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Introduction:

It has been a while.... I hope this long story is interesting enough for you all... as always comments are appreciated
“Finally we have the martial arts festival.” The ministers stirred in their seats and looked at the presiding female court officer standing at a podium in the center of the room.

Behind her sat the Queen, and beside her, was a low table empty save a set of gold scales balancing several gold sovereigns. One for each minister, Marcos, and Kaarthen now too, Janis, and the King’s Emissary in Mavvus.

“Of course we all look forward to the many tournaments.” She started looking around at the ministers seated around the room in a crescent shaped table.

“Every year is brutal, but the king wanted to add something to this year’s tournament for the title of ‘Blade Master’.” The court officer looked to Marcos and the Queen before continuing. “Last years deaths were near 120, and most of those were outside the actual competition. Many unknown fighter’s can’t participate, and thugs of mercenaries have their own unofficial tournament in the streets challenging each other, or even trying to get in by knocking off a recognized contender before they register themselves.”

The Queen nodded, the random street fights were a part of what the martial art’s festival was. “Competition breeds success, we could allow those fighters to qualify…” She again looked over the room of seated ministers. “A proposal was that perhaps we announce a preliminary battle royale or some extra rounds.”

“Will we vote for the addition of a few preliminary stages then?” the court officer asked moving to clear the scales.

A minister on the right edge of the room spoke up quickly. “The Battle Master tournament lasts nearly the entire month of the festival for the fighters to rest between rounds. It will also obviously change, or delay the festival’s closing ceremonies too. I vote against this. This festival is already enough of a disturbance. These rabble are just looking for excuses to get killed. It isn’t mentioned that the people challenging registered contender’s tend to die. There’s no point in paying for a three or four month long annual tournament this is one of the few times the criminal element does our job for us.”

The court officer dropped a coin for him on the scale.

“I approve.” Marcos said simply.

Kaarthen nodded trying to stay awake.

Janis raised her hand to signal silent agreement. She couldn’t find an actual reason to disagree with Marcos over this.

The King’s emissary nodded too and scribbled in his papers to annotate the direction of the decision.

The Queen gave a clipped nod since she was ‘impartial’ and was really supposed to not vote at all, the remaining ministers joined her.

The court officer turned and gave the scales an overly critical look. “Seven approve and one in dissent on the measure, 7:1, and the Queen accepts the favored position. We can now move on to the dates and then the make up of these extra rounds.”

“A battle royale will be quick,” The dissenting minister offered.

“I agree it would but, we don’t want to judge them if they fight in packs or in teams. Weaker fighter might try to take on people together, and this isn’t a tournament for team play.” The Queen said looking over. “Besides what magic could we use to decide the winner in all that? Each person captures someone’s flag? Our Imperial champion won’t be decided by such juvenile rules. So what then, they each bring back a head? We’ll be back to where we started.”

“We’ll just have them fight preliminary rounds in front of judges. We can have multiple sites to save time.” The emissary offered. “Besides the king was looking for something like an individual capture the flag. Something that allows the normal people to say they tried. They can then drink over it and stop the fighting.”

“That would be valid if every other tournament wasn’t made for that purpose.” The Queen retorted thoughtfully, “This is the Blade Master tournament. The whole point is for the very best to show case themselves all the way to the end. It would be all for nothing if they were injured early. The one-week rest we offer after the semi-, and quarterfinals would extend this into next year’s tournament if thousands show up. We will also have the Blade Masters from neighboring states show up too.”

“It matters little if a Blade Master from some small state comes.” Marcos huffed.

“Well your daughters will at least get a challenge, and perhaps an outsider will make it into the finals rankings for the first time.” One of the ministers said grinning. “Don’t worry, I’ll still bet on your girls.”

Marcos leaned back with a smug grin.

Janis loudly cleared her throat. “Well I hate to break a heartfelt moment between to perverts who seem happy to watch the Goddess’ children of beauty fight to the death over a title of little consequence but-”

“Easy there you silly old nag, my girls love the chance to go, and only ones I send are young girls. You have a lot in common with them since you’ve both been down in the stadium and your both virgins-“

“Wha-!?!” Janis’s face turned bright red as she bolted to her feet. The air crackled around her hands as she reached over Kaarthen seeking Marcos. For his part, the immortal was still grinning as he raised an ink quill with which to stab her.

“ORDER!!” The court officer and the Queen shouted halting the witch’s blood lust. “Let’s break for… committee deliberations… I think we’re done here for today, we will return to this and the marriage issues tomorrow before the noon hour.”

“Kaarthen please walk out with Lady Vixtorixx,” Kaarthen nodded and the Queen addressed Marcos. “Lord Panthi, a moment if you please.”

He didn’t have to worry about Queen Mensillin reprimanding him for disrupting the meeting since this was how the meetings usually ended when Janis was in town. Kaarthen watched the Queen disappear with Marcos. The two were very comfortable together, much more so than Janis who still bristled.

“You should have said something too, or does that man not listen to you?” Janis snapped as they moved away from the others.

Kaarthen gave her a big fake smile, “I can see you’re still angry and I get it. Forget about what happened earlier, why don’t you tell me about the past, or about the tournament. I’m new here and I know you’ve lived through a lot of history.”

Janis shot her a look but backed off. “Well I guess…Well my story of the tournament is how I met Marcos. The first time at least.”

Kaarthen lifted a brow but kept quiet as they resumed walking the halls of the Citadel.

“I’ll explain.” Janis muttered. “It’s something I can’t stop thinking about when he is near. Before I was me, before there were my statues, before Sisters sang my name to each other. I was weak. I was just a weak nobody born to an outcast sister. I had met up with Warrioresses fighting to win honor and a way back into the enclaves, and perhaps even legend.”


**************

On a frigid mountainside under a darkening cloudy sky, a Warrioress confronted a man in his tiny campsite as the thunder rolled overhead. Around them the wind was starting to blow over the grass and knock around camp rubbish as a storm approached.

Her silvery hair declared her an Amazon. She wore a grey homespun robe over her petite frame that reached past the knees on her long legs. A black bear pelt was wrapped over her thin shoulders. Her few weapons were all cheap, and in the case of the wooden spear in her hands, handmade.

“Are you ‘Garec the scribe’?” The young woman asked over the tip of the spear she kept pointing at his throat from across the fire. Looking at him under the point of her weapon helped her in summoning all the authority of her twenty winters.

“Aye,” The man slowly said straightening till he came to his full height.

The shivering Amazon had to bend back at the waist and step back to keep her spear at his neck. He was intimidating. He was way more than a foot taller than her at six feet. His barrel chested body was hairy. He seemed more animal than man. He even wore his dark dirty rags like a savage barbarian despite the cold.

Looking up into his darkened face, Janis straightened her back up but was still a head shorter than him. “There is a price on you.” She said in a strained voice lowering back into a crouch.

Moving forward, she closed in slowly around the fire, the man drew a sword from behind him that made her steps falter.

His weapon was a huge double bladed monstrosity. The steel glowed from end to end making it seem much bigger than anything she’d seen before. As though reading the mood, lightening flashed overhead and a strong cold gust of the storm front blew in. The chilly air did more than send a tingle up her spine, it felt as though death herself was toying her loose hair, and tugging her fluttering rags closer to oblivion.

“You’re no good dead.” Janis choked trying to stay in control even as her stomach tightened and her knees shook. She cleared her throat, clenched her jaw, tried to steel herself, and tried again. “Just put that down.”

“I ain’t goin back!” Garec shouted and lunged.

He fought like a cornered beast slashing at the Warrioress recklessly as she danced back. He shattered her spear with a powerful slash and quickly gained an edge. His berserker attacks forced her to draw her puny short sword to defend herself. As Janis tripped and stumbled around the cluttered campsite, he was able to hammer her with all his strength.

As she stumbled and fell dropping her sword, he kicked it away. Wide-eyed Janis’s blood ran cold as she scrambled to her feet, and tried to pull her knife before he got closer.

“Foolish girl!” He bellowed and cracked her over the head with his hilt. After a moment, she staggered and dropped to a knee feeling woozy and sluggish.


************

“Like I said I was weak.” Janis said stopping to sit on a bench in the busy central room of the Citadel. Before them, the wide central staircase went down to the lower levels of the castle. Beyond the stairs, a huge curved wall of glass windows stretched up a hundred feet to the ceiling and bathed the unofficial hangout of the Imperial capital’s elites in midmorning sunlight.

“But there was more?” A slow voice added.

Janis and Kaarthen looked over to see Ein with the two junior Princesses Ruegin, and Princess Nossin.

“We have an account of your first meeting,” Princess Ruegin said looking around. “I read about it.”

