“Mmm.” She opened her mouth and touched just the tip of her pink tongue to the dark phallus. My toys. My tasty, tasty toys…

“M-Matron, you do n-not have to—“

She closed her lips around just the head and sucked, her tongue slathering off the rest of the fluid, enjoying the taste. Nothing tasted or had a texture like this!

Ruk made a louder noise, a sucking breath of shock and he held perfectly still but for another quiver or two. He waited to see what she’d do next. Rohenvi gloated in her mind as she fed more of his member between her lips, stroking him again and again with her mouth, most of the way down, pressing her tongue hard along the plump underside.

Her trader had regained control of his breathing a short while ago and measured it. She glanced up at his face with her lips rolling wetly over the tip once again, and he had his eyes closed—but not squeezed shut. He looked stunned, or like he was floating. Drugged maybe. And he measured his breath, even as she could almost feel his quickened pulse through the cock in her mouth.

Rohenvi leaned in and took more, experimenting with how deep she could push him, whether it could be so far her nose was pressed to his bush and she felt him lodged in her throat… She’d thought about trying it, and so she did.

It took a few tries for her lips to reach his bush when she didn’t gag but eventually, she got it. She had no choice but to hold her breath and tighten her stomach down to keep it in line. She held his cock this way for several moments, swallowing to squeeze her throat around his tip and he made a delightful sound.

“Ngah!” he garbled, quickly swallowing the drool in his mouth.

She had also successfully messed up his breathing, she noted with glee. A moan escaped him, and he shivered as she withdrew, taking her fill of every slurping finger-width until he popped out—soaking wet—into the open air. He exhaled and she took hold of his hips again when he wavered on his feet.

“Matron…I…” he tried to speak. “Shall I reciprocate…?”

She was still catching her own breath after that. She shook her head. “No.”

Leaning to grab the smooth covers and pull them back, bunched near her right hip, she pushed him to drop onto the clean sheets. “Knees and elbows, ankles and wrists crossed. Present to me.”

Her trader was well aware this was the slave position, but now he seemed dazed as he slowly but surely settled onto the bed as she’d instructed. Rohenvi stood up immediately, admired his sack between his legs again—although this time it was drawn further up—and began running her hands along his back and flanks and buttocks, finding with her fingers all those little—and not so little—scars which Azed had commented on. Her sexy, common male wasn’t a perfect canvas, and yet he was a bewilderingly fascinating one.

She gently rubbed at his perineum, exploring it, and he tensed, the little purple star of his anus clenching tighter. She chuckled softly, stroking her thumb along the tough ridge, exploring it. She never had…explored like this. Nothing so relaxed. Simple. Slowly she realized that was all she really wanted to do for the first while: touch and taste him. He was only required to let her; he need do nothing else for the time being.

The Matron briefly rubbed at her netherlips through her gown, belatedly realizing that she was completely dressed as Ruk was nude in front of her. He had his face turned toward her, watching what he could.

“Are you comfortable?” she asked.

“Yes, Matron. This mattress is very easy on the knees.”

She smiled, peeked at his stiff rod bobbing beneath his belly, and teased, “Are you leaking on my sheets?”

“I’d rather not…if I can use my hand—?”

“Don’t move.”

Rohenvi reached underneath herself and stroked him again, squeezing out more of his pre-cum and drawing it across her palm. There, he won’t drip again for a little while .

She was sure to step out of his line of sight before she softly sniffed at her palm and smiled to herself as she looked at his ass…and knew what she wanted to do next.

Dear Spider Goddess, I’m not any less strange in my tastes than Mother was, am I?

She patted his left buttock with her clean hand. “Move forward a bit. Make room for me.”

Ruk obeyed, remaining silent but still hard, still a bit tense. She supposed, after what he’d told her about other females playing with two or more males…that he probably thought she wanted to penetrate him with something.

He wasn’t wrong, exactly…

“Uncross your ankles,” she said softly, her chest growing hot in anticipation, “spread your knees a bit.”

Soon she could kneel comfortably behind him as well, and she could also reach between his legs and take hold of his erection with her wet hand, using the natural lubricant for good purpose. His toes curled as he groaned again, and she grinned, squeezing her thighs together. Goddess, she was aching. And she hadn’t even undressed yet!

Rohenvi squeezed his left buttock with her free hand, using it to part him a bit wider as she leaned down, again choosing to nuzzle some of his most tender of places with her lips. He gasped.

“Matron…you…ah, y-you…?”

She kissed and licked very lightly, so dangerously close to his pucker, and it squeezed again in a most amusing way. She could feel a most intimate heat rising to touch her cheek; the blood was so close to the surface here.

“What is it, Ruk? You’re clean, aren’t you? You did a good job in my bath?”

He still sounded dazed. Maybe disbelieving. “Yes, Matron.”

“Has anyone ever licked your netherhole, Ruk?” she asked crassly, loving the sound of the words coming out of her own mouth, and his reaction to them.

He thought how to respond. Finally he said, “Not as you are doing, Matron.”

“Certainly no one of my status.”

“For certain, no.”

“Do you like it?”

He swallowed.

“Be clear, Ruk.”

“Yes, I like it,” he answered.

“Do you want more?”

“If…it pleases you, Matron Thalluen.”

She rewarded him with a few more kisses before flicking her tongue in light dabs here and there around the edge of that circle of delicate creases. He held his breath at one point, without intending to, as she teased and hinted at licking him full along his dirty hole…

She realized her hand around his prick had stopped, was merely holding him, and she checked again for dripping pre-cum. She caught what was there, and by the wizard’s staff, he was still so hard in her grip!

Finally Rohenvi took the leap and swept her tongue, flat and wide, across his entire anus and Ruk sucked in his breath, his toes curling again. She did it again, and he moaned but the toes relaxed more and she kept swirling her tongue, around and around the tight ring as she confirmed he had indeed cleaned well, even there.

She could taste her soap…but also something else distinct. More a mild taste, no real odor. Inoffensive, she decided, but hard to pin down. Just like tasting another area, another kind of skin, she supposed.

A very fun kind of skin. With lots of variety, texture, ridges and such sensitivity! His responses, and the playful reflexes, especially when she stiffened her own tongue, just like his prick, and pressed it into the tiny hole…

“AH!” he cried. “Matron…!”

She lifted her lips, her entire lower face a mess with her own saliva and whatever was left of his pre-cum from earlier. She missed the heat already. “Do you like it, Ruk?”

He was gasping, his head turned to the right and now his eyes were squeezed shut. “Y-yes, Matron.”

“Good.”

Rohenvi went back to exploring him. She lost track of how long she had her lips and tongue between her trader’s buttocks, even venturing again down and forward to his balls and back up, servicing him as determinedly as she’d heard some others required a slave to work at her snatch. She never grew tired of his reactions or the sounds escaping him.

“Please, Matron, have mercy,” he gasped at one point. “I-I may spurt over your sh-sheets soon…”

She lifted her head for the final time. “Oh, no, you don’t. Get on your back, Ruk.”

With another groan, he rolled, watching her in awe as Rohenvi expertly unlaced her own dress until she could pull it down off her shoulders and push it down to join his white robe. She stripped off the undergarments as well and tossed them impatiently aside. She realized her lubricant had collected so on her own netherlips that it smeared between her inner thighs the moment she brought them together.

He was cooperative—and quivering—as she crawled over him, straddling him as she planted her palms on his chest for leverage. Feeling confident, powerful, and not the least bit awkward—even if they were silent, staring at each other’s faces—Rohenvi mashed her sex against him, grinding until his pubic hair was matted down with female moisture, his cock so slimy in her excitement.

Soon as she could, she reached with one hand to move his pole into place, and…

Oh!!

He sank in so easily! Goddess, she’d never been this wet before! And he was stretching her; a snug, comfortable inside her, her swollen, puffy lips wrapped around him.

“Mmnn!” she grunted, pleased as she leaned straight up, squatting as low as she could. She reached to play with her aching pearl, rubbing and pressing it as she kept Ruk’s erection fully sheathed, squirming her hips some but without moving up or down.

Without being told, he bent his legs, bringing his ankles halfway to his ass and settling her soft buttocks against his thighs, helping to support her as she stroked herself harder and faster. His hands rested lightly on her thighs and his eyes were glued to her crotch—the way hers had been to his—and though odd, pained expressions passed his face regularly and especially when her cunt squeezed around him, he laid still. Ready. Waiting…

When the Matron of House Thalluen felt herself on the verge of climax, she shrieked once and grunted the rest of the way, thrusting her hips down on her chosen male to finally fuck him as she held on to her own crotch with one hand.

“Oh, Goddess…Matron…!” he gasped, a clear warning that he could no longer keep it back.

“Yes!” she cried, fucking him harder as she hit her peak and started coasting. She wanted it! She wanted his seed!

Ruk’s cock flexed and pulsed inside her as he lost control of his voice, practically barking in release right after her as he clutched her thighs, spending his entire load inside her. Warmth and satisfaction—and sleepiness—swept over her and Rohenvi sighed deep as she flopped forward, feeling the ridiculous need to sniff and kiss his sweaty neck just after cumming.

Goddess, he smells good…

Ruk turned his head slightly away to make it easier for her, offering his throat, and she grinned and sucked on his tasty neck even as she berated herself for un-Matronly behavior inside her own head.

She hadn’t wanted awkward silence while mating; she had chosen him for his stories and lack of connections. Yet they hadn’t talked much beforehand, hardly at all during…and she didn’t feel the lack.

“Wow….” Ruk breathed then, and a giggle bubbled out of her mouth at his infinitely flattering and appreciative tone. “You must let me reciprocate, Matron.”

“We’ll see,” she murmured. “Now roll with me so it doesn’t spill out. I need to be on my back and put a pillow under my hips for a while.”

“Mm,” he hummed, also seeming a bit sleepy but he rolled with her. “Why?”

“To keep your spending inside for as long as possible. Better chance of catching.”

He looked modestly amused as he carefully withdrew from atop her. “Does that work?”

She lifted her chin. “My Mother did it. And I’m here.”

“Ah-ha.” He nodded, taking on what seemed a genuine smile. “Proof positive, without doubt, Matron.”

She squinted, her suspicion blunted with relaxation as she fumbled for a pillow. “Are you teasing, Ruk?”

He reached up and tugged it closer, putting it in her hand. “Never, Matron.”

“Hmph.”

Soon she was in position, her butt propped on a thick pillow, and she had time to kill staring at her ceiling with her chosen sire lying next to her. “So I hired you for your stories as well as your erection, Ruk. Tell me a story while we wait.”

“Anything in particular, Matron?”

“You said you didn’t get a good look at whatever caused the claw marks?”

“I’m afraid not, Matron.”

“What about another beast, then?”

“I can do that. Have you seen a drake?”

“They’re small, aren’t they?”

“About the size of a ten-turn-old child.”

“Nothing bigger?”

“I try to avoid anything bigger.”

She chuckled at his eloquent expression. “Coward.”

But she didn’t really mean it.

They talked for some time into the eve and there wasn’t the least bit of awkward silence she had dreaded; not until Rohenvi had to get up to return to her own quarters. Even then, the awkwardness was only inside herself, hesitating to leave a warm, rumpled bed for a cool, crisp one.

Don’t be ridiculous. No true Matron spends the sleep cycle in the same bed with a commoner!

“See, I told you,” Azed said smugly, and she was in a good enough mood lately to let him get away with it. “You discovered your pleasure just fine.”

Ruk had been a guest in the House for the last six spans, and there were times Rohenvi wondered whether she could pour her bones out of bed after another bedding with him. While she always could make herself do the things which needed to be done around her own plantation, it was easier than it had been to delegate other tasks that she did not have to oversee herself. And Azed had noticed.

“I take it the soldiers and servants aren’t theorizing which direction I lean anymore?” she asked, cutting into her meal.

“No,” her brother commented wryly. “Now they’re theorizing how long you’ll keep your consort around.”

She frowned. “Three quad-spans. As agreed.”

“They’re taking bets for longer. You’re glowing, Matron.”

“Peh!” She ate a few bites. “No wonder Mother threatened them with tongue-swell potions.”

“They’re going to talk about something, Roh, it’s better when it’s you,” Azed said quietly. “My opinion was that if they’re talking about their Matron’s sex life and betting on it being longer and better than before, then they believe our House is stable and primed for growth. Just as you believe, yes?”

She nodded; her mouth was full, and it was unbecoming to speak right then.

“You’re trying to conceive, they know it. We’re all looking in the same direction, to grow. It makes them hopeful.”

She swallowed, her belly feeling…off at his calling that out. “But…they know it’s just a test, yes? I…can’t keep it, when it works.”

Azed had his mouth closed, and he shrugged. “When were you going to call for two Palace witnesses?”

“When do you think I should?”

“Anytime, really,” he said.

She stared at him. “What?”

“You’ve been eating more.” Azed took a forkful himself. “And…hard to say, but something is different about you.”

“What?”

“Just a feeling.”

“Don’t give me that!”

Azed smiled a little. “Well, for one, I’ve called you Roh like three times now and you’ve barely noticed. Matron.”

She scowled. “But…it’s only been six spans!”

“Two-marks-of-sex-every-other-cycle-regular-like-a-foot-march-six-spans,” he drawled. “And if the potions help and Ruk’s been that willing to please you, it wouldn’t surprise me if you caught already. There’s something to be said for Davrin willpower and being open to the magic working.”

Rohenvi thought on it more than once following that conversation. Open to the magic working…

Why weren’t the potions she’d been taking the first thing to come to mind when Azed had said that?

“Well, well. Confirmed, with witnesses, Matron Thalluen,” the Palace representative said with a nod. “Congratulations. Do we record the sire now?”

“Hm? Oh. No. Thank you, officer. He’s not here…and I am not sure I’m keeping it.”

The representative nodded, unconcerned as she packed up her scrolls with her smaller, male partner. Azed glanced at her but kept his face unreadable until after everyone had left and they had a private moment again.

“Not sure?” he whispered.

“You heard me,” she responded stubbornly. “And in any case, I have over four spans left of my bargain. I wouldn’t do anything until after that time regardless.”

Azed’s expression was one of refined, mock-bewilderment. “Well, the seed has been planted. Mother would have said you don’t really need him anymore.”

She poked his chest so hard he nearly yelped. “I will take my remaining time for pleasure, First Son. Do not tease me about that.”

He rubbed at the sore spot. “Yes, Matron.”

“Are you sure?” Ruk asked again, panting.

“Yes!” she answered, arching her back a little as he pinched her nipple just how she liked. “I am sure, Ruk. Do it. Take me.”

The crack of her ass was greased up so well it wouldn’t dry out for a quad-span, and her consort’s hard erection rolled around between her buttocks, teasing them both for as long as they could stand as his fingers played with her netherhole and stretched her out a bit.

Now he finally had the head pressed to her own clean, purple pucker—one which his tongue was now as familiar as she was with his—and she felt her hole relaxing, letting herself be spread open wider and wider as his member sank into her ass. There was a little pain when she tightened up, which only encouraged her to breathe carefully, as he did, and stay relaxed.

Let him in, have him rut her this way. One of the few “dirty” things they hadn’t tried yet.

After all, she was sure.

Ruk thrust in and she gasped. He paused. “Do you like it, Matron?”

It was intense; some part of her wasn’t sure if she should like something so…invasive. But then she relaxed for the third time, breathed out, and imagined him spurting inside this last, virginal, unexplored place, and felt her netherlips become sensitive, and her tight, straining ring seemed to tingle around his cock.

“Yes,” she whispered. “Slow…for now.”

Ruk’s instincts on how to pleasure her had a sharp edge, and this activity was no different. He fucked her, but slowly, with plenty of oil making their skin shine—she didn’t even care if some got onto the sheets—and before too long, she wanted him to do it faster.

“Now it’s your novice’s netherhole that’s thirsty for my cum?” he whispered into her ear, holding her from behind as they kneeled on his bed.

“Yes!” she gasped, feeling her clutching, slippery hole trembling around his pole. Then she cried out and squeezed him involuntarily when his hand shifted from her breast to her lonely labia. “Oh, Goddess!”

He fucked her in deeper, longer strokes, mostly out and all the way back in.

“And no one’s pleasured you this way?”

Ohhhh….!”

“Well, Matron? I am the first you’ve commanded to open you this way…?”

She twisted her neck back to ask without words for a kiss, which he did, pausing in his thrusts and holding himself deep inside so he could concentrate on kissing her. When they finished their kiss, Rohenvi leaned forward slowly and held herself up on all fours, positioning her knees and ass to take his thrusts comfortably. She looked back over her shoulder and smiled.

“You are the first, Ruk. Look down, watch yourself plowing this Noble asshole.”

He shared a brief laugh with her but soon did just as she suggested; he looked down, holding her hips as he thrust between her buttocks. The sight clearly excited him, and she was already rubbing herself, luxuriating in his energy and passion servicing such a tight hole for her! He was not only the first to do this to her, but the first to “open” her womb, as well.

This time they didn’t have to be concerned where his offering spilled; she wanted his glaze inside her ass, she wanted to feel it dripping out later. She wanted her hole loose from his cock stretching it, wanted to feel it shrinking slow after he pulled out…

“Ahhhh…Roh…” he whispered, and she knew his voice well enough by now to know he was about to peak and as it began, Rohenvi writhed with the intense pleasure-pain of her netherhole being broken in.

Before he left her House, she wanted to try quite a few more things that a Matron shouldn’t want from a commoner.

One specific commoner.

“Has it worked, then?” Ruk asked less than a span before their bargain was complete.

He finally noticed how tender her nipples had become to his touch, and that she was eating more. Much more. And he was dumbstruck sitting at her table.

She lifted her chin from habit, wanting to look elegant when she answered. “Yes, Ruk. I have caught, as I’d hoped.”

“When?” he asked, at least understanding that these changes had not come on since last eve. “How far?”

She exhaled, taking another bite, chewing and swallowing before answering. “My healer says I am about eight spans in.”

“You caught before I was even here four spans?!” he exclaimed, almost too loudly.

She couldn’t help but smile at the expression. “Azed suspected after about six. I only knew after taking my test.”

“When was that, Matron?”

Rohenvi worked to keep that chin up. “Oh. The same span.”

