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Lady Malys
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Tue Sep 24 2013, 20:10

Mor'osez invented lightening up when we were all still twinkles in our parents' eyes. She remembers when lightening up was all the rage in the arenas. Lightening up will come and go, just like any other fashion ... Wink

I really like Mor'osez, if you can't tell :DAnd I agree with Barking Agatha, a story is the shape it is by reason of that being the form it needs to take. If you had issues with dramatic pacing, Thor, I believe they would have shown up by now Smile

It was good to see the Bloodbrides fleshed out some more. Getting to know them as individuals helps to flesh out the interpersonal dynamics that create some of the group tensions and, as when getting to know the individuals in a murder mystery play, fuels a nice bit of speculation about who could have what to lose and what to gain from each new demise.

Also, I still like it when anyone takes Kyssindree down a peg or two, I'll admit that Very Happy

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Thor665
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Thu Oct 03 2013, 21:36

@CheeZe wrote:
Quote :
Mor'osez tried 'lightening up' once.
I'm guessing that was the one time she put down her chainsword.
Twisted Evil 

@Lady Malys wrote:
Mor'osez invented lightening up when we were all still twinkles in our parents' eyes. She remembers when lightening up was all the rage in the arenas. Lightening up will come and go, just like any other fashion ... Wink
This is probably true.

In other news I was slowed down somewhat by my current gig, but am almost finished up with the rough draft of the Unan Angau chapter, which means I'll probably be releasing the next chapter in the next few days.

I'm still hoping to get into a bit of rhythm with chapter releases, as that helps force me to keep devoting writing time when I should.

Kyssindree, Grexel, and the other Bloodbrides get a bit of a chance to get their weapons bloodied in the next chapter, which should be fun. Afterwards will come the Unan Angau, which will finally see if Obessa has what it takes to wear the Purple, and also give us a few more hints into Xulfryn and his motivations. After that, it will be back into the Cult of Bloodied Kiss for growing threats and dangers, and also probably a happy time for Malys as I suspect her favorite character is due to make a reappearance. And after that...well, you'll have to wait and see, but it will mostly be negotiations, Cult and Temple style.

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Lady Malys
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Fri Oct 04 2013, 22:07

WE LOVE YOU WREN!!

... favourite character. Could be anybody.

Except Ben'rik.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sat Oct 05 2013, 08:23

::rewrites the 'Ben'rik wins everything' chapter::

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sat Oct 19 2013, 19:58

Chapter 7: The Hunt


“Take off your clothes,” Welv issued the order as he approached Obessa.

“It’s a wonder any woman can resist your charms,” she smiled as she began peeling off the gray clothes that marked her as a trainee at an Incubi Temple. Underneath she wore nothing more than simple liquidsilk underclothes, the tight material clinging to her and holding everything in place during combat and the exercise routines that were part of her daily life. Welv’s eyes smoldered slightly as he drank in the sight of her bare flesh, and she snatched at the bundle in his hands. “Are you coming in, or Tilt?”

“Welv can go,” Tilt smirked from where he languidly lay upon some crates piled up against the alley wall, “he prefers not to take his eyes off you. Besides, it will give me and Tymeon a chance to talk.”

“Oh thrill,” mouthed Tymeon as he took up Obessa’s discarded clothing. “Are you sure about this?”

“We need to go inside to overhear the conversation, and I don’t think even Ryldnar is dull enough not to be able to spot us if we walk in wearing our Temple clothes.”

“These robes will mark us as Skinners,” Welv said as he stripped down as well. “They are a known gang in the area, so we shouldn’t draw much attention.” Obessa found herself paying a bit of attention to his broad chest as he pulled the red and yellow robe down over it, the material stretching tight against the muscles. “You ready?” He winked at her, a boyish smile on his face as he nodded to the building.

“Let’s go,” she pulled the hood of her own red and yellow robe up to hide her features as she fell into step next to him.

The walk across the courtyard seemed to take forever. The gunner in the Venom parked at the front of the building glanced over at them, his arm still resting comfortably on the splinter cannon mount he stood by. His eyes narrowed as he considered them, and Obessa almost fancied that he was waiting for them to move far enough into the open that they would have no way to escape. However, he finally grew bored and looked away, as the two of them continued unmolested to the front entrance. Welv shoved the door open, ducking slightly as he worked his large frame through the narrow doorway. Obessa slipped in behind him, already scanning the room for the Incubi.

The ground floor of the building was almost exclusively set up for dining, featuring a long black stone bar and many tables wedged in tightly amongst each other. The tables were all occupied with a wide assortment of questionable clientele. Most appeared to represent local gangs and sellblades, though a few looked like perhaps just workers from one of the local refineries.

Ryldnar and Klarz’ay sat at a table in the corner. Klarz’ay had a knife drawn and was idly carving at the surface of the table, his back stiff and an edgy tenseness about him. Ryldnar sat in repose, his legs casually crossed, sipping at a glass of mulled wine, the glass stem delicately held in his armored fingers. He had removed his helmet, his hairless scalp only adorned by the webwork of scars lacing across it and his face. Both Incubi glanced up at her and Welv’s entrance. Obessa kept her head low as she headed for the bar, Welv trailed along in her wake, trying to look inconspicuous.

“Ryldnar knows,” growled Welv under his breath as he eased in next to her while Obessa ordered a pair of the cheapest ales.

“If he doesn’t yet he certainly will if you can’t stop looking at him for more than two nanoseconds,” she hissed. Welv was indeed staring and Ryldnar was staring back, his sharp eyes narrowing as he looked at the face hidden in the shadow of Welv’s hood, doubtless trying to place features that he felt were familiar to him. He slowly set down his wineglass and uncrossed his legs, beyond question about to rise to his feet and walk closer for a better inspection.

Obessa reached down between Welv’s legs and grabbed at him. He coughed in surprise as he looked over at her and she drew him in tightly.

“Whu-?”

“Do you think Ryldnar would expect one of his students to be out cavorting with a female ganger?” She was pressed up tight to him, her face almost within his hood, whispering to him, their mouths mere centimeters apart. She could feel his breath on her lips, feel the warmth of his muscular body as she pressed up against it.

“But if he thinks it’s you-“

“Do you think he’d expect me to be doing this to you?” Obessa shifted herself slightly, brushing her lips lightly along Welv’s as she managed a quick peek around his hood. Ryldnar had leaned back again, picking up his wineglass once more, he spared a brief glance in their direction, but his gaze was more one of uncertainty and confusion, and he shook his head as he turned back to Klarz’ay and asked a question. Obessa managed to suppress a flinch of surprise as Welv reached up, his hands slipping up into the folds of her robe with a delicate dexterity that she would not have expected from him. She locked gazes with him, her voice icy. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Well, if we’re play-acting,” he winked, “shouldn’t I get into character?”

She tightened her grip between his legs and the playfulness in his eyes was lost as they watered slightly. “You get into character, and I’ll make sure you’ll be forced to act it out for the rest of your days,” she promised with a throaty growl.

“You don’t make it easy for a man to flirt with you, do you?”

Obessa blinked in surprise at that comment, but before she could offer a retort there was movement on the stairs. Obessa and Welv both heard the steady thumping sound of a solid steel shaft hitting the wooden slats of the steps. A delicate white hand ran along the wrought iron balustrade, fingers lightly dancing along the worn filigree. Her other hand lightly held the shaft of a longspear, the masterwork weapon gilded and embossed with scenes of the Pleasure Cults from before The Fall. She wore the uniform of the Cult of Bloodied Kiss, the skintight black liquidsilk suit and the gold and green scale armor. Her short grey hair was spiked up around her cherubic face, and dimples formed on her cheeks as she smiled at the room.

“Fay’rezza…” Obessa breathed the name as she pulled her head further into the shadows of her hood.

“You know her?” Welv tried to look nonchalant as he leaned against the bar and watched the woman pass, he shook his head and clucked his tongue as he eyed the sway of her hips as she walked towards the Incubi, admiring the pull of the tight silk around her pert posterior. “If I had known that the women of your Cult looked like you and her, I’d have saved more money for Arena attendance.”

“Her name is Fay’rezza, known as The Mistress of Spears. She is undefeated in single combat.” Obessa risked a glance as the wych approached the Incubi. Ryldnar stood up with a gracious bow as he motioned for her to join them, his face a mask of polite willingness. Klarz’ay still wore his helmet, but she could feel the tense annoyance radiating off of him. “I trained under her.”

“Now there’s an image that will warm my nights for a few weeks,” offered Welv as he took a hefty swig of his ale and licked his teeth. “What do you suppose they’re talking about?” It was near impossible to hear them due to the ambient noise of the privacy generators that distorted all sound above the loudest shouts into unintelligible buzzings.

“I’d give anything to know.”

“A kiss?”

Obessa rolled her eyes and looked over at him, but his gaze was still focused sharply on Fay’rezza and the Incubi, his eyes moving sharply from one to the next as he quietly mouthed words to himself. She frowned.

“You can read lips?”

“Yes, it’s a skill I picked up for…” he spared her a quick glance and took another swig of ale, “a previous job. Is it worth a kiss?”

“Yes, fine,” she hissed, “one kiss, now tell me what they’re saying!”

“She seems pleased enough they’re here and was asking them about how Xulfryn Heirarch is doing. Ryldnar assured her that the Heirarch is well, then Klarz’ay said something, I can’t tell through the mask. I think she and Ryldnar know each other, they’re using first names while she is not doing the same with Klarz’ay.”

Obessa turned to watch the trio while Welv whispered a play-by-play into her ear. She wondered what a Wych of Bloodied Kiss could be doing with Xulfryn. Was this about her? Had Xulfryn learned about her disgraced past with the Bloodied Kiss and was he planning to use that history against Zak somehow?

“She wants assurance that her payment arrived as expected. She also is teasing Klarz’ay, suggesting he doesn’t find her company enjoyable. More the fool he, I say.” Obessa elbowed Welv slightly, wanting him to focus on the conversation and not his side fantasies. “She says she wants to ensure the property is safe. Ryldnar is giving her his word on the matter, it’s a long oath but basically he says the honor of the Temple is part of the promise.”

Fay’rezza then produced a small package, wrapped in black velvet cloth and bound with copper wire. It easily rested on the palm of her hand. Ryldnar reached down to his belt and extracted a thin ivory seal that he pressed to the velvet where it instantly adhered. Next he drew out a slim ivory stick, no larger than a key or lockpick, which he tapped against the seal once sharply, before handing it to Fay’rezza. She smiled, all dimples as she carefully took it from him.

“She’s…she’s telling them that they ought to get going, because she’s not sure how much longer they have.”

“Have until what?”

Welv glanced at Obessa, frowning, “she says they don’t have a lot of time before her executioners arrive.


==============================================


The three Raiders knifed through the sky like streaking bullets, their Aethersails snapping in the wind as they arced down to spiral around the looming spire of one of the lesser hab districts. Powerful engines roared, spewing out ghostly blue flames as they propelled the sleek, knife prow, anti-gravity, skimmers through the sky at a breakneck pace. Two of the Raiders, flying in escort position, flew the colors of Bloodied Kiss, the red and sensuous lines of the famed Wych Cult showing proudly. The third Raider however, flew special markings, the sigil of Bloodied Kiss marked with trailing blood drops that claimed that Raider as carrying the elite of the Cult, the Bloodbrides.

Hanging from the side of the Raider, Mor’osez’s hair fluttered in the breeze as the pilot took an aggressive nose-dive down towards his destination, swooping in low over a small shanty town of dwellings. The inhabitants of the low level hab block looked up in a mix of apathy, joy, and fear at the sight of the Wych laden skimmers. A backwater series of hovels like this one was unlikely to have many visitors from any Cult or Kabal of any worth, indeed Mor’osez was well aware that it was the street gangs that ruled here, as the value of the real estate was of little value to any Kabal.

Screaming jets howled to life as the pilots all dropped down nearly vertically onto a rusting patch of ground clear of debris or other obstructions. The huddled locals turned and fled for cover, grabbing at their belongings as the backwash of the jets blasted loose articles through the air in fluttering waves. Mor’osez unclipped her belt hook from the raider, the micro-chain snarling as it snapped back into its spool, ready for her to attach again if needed. Mor’osez knew many Wyches who eschewed the idea of tethering themselves to their ride as a sign of cowardice, but she had known too many of her sisters to endure unexpected ‘accidents’ when riding to battle during a raid or even simply traveling with their unit, and thus Mor’osez always made sure her tether hook was firmly fastened to one of the guide bars on any transport she rode.

The other Bloodbrides were already leaping clear of their ship and stalking towards their destination, their hands grabbing blades off the Raider’s weapon racks. The two escort Raiders stayed in the air, keeping an eye out for any threats, their guns searching for long range threats. The Bloodbrides had little fear of an enemy engaging them in hand to hand combat.

The Klaiviskar Twins led the way. Currently O’che had a spear tipped point attached to her biomechanical arm while gripping a coiled barbed whip in the other, and Noi’celfer bore a jagged tri-pointed claw hook, her other hand holding her splinter pistol as she frowned at the locals. The two sisters moved like mirror shadows of each other, the perfect point team as they had no apparent need to speak to each other to coordinate their survey of the surrounding alleys and darkened doorways. Cali’q and the other Bloodbrides fell into a loose combat pattern. Some, like Faeth’lyn and Cordus, immediately slipped into fighting formations with each other due to years of battle familiarity. Others, like Kyssindree, paraded around like proud strutting show birds, attempting to act superior to all of the others around them.

Mor’osez trailed along in their wake, her booted feet making soft ringing sounds on the rusting metal platform as they wound their way between two towering spires into a small alley that was some sort of mercantile district. Resting on Mor’osez’s shoulder was a mon’keigh chainblade that she had wrested from her first kill of one of their famed Losseainn warriors. He had been a commander of some sort to judge by his battle banner and the honors and seals affixed to his ceramite battle armor, and he had left her a wicked scar across her chin with a sneaky wrist twisting backhand after she had sunk a knife into the first of his two hearts. But he had died in the end, one of her kills well worth remembering. He had wielded the blade one handed, and even after having it modified to be lighter Mor’osez still wielded it with two hands, partly for control, and partly to surprise her opponents when she showed that she could wield it one handed for brief periods.

“We have found their Venom,” O’che of the Klaviskar Twins happily announced as she and her sister reappeared. The two of them glistened slightly, partly from the mist of rain that had lightly glazed them with moisture, and also from the inner glow of a fresh kill. “The crew had their necks snapped.”

“Accidentally,” offered Noi’celfer softly with a shrug as she eased up next to her sister. Both raised their hands at the same time in a gesture that said ‘what else could have happened?’ an effect that was spoiled somewhat by O’che giggling as she did it.

“We wanted to question them,” noted Cali’q the Counter, Syren of the Bloodbrides. “We need to know how many worked in the conspiracy to kill Irbreena.

“We only need one alive to do that,” countered Kyssindree as she flipped one of her knives into her hand and winked at him, “and that’s Fay’rezza. Let me go in first, I’ll cut apart anyone else there and leave her squealing to talk.”

Grexel, the Bloody Mirror, shifted at that suggestion, placing a hand on Cali’q’s shoulder. Though her face was hidden by her polished mirrormask, her discomfort was clear. Grexel had long been a bedmate to Cali’q, but of recent had begun to be overshadowed by Kyssindree. It was clear that the Bloody Mirror had no love lost for Kyssindree, and didn’t care to see her gain anything, even if it was just minor battle honors in this relatively simple seeming task.

Mor’osez had certainly been somewhat intrigued by the mission to capture or kill Irbreena’s murderers. After all, up to this point everything had been painted like it was an accident and then suddenly it was being discussed like a murder and that the wych responsible needed to be hunted down. There was really only one explanation for that…someone influential had killed Irbreena, and someone as influential or even more influential had not been pleased about it for some reason and had decided to try to embarrass or kill the one responsible for the murder. As such it made all the Bloodbrides untrustworthy for the job they had been asked to do, for as far as Mor’osez could tell they all either were or worked for the potential suspects who had killed Irbreena, meaning any one of them might be here to try to arrange an accident or cover up of the truth.

“Very well, you may lead the rush. Take Grexel with you, you two complement each other so well, after all.” Cali’q smiled sweetly, his eyes reptile cold, as he sent his lieutenant forward with Kyssindree. “Take in Mor’osez also, she ought to keep your hot tempers cooled. Akortan’a, Faeth’lyn, guard our backs. Luaae, Cordus, circle around to the rear and make sure no one slips out the back, the Twins will show you the way.”

Mor’osez stepped forward obediently to fulfill her orders. Cali’q was playing this smart and strategically as he always did. He was pairing off the wyches in small groups of mixed loyalties so that no one unit could feel free to act without repercussions, and thus increasing the chance that their supposed orders would be fulfilled. It was interesting though because it did suggest that he didn’t have any particular ulterior motives for the mission, which suggested that if Ayasha was involved it was to try and really discover something about why Irbreena was killed. Mor’osez was fine with that though, she wanted to know the same thing.

They came out into a damp courtyard, water spiraling down from above and coating everything in a clammy and cloying mist. The water danced off Mor’osez’s face as she surveyed the landscape. The Venom with Bloodied Kiss markings still idled in front of a building, water billowing out from around its anti-gravity ribbing, apparently ready for a quick getaway. A careful look, however, revealed that the driver appeared to be slumped unnaturally to the side, and the gunner was curled up in a sleeping pose rather than manning his weapon, both of them doubtless killed by the Twins before they even knew what was happening.

The building was a simple enough place, by the look of it formed mostly of ferro-metals and culled wood. A cheap add-on structure built against the side of a massive support strut for some tower that loomed miles above their heads. Mor’osez readied herself as she walked after the two younger wyches, Kyssindree and Grexel both eager for the hunt. As they approached, the door to the building swung open and a pair of Incubi stepped out. Mor’osez frowned at the sight of them, wondering what two such elite warriors would be doing in a place like this. Both of them looked up at her and the other Bloodbrides. The taller one immediately stepped aside, motioning for his companion to join him. The other Incubus made to move and then paused, considering the three wyches carefully. He reached into his belt pouch and Mor’osez saw Kyssindree shift to start drawing a dagger.

“You’re…Mor’osez, aren’t you?” The Incubus stepped forward, revealing a crystal that brought up a glittering holo-image of her. He paused as he pressed it forward. “I used to watch your matches all the time during my period as a Purple, many years ago, would you…” He bowed his head slightly. Mor’osez glanced at the fan-slate, recognizing it as an older model, and also could see that this Incubus still wore a Punisher Battle Sword instead of the Klaive. She smirked, getting a rough feeling for his likely age.

“Anything for a fan,” she offered as she pressed her thumb to the slate. Kyssindree audibly sighed and rolled her eyes. The Incubi bowed slightly again.

“I thank you for this.” He turned and walked off to join his younger companion as the pair of them marched off into the darkness.

“If you’re quite done,” Kyssindree sneered, “I think we’re due for some killing now.”


==============================================


Tymeon watched the proceedings uncomfortably as the Bloodbrides started to form up and encircle the building. He had always been quite fond of intrigue, but had to admit that he was less fond of the intrigue that got him or useful pawns dead. Obessa was definitely useful for the training she had given him that would doubtless help him progress further along his path to becoming an Incubus, but she also seemed the sort likely to try to fight her way out of a mess rather than simply pleading and bribing her way out, which seemed unwise at this juncture.

“What are the chances they let anyone out of there alive?” Tilt grinned to himself as he watched the Bloodbrides move in, an odd smile on his face. From everything Tymeon suspected about him it seemed likely he’d be content to watch both Obessa and Welv die rather than bestir himself to action.

“Low, I would agree,” Tymeon sighed, “I suppose we’ll need to help them.”

“Why do you suppose that?”

Tymeon faked a look of befuddled surprise, “because the only value either of us get out of this mission is learning what Obessa and Welv now know, and also because…well…wait, are you scared to fight Bloodbrides?”

Tilt’s eyes went dead cold even though his smile didn’t falter. Tymeon maintained a look of bewildered incredulity even though inside his stomach was knotting up. After all, Tilt certainly seemed the sort to maybe just kill Tymeon for the implied insult and walk away. But, Tymeon was wagering that an injured pride would matter more to him than personal safety.

“Honestly, I was simply concerned none of the rest of you would be talented enough to have my back. Do you think you could even cross swords with a Bloodbride, my brave Lord of Ports?”

The implied insult Tilt slurred into the title only further confirmed to Tymeon that some of his suspicions about Tilt were correct, he was obviously hiding the truth about his past and parentage. Tymeon filed away that info for a later time, his father had always taught him that any nugget of information about a potential foe or ally was worth more than a handful of soul chits or a squad of armed men. Tymeon destested almost everything about his father, but he had to admit that Port Lord Quill’iet knew his business and had expanded his house admirably in his lifetime. It was a shame he’d been so eager with females though, for he had simply too many trueborn cattle in line to the Goldport Chair.

Ah, well, Tymeon smirked, such was life.

“I have doubt I could cross swords with them, luckily they mostly appear to be armed with knives.”

“Indeed,” Tilt gave an icy smile, “very well then, stand ready, we need to wait for the right moment to strike.”

“Indeed, knowledge and timing are everything.”

Tilt considered Tymeon carefully for a moment before moving up to peer out of the alley at the Bloodbrides and ready his sword. The boy was smart and skilled with his blade, but there was more to being true Dark Eldar than that, and Tymeon felt confident in his position now. After all, it didn’t matter who gave the orders, it mattered who thought them up.


==============================================


Grexel moved in a blur. As usual, she had gone dead silent the instant she had put on her reflective battle mask. For her, the role of the Bloody Mirror was a part she played. In real life Grexel was fun, boisterous, and full of humor and jests, but the Bloody Mirror was a silent killer that copied her foes, and cut them apart in a brutal play-act of mockery. Mor’osez sometimes wondered which was the more ‘real’ Grexel, and was curious if even the laughing Bloodbride knew herself. Grexel’s foot snapped out, kicking in the door as she slipped inside. Kyssindree sauntered in after her, and Mor’osez brought up the rear, casually easing through the door.

The common room was filled with all sorts, most of them looking like collective street trash to Mor’osez, though she didn’t spot a single one of them who wasn’t armed and looking expectantly at the door.

“We’ve come for the wych, Fay’rezza, we know she’s here.” Kyssindree drew two knives from her hip sheathes and lightly spun them around her fingertips as she spoke. “The first one to tell us where she is shall earn a deep kiss from my lips, lie and earn a kiss,” she clanged the two knives together sharply, “that is even deeper.”

“The wych told us you’d be here.” A Dark Eldar in a plumed wide-brimmed hat and a ratty cloak of tattered yellow stood up, flipping the cloak off his shoulder to reveal he wore battered and aged Kabalite armor, though it looked ill-fitting and had probably been scavenged. His weapon belt held a pair of splinter pistols and a curving longsword. “She said some people would come looking for her. She paid us quite a bit to make sure they didn’t look far.”