“That…Well that was..” Janis blaunched, “When Saliss wrote that we didn’t know the future’s path-”

“The truth is easy to see.” Princess Nossin said flatly. Seemingly out of her ears letters of the God’s creation tumbled out in glittery silver and gold. Kaarthen was the only one who could see that, but the others recognized Nossin going into a trance.



*********


On a sea wall of a coastal town on Menthino’s side of the Lazy river a beautiful pale blonde in a flowing dark purple robe turned her mischievous deep blue eyes to the northern shore.

“Hey Marcos, let’s cross the river. I want to tour around to see the principalities.” Princess Saliss said turning to her beleaguered bodyguard.

The tall, skinny, tan man in dark clothes had a huge overstuffed pack complete with a three-legged stool tied on top that made him seem comical though she dared not laugh while standing so close.

Marcos was sweating under the load as he watched the lighthearted swirling princess dance closer to the river’s edge enjoying the view.

The weather in early autumn was unseasonably warm down here in the lowlands, and it was a beautiful clear day. The river’s waters sparkled, and even the weathered fishing ships seemed handsome as they cut through the waves or sat at anchor. The low cliffs of the far shore a mile or two away could be seen with ease. Even the usually cloud covered white capped mountains to the north could seen.

“Wandering about is not why you’re here.” Marcos replied quietly. “I think you’re enjoying this too much.”

“Well it was an interesting lesson to see what the world is like without law and order. Considering who I’ll become, it was a heartening lesson on the necessary limits of power and so on and so forth.” Saliss prattled off in a flat voice then stopped and lifted her chin to affect some authority. “As a Crown princess, I have benefited from this structured adventure. I was illuminating to learn by the observation of the day-to-day lives of common citizens outside our country’s protective, loving, and guiding hand. But…”

This ‘adventure’ was the pinnacle of a Crown princess’ coming of age. It was a daring full emersion-learning trip into mystic lands of Alcanton where humans were the minority. If successful, it would tie together various points of her royal tutelage, and open her eyes to the common life outside the Citadel’s cushy apartments, and guarded halls. It was also a chance for the Heiresses to work over their crown’s patron Marcos while he learned about them and their qualifications before they took the ‘Eternal throne’ as Queen.

Marcos looked back up and realized she had turned away to look back over the water. The breeze picked up her hair and swept it away. She looked lonely as she stood with her back to him, vulnerable even. But, Saliss was a calculating woman. Goddess help the man who gave her what she wanted.

“Since we’re already out here, we could also do something more… ‘freeform’…” She paused for a moment knowing her minder already had a response coming. “I shouldn’t even have to ask you. Until we return to Mavvus, you can only follow me. But then… you know that already.”

Marcos stirred at the princess’ haughty words. She was too smart for her own good sometimes. She turned and flicked her suddenly serious blue eyes at him and pointed across the river to the mountains and cliffs on the far side. “I wish to go north… I have become aware of a certain map while preparing for this journey. On it, there are directions to a certain tower. I will not be denied Marcos.”

Well I can’t say I didn’t have a feeling something like this was coming for some time now.” Marcos started slowly still thinking of his response.

“I could think of better things to do up there. Do you really want to go on a treasure hunt this close to winter over a rumor you must have read in the little diary you princesses aren’t supposed to have, or pass around? And shame on your mother for keeping it hold of it and giving it to you.”


************

“So that’s how you know all this?” Kaarthen asked out of the blue.

“Ehhhhh…that’s a secret so don’t tell.” Ruegin muttered.


***********


Saliss pouted her lips and cocked her head. “You don’t like us learning about you or the about the world? This about the truth! We can’t come out here knowing nothing! Sure I may have read the many reports of what others have done out here. But, for now, it is just us. It’s my turn! When I have the throne, the world will be mine. I want to take this chance though to discover something. I need your strength. The search for the truth must continue! Don’t make me a fool!” Saliss shouted in a rising voice as she spun to look away from him and collect herself.

It had been a month already since they left the capital for this. For the entire trip, she had a mask of giddy wonder on her face as she had met and interacted with the foreign creatures, people, and cultures that were found just across the river from their homeland’s eastern border. On the surface she seemed to be doing exactly what was intended. She met with and associated with a wide range of society. But in truth, casual appearances aside, they had moved in one direction, and one direction only after they had began their trip.

“I didn’t need a map to notice you have been leading us straight north this whole time.” Marcos retorted.

She turned back to him and her face broke its stern demeanor and one of mischievous curiosity bloomed.

“Marcos, I can see past your bluff.” She said offering him a way out of his position of resistance to her idea. “You have let the others cross before. They were all seeking it… I know you know of what I speak of, that mythical ‘Crown of Emperors’. Lost for who knows how long since the old god Minun sank the nations of the east into the sea.”

Since this trip was also among the most important events in a princess’ life, clever girls had created a secret diary like a guidebook of things to do when ‘out’. Queens passed it to their daughters to read out of prying eyes. Over the generations, receiving the diary became a ritual in and of itself. Stories, myths, and legends were created stimulating countless princesses to see and discover more and more of the mystical world to the east. More than a few mysteries like ‘this magical crown rumor’ were created too.

Marcos cleared his throat and dropped the pack before stretching and giving his answer. “Any other princess that crossed this river was well east of here. I’m sure you know that, but still, if we cross here and head north, we’ll be in wild highlands of the mountains. There are more humans up there than other creatures but there still won’t be much civilization up there. Most of the land is wet tundra too cold to be called a swamp and wind swept barren rocky outcroppings. You don’t like nature enough to do this. Besides, with the mountains and the Moxle river to the west we’ll end up having to go east eventually anyways. But if you must go…”

In a huff Saliss stepped around him moving back to the empty road, she started up the road without waiting for him to finish. Marcos hefted the pack again and followed where she was leading them: north, towards the docks of the river ferry.


*******************
“To be honest I never heard that part.” Janis said thoughtfully.

“That was the famous Queen long before she took the throne.” Ruegin explained proudly, “ She apparently handled him so well that the following Queens named their daughters Saliss to give them an added advantage when dealing with Lord Panthi.”

“Well I can’t argue that, but Marcos was usually very easy on her.” Janis shrugged. “She was there when we first met. In fact, suiting her style, she was the reason we first met.”



******************


The pain was intense. Hunger is an insidious thing. After a few days without food it becomes all you can think about.

Janis plodded off the dirt road into a meadow and fell to her hands and knees feeling lightheaded. Once more, she would try to eat grass. Something had to be done.

Things hadn’t gone too well after being defeated. Dirty, starving, and dehydrated, her once white hair was matted like a birds nest, and her once pale grey Amazonian skin was tanned to a dark reddish bronze color and blackened further with the dirt and mud she found herself crawling in. Her already skinny frame had eroded into an unhealthy thinness. Under her now filthy grey short robe, her ribs, and small breasts could be seen through the armholes. Garec, the fugitive she found herself with had kept up a brutal pace, and never let her eat.

Luckily, the she was in a bountiful clearing in the mountains. The rough beauty of nature’s alpine splendor was wasted on her as she rooted in dirt around on her hands and knees. Tugging up clumps of sweet grass and wild onions, she ate hungrily with what felt like the last little bit of energy in her body. Finally, she collapsed. Exhausted and too starved to do more, she resigned herself.

As the sunlight on her back warmed her, bugs and other critters of the forest skittered over her. Unable to move, she just laid still digging her face deeper into the cool dirt as her back heated under the sun.

As the seconds ticked by, she became aware of a cold feeling on her back as a shadow fell over her. Struggling to open her eyes, her body went on alert as she realized Garec had come back for her again.

Janis cringed but was unable to move. “Oi! you still alive?” The man’s voice called.

A rough hand picked her up by the arm, and tore her tattered shirt from her shoulders. “Look at this stringy thing.” He muttered.

His heavy hands rubbed her head, and her body under the dirty grayish tunic she wore. She was usually able to slap his hands away but now her arms felt so heavy.

He got more and more bold from the lack of response from her. Moving freely, he tugged her hips and up dropped her back onto her face. Flipping up the bottom of her raggedy long shirt, he exposed her naked womanhood. Her pale slit was hairless like most Amazons who didn’t grow hair below the neck.

Behind her the grass rustled as he shuffled in for a closer look, his thick fingers parted her folds searching her out as he moved to get in front of her.

“No screams, no fighting, and I hope no biting.” The Garec chuckled as the briny stench of wiry hairs fell over her nose and a soft warmth flopped against her face.

His hands found her breasts and tugged on her nipples as he used her helpless body. In the weakened haze she was in, she could really only sense him by touch. Her other senses went in and out in a fuzzy cloud that made her feel distant and cold.

“Open your mouth girl.” Garec coached her as his spongy purple flesh filled her mouth.

His probing digits moved back behind her and found a rhythm as he started thrusting into her mouth with his wide cock. He hardened slowly in her mouth until his erection became much more than a mouthful and she was just slobbering on the knob at the end. His hands hungrily massaged her back as he got more, and more excited.