Ruk watched her directly, and for the first time since he had first arrived, she detected wariness in his eyes. “You’ve been keeping me here for the simple enjoyment, Matron?”

“Haven’t you been enjoying yourself?” she responded placidly.

“I have, but…” He paused. “We still have a bargain, yes?”

She looked away first without meaning to, a strange discomfort piercing her chest. She snapped her gaze back to him immediately and shored up her dignity. He still wanted to leave. He was just waiting for the time to leave. If she had told him earlier and allowed him to go once he’d fulfilled his purpose, he would have taken it. Belatedly she realized their bargain had never specified what happened when she caught—only what happened if she didn’t.

“Of course we do, Ruk,” she said without much inflection. “You’ll stay the full three quad-spans. And I should not need to call on you again in another three.” She breathed out, trying to still nausea. “You can convince all your ‘fringe’ contacts you’re still alive.”

Fortunately, he didn’t argue that oversight of the deal. And their coupling over the next few cycles was much slower, lower risk. Ruk was even a bit too gentle…another reason she might have delayed telling him.

And on their final eve together, he showed her he was still afraid of her power.

“Matron, please. Don’t.”

As much as he toed the line on matching her during sex, wit for wit, bold action for bolder still, and even as he teased her endlessly during his stories, relaxed a bit too much in casual, private conversation with her… her trader could be very humble when he fully realized he was in danger.

He had his head resting in her lap, and he was on his knees on the floor, his hands on the back of his head where she could see them at first, but then she moved them herself to place them at rest on her hips.

“My Matron, please,” he whispered. “I can’t.”

“It’s just a symbol,” she said, trying to sound stern and powerful, not hurt. “It has no real magic. But wearing it would let others know of your contact with this House, and more of those females who might be troublesome would not pursue you. It will protect you.”

“I can’t,” he repeated.

“Don’t you want the connection?” she asked more loudly, her exasperation slipping through. “You’ve earned it, Ruk! I would like to do business with you again. Perhaps I will invest in some of your caravans. I’m sure that would make the various masters happy.”

“You do not want to get involved in my trade, Matron. Please, if you’ll keep anyone safe with your symbol, keep your own House unsullied by deep Deepearth connections.”

She ran her fingers through his hair.

“You could just lie and take it, you fool,” she whispered. “You need not make me so curious where you’ll go, by not begging me like this. You could take my ring and toss it away later, how would I ever know? How would I even find you, if you did not answer a message left with Hirai?”

“Because you’re not lying to me,” he said, keeping his eyes on the fabric covering her lap. “You haven’t been, Matron. I’ve seen cruelty a great deal, but I agreed to come here because I didn’t see it in your eyes. You haven’t lied to me, Matron, don’t force me to lie to you. I can’t take your ring. I can’t lead you on, thinking you can make any worthwhile connections through me.”

She leaned back in her chair and gripped one of the arms of it, trying to stamp down the surge of heat in her chest. How dare he….?

Then her eyes stung, and she looked toward the ceiling when he did not move from his position, trusting that she wasn’t about to pour acid or poison into his ear in retribution for the rejection. She knew what the other Nobles would say. He dared do this now because she allowed him to. Because she was lax and invited it. And now look how she was acting toward the first sire she ever picked? Like she pursued a cherished First Son from a Top Tier House! Ruk had come from nowhere, from no House. His blood was worth nothing to any House!

She wanted to growl aloud in her frustration. Ruk didn’t fit into her plans. She had almost forgotten about the Palace Consorts in her time with him. This had all been to prepare for presenting herself at Court!

How could you forget, ‘Matron’?!

“Leave,” she said. “Leave without my ring. Without any trace, if that’s your wish. Fintre has your things, and Honaqi will take you back to the City.” Now her throat hurt, and her vision was blurry. “Just…get out and never come back.”

Ruk left as quickly as he could, as if he was afraid that she would change her mind; a fact that didn’t lessen the sting.

Later, in her empty, private quarters, she looked in a mirror naked, her hand covering her flat stomach. She couldn’t even really tell. Not yet. Then she looked at the vial in her hand. The long-awaited test, the expulsion potion.

“Without a trace, if that’s your wish,” she repeated to herself. She began to pull the stopper, then paused.

Kill anyone when you’re in blind-heat-anger, her Mother had jested once, and they’re guaranteed to draw a few shadowy pit traps around for you to fall into.

Surenat probably hadn’t meant this. She had meant anyone who would miss the one killed in a rage. Not even Ruk would miss it; he knew perfectly well that no Matron would ever bear his seedling as her first child. He knew what would happen, he just never asked for confirmation.

Still. Why do this when I’m so angry? It can wait until the next cycle.

She set it down on the washroom counter and laid down to rest.

“So….if it’s ‘not uncommon’ for some Matrons to perform the test, then abort,” she asked Azed a span later, “how many just…let it continue?”

His eyebrows raised up very high at first, but then he wiped the disbelief and tried to think, to answer her seriously.

“Some might be offered to the Valsharess and the Priestesses in ritual—”

“No,” she said flatly, scowling at him.

He blinked at her expression, taken aback by its clarity. “Ah…well. Alright, if you believe the rumors, some of them end up in the Sanctuary, serving the Priestesses. Or the Palace always needs servants.”

Azed watched her, trying to read her responses. She hadn’t liked either of those, so he continued.

“Sometimes you can give one to serve in another House of your choice, but that can be…troublesome if they ever come back to cause trouble for your true heirs. Everyone knows who they are if they become grown.”

“None just keep them? Even being not true heirs?”

“Most would tell you it’s not worth the trouble, Roh,” Azed said soberly. “If the child is aware she is the Matron’s child of the House in which she lives, but is ignored in favor of younger siblings, it puts all of them at risk and in the worst cases can split a House if the true firstborn is female and garners enough military support despite her common blood. You can never know how it will turn out, sister, especially if you want more than one cait. Think very carefully before you decide to keep the offspring of a competent consort.”

She felt like throwing something at him but suppressed it immediately. That was the early pregnancy making her more volatile. Azed had promised her he would never “double-speak” with her; he was only telling truths from his observant experience. She needed that right now; it wasn’t his fault she felt so terrible.

“What if I waited long enough that we could tell from a spell if it was male or female?” she asked.

“To end a pregnancy at that point would be riskier to your health,” he answered bluntly. “Possibly to your fertility as well. But… if you have the healing to do it, and you were willing to risk it…”

Azed couldn’t encourage the risk, she could tell; he would be too worried about her.

“Your House might be nervous,” he said instead. “Say it was male, Roh, what then? Do you think it will be any less disruption to the peace of this House? You wouldn’t have time to raise him, especially after your Daughters come. Who is going to do it?”

Rohenvi stared at Azed, and he blinked and put up his hands. “Oh, no, absolutely not. Listen, sister, please, it is a bad idea to keep a common-blood in high living like a Noble. No good comes of it, not the least of which is respect for you from the other Matrons. The babe is a commoner, you realize that, right?”

“The babe is mine,” she attempted to argue. “Noble because I’m Noble.”

“The babe will also look less like the other Nobles, and they will be able to tell. You aren’t doing the child any favors keeping it openly, Matron, male or female.”

The siblings stared at each other for several beats.

“I’ll think about it,” Rohenvi said.

“By our beloved Spider Queen, Matron Thalluen,” her honored guest cooed. “Look at you! I hadn’t realized you were already breeding. Which House has the honor?”

Rohenvi wished she could get away with slipping sleeping drops into the other Matron’s taze. She had not left her plantation since conceiving, hoping to stay out of sight of most Nobles for the next two turns. But an odd number of them and the occasional Matron would come by, asking to visit. To refuse would only bring petty troubles she did not need, and there was nothing to be found peeking around her House; Azed had seen to it.

All the conversations went like this eventually.

“You have likely heard already, Matron Bovritz,” she muttered before taking a sip of her hot drink to settle her roiling stomach. It wasn’t the food; it was anger, and nerves.

“Then it is true?” she said with dramatic flair. “A common-blood sire.”

“It proves my fertility, Matron Bovritz, and I will not risk something going wrong taking too many potions. I will see it through to birth.”

“Well! How charming. What have you decided to do with it?” This Matron of the Eleventh House, one just above Rohenvi, tilted her head. She was easily two hundred turns older. “The Sanctuary? The Palace? Or are you looking for an adoptive House?” The other Matron braced her chin on her palm, ignoring her taze. “I might be able to help you out, for a favor.”

Rohenvi swallowed subtly. She already had a plan, but it might not hurt to have a cover story. And if Matron Bovritz was offering…

“What favor do you ask?” she asked.

Rohenvi’s birthing hurt enough to make it worthwhile to weep real tears, more than technically necessary, but she never cried out loud. A healthy, young Davrin Mother carrying to fullness without complications experienced a birth which was nowhere near the level of agony some Nobles would have others believe. They acted as if the Nobles were some entirely different race from the commoners, they were more “sensitive,” and the birth of their children was a much greater deal to be taken seriously.

All the Nobles knew how “common” Mothers could give birth without crying out once.

Her womb was strong, tensing up and contracting without her conscious control, and she concentrated on the sensation—the pain was nothing much, mostly abrupt shots of sharp cramping as the mouth of her womb opened up. She felt how so many different muscles and parts of her moved and shifted inside her belly, and her birth canal would be ready to stretch to its limit soon.

Rohenvi pushed her bua out of her body with only Azed as her witness, in her own room with the doors locked. She didn’t call her healer. It was better this way.

*He is breathing,* Azed signed to her after clearing the mouth and nose of mucus, as she gasped for breath herself.

She nodded, admitting to herself she was exhausted and glad Azed was here to manage the first few steps. Davrin newborns didn’t tend to make noise, either; necessary for survival in the Deepearth, although she’d heard out in the wilderness, the fluids and blood would draw danger even without noise. She was glad to be safe here.

Even if tears still dripped from her eyes.

Azed rubbed down the little body in a blanket after cutting the cord, and her breasts began to ache in earnest when she saw tiny hands clutching at nothing.

Oh, Goddess, ow… She pressed on one breast, trying to massage the ache away, and milk squirted out, soaking her nightgown. Shit…

*Are you certain you want to go this way?* Azed asked again, right on the cusp and she wanted to slap him for bringing it up yet again, and now of all times! *We could still give him to House Bovritz.*

*No…I mean, yes,* she signed, flustered and frustrated. *Yes, I am certain! I will not give him to Matron Bovritz! If this works, he will be back under my House rule in two decades. Not long. He will still be a child.*

*If he survives.*

*Better this than knowing he’s a Noble rejected by his Matron,* she signed bitterly.

Azed nodded. *Alright, sister. I will still help you. But they will want to see a body if you claim stillborn, and if you do not, the rumors will always be that he still lives somewhere. If you reclaim a child of about the right age later on…*

*We’ve gone over this!* she interrupted, demanded that he drop it. *We have no Davrin infant body to swap. I will bring no servant in on this, and I will not kill another infant and mother to make it so! We’ll burn the Pyte corpse in his place, no one must see…*

Azed bowed his head, cradling the swaddled baby. He glanced at the tiny face. *Will you feed him once, Matron?*

*No,* she refused, and it felt like her beating heart would collapse. *Get him out of here.*

*You won’t come—?*

*NO! I told you! Get him out before anyone knows he lives!*

Azed moved through the secret passage used only by the Noble family and the Head of Guard, hoping that the other was still there, as he said he would be. If he was, Ruk had probably been waiting for a few cycles now, eating very little and trapped in a dark, closed space. He would be in need of a bath, but he would not have that luxury this time around.

The trader stood up and bowed to the First Son, smelling a little ripe and very nervous as his eyes landed on the bundle in Azed’s arms. They transferred it quickly, before either could think too much about it.

*Thank you for answering,* Azed signed. *She will want him back, even as servant or a guard.*

*Understood,* Ruk acknowledged, trying to balance the squirming babe, unfamiliar with the grip he should take as he signed.

*He’s hungry,* Azed said. *You’ll want to hurry. It’s a long way back.*

Ruk nodded, still looking stunned, as if he wasn’t sure what he was doing here. *A name? Did she—?*

*No. You choose something. Don’t tell me what it is. Go.*

“I ought to kick you straight down the cliff for this, Ruk,” Eyin growled low in their meeting place a few cycles later.

Ruk had needed to make do with whatever livestock milk he could barter for. It was just enough, and for the first few cycles the new sire genuinely enjoyed caring for Rohenvi’s son. He had never felt this way about anyone’s infant, except this one. The fringe loner, the foreigner and outsider to Sivaraus, had accepted that he wanted to protect this helpless male.

Because no one else would.

His son was always hungry, and it was difficult to keep him clean without a stable home. Finally Ruk had needed to go to his superior in the shadows for help.

“What the fuck were you thinking?! Rausery’s going to be…! I don’t even know what—”

“You can set me up in another part of Sivaraus, Eyin,” he pleaded. “I’ll take another name, a new background, one that includes Treyl. I only need twenty turns, then I can give him back to her. House Thalluen will raise him then as another servant.”

Only twenty turns,” she snorted, glancing at the infant clutched to his chest. She thought for some very long moments. “Hm. So you need paternity leave.”

“Just this once. I’ll never do this again,” he began.

“You bet your ass, you won’t!” Eyin sighed in exasperation. “I can’t believe the Matron Thalluen would even go to the trouble, even to want him back…!” She eyed him. “You must have really made an impression.”

“I-I…was her first.”

“First what? First male, as in ‘ever’?”

“No. First sire.”

“You were her first something, alright,” she commented with heavy implication, smiling dryly. She thought some more. “Treyl can’t know you as Ruk. In fact, you can’t use that name for a few centuries at least. It’s compromised. Ruk’s dead now, same as Hachyrr’ne.”

He nodded in complete agreement, waiting and daring to hope for her final approval.

“A sire alone raising a baby is going to turn a few heads. A few females might think you need to join with one of them for protection.”

“I’ll do as I need to.”

“We can do better, I think. We’ll give the bua a mother from among the shadows, and you a common matron. Teyshuna is getting older, she needs to settle down but you can both still be useful to us.”

Ruk’s attention heightened to blade-sharpness and Eyin continued.

“Easy story, the mother died shortly after birth, you took the infant and joined with an older female who could provide for you both. And she doesn’t mind having the eye-sweet like you around or a healthy babe to keep her company.” Eyin smirked at him in amusement. “You don’t mind being a young trophy sire, right?”

Finally he felt enough hope that he could smile back. “Teyshuna’s going to get a big laugh out of this.”

“Fuck, yeah, she will. But she’ll do it. Will you?”

He nodded, exhaling. “Yes. Anything that’s needed. Thank you, Eyin.”

Epilogue – 175 Turns Later

Matron Thalluen braced herself tiredly against the washroom counter, hoping for herself a quiet, private moment undisturbed as she contemplated the future of her House. She wasn’t sure what to do next. She was always so tired, and she didn’t know why. It was as if just two Daughters was enough to sap all her strength, and she was old enough to wonder when her time to be replaced would come.

Matron Surenat had died around the age Rohenvi was now. Maybe…. Had her Matron’s “bright and impressive Daughter” really done all she could do already? Rohenvi hadn’t raised her House’s status much at all; to do so at this point would take a military attack, something she had not the strength to muster right now, or maybe anytime soon.

She had succeeded in all Azed and she had plotted so far. The Court respected her, the Valsharess acknowledged her. She had been granted the covetous honor of not just one but two Consorts to sire her heirs, and they had both been caits. She even had Treyl back among her Guard; her own First Son knew nothing of his origin, and Azed heard no whispers which would endanger him.

Rohenvi was more fortunate than any House below her, and several above! She had learned a lot, weaving in and out of the politics and the plots and the double-speak, learning because she had to. She had even squelched the plot of revenge instigated the moment her own Mother died, beating them with wit instead of might. She was ambitious… determined…!

And tired.

“Mother?” Jilrina asked at her outer door. “Queen’s Blessing to you.”

Rohenvi sighed. “Queen’s Blessing, First Daughter.”

“Open the door, will you?”

It seemed like a mistake now to have sent her eldest Daughter to see the Sanctuary on her first big trip off the plantation, decades ago. Her First Daughter was already older than Rohenvi had been when she became Matron, and she seemed to be grasping toward the Priestesses as she grew bored and their House remained stable—meaning there was no indication Rohenvi would be passing the inheritance soon. Jilrina was never blatant with her impatience, but the Matron had learned to read a great deal at Court before the First Daughter was ever born.

Rohenvi peeked through the spy-gem first before opening her door. “Is there news?”

“No, Matron.”

“A visitor?”

Jilrina smiled in a way that was indefinably chilling. “No, Matron.”

“Daughter, I am very tired.”

“I was wondering if you’ve seen Uncle Azed?” she asked. “I can’t seem to find him.”

Rohenvi stared at her daughter. How affectionate that had sounds…

Yet Azed and Jilrina did not get along peacefully. He was difficult for the young female to manipulate or bend to her will, and Rohenvi herself did not punish him or force him to cater to the First Daughter any more than necessary.

Jilrina always wanted more, however, and she wanted punishments to be very public. She wanted the servants to see, to remind them of their place as she tried for “humility,” she said.

It was really humiliation—the kind Azed had loathed at Court and had once come here to escape—for no other reason than she was First Daughter could get away with it much of the time.

The Matron was well aware her First Daughter blamed her Mother for not allowing her to fully sate her desires where Azed was concerned. It had been a constant source of abrasive tension for over a century, and sometimes she caught Jilrina’s expression when the young cait did not think she was being watched—the contempt and derision, as she mouthed to herself, “Weak!”

“Azed is missing?” Rohenvi reiterated now.

“I didn’t say that,” Jilrina corrected with too much reassurance. “I’m looking for him and thought you might know where to find him.”

“I…do not know where he is, Daughter. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. I know you’re tired, Mother. Why don’t you lie down? I’ll let you know when I find him.”

Her heart was beating harder as she closed the door again; pure unease and worry seemed to wake her up a bit. Soon she put on an outer robe and left through her secret passage to get to her brother’s room.

She didn’t make it quite that far before she tripped over his body.

“Azed…?” she whispered, still feeling some warmth as she kneeled by him in the close, dark space, shaking him. “Azed!”

She fumbled for a pulse.