“You and what army?” Kyssindree smiled, and then paused as almost every customer in the inn stood, hands falling ready for their weapons. She considered them playfully for a moment and then shrugged. “Eh, okay, maybe she’s not as dumb as I thought.”

“Some of us got to thinking though,” offered a one-eyed female with golden teeth who was casually pulling a splinter rifle up from under her table. “We might just be willing to cut you a deal, if say you double her price.”

Mor’osez, Kyssindree, and Grexel all glanced at each other. Kyssindree began to laugh, her shoulders shaking as she turned back to the room, fighting to hold in her mirth. “Are you…you’re serious?” Kyssindree laughed as she motioned to the one-eyed woman. “That one I’m going to kill, leave the one in the yellow cloak alive enough to talk after we’re done with the rest. Other than that just take whichever ones you want.”

“I’ll guard the door so they can’t escape,” Mor’osez offered.

Grexel drew out her own dagger.

It was three Bloodbrides versus over thirty heavily armed opponents.

Mor’osez expected the whole matter to be over in under a minute.

Kyssindree dove forward even as a few of the smarter patrons began firing their weapons. True to her word Kyssindree darted up to the one eyed woman, moving in close and weaving in under the splinter rifle. The rifle was too clumsy of a weapon to bring to bear at such suddenly close quarters and Kyssindree began carving her apart in small bits.

Grexel sprang sideways onto a decorative ledge near the door and somersaulted off of it down into the middle of the dining room. She shot up to her feet right in front of a gang member who was still drawing his sword. She pushed up close to him, her mirrored mask pressing up to his face, his nose practically touching the silvered metal. He tried to backpedal from her, but she mirrored his stumbling walk perfectly, her mask remaining pressed up to him. It wasn’t until one of his fellows took a wild swing with a curving hand axe that she moved, slipping out of the way at the last moment so that the axe meant for the back of her skull instead impacted into the head of the scared ganger, his last sight being his own face reflected back to him as the axe tore through his flesh.

Grexel flew to life then, her knife slithering out and almost languidly slipping into the throat of the axe wielder. She danced around him, her body moving in counterpoint to his death throes, a delicate and intimate dance as he slowly bled to death, still keeping her blade in his neck until one of the other warriors around her stepped forward, readying an attack. She was on him in moments, slipping up and under his arm, her blade sliding into his flesh, between his ribs, and through his heart as she glided past him and towards her next victim, fingers brushing like a lover’s caress across his cheek as she ended him. Grexel made each of her opponents feel slow, ugly, and helpless before granting them an almost casual loving death.

Kyssindree was all sharp movement and laughter, as though it was nothing more than a game, and her opponents her playthings. She toyed with her prey like a great hunting cat. To her each opponent was helplessly beneath her, and she would use small cuts, severing tendons or hitting painful nerve clusters to incapacitate them. She would slowly pick apart each foe, leaving them a weak and helpless wreck on the floor before finishing them off with a dismissive flick of her wrist. All the while she would laugh at them, daring them to try harder, to attempt to strike at her exposed flesh, but every invitation was a distraction or a trap, and the harder they attempted to kill her the quicker their own doom would come upon them.

Mor’osez stood by the door, contentedly watching the carnage. A few brave souls, perhaps just looking to flee, attempted to rush at her and force their way out the door. Mor’osez didn’t even need to use her sword as she easily dispatched them, hurling their broken bodies back into the swirling melee with Kyssindree and Grexel.

She did notice some motion near the bar as two of the patrons sought an alternate escape route. A broad shouldered male and shapely female in red and yellow robes made for the entrance to the kitchens, probably hoping there was a rear exit. Of course, out back waited more Bloodbrides, but it was doubtful the other two would want any of their playmates escaping. A hurled dagger embedded in the wall right in front of the two robed figures as they made for the door, the male recoiling from the near miss. They looked over to see Grexel regarding them, she lifted one hand, wagging her finger warningly at them before she spun and gutted a young girl trying to gash her with a spiked claw. The female in the red and yellow robes reached out, grabbing Grexel’s blade and pulling it from the wall.

“Now, now, that’s just insulting, do you think yourself worthy of even touching a wych’s blade, even if it is Grexel’s? You should feel honored enough we’re giving you a chance for a glorious death.” Kyssindree sprang over a table and landed in front of the two figures, she held up a bloodstained hand and licked at some of the blood there, “but if you really want to hold that knife, why not try to use it on me? I’ll make you famous…for a little while.”

“Careful, Kyssindree,” Mor’osez frowned as she eyed the stance of the woman holding the knife. She started forward, both of the figures in robes moved with far superior grace to the rest of the patrons. The height seemed about right for the figure in the robe to perhaps be Fay’rezza, perhaps meeting with an ally? Though, she mused, the shapely form beneath the robes looked unlikely to belong to the svelte Mistress of Spears. “That one is not cattle.”

“Says you,” Kyssindree sneered as she glanced over her shoulder at Mor’osez. “I can’t help it if half of the sellblades in a dive establishment like this look to be your equal in knifeplay, but they’re not mine.” Kyssindree stepped forward quickly, drawing a spare blade from her belt in the same motion as she lashed out with it to cut open the throat of the female in the red and yellow robe. The robed woman moved just as quick, if not quicker however, her own knife deflecting Kyssindree’s blow as she stepped in, ramming her shoulder into Kyssindree’s face and sending the surprised wych stumbling back a few paces.

“So, I guess we’re at that part of the evening’s entertainment, huh?” The robed man drew a sword out from under his robes, falling into a combat stance. “At least you keep first dates interesting.”
The robed female glanced at the man for a moment before turning back to Kyssindree and raising a warding hand. “We have no part in this, we do not want to stop you, just leave,” she announced in a husky and hissed whisper.

“If you think you’re getting out of here before I get a pound of your flesh carved off…” Kyssindree rose up menacingly, a second knife finding its way into her free hand, and then she paused. Her bright eyes narrowed suspiciously as she peered at the robed female, the other figure seeming to try to draw her face more into the shadows of her hood. Kyssindree’s nostrils flared. “…you.”
She darted forward in a blur, the robed figure deflecting her blades, but unable to prevent a sharp slash from tossing her hood back from her face, revealing pale features, short purple hair, and glowering eyes.

“Obessa…” Kyssindree hissed the word like the darkest of insults, and perhaps rightfully so. Obessa was a disgraced ex-wych, a former fighting partner of Kyssindree’s sold into slavery who had actually once managed to best Kyssindree in a duel in addition to killing another Bloodbride and, Mor’osez frowned at the memory, managing to do…disturbingly well in fighting Mor’osez as well, though she believed Obessa had only done so because she’d attacked from behind.

“Fay’rezza was meeting with you?” Mor’osez spoke the question intently as she stepped forward, wondering what the Spearmistress was doing meeting with a known traitor of the Cult. “Why?”

“What does it matter,” snarled Kyssindree darkly, “we’re going to carve both of them apart for being here.” Grexel glanced at Mor’osez and shrugged mild agreement. Mor’osez sighed as she turned her gaze to Obessa.

“Talk or die.”

“How about neither, I don’t know what this is about,” Obessa raised her knife meaningfully, “but we’re walking out that door.”

“Two on three?” Kyssindree laughed. “Oh, Obessa, how dumb can you be?”

“Maybe she needs it to be three on three?” A soft chuckle came from up the stairs as a wych with spiky grey hair and bright green eyes appeared, a long bladed spear in her hands. She walked slowly down the first flight to pause upon the landing, looking at the carnage in the common room. If she had any concerns with seeing all her hired help dead or fled it did not show. “Mor’osez, they sent you?” Fay’rezza grinned, dimples appearing on her rounded cheeks, “that’s good, I had thought I might not get any challenge.”

“Will you surrender?” Mor’osez shifted her grip on her chainsword slightly as she looked up at the wych. Obessa was no small danger, but Fay’rezza was a true master on the sands, and even Mor’osez knew she needed watching.

“No, I’m not surrendering,” Fay’rezza flipped her spear lightly into a ready stance as she looked down at them from the balcony landing above. “I was thinking instead I’d just kill you all and walk out the front door.”

“Did you kill Irbreena?”

“If that’s what they say than I suspect that is what reality will be,” the spearwoman answered.

“Come on down then, you wizened old hag,” Kyssindree motioned her onwards, “I’m going to make you famous.”

Fay’rezza sprang over the balcony railing, her spear lashing through the air in a flashing blur that had earned her name. Kyssindree cartwheeled to the side as the spear came slapping down with a sharp crack, smashing apart the chair she had been leaning on but moments before. Kyssindree came up quickly, already readying a knife to throw, but even as she rose she found Fay’rezza’s spear was thrusting up and out for her throat, the spearmaster having snapped it back into a ready position and rotated to strike again with a speed that seemed unnatural. The razor-tipped spear thrust out, once, twice, thrice, forcing Kyssindree back and herding her towards a corner where she would likely be cut to ribbons.

Grexel sprang forward then, probably not to save Kyssindree so much as to hopefully claim the kill for herself. Fay’rezza heard her coming and turned to the new threat. She took a sidestepping position, still lunging with her spear at Kyssindree, but now also thrusting it back towards Grexel to force her to keep her distance, the steel-shod butt of the spear a more than deadly enough weapon to crush a knee or crack a skull. For a few heartbeats she fought them both, her head snapping back and forth to watch each of the Bloodbrides, their knives crashing and sparking against her spear as she dueled them at either end at the same time, a thrust at Kyssindree’s face serving as a parry to Grexel’s lunge, and then a downward guard of Kyssindree becoming an upward swing for Grexel’s chin.

“Get in under her reach, you half-wit,” Kyssindree snarled the order to Grexel as she dove forward, coming up in a tight combat-roll as she sprang at Fay’rezza’s face. The spearmistress seemed unimpressed. A sharp twist of her hands on the shaft of her spear separated it at a middle joint, she snapped up with one to block Kyssindree’s thrust and stabbed the other at the Bloodbride’s midsection, forcing her to retreat.

Obessa and her muscular boy-toy made their move now, trying to slip past the combat and out the door. In no surprise to Mor’osez, Kyssindree couldn’t leave well enough alone, nor trust that Mor’osez could hold the doorway. Despite probably needing the knife for her duel, she hurled one of her blades across the room, aiming for the robed female’s back. The male saw it coming, reacting quickly to shove Obessa out of the way. She dropped to the floor, coming up in a ready stance out of a quick tumbling roll, the man turned to eye Kyssindree, his sword still in his hand. Grexel saw the shift and spun away from Fay’rezza, rotating to face the male and dropping into an identical combat pose as his, though she held two knives and he one sword.

“You silly old sow, I’m going to carve you apart,” Kyssindree hissed her threat as she hurled her second knife at Fay’rezza. The spearmaster casually deflected it while reattaching her spear into one weapon again. Kyssindree drew another long knife from her hip sheathe and sprang to the battle again. Mor’osez shook her head, the silly narcissist hadn’t even noted that the tables and chairs of the common dining room forced the fight into narrower pathways, a battleground that dramatically favored Fay’rezza’s spear. In an open courtyard, or the wide sands of the arena, even someone like Fay’rezza could not have hoped to duel both Kyssindree and Grexel together even for a brief moment, but a careful choice of battlefield had given the spearmistress a clear advantage.

The swordsman took a slash at Grexel, who did a matching slash with her dagger as a parry, when the two weapons met, however, she rolled with the blow, dancing lightly around him like a prancing ballerina. His slower moves couldn’t keep up with her and suddenly she was behind him, and would have likely stabbed him quickly to death had not Obessa sprung up to block the blows and shove Grexel back. The two now faced off with the Bloody Mirror, Grexel tilting her masked head inquisitively to the side as she contemplated them, her arms hanging limply at her sides like a puppet with its strings cut. She was still playing, but would need help, frankly, so would Kyssindree, battling Fay’rezza alone was unlikely to end well for her.

A heartbeat later and Mor’osez was proven correct. Fay’rezza lured Kyssindree in with a haphazard thrust that seemed to leave her spear out of position, the point high and wide, the shaft up over her right shoulder instead of tucked underneath it. Kyssindree laughed as she moved in quickly. And then it happened, Fay’rezza’s left hand reached back behind her head, hooking the butt of the spear, spinning it around using her neck as a fulcrum it became a massive sweeping attack as it snapped back around in front of her. Kyssindree screeched as she sprang backward, unable to dodge to either side due to the tables hemming her in. A flash of crimson blood sprayed out across the floor as the spear tip cut a smooth gash across her muscled abdomen. The Bloodbride went sprawling as Fay’rezza’s outstretched right hand caught the sweeping spear and pulled it back into a full guard position.

Across the room Grexel was dueling both Obessa and her man, and the Bloodbride was clearly hard pressed. She moved like quicksilver, batting her opponent’s blades away and lashing out with deadly cuts of her own, but the man and Obessa had obviously trained together and moved in a deadly concert of strikes that Grexel could not hope to last for long against.

Mor’osez slowly clapped her hands together, the almost mocking applause drawing the attention of all the combatants.

Grexel took the chance to drop back, slipping between some tables to try to give herself a better defensive position from her two opponents. Obessa was already glancing around again, clearly intent on escape. Fay’rezza was watching Kyssindree and Grexel both carefully as she held up her spear, the blade glimmering with Kyssindree’s blood. She smiled, all dimples and amusement.

“I never fought against you in the arena,” Grexel noted as she saw Mor’osez’s gaze settle on her.

“No, you didn’t.” Mor’osez shrugged her shoulders, her chainblade slipping off them. She held the hilt in her hand and allowed the point to drop to the ground where it landed with a crunch as it bit into the wood. “I’ll handle this,” Mor’osez told Kyssindree coldly, “once we start, you help Grexel.”

“Like that will happen.”

“It will.” Mor’osez glanced away from Fay’rezza for a moment, focusing her gaze hard on Kyssindree. Fay’rezza was the true key to some of the mysteries about Irbreena’s death, and Kyssindree had been a little too focused on killing her quickly. The younger woman stuck out her chin in proud defiance for a moment, and then shifted uncomfortably under Mor’osez’s unflinching gaze before she glanced away, snarling in annoyance. Mor’osez turned slowly back to Fay’rezza. “One on one.”

“Agreed.” Fay’rezza flexed her muscular shoulders and moved her spear, it hissed and with a sharp twirling motion she brought the point of it around to aim directly at Mor’osez. “I’ve always wanted to fight you.”

Mor’osez shrugged. She heard that a lot. She had never had any particular desire to fight Fay’rezza, but after seeing her bout here it had reminded her how good the Mistress of Spears was, and Mor’osez was curious to see if she could overcome the battlefield advantage she had given herself. It would be an interesting match.

All in all though, it was all just another day at work.

She thumbed the activator switch for her chainblade and the adamantine saw teeth howled to life.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Oct 20 2013, 14:06

I have been registered and lurking in the Dark City for some time, but this chapter has drawn me from the shadows.

Thor, I absolutely loved this chapter! I am envious of the way in which you describe fight scenes, and your ability to keep me engrossed in the intrigue and "politricks" that happen in our beloved city.

Kudos to you, Thor!
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Oct 20 2013, 15:51

Wow!

Thank you very much, that's pretty awesome that I actually de-lurked someone for that Very Happy
On the plus side for you, next chapter is going to be pretty much featuring Mor'osez vs. Fay'rezza, and still have a bunch of murderous Bloodbrides running around at all.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Mon Oct 21 2013, 16:45

So Thor, when is Black Library putting this in print? Incubi would sell like hotcakes. I absolutely love this story, even if I get to check up on it once every two chapters (which does mean twice the goodness, half the wait!), then catch up. The characterization, the setting of scenes, the flow of action is fantastic, and this is only the exposition? Yikes.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Thu Oct 31 2013, 03:31

Chapter 8: The Key


Kyssindree stalked forward, a pair of long knives in her hands as she eyed Obessa through slit eyes. There had been a time when Obessa had feared and loved her, a time when she thought all she had ever wanted was to serve Kyssindree and earn her love in exchange. But she had been a young and foolish child then. She readied her own blade as she pressed herself against Welv’s broad back. The swordsman faced off with Grexel, who was currently crouching on top of a nearby table, her mirrored facemask staring intently at them as she waited for Kyssindree to join the fray.

“Plan?” Welv’s tone was jocular, but she could tell he was staying calm and focused on the battle at hand. He had clearly been in more than his fair share of battles against skilled opposition.

“Something like that,” Obessa’s eyes flicked around the room carefully as she considered their options. “Think you can hold Grexel off for a little while?”

“Sure, I’ve got a way with the ladies.” Without waiting for her reply he sprang forward with a sudden and sharp lunge. Grexel backflipped off the table, landing in a crouch and combat rolling forward under the table as she came out slashing with her blade for his legs. Welv managed to barely dance away from her slashes as he brought his sword around in a brutal downward slice, and then Obessa had no more time to watch him.

Kyssindree wasted no words, an unusual reaction for her, and a sign of how furious she was. She and Obessa had fought many times, and each of them was like a well-known book to the other. Kyssindree came in fast and hard, her knives a blur of wide sweeping slashes. Obessa fought tighter, managing to keep shifting to one side or the other, forcing Kyssindree to fight her with only one blade at a time. Occasionally Obessa would quickly toss her knife to her other hand and change directions, looking to keep Kyssindree off balance.

Obessa had defeated Kyssindree once in a duel, but that hardly meant she was an easy foe to dispatch. Though Obessa had been training in the Incubi temples and learning new techniques, Kyssindree had been hard at work continuing to hone her own combat style, and she was given added energy by the cold rage she clearly felt at the sight of Obessa being here. Her knives sparked as they struck at Obessa’s, hitting with deadly force, and her normally showy style was dropping away as she tried again and again to score a deadly and critical hit.

Obessa was uncertain if she would emerge as the winner of this duel, but she also didn’t consider that her primary goal. Using a sharp spinning backhand she lashed out with a brutal cut that forced Kyssindree to move backwards, tumbling away from the slash. A quick follow up kick sent the other wych sprawling backwards, spinning about as she rose back to her feet. Still, the moment had given Obessa what she needed, her free hand now held a plasma grenade snatched from Kyssindree’s belt. She thumbed the activator and turned quickly, hurling it at the nearby front window, the grenade wedging between two of the wrought iron bars tightly.

“Get down,” she shouted in warning to Welv as she dove for cover under a table. In the next instant the grenade pulsed to life, melting the security bars and blasting out the thin layer of crys-glass in the window.

Welv was next to her in a moment, helping her to her feet as he waved his sword menacingly to ward off the two wyches. Even as she got her feet under her both of them ran for the window and the escape it offered. Obessa could hear Kyssindree shrieking in outrage behind her and, acting on instinct, she shoved Welv to the side as she dragged them both off course. Sure enough, Kyssindree had hurled a blade, and the knife spun through the air where Obessa’s back had been but moments before.

“Obessa! We’re not through yet!”

“Yes, you are.” Welv rose up and grabbed onto a table, with a grunt of effort he turned and actually lifted it off the ground to hurl it back towards the two wyches, causing both to dive to the ground to evade the heavy missile. As it crashed amongst them Obessa blinked in surprise as she noticed something attached to the bottom of the weighty wooden table.

It was rigged with explosives and a remote detonator. Her eyes flicked to all the other tables in the room, wondering if they had found the only rigged one, or if…

“Let’s go,” she hissed urgently as she sprang to her feet and charged the window again, leaping through it in a quick and elegant motion, landing without breaking stride as she continued to run and put distance between her and the building. Welv lurched along after her, barreling through the window in a tumbling roll, before scrambling to his feet and sprinting along in her wake. For a moment Obessa felt a rush of elation as she figured they would be able to get away clean, and then she saw the figures waiting in the piazza, toying with their weapons and with amused smirks on their faces. The other Bloodbrides laughed at her and Welv even as Kyssindree and Grexel came leaping through the window after them.

“So,” Welv sighed slightly, “any…other plan?”


==============================================


Mor’osez charged forward, dragging the chainsword along at her side, both hands on the hilt, the tip of the blade ran along the ground, tearing up the wooden floor of the building and tossing a wild spray of splinters and sawdust up into the air. The cloud would obscure her footwork and also create potential hazards that would cause a foolish opponent to avert their gaze.

Fay’rezza was no fool, and her long handled spear snapped forward in a sharp thrust at Mor’osez’s throat, looking to stop the charge before it ever became an issue. Mor’osez had been ready for that though, and had already shifted her feet for a leap to the side. Fay’rezza was a master of the spear, but even she was obliged to use it primarily as a thrusting weapon, and though she might have tried a slash against a charge, it would have been highly risky against an opponent like Mor’osez. So the thrust came, and Mor’osez sprang to the side, leaping lightly atop one of the large serving tables as she continued running forward.

Fay’rezza responded quickly, falling back as she snapped her spear around in a wide, arcing, slash aimed at taking Mor’osez across the gut. She had anticipated that move too though and somersaulted off the table, spinning over the slash as she came down with an overhand swing right at Fay’rezza. Knowing that to attempt to block the blow would be death, the mistress of spears sprang backwards, probably already aware of how Mor’osez was driving her backward, looking to get a wall behind her that would hamper her ability to wield the spear effectively or at short range. Fay’rezza grinned as she fell back towards the wall anyway.

Mor’osez knew it would be a trap, but there was little reason to give up the pressure advantage she had gained simply due to fear of the unknown. There was a soft click as Fay’rezza pressed a small stud on the inlaid silver filigree along the shaft of her spear, at the same time snapping out the rear of her weapon at Mor’osez. The weighted end of the spear came flying loose, still attached to the spear by a long length of chain. She ducked under the sweeping path of the heavy projectile, the dodge checking her charge. Fay’rezza immediately pressed her advantage, stepping forward with a series of sharp thrusts while retracting the weighted base of her spear back, the snarling rasp of the chain being wound up heralding the arrival of the weight whipping in towards the back of Mor’osez’s head even as she tried to avoid the onslaught of the jabbing spear tip.

Bending backwards, Mor’osez dodged a spear thrust that passed over her at the same instant the weighted ball and chain hissed past. For half an instant there would be a moment where the weight slammed home onto the spear, a powerful physical blow that would add extra impact to this thrust, but would also prevent Fay’rezza from withdrawing her weapon as quickly or changing the direction of her thrust. Mor’osez reached up, catching hold of the spear in that moment, her fingers closing tightly around it as she shoved it to the side, twisting up to unleash a brutal backhand slash towards Fay’rezza as she jerked the spear towards her. The spearmistress wisely released her weapon, springing backward to avoid her own death. Mor’osez tossed the spear over her shoulder as she raised her blade in front of her meaningfully. Fay’rezza was cut off now, trapped in the corner, and with no weapon other than a slim dueling knife on her hip.

“You really are as good as they say,” Fay’rezza bowed slightly, “it’s a shame I have to kill you anyway.” She held up her hand from behind her back to reveal a remote device, and pushed the button on it.