“I gotta do all the work.” He grunted pulling her face down hard onto his thick cock so he could get into her mouth as deeply as possible.

The urge to sleep was like a heavy blanket on her mind. Its weight pushed down the normal panic she would have been feeling as his cock meat rammed into her throat several times.

“Oh ya,” He pulled her back to sit up, and spit in her mouth before pushing her down onto his cock again. “Oh ya, even better.”

Her body jerked as she coughed involuntarily from a particularly deep thrust. “Calm down, you’re doing good...” He moaned.

The spongy head was sticking in her throat as he slid into her. After a few gagging thrusts that made her cough and make other unidentifiable wet sounds, she was pulled back and promptly skewered again by his cock.

As her numb tired brain shut down, Janis was almost asleep again and was quite surprised when the dick in her mouth started to cum without warning. After a brief moment the thrusting slowed, and stopped. Tentatively, she swallowed the offal left in her mouth. Its earthy taste wasn’t as bad as starving, and it helped wash away the grit still in her mouth.

Garec got off her and got up. He didn’t need her tied up to keep her close. Without the energy, means, or ability to fight back, she was bullied into being led around as he wandered the forest. Like a dog, she could only hope for scraps.



*************


“That part didn’t really need to be said” Janis hissed leaning in.

“I’m sure it was for context,” Ruegin offered with a grin. “So there are no questions later about what you had been doing after the capture up on the mountain.”

“I’m already in a bad mood,” Janis warned, “Get back to the story.”



********


It was several hours later that the two chanced on a woman bathing openly in a deep stream near the road. The bright sun shone on her pale lily skin concealed only slightly by the reeds around the edge of the water. Through the reeds, they could see she was a soft blonde beauty with light blue eyes. She was so pretty she could have been a water nymph, or the Goddess herself. She seemed carefree as she washed her supple body under the noon sun.

Coming off the road to get closer, they saw by her clothes a figure in black from head to toe on the ground. Obviously it was the guard for this gem, however its posture was slumped against a large pack as though it was asleep.

“I want her too, but; Do you think we could make it two?” Garec whispered aloud cryptically.

Janis had noticed for a while now that he spoke gibberish to himself from being alone so much.

“Oi,” Garec grunted turning to Janis and offering her a slim blade. “Oi, erm… slit his… that guy’s throat.” He pointed to the figure in black who lay unmoving.

Janis took the blade for several reasons but paused once it was in her hand. His trust in her was growing. Before he wouldn’t even chance her hunting out of sight. However, this was something else. It was quite a different thing to help him like this.

Janis eyed the blade considering what would happen next, he might release her once he had that beautiful blonde. That thought took her to a dark place. Trading her life for that woman’s was wrong. She had been properly fed exactly twice in the time he had her. Not that she as a grown woman should have to depend on him. Despite the man being comfortable in the woods, he was no woodsman, and food was getting scarce this late in the season. Everything she ate was merely scraps he missed, or wasted. That beautiful creature didn’t deserve to be ripped from her life to serve this man no matter how bad he wanted her.

Janis was startled with a rough shove. “Get over there and do it.” Garec whispered as loud as he dared. He again looked like angry hairy creature of the woods.

Janis took a step back and turned. She had called herself a Warrioress once. That title didn’t mean anything now. Her training couldn’t even get her past an untrained opponent like him. She had been defeated, but survived because her opponent knew she didn’t have the skill, or killer instinct to be a threat. Starving, she was reduced to being this man’s whore to stay alive. She thought on this even as she walked forward in a trance doing Garec’s bidding.

“Good, now just stab him good.” He whispered from somewhere behind her.

Realizing how close she was to actually killing someone, every step she took became a struggle. The ground before her stretched until it seemed she would have to walk a million more. Just walking became mentally overwhelming for her as her mind tried to persuade her not to follow through with this evil act.

“Don’t stop!” Garec urged from somewhere behind her.

Janis’ knees started to shake as she got closer by one step, then another. Suddenly standing over the feet of her target, it all seemed so unreal. She was going to kill someone. But, she didn’t have to did she? She suddenly felt oddly normal as her brain tried to tell her to turn around and walk away. If she left now she could have a chance. But then, her eyes fell on the figure below her who still lay unmoving. She became hypnotized and froze as her mind told her to run killing is wrong, and another part told her to take the chance, to take the advantage.

‘If I tried to kill him, it would be fair game for him to try and kill me right?’ The thought passed unbidden through her mind as one-side of her continued to hope she could just kill him cleanly, and another urged her to run away. The sour taste of bile rose as her knees gave out. She squat down and considered what to do.

“Now just stab him anywhere. Do it! Drive it in!” Garec urged almost frantically dropping any ideas of stealth. “Kill him!”

Janis looked back at him wide-eyed. As he spoke, the hair on the back of her neck stood up and a cold twitch went right down her spine. She became aware of the feeling of a large hand clutching her throat.

‘Too late!’ Her mind screamed. With a start, she slowly looked down and was surprised to see the sleeping man’s hand firmly around her neck. Its pressure was light, only the texture of his glove told her he had her.

For a moment, her mind’s eye pictured her not squatting over a sleeping man with a knife in her hand. Instead, she was in the maw of a large beast with a mouth like a cave. She was standing on the edge of the valley of death, and its dark tongue was wrapped around her neck furtively tasting its next meal.

“Do something!” Garec urged from behind her.

She couldn’t imagine attacking whatever this was that she stood so close to. “Do something!” She squeaked back in reply.

Under her, the man let go and the merciless cold feeling that petrified her was gone like a black mist under the hot sun. Behind her, she heard Garec give a loud sigh as the tension broke.

“Oh? Hello,” A syrupy woman’s voice behind her asked. “Are you two highwaymen? Do you wish to rob us?”

Janis bolted up and fell back wide eyed at being caught. The woman bathing had come out and stood before them wrapped in shiny white satin that shined nearly as bright as her exposed shoulders. Her aura made her seem as though she was looking down from a viewing balcony at them rather than standing two paces away among the reeds on the muddy bank of a stream.

Garec stepped away from the bush behind her and cleared his throat loudly. “It is I. I want you.” He announced clearly while setting his shoulders back and puffing himself up.

The woman, and even Janis both blushed at his admission.

“You’ve come to challenge him for me?” She giggled almost sounding hopeful. Her body had a regal posture. She looked them over with equal parts aloofness, and quizzical curiosity as she started to dry her golden hair.

“You cannot have her.” A low man’s voice said warningly from behind them. Janis and Garec turned to notice the figure in black standing with his hood still completely obscuring his face.

“When did he move?” Janis thought quizzically. That man was within arm’s reach surely she would have noticed.

Garec turned, squared up to him, and the two men faced each other. Hostile energies started to build till the air felt like it could crackle. Janis ducked out of the middle of the two and faced them from the same side as the blonde.

“You should get him now before he gets his sword.” The blonde urged, though it was unclear whom she was speaking too.

Garec took the hint and reached back to draw his massive sword. He only paused a half second before jumping out to cut down the figure before him. He missed completely, as like a flicking shadow, the figure jumped to the side.

Janis had never seen a fight between two masters before. This fight was only a halfway taste of one. The man in black deftly jump around just out of the sword’s long reach seemingly with ease. He kept his hands to his sides and moved only his feet as he weaved around the swings of the long blade. After several close shaves, the two fighters had moved away from the women and circled each other on the even ground near the road.

The men both stopped simultaneously. The figure facing Garec spread his feet and bent his knees taking position. Janis could see building tension in his body. Raising his forward arm, he extended it out, pointed his fist at the hairy man’s chest, and waited.

He didn’t have to wait long. Garec charged in with a howl and hacked at him in his bloodlust.

*Twang* The sound of metal reverberating accompanied Garec’s sword as it flipped through the air into the tall grass.

A flurry of kicks knocked Garec’s surprised hairy ass back and he stumbled around trying to gain distance for another assault.

Janis gasped knowing her time of liberation was at hand.

After finding his balance, Garec launched in again. He moved like a brawler throwing his superior weight around. For all his strength and bulk, it did him no good. He was flipped onto the ground when he tried to swing, and when he came back and made for a grab, the figure spun him through the air as though he was only tossing a hat.

“Hurry up!” The blonde shouted as she dressed. She combed her light golden hair through her fingers as she watched.

Janis was struck by her unimpressed poise. She seemed completely unafraid of her bodyguard losing to the brute.

The figure turned his head and gave her a glance before he moved in on Garec. In a blur, he rushed up, captured poor Garec’s right arm at the wrist and elbow, and climbed onto his shoulders holding the huge limb tight overhead as his legs coiled around the brute’s thick neck. Using both hands to rotate the arm over and past the larger man’s head, he paused as though checking his handiwork. Then one move, he hopped down to the left side using the trapped right arm to break his fall.