Oh, no…! No, Goddess, please, no…!

He had crawled in here on his own. He had known he was poisoned and had been trying to reach her…

Azed! Brother, please, don’t leave me alone!

Sometimes it felt Rohenvi hadn’t truly wept since birthing Treyl, but she knew she wept now. She tried very hard not to make any noise which would carry, but it only seemed to make it hurt worse.

Who had done this? She had her enemies, but how could she prove it? And he was male…less of a loss, most would say, than either of her heirs. The only true outcome was that there was no First Son at House Thalluen anymore; it was not a necessary role. There was one who should be able to take Azed’s place…but she could not acknowledge him.

There were only females left in power. This did not comfort Rohenvi in the least.

Her mind thought furiously on what she would do, who would pay, how she might cauterize the wound so viciously opened within her chest. Maybe her heart would leak for centuries, for how devastating it felt. Rohenvi slumped down in the secret passage as all her will seem to leave her.

She knew. She did not want to fight for House status anymore.

It doesn’t matter…nothing at that Abyss-damned Court matters…

What had she been forced to give up in exchange for all that she had scratched and competed for? Every male that could ever stand by her, and comfort her. Every male who could know her and see as she could not show to the other females. She had lost all of them, given them up one by one. Ruk first, then Treyl…

Now Azed.

Fury flooded her limbs, giving her more energy than she’d had in turns, and she quickly dragged Azed’s body back to his room before returning to her own and working every trick she had in her possession to hide the fact that she’d been weeping.

Her own Daughters must never see her cry.

Meanwhile, she must think.

Azed’s funeral will be at Court , she thought furiously. He’ll give me a reason to go into Sivaraus.

There, she could leave one more message.

“Welcome to Polynia’s Shop. May I help you?”

Polynia. Not Hirai. Alright, time moves on.

Except this wasn’t Polynia.

“Yes,” Rohenvi said, “I must speak with the shop owner.”

The young Davrin nodded. “My mother, yes. Let me get her for you, Noble.”

Not Matron. At least she wasn’t so obvious. “Wait.”

The young cait paused.

“What is your name?”

She curtsied. “Gaelan, Noble.”

“Are you the eldest daughter?”

“Yes, Noble.”

Rohenvi nodded, letting her be off as she waited. Polynia would do what Hirai used to, she already knew. She might have to coax the same connection with this Gaelan, if she was next in line to inherit the shop.

After leaving her message with the merchant, Rohenvi stayed in the central City for over a span praying to anything outside the Abyss for an answer. She could not leave House Thalluen in Jilrina’s hands for long, but she had enough errands built up to explain her presence here.

The last she had made any contact with Ruk was when they had smuggled Treyl back to her House, a short five turns before she gave birth to Jilrina. It had been a swift, head-whirling time, but Ruk had promised her—if he was alive—he could answer again if the need was dire.

The need was exceedingly dire now. And the wait, not even knowing if he lived to receive her message, was torment. Rohenvi could not rest in Reverie for longer than a few marks at a time.

Then, her prayers were answered. Like some beautiful shadow appearing from a magical summons, he somehow found her walking Sivaraus streets. He came to stand beside her without speaking.

*Come with me,* she signed, and neither spoke aloud, both of them disguised.

Rohenvi had a filthy, lowborn room ready for rent and enough disguise for the proprietor not to care, as long as her coin was real. She could never have seen herself stepping over such a threshold when she had first become Matron, but now she felt she could do nearly anything with enough forethought and planning. Not having enough forethought or planning for contingencies was what had taken her First Son from her. Following in the footsteps of others was why she had lost both the son and the sire.

Now she had other ideas.

“Give me another child, Ruk,” she whispered, putting her soft-gloved hands on his grimy face. “I know what I did wrong the first time. I know how to fix it. Male or female, I do not care, I will be able to keep and acknowledge the child as a Noble. I’ve already taken the fertility tonics…please? There will be no burden on you, but…I’d like to choose you as sire again.”

He was nervous; he wanted her, but he was very nervous. He tried to smile. “Not trying for a third Consort?”

He knew. He’d been keeping tabs on her.

The flash of anger on her face surprised him and he nearly let go to step back, but she clutched him to her.

“No! Never another Consort, never another! I will have my choice from now on. Spider Queen damn the Palace and the Court. Abyss damn the Consorts and their spawn.”

Ruk swallowed, taken aback by her vehemence, but they were alone, protected, whispering. What was important was that he believed her.

“What has happened, Matr—“

“No. Roh. Call me Roh.”

His heart picked up. “What has happened, Roh? What’s wrong?”

Rohenvi leaned to embrace him, resting her head on his shoulder. She wanted to weep yet again…

“Azed is dead. I-I do not know who killed him, but I suspect…” She sniffed. “I cannot prove it…and no one would care about him over…over….”

“No one except you,” he murmured, rubbing his fingers through her hair. “I am sorry, Roh… I admired Azed.”

“He admired you. He just couldn’t say so.” She lifted her head to look at his face, holding her first true lover. She leaned to kiss him, gently. His eyes drooped as he accepted, seemed to enjoy touching her, smelling her again…even if the place was much different, much smellier than their first time.

“Will you?” she asked again. “Please. Give me another child of yours. Your son is smart, and so much like you. I want an heir with your spirit. You are worthy, Ruk—I am…I regret so much what I did to Treyl…!”

“You could do nothing else,” he said. “I know it. You were young, Roh. We are born where we are born, I can only imagine the pressure you are under. I don’t hold a grudge.” He smiled wryly. “How do you mean to ‘fix it’ this time?”

She swallowed. “After I am sure I carry…I must make arrangements with House Bovritz right after. Witness, register the sire, all that. Change the name, but the blood will be yours and mine, just like Treyl. No one need ever know.”

Finally he nodded, accepting their plan and leaning to kiss her. He needed a bath so much, and she didn’t care; she kissed hungrily back, wanting him inside her as soon as they could manage, giving her womb what it needed to begin again and grow her fourth child.

Four children, at least.

Just as she’d told Fintre she wanted on the eve her Mother died.

If only Rohenvi could begin everything again knowing what she knew now. Maybe she could have changed something, made things better for Ruk, acknowledged her First Son as he should have been…

It made her wonder about the secrets held at every other House, and if nothing was quite what everyone claimed it to be. After all, her Mother had said it in her dying breath.

You can never show what you really are.

 

Vian

© by A.S. Etaski in 2016
This story is a work of fiction and intended for adults only. All rights reserved. www.etaski.com

 

She spoke voiceless into his ear, barely stirring the air. “Don’t make a sound…”

She had her gloved hand pressed against his mouth, just in case. She inhaled the scent of his hair, banded into a queue reaching to his mid-back; she licked the edge of his ear. There was sweat, and dirt, and a hint of enemy blood.

“I watched you fight. Not bad. It turned me on.”

A tremor passed through him and she stepped into deeper shadow, drawing him with her. They were on the back side of a storage shed. There were other Davrin working about the grounds, a few guards loitering, watching as much for their Matron as they were for anything which didn’t belong. There was some risk of being discovered.

“Is this your first time?” she whispered, her breath trembling as she reached around to the front to touch him, sliding her hand along a taut stomach protected only by a rough shirt, dipping further down to his sex.

He was hard. He shook his head slightly: No.

She felt her gut tighten, her crotch surging with heat. Not a novice.

“Is this your first time on a squad?”

He nodded, his breath catching as she gently bit his neck.

“Is this your first time being caught like this after surviving a fight?” she asked hotly, squeezing his erection. She heard a low, pleasured sound from deep in his throat as she rubbed her crotch up against his ass.

He nodded again.

“You hurt anywhere?”

He slowly lifted one hand to sign. *Left thigh. Salve and bandage.*

Perfect.

Vian growled low and turned him eagerly around to face her, pressing her larger body against him, pinning him to the wall of the shed. The young male allowed her to step between his legs, forcing them wider, and line up their bellies. He was firm as a blade against her, and she could already feel his heat seeping in. She took one last glance around the corner to see if anyone had spotted them and already on their way over.

The path was clear.

“Okay,” she whispered, grasping his jaw in both hands and taking his mouth in a rough kiss, spearing her tongue between his lips to taste him.

Ah, there was that heady spice she loved! The only time she found it was right after a fight. It did not matter if one was victorious or not; the entire struggle was in the taste. And sometimes, like now, so was that familiar metallic flavor; he must have bitten the inside of his cheek because no one had punched him in the mouth.

“Push ‘em down,” she murmured wetly, helping herself to a few more sucks and nips on his neck and ears as he complied.

The breath of her newest acquisition was uneven and he shivered at least once, loosening the base leather protection of his leggings and slipping them down over his hips. The material stopped at mid-thigh, as far as his fingertips could reach without bending over. She glanced down and could see a hint of that bandage on his left thigh, his balls drawn up tight, his prick jutting out. The very tip of it was fragrant and damp.

“Hands up,” she ordered, “above your head. Hold the edge.”

She used several hidden spots where she liked to coax her conquests, but this particular shed was nice for possessing a strong relief between stone roof and stone wall; it made a great handle at about the right height. The fighter’s body was stretched out as he complied, his arms still bent at the elbows and just helpless enough in front of a ranking female to suite her.

“Good. Don’t let go until I’ve given the order. Nothing loud; bite your tongue if you have to.”

She sank silently to one knee, caressing his back and waist beneath his shirt as he softly sucked in air. She opened her mouth and tasted the tip of his erection, swirling her tongue around and testing his willpower.

“Sarge…ah!” he gasped.

She lifted her mouth. “I said ‘quiet.’”

Vian stood up with a smirk, amused and aroused just watching him as he stared at her opening her own trousers. The corners of his mouth twitched when he saw her white bush; he wanted to smile.

Braqth damn them, but she loved it when a lowbie neither crumpled under her lust nor got on her nerves trying to bury his nose in her asshole afterward, as if her fucking them meant they were her special pet. She’d learned to wait until after a fight before choosing a new one; she knew what to look for now. This one wanted to dive into her cunt and get relief; he was excited to have survived the clash with the other House, excited to be chosen by a ranking female among the House Guard, but he wasn’t plotting for “afterward” right-fucking-now like so many fecal heads.

He always could plot later, but that was when she really tested the fit with her as his new Sergeant.

Her pants were down to about the same level and she turned around, backing her bare ass cheeks up against him as she reached above her head to grip the edge as well, her hands just outside of his. She looked over her shoulder, her teasing smirk still in place.

“No hands, lowbie. You want to pierce my hole? You work with me, not against me.”

His body heat had risen incredibly; he nodded and waited, held himself still and prepared as she worked her buttocks over him, parted her legs enough to allow his member between her thighs. Her netherlips were slathered in her own arousal, she coated him in only a prodding stroke or two.

Fffuck, this is gonna feel good.

Vian expected to tease him, and she did, drawing out the final penetration even though he’d attempted a good, patient aim more than a few times. He still wasn’t working with her, he merely had some skill in rutting.

He impressed her when he figured out what she was hinting at. He backed off and teased her as well, moving his hips so carefully, nudging his toy playfully along her nub, poking at each hole in turn but clearly with no intention to thrust in.

“Ungh,” she groaned, looking down to see the head of his penis nestled just visible in her bush; she tightened her thighs, the tingles and tightening of pleasure increasing with the pleasure. “Yeah…back and forth…only a fuckin’ finger-width, understand? Keep it up and I’ll cream all over you…”

He needed to catch his breath and adjust his grip on the shed but he worked with her. No doubt his arms were starting to burn like hers, but also like her, he could take it. He nudged back and forth, stimulating her pleasure spot, licking his lips, moaning softly. Waiting.

Vian’s hips jerked at the moment of truth, her thighs squeezing him and grinding his shaft against her clit. She exhaled once before sucking in her breath and holding it, feeling the surge of pleasure roar up from her gut and overtake her entire body. Her muscled arms flexed as she held herself up solely by her grip on the shed. She never vocalized her pleasure, but the sweat and heat rising and her panting breath as she coasted down would be enough for anyone smart enough to pay attention.

“Sergeant,” he whispered, sounding pleased but aching at the same time.

“Mmm,” she sighed. “Very nice. Pick your hole, Eallo.”

The melee fighter hesitated just a moment—understandably, he thought it could be a trick—but she was interested in his choice.

“Don’t wait until the glow is gone, bua,” she warned with a drunken chuckle.

His cock was drenched already; so much sweat and fluid and pre-cum between them. Eallo shifted his hips with deliberation, ended it by pressing his spongey cap against her puckered back hole, bracing his pole behind it. He paused, still asking.

Vian purred and relaxed her asshole, and the lowbie pushed the head in, stretching her open. Oh, yes…

She worked with him to slide it halfway inside before they had to stop and adjust. He withdrew partway but then thrust in deeper, nearly to his balls, their hands still clutched to the stonework above them.

“Fuck…!” she encouraged as he filled her, moving herself to stroke a few times in turn, massaging his cock for him as she enjoyed the sensations in her own back portal. She might not cum again before he did, but for certain she liked what he was doing.

He’s fucking my ass like he can’t get enough! Oh, Goddess!

“Cum inside me, lowbie,” she whispered.

Eallo didn’t take long; he had been teased more than enough already. Vian listened to his breath behind her as it changed, as the fucking got regular and faster; his air stuttered to a halt as he thrust between her cheeks one last time and held still. He might’ve even bit down on his tongue to keep that quiet.

She focused on the subtle pulses of his cock wedged into her netherhole and laughed silently to herself, content to have the slimy essence spurted deep inside her bowels. Either hole was good; Vian wouldn’t catch regardless where she took her subordinates’ semen, but she wondered whether Eallo knew that? Maybe he just liked anal.

Given enough time, she’d find out. This one just might make a good fit in more ways than one.

“Sergeant qe’Prohn.”

“Grandmaster Matalai’ko.”

Vian bowed her head to their ancient weapons instructor—and one of the single most important possessions the Matron had in maintaining the status of their House— reflecting how his solid blond queue actually coiled around itself several times on the ground whenever he sat down.

What is Y’shir doing on the floor, anyway?

“Grandmaster, do you need assistance to your feet?”

“No, Vian. I am well. I have not fallen, if that is what you wonder.”

A lot of fine lines showed in the old Davrin’s face when he smiled, around his eyes and mouth especially. The Sergeant grunted at that, taking it at face value and moving toward the crossbows for which she’d come.

“Have you made progress on your idea, Sergeant?” Y’shir asked mildly.

“Baby steps,” she muttered, sorting through the ones better or worse for wear, checking the warmth-sensing crystal on each, pointing it unloaded in the Grandmaster’s direction. He didn’t seem to mind. “Still building my ‘dream team.’”

“You’ve not presented it to the Matron, then.”

“With all due respect, Grandmaster, I think I’ll wait until Miz’ri has forgotten Izabal. The Matron’s been in a decades-long foul mood since she disappeared. Besides,” Sergeant Vian added, selecting three crossbows, shouldering two of them on each other and carrying the third in her hands. “I have time. And if I die, then I don’t, and it won’t matter.”

Y’shir smiled at her with a warmth that had always been there, yet why was hard to pin down.

“Many talk about you, how often you trade or switch out your elite,” he said a tone which held neither warning nor disapproval. It sounded like casual conversation. “They say your end-goal must be to sample the entire House army, though they are often much cruder than that.”

She shrugged. “You know my elite have to be the right mindset, and no one can help me pick them, not even the Matron trying to give her grandchildren a boost under a competent lead. Gotta be my way or I’m doing nothing new.”

The old fighter chuckled softly. “Yes, I know, Vian. You are wise for your age.”

She smirked at him. “Had a decent teacher. He should get a hair trim, though, I heard he keeps tripping over his queue and sits on the floor until someone finds him.”

“After long enough, one quits being in such a hurry.”

“More action for me, then.”

She stopped just before leaving. No matter that Y’shir always said he was well, she hadn’t seen him use any Blade Song in many turns.

“I think the Matron is in a hurry, though. How long since your last apprentice?”

A somber air came over the old Davrin; he shook his head. “A student is right, or a student is not, you know this. Miz’ri won’t allow me to choose from another House yet, but she is receiving pressure from the other Matrons. They won’t wait too much longer before possibly doing something drastic.”

“Why we always have to be prepared,” Vian said, looking to the side for a moment. “I’m sorry I wasn’t ‘right’ as your apprentice, Y’shir.”

He lifted his hand languidly, waving it off. “I’m proud of you, regardless, Vian. You are an inventor. You must take advantage of these times in which we can breathe. I commend you, and I will tell the Matron so.”

The Sergeant smiled a bit, took a deep breath, and left.

Saida’s eyes were covered tightly; she was bound immobile for the second time.

This young battle mage wasn’t quite as nervous as the time before; Vian even spied her bare ass pushing subtly back at Jahn’s hand as he slid it to cup her sex from behind. Her legs were spread and held open with a matte black bar between her knees; she couldn’t close them if she tried. The male mage pressed his palm firmly to her mound, letting his aura pop and waver in his rising excitement, making her squirm.

Vian and Eallo observed and kept look-out, keeping their distance as Jahn did as he would to the helpless female. The three of them were the only core part of the team in the last turn or so; everyone else had been traded out.

Their newest battle mage would have difficulty defending herself if she felt threatened. Her mouth was gagged, her wrists bound with rope which also kept her arms against her torso. Her shoulders were on the ground with her face turned to the side. She couldn’t see or speak, much less cast, strike out, or run. The only thing she had was a spell stick— something Jahn had given to her as a gift—which she clutched in her right fist.

If she snapped the stick, a small burst of light would tell both Jahn and her Sergeant that Saida wanted the test to stop; she wanted to be released. If she did that, she would be traded to another fighting team before the span was out. This was not a punishment, but a snapped stick simply meant it wouldn’t work between them.

“Mmm,” Saida moaned, flinching as Jahn leaned and ran the tip of his tongue across the sensitive flesh which formed her crack. He licked both sides, one at a time, about as close as he could get to her anus without using his hands to spread her or smothering his face between her cheeks. The light touch made her shiver.

“Trust him,” Vian whispered, again glancing out to see whether anyone approached the small cave on the edge of the property. Clear for now. “We’re here.”

Jahn glanced at his Sergeant and smiled a bit then went back to concentrate on Saida’s body, keeping one hand on her mons and the other roaming in ways which only made sense to him.