Around them the room erupted as concealed charges exploded. The wall behind Fay’rezza imploded slightly as hidden explosives collapsed it neatly, and the smiling spearmistress almost casually stepped through the escape she had planned. Mor’osez might have been impressed if she didn’t have more pressing concerns, like the entire second floor crashing down atop her in a flaming wreck.


==============================================


“Well…chalk this up to things I didn’t expect to see today.” The handsome male wych was bare chested save for sleek leather straps that held his scabbards in place, leaving his lean and bare musculature on full display, and his tight leather pants hid little that was left. He grinned as he sat on the cockpit of the Venom, one leg dangling over the side and kicking idly. His razorflails were still strapped to his back and he was snacking on a piece of bright yellow fruit.

Glowering in the rear of the Venom was a tall wych wearing barbed and spiked armor, her clawed gauntlets creaked as she gripped tightly to the guard rail. Her eyes, marked out by vertical black makeup that ran down her cheeks, glowed feverishly from the heady drug mixture she was on, her long blue hair was wound with barbs and intricate braids.

A third wych stood in front of the Venom, a look of bored indifference on her otherwise elegant patrician face. Long black hair hung in elaborate ringlets and braids down her back to her thighs. Unlike the other wyches she showed very little skin, only her face and the tips of her fingers protruding from her fingerless gloves, could be seen. The rest was all hidden beneath a sleek black and green robe that was belted with a gilt gold and emerald sash around a waspish waist.
Obessa knew them, of course. Back when she and Kyssindree had been friends they had studied all the great wyches of the Bloodbrides and those who seemed likely to become one, all in the hope of spotting weaknesses that Kyssindree could exploit in her own rise. The male was Cali’q, the Counter, able to predict the number of moves that it would take him to kill his opponent. ‘The Bloodspike’ Akortan’a, a master Hydrae duelist who relished coating herself in the blood of her victims as she tore them to pieces. Finally, Faeth’lyn, The Demure Demise, reputed to be a true master with throwing blades, though she was often more lauded for her rapier wit and political cunning.

Standing behind her and Welv were Kyssindree, the Flensing Laugh, and Grexel, the Bloody Mirror. Welv stood in a ready crouch with his sword in hand, and she still had her knife, but she knew if these five warriors attacked there would be little chance for them to win save for running, and even then…

“Kill the man, Obessa is mine,” snarled Kyssindree as she started forward.

“Hold.” Cali’q held up a hand languidly, his bright blue eyes narrowing as he considered Obessa and Welv carefully. “What were they doing in there?” Akortan’a seemed annoyed at the pause in the bloodletting, though Faeth’lyn cocked her head curiously as she considered the question.

“Meeting with Fay’rezza, of course,” Kyssindree snapped. Grexel, as usual not speaking once her mask was on, simply shrugged uncertainly.

“Why?” Faeth’lyn spoke the question softly, her dark eyes turning to regard Obessa very carefully.

Any answer Obessa might have given was drowned out by a large concussive blast and bright flare of orange light. Welv grabbed her and pulled her to the ground, shielding her in his embrace as a wave of hot air and debris washed over them. Obessa spared a glance and gasped as she saw the entire building had collapsed, torn apart by the explosion. Grexel and Kyssindree had been blasted off their feet, the Bloody Mirror was squirming on the ground, a spur of broken wood embedded in the small of her back. Kyssindree was shaking her head like a drunk in a daze as she tried to push herself up to unresponsive feet. Walking past them came another figure, the lithe shape of Fay’rezza, Mistress of Spears.

“This just gets more entertaining,” laughed Cali’q as he stood up, posing atop the Venom as he drew his blades.

“Where is Mor’osez?” Faeth’lyn drew her hands out of the arms of her robe, revealing a pair of throwing daggers delicately held in each.

“She was inside thinking she had defeated me, last I saw her,” offered Fay’rezza with a dimpled smile. “It makes me wonder if the rest of you think you have a chance.”

“What makes you think we don’t?” Cali’q tapped the cockpit of the Venom with his razorflail, making a metallic screech as the metal blade met the crysteel canopy. “You don’t have an escape vehicle anymore.”

“Oh, Cali’q,” she was still smiling as she dipped her head in a slight bow to him, “I didn’t think it was so long ago that we shared a bed and I seem to recall that we broke roughly even when playing games of Mael dannan.” The boardgame was a classic amongst the nobility and wealthy of Commoragh, and was often used as a tool for assessing a rival’s abilities in strategy.

“This isn’t a game,” Cali’q countered, though Obessa saw the flash of uncertainty flicker across his face.

“Isn’t it?” Fay’rezza paused to consider that. “I’m fairly sure it is, a game for power, a game for survival, and we all have parts to play.” She shrugged. “Some of us just play better than others,” she held up her hand to reveal a small remote detonator with two switches, one had been triggered, the other had not.

Akortan’a just looked confused, Cali’q’s eyes grew wider and he cursed, Faeth’lyn was already springing forward into a roll as Fay’rezza pressed the second switch. With a resounding boom hidden explosives on the Venom exploded, blasting it apart and sending Obessa and Welv down to the ground again.

“We need to get out of here,” she hissed to him. Welv grunted in agreement as he staggered up to his feet, a burst of flame skirling near them as a secondary explosion rocked the wrecked vehicle. Obessa shielded her eyes as she took his hand and led them forward through the smoke and haze. She didn’t know what sort of issue she and him had stumbled into, but she was happy with the idea of leaving it far behind.

Then two figures were in front of them. One was a muscular male, clad in barely any clothing at all, his sculpted body looked like it had been carved from unblemished marble, his hair was like a golden mane, and his eyes chips of fine emerald. He held a trident easily in one hand, while a coiled shardnet sat ready draped across his other muscular arm. In the shadows behind him stood Faeth’lyn, her hair mussed and part of her robes singed, but otherwise looking no worse for the explosion. She lifted one slim hand, a pair of throwing knives still gripped there.

“Cordus, dismantle and entangle,” she ordered softly.

“I am your wall,” he assured her, his voice purring in his chest as he smiled at his prey. His arm moved with artistic grace and Obessa was so entranced by it she almost fell prey to the sharp snap that sent the shardnet hissing out to lash around her shoulders. Welv was not so distracted, his arm shooting out in a brutal shove to launch her out of the way. The move cost him though, as the coiling metal net snaked around the limb and the barbs of the shardnet sank into his arm while blue electrical sparks erupted across its surface.

“By Malys’ black heart,” he snarled in pain as Cordus, with an almost contemptuous snap of his arm, pulled him off balance. Obessa rolled back to her feet and moved to help, when suddenly a pair of blades slashed through the air at her, she managed to jerk her head back from one and deflect the other with her knife, though the first blade still passed close enough to graze her cheek and she felt the warm flow of blood begin to dribble from the painful scratch. In the same instant Faeth’lyn had also thrown a knife into Welv’s wrist, causing him to drop his sword as Cordus moved in with his Impaler for the kill.

“Pathetic.”

This last was spoken by Tilt as he sprang out from the smoke and shadows, a bemused smirk on his lips as his sword slashed brightly in front of his face before being narrowly blocked by Cordus as it nearly gutted the male wych.

“It seems almost a shame to interrupt artists of such skill, but I’m afraid these are allies of ours.” Tymeon charged out of the darkness, a long knife in his hands as he executed a decently passable lunge for Faeth’lyn. She twisted out of the way, a look of rich disdain on her face at the interruption. “M’lady is displeased by me? It pains me that one so beautiful would wear such a glower.” Tymeon smirked as he kept up the pressure, fast cuts coming in droves as he worked hard to keep her off balance, Obessa quickly rushed forward to aid him. “Perhaps you will allow me to compose you an uplifting funeral eulogy?”

“I look forward to appreciating your decomposition,” she replied as she sprang backwards from his last thrust.

"A wit as fine as your beauty, I shall hope you find my blade as well honed."

"Judging by the technique of your thrusts, you are more boy than man when it comes to honing," Faeth'lyn replied as she almost delicately spun and danced away from his attacks.

"Stop flirting with her and cut her down!" Obessa had to admit the girl was nimble, and they’d have to press hard to prevent her getting range on them again, and she had no desire to see Faeth'lyn's knifeplay again.

“Enough!” With a hiss the blade of an Impaler shot into her path, the extending shaft held by Cordus who had chased back Tilt for a moment, “approach her at your peril,” he growled as he swept the bladed trident forward, causing both her and Tymeon to retreat before the blade. “Are you hurt?” Cordus stepped in front of Faeth’lyn, bringing up his shardnet and Impaler again.

“Only a touch of my pride, but I have a salve for those wounds,” she noted softly as she reached into the arms of her robe again. “Stand firm, my wall.”

“Always.”

“I think now is the part we run,” suggested Tymeon, already in motion. Tilt slapped at Welv’s shoulder, urging him up as they both fell back. Obessa retreated with them, keeping her eyes on Faeth’lyn as the young wych drew out another set of throwing blades, dark eyes narrowing as she considered her targets. Cordus strode forward in front of her, a wall of entanglement and defense to allow her to work her throwing blades safely.

The first thrown blades came in a flurry that Obessa easily dodged, only the pained cries of Welv and Tilt revealed the real targets. Even as Obessa glanced back at them another blade slapped into her thigh to the hilt, and only a desperate deflecting swing prevented another from catching her shoulder.

“It is beneath her to even kill you,” offered Cordus in a conciliatory manner, “you may escape the pain by stepping forward into my net at your leisure. Unlike her, I promise you a swift and sure death.”

Obessa snarled out a curse, knowing she needed another distraction…which was when the roar of a chainsword suddenly cut through the noise of the battlefield.

“Mor’osez?” Faeth’lyn glanced away, peering back at the burning building as a figure erupted from the rubble, a massive chainblade tearing apart a burning support beam as it rose from the destruction. Blood splattered Mor’osez’s face, leaking from a gash above her eye, and her hair and skin were blackened with soot, but her voice still carried easily across the piazza.

“Fay’rezza…we’re not finished talking yet.”


==============================================


Mor’osez’s eyes flicked across the battlefield, quickly assessing the lay of the land. She had learned over many centuries the skill of being able to take in a battle in moments, the best to know where you were needed, or not. Grexel, Cali’q, and Akortan’a were down and in varying states of helplessness. Kyssindree was on her hands and knees coughing up blood and blinded by ash, in a pitiful sight Mor’osez wished she had a holo capture of, Luaae was kneeling beside her, trying to help. Faeth’lyn and Cordus were sparing with Obessa, her boy toy, and now two other robed figures wearing the robes of Incubi Grays. And the Twins…they were dueling Fay’rezza, who had claimed a new spear from somewhere.

Mor’osez started for the fight, her chainsword resting on her shoulder as she strode forward with cool and focused purpose.

In her brief momentary glance she had spotted a few things about the fight. First off, Fay’rezza was battling the two near the edge of the piazza, where only a low railing blocked a sheer drop off of a few miles towards the Ports. It was also clear that Fay’rezza was trying to work her way closer to the edge, doubtless another part of her escape plan. Also, the Klaviskar Twins were attacking, and unlike Kyssindree and Grexel they were two wyches who fought very well together and with one purpose, and also they were battling the spear mistress in a wide open area, giving them an advantage.

Finally, and most importantly, the two sisters were quite clearly striking to kill.

Mor’osez’s hand reached out, grabbing onto Noi’celfer’s shoulder as the wych retreated from an overhand chop from Fay’rezza’s spear. Noi glanced over her shoulder in surprise at the touch, having a half instant to recognize Mor’osez, before the older wych sharply headbutted her. With a harsh crack, Noi dropped backward, insensate. Fay’rezza paused in surprise as O’che snarled in anger at the betrayal, taking a half step towards Mor’osez and her fallen sister.

“Traitorous dung maggot, I will slice you open for that!”

“Really?” There was a long pause as Mor’osez shrugged slightly, almost inviting the attack. O’che hesitated. Mor’osez nodded in agreement with her choice and kicked her twin towards her. “Take that, and get back to the others.” O’che gave her a venomous stare that promised the matter wasn’t over, but grabbed up her sister and carried her back towards the other Bloodbrides. Fay’rezza considered her for a moment, then sent her eyes flickering over Mor’osez’s wounds and scorched clothing. Her dimpled smile reappeared, but now Mor’osez was certain she could see brittleness to it.

“Sure you want to go again?” The spear hissed through the air, snapping into a ready posture, her flawless footwork elegant and delicate as set herself to receive an attack. Mor’osez grinned, tasting blood dripping down her lips from the gash in her forehead.

“Do you want to? I’m pretty sure I already took your best shot.”

“Did you?” The smile definitely looked brittle now. Mor’osez could see the slight bit of sweat on Fay’rezza’s palms, and it wasn’t from the heat of the fire.

“What was the escape plan,” she nodded at the edge of the piazza, “anti-gravity webbing hidden in your vest?” Fay’rezza spared a glance over her shoulder, gauging the distance. “Don’t bother,” Mor’osez growled, “you and I both know you’d be minus a leg halfway there.”

Fay’rezza shrugged slightly, not arguing the point. “So, what now?”

“Who is trying to kill you, what do you know?”

Fay’rezza paused for a moment, her eyes narrowing slightly as she frowned at Mor’osez, and then she smirked. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“I’m not here to play games, start talking or I’m breaking your spine and dragging you back to Bloodied Kiss.”

Fay’rezza considered for a long breath. She glanced over Mor’osez’s shoulder, no doubt considering the other Bloodbrides who were probably soon about to collect themselves enough to head this direction. She frowned as she looked back at Mor’osez, and then, slowly, a tenseness left her shoulders. She reached into a pouch on her belt and pulled out a slim ivory seal on a golden chain. She tossed it to Mor’osez, who caught it easily.

“What’s this?”

“A key, it will have a lot of the answers you need. Have you seen the Snowflake?”

Mor’osez nodded.

“Meet me there in two days?”

Mor’osez nodded again.

“Let’s make this look good then,” Fay’rezza’s dimples were back.

The two women charged each other. Fay’rezza handled the spear with consummate skill, a wide sweeping slash turned into a sudden reverse lunge. Mor’osez blocked her attacks easily enough, her massive chainblade moving with deceptive ease as she swept it in powerful defensive arcs while advancing on Fay’rezza. Between blows she could see The Klaviskar Twins were back, both upright, Faeth’lyn and Cordus were moving up to stand alongside them and Kyssindree and Luaae were approaching as well.

Fay’rezza’s stabbing lunge was almost perfect, but it left her back to the pit, her feet dangerously close to the edge. Mor’osez sidestepped the stab, grabbing the haft of the spear and twisting it from Fay’rezza’s grip. The Mistress of Spears staggered and was forced to release her weapon as she stumbled, struggling for balance on the edge of the pit.

Kyssindree took the moment to hurl a knife at her.

Mor’osez snarled at the sight, but Fay’rezza rolled away from the blade, catching at it in mid-flight even as she tipped backwards off the edge of the platform to tumble down into the mists below. The other Bloodbrides rushed up to peer over the edge, and Mor’osez waited a moment in uncertainty, wondering if any of them would see Fay’rezza making good her escape. Apparently she’d had nothing to worry about though as the assembled wyches shrugged and glanced at each other.

“A little too eager for the kill, weren’t you?” Mor’osez glanced at Kyssindree who simply smirked.

“Maybe so, but whose name will go down in history as striking the killing blow on the mighty Mistress of Spears?”

“The ground?” opined Faeth’lyn quietly in a cutting whisper that sent a few of the other Bloodbrides smirking. Luaae took a threatening step forward but came up short as Cordus frowned and crossed his muscular arms. Faeth’lyn placed a soft hand on his hard bicep and the two shared a contented glance before she turned to walk alongside Mor’osez.

“Not the most glorious of outings for the Brides of Bloodied Kiss, was it?”

“It went well enough,” grunted Mor’osez, gripping the thin ivory key in her hand. She had an ally now, an ally who knew what was going on, soon they’d meet, and then Mor’osez would finally get her answers.


==============================================


Fay’rezza settled lightly onto the ground in the darkened alley, the micro-carbon filament glide wings that she’d attached to her suit whirred as they retracted back into the decorative spike studs they were hidden within. She’d had to give away the key and her spear before her escape, but Kyssindree had been nice enough to give her a knife, and Mor’osez…Mor’osez might actually be an ally after all. Or…perhaps the worst foe possible, Fay’rezza was forced to admit that she had no desire to fight the horrid woman again, with her cold dead stare and that madding methodical and destructive combat style. She felt thankful that the old harridan had apparently decided they were on the same side, at least for now.

She glanced around at the darkened alley and smiled as she considered how dangerous the streets were here and how far she’d have to travel armed only with a knife and her wits…she was over equipped, naturally. She laughed as she got her bearings and turned to head towards the safe house she’d already arranged.

*Zzzrt*

Fay’rezza’s spine stiffened at the sound, bright eyes narrowed carefully as she slowly turned around. There, lurking in one of the darker alleyways, she could just make out the corroded brown robe, and the hunched shape curled up underneath it. Red eyes stared out unblinkingly at her, and there was a crackle of static charged air as a brief snarl of electricity curled in the darkness.

*Zzzrt*

“She let you out?” Fay’rezza almost allowed herself to laugh, though she wasn’t sure if it was from amusement or panic. “She must really be desperate.” The figure said nothing, nor did it move. It probably wouldn’t, not until she tried to fight or flee, that was its way. “You know she’s just using you, right? You know she’ll never give you what you want? You know I might be the best and only chance left to stop her?”

*Zzzrt*

The red eyes glittered in the actinic crackle.

Fay’rezza felt a calm certainty come over her. It didn’t matter what happened now, she would either win and live, or lose and die, but by dumb luck she’d actually already arranged a backup plan…albeit one counting on Mor’osez to figure out something subtle. She did giggle slightly then, and she was certain it was from the ironic insanity of her position.

“I don’t have it anymore, does that make a difference to you?”

*Zzzrt*

“Okay then,” Fay’rezza bowed, “if you insist on seeing me perform!”

She drew her knife in a flash.

The robed figure burst forth from the shadows.

A claw was bathed in blood.

And then the alley was silent once again.



===========================
===========================
===========================

I actually got an update up in a timely fashion! Huzzah!
Also, the next chapter is pretty much done as well. So I stand a decent chance of getting that one out in a timely manner as well. And the one after that is also ready for polishing, so maybe even...dare we say it...a fourth?

After that...well...we shall see, as usual, you get good strides, and then other stuff slows you down and drags you to a stop. I think I'm overcoming pretty well, but the story keeps ballooning on me. Maybe I just need to kill off a bunch of characters to help cut down on the subplots? Twisted Evil

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Thu Oct 31 2013, 12:38

I'm still catching on a bit, but im almost at the same pace as these updates...
Looking great so far, I almost wish there were more characters from the Trueborn
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Nov 17 2013, 18:57

TL;DR: Fighting, explosions, politics, character development. Not necessarily that order. Very cool Very Happy

Verbose version:

I don't know how I missed this for over two weeks. (Maybe I can blame Vect?) Shocked 

Anyhow, I loved it. The combat was fast and varied - sometimes fights can be repetitive; this is not. But it didn't feel like trying to shoehorn in variation for the sake of it - everything that was different either showcased someone's unique style, or was a 'special move' like the explosion of the inn.

Mixed in with all this was information about the characters and their relation to each other, so that not only was it an engaging and well-paced fight, it was informative in other ways. I enjoy being able to use my brain to work out how people interrelate, and the more thought-provoking a story is, the more I get involved with it and that makes me want to keep reading. The result is much more fun for me than any amount of blow-slash-duck-rinse-repeat combat, not that that's your style anyway, Thor Very Happy

One of the enjoyable things about having read Trueborn first (which one doesn't absolutely need to have done; this can be read alone) is that we get to see how far Kyssindree's view of herself differs from how she plays out against a background of Wyches instead of desperate gangers. Fellow Wyches who are at least as skilled. All right, yes, if I had this on DVD I might have replayed the shot where she got floored by Fay'rezza more than once Wink but what I mean is that there are clear differences in perspective and I have seldom seen this done anywhere, let alone as well as this. It's something I have considered myself but not used enough - which I would certainly do more now I see how well it works in adding another layer to a character's development.

Going back a chapter I I have some slight conspiracy theories, but I will just say that it tickles me how often Mor'osez meets a fan (including an Incubus fan at that) who wants her autograph. Not only because it's fun, but because it demonstrates just how long she's been going and how long she's been at the top of her game.

Lastly Obessa. Oh, Obessa. You are the only Wych in Commorragh who hasn't connected the dots between people paying to see you bouncing around an arena killing things in very little clothing, and the attractiveness of your physical person. Your fans know. Zak knows. Your fellow trainees know. Certain Incubi Masters protest too much to claim convincingly that they haven't noticed.

It's a little bit endearing, I'd venture to ruffle her purple scalp but I fear she would take my head off even as she looked a tiny bit confused Razz

And finally

Quote :
“By Malys’ black heart,”
Twisted Evil cheers 

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Mon Nov 18 2013, 07:21

@Mngwa wrote:
I'm still catching on a bit, but im almost at the same pace as these updates...
Looking great so far, I almost wish there were more characters from the Trueborn
In a basic sense, there already are a lot of them...it's just they're almost all minor characters from Trueborn who are now having their tales told.

Don't fret too much, I am a big fan of Ben'rik and Wren, and you never know, maybe Tael is involved too? (though I have it on good authority he is dead...) It's all about seeing if they have a natural progression into the story, even if they don't they surely will in some story later, I like them all too much not to cheat and give them cameos elsewhere Wink

@Lady Malys wrote:
One of the enjoyable things about having read Trueborn first (which one doesn't absolutely need to have done; this can be read alone) is that we get to see how far Kyssindree's view of herself differs from how she plays out against a background of Wyches instead of desperate gangers. Fellow Wyches who are at least as skilled. All right, yes, if I had this on DVD I might have replayed the shot where she got floored by Fay'rezza more than once ;)but what I mean is that there are clear differences in perspective and I have seldom seen this done anywhere, let alone as well as this. It's something I have considered myself but not used enough - which I would certainly do more now I see how well it works in adding another layer to a character's development.
I'm really glad you appreciate this, and it's actually a pet obsession of mine in writing. I have a basic working theory of life that 'everyone is the hero of their own story' very few people wake up and decide they are going to be evil or jerks, and yet evil people and jerks exist - which means that those people, in their own heads, probably don't think they're evil or jerks.

Kyssindree is a delightful creature, and as odd as it is to say I'm really quite fond of her. But, yes, she's a terrible creature (who probably deserves every thrashing she receives) but she's a terrible creature who believes wholeheartedly in how wonderful she is. I like to showcase this in many ways and it's a lot of fun. Mor'osez believes she is steady and determined, but other people see her as somewhat mentally dull and dim-witted. Both sides have a point, and it's in how you as a reader choose to accept truth that can place you on a given side.