Janis winced as the huge man gasped and his shoulder and elbow dislocated with a loud *P-puk*.

“Happy?” The figure asked the blonde.

“That man was a suitor. My suitor!” The blonde suddenly protested, “You should have handled him more formally with a sword duel.”

“My apologies. I am just a—“ He paused to look at Garec who had stubbornly gotten back to his feet. “Oh? Well… excuse me.” Something in his voice that made Janis’s blood run cold.

“Protect me!” The blonde swooned mocking him as he stepped away. She played the part perfectly, and her eyes misted as she clutched her hands to her breast. “Go my knight, and fight for my honor, and chastity.”

“Tsk,” The man clicked his tongue and eyed Garec who now stood steady even as his right arm dangled uselessly. Janis almost wanted to tell him to lay down. Garec’s stubbornness was not enough to beat this man.

In a blur, the two charged. As the larger Garec took a swing with his only good arm, the smaller man dodged him easily and again climbed his bulk to ride atop his shoulders. He sat up there for a moment looking down with his legs tight around the brute’s neck.

Janis jumped as the blonde woman moved up next to her fully dressed in a discreet long dark purple velvet robe. Close up the silky velvet looked so luxurious and comfortable on her, she could have been a rich wife stealing away for an affair, or a baroness taking a ride upon the country. “A sad thing is about to happen to your friend.” She said slowly never taking her eyes of the fight.

Enraged, Garec had slapped at the figure who rode him only to get his only working arm caught. After a faint pause, the figure twisted himself so Garec’s balance was compromised and forced him to follow the movement by bending sideways at the waist while twisting. The torque of the movement dropped them over to the right side where the figure plopped his butt on the ground and grabbed Garec’s furthest foot while keeping his legs tight to poor Garec’s neck. For a sick moment marked by the sound of collapsing vertebrae and exploding cartilage, the very top of Garec’s head touched the ground just before either of his feet left it. As big man’s weight came down onto his head, the legs came off the ground and continued to swing away with the momentum.

Janis sat in awe of the masterful display. Despite being slow, in that other man’s hands Garec’s death was completely unstoppable.

“Ah, that was disgusting.” The blonde remarked as the Garec’s limp body spun head over heels through the grass. “I guess Marcos went all out. It was a bad for your friend to pick a fight.”

As the figure ‘Marcos’ walked back, he stretched his arms back overhead and yawned deliberately. He gave Janis a dismissive glance while moving past her to his pack.

“Wait! Please wait, I’ll follow!” Janis suddenly felt a rush of words spill out. “Will you teach me to fight like that? Please! You must!”

The blonde glided to him as best she could over the long grass as he made a show of nonchalance by crossing his arms and looking at Janis skeptically with narrowed eyes, and a raised brow.

The blonde gave a polite half smile as she locked onto his eyes and started to speak in a buttery voice that seemed oddly dangerous. “You have been getting more and more reluctant to carry the pack and obey me without question as of late. She shall serve me, and your duties will then be to train her to protect me.”

The man snorted looking at the blonde. “Don’t be silly, I protect you,” The man growled and raised a finger at Janis. “Besides, she looks half dead already, the pack would kill her.”

He turned to Janis with fury in his eyes. “Be gone wench. You should just stay out of the way.”

Janis cringed at his words knowing them to be true. Feeling weak, she fell to her hands and knees. “Please, I’ll do anything to get my honor…To go back… Just teach me, I will fight…” Around her, the world got dark and she collapsed as her stomach rumbled loudly.

“Huh?” a voice asked from the darkness. “What was she mumbling?”


*****

“So that is about what happened.” Janis confirmed. “So I guess than you want to hear about something else now?”

“No, this is good!” Ein barked. “Don’t worry about that mind stuff, Marcos drills that into us in the practice room ‘don’t look in their eyes or you’ll hesitate. If you must look, look at their nose or their mouth.’ People usually can’t just kill other, it is difficult even for some to fight each other. Most of our training he says is to make it automatic so that even if you are scared, confused, or tired you will kill without hesitation to save yourself and others.”

“But still, you’re one of the few to know mercy from Marcos.” Ruegin added. “I bet he’s pretty pissed he had the chance to kill you and didn’t huh?”

Janis seemed to whither. “No he doesn’t remember any of that stuff.”


*******


For a while, Janis only knew blackness. Slowly colors were added and finally they became images and she started to dream.

Janis’s mind dreamed of flawless fights against unwitting buffoons and faceless enfeebled criminals who had once eluded her. As her mind floated, her thoughts returned again and again to the man’s fight. He was in complete control well before Garec attacked. Garec had more courage than she gave him credit for to go all out till the end. Even when he touched her, she had felt his power as a tangible ominous feeling.

Old sage Sisters from the enclave she was born in had spoken of that feeling. They called it simply ‘a killer’s murderous intent’. It was an instinctive hair-raising feeling that people of the sword became sensitive to. It was the same thing you felt when confronting a wild beast. With him, it was strong enough that she could almost visualize the dark aura. This man was powerful, he had to teach her something. She would be accepted, and known throughout the land if she had his kind of power. She wouldn’t just have the reputation to return to her old enclave where people knew her, she would be famous enough to enter them all.

Her senses whispered to delirious mind of meat boiling in thick gravy. Steamy musing scents of spices tickled her nose. The crackling of a fire teased her ears.

“Stew,” She thought suddenly as her mind surfaced too consciousness.

“I’m really dying…” Her mind lazily pondered. Her body refused to sit quietly, and with a barking cough, she fought to roll onto her back.

“OH? She’s awake!” A woman’s voice exclaimed.

Janis opened her eyes. It was dark already, and the dying red sunset gave a soft glow in the crisp air. The pretty blonde woman sat on a stool by a fire not ten feet away with her feet tucked up under her robe eying her curiously with interested eyes. Her pale face and features were distinct in the diminished light.

“Interesting that she stayed alive.” Marcos responded sounding half incredulous. The other part of his tone made her cringe for appearing so weak before him. “If you really want to get her healthy so she can protect you I guess we’ll have to put off heading north…”

Looking past the fire, she could barely make out his dark form stirring a helmet sized pot that hung over a fire. The light seemed to go around him making it hard to see the details of his face.

“…m..mmm..,” Janis mumbled trying to croak out words to them.

“She needs some water,” The blonde announced.

Behind her, the man paused and looked up from his cooking. “Saliss…be a helper. Get some for her…you know how right?”

“Well…she can go for a little longer…” Saliss responded wrapping her robe tighter and daring a glance back at the man.

Janis slipped back asleep as she waited for some food.

She was surprised to get a light slap after she had just closed her eyes.

“Eat up,” she was ordered seeing Saliss hustle back to her stool.

Finding a bowl, and spoon just in front of her face she struggled at first then paused.

After a long struggle to get food in her mouth, the first taste brought her up, and awake. From the taste alone, her body seemed to become normal and the pain of starvation was put at bay. Her mouth watered until she drooled. Her hands became lighter and a bit shaky as she concentrated on eating more and more.

A heavy hand fell on her shoulder. Janis didn’t care to look up. “Hey there little sister, you can’t be doing all that. You must slow down.”

Janis fought to keep the bowl in hand as she was pulled back to straighten up. The man then pulled her food away with ease then snatched her spoon up from her scrambling hands like she was just a petulant child.

“You’re going to eat slowly,” The man said as he knelt before her and got comfortable. “Your body needs a slow steady stream of food right now. You’ll have slow down or you’ll get sick.”

He fed her a mouthful at a time, and waited till she was ready for more. Sitting close allowed her the chance to get a look at him. His face was mature, but youthful. He obviously knew his way around a cook fire, the food was delicious. In between spoonfuls, Janis studied his face more. He had black hair that was short, and shiny in the fire’s light. His skin was tanned and almost leathery. Finally, her eyes fell upon his lips as though drawn.

All at once, a strong pain hit her stomach as she felt everything explode with sharp pains radiating out from her middle.

“Gahhh?!....Ohhhh,” Janis fell over whimpering, and cradling her stomach as it cramped up.

“Hmm…That’s what it would look like…” The man said quietly backing off.

Throughout the night, Janis moaned pitifully as her body was wracked with waves of searing pain. By daybreak, the pain was gone and she sensed the pair moving around her and packing up. Unable to follow, she lay in the grass and tried to sleep. Getting up around midday. Janis scavenged into Garec’s pockets feeling stronger from the food. Around her, the sun-filled clearing was empty and still even Garec’s body was untouched.

‘North, they were arguing about going north’ Janis suddenly remembered as she got to the road and tried to decide what to do. Looking at the north, she figured they had to be heading that way by following the west road up around and into the mountains. Back on the road, and plodding along Janis felt relaxed again being alone. A small part of her did however look forward anxiously for a town to rest in, and a haystack to sleep in.