The male mage was considered “odd in the head” and “weak” by many. He hardly spoke except to cast. Vian had trained him for a turn, and discovered he was fast and observant and silent, but only under her lead. He liked her, admired her decisions under pressure. He had been the first battle mage who fit her needs. Jahn’s own test—the “stick” that he couldn’t snap without failing—had required far less restraint or persuasion and had been the catalyst for Vian to realize what a precious thing she could build within her Matron’s House.

It had been Jahn’s idea to wake up Eallo in the barracks one cycle by sucking his prick, but at least he had asked her for permission first. Vian had accepted, curious what would happen.

Her Right Hand fighter had woken up groaning and close to spilling his load, grabbing hold of the hair as he was given head, and he almost didn’t care whose. When he opened his eyes and saw Jahn sucking him, then saw the lust in his Sergeant’s face as she watched them…there was a moment of confusion, perhaps, but Eallo relaxed quickly and enjoyed it. Her first male hadn’t taken insult, and he had thrust up harder to spurt down Jahn’s throat.

Eallo had read her and trusted her to watch; he had not assumed first it was punishment or humiliation or even a prank. Even more, he’d not been gripped by fear or competitive anger. They trusted her…and each other, apparently.

Yes. That was what she was looking for. Jahn was right; he was a keeper, and so was Eallo.

Every test going forward would be different to keep the talk down, as all Davrin at House Dar’Prohn told stories and gossip. From what Y’shir had heard and shared with her, most it was just described as “weird sex play” and any others who had added to Vian’s core squad for a short time never knew they were being tested and then traded out when they failed an unseen test.

Several more turns had passed before the three had found their fourth, serious candidate in Saida.

Vian knew Jahn liked Saida’s aura very much; they’d already fucked hard several times, Saida keeping tight control on him and on herself. Jahn had subtly chosen her for their “test” and Vian was willing to try. After what Vian had further learned about auras from the strangely quiet male, the truth here was that Saida couldn’t fake anything in order to “pass” and stay with them. Jahn would know the truth; he would know her true response.

The young male mage relished manipulating the female’s aura this way; he would go for whole marks in complete silence, feeling her body temperature change, her moisture rise, sensing every tremor or quiver. It required a lot of endurance on Saida’s part, and she had to be helpless before a male mage—the real reason they were hiding while they figured out whether there could be true bonding here—but she had made it through the first sweat-breaking session without breaking the stick.

Saida was here willingly for a second turn now, holding that same stick as she relinquished all control to her squad.

Vian could feel some of what was happening: the two mages’ auras would become very familiar with each other; they could even start to merge during the highest point of pleasure. That was only temporary, though. What Vian wanted to discover was whether auras could merge a little just by relaxing around or relying on each other. Could fighters in the same squad focus together, based on trust?

Every Davrin in Vuthra’tern could use magic weapons and most could cast basic spells, but the fact with stronger, well-trained mages was that the aura-merging experience often could turn out badly. Something could happen that would cause Saida to force her magic closed against Jahn forever, and only an outright attack against her could overcome that. Jahn having previous experience with her, an attack might even work, permanently damaging the female mage’s ability to cast.

That had happened before between jilted and bitter former couples. Vian had witnessed it, just not in her own squad. It was a devastating vulnerability and exactly the reason the Matron-Priestesses never merged auras with any but their Sathoet, whose loyalty could be assured.

If Saida broke the stick this time, they were done trying. She’d be closed and they’d have to wait and watch for someone else. It could take decades.

Jahn breathed out through his nose, leaned to inhale her scent at the small of her back, his eyes sliding shut. He wavered as if he were drunk. His hand moved back a little from her mons, gliding his glowing fingers through her folds, two of them slowly disappearing as he eased them into her twitching cunt.

“Mmm…mmmMMM!” Saida moaned through her gag, squeezing her eyes shut as well.

“Saida,” he whispered.

Jahn finger-fucked her slowly and for some time, ignoring his own stiff erection as he explored her on multiple levels, simultaneously. She climaxed once, her toes curling, and she fought for breath afterward through her nose. Most female Davrin Vian knew couldn’t tolerate this even for a few ticks, much less whole marks, before wanting the control back. Jahn kept pushing her, and together their magic flared.

“Yes,” he murmured, making a quiet sound again, his mouth left hanging open as he felt her aura responding to him again and again: higher, lower, tighter, looser, making him as dizzy as it made her… Their auras were speaking…no, singing to each other.

Vian was gripping Eallo’s thigh toward the end of it, when Saida somehow communicated without words or sign that she’d had enough and wanted Jahn to fuck her now!

“Fucking Abyss,” the Sergeant gasped as her battle mage finally straightened up and kneeled behind Saida’s vulnerable buttocks, thrusting himself into the helpless female and fucking Saida’s slit harder than Vian had ever witnessed him fucking anyone before.

Vian looked over just as her Corporal Eallo was pushing his trousers down to his knees. One last glance out toward the plantation, seeing no one, and Vian could barely wait to straddle him and get his beautiful cock inside, and fucking her just as hard.

After Saida came Kerym and Ilse, two scouts with similar talents for illusion and ranged attacks. They came as a pair, training together and getting good only just as they lost their squad leader in a rival House skirmish. Vian had taken them in, put them through their paces, and was satisfied enough to keep them on for more than a few turns. Their addition to the “core” group was so slow and gradual, Vian had to admit that she hadn’t planned on it, and the test for those two was a conversation she hadn’t started.

“Can’t believe you’ve been on the plantation this whole time and it took this long to find you, Sergeant,” Ilse said, daring to smile at Kerym. “They said it was ‘weird play.’ We didn’t realize it was our kind of play.”

Their kind of play was balanced, but as hidden as Vian’s. In the couple’s previous squad, the males, the females… they paired together to fight but shared between them in sex. Their deceased Sergeant, and others in the squad, had wanted Ilse to hurt Kerym in some way when they fucked, to prove she was tough enough like them, and only one time she’d done it in public to save him and their secret partnership from closer scrutiny. Ilsa had regretted it, but Kerym had understood the necessity, and she had made it up to him every way she knew how.

Now Ilse and Kerym were safe from that. Now Vian’s team was balanced. Two fighters, two mages, two rangers, and all could use spells. They all fucked and didn’t mind the others watching. Or joining. Two matched pairs, and two independents who watched over them.

Whatever this was they had found between them, it worked for many turns. Matron Miz’ri Dar’Prohn had never had a better disciplined squad of elites for her House, but it would take time for her to realize how rare it actually was.

“What’s going on, Lenzy?” Vian asked a manor servant she recognized passing the barracks. The Sergeant hadn’t been summoned but she’d noticed Y’shir making his way carefully toward the mansion a bit earlier. Now there was some commotion coming from the House.

“The Matron has a new acquirement,” Lenzy whispered in hushed, excited tones. “Half a century, and it has finally happened!”

Half a…?

“What’s happened?”

“The Dragon fulfilled our Matron’s wish!”

“What?” What Dragon?

“Come see, if you want, Sergeant. I’m sure everyone will be called soon enough.”

Shrugging, Vian collected her squad. They quickly washed up and dressed presentably in their formal House uniforms, their Sergeant giving them only what information the servant had given her. By the time they were on their way to the main mansion, a lot of others were coming in from the field as Lenzy’s prediction came true sooner than expected. The Matron-Priestess had been impatient and all of those around Vian when she’s arrived had missed the first announcement and had to be caught up.

“Izabal was taken by the Black Drake, a gift from our Matron to curry favor for Braqth and our House,” one contact spoke quickly out of the corner of her mouth.

Vian blinked, inside probably as stunned as Jahn was hearing that, but she didn’t show it. Miz’ri sacrificed her own younger sister to the Dragon…?

That was disheartening. Vian hadn’t known the Second Daughter of House Dar’Prohn on a personal level, but Grandmaster Y’shir most certainly had. The weapons master had always seemed to speak better of Izabal’s temperament than that of her older sister, despite the younger’s lack of ambition or presence in any power shows.

Surely, he’s known the real reason for her disappearance all this time? the Sergeant thought, yet the ancient Blade Singer had hinted nothing in the last fifty turns that the Noble Daughter been eaten by the most frightening legend they had outside of the Abyss itself.

“The Second Daughter caught from him,” her contact continued.

“Hm?” Vian asked, dragged out of her thoughts. “Him?”

“The Drake—”

Now her eyes widened visibly. She…Izabal caught?!

“—but the she died in the birth. The Great Drake has granted her half-blood son to our Matron to strengthen House Dar’Prohn.”

Vian felt a chill run through her veins as the news kept getting worse and worse. Miz’ri has her hands on a half-Dragon? Fuck, no.

“Can we see him, Sarge?” Sadia asked near her ear, recovering faster from the news.

“If we push our way up front,” Eallo answered thoughtfully.

The Matron stood on her public balcony, where she often stood to give the occasional announcement. It was lightly lit with white-blue lanterns, throwing long shadows on the mansion behind her but letting most see far enough from the courtyard, which was nearly full by now.

“Let’s do it,” Ilse suggested.

“No,” Vian said, and they waited on her.

She was looking for more than the House guards alongside the Matron and her Sathoet. Where would she keep it? Would she truly talk about Izabal giving birth to a true Dragonchild without showing it to them? For that matter, where was Grandmaster Y’shir?

Both questions were answered almost as soon as she thought them.

“I give you the Black Drake’s spawn!” the Matron announced, drawing her hand toward the open door just behind her. “My late sister’s only child, and our newest Blade Singer apprentice!”

By the Abyss…

The members and servants of the House tightened up and crowded forward when Y’shir himself coaxed what looked like the second-ugliest hybrid aside from a Sathoet onto the balcony, about a head above both the Matron and the Grandmaster. Vian narrowed her eyes, whispering a chant to sharpen her vision a bit more so the figures on the balcony seemed closer to her.

The Sergeant wasn’t sure what she’d expected a half-Davrin sired by a Dragon to look like, but aside from the metallic, reptilian eyes, the pupils as sharp and thin as a blade’s edge, he looked like a gangly, far-too-tall Davrin with short, black hair just covering his head. He had Elf ears but his face was…slightly off. It was as though he could have had a muzzle such as the Sathoet, but it hadn’t formed all the way.

His skin looked strange as well; something about it was uneven, far from smooth. He was naked, his male parts completely hairless, his wrists manacled together and attached by a silver chain to similar iron restraints on his ankles, as if the Matron considered him a danger and a runaway risk.

Vian tried to decide what was missing that would make him look more Draconic. Horns. A tail. Maybe even wings? The half-blood already had a very long reach, though, and if he grew any stronger than the scrawny form she saw now, his clear potential filled out some with practice and good food…and if he was fast…

Yeah, maybe that’s why she’s got him chained up already, she thought. To get him used to it.

But the half-blood had magic for sure. He had to, or Y’shir wouldn’t be standing there accepting the “Blade Singer apprentice” announcement with a nod of confirmation. They’d already tested him.

“What’s his name, Matron?” someone toward the front asked.

Miz’ri looked slightly irritated that her pacing had been stepped on and she waited several extra, long moments to answer.

“In remembrance of my poor sister, whom the Drake saw fit to let die, her son shall be Mourn Prohnda’lik.”

“Mourn Prohnda’lik,” many repeated.

Overwhelmed by all around him, Vian noticed the Dragonchild’s ears move in a way most Elf ears didn’t, and all of a sudden, he looked displeased and focused on something specific.

“Morixxyleth,” he said, his voice about the same timber as his Matron’s but not nearly as loud.

Shit, Vian thought as soon as she saw the Matron reach for her snake whip. This didn’t look like a first offense; that expression told the Sergeant that her Matron was tired of hearing this and the insubordinate male had tried her patience already.

“We. Have. Spoken!” Miz’ri declared, taking a step back, her Sathoet moving flawlessly out of the way of her swing. It was very quick.

Two of the four snake heads at the tip of the Priestess’s weapon were awake and their mouths opened wide as she struck. They latched onto the hybrid’s shoulder as he turned slightly and ducked his head down at the lash. The fangs sank in and were as quickly and very roughly ripped out, leaving a poisoned, jagged wound behind.

Vian grimaced. It would take magic to heal that without scarring, and until then, the half-blood was going to feel like rothe dung from the venom.

“What is your name, sister-son?” Miz’ri asked loudly. “Tell the people of House Dar’Prohn what I have named you!”

Y’shir leaned to whisper something to the Dragonchild, his face placid. The youth heard him and considered a moment, distracted a moment as he reflexively licked at the wound on his shoulder. Vian’s eyes widened. He had a Dragon’s tongue for sure.

“Mourn,” he said, trembling a little as he felt the whip’s venom spreading through him. “You have named me Mourn, mistress.”

Only half complete, Vian noticed, but the answer was precisely spoken, as though the way of speaking in Vuthra’tern was his second language. Miz’ri nodded, satisfied; that was good enough for now. More than a few in the crowd relaxed, their murmurs buzzing in the courtyard.

Vian knew deep in her gut that this was the end of her “breathing room” as far as what she could do with her squad. What Miz’ri must have been waiting for this past half-century was here, so the Sergeant could expect to lead a lot more missions she didn’t necessarily want to do.

She glanced at her squad and lovers; they looked back. They knew it, too.

House Dar’Prohn was about to get a lot more active on the proving grounds.

“We’re going to get retribution for this,” someone in Sergeant Hanva’s squad muttered in the barracks.

“I’d be disappointed if they didn’t try,” another replied. “Isn’t that the point?”

“Ideally we cut just the right place that they’re too afraid to try a straight reaction,” Hanva responded, sounding tired. “Then we rely on the spies to tell us where to look next.”

“I’d rather they try, even knowing they’d lose,” the other insisted. “At least we’d see them coming.”

“Not the way it works between Houses,” the first said.

“Don’t we know it?”

“We’re here to follow orders,” Hanva said, raising her voice above the others. “Let those whose job it is to get the intel do what they do best. We act on that when we’re told.”

Vian met Jahn’s eyes by accident as she caught him in a rather disgusted expression. He quickly erased it when he realized she could see him, and she just smirked. That was the major change lately, gradually happening over the last three decades. Vian used to be called on more for reconnaissance and various spying tasks; now she, Hanva, and several other Sergeants were strictly “release the blades” squads. It was a common thought that they were “blind fighting” in more ways than one as the Matron kept more of the big tapestry cloaked and her agents gagged.

“It’s the Dragon-bua,” another grumbled. “I hear no one’s quieter and he’s already a mage, too.”

As the fighters in the barracks understood it, the Matron and Y’shir were training her sister-son personally. When Mourn was visible, he was with either of those two. He always had his head down, eyes on the ground.

“Anyone know how old he is?” Vian asked over to Hanva and the others, although it was an open question to anyone. It was a thought that had returned to her multiple times.

“Eighty?” a soldier guessed, and several nodded.

“Yeah, thirty turns since he got here, and Izabal was gone for fifty before that.”

“Gotta be less. Takes time to grow something that big.”

“So slightly less. I bet Izabal caught like that,” the Davrin snapped his fingers. “Dragon magic, and all that.”

“Heard they might give the thing some training with us next,” mumbled another.

“Where did you hear that?”

“Uh, one of the cooks.”

“Before or after you were sampling her plate?” his comrade snickered.

“What did the cook say?” Vian nudged.

A shrug. “That she overheard a servant saying—”

The conversation stopped abruptly as Ilse, keeping watch, signed an urgent warning: Matron’s son is coming!

“Everyone, look over their equipment,” Vian said to her squad, “anything that needs mending, you get it mended now.”

“Yes, Sarge,” they responded and would soon be out of sight.

Multiple squads received the same order and suddenly the barracks were incredibly busy when Miz’ri’s Second Son, Piare, strolled in with his typical arrogant smirk, congratulating himself on a House force well-run even if it was mostly his older sister’s doing. The most likely thing the fighters would expect from him was either a passing of word on from the First Daughter or he was here just to choose another first-rank fighter to make him spurt.

By the way he adjusted his crotch, Vian figured the latter was the reason he was here, and why her squad was the first out of the barracks getting their equipment to the crafters. He picked all his toys from the barracks but wasn’t much fun; impatient, with a parchment-thin bubble of pride easily cut in coupling. He wasn’t violent; he couldn’t really get away with that, as he only liked females, but he was spiteful and knew how to use his Mother and Sister to make things difficult for anyone in the army, both the subordinate who displeased him and the supervising Sergeant.

Piare walked down the row for inspection as Sergeants greeted him and the others who hadn’t managed to leave yet kept their mouth shut and eyes elsewhere. His eyes landed very briefly on Vian; their gazes met as she acknowledged him with a respectful nod.

Distasteful as their single coupling had been before she was Sergeant, Vian and made Piare cum very quickly despite himself; she was one of the few about whom he couldn’t complain—she’d done as he commanded—but she was unsatisfying for not cowering to him, for watching his face without blinking as he climaxed.

Piare looked away now, as he had many times before, seeking an easier, more pliable female selection. Vian stayed just long enough to see which poor bottom-ranker he picked, noted which Sergeant might be irritable later, and left the barracks to find her team.

“Ugh,” Saida commented at the leatherworker’s stand, eloquent and succinct as an eye roll.

Ilse and Eallo hid their smiles behind their hands. It was easier to laugh about Piare behind his back than the other Noble siblings. His sister especially, Second Daughter Rachvil, was much harder to snicker about as she could get violent, and often did. It was much harder on the male fighters she picked. Kerym still had a bad Reverie every so often about it, one of her victims before joining Vian’s squad. Vian had seen competing squads put aside their rivalry before to be united against Rachvil in avoiding the loss of one of their best to her.

“Where’s Jahn and Kerym?” Vian asked, allowing a little concern to leak into her tone.

“Had to see the blacksmith,” Ilse answered.

The Sergeant leaned to look down the way, opting to use her magic eyes to look closer. She saw them, and they looked fine now, no ranking females eyeing them. Still, there was only one way to be sure.

“I’ll go stand with them,” Vian said.

Saida and Ilse smiled appreciatively. “Thanks, Sarge.”

She gave the other female a wink. “At ease.”

This was an early hint to her from Y’shir. Take care of your fighters and they’ll take care of you.