@Lady Malys wrote:
Going back a chapter I I have some slight conspiracy theories, but I will just say that it tickles me how often Mor'osez meets a fan (including an Incubus fan at that) who wants her autograph. Not only because it's fun, but because it demonstrates just how long she's been going and how long she's been at the top of her game.
It was a fun twist for me too, but it makes a lot of sense that the more successful Wyches would be like rock stars or famous athletes - reading up on gladiators in Rome it was a much similar thing.

@Lady Malys wrote:
Lastly Obessa. Oh, Obessa. You are the only Wych in Commorragh who hasn't connected the dots between people paying to see you bouncing around an arena killing things in very little clothing, and the attractiveness of your physical person. Your fans know. Zak knows. Your fellow trainees know. Certain Incubi Masters protest too much to claim convincingly that they haven't noticed.
A lot of that comes from spending a bit too long in Kyssindree's shadow, Obessa's sense of self worth is still a little too tied up in what Kyssindree got her to believe. Mental perceptions of oneself are often skewed from reality, and commonly in a negative way.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Mon Nov 18 2013, 18:47

I would agree with that 100%. Someone who has been exploited in the way Obessa has is bound to have a lower self esteem than their skill suggests. It's another way you create verisimilitude. The same with Kyssindree - she is obnoxious, yes, but she's a three-dimensional person with rock-solid self-belief. Both of them demonstrate different kinds of people who can make it as a Wych - one through raw talent (and perhaps, Kyssindree did give Obessa a hand into the limelight, if only because she could make better use of her that way), or through an unshakeable belief that this is what one deserves. Wyches are absolutely the rockstars of Commorragh and, as I thought I'd try in my brief foray into playing one, they (most of 'em anyhow) are always on stage. Like Caliq. striking a pose on the (soon to be exploded) transport Very Happy

I enjoy seeing Kyssindree taken down a peg or two it's true, but I can only do this because she is engaging as a character - there's enough of her to enjoy hating Very Happy In other words she's psychologically interesting.

Yes, all right, so is Ben'rik.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Thu Dec 19 2013, 01:04

Quote :
Also, the next chapter is pretty much done as well. So I stand a decent chance of getting that one out in a timely manner as well. And the one after that is also ready for polishing, so maybe even...dare we say it...a fourth?

*nudge*

Any chance of some in time for Christmas? I've been good all year ...

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Dec 22 2013, 21:03

Chapter 9: The Unan Angau


Obessa walked through the dark stone passageways of the Temple. In her hands she held a slim silver bottle, a rare and exotic vintage of distilled pain wine. It was a bribe or a reward, sent to Xulfryn Hierarch for some task he or his Incubi had performed. She had been ordered to bring it to his private chambers. It was not an unusual order in the grand scheme of things, many members of The Grey would be ordered to fetch or carry items to and from the private chambers of full ranked Incubi. Indeed, her lips quirked into a small smile at the memory, Zak had used that practice to his advantage a few times already.

Still, she did not harbor any doubts that this was hardly random chance that had her walking into Xulfryn’s quarters.

She could still feel the tightness in her leg from where Faeth’lyn’s blade had pierced it. After they had all stopped running and realized no Bloodbrides were pursuing them Welv had brought them all to some second rate back alley fleshcrafter who had mostly knit them back together, though Obessa was fairly certain he had rushed the job or done it improperly since she was still almost limping. She also wasn’t yet sure exactly what it was she’d blundered into, the deal between Fay’rezza and the Incubi hadn’t exactly clued her in to some secret machination in the Temple, nor did it seem likely to help her position here or to help understand the political web Zak was enmeshed in.

She walked past the door to Zak’s room as the thought flitted through her head. She glanced at it carefully, but as it had been every day for the past week, no lights shone from within the small cell. Zak had been in and out of the Temple often of late. Obessa was fairly certain it was all work on his part as he assured himself that he had the loyalties of enough fellow Incubi to challenge for leadership. Whatever Zak said, she was fairly certain that the process was not as easy as he wished her to believe, and was certain that, as with her old Wych Cult, advances in position tended to require a certain amount of approval from one’s peers, else any attempt would likely meet its end in a dark hallway via the aid of a few well-placed knives in the back.

The only thing that marked Xulfryn’s door as any different from those of his subordinates was the small etched golden design of his Hierarch rank emblazoned upon it. She reached out carefully and rapped her knuckles gently on the dark wood.

“Enter.”

She pulled open the heavy blackwood door slowly. The room beyond was not what she had expected. Oh, certainly, compared to the sparse cell Zak slept in this room was lavish indeed, still, it was hardly impressive by any standards. It was four times the size of Zak’s cell, meaning about eight people could have comfortably occupied it. The bed was larger and more lush than Zak’s wooden cot, and Xulfryn actually had a dining table and a few chairs in a corner. His walls, unlike Zak’s, were also decorated. A variety of paintings hung upon them, their subjects ranging from dour Incubi to lithe Wyches, but the one constant theme was that each of them seemed to focus on capturing the beauty of the subject while they were caught in the midst of battle.

The only other object of real note in the room was the easel in the corner, complete with a small sideboard with a variety of paints, pigments, and oils upon it. Xulfryn was standing up from the easel and tossing a light cloth of midnight purple over it as he did. He was wearing only the lower half of his armor, his bare arms stained from splatters of paint, and a few specks decorating his thickly muscled chest, caught up and dried upon the scrawling scars that crisscrossed his flesh. His oily red eyes considered her carefully as he walked over to a washbasin.

“Were you raised in a gutter? Close the door.”

“My apologies,” she quickly closed the door behind her, “I was.”

“Was what? Going to close the door, or raised in a gutter?”

“Both.”

His eyes narrowed slightly, and then his hawkish and sharp-edged face shifted as he smirked in amusement. “What do you think of them?” He waved one long-fingered and elegant hand in a casual sweep of his walls, indicating the artwork arrayed there. Obessa cast a critical eye over them, she enjoyed art well enough, but could hardly speak intelligently about it. That said, his artwork was unquestionably skilled, and his ability to capture those intense moments of mid-battle and display them for the artistic integrity of war was pleasing.

“They evoke the spirit of the duel,” she finally offered.

“Do they?” Xulfryn glanced wistfully at the pieces and shrugged, “nothing ever quite seems to equal the truth of it.” He walked up and reached out to tap one picture of a snake-eyed Eldar in Incubi armor, “they are images of old foes, old lovers, political opponents who were worth remembering.” Xulfryn seemed almost lost for a moment as he looked at them all, staring up at an exquisitely rendered image of a Wych wielding twin scimitars, a look of flushed enjoyment on her face, a moment of breathtaking eroticism and violence caught frozen in time. “Sometimes they are all three, and you can love and hate them all the more for it as long as you can keep them as sharp in your mind as your need for the blade. You fight so long, and become one with the blade to such a degree, you need something to remind yourself who you were, to define why you battle outside of the Way.”

Obessa remembered Zak and the small footlocker crammed with odd mementos and keepsakes. He had battled for ages seeking to do nothing but perfect his art and skill, did he, like Xulfryn, find himself occasionally slipping away from himself and who he was as he became more and more the sword and forgot the warrior? “I have an offering for you,” she said, lifting the bottle meaningfully.

“Very well then, place the wine over there,” Xulfryn came out of his reverie and waved her to the footlocker by his bed. “Who is it from?”

“There is an encrypted scroll seal, I did not open it.”

“Lack of an antidote will do that.” Xulfryn walked up behind her, reaching out to snatch up the bottle as soon as she tried to set it down. He considered it carefully, pausing to sniff at the stopper and then frowned. “Lady Obloodra of House Ven’carl is clearly going to be late in her payment again.” His voice was sharp and dismissive even though it was still tinged with a note of dark humor. This close to him she could smell a spicy odor from the oils he used to whet his armor and blades, as well as the earthy smell of the paint. She wasn’t sure what sort of game he was playing and opted to stand still, her head bowed as he hemmed her into the corner with the footlocker, until he moved away it would be awkward to shove past him. “The Unan Angau comes soon.”

“I look forward to it.”

“Do you, girl from the gutter?” Xulfryn leaned closer, whispering in her ear, his voice sawing and harsh. “I have it on good authority from Master Ryldnar that you’ll be lucky to hold your sword on the right end.”

“I’ll wear a mailed glove then.”

“Such fire, one wonders if it is real or faked.” Xulfryn’s hand reached up, fingers lightly brushing at her cheek for a moment. Obessa tensed, but almost as soon as he touched her he withdrew, walking over to sit down at his meeting table. “Do you like him?” Obessa turned around slowly, uncertain how to take the question. Xulfryn saw the look on her face and smiled again, that wicked smirk leeching across his face slowly as he shrugged in a half apology. “It is not an unreasonable question.”

“It isn’t?”

“No, it isn’t.” The amusement dropped from Xulfryn’s face like lights being flicked off, his oily red eyes became as hard as rubies as he considered her. “A girl from the gutters, cast down from the Cult that had so barely begun to lift her beyond her station, such a girl might very well latch on to another means to escape her situation, especially one as a slave. Between the sheets I have often found the hardest of men and women seem to lose much of their common sense.” He motioned to his footlocker. “Open it.”

“As you command.” She knelt, lifting the lid. Her breath caught in her throat slightly as she looked down at the pile of black jade soul chits within, each of them worth a thousand souls, it was a true fortune by any measure, enough to keep an Eldarith Ynneas in rich repose for centuries.

“Are you sure you wish to undertake the risk of failing the Unan Angau? The repercussions of it would be most unpleasant for you, and there are certainly other ways you might be able to live in the station you deserve.” She glanced over her shoulder to see Xulfryn watching her intently while unsealing the bottle of wine. She looked back down at the soul chits, looking at more wealth than she had probably possessed over the entire course of her life combined.

“And if I withdraw, as Za- Master Phaer’irr’s daethadi, what will happen to him?”

“I would tend to think with what is inside that chest, that you could arrange many options that would make you forget his name, much less what may or may not happen to him.” Xulfryn glanced at the small pinprick on his thumb and considered it for a moment, probably enjoying the early onset agonies from whatever poison had sealed the scroll and bottle. He then shrugged as he reached down to his belt and retrieved a small injector there. “Besides, the risks of the Unan Angau are many, usually half the class fails outright, and that’s a bit of a risk to take for a man you just met, isn’t it?”

“I was a wych of Bloodied Kiss, I have raced in the Deathcycle Series, I have dueled upon the red sands. I do not fear a challenge.”

“The Unan Angau is more than simply knowing how to wield a blade and showing off your pretty teats for the crowd,” Xulfryn shrugged as he reached behind him to pluck down a fluted glass of blackened crystal. “And to walk the path of dathedi simply to escape slavery,” he smiled indulgently, “a woman of your…class has many easier and safer roads to travel, and she has only to reach out and claim them.”
Obessa stood up slowly and pointedly stared at him as she closed the footlocker firmly. “Do you think I’m here simply for fear of living on the streets or shame at being a slave?”

“I wasn’t sure,” his smile was icy, “but now I have a better idea of the exact value you place on your connection to him, and I already know how much value he places on you.” Wintry blue wine poured out of the bottle into the glass in front of him, bubbling and hissing slightly with the infused essence of pure pain as he poured. “I can see why you appreciate Zak Phaer’irr, he has many admirable qualities about him, and I admire him myself. But you,” Xulfryn took a sip of his wine, licking at his thin lips as he appreciated the flavor, “I think this is the first time I fully understood what he saw in you.”

Obessa couldn’t keep the scowl off her face, and Xulfryn shrugged as he motioned her to the door. “He is a man of many admirable traits, but in choosing you in the way he has done he has done something he has never done before, and that is show me a chink in his defenses. He won’t win this game, you have to know that, and if you won’t help me destroy him by choice, you will do so by force.”

Xulfryn’s oily red eyes sparkled as he offered her a toast with his glass and drank down the contents. His laughter followed her all the way down the hallway.


==============================================


They had been led down the tunnels for almost a half hour. The only sounds were the shuffle of feet on stone, and the slight hissing snaps of the green copper fires burning in the illuminators held by the black robed apprentices. Everything was gray green in the tunnel. The walls were gray stone, the robes of the figures marching through them were gray as well, each topped by a pale face glowing green in the light. The only absolute colors were the shadowy dark robes of the higher ranked apprentices, and the gleaming sharp highlights of the klaive each wore strapped to his back.

The apprentices had been awoken in the middle of the night, still sore from the extensive combat drills they had practiced the day before. Even Obessa had to admit that the workouts had been impressive compared to Wych training. The Temple seemed to almost venerate the blade as some symbol of their god, Khaine, and they spent all their waking hours in studious prayer with it. Mornings involved short blades, afternoons after a sparse lunch would be dedicated to sword work, the evening would see them train with something more exotic for a while, then an evening meal, a few prayers in the temple, and back to their cells for sleep.

But tonight had been different, the insistent black robed students had entered their cells, dragging them up to their feet. Few words had been spoken, just terse instructions to stay quiet, dress, and follow them. So follow them the students did, a shuffling gray horde, and they marched down into the depths of the sanctuary, down through layers of the ancient temple. Every time they reached an end to their passage Obessa would feel certain they had reached the bottom of it, but then the black robed apprentices would open another side door, and a new descent would appear before them.

A figure loomed out of the darkness ahead of them. Sharp angles, dull black armor, and a leering skull mask that seemed to be formed of blazing green flames in the reflected glow of the copper fires. It took Obessa a moment, but she identified the Incubus as Ryldnar, spotting the distinctive darkened scar across the left eye of his skull mask. As usual, he kept his Punisher battle staff on his back, an older weapon that he favored over the klaive.

“Welcome.” When Ryldnar spoke, even though no one had been making any sound, somehow the class grew quieter. It had been one of their first lessons, when a Master of the Temple spoke, silence was expected. “Beyond this door,” he motioned behind him to a slim onyx doorway that bore no markings, “lays your first true test as initiates. Everything up to this point has been nothing. We have proven that you have muscle, and bone, and sinew, and that you can learn simple rote techniques. Now we come to the question of if you are even worthy to learn the ways of the klaive. My last lesson to you before you enter is this; listen, learn, follow my teachings, and whatever else you may do, do not hesitate. I expect over half of you to fail this test.”

Ryldnar turned and slid open the door, it moved without sound, and he motioned the class through. They obeyed. Obessa glanced around carefully as they entered a vast chamber, but an unusual one. They currently were within a square chamber with a single door set in the far wall. There was inscribed upon it the symbol of an axe, and nothing else. Within the room was a wide array of weapon racks, each bearing dozens of different axes of various shapes and designs. There was no ceiling over the room though, instead there was a series of arching black metal catwalks. Standing along these catwalks were Incubi, their skull masks flickering like moths in the dim light as they circled overhead.

“Select a weapon for yourself,” instructed Ryldnar as he entered the room holding a small brass bowl, “and then come forth and draw a chit. The Unan Angau is a test of yourself, and no other, you will each walk it alone.”

“Joyous day,” sighed Tymeon as he selected a matched pair of hand axes. He had never much excelled with axe work, and Obessa had encouraged him to go with the lighter weapons to better suit his style. For herself she selected a wickedly recurved double bladed axe, preferring the speed and ability to reverse strike with it over something with a longer reach or more cutting strength.

Ryldnar seemed to sneer at her through his mask as he offered her the bowl, she reached in and drew out a small brass chit emblazoned with a rune marking her as the eighteenth.

“Number one, as always.” Tilt laughed as he tossed his chit into the air and caught it jauntily, his long hafted war axe balanced on his shoulder. “Will you all wish me luck?”

“Be careful,” Welv offered with a slow nod, “some of us will die here.”

“Maybe you,” clucked Tilt. Tymeon and Obessa both wished him well as he walked through the waiting door. Slowly time seemed to drag on, every once in a while an Incubi from above would motion for the next student to advance through the door. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the timing, sometimes it would go quickly, and other times it would seem to drag on forever. Tymeon went at twelve, and Welv right before her at seventeen.

“See you on the other side,” he offered with a casual shrug as he ambled up to the door, the pair of heavy battle axes he held almost seeming light in his grip. Obessa waited impatiently, pacing in front of the door like a caged animal. She felt the same jitters she normally had right before an arena battle, she knew she would face a melee on the other side of the door, she could feel it deep inside.

Then one of the Incubi overhead motioned to her.

The Proceeding of Fate was before her.

Obessa stepped through the door.


==============================================


It was a simple room, unadorned walls, a simple floor of black sand that ground comfortably beneath her feet. It was well lit by light from above, and on the catwalks the Incubi stood and watched. Standing in the center of the room was a single Incubus. He leaned comfortably on a large double-bladed axe, seeming in restful repose, his other hand hung at his waist, holding his skull mask. His face was hard and solid, craggy and dark in the shadows of his long black hair which hung down to his shoulders in loose disarray.

She recognized him as Myrl, one of the Masters of the temple and one half of the famed Red Tornado of Obsidian Lethe, with his partner Jarrow he often led the way in major engagements and missions and was known as a fearsome foe. He looked up slowly, his face expressionless as he considered her.

“I have the honor of being your first test, for if you cannot wield an axe, how can you ever use the chopping power and potential of a klaive? As the klaive strikes down your foes, so much you strike down within yourself, descending into the earth to find the hard metal within.” He stood up slightly, reaching up and sliding his skull mask into place on his head. “I have already winnowed out five of your classmates, they lacked inner steel and so I granted it to them directly,” his voice became even more sepulchral when it echoed out of his mask and he nodded out some dark stains and thin splatters of blood decorating the dark walls. “Would you like to know the names of those who failed?”

“It doesn’t matter,” she answered as she lifted her axe, “knowing the failings or successes of others does not affect my own ability.”

“Well answered,” Ryldnar’s philosophy always bleeds from those he trains. Myrl lifted up his heavy axe with casual ease and fell into a battle pose. “Let us see what else he taught you.”

After that Myrl went as silent as the grave, Obessa couldn’t even hear him breathing as he assaulted her. He was good too, moving with a liquid grace, it was like battling a serpent, and the way he moved the axe made her feel like it was more like a whip than a heavy weapon.

She kept moving, dancing around the edges of his assault, and trying a few wickedly fast reverse cuts hoping to catch him unaware, but Myrl seemed to see through every one of her tricks, and he batted aside her attacks like they were the flailing of a child. He was wearing her down, and she wasn’t sure what to do to try to stop it from happening. She kept trying tougher maneuvers and other dirty tricks, from tossing sand in his eyes to using the hooked edge of the axe to try and tip him by pulling on his ankle. Nothing worked.

It finally ended when Myrl battered her to the ground with a sudden rush, spinning in a tight circle to bring his axe around and down on her head. Obessa snarled in defiance even as the axe was checked at the last moment. Above her Myrl looked down at her, his leering skull mask unreadable. He glanced up at the Incubi above and there was a bit of quiet mumbling. Obessa almost sprang to the attack again, but his attention shifted immediately back to her as soon as she tensed and she was forced to go quiet once more. There was a bit of laughter from above and the mumbling seemed to reach some accordance.
Myrl slowly stepped back from her, removing his helmet and dropping his axe down into a rest posture as he leaned on it. He nodded to the door behind him. “Go.”

“Did I pass?”

“You win a battle, and lose a war, you fail at a strike, and lure an opponent in to their death, the Proceedings of Fate is not a moment, but a journey.” He motioned again to the door. “For now, your journey continues.”

Obessa picked herself up, taking up her fallen axe and walking to the door. She glanced up at the silent Incubi watchers, many of whom also regarded her carefully. She stepped through the door into a waiting room identical to the first, save that now half of the room had weapons racks with axes upon them, and the other half had spears. There were also some of her fellow Grays standing around or resting as they waited their turns.

“Told you she’d make it,” laughed Tymeon, “you owe me a half chit.”

“Bah.” Welv grunted and gave his boyish smirk as he ambled up to her, a broad bladed long spear resting across his back. Tymeon held a bundle of shorter throwing javelins. “You seemed to take long enough, Myrl didn’t defeat you quickly.”

“Did anyone defeat him?” Obessa frowned at the thought that they were simply being tested on how long it took them to fail.

“I came close,” Welv offered, “and a few have claimed they defeated him outright.”

“I think most were lying, personally,” offered Tymeon.

“Is that it then, just prove you are halfway competent?”

“Maybe,” Tymeon shrugged, “not everyone came out though, so I do not think he was lying about the ones he had winnowed out, five by my current count.”

“I do not look forward to the spear test,” admitted Welv with a frown.

“Just treat it like a sword you can only thrust and parry with,” Obessa offered as she laid a hand on his thick shoulder. “You’re quicker than you look, that might impress them.”

“And I’m smarter than he looks, so I’ll have an easy time of it as well,” suggested Tymeon as he glanced up to a motioning Incubi. “Well, we’ll see…” He bowed to them. “May the Dark Muses walk with you till we meet again.”

“Oh, I’ll count the moments till then,” Welv countered with a smirk.

Obessa spent the next few minutes trying to remind Welv of what she could of their spear training, but soon enough it was his turn. Before long it was she who was being motioned through. She readied the slim bladed blackwood spear she had selected and opened the door.

She descended a small series of steps into a room of polished tile that was filled with water up to her ankles. Small cascading waterfalls fed the pool from dozens of worn carved statues. Draped across the largest of these statues was Jarrow, partner to Myrl and clearly her challenge in this battle. He rested, almost lazily, in the arms of a giant howling sculpture of Khaine, bright blue eyes, his spiky blue hair and the identically colored sash of blue tied to his spear just below its rippling long blade were the only spots of color on him, all else was muted blacks and glinting edges of sharpened metal. He held up his skull helmet in one hand, handling it almost like a puppet as he used it to look down at her.

“A new challenge approaches, I have the honor of testing it, will it be reborn anew into the service of Khaine, or will it be stillborn, and simply blood in the water?” Jarrow’s helm puppet bobbled at her. “But look here, old Myrl was unable to handle the girl now, this is almost shameful.”

“Myrl was better than me with an axe,” she offered, unsure how to take his play-acting.

“Of course he was,” Jarrow tilted the helmet almost as though it were thinking, “to suggest otherwise would be quite insulting to him, though that he didn’t remove you from the competition already is sad, I have seen you practice with an axe…”

Jarrow rolled to his side, flipping backwards off the statue to land with a splash on the ground, his long spear in one hand and his helmet in the other as he placed it atop his face, hiding his smiling face behind the emotionless skull mask. He lifted his spear up in a challenge as he pointed it straight at her, his other hand beckoning her to come to him.

“To wield a spear is to understand the range and reach of a weapon, and to see how a thrusting tool can be also a slashing one. If you are to wield the klaive you must know the advance and retreat, and understand that death can come at a distance with blinding speed and but a subtle shift of muscle, be reborn in the gentle wash of water, and know a weapon is as unto a striking serpent.”