Nearly a day later of travel, she found one.

As she got into the tiny nameless mining town in the early evening, she got odd stares at her appearance. Her usually pale fit Amazon body was a ruddy red from the dirt, the sun, and perhaps some bruises. She had to be the least intimidating Amazon these people had ever seen.

Walking through the darkening streets of the plaster, and timber buildings, she found a hanging sign for the town’s only inn. Garec had made some coin selling furs he had robbed once, and since he was a fugitive in this area he had few places to spend it. Janis felt a cold smile creep across her face as she pushed open the door.

“Oi, you cheating bitch!” Came an angry man’s shout as she stepped in. The tavern had three rows of long tables and a bar to the right along the wall with the innkeeper’s book. Local men were all over but most were crowding to the back corner where a group of them stood in an agitated group.

“That’s how the game is played!” A proud woman’s voice exclaimed from in the corner as though she was referencing common knowledge.

Janis looked for the person who matched the distinctive familiar voice. A pretty blond with her face framed by the velvety purple hooded robe. Her sparkly blue eyes danced over their angry faces in open amusement. She stood completely relaxed with a smile on her lips as large rough looking men the local tavern, shook with fury around her.

Saliss quickly blushed and covered her mouth with the back of her hand as her eyes went wide in realization. “Oh, for shame! You men didn’t know this was a counting game?”

“Saliss?” Janis whispered incredulously as the half forgotten name popped into her head.

“You cheated us!” A blustery man shouted impotently as Saliss reached for her winnings on the table.

“Don’t be silly,” She replied soothingly as she daintily collected coins from the table. About five men stood over her looking quite furious but she moved methodically as though she didn’t see them.

“Perhaps a new game?” She offered just as it looked like the men were actually getting ready to attack her.

“You cheat! Every game you offer is rigged.” A man growled.

“Oi! I wanna mine moneyzz back!” Shouted another drunken one.

The woman looked at them each in turn and held the collected money in her hand as though weighing it. “Well what kind of woman would I be if I just gave strange men money? Is that what your mothers and sisters have to do for strangers? Do strangers bully your wives?”

That thought broke a few peoples concentration and gave the men pause. Saliss continued and talked fast as her voice dropped lower, and lower. “I wouldn’t be a decent one if I did that, and my mother raised me to be better. You men don’t want to make a kind-hearted lucky girl starve do you? Any of you men just want to make a bet?” Her eyes lit up at the last word, “Since you won’t play these games, perhaps your luck can redeem you just this one last time.”

“I ain’tz lizten’n to you! Iz wantz back mine MONEYz!” The same drunk crazy-eyed man shouted slamming the table. The two men on either side of him half- restrained him and half-propped him up.

Saliss ignored them all and continued. “Well then, how about we bet on someone nobody knows? Look to the door, that scrappy girl there. I bet she ain’t but had half a bowl of gravy stew in a day,” She mused mimicking the men’s accent. “How bout I bet that skinny thing can only get down two big bowls of that spicy beef tripe and vegetable bowl you all seem to like so much?”

“What? We ain’t betting on that!” A man snarled.

The Blonde smirked as though expecting nothing less. “Well I am. In fact, I’m going to put everything on it.”

Everyone started talking to each other at once suddenly.

“What who is she? I’ve never seen her. This is stupid.” Voices from within the group rumbled aloud. “But you already took our money…” Another voice bemoaned.

“Now is your only chance to get it all back. I’m not just going to hand it too you. So win it fair and square, you still have a chance to make some money tonight.” Saliss turned to a man who had been quietly eyeing her the whole time from the side of the table. “You, if the waitress comes back, make sure she puts in extra everything.”

The man looked up at her startled and unsure what to say as the table’s most sober accuser spoke up at her words. “Now you’re cheating again! You don’t want her to eat more!”

“Well, I guess I am being unfair…did you really think she could eat more?” She said slowly while she reached up to knuckle her chin thoughtfully.

“Oi! That waif could eat five.” A blustery voice shouted. “No she is way too small. Four! Four I bet she gets down four!” Another added. Soon a shouting match was raised around the table as they made their bets.

Nodding thoughtfully in the middle of the noise, Saliss looked over at Janis and waved her over. “Well bring her here then. Let us just see.”

With few words, Janis was seated on a bench squarely under the blue-eyed gaze of Saliss and the rest of the tavern patrons. With no words spoken, a waitress brought out a platter balancing four bowls.

“I suppose once a man loses everything he won’t be able to cover the food.” Saliss quipped as Janis took the first bite. “Let’s have the winner make a gesture and pay for the girl’s food…That is reasonable I’m sure.” The woman said looking around. “And don’t get angry if you lose. This girl seems to have been through enough, and I could have walked away with the money if my heart had been cold.”

“I can agree to that…” Said a reasonable voice as the room quietly watched Janis already scraping the bottom of the first bowl.

Saliss turned to Janis with a knowing grin and winked. “Well then girl, enjoy this, and don’t think it charity.”

One hour later…

Janis put down the spoon, and sat back unfinished. If she went for anymore and emptied the bowl they would just bring another, but then the chef would have to cook up a whole new batch.

The men around her were amazed. “F-F-FFourteen…Fourteen bowls”

Saliss walked over counting the bowls herself. “Well that’s the total. So I bet two, or was it three... Where did the man who bet seven go? There you are… I’d say you won.” Saliss grinned merrily clapping a very stunned wide-eyed man on the back.

Janis got up, and moved to the tavern door but a surprisingly strong small hand grabbed her arm as she ambled past. Turning around she saw Saliss holding her back.

“Hey come over here, you shouldn’t have to sleep out there. I hate for something to happen to a woman just because I’ve gotten her so out of balance playing a game.”

Janis looked at the slender hand that held her fast. It was unimaginably soft but still unyielding. Either she was really quite weak still, or this Saliss had lots of hidden potential behind those blue eyes.

With ease, Saliss pointed her over to the stairs and followed behind as she strode from the room. As they made their exit, Janis noticed for the first time the man in black sitting by the door. He had been undetectable the whole time.

She didn’t think too hard about it. After being brought to the room and dropping her pack, she fell into a lounge seat by the room’s unused fireplace and fell asleep.

Waking up as the white morning light filled the room from the lace covered windows, Janis looked up at the noise that woke her. She felt out of place in the suite. She was very aware she still hadn’t bathed properly and yet she was in a room filled with upholstered furniture, carved stonework, wood paneling, three fireplaces, and plush thick carpeting. On one side of her was the center fireplace with its elegant cover, and stone mantle. On the other side was the lace covered windows and a huge canopied bed oversized even for the luxury room.

Just out of arm’s reach, the man stood naked next to the bed. His tan tall slim body was very muscular she noticed. She also could see he was well hung. Her face burned as she stared at the impossibly thick rope of meat that hung down over his large balls. Each orb was larger than a chicken’s egg. She could smell a warm earthy scent coming from them. She was reminded of what she had done for food only a short while ago.

“Good morning girl.” His voice called, breaking into her thoughts.

Looking up, she blushed harder at his knowing smug smile and laughing dark eyes. “…Good morning Sir Marcos…” She croaked as her voice cracked.

“Mmmph…” The man was pushed aside as a naked Saliss got out of bed behind him. Janis marveled at her body as she moved over the bed like a drunk spider. Her whole body was a clean pale pink. Her limbs were long and graceful. While she didn’t quite come to the man’s height, she was still taller than an average woman.

Her perfect tear-drop shaped breasts were capped with faint reddened nipples, and her womanly hips, and thighs surrounded a trimmed thatch of blonde muff. She was the most beautiful woman Janis had ever seen as she stretched and looked around distractedly.

“…mm paaaa,” Saliss cleared her throat and pointed at Janis. “Chamber paa…”

“Huh?” Janis muttered.

“Get the chamber pot.” The blonde repeated rubbing her face catching her eye.

Janis looked around and grabbed it for her.

The blonde nodded as she took it. “Good, now get some hot water for a bath. I should be ready in a moment.” She said coming more and more awake. “This place should have pipes for it, and I bet the tub is back there.” She gestured to a curtained section by the fireplace on Janis’ other side before slinking towards the privacy screen.

An hour or so later, everyone was washed. After Saliss had washed herself, and emptied the tub, she had stared at Janis expectantly to refill it and clean herself. As she scrubbed months of hard living off her body, the pair looked over her clothes, pack, and sandals as they asked and answered questions.

“So Janis. Why is a lone Warrioress, who can’t take care of herself, going around trying to fight things?” The woman asked repeating more or less the first question she had asked a little while ago.

“For honor.” Janis replied simply. The two had a disturbing habit of taking apart her answers. It was best to give them very little to go on. Marcos mostly stayed non-verbal but he shrugged, or even giggled as Janis tried to explain herself.