Not everyone got the same tutelage from the ancient weapons master, and some might try it and decide it didn’t work against their rivals, so they’d shift tactics to be more like them. But it was the one lesson which sang true for Vian, even if she had been deemed not worthy of a full apprenticeship because she didn’t have a strong enough mage’s gift.

As she had honed her team and they became one of the most reliable, she noticed a few other Sergeants had begun trying her tactics, Hanva being one of them. They didn’t always hold, depending on how impatient the Sergeant was for reputation or results, but Vian walked that line between being “too soft” yet too damned effective for anyone to fault her on it, at least until she made a costly mistake. Then the fault would catch up with her quick.

Vian didn’t see anything at fault with doing what worked and that which made her look forward to getting out of her cot the next cycle. She only wished she didn’t only have to blind-fight the same rival Houses over and over again.

“Matron Dar’Prohn.” Vian bowed deeply. “You summoned me?”

“I did.”

The well-dressed Priestess stood with her back to her Sergeant, her Sathoet absent but her snake whip present, sharp eyes looking over her tiny animal fight pit inside her private garden. It was just wide enough for a Davrin to drop in and possibly get stuck—though Abyss help you if you did—and it was built into the polished floor, Warded in a ring of magical red stones. It sounded like two mantis-crets were inside now. That would be quite the show.

Vian waited for quite a while for Miz’ri to speak again; the Sergeant displayed no impatience whatsoever.

“What have you heard of Mourn Prohnda’lik through the gossip, Sergeant Vian?” Miz’ri asked. “I know you have heard things. What has intrigued you most?”

Shit. This was not what she might’ve hoped was the reason she had been asked into the House for the first time in five turns. That half-blood took up quite a lot of the Matron’s thoughts, didn’t he? Almost to the point of ignoring the army Miz’ri possessed, letting her children run it with less oversight.

Vian couldn’t really complain or think to persuade her Matron now to look at something else, though. All her lovers were still alive, even if they were required to take on and sloughed off new fighters regularly. None of Vian’s missions had been suicide ones with too little information given, and this at least indicated she was still known as a valuable Sergeant to the Noble children. She didn’t want to jeopardize that.

Although at the same time, there seemed no challenge for her anymore. Even her squad had less sex these times, because it was all the same. Actual injury and the victory which had held true risk seemed the only times they spontaneously jumped in bed together.

“Perhaps I am most intrigued that no one knows how large he will grow, Matron,” Vian answered, standing straight and keeping her chin up, eyes forward. “He is a hand-span taller than when he arrived, they say, and easily twice as strong.”

“You are most intrigued about his size, Sergeant?” Miz’ri asked wryly. “I suppose that is to be expected, hm?”

Vian wasn’t following her path of thought. “Matron?”

“All Sergeants like a thick male ‘pole’ fighter, do they not?”

That was an interesting perception.

“I can’t help but evaluate a fighter or potential opponent, Matron. It is what I’m trained to do for House Dar’Prohn.”

Miz’ri turned slowly from her pit, finally showing her narrowed eyes. “You see Mourn as a rival? Or that I might send him against you?”

Vian disliked having these words put in her mouth. “No, Matron. I meant that I evaluate all Davrin, all the time. It happens without conscious thought. Part of my training with the Grandmaster. I always think what I might do if I was required to engage them.”

“Interesting,” Miz’ri said, sounding a little bored. “And what would you do against Mourn?”

“Probably everything, Priestess.”

Fortunately, that drew a smile. “Meaning you do not know. You haven’t had enough opportunity to evaluate him.”

Vian felt a chill creep down her back. “That is true, Matron.”

Miz’ri let the silence drag out for some time again as she watched the snapping creatures below, a victor finally emerging with a solid crack and the burst of escaped air from out of the hard shell. It sounded like a scream. The Priestess-Matron rubbed her chin and turned around again.

“I understand you test your squadmates, and ‘potential opponents,’ in a sexual way as well, am I correct?”

Vian didn’t move. “All teams do, Matron. In your wisdom, you have put the sexes together in the same barracks and have given mass contraception so none of the females will catch. Sex is allowed for stress relief.”

“And benefits morale, yes,” the Priestess said, starting to smile. “But you, Sergeant, are far, far more deliberate in your tactics, they say. Putting a ‘lowbie’ through their paces, training them in your cot, is not just mindless, impulsive rutting like some. I have theorized for some time this is why your squad is so cohesive compared to others. Am I correct, Sergeant?”

“Your words make sense, Matron,” Vian answered carefully.

Miz’ri took that as confirmation and stepped closer, until the Sergeant could smell a flower and mushroom fragrance wafting off the Priestess. Vian kept her eyes forward and did not make eye contact, looking instead at the dead space just beside the Matron’s right ear.

“Y’shir has given the basics of Blade Song to Mourn these last thirty-five turns,” Miz’ri said. “They have plateaued. The Grandmaster has suggested some intimate training with a squad. I have decided it is appropriate, as he is not accustomed to working with others. I have chosen you and your squad, Sergeant Vian.”

Double spider shit.

“As you wish, Matron. For how long?”

“That remains to be seen.” Miz’ri studied her, tilting her head. “In case I am not being clear, Sergeant, you and your team are to train him in both ‘areas’ for which I have said you are known. He is old enough now, I have plans for him, but he has shown no interest in Davrin, females or otherwise. I want you to find that interest, Sergeant, and teach him what you and your squad know. He must learn to satisfy a female; that is most important.”

Vian gave that time to absorb. She wants us to teach him to fuck?

“You’ll not share him outside your squad, Sergeant,” Miz’ri said with a jealous twist to her mouth. “You will take the full punishment if he is traded, borrowed, or stolen by another squad. I’ll not have him abused.”

Except by you.

“Your orders are understood, my Divine Matron.”

A pause.

“If I may ask a question, Matron Dar’Prohn?”

“Ask.”

“How old is he?”

Miz’ri smirked. “He is fifty-five. A bit young if he was full Davrin, but as you’ve noticed, he grows fast. You’ll ordinarily take on as young as sixty, correct?”

“If the youth is gifted, Matron, yes.”

The Matron started to chuckle. “Oh, he is absolutely gifted.”

As the Sergeant left the manor to return to the barracks, she was biting her tongue and cursing herself for her earlier thoughts.

Vian had wanted a challenge. She had just gotten one.

*Are you fucking serious?* Ilse signed, her eyes wide as the rest of her team staring at her.

“Those are the orders,” Vian said aloud. “Not sure how long we’ll have him.”

*He’s not going to be easy to trade or transfer if he’s hard to work with, is he?* Eallo signed.

Vian agreed in kind, signing instead of speaking. *Impossible to trade. Not allowed. We’re stuck with him regardless. No borrowing or sharing. No stealing, either, if another squad gets him to go with them or if they force him, then I take the hit for that. Trust me, it’ll be a hard hit.*

The other five looked concerned, then their faces firmed up with determination. They would protect Mourn in order to protect Vian; she could see this in their eyes.

*And,* she continued, *do not whisper or gesture even one hint about what I say next, understand?*

They each signed that they did as they again checked their surroundings for privacy. They were meeting in the first cave where Saida and Jahn had merged their auras, and so far it was a little-used placed.

*We’re going to have to teach him how to breed, too.*

All of them except Jahn blinked.

*Breed,* her quiet mage signed, frowning thoughtfully.

Vian nodded. *I thought about it on the way back. She was specific; he’s got to satisfy females. I think she wants to breed him.*

A squad was a good choice, then. All the females were on magical contraceptives; they could have all the sex they wanted and not need to leave the army until one was required to breed or left the army in some other way still breathing. Yet still, Miz’ri wanted more Matron-kin with Dragon magic…? Maybe over time, something like Vian and her squad would be obsolete, and they were required to help to make it so.

Such was the survivable loyalty in the fighting force of a Matron-Priestess in Vuthra’tern. Sooner or later, you were traded in for someone better.

Grandmaster Y’shir chose the moment of transfer, and Vian noted that it was only as public as it had to be. The Matron’s wishes must be made clear to those in the barracks, after all, but it was neither servant’s nor merchant’s business outside of it.

The barracks had a large footprint on Miz’ri’s land, visible across from the slave fields as a single construct directly blocking way to the main mansion; everyone had to pass the barracks and drilling area to see the Third Priestess of their city. The imposing structure had an open main floor just large enough to squash all the fighters inside, if necessary, to be debriefed inside warded stone. If the House grew any larger, the Matron might have to consider building a second barracks.

Only the “lowbies” slept in the open main floor, usually wherever they could find space to lay out a bedroll, and those ranking higher were in larger, sectioned rooms in groups of four or five. Higher ranks than her might have their own quarters on the top floor, complete with their own jump circles on the flat, guarded roof for getting down and out instantly without fighting rushing bodies filling the wide side halls. The Sergeants and their squads, being in the middle, had a lot of practice either climbing up or scaling down to wherever they needed to be.

In Vian’s case, she stayed with her squad in their assigned room. It was just easier, and she wasn’t the only Sergeant to opt for that. Of course, having Mourn in the same room with them was going to make it even more cramped.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Not all the fighting force was present; some were out on missions, but the majority were here and enough to serve the purpose. The Grandmaster, who was the only one technically part of the fighting force who stayed at the Noble House, kept his speech short and practical, for which Vian was grateful as she stood on his left with Mourn on his right. Her squad was just behind her, and enough of the others were here, listening and staring in the low light.

“As you should all know, this is Mourn Prohnda’lik, son of Izabal Du’Prohn and nephew to our Divine Matron,” Y’shir began, his golden queue touching the floor even as he stood straight, watching them with a calm but powerful presence, somehow retaining most of the eyes even as all of them no doubt wanted to stare at the tall, golden-eyed beast-Davrin beside him.

The Grandmaster’s voice was strong. “He has trained with me these last three decades in the style of Blade Song and I am satisfied with his progress, but as most know at least in theory, it is a solitary practice. While his martial and magical skill is sufficient to be an asset to any squad and his training in tactics will lessen the danger of ignorant mistakes, he has yet to learn any true cooperative method.”

Y’shir paused, his eyes scanning their force. “The Matron has chosen Sergeant Vian and her team to train Mourn in this next phase and introduce him to our best lessons. As you all know, he could be leading you within a century. I trust you have realized it is in your best interest that Sergeant Vian succeed in her duties. Do not waste your time thinking to steal glory or sabotage her efforts.”

The Grandmaster paused briefly, scanning them.

“Keep in the Matron can still, at any time, call back her nephew for any reason, including clear description of what you all do within these walls. It will not be looked upon with favor if his training is slowed from petty rivalry. It is worth noting here that Mourn simply does not lie, for or against, when the Matron asks him a question, and you will have a difficult time convincing him otherwise.”

Y’shir paused again to let that last peculiar statement sink in. “Are we clear, soldiers?”

“Yes, Grandmaster,” Vian said with her squad, their voices soon drowned out by a rippling wave of nods and further assent.

“Good. Dismissed, all of you, except Sergeant Vian and team. You will show me his quarters.”

Davrin reluctantly moved out of their way as they headed for the stairs. Mourn was a head taller than the tallest of them yet stepped just as quietly if, not more so. He was dressed in very simple garments, a shirt and trousers blacker than his indigo-dark skin, with no shoes at all, showing that his feet had claws like his hands. Mourn moved without hesitation with the group and looked straight ahead; he didn’t sign or attempt to speak. His face was expressionless, his breath was even.

And yet… Vian received the odd, gut feeling that he was scared. Maybe it was the low, deep lub-lub of his heart that came to her ears, or something about his scent, off-center as both of those were comparing it to a pure Davrin.

“Cozy,” Y’shir commented as he looked into their quarters, counting five cots and a bedroll. He waited until they had all moved inside and closed the door, placing the privacy Ward himself. “So. Who sleeps on the floor?”

Eallo, Jahn, and the rest relaxed a bit, knowing their Sergeant had a longer history with the Grandmaster than most, and that Y’shir liked her. A few of them smiled.

“We rotate, Grandmaster,” Vian answered.

“Even you?” Y’shir asked.

“Yes, Grandmaster.”

The old male grunted in amusement, looking up at Mourn. “Curl up tight and you may fit in one of those cots, I think.”

“I will sleep on the floor, Master,” Mourn stated without much emotion.

“That decision belongs to your Sergeant, now, apprentice. You will listen to her.”

Y’shir looked at her expectantly, and Vian looked at Mourn, who wasn’t making eye contact.

“Hey,” she said. “Look at me.”

He did. His face was reasonably Davrin, and it was the face of a young one, but those eyes were so unlike any of her people that it nearly made her shiver.

“You’ll rotate sleeping spots with the rest of us,” she declared.

Mourn took a moment to nod, as if he’d been thinking it over or visualizing it. “Yes, Sergeant Vian.”

She looked back at Y’shir. “Does he have any weapons?”

“He uses them, primarily blades short and long, but you’ll have to outfit him from scratch,” the elder said. “I am keeping his usual tools for now. Don’t worry about boots, though, he won’t wear them.”

The tone gave Vian the distinct impression that a battle had been fought and decided at the mansion over this. She smirked. “Gotcha. Progress reports?”

“Just train him as you have been instructed,” Y’shir said vaguely. “If we feel reports are necessary, you will hear from us.”

A few of her squad exchanged glances; like her, they could easily consider that an ominous statement. It was far, far easier to fail unspoken expectations.

“May I reach out to you if I deem it necessary, Grandmaster?” Vian asked.

The old Davrin paused, considering, and finally nodded affirmative. “You may. I recommend you seriously consider what you will say beforehand.”

Another vague warning. Y’shir wasn’t going to say anything about the sex or breeding, but Vian was almost sure he knew about that requirement. Almost.

“Thank you, Master,” Mourn added before Y’shir saw himself out, and the ancient fighter looked at him, an odd sadness briefly crossing his face.

“My apologies I couldn’t do better, apprentice. Be resilient and do not panic. Sergeant Vian is very different from your Aunt.”

Mourn didn’t respond, but Y’shir left them all with that brief glimpse into that previous life as they considered the next one.

“You know your way around, Mourn?” their Sergeant asked, unsure how much sneaking about he’d been allowed to do. She nodded as he shook his head and voiced an honest negative. “We’ll start there, then. Welcome to the Matron’s Army.”

Eallo and Ilse groaned with pure bliss as the hot spray of water fell from the ceiling in clustered streams to hit their bodies. His fingertips subtly touched her hip and she brushed her wet hair back from her face, looking at him with a smirk. She stepped boldly to cup his balls, and his cock was already starting to swell. They were contemplating a quickie; no one else washing would really care.

Mourn stood at the very edge of the communal shower, capable of cleansing twenty at a time. He was still clothed, uncertain as two more squads piled in and, seeing Eallo and Ilse already getting into position, her strong legs wrapped around his hips. The noise increased to a level even Vian didn’t really care for. Still, she nudged the hybrid’s shoulder.

“Come on. Strip down,” she ordered, doing the same, “wash your clothes, clean up. You’re sweaty and caked in mud like the rest of us.”

They had already secured their equipment properly; everyone wore just their standard clothes. Obediently Mourn pulled his shirt over his head, mimicking Eallo from a bit ago: he dunked it in one of the sudsy side tubs just outside the shower, giving it a brief scrub before wringing it out and hanging it up to dry over the quick-heat stones. At least he’d been paying attention.

“Good,” Vian said, nude and already scrubbing shirt, pants, and her top and bottom undergarments. “Now the bottoms.”

Mourn knew he was being stared at as he did so. This was actually the first time Vian had gotten a look at him nude, beyond the first presentation when he’d been a new arrival to the House and chained hands-to-feet. She had not noticed a tail back then, but guessed now there might’ve been a short, stubby one even back then.

The Dragonchild definitely had a tail now, she could see it plainly. However, it barely reached his mid-thigh and it had been hidden beneath his clothes, coiled close to his body. It was still stubby and didn’t quite match his form, like it was a deformity. Maybe that was why the Matron was trying to hide it.

What the fuck? she asked herself, already considering whether they could get his clothes altered.

“Oh, shit, look at that,” one squadmate whispered to another, and Vian turned her gaze and glared at him, encouraging the fighter to move along in his own task of getting clean.

“Wash,” she urged her new recruit. “Don’t listen to them.”

Mourn didn’t respond except to wash his trousers, lay them to die, and quietly follow Vian into the shower. They took the spot next to their teammates, Eallo now squatting down with his back braced to the wall and his thighs wide as he could hold them, his hips held up so Ilse could sit on him, riding his cock with her hands gripping his knees.

“Fffuck,” Ilse gasped, working out the rest of her tension following their exercise, water droplets flying off her stiff nipples as her tits bounced, her squadmate huffing appreciatively with his fingers gripping her hips.

Mourn glanced at them then looked away. His eyes shifted to Vian as if he expected a similar order to get in that position. The Sergeant stared at him with her hands on her hips. Not only wasn’t she going to give that order, but she could see for herself he had zero interest, just as Miz’ri had warned her. She at least did better understand the Matron’s last comment about him being “gifted.” If the tail seemed rather stubby, his penis did not.

“I said wash,” Vian ordered. “Don’t look at them if you don’t want to watch.”

He didn’t want to; he stared at the wall and scrubbed the mud off. Vian frowned as she did the same, standing between Mourn and her other two squadmates, keeping her body half-turned with one eye and one ear open for the whispers about Mourn’s tail, or if anyone decided to approach. Her recruit was very, very tense, almost waiting for something. The hybrid seemed right off as if he would put a damper on the easy, sexual comforts she’d cultivated in her own squad over the last half-century.

Fuck me sideways, she groaned in disappointment, indulging in pity for herself for just one, brief moment. As if any soldier really has the lifespan to deny themselves any perks of living.

Grumping silently to herself, Vian evaluated the rest of Miz’ri’s nephew. His hair had grown much longer, now between his shoulder blades and bound up into a queue like Y’shir’s. It was pitch-black, however, not white or gold, another thing for which he was stared at. She could see the scaly patches on his skin; he literally possessed part Davrin skin and smooth flesh, and part semi-glossy Dragon scales.