Obessa felt comfortable as she spun her own spear into position and advanced slowly forward, watching his movements carefully. She had been trained in the art of the spear by none less than Fay’rezza herself, and had none of the uncertainty with it that she felt wielding an axe. She stepped forward through the water again, noticing the rivulets of red that stained the water’s surface in small dark eddies, and shoved away any thoughts of who they might belong to.

Jarrow moved with the acrobatic grace of a dancer, his spear play worthy to appear on the red sands in any arena of the city. But Obessa was no slouch herself, and matched him move for move. Their spears cracked and sparked against each other as they lunged and slashed, seeking advantage. At one point she even forced him to retreat until he could spin around the sculpture of Khaine, stabbing out from around and within its artistic flourishes as he fought for some breathing room.

Obessa realized at that point he was no longer fighting to win, but simply fighting not to lose, and redoubled her efforts, pressing him hard and seeking to score a solid hit against his chest armor. Jarrow laughed at her attack, knowing it for what it was, and accepted her challenge willingly. Their spears flashed as the water kicked up around them, both combatants moving aggressively around seeking the optimal angle of attack.

And then, suddenly, it was over. Jarrow stepped back, holding out his spear to one side and an open palmed hand to the other as he backed away from her. Obessa frowned, feeling robbed of her victory. Jarrow reached up and took off his helmet as, above him, she could hear murmured discussion from the Incubi above. He smirked at her and offered a quick wink with one flashing blue eye as he tilted his head back and sighed theatrically.

“Really? Is there any doubt? If so, half of you must be blind.” There was a long pause as Jarrow nimbly sprang back onto the statue and eased himself into a restful state. A moment later he was smirking down at her again and held up his helmet, nodding with it towards her, “you may progress.”

Obessa tilted her head in thanks to him as she circled around, looking for the exit door. She finally found it set into the back of the giant Khaine skull that Jarrow lay upon. She worked open the door, noting the bloodstained handprints there, as she entered the statue of Khaine and descended a narrow stairway spiraling down into darkness.

She finally stepped out into a small room. On the far side was a gleaming door of polished amethyst, around it sat weapons racks brimming with many knives and other shortblades. There was a haphazard pile of spears near a table that held some simple medical supplies and dressings. She immediately spotted Tymeon there working at bandaging up a nasty wound in Welv’s shoulder. Many of the other Grays who had made it this far bore similar wounds. She walked up to them, frowning down at Tymeon’s work.

“Do you know what you’re doing?”

“Well…not really,” Tymeon smiled sheepishly as he offered her the bandages and backed off.

“It was stupid,” sighed Welv, “I slipped in that damn water, stupid spears.”

“You made it through,” offered Tymeon with a shrug as Obessa set to bandaging the wound tightly, “isn’t that what really matters?”

“You keep making it through too, how do you manage that?”

“Practiced mediocrity,” offered Tymeon with a flourish and bow, “I may not excel like Bessa with a knife or you with a sword, but you’ll note I have passing competence with them all, I think that is perhaps more valuable than being brilliant at one.”

“He has a point,” Obessa nodded thoughtfully, “each of the weapons they are testing us with, I have seen a klaive wielded in ways that emulate them. Perhaps it is not individual skill they are assessing, but whether you’ll be capable to wield their finest weapon.”

“The lady makes sense,” Tymeon smirked, and Obessa suspected he had already known what she had just surmised. As usual, Tymeon played his cards close to his chest. After that it was just a matter of bandaging wounds, selecting weapons, and waiting for an Incubi to signal that she could proceed. Tymeon entered the door, nervous but acting confident. When Welv went it was with a snarl, gripping his knife a little too tightly. And then it was her turn.

Candles flickered everywhere, their dim orange light causing the shadows to dance around her. There was no door out of this room other than the one she had entered, and at the far side of the room was a giant blazing bonfire that licked and crawled up the wall, tendrils of fire bursting and snapping like whips. A lone figure kneeled at rest in front of the fire, a single dueling dagger on the ground in front of him right next to a grinning Incubi war mask.  He lifted his head slowly to regard her, dark eyes studying her intently from a face she knew well.

“Zak!” She paused, glancing up at the watching Incubi above, their silent masks offering no clear sign of their opinion. “Master Phaer’irr, I thought you were still out on a mission.”

“I was, but I seem to have returned at an appropriate time.” He held up his blade, a straight line of polished greenfire steel. “To know a weapon is to know its far reaches as it is to know the very handle in your hand, a blade is deadly at any distance. Ore has been extracted, and a life has been reborn in service, but is it pure enough to withstand the fire, or shall it simply melt, too weak to go on, I have the honor of being your third test.” He stood up slowly, that small trace of an almost smile flickering on his lips as he looked her over carefully. “I do not see any marks on you yet.”

“Do you intend to add one?”

“I did for the one called Tilt, he was most displeased.”

Obessa couldn’t help but laugh slightly, “I can only imagine.” She lifted her knife, having selected a classic wych dueling blade, the curved and jagged blade as familiar in her hand as her own face in the mirror. She dropped into a combat pose, “I hope you don’t intend to take it easy on me.”

Zak bowed to her and then picked up his helmet and blade. “I get the feeling that certain people thought I would, and assigned me the one room they felt certain it wouldn’t matter if I did.” He placed his helmet over his head and lifted his own dueling knife, “but, no,” his voice echoed emotionlessly out of his mask, “I don’t intend to take it easy on you.”

Obessa smiled, and attacked.

Fighting with Zak was always a rewarding experience. The man was fast, agile, and strong. He seemed to have a library of tricks up his sleeve at any occasion, and always kept her on her toes. This time was no different, and it was clear to her that he did seem fully to desire to be the first to leave a cut on her, he was a simple romantic that way.

His bladework was lightning fast, but she and he had fought with knives many times, and she knew she was the faster of them, and perhaps even stronger. Still, he was more experienced and had his accursedly superior footwork. Indeed, Obessa had never managed to trip him or send him sprawling in a duel, even when she managed a hip toss or charged into him he always seemed to roll up to his feet already prepared to attack, defend, or retreat, and that was probably his most dangerous skill.

Even as she was admiring this, a slash at her with his right hand suddenly became empty as she found herself parrying air. He had pulled a trick from her own playbook, passing his knife in a quick toss to his other hand which now lunged forward. She desperately twisted backwards, but not before the razored edge of his blade sliced across her cheek. Zak danced back lightly on the balls of his feet, his mask was expressionless but she was certain that ghost of a smile was on his lips as he watched the blood run down her pale skin.

“You’ll pay for that,” she assured him as she charged forward again, this time intent on her goal. Zak was more experienced, yes, and hard to leave unsure, but he had weaknesses of his own, and one was that he was used to fighting with swords. A knife was a different animal, and she had mastered many tricks with it even he had likely never seen. In the flickering dim light of this chamber she suspected one would work all too well, an old game that young Wyches played called ‘hide the blade’ combined with the bad lighting and what he had just done to her… Obessa smiled.

She came in, a few fast lashing slashes, then she acted as though she also now intended to do one of her quick hand knife passes. Only this time when she started the motion she timed it with twisting her back to the large bonfire, casting herself in shadows. At the same instant she actually flipped the knife backwards, palming it with two fingers while using the others to give the illusion that she held nothing. Her other hand shifted out to catch the supposedly thrown blade, and as Zak’s guard shifted she flipped the knife back into her hand and stabbed for his chest.

He saw it coming, and backpeddaled quicker than she could have imagined, but nothing could hide the screeching sound of the tip of her blade skittering across his Incubi warplate.

Zak stopped moving then, and above her she heard the mutterings of the Incubi sounding almost like annoyed insects buzzing about. She was breathing heavily, but smiled, feeling a twinge of pain from her cut cheek but not caring about it at all. Zak tipped his helmeted head almost unperceptively at her, an acknowledgement of a clean hit and clever move, and she nodded back to him, knowing that the two of them properly understood that there had been no holding back, whatever the shadowy judges above might think.

Zak slowly unsealed the maglocks of his helmet and pulled it off, his face calm and expressionless as he nodded towards the bonfire. “You may proceed.”

Obessa looked at it, seeing now for the first time that the bonfire was not set against a wall, but rather built in a gap, if one were to leap through the flames they would reach a final chamber beyond. She nodded in thanks to him as she turned and sprinted forward, diving into the fire and rolling up to her feet on the other side, slightly singed, but none the worse for her passing.

She stood on a vast iron floored chamber, jagged and broken bits of metal jutting up from its splintered and torn surface. The room was long and narrow, like a bridge, spanning its way to the other side, where sat a door of gleaming black obsidian emblazoned with a stylized klaive symbol. On either side the floor of the room fell away into an inky darkness that seemed to plummet down for forever.

Standing between her and the door was a single figure, holding a pair of swords in his hands.

Master Ryldnar smiled at her as he tossed one of the swords forward to clatter to the ground in front of her.

“You made it this far, but on this anvil I suspect your mettle shall be found wanting. For the path of beginning, in all things, is the truth within the original. The first sword is as much a part of the klaive as the last one, and to run one must first show that one can walk, bend or break, the question of mastery is an absolute one.”

‘Do you even know a sword?’

Obessa gritted her teeth as she stood up and pointedly tossed the dagger away, walking forward to pick up the offered sword. Ryldnar pulled his helmet off his belt and affixed it in place as he fell into a relaxed guard posture.

“Try not to embarrass yourself,” he advised.

Obessa advanced on him, wanting to let him know she wasn’t intimidated. He waited, almost casual in his regard of her, and she promised to make him regret that. As she drew closer she suddenly launched into one of Welv’s sudden quick lunges, the brutally fast thrust lashing in for Ryldnar’s chest. He deflected her attack with languid ease and responded with a backhand that almost clipped her nose in half.

Then he was on her and the fight started for real. Ryldnar moved with quick economy of motion, never wasting a move, and each of his defensive moves flowing effortlessly into a deadly counterattack. His sword seemed to swim around him like a coiling serpent, lashing out to bite at her in sudden snaps while otherwise protectively wrapping him in its silvered coils.

Obessa found herself wracking her brain for thoughts and ideas of moves to use against him, but most seemed out of place or unlikely to work. At one point she even pressed in to try and slide past Ryldnar’s guard and he almost managed to backhand her in the face with a sudden lashing blow of his gauntlet, though she managed to quickly backpedal from the strike of his fist Ryldnar did manage to make a slight slice across her abdomen, releasing a spurt of crimson blood, as he pursued her with a quick riposte. He lifted his blade in a trivial salute to her.

“The first nick, I will bleed you out slowly, like dueling a child.”

Obessa scowled, realizing she had made a mistake there, but not sure of exactly what.

‘I guess her big issue is that I punched her, that was the biggest mistake you made’

Welv’s advice flitted through her head and she frowned in frustration. She felt she had managed to do quite a bit to help the others in spear and knife, but Welv had been, at best, an only acceptable trainer with the sword. Most of what she’d learned from him was just copying a few of his moves, and his best advice was that she shouldn’t be punched when fighting with a sword and…

Obessa almost dropped her guard totally as a thought entered her head, and only a quick and wild series of slashes as she retreated managed to save her as Ryldnar pressed his advantage, beating her back as she retreated over the torn iron walkway.

When fighting with her knife she used physical strikes all the time, punches, kicks, trips, elbows, even shoulder strikes and headbuts were all ingrained in her combat style. Welv, far better with a sword than her and much larger and physically stronger, almost never used them. And it suddenly occurred to her that he didn’t use them because he was trying to keep the fight at a different range. With her dagger she would press in, slipping around the foe with the speed of her footwork, with his sword Welv worked the outside edges, hemming in his foe, but doing so via pressure of his blade while he maintained the distance to properly generate the speed and strength of his strikes.

‘Do you even know a sword?’

Obessa smiled at the thought as she back-flipped away from Ryldnar’s newest slash for her and came up in a guard position. She could see it in how Ryldnar moved as well, his style was different, but though his defense was tight to himself, he circled around, lashing out when the moment was right, and whenever she would attack him he would allow her to get too close, increasing the power of his defense before he would step back slightly in order to strike at her properly. Even when they had dueled before it was true, her performance had become better when her sword had broken, altering its optimal range.

She had known a knife, but not a sword.

Obessa lured Ryldnar in again, but this time she struck a bit earlier than she thought was right, and the force of her blow, though he deflected it perfectly, caused his feet to shift slightly from the unexpected timing and strength of it. Obessa looked right into his skull mask, his expression unreadable behind the mirrored slits, and she winked at him.

Their duel became a blur then, Obessa feeling as though her technique was improving with every strike and parry, and it took her a moment to realize that she was actually no longer losing ground to Ryldnar, and instead seemed to occasionally force him to take a step or two back of his own.
And then it was over.

Ryldnar stepped away from her, raising a hand in warding. He took off his helmet and she could actually see that she had caused him to break out in a slight sweat. His eyes were hard to read and his face was inscrutable. Obessa stood there quietly, one hand clamped over the painful gash he’d torn in her side, now that the fight was over the pain of it was more noticeable, and blood seeped between her fingers to splatter on the floor. The murmuring of the Incubi above was muted and in hushed whispers and they seemed in sharp debate about the question.

Ryldnar stepped forward to reclaim the sword from her hand, as he did he whispered to her. “Whatever the decision, you now know a sword.”

“You say that like it’s all that will matter.”

“Isn’t it?” Ryldnar offered her a small smirk as he turned and walked away. Above Obessa the voices grew silent. She looked up at them and found many gleaming skull masks leering down at her from above. She stared at them for a moment longer, and then one of them finally moved, pointing slowly at the far door.

“Proceed, your Fate awaits.”

Obessa nodded to them as she turned and made her way across the battered iron walkway. The lightest touch of her fingers caused the obsidian door to swing slowly open. Beyond was a small chamber filled with gleaming weapon racks. Obessa glanced them over, seeing everything from Agonisers, venom blades, and power mauls down to the simplest of blade fist gauntlets and back alley shivs. Dozens of high quality powered weapons were at rest next to simple wooden and bone edged blades and spears. Almost any type of weapon that was considered of any worth in Commoragh, and many that were not lay before her.

At the far end of the room stood a single Incubus, already wearing his helmet, but the gilt golden edging on his tabard made it clear that it was Xulfryn Heirarch himself. In his armored hands he held a klaive, the sword of swords. Behind him was a rack with a single item on it, a robe of fine purple cloth. Above her the Incubi judges fell deadly silent.

“Your last test stands before you,” announced Xulfryn quietly, his voice hissing and menacing as he spoke. He motioned at a thin black line that crept across the room, dividing the arena he stood in from the weapons room. “You have gone down into the earth, been reborn from the womb to enter the way of Khaine, struck in fire and hardened upon his anvil the question remains what is it you have become? You may select one, and only one weapon to cross that line with, and then you must face me for your final judgment and test. If you pass this test you will be allowed to wear the purple. If you fail, nothing will save you. Choose wisely, it may be your final decision.”

Obessa glanced at the racks of exquisite and simple weapons, and then back to Xulfryn. The blood leaking from her side dribbled on the floor where she could see many other bloodstains from other students. Obessa considered the many possibilities before her, but suspected that nothing obvious was the right choice. She considered Xulfryn’s words, and Ryldnar’s teachings, and then she smiled, reaching a decision.

She walked forward and stepped over the line.

“You appear to have selected no weapon.” Xulfryn still had not moved.

“I suspect this is a riddle,” she announced as she advanced on him, “and I suspect there are many possible answers, this is mine as taught to me by my Are’zhai; To know one thing is to know ten thousand things, to know yourself is to know your blade, to know your blade is to know yourself, for you are the blade as the blade is you.” She opened her arms wide as she stood before Xulfryn Heirarch. “I am Incubus, I am the blade, and therefore the weapon I have crossed the line with; is myself.”

From above her the silence was absolute. Xulfryn made no move at all, the klaive still gripped in his hand. And then…a single sound of a blade being beaten against an armored warsuit was heard, rattling out of the darkness overhead. It was joined by another, and then another, and soon a chorus of metal on metal echoed through the chamber. Xulfryn slowly lifted his klaive, and crashed it against his breastplate in a salute to her as he stepped aside.

Obessa walked forward and took up the purple robe.

Her Fate was decided now.

The twilight of her old life was upon her, and the bloody rebirth of her future was at hand.

She would be Incubi, or die in the attempt.



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I did owe an update here, didn't I?

So, above is the update, revel in it as we finally experience the Unan Angau!
Also, new chapter teasers on Page 1!
Also, also, probably a new chapter will be up prior to the New Year!
Also, also, also, I've been toying around with a new story and that will probably show up around the same time.

A worthwhile nudge response by any stretch Wink

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Dec 22 2013, 22:08

Yes, that will do, for a nudge response ...

Thor, that was atmospheric in the extreme, and I enjoyed it immensely! I could picture the different levels of the descent, the flickering darkness, the sinister touch of the remanent bloodstains - and I loved how the various Masters all had their own techniques that seemed also reflected in the differences in their personalities.

Xulfryn Hierarch's personal loyalty test was interesting, and his painting was a perfect small detail. You put a lot into a small space with that scene*. It's still making me think. I love stories that entertain me, but if they make me think afterwards, that is even better.

I look forward to seeing more as well as what new thing you have planned Very Happy



* not that other scenes are empty!

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Fri Jan 03 2014, 06:04

I'm glad you liked the painting scene, it is possibly one of my favorites from the story thus far - and you are correct that there are a number of small details about a few characters there to glean info from if you can spot them. As a bit of a tease, I will even admit that there is a very subtle reference to a later "big reveal" there, if one is sharp enough to spot it. I did intentionally make it exceedingly subtle to spot, but it made sense to include it simply because I know how things are working together and I wanted to hint at it so later people could see it was there the whole time.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Fri Jan 03 2014, 18:20

PM'd you with some thoughts and speculation, Thor! (So as not to spoil it for anyone also guessing.)

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Jan 05 2014, 20:23

Chapter 10: The Talk



Mor’osez sat on her bed staring at the trinket in her hand. It was old and formed of a bronze colored metal that was as light as a feather. She held it up to the light, watching it twist on the end of its worn leather cord. It was a key of some sort, that’s what Fay’rezza had said. A key, such a simple thing a key, but it was possibly a deadly thing as well. It all depended on what it unlocked of course. In this case Mor’osez suspected it unlocked some sort of truth, and the bright light of truth was often a painful and dangerous thing in the Dark City.

It was embossed with a runic emblem of some kind, that much was certain. But Mor’osez had not particularly ever bothered with the study of languages and this symbol was in no tongue she knew of even though it appeared to be Eldar in origin. But the Eldar dialect was an ancient tongue, altered and shifted down through the millennia, and the vulgar argot speak of the lower districts and ports varied even from the language of the various merchant dialects or the courtly tongues of the high lords in their gilded towers.

‘I know three things you don’t know.’

That’s what Irbreena had told her right before she died. This key was clearly one of those things, or the access to one of them. And that was a worrisome part, because it had become clear to Mor’osez that two of the Bloodbrides, the Klaiveskar Twins, had some part in this whole affair. The two of them probably only had half a brain between them, and they would do nothing without the approval of their patron.

‘Black’ Ghyvia, the Shadowed Smile.

But that didn’t do her any good. Yes, probably it was Ghyvia who was willing to kill for this key. Indeed, it was probably even Ghyvia who had arranged for Irbreena’s death. But that meant nothing, a Succubus was perfectly within her expected rights to kill a fellow Succubus for almost any number of reasons. Likewise, killing to possess some trinket, regardless of its apparent value, was of no large matter either and was practically the basis of commerce within Commoragh. The question was the why of it, why was the key worth killing for, why had Irbreena had to die? Why had they wanted Fay’rezza dead as well?

The other question was, of course, did Mor’osez even care enough to know? She could easily walk away right now. Indeed, if she so cared she could even walk right up to Ghyvia and hand over the key, admit to her actions in helping Fay’rezza escape, and Ghyvia would probably thank her and reward her for her troubles.

But…curiosity had always been one of Mor’osez’s weaknesses she had always known that.

‘I know you, Mor’osez, that’s my one last bit of brilliance.’

Mor’osez stood up and slipped the key into one of the pouches on her belt as she headed for the door.  “Damn you, Irbreena…and damn me.”


==============================================


Clustered around the outside of any great arena were countless shops filled with merchants of every stripe. From clothing, tattoos, weapons, restaurants, and slaves there was little it didn’t offer for sale, it was almost a community unto itself. Still, the grandest and most prestigious of these merchants were the ones who managed to work out an equitable rental agreement with the Cult itself, and on the great upper promenade of the arena these entrepreneurs would offer their wares to the crowds who had already paid for the right simply to enter the stadium.

The most successful of these merchants were the ones who managed to attract the wyches themselves as clients, for this added to their attractiveness amongst the general patrons who would then be able to say they had frequented the same stores as their favored champions from the sands. The most popular dining establishment at the Arena of Bloodied Kiss was, at the moment, Qualln, an ancient word meaning ‘a final satiation’ that, amusedly, suggested both pleasure from a repast and death depending on inflection and the way you held your left hand. It specialized in serving exotic and flavorful dishes with ingredients that, if prepared improperly, were deadly poisonous.

Grexel was dancing on the tabletops again. Called ‘The Bloody Mirror’ very little of her arena mannerisms ever seemed present when she was off duty. Her long hair, tinted black with striking green tips today, whipped about her face as she laughed merrily, pulling first one, than another of the more attractive male wyches out of their seats to come dance with her, and teasingly spurning each in turn as she mimicked their gropes in ways to suggest how inartistic they were. She sprang about nimbly, long legs flashing brightly against the skintight black bands that decorated them, bare feet moving with perfect grace through the plates and dining ware, never so much as tipping over a crystal drinking flute.

Mor’osez pushed her way through the crowd fawning over the dancing Bloodbride as she made her way towards the rear of the dining hall. There, draped in the thicker shadows, sat the wyches more content to quietly dine away from the uproar, showmanship, and gaudy bloodletting of the younger crowd. Faeth’lyn was there, her long robes wrapped around her slim figure. Cordus sat with her, the muscular male bare from the waist up save for a slight armored shoulder guard, his curling blonde hair held in place by a single band of beaten copper. Mor’osez grabbed a chair as she approached, dragging it over and sitting down backwards on it, her arms crossed and resting on the headboard as she looked at the two younger Bloodbrides.

“I need to talk to you.”

“Then perhaps I need to invest in more makeup to cover the bruising, considering what you seem to think ‘talking’ means.” Faeth’lyn’s face was deadpan neutral at the interruption of their meal, though Cordus’ annoyance was clearly painted on his sculpted features. “That said, is this really the best place to talk?”

“I don’t see why not.” Mor’osez glanced over her shoulder at the crowded dining chamber. The walls were hung with multicolored tapestries and vast holocrystals projected light shows into the air, displaying giant sized images of the gladiators performing on the sands outside. Crowded tables cheered at watching the playful bloodletting in the arena or for the antics performed at other tables, like Grexel’s impromptu dance performance. “Who would ever discuss anything important here, after all, everyone’s listening. But, if everyone’s listening, and no one discusses anything here, who is still listening?”