“But since you lost your companions…what have you been doing for the last… two months was it? Before you met Garec. I guess I’m curious what you were trying to do alone. You seem painfully aware of your…limits.”

“Ah, yes, that…well…”

There really wasn’t much to say. Her companions had dwindled over the last year since they had set out. Janis hadn’t lived because she was the best. She had survived because many of her betters had protected her with their lives. “It won’t happen again if you teach me!” Janis pleaded to Marcos suddenly.

“…Hurmmph.” He grunted non-comittally. “You could die learning from me are you okay with that?”

“Yes!” Janis shouted falling before him.

“Don’t speak too soon.” Marcos snapped. “Don’t you love your life? My arts aren’t for the weak, you really could die.”

“I will be a Warrioress whether or not I get your help. I will fight for justice and die if I have too for it. I am weak now. I know it is only luck, and the sacrifices of others that I have lived this long. How I die doesn’t matter as long I am helping…”

Marcos grunted but didn’t say anything more.

As they went downstairs, Janis tried to remember what if anything they had told her about themselves. She drew a blank as she came out to the street with them. What she had been told was easy to pick up anyway. Saliss didn’t want to be somewhere and so they were going somewhere else.

The sunlight felt pleasant. Janis was glad for the recent warm weather. People were out and walking around in the warmth of the sun. The air was clear, and the town was filled with the sounds of horses clopping past, carts creaking, blacksmiths pinging away, and axes chopping down morning firewood.

“So much for lack of civilization, right Marcos?” Saliss joked as she pointed out a restaurant setting up for breakfast. The smell of honeyberry muffin made everyone’s stomach growl. “Let’s stop here…”

Eating outside in good company was rejuvenating for Janis as she saw the simple purity, and good of common men all around.

In the gold midmorning light, she followed the pair up the street trying to figure out her next step. Not having a decent weapon was a huge draw back to her plans to regain her honor. If she couldn’t get a sword, she would need a decent club, or knife, or even a staff.

As they walked up the streets into the sun, they found that up near the city square there was a gathering. A group of more than fifty people openly carrying weapons stood in the center, and a crowd of the townspeople surrounded them and listening to relatively well dressed man who seemed to be the town’s leader.

“Adventurers! Adventurers! Come hear this!” The man shouted from the center of the square on a stone pedestal built into the lip of a fountain.

Janis followed the two over to a spot at the edge of the crowd.

“There is a dragon among us! It plagues the villages to the North. These men are going, but we need more! We must end this threat! We have a man to lead us! Who among you wants the fame, the honor, and even some of the dragon’s treasure horde?” He said looking around at the faces before him.

“What do you think?” Saliss asked Marcos after hearing the announcement.

“It’s a trick. When they find its lair, the leader is going to go off alone to ‘get it to come out’, or ‘fight it’. When it does come out, he’ll be long gone, and it’ll eat everyone it finds. After getting its fill, it’ll likely sleep for years, or decades depending on its size, age, and how many people they take up there. Humans can’t kill dragons. It’s a dream to say they can even hunt them.”

“…So you don’t want to go then is that it?” Saliss grinned and her eyes glittered, “You’re not scared are you?”

“I think you just want to see a dragon. I won’t stop you, and you know I’ll follow. But, understand that if you do decide to go stand before it, I won’t be able to protect you.” Marcos said quickly. “Dragons, a least high dragons, are pretty close to gods on this plane. There are few things stronger I suppose, but none of them occur as frequently as even a rare dragon sighting.”

Saliss straightened. “So it is stronger than you?” Marcos just shrugged.

“Who knows it’s not my business to go and find out.”

“Oh this sounds interesting. We’ll have to see it then.” Saliss said with finality.

Pushing off the wall, she parted the spectators and led the group into the center of the crowd.

The ‘dragon hunter’ leading the group sat on the edge of the speaker’s pedestal. He wore battered bronze plate armor that was in need of repair. His helmet’s face guard was down making it hard to see his face. The men around him bathed in his regal presence, sure he would get them back alive. Among the crowd, several hardened warriors were sprinkled in. Mostly however the group was full of young men from surrounding farm villages. They strutted around arrogantly sure of their fortunes.

“Greetings, and salutations,” Saliss called as she came to stand before the leader. Janis got a creepy feeling wondering why this man would be covering her face. If Saliss had similar suspicions, she didn’t show it. “We wish to travel with your party.” Janis could feel the eyes in the crowd shift onto them at her words.

A young blonde haired man dressed in common clothes leaned next to the leader oozing impudence. After running his eyes over Saliss and Janis, he shifted the crotch of his pants and straightened from his slouch to speak up in his farmer’s accent that stretched the a’s and cut out the t’s as he spoke. “What do we need you women for? Are you whores here to keep us ready to fight?”

The crowd around them mumbled and pressed in tighter. “We are here to kill a dragon,” Saliss responded uncaring of the stirrings around her. “Hasn’t this leader killed one before?”

“Oi! what do you know? He was the sole survivor of the last attack on a dragon’s nest far to the east. Puzzlao knows how to kill a dragon.”

“Sole survivor? Puzzulio,” Saliss repeated slowly struggling with the man’s rustic pronunciation. “Well that is interesting. We shall join your camp then.” She said airily and turned to depart.

“Oi wait!” The blonde man called. “Where’s your tent?”

Saliss beamed him a smile that got hoots from the crowd. “Never you mind boy, when I want your money I’ll come for it.” She stepped closer and cupped his face. “I hope you have enough for me.” She turned and led her way out as the crowd gave a shout and went wild.

When Janis and Saliss got outside the mass of people clumped in the square, Marcos approached them. “Marcos, why were you not with me in that crowd?”

“They were only men…” He shrugged. “Besides working with people is your specialty. Nevertheless, can I ask how long did you wanted to travel? If I remember right, you were tired of camping. Do you really wish to continue with this group?”

“Well as long as it stays warm I will be fine.” Saliss snapped.

“Umm, I think if we were to fight, it would be best if I had a sword…” Janis squeaked.

Saliss turned to her with a blank look and Marcos ignored her.

“So she speaks… What do you say Marcos?” Saliss pondered aloud not really asking him.

“She needs something cheap and short. Just so she isn’t getting her skinny ass raped when we need to be going somewhere.” Marcos remarked making Janis blush.

“Hmm, let’s head back to the armor-smith. I think we passed one over by the inn.”

Saliss led them back the way they came, and sure enough, they found a blacksmith/swordsmith shop tucked into the corner of the block with the inn, and traveler’s stables.

Inside, there were a few barrels with swords, and a few spears. The three looked over the brief weapons selection. Janis looked over at the swords till she found something similar to what she carried before. A long straight edged double bladed sword roughly more than two feet long. Once in her hands, it seemed heavier than what she remembered.

“That’s a lot of sword for you.” Marcos noted. “I think you’d be too slow with that in your hands.”

That was true, Janis was having a hard time even keeping it steady. “Here,” He said picking out a long dagger. “You can use with this, and when you get your strength back you’ll be able to take up a short sword again.”

“But-” Marcos raised a finger.

“Well, it looks like my part is done here.” Saliss said breezing to the door leaving Janis and Marcos to come to the front and pay.

“When will you start to train me?” Janis asked sullenly realizing how much more she needed training.

“When you can handle a real sword.” Marcos grumbled as he dropped a few coin for the dagger.

“But-!” Marcos darted out into the street before she could finish.

“Oi! Train me!” Janis shouted running after him up the street.

Marcos didn’t even turn back as he met up with Saliss and walked out to the road leading out of town. The pair ignored her as they wandered through the town, farmland, and forest. The group of ‘dragon hunters’ were camping on the western edge of town. The clearing they chose was bordered by swamps on three sides. Finding a campsite at a discreet distance was difficult. They ended up having to share the clearing with the other group up the road a little bit. Little more than fifty yards separated the two camps.

“Train me!” Janis shouted as her frustrations peaked.

Watching Marcos set up camp silently as Saliss sat watching him from her stool irritated her. She wanted a response.

“Train me!” she shouted again spring out to slash at him with her dagger while his back was turned. In an instant, he twisted and caught her arm while she was in the air before shifting his weight and swinging her over his back.

Marcos returned to digging out a spot for the fire. “No, you aren’t even strong enough to begin.”

“Train me!” she shouted leaping up from the ground. Again without moving his feet, he warded her off so she crashed into the ground on his other side.

“I’m being gentle. Quit now, before I lose patience.” Marcos warned turning back.

Janis didn’t listen and got to her hands and knees before launching again. This time she tried to land on him instead of running into him. He changed her direction effortlessly, and threw her up into the air to land next to Saliss.

“Can’t you just teach her something?” Saliss asked quietly as Janis pulled herself together.