If the scales were as strong as Dragon hide was fabled to be, then even standing stark naked, the hybrid was automatically protected from a kidney flank, a backstab, a femur artery severance, or any glancing blow to the shoulders, with further armor even crawling partway up his neck. There were not a lot of “soft” spots on the half-blood; maybe the lower abdomen and genitals or the face. His mass overall seemed thick enough it would be hard to hamstring him or cut the back tendon of his very strange feet unless it was a very deep cut, and Vian even doubted it would be so easy to pierce his chest; the scales seemed to fill in the spaces between the ribs for the most part.

This evaluation of some of the most effective natural armor she’d seen in her life was sobering when she added it to his very first sparring matches which had gotten everybody muddy. Vian had just seen for herself that he was fast, his reflexes impressive. The half-blood’s unarmed reach was longer than most Davrin, and most were betting he’d grow even larger.

Vian’s newest recruit also had frightening predatory instincts which visibly kicked in under threat. For example, Mourn had fangs, they just discovered, as just outside he had used it as an intimidation display. It had worked. No one wanted to risk being bitten by him. No one knew what would happen.

A venomous, fanged Davrin…what in the Abyss? How am I supposed to train that? He’s not acting like a Davrin, not even half a one!

All of this was why most fighters were whispering behind Mourn’s back now, not openly confronting him. He had just beaten all his opponents in the combat pairings. Not without taking some hits from the more experienced challengers, but still….

Izabal’s son was almost a mindless beast when he fought—brutal, brief, and seemingly unemotional—yet he could consciously learn further skills quickly by observation, direction, and practice with Y’shir. Vian also wondered whether he drew on some deeper knowledge none of the rest of them could, something he was born with. This first sparring exercise, he’d been difficult to predict and shocked even her.

And then after all that…?

The “Dragon bua” would act like this in any social setting. Stiff, silent, awkward and…

Fucking afraid, Vian thought with a frown. I’m sure of it. He’s afraid.

“How do you figure Izabal took a cock that size?” someone whispered as Ilse and Eallo were finishing up, rising off of their crotches.

“Like a champion,” another snickered. “I’m more wondering about how her Noble slit pushed that back out.”

“Well, it probably didn’t, the Dragon probably had to cut her open—”

Mourn’s short tail twitched and he stepped out of the shower, grabbing his slightly damp clothes from the hanger. Vian didn’t know where he figured he would go.

“Stop,” she ordered.

Mourn obeyed, but he kept looking forward and at the ground. The tip of his tail quivered.

“We move upstairs,” she instructed her two other team members.

They nodded and collected their dry clothing and left the shower room. She led them all upstairs into their quarters to finish dressing. She turned on a low light so they could all look at each other once fully dressed. She lifted her chin to meet Mourn’s cautious eyes.

“You’re going to have to let shit like that roll off your back, Mourn, ‘cause it’s never going to stop,” Vian stated seriously. “Davrin live to speculate. Acting like a moody, sulking mute isn’t going to help you. They’ll eat that up and turn up the spice even more, and the speculation will become ‘facts’ you’ll hear over and over again until they get bold enough to push it in your face.”

Mourn blinked at her slowly. Then he finally spoke. They were the first she’d heard since Grandmaster Y’shir had left him here with them.

“How do you…suggest I ‘let’ this ‘roll,’ Sergeant Vian?”

He’s asking for specific advice? Fine.

She exhaled, thinking. “You beat a large handful of them in the exercises just now. Your confidence in a fight rattled a lot of them. In a weird way, they want one of two things. Either to see that confidence carry over off the field or show them it was only luck and animal brutishness that helped you win. That’s why they’re saying the things they are. They’re trying to rattle you as you did them, but outside combat. Make sense?”

Izabal’s young son nodded, so she continued.

“So if you are strong in one way but soft in another, they’ll be planning on ways to overcome you using those soft spots in future fights. You want to let them do that unchallenged? Just keep acting how you are. Or you can watch me, watch my squad, for ways to act confident when you aren’t fighting. I can’t tell you what will work but you need to watch us.”

Unexpectedly, his tongue flicked out at her. That tongue was an odd feature, and she could only figure it was Draconic—because it wasn’t Davrin. It was lavender in color.

“What does that mean?” she asked with a bit of hostility.

He looked confused. “What does what mean, Sergeant?”

“You just stuck your tongue out at me, lowbie. I might take it as an insult.”

Mourn considered this. “That is not the intent, Sergeant. I catch scent. With my tongue. This happens…without thought, at times. No insult. I apologize.”

Vian sighed to herself. This would take a while to learn the new and unfamiliar body language. And oh, the rumors that would fly in the meantime. She looked over, and Eallo and Ilse were watching them both, contemplating.

“Thoughts?” she asked.

Ilse indicated Mourn’s trousers. “We should have those altered. Have the tail out all the time so others get used to it. You might like that better anyway, wouldn’t you, Mourn?”

He was careful about his answer. Vian recognized his hesitation in an instant. Mourn thought if he admitted any strong desire, it would just be used to tease or punish him. But then, Vian knew her Matron and the Noble children fairly well in that regard. Like the boots, this battle had probably already happened, and Mourn’s tail was still hidden. He’d lost that one.

“Agreed,” Vian said solidly, looking up at the Dragonchild. “Tail out. We’ll fix your trousers. I imagine it’ll help with your balance and it doesn’t look like you’ve got a dump in your pants.”

His eyes brightened a little, but he was still wary. “It might, Sergeant.”

“Alright, then. Let’s get that done now.”

Jahn got along with Mourn surprisingly well as her lovers all adjusted and readjusted to having the Matron’s nephew in their squad. This made some sense to Vian; the two males were often both quiet, thoughtful, and her mentally agile mage would watch out for the baffled youth, pointing out moments where Mourn could use a cognitive strength instead of a physical one.

“He is like my Master,” Mourn said once. “And yet, not.”

Vian knew what that “not” part was about. Often Jahn would sign something subtle and cleverly supportive whenever Mourn might be bothered by gossip, particularly about his mother, or further speculation about his sire based on what they could see of his body.

More than once, Jahn had managed a private zinger against the gossipers that caused the large half-blood laugh quietly. As soon as Mourn did this once, it became easier to do again and yet he never attacked them, because she had told him that was unacceptable if he was not under deadly threat.

Finally, Vian thought.

She was pleased to witness the strange male developing some mental armor to match his scaled armor for the darts tossed at him. Just like when he showed his fangs, Mourn’s low and slow laugh unsettled them. Those who heard Mourn’s laugh, especially when it got deeper, would always pause to see if he was about to do something else unexpected.

Knowing he could laugh helped, and because he could understand what she meant about “letting it roll off,” Vian never once confronted anyone for anything they said about the hybrid. She refused to fight that kind of losing battle when she was trained for something else.

She was grateful to Jahn for finding what worked so quickly, and she let him know this. She encouraged the rest of the squad to find something about the Dragonchild they liked, despite his strangeness and how he always held himself apart from them, as if he felt he didn’t deserve to be closer despite surviving twenty fights with them over the next eight turns.

As always, Vian could count on them to find it. Saida enjoyed the spells she could practice with Mourn, Vian, and Jahn; Mourn added a level of difficulty and complexity that challenged her. Kerym and Ilse couldn’t speak better for how skilled a scout Mourn could be; they learned from each other new ways to navigate the Deepearth and anticipate threat or seek prey.

“The primal side is really valuable,” Kerym commented to Vian, and she could tell he meant it. “Watch him pick a good spying angle sometime. He never has to be told.”

“I have been,” she’d responded, smiling. “I think you’re getting more out of it.”

Eallo and Vian worked hard to find Mourn’s weak spots in melee, though the basics of the Blade Song were an unfair advantage at first.

“Should I stop using it against you, Sergeant?” Mourn asked.

She’d caught her breath, sharing a look with Eallo as they rubbed their bruises. They each shook their head.

“No. Keep using it. Don’t hold yourself back to let us win, just don’t kill us.”

Mourn had paused, seeming confused. “I do not want to kill you, Sergeant. Why would I?”

And that was the kicker for Vian. He grew ever more deadly and skilled; he was on track to outgrow a mere squad and be a resourceful, solitary assassin for the House, mastering scouting, magic, and combat with practice. His experience in multiple areas would easily put him up for leadership, given enough time.

And yet… some part of his thought process seems so simple. How can a Dragon’s son be so intelligent one way and so…well, so slow in others?

“Not yet, Matron,” Vian had admitted at one point with no little degree of tension.

“A decade,” Miz’ri had murmured, displeased, her snake whip hissing. “And nothing? Are you even trying?”

“If you’ll forgive the barracks-talk, Matron, you can’t fuck a limp noodle.”

“Then use potions. Or stimulate his nut gland.”

Vian felt her heartbeat pick up a bit and breathed to settle it back down. “Um, he’s said those have been tried before he came to us, Matron, and they didn’t work. He also hated them.”

“I don’t care if he hated them, Sergeant. They are proven to work on all Davrin males, they’ll work on a half-Davrin male eventually.”

“Of course, Matron. Except I’m looking for the natural way, too. We might have to appeal to his sire’s blood somehow, but we’re testing blind on that.”

“You’re being too soft with him,” Miz’ri judged, ignoring the suggestion of courting a Dragon’s interest. Perhaps she didn’t know how, despite what her sister had managed somehow. “He will lead you on and pretend that foolish, lying ignorance until your patience is at its end. He is far too old to be acting so childish.”

Vian bowed. “I beg you give me more time, Matron. He’s been much more useful to you in other ways. He watches us in the barracks sometimes. He’ll join in sooner or later.”

Miz’ri considered this. She looked suspicious. “I might borrow him from time to time, Sergeant, to check if you are truly using the time I’ve so generously given.”

The Sergeant remained stoic even as she felt that protective pull for anyone in her squad. This was the one squad member she couldn’t fight for the way she could for her others. It was a hint, perhaps, of how Y’shir had felt, giving Mourn over and looking regretful about it.

“As you wish, Matron.”

“Always. As I wish.”

Vian bowed and was dismissed soon after.

*So what do you think, Mourn?*

He blinked back and signed back. *Sergeant?*

*About this.*

Vian indicated the others in the room. Jahn had just sucked her to orgasm and had started on Eallo as Saida and Ilse shared Kerym on each end, one squatting on his face and the other on his cock; they faced each other and were kissing, touching each other’s tits.

The hybrid had been curled up on the cot with his eyes closed—resting, if not in Reverie—until Vian had crawled into the cot next to him, still smelling of sex.

*No lies,* she added.

*I have not mastered lying, Sergeant.*

Vian grinned, finding that oddly funny. It was also the truth; he was a terrible liar. More often than not, she encouraged him to use truthfulness to his advantage. He could at least practice judging when it could be effective, and when it only made things worse. If in doubt, he always remained silent.

*Then answer. I politely ask your honesty.*

Mourn looked toward the grunting and moaning, watching, flicking his tongue out. His member didn’t even twitch beneath his loose pants that she could tell.

*This mends their bonds, it does not harm them,* he answered. *They are willing, so it is pleasurable. They know their mates.*

Vian eyed him, her lips pursed thoughtfully. *And you? You know no mates?*

He didn’t want to answer; he was doubting. She heard his heartbeat again.

*Mourn. Sign to me. Truth.*

He swallowed and answered. *No. No mates. But I know what is expected, I know what you have been asked to teach me. Do not force me as I’ve seen others do, Sergeant. Please.*

She maintained eye contact; the hybrid looked away first and she felt her stomach drop. It wasn’t that simple. Vian needed to make some progress, figure out something, or her whole squad would suffer. She tapped his shoulder to get his eyes on her hands again.

*Why do you know no mates? What does it require? Is it something Dragon, not Davrin?*

Mourn’s talons on his feet dug nervously into the bedroll laid atop the cot; his tail was coiling up around itself. It added to his scent and his heart; Vian was scaring him, even though no one else in the barracks would believe it.

*Scent?* he suggested, simultaneously flicking his tongue out. *I….do not know. I will…will know it when I sense it. That is all I could tell, Sergeant. I tell the truth.*

He’s trying to describe something he doesn’t even know. This isn’t from the Davrin blood, then; nothing we’re doing is working. Are Dragons so picky?

Vian paused in her thoughts. Then again, how many Dragons even were there down here? She had only ever heard of the one. The big, black one who had struck a hard bargain. They hadn’t seen any sign of him since Mourn had been given to the Matron; the enormous beast hadn’t checked on his offspring even once that anybody knew.

Apparently, the Dragon didn’t care, and Mourn didn’t know anything about being a half-Dragon. Nothing except what came to him on instinct.

What if it’s impossible to breed him with other Davrin? What if we need a female Dragon to teach him? No one knows how to find one! Hadn’t Miz’ri even thought to ask about any of this before striking her bargain, if this was her plan all along? Fuck!

Vian sighed in frustration, rubbing absently at her sticky snatch. Despite her stress, it livened up again, tingling beneath her fingers. It led her to thinking more on what she’d seen the last decade. As far as she could tell, Mourn didn’t even masturbate, even if he would absently touch it now and then, like any male with dangly bits. His penis was just for urinating.

Vian also remembered, even as she didn’t tell Miz’ri, the way Mourn’s expression and aura had changed when she had once last asked about stimulating his nut gland. The ears turned back, the fangs showing, his pupils shrinking to the width of needles in his eyes, and that sickening pulse from his aura had made Vian dizzy.

Damn her.

Miz’ri had forced that on him, and he had such an aversion to the idea now there was almost no way Vian could achieve the same without similar force.

I’d have to break him first and lose everything I’ve accomplished with him so far.

That was something she’d never needed to do with any male before; some females broke their males to make them serve, but Vian simply didn’t need to. That’s why she was one of the most effective ones, and why her males all did their best for her.

There might be no way to win this challenge, however, whether being soft-handed or not.

The unstable balance continued for another five turns before Vian saw any significant change. Mourn was called back to the mansion three times and kept for a quad-span at a time when Vian and her squad did not see him.

Each time Miz’ri’s nephew was returned to them, it took Vian spans to regain the ground she’d made with him before. The half-blood refused to describe what the Matron was doing but Vian and her squad had more than enough experience to guess, especially when Piare and Rachvil would come to the barracks to taunt Mourn, and Vian couldn’t do shit about it.

Regardless of the torment, whatever the Dar’Prohn Nobles were trying to achieve wasn’t working. Mourn only became more stubborn and even looked upon Vian and her squad with suspicion as a once-soft edge began to harden on him. He left the room when they were having sex now, more often than not.

Vian tried everything to persuade him, but Miz’ri’s interruptions was undermining all her methods. The Matron grew ever more impatient for any sign of progress that Vian, for the first time, started lying.

“I assure you, Matron, that Mourn is at least licking female Davrin slits in the barracks now. It’s a start.”

Vian hadn’t meant for that lie to slip out, but it might’ve given her a little more time.

She needed advice. Guidance.

“Grandmaster,” the Sergeant finally dropped to one knee before him. “I don’t know what to do. My squad’s going to be broken up over this, I’m afraid what’s going to happen to them after I’m punished for failing with Mourn.”

Y’shir slowly closed his long-fingered hand on her shoulder in sympathy. “I will try again to persuade Miz’ri to wait longer, Vian. It may or may not mean he will be taken away from you yet again, but have you discovered the root of this problem?”

She lifted her head. “What do you mean, Grandmaster?”

Y’shir smiled in his usual way: slight and tired. His faded, red eyes looked out a window from his private rooms. He was about the only one comfortable leaving them open. He exhaled softly.

“Miz’ri is trying to force him to grow up faster. I know it is deceptive to look at him, but he is still a young child, Vian. Think of a Davrin who is about twenty turns old. That is about where Morixxyleth is now.”

Vian felt her stomach chilled over as if she’d guzzled a whole skin of under-spring flow after running for half a cycle.

What have I done…?

“What? B-but he’s nearing seventy… The Matron told me he was growing faster than a pure Davrin.”

“Physically, he is growing very quickly,” Y’shir agreed. “He has a highly capable body and profound instincts, as well as a natural magic flowing through him of a kind I’ve never truly seen. But his… maturity… has not caught up with you, or anyone in the barracks.” He watched her sadly. “I am sorry, Vian. Miz’ri was either lying to you outright or she is still lying to herself. Morixxyleth cannot breed. I am not sure how long it will be before he can.”

The Sergeant was surprised at the rage which flooded her. She felt white-hot inside as she jumped to her feet, her fists clenched. “You couldn’t have told me? Given me some hint? Fuck, the things I’ve…when…I…we never wanted it! None of us!”

Y’shir lowed his eyes. “In all honesty, I’d hoped you would realize it.”

“He’s beaten everyone in a challenged fight, Y’shir! Everyone! If not the first time, then he beats them the second! No one sees him or treats him as a child! They haven’t for fifteen turns!”

“Except for me,” the Grandmaster agreed, nodding placidly. “And now, you. You feel the truth, Vian, likely much deeper.”

“And I’ll do what with the truth, exactly?” the Sergeant asked bitterly, thinking again of her squad depending on her. “Try to convince Miz’ri where you haven’t been able? Fuck, I just told her he was at least licking females just to get her off my back!”

“Oh,” the Grandmaster replied, absorbing and acknowledging that mistake in a single syllable. He considered further. “I will recommend your team next for the border patrol, if that is alright. It will at least get you all away from the House grounds for a while, and perhaps…you can come to an understanding. Gain some insight, have a chance to talk.”

Her jaw was starting to hurt, her teeth were gritted so hard. “I can’t talk a baby into fucking like a grown male, Y’shir. No one can.”

The Grandmaster nodded safely. “You should still take some time away, your entire squad should. I would recommend talking with him, do not leave him outside of your self-made family, Vian. He trusts you. Or at least he wants to.”

“How would you know?” Vian asked. “You’ve been seeing him whenever he’s brought to the House to be molested again?”

Y’shir nodded, his expression troubled; his voice grew more earnest as he spoke. “I’ve offered further mental training, where I can, to help against his believing under great stress what Miz’ri is telling him. I’ve tried to give him hope, that he should believe more in someone like you. If he is to consider a female Davrin an ally at all, it should be you and those who follow you by choice, whose loyalty you have earned without trickery or force. You are the Mother to whom he should give his trust, and love without fear.”

The Sergeant couldn’t respond to that at first. She’d never heard the Grandmaster say anything like this, not so blatantly, even if he’d been subtly coaxing her this way for centuries.