“A crude theory, but one I don’t fully disagree with.” Faeth’lyn sighed as she glanced at Cordus. “May I have a few moments, please?”

“Very well.” Cordus stood up slowly, his eyes turning to Mor’osez meaningfully. “I’m just going to be right over there,” he indicated a nearby table, “watching.”

“I don’t think I’ve favored women over men for a handful of decades, so it will probably be a boring show.” Mor’osez waved farewell to him playfully then looked back at Faeth’lyn. “He’s sculpted like a statue, but I’m not sure he’s the sharpest knife in your sheath,” she made a slightly lewd gesture at the double entendre.

“He is not dumb.”

“Huh,” Mor’osez grunted as she considered Faeth’lyn’s face carefully. As always it was calm and measured, the young wych’s voice had been deadpan and indifferent. But Mor’osez decided she didn’t believe the facade and laughed. “That’s funny, you’re so careful and controlled about so much, but, of all the ways you could slip and leave a chink in your defenses, you let passion make that choice for you? It reminds me of a certain Corsair captain…you are still so young.” She glanced over her shoulder at Cordus who was sitting at a nearby table, his thick arms crossed over a muscular chest as he glared at her, “so is he though, I suppose…”

“Though insulting one of your only allies is a maneuver I would not put beneath you cunning political skills, I tend to presume that is not why you are here.” One of Faeth’lyn’s eyebrows arched with curiosity. “Is this about the Klaviskar Twins, since they clearly lied about seeing Fay’rezza kill Irbreena?”

“Maybe they did, but I’m still debating that question,” Mor’osez waved her hand in dismissal, “I need to leave the arena for a personal matter this evening. Thanks to you, I’m one of the most watched wyches in the entire Cult right now, so it’s not like I can just walk out the front gate. I was thinking you might have a solution to this problem.”

“And your personal reason is?”

“Personal.” Mor’osez stared hard at Faeth’lyn, who quirked her lips slightly as she met the gaze evenly, though eventually she shrugged and kept speaking.

“I was hoping that maybe you were here to talk about something relevant, like your slipping vote numbers.”

“My votes are slipping?” Mor’osez hadn’t really been paying attention to the nightly counts, but had presumed that her total would stay relatively constant as long as she just kept doing as she had always done. “Why?”

“Because we’re almost halfway through and you’re acting like you don’t even need votes.”

“I don’t. In case you forgot I’m not in the race to win it, just to see who tries to kill me, right?”

“Are you serious?” Faeth’lyn sighed and shook her head. “I am not blind. The Klaviskar Twins were trying to silence Fay’rezza, and unless you’re as dumb as Kyssindree thinks you are, I’m pretty sure you don’t believe that Noi saw Fay’rezza kill Irbreena.”

Mor’osez shrugged, “no, I don’t really.” She especially didn’t believe this since she did think Fay’rezza had been truthful with her, but wanted to talk to the spear mistress again, which was the entire point of this meeting. “You think that suggests Black Ghyvia is involved?”

“Are you suggesting she isn’t?” Faeth’lyn lifted a hand and counted off the points on her fingers. “She was one of the last people to see Irbreena alive, the Klaviskar Twins are sworn in service to her, she killed one of Irbreena’s sisters, and if she ever wants to advance her position in the Cult she’ll need to take out Aysha, which means she’ll need a fellow Succubus who is willing to work for that goal, and surprise, Kyssindree is an opportunistic bravo with an inflated sense of her prowess, the perfect catspaw.”

“What does this have to do with me winning this election?” Mor’osez felt her head starting to throb. Somehow every conversation with Faeth’lyn always turned into politics.

“How else do you plan to handle Ghyvia if she is the culprit?”

“I’ve handled Ghyvia before,” Mor’osez growled.

“And yet she sits as Succubus and you sit as a Bloodbride.”

“The longest running Bloodbride in the history of the cult.”

“The Bloodbride with the least ability to improve her station in the history of the cult,” Faeth’lyn countered rapier quick. Mor’osez snarled, but Faeth’lyn continued, unafraid. “You act like politics don’t matter, but they do. Kyssindree? She rises in votes because Luaae spreads the tale that she bested Fay’rezza in single combat. Her reputation soars for surpassing the unbeaten Mistress of Spears, while simply because you really did it you act like you don’t need to defend your own name and repute.”

“…people actually believe Luaae? That brainless dolt is sleeping with Kyssindree!”

“She is quite popular, in case you hadn’t noticed, and it is not whether people believe her, it is whether anyone says different. No one believes anyone would actually best Fay’rezza and not take credit for it. Most of the Blodbrides are more inclined to support Kyssindree than you, because she seems more likely to be a Succubus in the near future, making the rewards and punishments less…abstract, especially with an uninventive and vindictive sow like Kyssindree.”

“You were there, Cordus was there.” Mor’osez motioned over her shoulder, “even Grexel was there, and she loathes Kyssindree.”

“Do you expect others to risk themselves to fight your battles for you? Do you even know who Grexel has been voting for? By my best understanding she has voted Kyssindree for the last ten counts, and as you said, she hates Kyssindree, and that’s because our little Bloody Mirror understands politics. It doesn’t matter what we know, because you haven’t said or done anything to show different, and it’s you being called into question.”

“Am I now?” Mor’osez considered Faeth’lyn’s words for a few moments, her ire rising at the thought of Kyssindree being so desperate and hopeless to win that she would try to steal battle honors she hadn’t even come close to earning. Finally her eyes flicked up to Faeth’lyn. “How do you suggest I speak out, then?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we also need to arrange for you to have a way to get out of the arena unnoticed tonight, correct? Leave this to me,” Faeth’lyn smiled a wispy ghost of a smirk as she motioned Cordus to return to the table. “Maybe I can come up with something that will work to accomplish all of our goals. After all, considering how you ‘talk’ I think hearing you make a pronouncement should take a bit of consideration…if nothing else to make sure I am outside the blast radius.”


==============================================


Footsteps on black gravel crunched quietly in the dim light from the captive stars, not yet stirred to life by the solar cults. Sweat glistened on white skin and a thin shift of gray clung tightly to sweaty curves. Obessa ran through the battle kata quietly and quickly, her muscles still stiff from the exertions of the Unan Angau. She had heard many stories from the other students about how they had done versus the various masters, and it actually seemed that by her only losing cleanly to one it put her near the top of the class in performance. However she was not content to be simply near the top of the class, what she had learned during the Unan Angau was how weak she was compared to the Masters. She had known that Zak was overall a better fighter than her, and also that Ryldnar was better with a sword. But the casual ease Myrl had displayed in countering her, and even Jarrow, who was not even reputed as much of a spear fighter, had managed to push her to her limits with it. Also, though she had defeated Zak and fought Ryldnar well, all four masters had engaged multiple foes prior to ever facing her, and had still proved superior to her in many ways

She had come out of the Unan Angau being held up as worthy of consideration to be an Incubus, but all that she felt she had learned was exactly how high the mountain in front of her was.

She carried a curved axe in her hands and was working through her battle routine with focused determination. She considered all the ways Myrl had moved with an axe in his hands, and how he had countered her. She tried to emulate a few of his moves and consider how to adapt them into her style. The axe hissed through the air, cutting at nothing and leaving her frustrated at the empty motions.

“I didn’t think any Purples would be awake yet, they tend to sleep late.”

Obessa paused in her practice, glancing over her shoulder at the armored figure lurking in the gateway. It only took her a moment to recognize him from the braided scalps hanging from his belt. Klarz’ay, the Scalpel dipped his head slightly as he entered the training yard. He was attired in his full Incubi warplate, his face hidden behind the gleaming skull mask, his klaive strapped to his back. He walked towards her with casual ease, his eyes assessing her from behind the mirrored lenses of his mask.

“How may I assist you, Master?” Obessa dipped her head deferentially to him. She knew that disobedience was easily punished, and that if Klarz’ay could force her into a sign of disrespect it could be used against Zak. Klarz’ay didn’t respond though, he simply walked up to her, continuing to eye her carefully. Slowly his head tilted upwards to regard the walkways where the full Incubi would watch the training of the students from. Obessa followed his gaze and tensed as she saw Xulfryn Hierarch standing there, looking down on them carefully, his oily red eyes narrowed as he considered them.

“Do you still consider yourself a wych of Bloodied Kiss?” Xulfryn asked the question softly.

“I have left that life behind.”

“Did you?” Master Xulfryn considered her carefully. “I am not so sure anymore, not with everything I have seen and heard, but I have learned it is best to act swiftly even if one is unsure at times.” He shifted his glance to Klarz’ay.

He nodded.

Klarz’ay’s klaive hissed at it cut through the air with the speed of his draw, only instinct born in the arenas saved Obessa as she managed to bring up her axe to deflect the attack. The sheer force of the impact sent her staggering backwards though, and a second slash nearly gutted her wide open. She stumbled as she fought to get her feet under her, weaving her axe through a defensive routine in an attempt to get a bit of space. Klarz’ay moved with contemptuous ease, sidestepping her swings as he slipped to the left, a sharp backswing of his klaive cutting the head off the axe.

Obessa reacted quickly with it, shifting her grip and stabbing out at his throat with the jagged end of the axe haft. He tilted his head a bit, allowing the blow to glance off the edge of his mask. Too late she noticed the flare of energy from the tormentor on his helmet. The scientific description of what the tormentor did was to stimulate, via neural energy waves, multiple pathways of the brain and cause an overabundance of stimuli that would render a foe incoherent.

The reality was that your brain experienced all of its worst fears in the span of a heartbeat. Obessa had personally witnessed lesser species die from the effects, their bodies or mental fortitude unequal to the task of processing such horrors. She managed a gasped mewl of shock as she staggered back, visions flaring through her thoughts almost too fast to describe, each more horrific than the last. Her nerve endings all flared, as though she were on fire and being cut to pieces by envenomed blades. She watched herself and Zak die in scenarios ranging from macabre torture, to even him betraying her or abandoning her to her own fate.

She wasn’t sure if she had collapsed, but she did know that by the time her vision cleared she was lying upon the ground, her entire body still shivering from the agonies of the mental trauma. It took her another moment to remember that she had been in a fight, and by that point a painful blow landed in her ribs as Klarz’ay kicked her sharply. She managed to weakly roll with the impact, managing to half come up onto her feet before a hooked edge of his klaive caught her behind the ankle and sent her sprawling to the ground again. He stomped on her hand as she placed it on the ground, trying to push herself up. A heavily armored knee dropped heavily onto her back, blasting the air from her lungs as she coughed up blood. Fingers encased in fibro-steel curled into her short hair, grabbing it firmly as he pulled back on her head, a mailed fist smashing into her face with fearsome force.

“What do you think will anger him more?” Another fist fell, slamming into her temple and cracking the orbital bone, she felt blood flood down her forehead and into her eye. “Maybe if I scalp you and greet him as a fellow warrior, will he notice the bloody press of your still warm flesh against his thigh as we embrace?” Obessa dimly heard the sound of her chemise being torn off her. “Or perhaps if we wait here and he finds me inside you, would that affect him?” Black armored fingers closed around her face as he turned her over. Klarz’ay’s face was unreadable as he looked over her exposed flesh and then chuckled as he reached out and playfully dragged a finger across the prominent scar on her neck. “Or, perhaps, I could just cut you here and listen to you squawk while you bled out. I could record it and play it back for him to enjoy. Which would you prefer?”

Obessa could only see a red ruin out of her right eye but she stared upward with her left as she hawked a glob of phlegm and blood up into his face.

Klarz’ay paused, slowly reaching up to dab at the bloody spit with two fingers. He thoughtfully considered it as he rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. “You’re right…you’re right, I’m being short sighted. Why choose when I could do all three?”


==============================================


The celebration festival for Irbeena had been going on for some time now. Kyssindree had been working hard to appear in the arena literally every single solar cycle. She had already performed in three different Reaver races and had also dueled a number of opponents and participated in two massed melees. Cluuvia had been working hard as well, despite her many bribes she was still a distant third, and so she had been appearing and dueling many foes, showing off her skill with weapons and poison in an attempt to showcase her worth as a Succubi, even going so far as to pay the costs to allow her to recreate one of her famous raids on an Eldar outpost, complete with captured Eldar serving the roles of her opponents. Up to this point Mor’osez hadn’t bothered to appear at all besides showing up to watch some of the events, mostly because she didn’t find Irbreena worth much remembering. Also her appearances were usually headline events, and she had somewhat thought it beneath her to bother showcasing her skill on the sands as simple pandering advertisement.

Faeth’lyn had convinced her though, that the demand to see her perform combined with her position was a powerful tool that she should learn to exploit, and thus it was she’d been given a chance to not only have a conversation, but to also make a statement.

“The next match shall be a true honor for all of us,” cried the jubilant announcer as she walked to the center of the arena while the cleanup crews moved to quickly remove the remains of the last battle. Mor’osez hoped they did something about the smell, as Hrud were filthy creatures, and their blood stank like rotting meat covered in fecal oil. “On one side shall stand The Klaviskar Twins!” There was an appropriate roar of approval from the crowd, the Twins were popular competitors and well known for putting on a deadly and beautiful show.

The Twins capered out onto the sands while the announcer read off their vital stats and arena records. O’che laughed as she bounced up and down to wave giddily at her fans. Noi’celfer actually utterly mirrored the actions, though with a deadpan expression and almost mocking movements. Both were attired in black and green wychsuits with bronze armor, the color pattern reversed so that Noi wore black with green highlights, and her sister green with black. Both held dueling knives and had their artificial weapon arms already set. Noi’s bore a tri-pointed spear, and O’che had a large jagged scythe blade.

“In opposition to them, a single opponent.” Though it was common enough to have the Twins fight a solo opponent, the announcer’s voice burbled with hidden glee and the crowd knew they were going to see something interesting. “Known by no other name, needing no other name, and a nominee for the position of Succubus, I give you, the deadly and inimitable, Mor’osez!”

The arena thundered with the cheering, such that the announcer’s voice could barely be heard as she tried to highlight the record and achievements of the famed wych. Mor’osez took no small amount of pride in seeing the restaurants and shops along the upper proscenium emptying out as figures rushed back to their seats, even other wyches hurried to get a good viewing spot, and a few blades were drawn in the vox populi as the teeming masses fought for the best possible seats. A performance by Mor’osez was usually reserved for Archons who paid handsome tribute for the privilege, and to have her dueling two fellow Bloodbrides as well? It was a match that no one would turn down, and, as Faeth’lyn had predicted, even Black Ghyvia had been unable to suggest the fight shouldn’t happen.

The sand seemed to almost vibrate underfoot as she walked out slowly, the audience was chanting her name and stamping their feet. To their credit the Klaviskar Twins didn’t seem frightened, though one was insane and the other was probably worse so perhaps they didn’t properly understand fear. Mor’osez spread her arms in greeting to them as she bowed, showing she held no weapons. She was dressed in black leather pants, heavy boots, and a few strips of liquidsilk and leather belts around her chest. Still, her armored shoulder pads had spikes, as did the single armored poleyon on her right knee, and she was currently attaching some knuckle spikes to her hands, tightening the straps firmly and trying to ignore the painful stiffness in her fingers as she did so. She clenched and opened her left hand a few times, frowning at it, even the four dozen slaves she had butchered before stepping out into the sands hadn’t taken the ache away today.

“Mor’osez forgot her sword,” announced O’che happily, “how very sad-“

“-for her,” finished Noi.

Mor’osez let the threat roll off her lightly as the battlefield took shape, the masters of the arena controls knowing there was little point in waiting for an exchange of witty repartee with Mor’osez. Walls formed of tightly woven black razorvine hidden beneath the stadium rose up into place to create the Maze of Pain. It was an old arena contest, but still a popular one, where the contestants would hunt each other through the maze, all while the razorvine slowly bled them out with its venom that enhanced pain and the thorns that fed off the blood of its victims like a lamprey.

The crowd indicated their approval of the choice with resounding cheers. On the other side of the arena the Klaviskar Twins were doubtless darting into the entrance on their side of the maze, working as a single unit they would not allow the maze to separate them, and would hunt her with focused intent. Mor’osez grinned as she slowly sauntered into the narrow thorn laced pathways. She had always been of the belief that one of the strongest advantages you had in the Maze of Pain was your hearing, as it was one of the only ways to track your foe, and she didn’t like to run since it would get the blood pounding in your ears and leave you too likely to blunder into an ambush. Let others rush and sprint, Mor’osez was certain death would patiently wait for her to arrive.

It always had in the past.


==============================================


An armored hand pressed down on her face as he tore at the rest of her clothing, occasionally pausing to unleash a brutal blow into her. Her hands clawed at him, weak and ineffectual.

Klarz’ay was strong, and he was skilled, and he was in full battle armor while she was half naked and unarmed. But he was also too passionate. When Obessa had spat on him she had known it, had seen the inner anger that had flared within him, only barely held in check. He was proud of his strength, and desired to dominate her, and even now her weak struggles seemed to please him. This, foolishly, meant he allowed her hands to beat and claw at him for longer than he should have, especially for a man wearing a dagger on his belt. She reached up, fingers curled and tearing at his face, but bouncing harmlessly off his mask. She heard his laughter as her hand fell down along his flank, fingers brushing against his chest and abdomen down to his hip.

She couldn’t see well with him on top of her, but she knew there was a joint where the armor of the upper thigh met the hip where there would be a weaker point. She drew the knife and, to his credit, sensed him already tensing as he recognized his mistake. But by then it was too late, and she drove her stolen weapon home. Klarz’ay howled liked a maddened sabrecat as he sprang off her, blood spurting out of the wound.

“B’tatcha!” He cursed and spat as he used the old words that implied she was a woman of the lower species fit only for intercourse. “I’m going to carve you open…you ahairr!” Obessa snarled at that word, it meaning ‘slave’ in the ultimate fashion. To call another Eldarith Ynneas a slave was insult enough, but he was indicating that not only was she an inferior being, but that she had utter inability to ever improve beyond her status of slave, a being incapable of being more than a belonging.

“Come on then.” She flipped the bloodstained knife into the air and caught it again as she motioned him to come at her, turning to favor the eye she could still see out of. “Claim me, mighty warrior.” His klaive flicked out into his hand as he dropped into a battle pose, his body taunt and ready, his klaive glistening bright and deadly.

“Is this our next level of training?”

Obessa had to turn her head to see the figures entering the courtyard now. Tilt was in the lead, his purple robes billowing around him in the slight breeze, they hung open and loose revealing his sleek musculature and the sword belted at his side. Welv stood beside him, tall and foreboding. His eyes fell to her and his face seemed to become set in stone as he glanced at Klarz’ay. Tymeon was in the rear, a knowing look of consideration on his face as he took in the scene, his eyes flicking from Klarz’ay up to where Xulfryn Hierarch stood overhead. Obessa bit back a curse as Tymeon turned and slipped back into the shadows of the temple. She hadn’t expected much loyalty from him, but was surprised he’d run off prior to Tilt doing so.

“This does not concern you,” Xulfryn spoke as he frowned down at Tilt and Welv. “You should both go.”
Welv was already moving, walking up to stand by Obessa, his gaze never wavering from Klarz’ay. The deadly Master watched his advance carefully, though his reaction, if any, was hidden behind his mask. He didn’t shift his combat pose, apparently as content to cut down two students as well as one. Welv slowly took off his robe and tossed it aside, revealing he wore nothing more than baggy, black silk exercise pants, bound tightly at his waist and calves. His hand rested on his sword hilt, though he made no move to draw it.

“I think this might concern me,” Tilt offered slowly. His arms were crossed over his chest as he stared up at Xulfryn. “I do know that someone very wise and learned once told me that the purpose of the Temple Trials was to winnow out the chaff, and to strengthen the Temple by allowing those who deserved to be Incubi to stand forward, tests borne not out of politics or nepotism, but from a true challenge of skill and talent.” Tilt reached up, a finger brushing along the long scar down his cheek that Zak had left him from the Unan Angau. “I wonder, is this one of those tests?”

“If I said the word, Klarz’ay would cut all three of you down and bring me your scalps.”

“If that is what you want.” Tilt smiled as he reached down and drew his sword, bowing slightly to Klarz’ay. “Though I am rather attached to my scalp, I might fight back.”

Tymeon slinked back into view from the doorway, looking slightly out of breath as he stepped aside for another figure. Zak walked calmly out into the practice field then. He wore no armor, instead wearing only exercise pants like Welv, belted at his ankles, calves, and waist. He held his klaive with reverential care as he surveyed the scene slowly. His face expressionless, his steely gray eyes calm as they met her gaze and slowly took in her injuries. When he looked at Klarz’ay Obessa thought she saw a flick of a smile on his lips at the sight of the blood leaking from the leg wound.

Xulfryn and Klarz’ay both had gone quiet and still at Zak’s arrival. He looked up at Xulfryn and sketched a stiff bow. “Hierarch, I apologize, I did not realize you had opted to train them, forgive my interruption.” Then, turning, he slowly walked over to an unoccupied part of the courtyard and settled into a kneeling position.

“What are you doing,” growled Kalrz’ay as he glanced over his shoulder at Zak.

“I was coming to offer them their first instruction with the klaive.” Zak bowed in respect to Klarz’ay, “but I have no wish to interrupt your lesson.”

“What makes you think this is a lesson?” Xulfryn’s voice hissed like acid on metal.

“It is clearly a lesson,” Zak answered, his voice perfectly calm and quiet. “I see two students with their blades out and facing a Master of the Temple. If it was not a lesson then that means both of them opted to attack Master Klarz’ay, and if that was the case both would need to be put to immediate death.”

Obessa let out a slow breath, realizing Zak was right and she had made a crucial error in her anger. Her fingers tightened on the dagger in her hand as she vowed she would do her best to slay both Klarz’ay and Xulfryn before they could cut her down.

“Yes…” Xulfryn scowled down at Zak for a moment and then glanced at Klarz’ay, flicking his head slightly. Klarz’ay’s klaive flashed once in the dim light as he returned it to the clamps across his back. He pointed meaningfully at Obessa as he turned and limped off, shoving past Tymeon as he disappeared down the tunnel back into the temple.

“What just happened?” Obessa lowered her knife uncertainly.

“Xulfryn Hierarch decided to reveal the strength of some of his convictions.” Zak revealed no more than that, shrugging slightly as he stood up and looked them over. “I am Zak Phaer’irr, and I shall be your Arhe’zai for the lessons of the klaive.” He paused as he considered Obessa for a moment. “Though, perhaps first, we should visit the infirmary.”