“Too weak.” Marcos breathed as he caught Janis’s next attempt and swung her through the air. “Why don’t you join up with some mercenaries to get some experience?”

“I have, I’ve drawn blood!” Janis cried. “I’m just too weak to keep up.” Marcos caught her as she ran in again and threw her hard so she went spinning through the air well over Saliss’ head.

“She has determination Marcos. You can’t teach that.” Saliss observered.

“I don’t want to hold people back anymore! I can’t protect anyone this way!” Janis said popping up as if she had springs in her legs. Trying to be clever, she tried to get him in the leg or knee with a kick.

To her surprise, she made contact with her foot and got his left shin pretty hard. In the fraction of a second it took for energy to move his left leg moved back and away with her kick, his hips stiffened and his right foot planted. His shoulders went in and down as the left leg came up from behind. That brought up his left elbow so the back of it caught Janis in the nose. Janis didn’t know what hit her. It felt like she was just kicked in the face, which was partially correct.

“That was dirty Marcos.” Saliss announced from her stool. “Look at her she’s been through so much and here you are…playing around…”

“Well it will take more than determination if you want to win a fight.” Marcos retorted as he retreated to the pack. “You have to be ready to die if you fail.” He added quietly.

***********

“Again, do we really need to go over all of this now?” Janis bemoaned.

“Context,” Ruegin answered as Janis gave her look of pained humiliation.

Ein made a point, “Listen you were bad back then and Marcos toyed with you, I get it. You get better, and we have to realize what you were before to see the changes now.”

“That Saliss was something else back then though huh?”

“Her motto was ‘You don’t need to worry that an honest may be smarter than you, but worry that a man is smart enough to appear honest’. I think it was after her third or forth husband had died under suspicious circumstances they called her ‘Saliss of Sweet Dreams’. Of all the royals, she loved Marcos the most. Even though, or perhaps because of the fact he never would say no to her.”

“Well he wasn’t romantically involved with her back then. None of us were.” Janis spouted.

“Nossin is going to lose her place,” Kaarthen chimed in.


*******


After a few more throws with strikes mixed in, Marcos had the tent set up just as Janis passed out and slept fitfully.

*******

“See that all she had to say from the beginning,” Janis hissed, “That girl talks too much.”

*******


When she was awakened, the moon was out and Saliss stood over her with a mischievous grin. “Come, let us ladies walk while Marcos hunts for dinner.”

Walking through the clearing to the forest, they came over to a clear stream just as it ran into a pond. The full light of the moon illuminated the area. The soft ground, and mossy undergrowth gave the area a serene beauty in the blue light.

“Your speech earlier touched my heart, and your determination would put many gallant knights to shame.” Saliss said sitting on a large moss covered log and motioning her to sit. “It touched Marcos too. Towards the end, I think he was smiling even.”

“Pfff…” Janis snorted as best she could with her swollen face. She had seen his grin too but she though it had more to do with the punches and kicks he was raining down on her.

“Before you met us I’m sure you practiced a lot to get stronger. I have heard about what Amazons go through. You must have tried really hard haven’t you?” Saliss asked leaning in.

“Yes, but I could never move as well as the others. After a certain point, it all gets harder and harder. I can’t breathe and my body gets numb. I don’t get stronger. I can only run as fast as the young girls in my village, and I’m weaker than many of them.”

“Ah, that sounds like your blood isn’t moving right.” Saliss remarked. When Janis looked at her quizzically she explained further. “When we looked at you earlier, Marcos noticed the pulse in your arms are weak. I didn’t check your legs, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it there too. Sometimes people are born with…well the blood gets pinched in your body. Anything more than everyday activities and you’ll feel the constriction.”

Janis thought on this. “You probably fainted from exhaustion earlier too, it didn’t seem like it, but Marcos was taking it easy except that one time.” Saliss continued. “It’s impossible for you to get stronger. Just go off and have your children somewhere with a strong man.”

Janis hissed and bolted to her feet with balled fists at her sides. “I won’t do that! I haven’t listened to them, and I won’t listen to you! If I won’t grow stronger then I will die doing what little I can! You expect me to just give up, rely on others, and spread my legs for some protection? Who will take me?! I’m tired of my disgusting pathetic life! I want to change!”

For a long moment, both women stayed quiet looking eye to eye. Around them, the glade was silent as they reflected on themselves. Then without warning, the mood of Saliss’s face changed and she softened some. “Well there is one way...”

She reached into the neck of her robe and pulled up a little vial dangling off a thin silvery chain. Using both hands, she snapped the chain and handed it to Janis.

“What is this?” Janis said looking at the vial filled with black liquid. Though slightly wider and shorter than a finger it was very heavy. In the bluish light of the moon it darkened her cupped hands.

“This special medicine will show you a new world. If you are happy with your life, or you can find happiness, you shouldn’t take it. If you do drink it, then whether you like it or not, you will enter a completely different world.”

“Then the blood flow thing can be fixed?” Janis asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Saliss nodded then leaned in close covering the vial in her hand. “There is one other thing though.”

“Um…what is it?” Janis asked breathlessly. Already visions of victory were carrying her away and clouding her judgment.

“Well, only a fraction of people can survive. Most others die, or go quite insane I’ve read.”

“Eh?” Janis snapped her head up and nearly dropped the vial. Saliss kept her hands from moving.

“I’ve been told it was something like a one in five chance. You’ll be fine, but you should know the costs.” Saliss said flatly looking deep into her eyes and sitting back pulling her hands away.

“But I’ll be better?” Janis asked quietly staring intently at the vial.

“Yes…” Saliss giggled in her ear as she leaned in closed to whisper into the intrigued girl’s ear. “No one will ever call you weak again…”


********

“So what was in it?” Asked Ruegin leaning in.

“Don’t ask her questions right now.”

“She’ll forget later,” Ruegin pouted.

“It was Master’s blood during the height of an orgasm, and harvested exactly at midnight.” Ein offered as if she knew.

Ruegin bolted upright. “Really?”

“Yes, His blood, and four parts Myhn resin to assist absorption.” Nossin replied slowly. “Forbidden art: Two poisons to make a medicine, or two ways to die make one way to live.”

Ein shrugged. “I didn’t know, sounds good though.”

“It tasted like nothing,” Janis said puckering her face. “My whole mouth went instantly numb like it was cold.”


********


When Marcos got back to the campsite he was immediately irritated it had been left alone by his princess. “Where did she traipse off too?” He asked himself looking around at the abandoned site.

He had bought some vegetables, caught a rabbit, and another animal he wasn’t familiar with yet. Sitting down on Saliss’s three legged ‘throne’, he took a closer look at the mystery animal and started skinning it.

Caught up in his new discovery he barely noted Saliss returning and dropping something heavy on the blankets.

“Hey, Marcos?” He recognized the tension in her voice. He turned to his ward already fearing the worst.

“Umm… can you take a look at some thing for me?” Saliss asked giving him her rarely seen puppy dog look.

Ambling over after making sure he could spare a moment from his cooking, Marcos came around to her and found Janis on the ground red from head to toe sweating profusely. The body of the once skinny girl was grotesquely swollen as she struggled to breath.

“What the-?!?” Marcos shouted in surprise. “What happened? What the shit-”

“We were by the water at the edge of the clearing on the other side of the trees.” Saliss started. “She said she felt sick and fainted. Maybe she was having a reaction to a bite or the food?”

“Did she eat something?” Marcos asked bringing out a waterskin and looking around. “Where- What happened?”

“No- well she was showing me mushrooms and plants we could eat.”

“What? What was it?” Marcos asked turning to her. “Did you-”

Saliss leaned past him and pointed at Janis as she started to convulse. “Marcos look!”

Marcos casually looked over. “What? It’s probably an allergy. She shouldn’t have been picking shit at night.”


He straightened, looked at the pot before looking back, and preparing to stand. “Well this is how the stupid ones learn. By the way Saliss, did you eat-?”

He stopped short looking at her, there was intensity in her eyes. “No. Marcos, don’t worry about the food, just help her okay?” Saliss grabbed him be for he could move away. “Really look at her. Okay?”

It was then that he noticed Saliss had taken Janis’s left hand as she sat with the girl. Taking her other hand, Marcos noticed a few things. First, an odd type of familiarity seemed to connect him to the girl. Secondly, he felt her power, or more precisely, he felt the energy she had all over her body backing up with nowhere to go. The energy following through the blood vessels, muscle fibers, and nerves of her body wasn’t being contained. Like a river behind a dam, it had flooding its banks it had become more akin to a lake. The excessive energy made changes to her as it saturated her body. Under the sheets of sweat, her struggling body was showing the stress it was under to contain the torrent.

“She’s going to burn up like this. How did she gather so much energy?” Marcos asked aghast as he realized what was happening.