“You once said I was an ‘inventor,” she said. “When I first found Eallo. You encouraged me during our ‘breathing room.’ It wasn’t really an inventor you meant, was it?”

Y’shir smiled a little broader now. “Perhaps not. Perhaps I meant someone more like a Matron of old. One who is worthy of her family, because she learns who they truly are, not what she would remake them be.”

Vian snorted softly, shaking her head as she considered what he was saying: that she was competition for Miz’ri on some level. “This isn’t going to turn out well.”

The Grandmaster stepped forward to life his hand, testing her, and she held still looking at his ancient, soft eyes. Y’shir touched his fingers to her cheek, smoothing the pads tenderly along the side of her face. It was a first and, somehow, she knew it was a last. Her eyes teared up and he spoke.

“Do not give up, Sergeant. If you insist on following the Matron’s path as she has presented it to you, then you are sure to fail. Step back from her and find another way.”

The Grandmaster was right about the break from Vuthra’tern: everyone in the squad welcomed the quiet and solitude together. Border patrols were tours of duty shared between the top five Houses, lasting several spans at least. A magical stone post at regular but well-hidden check points let the First House back home know all was quiet.

Most of the time it was; their borders had been well defined with the lesser races for centuries. Even the grey dwarves remembered them being far too much trouble to try and oust from their establishment.

Vian had been on two patrols before but not with her current squad. From the looks she’d been given, or those which had been passed between the others, they were hoping for an opportunity for some purely private playtime again, like the times when they’d first been finding each other and sneaking about to various hiding places to fuck. Reflecting on those memories as well, Vian had winked, giving them hope. It was certainly possible if Mourn would keep watch for them.

Not that they could get lax on their other skills, as this outing would force them to hone their edge if they’d come back alive and all together. There were rules; no one was alone for more than quarter a mark without checking in through their shard of emerald.

Vian had created this method with Y’shir’s guidance, as one of her first major magical passes; she had given one to each so they could at least sense each other when a shard got close enough to another shard. They couldn’t share any words, though. If someone was out of range too long, Mourn was sent to sniff them out. For the first three times, he always found them well, and all along the border patrol was fine.

The fourth time, a full ten cycles out from the city and near the fifth post, it wasn’t so well when Mourn led them to their missing scout.

“Ilse!” Kerym whispered in distress.

*SILENCE,* Vian signed, trying to get her own heartbeat under control, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. They studied only as long as she dared. A hodge-podge collection of miscreants had found their scout and captured her. There was no way this mix of off-image Pytes, Tragar, and Yutoguls would actually work together like this!

Ilse was unconscious and bound, and within a quint-mark of sensing no significant magic about these creatures, the Davrin squad had signed enough. They prepared to act. Range and magic first, then the melee fighters would dive to cut them all down, retrieving their squadmate alive.

Then the thought-flayers arrived.

No…

Vian held everyone in place, angrier and more scared at what she was about to witness than she’d ever been, yet she knew that meant it was the wrong time to act. She knew a little about Ornilleths, but it was only theory. There hadn’t been any recent sightings too close to their city; not since Vian was alive.

What had changed?

The thralls—because that was what those others were, not true for their race but thralls!—parted for their masters, and the two Ornilleths poked at Ilse as if checking over her for physical flaws. The tentacles on their bulbous faces curled and swayed as if they were actually talking, though they were eerily quiet, tall and too slender in their dark robes. One kneeled down to bring its head closer to Ilse, testing how easily it could slide its tentacles into her nostrils.

No…no, no!!

Vian wasn’t sure who had cried out, maybe it had been herself, but both thought-flayers turned to look in their direction. The psionic creatures had heard their thoughts and…and…

The thralls charged all at once.

Oh, shit.

“Saida!” Vian commanded.

Her battle mage had been waiting. It was a glorious fireball. Half the thralls fell, burning.

“Jahn!”

A second fireball. Kerym’s arrows punched into those three stubborn dwarves still standing, slowing them just enough for Eallo and Vian to cut down the rest.

“Mourn?!” Vian called, looking and unable to spot him as they had spread out just enough to maneuver and defend.

Against what hit them next, however, their defense wasn’t enough.

The two Ornilleths spaced themselves just apart from each other, deliberate and poised, their timing impeccable as Vian made eye contact with one.

~One.~

Something deep and impossibly dense ripped through their heads, setting off every nerve as if exposed in an open wound, a trembling undercurrent with the power of an earthquake trapping them in splintered, cracking glass for a split instant.

They screamed, all of them, falling and begging for the pain to stop.

In another black moment, it did.

****

Vian smelled blood; she tasted it in the back of her throat. She smelled charred flesh blocking out most scents of the wilderness. She could hear nothing; the roaring in her ears was too loud, and when she turned her neck slightly, her entire head felt bruised as if beaten repeatedly with a mace.

She heard someone breathing heavily above her, a clear tremor present in every inhale and exhale, as if he was afraid. Or hurt.

“Sergeant,” Mourn whispered.

His voice wasn’t too loud, thank Braqth.

“Mmm,” she managed.

“Vian?” he asked, a little louder.

“Shh—!” she hushed, afraid of her head popping like a blood pearl mushroom at the noise.

A moment of quiet.

Her youngest squadmate put something to her lips, a bottle, and she had to decide quickly whether to drink it or not. She thought she recognized the odor…the taste…

She drank. The roar in her ears began to recede.

Is…is anyone still around?

“Th-Thought fl…” she coughed, rolling to hack and spit out the blood which had been flowing down her throat from her nose. She still hadn’t opened her aching eyes.

“I killed them,” Mourn said.

He had? How?

“A-anyone…casualty?” she groaned, lifting her head with effort to look at the half-blood.

Mourn had been bleeding from the nose as well, but it looked to have stopped. He blinked at her, concerned. “I-I don’t know.”

She swallowed her first demanding, unforgiving thought: So check! Fuckin’….check on my squad…now—!

No, no… she told herself next. Remember…he’s young. He’s a baby…

*Are you hurt?* she asked by sign, looking him over. She saw no open wounds.

*Not bad,* he signed. *Headache.*

She believed him. *Can you keep watch? Scent for other hostiles?*

Mourn nodded earnestly.

*Go. Warn me if anything is coming. I’ll check our team.*

As she unsteadily got to her feet, Vian saw Eallo shifting first; she went to him, searching the pouch on his belt for the same bottle Mourn had found on hers. She broke the wax seal and brought it to his lips. “Eallo…drink.”

A cough, a groan. He opened his eyes, and he looked at her as he always had. “V-Vian…?”

Her knees felt like liquid as she confirmed she had at least one of them back. She leaned down and kissed him as though he was a stream and she was dying of thirst. Their eyes locked for a moment, and then she squeezed his shoulder.

“Help me with the others.”

Slowly their group regained strength, soothing part of the psionic damage done to their minds with magic and potions. Ilse was freed, and though she was terrified at what had almost become of her, she wasn’t suffering from the double mindblast like the rest.

*We’ve got to find a place to hole up,* she said. *We’re not good to move on.*

*We can’t stay here, Ilse,* Eallo refined.

*Of course not. Mourn and I can help get you all somewhere safe.* The scout shifted her gaze to her Sergeant. *He said he found a place.*

Vian looked at him, and the half-blood nodded. *How do you know it is safe?*

Mourn hesitated; he looked at the ground as he signed. *Within my Sire’s territory.*

Even Jahn shook his head in disbelief. *From Ornilleths to Dragons?*

*He sleeps,* Mourn pressed. *Will not bother us, and no race will come near even if they smell blood.*

Vian glanced around at how many of them had stains on their clothes from the nosebleeds. She sighed, then looked at the Dragonchild again. She poked his thigh; he looked at her and she locked with those golden eyes.

*You are not lying. Your sire is asleep? There’s no danger from him?*

His nostrils flared a bit. *I am not lying, Sergeant. He sleeps a long time.*

Vian made her decision.

*Clean up anything here that looks like Davrin,* she instructed to all of them. *Take anything known and useful from the thralls, nothing unknown. Then let’s buck it out of here.*

****

Stepping into the vicinity of the upper cave which Mourn had chosen, Vian did feel something a little…odd at the edge of her senses. This place didn’t seem like a normal part of the Deepearth. If rock could breathe and the stalagmites could hum a tune to the lichen to coax them to stay, she thought it might as well be here.

She wasn’t the only one paranoid, jumping at shadows as they made camp and settled down, sorting their supplies and everything they’d taken from the bodies not burned to uselessness. They rested, sipped on one more precious healing potion, passing it around to take the edge of their headaches, and ate. Eventually they all started to feel like living Davrin again.

“Can’t believe we were all ‘thwumped’ like that,” Jahn murmured, staring into his blue crystal light to scratch some notes. “It took…almost nothing on their part. Six of us, one attack.”

Saida turned her head, her mouth twitching. “Thwumped?”

“That’s what it sounded like in my ears,” he said, his smile shy and affectionate for his mage-match.

She chuckled. “You don’t say a lot, my handsome, but when you do, it makes sense. I like it. I can even agree. Do you?”

Vian and the others caught her eyes, nodded as they thought about it. Saida slid nearer to Jahn, putting an arm around his waist. He welcomed it, relaxing against her as she kissed his ear. He kept writing, though anyone could tell his face had warmed with his thoughts of Saida.

“So what happened, exactly?” Vian asked them. “Everyone describe what it was they saw, from when we found Ilse to when you woke up. Eallo, start with you.”

“As always, Sarge,” Kerym teased.

“He always came first, didn’t he?” Jahn jested, winking at him.

“Put a cock in it,” Eallo answered with a smirk. Then he followed his Sergeant’s request.

Vian listened to each story, and they mostly matched. There were a few new details from each, odd things they had noticed either about the Ornilleths or their thralls. She asked Ilse to go next, allowing her to describe how she’d been tricked by sound bouncing before she was led into an ambush.

“I…wanted to follow it, Sarge,” she said quietly. “I’m sorry that I did. Part of me was…lured. They didn’t hurt me, just…grabbed me, put me out without pain.”

Interesting. Probably wanted her as a thrall, too. Or maybe something worse… Vian didn’t know anyone who knew what happened to a Davrin dragged back to an Ornilleth nest. Or at least none who had been willing to say.

“What are they doing around here now?” Saida asked. “Why this close to our borders? We haven’t heard anything in centuries.”

Mourn had been silent up until then. “A new Elder Mind has settled near here. It is…exploring. The Ornilleths act on behalf of their Elder.”

The squad blinked at the Dragonchild. He looked exhausted, weaving a bit as if he wanted to sleep. Vian might have encouraged him to lie down and close his eyes, but he couldn’t say something like that and not follow up.

“How do you know that?” Vian asked with a frown.

Her young squadmate muttered quietly. “The Elder Mind arrived in the time my Sire was teaching me to speak your language. He met with it once. They came to an agreement.”

The Sergeant swallowed. “Oh? Where were you? Back at his den?”

Mourn shook his head. “I clung to my Sire’s back. Most of the time.”

“That’s an Abyss of an image,” Kerym commented. No one could really disagree.

Fuck. Vian tried not to blink. “Okay, Mourn. What agreement between your sire and the Elder Mind?”

He shook his head again. “I do not know. I couldn’t hear them. It did not speak to me but it was aware of me.”

He’s seen an Elder Mind and is still sane, Vian thought, astonished. Or at least as sane as any confused, half-blooded Davrin could be under Miz’ri’s tender teachings. Teachings. Ha. She’s wasting him trying to breed him too soon. He knows about the Ornilleths and he can fucking fight them!

“How did you kill those two Ornilleths before they could kill us, Mourn?” she asked, and the others perked up.

Mourn tried, but his eyes couldn’t focus on her anymore. She had to ask the question again, touching his arm.

“How, Mourn? How did you do it? I need you to speak.”

He nodded.

“Too late to move everyone from their attack,” he murmured, looking as if he might slip farther into Reverie with each question. “Not strong enough to block…I got behind. Used a Word to stun them. Then Blade Song.”

“A… Word?”

He nodded, his eyes starting to close. “The Words…I hear them…”

“Mourn?”

He tilted to one side, falling.

“Mourn!”

“Fuck!”

“Catch ‘im!”

The three females were closest, and they caught the heavy hybrid, laying him down without him striking his head. Saida shifted a pack beneath his head, and Ilse checked his pulse while Vian tested his temperature, pulling up her glove to press her wrist to his damp forehead. His skin was very, very hot.

“Heart’s racing, Sarge,” Ilse whispered.

Yes, she could hear that, too.

“I don’t know what’s wrong. Damn it,” she muttered, working with the other two to turn and hold him just right so she might get just a little water down his throat without choking. He swallowed by reflex but didn’t wake up.

“Maybe just let him sleep?” Eallo suggested behind her. “We can watch him. He never slept normally, anyway, but his body always knows what it needs.”

That is true…

Jahn nodded in agreement with her Right Hand. “And if he just used Dragon magic instead of Davrin to defeat the thought-flayers, maybe that sapped his…”

Abruptly the battle mage covered his mouth as he was caught in a huge yawn. The others were staring, and he looked embarrassed just afterward.

“No, I agree, more of us should sleep, not just Mourn,” Eallo picked it up, aware and intent. He always spoke when he had a strong opinion about something, trusting Vian to consider his thoughts. “You need rest, Sergeant. So does Jahn. Ilse and I can keep watch.”

“Heads elevated, in case you have a concussion still,” Ilse added, straightening up.

“Fairly sure the potions took care of that,” Saida debated.

“Sleep with Jahn, anyway. You know it revives your magic sooner.”

“I keep telling you, that’s not how it works.”

Ilse smirked. “I’ve noticed you still feel better afterward, mage. Less slitty.”

“Hey!”

Vian had been studying Eallo the entire time; he looked good, probably the strongest of them. So did Ilse, all things considered.

Their Sergeant, on the other hand, still feels like crystalline spider piss…

“It’s a good idea,” she said. “Let’s sleep while we can. Heads on packs at the very least. Eallo and Ilse keep first and second watch. You wake me up if you need rest.”

Eallo nodded. “Got it, Sarge.”

Vian wasn’t sure why but she wanted to stay close to Mourn as he slept. She tugged out the whisper-light, insulating blanket from her pack and draped it over both her and what it would cover of him, moving closer to share the pack as a pillow. He shifted closer in his sleep, leaning toward her, and Vian touched his forehead again, running her bare fingers over his face as if trying to learn it beyond what her eyes could see. Then she stroked his hair.

She felt something different, something strange. Little bumps on his skull.

“Fever?” Ilse asked.

“Uh…not sure,” Vian said, distracted from the hard nubs. “He’s hot. That’s about all I can say.”

“Fever.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

There was something different… As Mourn might say, she “tasted” something strange about him on her tongue. It did not taste like illness. It was something else. Despite her curiosity, however, the warmer she became beneath the blanket, the harder it was to keep her eyes open.

“Mind if we share the heat?” Saida asked, coaxing both Jahn and Kerym over as well with their blankets.

“Please do,” Vian accepted, “but don’t grope him.”

Saida gave her Sergeant a teasing look. “We know as well as you that he doesn’t like that. Jahn and I think our auras added will help him heal.”

Now they were talking sense. Vian found herself smiling as Kerym and her two battle mages carefully snuggled in with her and their half-blood.

A subtle, underlying tension which seemed ever-present in Mourn slowly melted and disappeared. He breathed deeper, legs and tail tucked up, armed and hands curled in; Vian could better see the youth as he truly was. It had been a long, long time since she’d seen a child asleep and was aware of the fact, but the way his aura was humming quietly now, she could even imagine him growing taller still while he snoozed.

The Sergeant stayed there as she replayed everything which had happened. By the end of it, her heart had lifted with firm realization. Vian had a new negotiating piece with the Matron. House Dar’Prohn had far bigger things to train for now with this new threat, and Miz’ri had an undeniable advantage over the other Houses in her nephew. She wouldn’t pass it up. Vian might even be able to convince his Aunt to keep her perverted hands off him for a while.

A plan was starting to form in Vian’s mind—

Then she slipped into Reverie with the rest of her squad.

For a long time, it was simply dark and quiet.

She needs the rest. She will get her rest.

Eventually she became aware, and she heard a low chuckle tickle the air around her as she blinked into the dark. Slowly she stepped in place, turning to all sides. The deep, penetrating voice came from everywhere around her.

“As Stand-in Mothers go,” the powerful, male voice said, “you’ll do. Beware his tail, that will grow even longer.”

“Who are you?” she asked before thinking it through.

“Your host.”

Now she did think it through. He had declared her a Stand-in Mother, and he accepted? She imagined she licked her lips; a betrayal of nervousness. “You are the Black Drake?”

He undeniably was pleased. “The one and only.”

Her lips tightened up as she thought of her squad, weakened and vulnerable from the thought-flayer attack, and here was the Dragon watching them despite the fact he was supposed to be asleep.

“Your ‘squad’ will come to no harm here, Vian,” he said with obvious amusement, “although thank you for that wonderfully stubborn expression. It must run in the family.”

What?

“Ah. Y’shir hasn’t told you. Very well, my mistake.”

She blinked, experiencing a surge of shock. “You know the Grandmaster?”

“That Elf is so old and has been down here so long, how could I not, little Mother?”

She frowned as it seemed far too easy for him to distract her. “Little Mother? I’ve never had a child.”

The Drake chuckled happily. “You do now, Vian. A very rare one. I will trust Y’shir’s judgment in this and allow you to leave with him despite my temptation to do otherwise.”

The tone sounded threatening, and the statement was a genuine one. If the Drake reclaimed his offspring now, Vian and her squad could never return home.

“All of us,” she stated, opening negotiation. “We will all leave unharmed to return to Vuthra’tern.”

“Did I not say your squad would come to no harm, Sergeant?”

“Yes, but that is not the same as leaving, Great Drake.”

“True. Well. Perhaps for a small price?”

“What price?”

“Have you any gold?”

She grimaced, not even attempting to lie. “Two pieces, and some silver.”

“That will be just enough, I think, but must I add this as well.” His voice shifted from musing to suggestive. “Have some fun before you leave my domain, Vian. You’ve earned it. At this point the boy will sleep through anything. No one will bother you here, I can assure you that.”