==============================================


Razorvine was painful, but as long as you moved quickly and didn’t let the spikes get into you, it was simply a matter of enduring the pain. That was a mistake so many overlooked in the maze, they allowed pain to dictate the battlefield, only the strong recognized it as simply a matter of considered agony for possible advantage. So it was for Mor’osez as she smashed through the wall to grab hold of O’che and drag her back through the gap. She blocked the hurried and panicked strike from the scythe attached to O’che’s cybernetic arm as she pummeled her mercilessly along the midsection with punishing blows of her spiked cestus. She grinned as she heard ribs crack and heard O’che wail in pain. Mor’osez spun her to the side, a strong kick to the back sending the smaller wych sprawling as her sister came bursting through the gap to help.

One twin down, one left to go. Still, she had always figured Noi for the dangerous one.

Mor’osez was caught by surprise as Noi pointed her forked trident at her and it launched off the bio-mechanical arm it was attached to. The Twins had gone quite a while in the arena with never revealing their weapons could fire like that. It was even more impressive that Noi had understood already that she was in a dangerous enough situation to immediately use one of her best remaining tricks. Mor’osez twisted to avoid the hit, but the weapon still stuck deeply into her shoulder, the tines tearing through flesh and gouging painfully along the bone underneath. The crowd roared in approval, loving little more than the blood of its own champions.

Noi followed up her advantage quickly, wasting no words in idle boasting, an admirable trait. She came rushing in with her knife at the ready, while at the same time dropping her stump down to her belt and latching it onto another one of the deadly attachments hanging on her belt. Even as she completed her first slash she brought around her artificial arm, a long bladed knife now attached there as she attempted to stab Mor’osez with it.

Noi moved with quick grace and deadly purpose. Mor’osez kept herself on the defensive. Continually moving backward and ducking and weaving away from the lethal strikes. She kept her hands up in ready guard positions, occasionally deflecting a knife slash with the spiked gauntlets she wore all while nodding at Noi and encouraging her on, small hand gestures indicating that if she would just try harder maybe she could win.

Mor’osez’s return attack came quickly and unexpectedly even as she retreated, a fast sidestep and kick at an exposed leg. Noi deftly avoided the blow and Mor’osez continued it into an uplifting knee, the spike on her armor there opening a gash in Noi’s side even as the other wych tried to twist away from the blow. To her credit she didn’t cry out in pain and instead attempted to slice open Mor’osez’s face. The blow was caught by some knuckle spikes, and Mor’osez stepped forward, bowling Noi off balance as she landed a critical punch with immense force on Noi’s elbow, bone splintering and flesh tearing beneath the metal spikes.

Noi didn’t cry out, instead snapping out a sharp sidekick, catching Mor’osez on the temple and sending her staggering back as Noi spun and stabbed at her with her artificial arm. Mor’osez had faked her stagger though, having rolled her head away from the worst of the kick, and so sidestepped the stab, catching and trapping the arm against her side. Noi managed to look up in surprise before Mor’osez suddenly head-butted her, the blow cracking her head back sharply. Mor’osez pulled her back as she then backhanded her across the face, the knuckle spikes tearing open her cheek and splattering blood across the sands and razorvines. The plant writhed slightly as the thorns began to absorb the blood on them and sought more.

“You fight like half a person without your sister,” she noted simply as she leaned down to grab the fallen wych. “Now, let’s you and I have a little talk.” She pulled Noi up to her face. “The other day you told me you had seen Fay’rezza kill Irbreena. Who told you to say that?”

Noi blinked, almost looking confused by the question. Mor’osez reached out, grabbing the wrist of her real arm and twisting it, causing the bones of her broken elbow to grind against each other. The wave of pain was refreshing and the crowd cheered, but Noi’s quiet face didn’t even grimace.

“You know, it’s sad, I bet whoever told you to say something figured it was best to use the quiet one. The way I hear people talk about you, they seem to think you’d be the hard one to break, but you’re the easy one, aren’t you?” Mor’osez dropped her and started to walk away. “People tell me the reason I’m so good in the arena is I have a way of seeing what is important to my opponents, and then I take it away from them. It’s funny, because I never thought I was all that clever about it, people are just so obvious, really.” Behind her she heard Noi starting to struggle to her feet, but she ignored it as she walked over to where O’che lay curled up on the ground, coughing up blood and writhing in pain. She grabbed a handful of hair and pulled her to her feet, O’che squealing in pain.

Noi froze.

Mor’osez stared her in the eyes. “Who told you to lie?”

Noi shook her head slowly and Mor’osez shrugged as she took hold of O’che’s real arm and shoved it into a mass of razorvine. Her screams were almost drowned out by the rapturous cheers of the crowd as they basked in both the pain of the one sister having her blood sucked from her by the carnivorous plant, but also the tremulous agony of her twin watching it happen.

“Who told you to lie?”

Noi charged forward. Mor’osez tossed aside her sister and the two of them fought some more, but with Noi so wounded it was an even quicker battle, she kicked the legs out from under her, stomping her face into the sands as she delivered a few brutal punches to her sides and lower back, blood spattering from her bloodied spikes as they dug holes into the soft white flesh. She then stood up, shaking off her hands as she walked back and picked up O’che again.

“Who told you to lie?”

“Withered crone…dust between your legs,” spat O’che as she tried to fight free, reaching up to slash her bladed arm at the larger wych. Mor’osez incapacitated her with a few sharp blows and hefted her limp body up again.

“Please…” Noi shook her head as she whispered her plea.

Mor’osez shrugged as she then shoved O’che face first into the razorvine. The wych struggled frantically and helplessly in her grasp as the vines sensed the feast, reaching in and starting to coil about her face and neck, stretching out to curve along her abdomen and spiral about her breasts. All the while dark thorns digging into pale white flesh, seeking the warm blood hidden there. Noi covered her ears, sobbing, as her sister howled in agony. The heady mix of suffering was almost intoxicating and Mor’osez closed her eyes slightly to savor it.

“Ghyvia!”

Mor’osez’s eyes opened to look at the sobbing Noi.

“Ghyvia, Ghyvia, Ghyvia!” Noi desperately motioned for her sister to be released.

Mor’osez tore O’che free from the razorvine’s embrace and hurled her bloody body to her sister, ignoring the thumb sized chunks of flesh that stayed impaled on the hooked vines. She turned slowly, raising her blood-stained hands in quiet awareness of her victory as she looked up into the stands. As Noi cradled her sister’s torn face in her lap the crowd roared its approval of the casual and cruel torture, pleased to see two who were so skilled at carving apart their foes be separated, broken down, and reduced to wrecks with such unassuming ease.

The walls of the vine maze fell away to reveal the remains of the battle, and Mor’osez cast her eyes up into the stands, awaiting a final verdict from the Succubi. The crowd made their intention clear enough, giving thumbs up in vast numbers, clearly deciding it was more cruel to leave the sisters thinking about what had just happened than to end their lives. Ayasha smirked as she glanced over at Ghyvia, whose face was set in stone. The two exchanged a few brief words and then stood up, as one giving the upraised thumb, signaling that she should spare them. Mor’osez nodded as the gravity mounted holo-cameras swept in to capture the image of her in victory, they would tend to linger on her as she walked back into the tunnels beneath the arena to the applause of the crowds, as they had learned long ago not to expect any barbed wit from her at the end of her matches.

Mor’osez reached out, catching hold of one of the holo-cameras as it passed too close, the brass and crystal coated housing squealed slightly as the motors strained against her, but she still easily lifted it up to her face, a giant image of it being broadcast across the arena as everyone grew quiet.

“I’ve heard some talk,” she said quietly, her eyes glaring into the camera. “Talk about someone defeating Fay’rezza in single combat.” She looked up, turning to face the proscenium box where Kyssindree sat, wrapped in silks and attended by slaves and her allies. “I find these tales amusing, even if they are the lies of a swaggering fool. If anyone knows differently, you know where to find me.” She turned to glare down at the camera once more. “I am Mor’osez, and I will be Succubi. Know my name.”

She flung the camera over her shoulder as she walked away, turning her back on both Kyssindree and Ghyvia. The stands were filled with murmuring as the assembled wyches hurriedly discussed what they had just heard. Mor’osez paid them no mind, even as the murmurs slowly transformed into cheers and applause.

Faeth’lyn and Cordus were waiting for her at the end of the tunnel, and fell into step with her. Cordus warding back the few other wyches waiting for their turn in the arena, many of whom were hopefully holding up gene-crystals for her signature or trying to shout out approval for her skill or questions about her actions. Faeth’lyn walked next to her, hands tucked into the sleeves of her emerald green and black robes, her eyes, accented with green makeup glanced sidelong at Mor’osez.

“A bit more dramatic than I had scripted.” Mor’osez scoffed in dismissal. “Here,” Faeth’lyn motioned to a small side passage that led to one of the finer locker rooms. “Cordus and I shall stand guard at the door.”

“Good,” Mor’osez nodded to her as she started to enter, then paused and glanced over her shoulder as she eyed the small wych. “I appreciate your efforts and that our mutual goals are currently entwined.”

“As far as you know.” Faeth’lyn’s face remained stoic, but Mor’osez noticed the slight wry wrinkle at the corner of her emerald painted lips and nodded in thanks to the tiny wych as she turned to enter the bathing area. Faeth’lyn and Cordus turned around, blocking the door and warding off anyone who might try to get in to talk to Moro’sez. The crowds would be waiting for her, after all, there was no other way out of the bathing and changing suite than the doors she had just entered by.

No way…except for the hidden webway access portal Faeth’lyn had shown her, that Irbreena had used to sneak out for clandestine trysts with her small army of high ranking admirers who she didn’t wish to reveal to her foes. Mor’osez slid back the wall from the hidden nook, the press of her palm on a runic etching in the fused metals of the wall created a shimmering bubble in front of her, eerie images of an exterior street of Commoragh visible to her.

Mor’osez paused as she considered the portal for a moment, and then reached into a nearby locker where she’d left her chainsword. She was unsure what she was heading towards except that it would hopefully be answers. In Commoragh, answers had a habit of getting people killed. She took up her chainsword and stepped through the portal.

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Jan 19 2014, 04:48

Epic tale here Thor.. This is awesome.
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Tue Jan 21 2014, 04:47

Thank you very much, I'm glad you are enjoying it!

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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Wed Jan 29 2014, 17:36

Chapter 11: The Klaive


“The scorpion managed a kill, but not a capture of gold.” The Slave lay huddled in a corner as she spoke. It was a good corner, cool and dark, and with no pain. Sometimes The Master could seem so kind, though The Slave knew the kindness would be temporary and was only there to punctuate the pain more clearly when it returned. The Serpent lies broken and forgotten, but the coils of her plan still shine brightly before me.” The Slave raised her hand slowly, weaving it about as her fingers curled about the skeins of fate. “The Serpent was not of her master’s skill, but she was clever all the same. A sculpture of white stone is broken, and knives rain down like tears upon the flesh of those holding the hammers. A shadowed smile grins in the darkness, but a brighter smile waits even deeper, soon to eclipse it. I see scorpions at a blood soaked wedding…”

“Does the scarred warrior have my golden prize? You said she would deliver it to me if left untroubled. I have failed to obtain the body because the Haemonculous is not worth crossing, but I am not known for patience.” The Master’s voice was a mixture of boredom and annoyance. The Slave could see her dimly, lounging upon a silken divan, toying with a barbed and curved metal tool that unquestionably brought incredible pain to slaves who displeased her.

“Not yet, no, no, she still walks so alone, so alone and so lost, not like you, not like my scorpion.”

“…your scorpion?”

The Slave whimpered slightly, already knowing that no apology would be enough and that the pain was soon to return in redoubled waves. “I mean your scorpion, please Master, the scorpion is yours alone, it waits, a silent stalker, and it looks upon a scorpion of black with red eyes of oil and flaming lust, the last and final ally now that the snake is no more.”

“And?” The Master was standing up, moving towards her.

“There will be blood, the blood of scorpions and dancers alike, spilled not on sands of red but of stone, black and broken. The one of scars will emerge, with a golden prize and deliver it into your hands and your hands alone.”

“That will be the end of it?”

“There is never an end to Fate, but with the prize back in your hands all of your fears shall become meaningless. This is assured.”

“I thank you for these words, they are a balm to my heart.” The Master’s touch was delicate, a soft caress, and then the pain started again, and The Slave could think no more.


==============================================


Kyssindree, the Flensing Laugh, flicked the knife through the air. It cut a clear and sharp path, slamming home deep into the wood panel, embedded almost to the hilt. The slave menial let out a terrified shiver, though she managed to hold her tongue this time and not scream. Kyssindree frowned moodily as she considered her cast and shook her head.

“She moved,” offered Luaae as she draped herself across Kyssindree’s back to offer her another glass of wine. The two of them were sprawled across the bed in Kyssindree’s room, the antigravity field making them light as feathers as they rolled about on the sleek sheets of liquid silk. The bed was one of Kyssindree’s favorite indulgences, and it took up nearly half the room and could easily hold a dozen acrobatic and interested parties at once, as it often did.

Luaae still wore nothing more than a smile and her long silver hair, and Kyssindree purred in slight pleasure at the feel of soft silken locks sliding across her bare buttocks and the gentle trace of flesh on flesh as Luaae’s chest pressed against Kyssindree’s shoulders. She reached up to take the offered goblet, the rich golden wine tasted of honey and anguish and did much to lighten her mood as she looked back to the slave standing at attention against the wall. The goal of the game was to throw your knife to create but the smallest of fine cuts on the slave’s flesh, too close and you could cut more than skin, too far and you missed entirely, it was a fine way to occupy a lazy evening.

“I think you did move,” she informed the slave, even though it was doubtful the simple-minded wretch spoke the Eldarith language. She lifted an arm languidly and motioned for the girl to ease back into proper position…and cut herself on Kyssindree’s last thrown blade. The girl was finely trained, for she well knew the pain of a nick from a knife would be far better for her than angering Kyssindree, and so obediently pressed her arm against the knife, wincing slightly as she delicately sliced apart her own flesh. Kyssindree smiled. “That’s better.”

“My turn now.” Luaae nibbled at Kyssindree’s ear as she took up a knife from the table at the foot of the bed. Kyssindree glanced over mischievously, slipping one of her hands out from under Luaae, she ran it along the young wych’s side, gently rubbing it across her rounded backside. Even as Luaae pulled back her arm to make her shot Kyssindree’s fingers quested down from rump to the small crevice between Luaae’s legs. The pleased surprise threw off the young wych’s aim and her blade stuck deep into the wood, practically slicing the female slave’s ear clean off. The menial wailed in pain but managed to hold her pose as blood streamed down her face and Kyssindree and Luaae both broke into giggles.

“You cheater!” Luaae elbowed Kyssindree in mock annoyance. “You’re better than me with knives anyway, I don’t need distractions!”

“You need many things, and seem to demand them all the time, don’t judge me for taking the initiative in your benefit.” Kyssindree gripped Luaae’s chin and smirked at her, “besides, I like watching you squirm.”

“It’s a silly game anyway, why use throwing knives when you have splinter pistols?”

“I use knives quite well,” Kyssindree offered as she took another sip of wine and plucked up another knife from the table. She glared at the slave for a moment until the silly sow finally stood up straight and in the proper pose, still whimpering a bit though. “Throwing them in the midst of combat can be quite effective, but I wouldn’t want to make it my whole routine like some people I know.”

“Why do you even need to bring that little b’tatcha up?” Luaae grew stiff and unhappy as she sat up in the bed, not even paying attention to Kyssindree’s rather brilliant angled throw along the slave’s chest that dribbled blood down along her nipple. “If I could just have the excuse, I’d gun her down in a second, see how well a few thrown knives do against splinter rounds! I’d laugh at her too, her and her stupid little noble airs, and her stupid little throwing knives and her stupid…stupid!”

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Kyssindree lied as she glanced over her shoulder at Luaae. A delicate and beautiful little creature she was, but half paralyzed by her inferiority obsessions about being tubeborn and perceived slights from so-called betters. Kyssindree rather suspected that Faeth’lyn probably indeed and truthfully had been rude or dismissive of Luaae, but not because of Luaae’s birth, rather simply because Faeth’lyn had rather dim opinions of most other people in general. “Was there any other news from the lockers?”

“Not much from any of my contacts,” snorted Luaae, “not with that strumpet Faeth’lyn and Cordus the handsome-if-somewhat-dim watching the doors like razorwings. But she certainly went in and hasn’t been seen to exit yet.”

“There’s no way she’s still in there just taking the longest pleasure bath of her career,” Kyssindree frowned, wondering what Mor’osez might be up to. Though Mor’osez certainly lacked higher end politicking skill, she had a sort of dogged functionality to her that made her dangerous, especially seeing as how hard it was to find people willing to cross the old sow due to an unfortunate habit of Mor’osez tending to break things that crossed her in rather permanent and unpleasant ways. Even worse, doubtless some of Kyssindree’s troubles of late were because of Faeth’lyn’s advice, the little knife expert being a cool hand at politics and a dangerous ally for an old she-wolf like Mor’osez. Alone she reckoned herself superior to either, but combined they were proving a difficult match.

“And we also have the vote counts in now. Her numbers…shifted,” noted Luaae darkly as she was looking over a crys-reader that she had extracted from her jumble of clothes on the floor.

“Of course they shifted,” sighed Kyssindree, “but it doesn’t matter, I’ve been in the lead for over half of the votes, with so little time left for any shift in votes to matter it would have to be…” Kyssindree frowned. Though Luaae was a bit of an uninventive sop, she certainly would not have bothered to point out something so obvious as shifting vote numbers to Kyssindree unless it actually mattered. She rolled over, forgetting the slave and her wine and even thoughts of what Mor’osez was up to at that particular moment. “How much of a shift?”

“She…” Luaae swallowed slightly as she glanced up. “She…didn’t take the lead by much.”

“What?” Kyssindree grabbed at the reader, glancing over the numbers it was reporting as her blood seethed hotly in her veins. “That…old…dried-out…harridan!”

“We knew it was a risk taking the glory of the Fay’rezza kill,” offered Luaae as she eased up, hands starting to massage Kyssindree’s shoulders.

“A risk?” Kyssindree backhanded Luaae across the face, the smaller wych falling back with a squeal of surprise. Kyssindree rose to her feet, eyes ablaze and long black hair swirling about her as she screamed. “I did kill her, I threw the knife, the killing blow was mine! Now Mor’osez wants to try to cast doubt on that!?! On me!?!” Kyssindree sprang from the bed, storming towards the quivering slave. “I am the Flensing Laugh! She wants to issue a challenge to me on the red sands, to call me out for claiming my rightful due and honors? Who does she think she is!?!” Her hand found the slave’s throat in a flash of movement so quick the girl didn’t even have time to realize she should try to dodge. Lean muscular shoulders flexed as she lifted the squirming female into the air. “Look at me, I am perfect, I am fast, and strong, and clever, and quick, and infinitely more desirable than that dried husk of a woman!”

“You are all that and more,” agreed Luaae, dabbing at blood from her split lip, “but you’ve said it yourself, we just can’t walk up to her in the halls and knife her, it must be artistic, and she has many allies, a wych of her prestige and history has had a long time to make many afraid to even move against her.”

“She has, hasn’t she…” Kyssindree paused, her breathing slowing. Her gaze flicked upward to the pathetically wriggling slave as a wicked grin grew across her face. With a quick lunge she smashed the girl’s head against the wall, cracking it open like a melon. She dropped the body, licking the blood from her fingers as she turned back to Luaae. “But in all her pride she forgets she is still vulnerable, and she did more than insult just me in her bravado on the sands. Get me some clothes, something nice.” Kyssindree turned towards her small bathing room, already starting to wipe the blood from her face. “I think it’s time we arranged a bad end for Mor’osez’s long and storied career.”


==============================================


Obessa had found Zak standing alone in the practice yard.  A long black iron bar was gripped between his fore and index fingers as he held a combat pose as though he had just performed an upward curving slash. His muscles were taut and he held the pose perfectly, not even turning his head to her as she walked towards him. The strain was still evident though, supporting such a weight as the bar with his fingers was clearly difficult, and he remained focused on the task.

“You look good in that color.” She self-consciously touched the purple robes she now wore. The rich and soft velvet fabric quite different from the coarse threads of the gray robes she had worn before. “I had not expected the healers to release you so soon, the damage you took seemed to be considerable.”

“I insisted.”

“I am unsurprised, where are the others?”

There had been eleven of them all told, eleven out of a starting class of forty, slightly better than average for advancement to Purple. She had heard Tymeon comment that odds suggested another four of them would fail to advance to the Black. “They’re going out to a club, dancing and drinking, I wasn’t interested.”

“The temple would pay for all expenses,” Zak spoke to her, but still hadn’t looked at her, the sweat glistened on his skin, dripping slowly down his curving musculature, “they always do for Purples.”

“I was told.” Obessa crossed her arms as she circled around him, considering his training pose as she did. She was uncertain as to its purpose. “Why do they?”

“As a Gray you agree to give up your past. As a Purple you are reminded of exactly what you have given up, it is either a chance to celebrate the twilight of your past life, or a chance to realize you should never have walked this path in the first place.”

“Xulfryn, is intent on destroying you to prevent you from challenging him.”

“I am aware.” Zak finally turned to look at her, though he still held his training pose. “Do you think I am unaware of his intentions or plans?”

“No, but…”

“When you say ‘but’ after something, it usually seems to indicate that you don’t believe what you just said.”

“Look at my face,” she said coldly, turning her head to show him some of the bruising that still remained on her pale white flesh. “You tried to leave me out of things, whether that was the right move or not is immaterial now, because I’m involved as of now. They tried to kill and harm me just in the hope that it would upset you, and though I…mostly appreciate that you aren’t letting it. I still feel as though I should be included in this matter more, especially if you think they’ll try something like that again.”

Zak dropped his combat pose, allowing the heavy bar of black iron to drop to the ground as he considered her carefully for a while. “I am going to take a bath. Would you like to join me?”

“Is this supposed to distract me,” she asked as Zak turned and walked towards the bathing spas, already starting to unlace his exercise pants. Obessa shook her head in mild annoyance as she followed him. “You’re cute, but you’re not that cute.”

The bathing spas were a series of artificially heated pools formed into the shape of a natural spring, basins of rough rock held crystal clear water that steamed richly in the slightly chill evening air. Zak’s pants dropped off his muscular legs. Steam coiled slowly around the gleaming curves of his lean muscles to drift upward between his calves and, Obessa did feel her mood lighten at the sight of him. The water rippled slightly as Zak carefully lowered himself into the largest of the basins. He submerged himself fully for a moment before rising up again, water cascading down his chest and back, running in rivulets along his abdomen and catching at odd angles on the pale spider web of old scars that were barely visible crisscrossing his body.

Obessa walked up to the edge of the pool, looking down at him carefully, her eyes narrowed in consideration. He looked up at her as he ran his hands across his chest, scrubbing away any lingering sweat and stink from his workout. He lifted his eyebrows slightly in invitation to her. “You still seem to be wearing your robe.”

“I thought you said I looked good in this color.”

He growled slightly in the back of his throat as he moved towards her. “What do you want of me?”

“You plan to challenge Xulfryn, and he is attempting to discredit you or kill you before you can challenge. Does any of that have anything to do with my old Cult?”

“Why do you ask,” Zak reached out for her, but Obessa lightly sidestepped his grasp.

“He sent Ryldnar and Klarz’ay to meet a wych of Bloodied Kiss, they received an object from her and delivered it to Xulfryn, does this have anything to do with your feud with him?”

Zak sank back into the pool, a thoughtful look on his face as he considered her words. “Not that I am overtly aware of,” he finally admitted. “I decided to challenge him due to matters involving a number of assignments. It had come to light that he had been involved with relations with an unknown woman who had arranged for him to shift our practices and allow no less than three employers to be assassinated.”

“Assassinated while under the protection of your Temple?”

Obessa considered this as she slipped out of her robe and unbound the tight training undergarments she wore. She had been trained as a wych in how to disrobe for the maximum benefit of a viewer, but she suspected Zak had appreciated her quick utility more than any amount of showmanship in this instance. She slid into the pool. Zak moved to her instantly, wrapping her in his muscular arms. They sat there for a moment, the steam curling silently around them, the only sound the beating of their hearts and the soft whisper of their breathing.

“Why would Xulfryn intentionally weaken the reputation of your Temple?”

“I presume he was offered something that meant more to him than his honor,” Zak offered after a moment. “It is not appropriate for a Heirarch to allow such thoughts into his head. It dishonors him and deteriorates the focus of the Temple. The Obsidian Lethe is an old temple, and one of rich and timeworn history, I will not allow it to be brought down because he is too weak to uphold himself.”

“He does seem to struggle with petty revenge and passion,” Obessa mused out loud as she softly stroked at Zak’s chest while thinking it over. “But he doesn’t strike me as inherently foolish.”

“Nor should he. I desire his death, but I am not so blinded by that desire as to fail to note that he is a man of many talents, a dangerous foe to be sure, and careful.”

“But the attack on me, that was an…aggressive move.”

“It was.”

“Why do you think he risked it?”

“I am unsure.” Zak’s arms drew her in tighter, the two of them sharing the warmth of their bodies and the water until it was hard to tell where part of one ended and another began. “But I will not allow harm to come to you.”

“Nor I you,” she assured him. “How politically troubling would Klarz’ay’s death be to you?”

Zak paused to consider the question for a while. His eyes turned towards her, they were dark and serious as he gazed upon her face, his gaze trailing along the still visible bruises on her face and body. She had halted the attack, but Klarz’ay’s intentions had been clear enough. “Do you want me to kill him for you?”

“Do that and I’ll crack your dense skull open,” Obessa promised. “Klarz’ay is mine, do not forget it.”
A small smile tugged at the corners of his lips. “His death would be politically inconvenient, not to mention risky for you.”

“What would make it least inconvenient?”

“Am I allowed to suggest it happening a few thousand sun cycles from now?”

“No.”

“I thought not.” Zak considered for a moment. “To kill a Master of the Temple when a Purple is a crime punishable by immediate death, and considering your status as dathedi, mine as well. There are ways around this though…if he were to accept a challenge from you or if no one were aware of the duel in the first place.”

“How would one challenge a master?”

“By inviting him to participate in the Suith’klaviskar, the dance of the masters of the klaive. But it would be highly irregular for a master to accept a Suith’klaviskar from a Purple, only Blacks officially have the right to challenge, if you challenge him and he dismisses you the punishment is death.”

“Leave that part to me,” Obessa said softly, “he’ll accept my challenge.”

“What do you wish me to do to aid you in this matter?”

“I just want us to sit here a while longer.” She rested her head on his shoulder, nuzzling against the firm yet pliable muscle there as she closed her eyes. “There will be time enough for vengeance, for now you can just hold me.”

“Always,” he answered as he lightly kissed the top of her head.


==============================================


“I took it upon myself to arrange a present for you.” Zak had been watching her put her clothes back on as he sat on the small cot in his chamber. She paused as he stood up and moved to his footlocker, that very small smirk of his just tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I had intended to save it for later, but I suspect that with what I know of you that your plans involving Klarz’ay will likely not wait overlong. Therefore, it is best you have this now.” He drew back from the footlocker, revealing a sheathed klaive in his hands. The scabbard was of supple black leather, it bore no trappings or other embellishments. It was simply what it was, a scabbard, though of fine construction. The handle of the blade was the same, a simple handle, wrapped tightly in strips of purple leather, bare stubs of metal visible at the pommel, and the hilt a firm and unadorned piece curved slightly at the ends to allow it to better trap and break the blades of opponents. The only mark on it was a single sigil stamped onto the pommel.

“It has your name on it.”

“As well it should, I forged it.”

“No wonder it is so plain then,” she smirked and reached for the handle, but Zak suddenly drew the blade back.

“No, if you are to do this, we shall do it correctly.” He turned back to his footlocker, grabbing forth a few implements. He knelt on the floor and motioned for her to kneel in front of him. “The first time you draw a klaive should not be for combat or for training, but for cleaning and checking the weapon to ensure it is prepared for battle. A klaive should be cleansed every day, a warrior who foregoes his weapon forgoes himself. When you take the sword, do not grasp it like some lesser weapon, hold it with reverence and care.”

He offered her the klaive then, held out on his upraised palms, bowing his head slightly. She mimicked the pose as best she was able, sliding her hands alongside his to lift the klaive delicately back.

“You will draw the blade with your right hand, the left shall hold the scabbard and remain motionless.” Zak’s klaive whispered out of its sheathe into his grasp in a smooth motion. “Always keep the cutting edge upward as you draw, to prevent any dulling.” Obessa drew her own klaive, and it slid out with perfectly oiled ease, the sheath was notched deeply, and by extending her right arm as far as she could she just managed to draw the blade without moving her left. She watched as Zak unconsciously tapped his scabbard on the ground to shake out any debris from it before setting it down, she quickly followed suit. “Take up a cloth and wipe the blade free of any clinging imperfections. You will only wipe from the guard to the tip, never the other way.”

Obessa took up one of the oiled cloths in front of her, passing it along the length of the blade in a gliding sweep. The blade was as unadorned as the rest of the weapon, but its lustre was unmistakable, with a hidden bluish tint to the metal from the forging process and the near innumerable folds the metal had undergone. Obessa sat transfixed by it for a moment.

“Now, remove the binding on the hilt.” He took up a fresh cloth and used it to hold the blade as he took his right hand and began deftly unwrapping the dark blue wrapping on his hilt. Obessa followed suit, her fingers fumbling a few times as she undid the tight leather strips. They lay them down in a small bundle next to the scabbard and looked upon the attachment of the tang of the sword to the hilt, where blade and handle were joined. With a start Obessa realized that the locking method was a single small rod of black metal. “It is time to draw the lir,” Zak said, ‘lir’ being the word for ‘heart’. He took up a small silvered crystal hammer, tapping it carefully against the lir to loosen it, then reached out and delicately slid the rod from its home. Obessa followed his motions. She lifted it up as she drew it out, looking at the simple and unassuming piece of black metal.

“You look upon the lir of your blade. Make sure it is strong, always, for if the lir should ever falter and fail, then your klaive will fail, and if your klaive ever fails, then it is the Incubus who will fail.” Zak paused a moment, looking at the lir and then up to her. “You have to trust in the lir, you can watch it and test it, and try to ensure it is as strong as it can be, but when the battle is joined you need to have belief that all your care has been enough, and the lir can withstand the strain of the battle.”
“We are still talking about a klaive, are we not?” Obessa grinned slightly.

Zak said nothing, setting the lir down directly in front of him he then detached the handle and hilt, sliding them off and setting them by the scabbard and wrappings. “Inspect the tang of the blade for any imperfections.” They studied it for a while, Zak apparently finding something and cleaning it off, then reassembled the klaive, sliding the lir back into place and securing it in place with a few sharp taps of the delicate seeming crystal hammer. “Now, we apply the sharpening powder, never use an atomic sharpener or any other automated method, an Incubus sharpens their own blade.” He took up a small brass handled rod with a rounded ball of cloth at the end. Dipping it into the powder he began to apply it the blade, small delicate motions creating a soft ringing from the blade as the pad struck it. “Your sword should sing to you,” he commented softly after a moment, “if you strike wrong it will sound sour.”

They sat there in silence for a time, applying the polishing powder and wiping it away with sleek cloths. Obessa had chided Zak for trying to distract her, but had to admit he was doing a good job of it. She marveled at the blade in her hands. Its balance was near perfect, and she could almost already visualize the ways to wield it to emulate an axe or spear or sword or even dagger. It was as Zak was wiping off the final layer of polish that he spoke again.

“I think he’s more skilled in combat than you.”

“Maybe so.”

“I could do it for you.”

“That isn’t the point, and you know it.”

There was a long silence as Obessa wiped the last specks of dust from the blade of her klaive and set down the polishing cloth. She held the sword upright in her right hand, looking at her reflection in its darkly mirrored surface as she reached down to pick up the scabbard. She looked across at Zak, who was still watching her intently and patiently.

“Please…ensure your lir is strong,” he finally said.

“I know it is, because you have helped make sure of it, but it does need to be tested in battle.” She sheathed her klaive, the hilt snapping into place with a sharp and final click. “And it will be.”


==============================================


Mor’osez trailed after the Wrack servant as they passed through a lush courtyard and up a set of curling stairs to ascend the spiraling tower. The Wrack’s breath rattled uneasily as it ascended, something in the back of its throat gurgling, though if it actually was discomforted by the walk it gave no sign. Bare feet stained black with blood and grime moved with a simple determination that seemed to indicate the creature could walk until its flesh and bones were worn down to nubs. It finally paused in front of a gleaming black door, one clawed hand reaching out to open it for her.

Mor’osez stepped into the room, the soft sounds of music pricking her ears. Ancient Rasp’fel sat on a low cushioned settee, a look of concentration on the fresh youthful face he had sliced off and hooked over the bone spurs protruding from his skull. He still wore his ridiculous red furred evening robe and fuzzy slippers, and in his elegant and long-fingered hands was a stringed Vyssian harp. He plucked at the strings with a look of deep concentration on his features, his golden eyes with their animal like vertical iris narrowed in consideration as he cocked his head to listen to each note. One sounded ever so slightly sour and he shook his head in frustration as he plucked it a few times.

“Bothersome…” his voice purred with a tang of annoyance lurking underneath it as he considered the instrument. “You did keep to the diet I requested, did you not? I feel as though you must have consumed too many acidic fruits.” This he spoke to the slave lying on the table in front of him. The young girl was a mon’keigh with lustrous honey blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and delicately pale skin. She parted ruby red lips to speak, but all that came out was a gurgle, no doubt because the gaping hole that had split her open from throat to groin had dismantled her ability to speak. Rasp’fel sighed as he leaned forward, picking up a barbed bladed knife as he inspected her insides.

“There is a good C sharp in there, I am certain of it…”

The Wrack strode forward, turning its steely mask to regard her as it motioned to the Haemonculus. “My master, the Ancient Rasp’fel, Lord of the Flesh Art, Creator of the Weeping Waterfa-”

“Yes, yes, begone wretched thing, she knows, she knows,” Rasp’fel clucked his forked tongue as he made a shooing motion with a vestigial hand protruding from his side. The Wrack, if it took any offense, gave no reaction other than to nod slightly and shuffle from the room. Rasp’fel glanced up from his work, golden eyes considering Mor’osez as she walked forward. “I was expecting a Wych of Bloodied Kiss, but not you. Not that I complain, to see your flesh, so white, so firm, so covered in scars, I would lick them if I- but, no, I wander, I wander. Why are you here, sweet Mor’osez?”

“Fay’rezza told me to meet her here.”

“Did she now?” Rasp’fel’s black lips crooked up into a grin. “That is funny, I laugh, I laugh inside so much, for that is almost what the others told me also.”

“Others?” Mor’osez frowned. “What do you mean?”

“You already suspect you know what I mean, I mean the other wyches of Bloodied Kiss, the ones who showed up yesterday to try to get what you are now here for.” Rasp’fel watched her face carefully, and though Mor’osez had long had faith in her stony and unchanging expression he grinned anyway, his eyes glittering as he seemed to spot what he wished. “You did not expect that, a surprise. Such a surprise, I would love to show you more, so many surprises, I arranged to reattach…but, no, I wander, I wander…you are not here for that, not yet, at least. I weep, Mor’osez, I weep, though my agony is anticipation and as delicious as a caressing cut.” He smiled as he sliced at something inside the slave, the mon’keigh letting out some pathetic mewling sound as a wave of pain caused her body to quiver. “They did not seem to know why they were here though, they knew they wanted something, but not what…why is that, I wonder?”

“Because they were lying to you.”

“Yes, I suppose they were.” Rasp’fel extracted a length of gut from the slave and turned to a few devices nearby as he began cleaning and curing the piece of flesh. “Are you lying to me, Mor’osez? That would break my heart, it would. Not my original, naturally, and I have replacements, but the pain would be sweet and sharp nonetheless.”

“I’m not lying to you.” Mor’osez watched Rasp’fel carefully. Though he chose to act like a doddering and senile old creature, it was all doubtless an act. A Haemonculus was a creature of the ages, who had long plied the intrigues and dangers of The Dark City, and Rasp’fel was counted amongst the ancients of that path, a creature of vile and unfathomable evil even to other Eldarith Ynneas. He knew exactly what he was saying and doing, the only question was what he sought to gain from the whole affair. “What do you hope to gain from this whole affair?”

“Hahahaha!” Rasp’fel’s laughter was a horrid and bubbling thing, and he winced as it happened, as though the reaction actually caused him pain from the use of unfamiliar muscles. “Oh, Mor’osez, sweet Mor’osez, you are a delightfully blunt creature, like a fine hammer or mallet. Not all problems are solved with a scalpel after all, are they, to crack a bone would I not grasp a hammer rather than a slim and delicate blade?” He looked up at her, cat-like eyes glittering with bemusement. “I hope to gain nothing from this, I have already been paid for my services, and I shall complete them. I am at no risk to lose anything, and need no further gains then what I already possess, I have moved beyond almost any and all needs, naturally, save a few I keep hidden and not so hidden. The question is, what do you wish to gain from this?”

“I…” Mor’osez frowned and shrugged, “I just want to know.”

“Is that all?” Rasp’fel eased back in his seat as he began restringing the harp, long fingered hands moving delicate and sure through the motions. “That is a dangerous habit to have in Commoragh.”
Mor’osez shrugged. “Did you give them what I’m here for?”

“Now that, sweet Mor’osez, that is a good question.” Rasp’fel smiled at her as he finished stringing the harp. “I simply told them I could not deliver on the contract till I had all the components I had been promised and sent them on their way. Fay’rezza was supposed to come here to inform me what she had done to protect a rather important container. I will have need of it seven peaks from now when I reach the final step of my contract.”

“She gave me a key, she didn’t tell me what it was for.”

“Might I see it?”

Mor’osez held it up for Rasp’fel. He considered it for a moment, politely leaning forward to look at it without touching, and then he slowly nodded his head. “A lock chip, very old, very good quality. I would say she took out a contract with an Incubi Shrine, yes, it would make sense. If I wanted to protect something in Commoragh, there are only so many options, and to pick one of the old shrines, yes, yes, very clever little girl she is.”

“Yes.” Mor’osez paused as she recalled a night in front of a dilapidated old flop house, and a pair of Incubi leaving even as she and the Bloodbrides had arrived. She remembered the older one asking for her signature. “I think I know where to go, seven cycles you say?”

Moments later and she was being led down the stairs by one of the Wracks. She flexed her left hand thoughtfully as she walked, the painful ache of the arthritis there helping her to focus. The Incubi, she had seen the markings on their tabards, and she knew the symbol well enough. A few moments looking through a directory node would help her find the correct temple, and then she could use the key and find out what Fay’rezza had been fighting to protect.

As Mor’osez exited the tower she failed to note a robed figure lurking in the shadows of a balcony across the square. The tattered brown cloak was smudged with mud, blood, and other stains. The figure watched her walk away then slowly descended to the street below, slipping into the crowds as it trailed the tall wych.

A crackle of blue lightning coiled about in the shadows of the hood for a moment glinting off unblinking red eyes.

*Zzzrt*





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As is so often the case with my writing lately, I seem to be spending more and more time on pacing and chapter layout than on writing - bits and pieces keep moving around until I'm happy with the end result. So, what this means is my writing is often well ahead of the released stuff...but that a number of chapters don't 'feel' right for release. That said, about three of them got 'finalized' last night, so probably over the next few weeks there will be a nice little explosion of Incubi to be read.

I liked writing a lot of this chapter for a number of reasons, mostly being the interactions of the two (three?) couples presented here. As usual, Kyssindree remains too deliciously fun to write, I don't know if it should worry me how much I have this wonderful hate-love for climbing into the skull of a vain sociopath. Doing tender scenes with Obessa and Zak also pleases me, it just sort of makes you believe they deserve to win even if Zak has to try to explain his feelings through sword maintenance. Cut the guy a break, he's had a weird upbringing ;)Finally, Mor'osez and Rasp'fel also share a relationship, albeit a perhaps one sided and unhealthy one, but that hardly prevents them from being an amusing pair. Rasp'fel is surprisingly fun to write as well, as he is possibly one of the only characters who really knows what is going on, but he's not telling anyone partly because he was paid not to, and partly because he really has no particular benefit in telling anyone. It's something I feel is core to the Dark Eldar, they really are about themselves first and foremost, and though it would literally cost Rasp'fel nothing to spill the beans he doesn't simply because...well, it doesn't gain him anything either.

Besides, he probably likes getting to tease Mor'osez...

Next chapter will have both Xulfryn vs. Mor'osez and Obessa vs. Ryldnar - 'nuff said!

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alexwellace
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Mar 16 2014, 16:13

Do know that people are still reading this epic story, as someone who, over two 6 hour train rides, has re-read all of Trueborn and Incubi up till now I am vey excited for what will happen next. It's an insight into Commaragh GW doesn't give us, the real nitty gritty stuff they imply but don't detail to keep their precious PG rating and I personally love it. Are we looking forward to the next chapter sometime in the near future?
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Thor665
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Sun Mar 16 2014, 16:39

Yeah, my apologies on that. To be perfectly frank I think I currently have the next three chapters about ready to go, but work has been keeping me from the time I need to sit down and do a final proofread and the formatting for posting it up.

I think I've been saying to myself 'next week' for about...three weeks now Wink

That said, a job does look like it ended up crashing and burning for me, so as far as I know come Monday I actually have almost nothing to fill my day besides watching movies, reading books, painting up some more Imperial Fists and...tossing some time at Dark City.

So, pretty much, unless I get a call sometime today telling me to stay in Miami, I'm heading home and should have a lot of spare time at that stage. So...maybe Tuesday after the move? Very Happy

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Barking Agatha
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PostSubject: Re: Incubi    Wed Mar 19 2014, 08:48

I've just finished catching up. First of all, sorry to hear about that job crashing and burning Sad. It's a terrible time for it, but you'll be fine. It probably wasn't worth it anyway, and something better will turn up soon, and you'll be glad that you didn't waste your time with that other thing Smile.

Secondly, brilliant stuff. Your writing actually seems more self-assured in these past few chapters than when you started! Does it feel that way to you?

Anyway, some observations:

'The Hunt' and 'The Key' are absolutely amazing. Definitely your best yet. There isn't a line that doesn't vividly evoke the scene, and yet you somehow still convey an incredible amount of information. For example, the bit where Mor'osez 'signs' an autograph for an incubus fan: it flows seamlessly with the action AND it's funny AND it subtly reminds us that these girls are celebrities in their world. Then when the fight starts, the action draws a character picture of the fighters while at the same time their characters drive the action, without once intruding into the flow of the battle scene. That is some incredible, elegant writing! I am in awe Smile

'The Unan Angau' is a well-timed change of pace, returning to Obessa's character progression. There's never any doubt that she will pass her tests, but I like how the gauntlet format of her testing reflects the steps of her own evolution, like a precis in microcosm of her character arc up to this point. That was really, really clever!

Aaand... then there's 'The Talk'. I felt a bit let down by that chapter in two ways, one trivial, one not so much. Firstly, Mor'osez just isn't the most interesting character for me. She's a bit one-note: she's dour and invincible and doesn't particularly want anything; she is only mildly curious about who killed Irbreena and why, and anyone who gets in her way gets splattered anyway, so why shouldn't she indulge her mild interest? It isn't as if she has anything better to do. I think that she works better when she is a wall for the other, more involved characters to bounce off of.

Secondly, Klarz'ay's attempted assault of Obessa. That was especially disappointing to me because after all the ingenuity of the previous chapters, we slip back into trite and discredited gender tropes. I don't begrudge the Dark Eldar their sexual violence (they should thrive on it!), but in this case it seems as if Obessa has been singled out for it because Klarz'ay is a 'cad' and she is 'the girl', and specifically 'Zak's girl', as an act intended to hurt him more than her! It's as if the story suddenly decided that Obessa is a 'badass girl', rather than 'a badass who happens to be a girl', if you see what I mean? If Klarz'ay had defeated Tilt, Tymeon, and Welv, would he have gone for their pants with the same enthusiasm? There isn't even any passion in it, just a cretinous act of bullying, as if Klarz'ay were flashing back to his days as a Pie Beta Guppy from Brosville University...

So, anyway, yeah... bit disappointed about that. Otherwise, great writing, and the arena scenes ruled. Smile

I got over it somewhat and got to 'The Klaive'. There is a lot that I like there, but especially Kyssindree's and Luaae's sexy time of an afternoon together, with the casual torturing of a slave, catty fighting, and fondling of bare bums. It's my favourite bit since Chapter 8. One suggestion: Maybe change the phrase 'Kyssindree’s fingers quested down from rump to a small crevice between Luaae’s legs' to 'the small crevice between Luaae's legs'? Otherwise it could seem as if it's not the familiar crevice that one usually finds down there, but some other, unusual crevice between Luaae's legs that Kyssindree just found with her fingers, and in that case, they had both better just stop fooling around and get Luaae to a doctor immediately!

The bath scene with Obessa and Zak is vivid and tangible (again, great writing!), but I felt that it sapped Obessa of some substance. If Obessa is a badass in her own right and a self-sufficient woman then her own lust for Zak or lack thereof should matter more to her, rather than just succumbing 'despite herself' to his irresistible manliness! It's very cool that he somehow sensed that she wasn't up for it, but that adds to his credit, not hers. She was already 'girding herself'! Is our badass incubus-in-training at heart a young and unexperienced girl who doesn't really know what she wants and yearns for the guidance and protection of an older, worldlier, father figure and lover? Please, no....

So, I hope you didn't mind my ranting too much! TLDR, as they say: Good stuff, you're getting better and better, please keep at it!

In fact, I may give up on the story that I've been writing here. It just pales too much by comparison! Wink
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