Vian listened to the following pause as much as she did his agreement. Her gut told her he would keep to a bargain, but….

“You just want to watch,” she heard herself say.

Her host laughed boisterously. “Nothing wrong with that! You have watched plenty, have you not? You are my kind of ‘Matron,’ Sergeant. You take care of your pack, and I want to see how well they take care of you.”

Vian felt heat brush her cheek. She couldn’t see the source, but wondered if the Dragon had just breathed in her face? He sounded closer now, and aroused, and… on the cusp of rage at the same time, needing release. She recognized this mature response in herself as well. Dragon or Davrin, it shouldn’t matter which side it came from, yet this was something Mourn had yet to display at all.

“Make it a good show, Sergeant,” he hissed, “leave me some coin, and each of you will be free to take my Son back to the Abyssal Whore you call ‘Matron.’ I’ll be curious to see how this goes, though I don’t imagine it will end well. But I will grant, that shall not be from you and your lack of effort.”

Vian opened her eyes, staring wide at a distinctly Draconic face.

But not a full Dragon. Mourn was still sleeping.

Her expression shifted from alarm to confusion; something strange was wrapped tightly around her thigh.

What the fuck?

She carefully touched beneath the blanket, found the warm, turgid, scaly thing, and followed it to Mourn’s hip.

Fuck. His tail?

It had grown longer.

Vian firmly tugged at it, trying to uncoil it and it resisted, tightening harder just like a snake. It was starting to cut off circulation when she went still, willing it not to get worse.

Oh, please, oh please…

She took a breath slowly and thought this situation through a bit more. Mourn never wanted someone using force. Did she have to force his tail to let go, even when he was asleep? Probably not.

Vian gently stroked the tail instead, slow and comforting. It gave her the time to realize that it had indeed grown longer as he slept. Surprisingly long. The tip was probably down to his heels now if he was standing; the appendage finally matched the rest of his body.

“Let go, baby, please,” she whispered when she noticed the petting made the tail relax further.

At the sound of her breath moving, at her soft request, it finally slithered loose from her leg and she felt the blood rushing through her limb once again.

Sighing, she brought the tail up with both hands, trying to decide if she was going to feed it back over his hip again when it trembled and looped three times gently around her forearm and squeezed.

It was almost affectionate.

She bit on her lower lip to refrain from snickering and started stroking it again, back and forth, back and forth. The prehensile limb quivered again and finally released her, sliding back on its own behind its owner, still deep in repose. Mourn’s face hadn’t even twitched.

We’ll defend you, Mourn, she thought. We will, as we defend each other. We owe you that. We’re alive and free from Ornilleth mind control because of you. No matter what your sire claimed, he didn’t challenge us raising you. He only confirmed that you chose to save us, you chose your family….

“Sergeant?” Eallo asked quietly. “Are you awake?”

Vian looked behind her. She wasn’t sure how long she had been out, but the other five were awake, and they all looked refreshed. They smiled, one after another as she made eye contact, and she felt a rush to her lower abdomen. Her squad had never looked as sexy as they did now.

We’re alive. We survived the fight.

That old feeling, that urgent attraction. It was back in full force.

Vian carefully slipped out from under there the blanket so as not to disturb Mourn, tucking it back around him. He didn’t stir, though his much-longer tail flicked out from just beneath the edge.

Exhaling softly, she stepped light on bootless feet over to her decades-long lovers. She grabbed Eallo first, his jaw trapped in both her hands as she kneeled over his lap, drawing him forward into a hungry kiss with tongue. He clutched her, answering with passion.

“Oh, fuck, yes,” Ilse cooed, turning to a more-than-willing Kerym just as Saida began to purr, reaching for Jahn’s cock.

“It’s been a while since you’ve looked like this,” Eallo gasped after she released him, grinning up at her. “Been so fucking worried but won’t fucking talk to us. Bad Sergeant.”

She snorted. “Shut up and strip down, lowbie.”

Eallo held his own as she tried to kiss the Abyss out of him, as they tugged impatiently at their clothing. She heard Jahn speak, trying extremely hard to focus as Saida swirled her tongue around the head of his erection so recently freed from his open pants.

“We’re s-safe?” the quiet mage asked.

“Yes,” Vian sighed her answer as Eallo bit her neck.

“And…M-Mourn…? Oh…!”

“Sleeping,” she said, lifting her squadmate’s hand to press it against her bare breast. “Nothing will wake him.”

“You’re s-sure?”

“Yes!” all three females answered irritably, and the male battle mage was soon on his back with Saida sitting on his face.

Jahn was no longer able to protest but didn’t seem to mind. Someone chuckled as his mage’s hands paused in open air, stunned a moment before they clutched to her well-toned backside and he eagerly pressed his mouth to her slickening sex. Saida cooed in approval and leaned down on her belly to resume a languid draw on his prick with her own warm and wet mouth.

Meanwhile, Ilse sat in Kerym’s cross-legged lap, her own legs hooked at the ankles around his waist. They each had one hand down at the other’s crotch, intense eyes watching each other’s face. Kerym slowly inserted two of his fingers into her slit as it heated up with her heartbeat; they kissed and he applied pressure inside and out, keeping it slow and steady and patient as if he was lining up a sniper shot just before release.

Ilse’s eyes closed and her breath trembled as their lips remained lightly touching, mouths just barely open, for the entire time they explored the other’s sex. The female archer wasn’t even stroking his entire cock but tugging gently on the bit of loose skin on the underside, just beneath the glans. They could, and had, teased each other for whole marks this way, each of them waiting to see whose patience broke first.

Vian and Eallo had shifted from directly groping and kissing each other to a slow, erotic wrestling, each trying to subdue the other without harm, as their strength and skill was tested without the benefit of momentum or speed. Their grunts and gasps and growling laughs made the most sound in the cave, though the arches whispered their own encouragements.

All three males were accustomed to self-delay as their female squadmates often got off first; the rewards for waiting were generous with these particular partners. One thing the males liked best was that they could legitimately win a contest of will or strength now and then, and not face a petty, prideful female afterward.

Such was the case now.

“Ahhh….ohh, yesss!” Ilse gasped as she lifted her lips from Kerym’s, tilting her chin up as her sex flexed and oozed around his fingers. Her partner grinned smugly as he outlasted her.

Saida had stopped sucking and stared at her squadmate cumming; she missed Jahn whispering a chant. The next thing she knew, her mage match had captured her clit between his lips and pressed the tip of his tongue hard against her, his mage’s hand sparking just enough as he transferred one wet, electric finger from her slit to her back pucker. He penetrated, giving her that spike in his aura; she gasped and jumped, her netherhole thrilled to feel that unique force of his will, even as it shoved her over the edge.

“OhGoddessyousneaky…!” she managed before her orgasm crashed through her, leaving her helpless on top of him. Saida’s forehead dropped, her nose buried in his white pubic thatch with his hot, dark erection pressed to her cheek. He felt her hot breath against him as she cried out. “OH!”

Again someone chuckled, low and slow.

Vian was still grunting, desperate to get Eallo in a lock he couldn’t shift away from. The problem was that he knew all her tricks by now; she’d have to learn some new ones. Her breasts were squashed flat against his chest as she used her weight to bear him down. He was helpless, lying flat on his back and he’d been struggling for the leverage to turn her off of him….

But suddenly he’d stopped trying to roll her and simply maintained his current hold, seizing her in position and staring up at her. They were stuck; their arms were interlocked. The one advantage he had was that he had control of her legs; they were braced between hers, their ankles locked and she could neither close them nor widen them. His prick was hard as stone, lying eagerly along her vulnerable cunt. She bet that he was leaking, but she was so wet she couldn’t really tell.

Eallo chuckled and Vian smirked down at him as they held each other’s eyes.

“So how are you going to get it in, Corporal?”

“By calling back-up,” he answered, turned his head toward Kerym, who whispered something in Ilse’s ear and she snickered, rolling off of his lap.

“Oh, fuck,” Vian groaned, trying to suppress her smile.

“You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, Sarge,” Ilse said. “How long since you’ve even taken two at once?”

“Much less three,” Saida agreed in exaggerated contemplation, holding Jahn prisoner by his cock after his little trick up her netherhole.

Eallo tightened his hold as Vian tried suddenly to get loose.

“Good concentration,” she grunted, teeth gritted, trying to take a full breath.

“Exactly what you demanded from me from the start, remember, Sarge?”

He kissed her, and Kerym reached between their legs to help press the head of Eallo’s cock between Vian’s slippery, pouting lips. The fighter thrust his hips up, forcing a gasp from his Sergeant as he buried himself halfway in.

“We win, Sarge,” he gasped as she squeezed herself around him.

“Nnngghfffuuck,” she groaned, a tacit admittance of defeat which soon had her feeling Ilse’s tongue swirling softly around her netherhole, wetting it up and pressing the tip of her tongue inside as Eallo stroked again, giving Vian more of his cock as she tried to relax further.

“Gotta get it good and wet, Sarge,” Ilse teased as she lifted her mouth and Vian turned her head to see Saida and Jahn crowded near as well.

All four of them admired how Eallo’s prick spread her netherlips, and Kerym and Jahn each took a turn to press the glans of his stiff member against her netherhole, smearing pre-cum on top of Ilse’s saliva. Vian groaned and swiveled her hips, the wetness cooling even as it was incredibly slippery. Meanwhile, the other two females presented their snatches to their mates and allowed a brief stay inside their cunts to moisten their lengths thoroughly.

“That’s enough,” Ilse declared, crawling away. She jerked her head toward the patiently-waiting Eallo and his captured leader, telling Kerym, “So help Vian with her stress-relief, scout.”

Vian’s cunt ached from the anticipation—she was filled yet her male barely moved—while her netherhole twitched now and then in reflex as she sensed the second male getting into position behind her. He touched her, smoothing his hand along her flank. His thighs touched the insides of hers as his hips just brushed her buttocks.

Oh, Goddess, I need this…

Kerym’s hard, slick member pressed directly against her asshole and pushed forward. There was no hesitation on his side; he would open her up and penetrate her as Eallo had done, one way or another. It was in her best interest to let him in.

Vian lifted her head and moaned, relaxing and bearing down slightly, letting him take her the easiest way as she opened up; he was practically sucked in. Soon she felt Kerym’s balls against her penetrated sex; she had no doubt Eallo could feel it, too, but at the moment she was held helpless by the intensity of feeling so goddess-damned full…!

“F-fuck…!” she gasped.

They held still as she adjusted to two cocks spearing her holes. She glimpsed Jahn crawling nearer, lightly stroking his prick, and her mouth watered unexpectedly. Both holes clenched down without her meaning it, but each male moaned in appreciation.

Then Saida and Ilse reached in from the sides as Vian braced herself on her arms, exploring underneath their Sergeant, cupping her breasts….pinching and twisting her nipples…!

“Ohhh, yes!” Vian whispered, finally letting go, her mind emptying of everything but this—everything but them, her beloved squad hand-picked. Such lucky finds. So many turns to find them…

“Yes. Fuck me. Jahn! In my mouth. Now.”

Eallo moved first, then Kerym, and Vian squealed in delight as Jahn kneeled carefully over Eallo’s face. She lifted her chin, extending her neck and opening her mouth to let him slide his cock along her tongue before she closed her lips around him. She tasted Saida’s juices; her own tight slit throbbed in response.

Fuck me…fuck me senseless…!

Kerym had a good hold on her haunches as he slowly worked up his pace, stroking up her backside. His cock caused the strongest sensations while it lasted, but everyone in this group knew from experience what the male in the netherhole usually came first, possessing the best leverage to move and having the tightest fit. It was just as well.

“Cream her, Kerym, come on,” Eallo encouraged, quivering as he strained to move inside her twat in his inferior position. “Milk your cock dry in that amazing ass!”

Eallo spanked her, punctuating his words, and Vian yelped around Jahn’s erection as Kerym growled and sped up the pace a bi more. Encouraging still further, Ilse and Saida touched the male scout with impunity, rubbing and pressing their fingers along his perineum as he thrust inside their Sergeant’s tight ring, stroking his testicles, kissing his back and shoulders…until…

“Ngh. Gah…yeah. Yes…!”

Kerym planted himself deep in Vian’s asshole and started spurting with several simultaneous groans; the Sergeant didn’t even care whose they were, she just loved feeling that pulsing cock finish up inside her, pushing in a few more times before slowly withdraw from her tingling rectum, leaving that gooey mess behind.

Eallo began to fuck her next, finally having room to move, and Vian made further muffled sounds around Jahn’s cock. Shifting herself up a bit more, braced on her knees, the Sergeant massaged and coaxed Jahn’s balls to do their thing as well. She wanted to swallow his essence, which always held that tang of strong magic.

The mage braced his knees wider and whispered too-brief encouragement, not at all like Eallo’s dirty talk but which Vian understood all the same. She stroked at the engorged ridge behind his sack, between his cheeks, eventually working her way to his own back passage. Her finger was wet from her own spit and she penetrated him as well, finding without error that nut gland Jahn so enjoyed to have stroked.

“Sergeant…” he gasped. “Cumming…”

She sucked harder; his cock twitched once, pulsed and the head swelled between her lips just before she received her reward pouring down her throat. She swallowed.

Goddess, it seemed like it had been forever since they could let go like this!

Eallo’s patience snapped. As soon as Jahn was out of the way, the fighter grabbed Vian and rolled, putting himself on top and he thrust in one time, hard and deep as he gained his leverage. Then he began grinding his pubic bone against her mons mercilessly.

“FUCK!” she screamed, so sensitive by now that light exploded behind her eyes. She ground back against him, as desperate to cum as he was, and it was going to be close…

Ohhh….oh, yes… Yes. There it is….

The waves rose up, carried her…tipped her over the edge. She cried out as her Right Hand pressed her down, forcing her to feel him as powerfully as he felt her.

“Ergh, Goddess! Vian!” Eallo cried, feeling her climax and barely holding long enough, shaking with the effort before he slammed into her, over and over, to finally bring himself off. He exploded inside her sopping, swollen cunt, topping off the collective effort to feed cock in her every hole.

My, oh my…what a glorious family you are….

Afterward came the part all of them appreciated, but they so rarely had the opportunity. Packs were lined up as makeshift pillows, blankets brought out, and, pleasantly exhausted, they lay six together in a single nest. They could smell their sweat and taste it in a kiss, listening to their breath calm down and their heartbeats slow.

Mourn hadn’t even stirred despite all the noise.

“So, what is it about him, Sarge?” Eallo asked quietly. “What’s been so heavy on your mind?”

Vian sighed, gently stroking Saida’s bush because she was nearest, and the sorceress murmured happily.

“We have to try to protect him as much as we can from the Matron. For as long as we can.”

A couple of them frowned.

“We…sort of knew that,” Saida commented.

The Sergeant was solemn as she spoke. “Were any of you ahead of me in thinking that maybe…we have a child to look after now?”

“What?” Ilse narrowed her eyes. “Is someone pregnant?”

“No,” Jahn said, realization hitting him. “No, you mean Mourn, right? He’s not grown?”

Vian nodded as several mouths dropped open. “He’s not even close to grown. Miz’ri’s got it backwards. He’s not growing fast for a Davrin. He’s growing as slow as a Dragon does.”

Stunned silence.

Then:

“I…I just thought he was a little…simple,” Saida admitted, looking embarrassed.

“But, he fights like…ah,” Ilse struggled to say, holding her palm up.

“He acts more like a hunting drake, I’d say,” Kerym offered, absorbing and resorting memories, as most of them were probably doing. “Stalk, wait, time, strike. He learns his prey. That’s the instinct to survive, and our House isn’t giving him any choice.” The scout’s face twisted at his next realization. “Fuck. He’s learning how to hunt Davrin really fucking well, isn’t he?”

Ilse slapped her palm to her forehead.

“He feels threatened everywhere but with us or with Y’shir,” Vian said. “You see how he’s sleeping now. Like the dead. And his tail just grew a lot more, and he’s got these little nubs growing on his scalp now. We don’t even know how much bigger he’ll get, how he’ll change, or how long it’ll take.”

They absorbed that, too. Vian continued.

“The Grandmaster said he had a lot more to teach him in Blade Song, and we have to raise him inside the Army at the same time. Y’shir told me before we left that it’s up to us to give him a contrast to the Matron so that’s not all that Mourn knows.”

Her squad understood; she knew that they did, she only had to read each expression.

“Mourn would be… unstoppable, uncontrollable if Miz’ri’s way is all he knows,” Saida murmured. “I think he’ll eventually kill her, destroy the entire House, if not the whole city…”

“No, he can’t,” Ilse denied, shaken by that possibility.

“How can we protect him from Miz’ri while he grows?” Eallo asked directly. “Especially if she wants us to teach him how to breed?”

“I’m going to start with the Ornilleths, and the fact that he killed two on his own,” Vian said. “I have an idea. We can take this problem and make it work for us. We can make it impossible for Miz’ri to take Mourn away from us or enforce that condition of our assignment for as long as possible. It’s all about delay and keeping the advantage we just found right here.

“We may have gotten mind-fucked just now, but we have Mourn and we can learn to mind-fuck them back. Miz’ri won’t be able to say a fucking thing about whether he can breed or not.”

Five firm nods. It was a start.

“Is there,” Jahn began quietly as he glanced over at the resting hybrid, “is there any way to just tell Miz’ri the truth? Reason with her?”

Vian pursed her lips, thinking over every encounter thus far. She’d have to admit to lying to her Matron first, considering also that Y’shir seemed to be trying to say that Miz’ri might be lying to herself already. The Matron-Priestess may simply choose to disbelieve the evidence no matter what reason they tried. The Grandmaster had already tried, and Miz’ri wouldn’t kill him the way she would a regular squad.

The Sergeant shook her head. “I don’t know. We’ll have to see. Maybe.”

Vian still felt better, regardless of whether the Matron saw reason or not. Whatever made things better for the Dragonchild would also make it better for her squad. That was the solution. She didn’t have to choose one over the other, Mourn or her squad. They were a family, and adopting any child, they were still that.

The relief was deep enough that Vian felt her eyes begin to water. At least now she could see a path for her and her squad that wasn’t Miz’ri’s.

The Grandmaster was right. She could find another way.