“What can you do? Can you help?” Saliss prodded. “Can you try to curb it and contain it?”

Marcos closed his eyes and leaned over her with his hands on her head and stomach. “…I can try. She’s under a lot of tension.” As his body made the connection, the energy coursed through him too as it tried to seek a balance of pressures.

Two bodies, two spirit energies, and two minds worked. One set was in anguishing pain as it flailed in an inescapable pool of searing energy. The other floated above warily as it tried to help without being pulled in. Janis didn’t know the name of the other as she felt it loom over her, but she learned what the being was beyond words.

As Marcos tried to balance her, his stronger consciousness connected with her body to strengthen it. Her form grew outward and lengthened as he added dimensions to her petite frame. Muscles were added to burn more energy. The circulation of blood and air throughout her body was improved to allow the energy that flowed within her an easier path with less friction. Everywhere Marcos’s adapted senses found struggling places inundated with rogue energy pooling threatening to burst. He turned the stagnant potential energy into working energy and redesigned a new efficient body before turning the stored energy loose to rebuild her.

Finally, her body was changed as much as he dared. She could breathe easier, movement was more dexterous with larger and more efficient muscles. Energy circulated throughout her entire body seeking balance along every fiber of her being in waves that were bounced and reflected not unlike the gentle controlled waves within a reflecting pool’s walls.

Now no one place had an overflow. Her center where the energy resided and circulated from was expanded to become larger than her physical body. If someone with the ability looked at her, they would have had to cover their eyes. She would appear to them as if she were standing in the middle of a blazing fire of golden light.

Leaving her body after watching her energy complete a few cycles he slowly surfaced. Opening his eyes finally, Marcos looked at any outward changes he had made. Her once cherry red skin flushed with blood had eased but remained a brick like reddish hue from the damage it took initially. Her skinny frame been stretched taller, and her once scrawny limbs had thickened with several layers of large, healthy, feminine, energy burning muscles. Her body had grown to become quite shapely and mature. Her calves became shapely tight defined bulges. Her quadriceps in front had grown substantially and counterbalanced her two swelling globes of her ass. Her back and torso had tightened giving her a natural arch as she lay before him. Her breasts had swelled to huge tear-drops that were as perfect as he could make them. They dominated her chest with their dark brown nipples as increased storage for energy.

“Are you done already?” Saliss asked looking at Marcos quizzically. He seemed to shimmer as though he was about to disappear from this plane.

“If her energy wasn’t so easy to work with and intuitive to what I was doing then the result would have been much different.” Marcos moaned. He looked around to note barely an hour had passed. “I need rest.”

Saliss thought on that for a moment. “Will she be okay?”

Marcos waited a moment before answering. “…her mind isn’t ready or this, and neither is her body. Her spirit is strong now. Through her spirit, she’ll have enough power over herself to stop her own heart. But she doesn’t have the mental disciple to control all that. Her body can keep up now, but barely. But if she panics, her body will follow her will. If she is not in control of herself by then, she could tear herself apart.”

“Well I think you should take a well deserved rest.” Saliss said moving to cover herself and Janis with a blanket. “I’m glad we’ll be able to stay here one more night. She’ll need new clothes. We can’t have a champion of justice fighting in rags.”

“…she can’t do all that…” Marcos started to protest before falling asleep on the other side of her.

“She will after you train her…” Saliss whispered to herself as she snuggled against Janis’s warm body.

The next morning, Saliss awoke to find Janis looking at herself in wonder. She had uncovered herself and looked at her naked arms, legs, and chest in wonder as she sat up next to Saliss.

“It worked!” Janis blurted.

“Shhh…” Saliss cautioned sitting up. She took one of Janis’s hands and looked into her eyes. “The miracle medicine mushrooms you ate must have been the real deal.” She said slowly and evenly.

Janis looked at her confused but didn’t say anything as Saliss continued. “That’s what happened. Thankfully, now you are strong enough now that you can train. In fact, when Marcos wakes up he’ll tell you how badly you need too. I should go get some clothes for you though…” She muttered looking Janis over closely.

Janis’s new form had stretched and split the rags she had worn to shreds. The contrasting light grey cloth and her reddish skin made it plain to see that she had a perfect body that was displayed for anyone in the clearing who was close and cared to look.

“Eep!” Janis blushed pulling her blankets in tight. The fabric split over her back as she wrapped herself in it. “Huh?”

“Don’t worry…” Saliss said noting her confusion. “Take it easy, your body is stronger, a lot stronger actually, and you’re not used to it. You literally don’t know your own strength.”

Janis looked at her fearfully, “Was this supposed to-”

Pushing her face forward, Saliss made sure she got Janis’s attention. “Does it matter? Won’t it help you? You’ll get used to it. You just woke up. Now just stay here and when I get back I’ll help you.” Saliss quickly started dressing and rushed to the road into town.

Janis watched her leave apprehensively. Looking around at her surroundings, she noticed her vision was so much better now. Her eyes landed on Marcos sleeping on her other side. There was an odd familiarity about him, like she was seeing someone with an identical sword, or perhaps someone that she had met intimately before.

Leaning in she puzzled over the sensation. It wasn’t the awe or interest like when she saw him fighting. Nor was it a tingly warming sensation of tightness she felt when he stood before her naked. That was merely lust over the proximity of something so potent, and powerful.

She stopped herself as she rolled her face within inches from his. She never had been so self aware before. She could understand her feelings now, and see what they were exactly. No longer were her feelings the amalgam of sensations that had driven her all her adult life to react this way or that unwittingly. Although she didn’t know why or how, Marcos was very familiar to her now.

The thought lodged in her heart with a fluttery feeling that stirred in her breast. She was now conscious of the bond the rest of her body seemed to be acting on already. Now that she was aware of it, her mind coveted the idea that they had a bond. Instincts leading towards pair bonding behavior leapt out.

Janis watched those thoughts unraveled before her. Small feelings she would have missed before were explained before they combined into complex thoughts. The desire to stay close to him, made her shift closer until she could smell his body. The desire to continue touching him, made her rub the shoulder nearest her. The need to see him happy with her, made her pick some of the grass from his hair.

It was as though she was seeing the dancers practicing and preparing before they came out to the fore-front of her mind to perform. There were now no surprise urges that would make her question herself because of unfathomable attitudes, or inexplicable behaviors. No foul moods, or depressions that would pop up and take her hostage.

Pushing that other stuff away she concentrated on what she wanted from him, and what she already knew. She wanted Marcos to teach her something and would need his attention for that. He was stronger than her. He was attractive, and what she figured to be well endowed.

Saliss’s behavior showed she wasn’t aggressively pursuing him. The blonde allowed him to see her exposed body regularly. In addition, she didn’t mind sharing a bed naked with him even though he was he bodyguard. Janis was also fairly certain for some reason that neither one was interested in being partnered together. Saliss did however seem to consider him a superior/excellent mate.

Janis had also noticed Saliss considers him completely reliable. After witnessing how powerful he was, one could be considered safe if Marcos had an interest in protecting them. Conversely, if he wanted to, he could rape or kill her quite easily. However, in that type of situation, she wouldn’t pointlessly fight him. Instead, she would offer herself freely after ensuring she could continue to stay and learn from him. That would be a worthy trade. After all, why die a weak virgin, or worse have it taken from you without benefit from some inferior men?

Whatever changes in behavior were necessary to ensure he didn’t become violent with her were carefully considered as she rested her heavy breasts on his shoulder and pondered.

Suddenly her senses told her she was being watched. Without turning her head, she could feel two men close in from the road to her left. Both were walking wobbly in her mind’s eye as they stumbled up through the grass to the blankets to get a closer look at her.

“Oi, Just the thing,” One said. Janis sat back and turned to put faces with the energy she was reading. They looked like they had been out all night. Both wore grayish farmer’s homespun wool clothing spattered with food, drink, and sweat stains. One was younger with light hair and fair complexion. The other was equally fair but seemed to be in his fifties with shaggy hair and a bit of a pear shape.

The drunken men yelled at each other as she watched. “I told you this is the whore’s camp. We ain’t seen this one yet though.”

She was aware of her body remembering the fear and terror from her earlier treatment at the hands of Garec. She felt her heart race, and her muscles tightening up. As she struggled to push against the paralyzing feeling creeping into her mind, one side of her cursed herself for sitting around wearing nearly nothing. Of course, these fools thought she was offering herself for sex.

“Perhaps another time.” Janis said after finding a voice. She hated to make what sounded like a promise, but knowing outright refusal would make these drunks angry, she planted her bottom down in the blankets and tried to reason with them. “I need to wake up and wash same as everyone.”

“Well you could make some money by just staying still.” The elder of the two men offered stepping forward grabbing his crotch.

Janis blushed and pulled up the blankets around her. “You wouldn’t want me today…”

“Ahh…Oh.” Said the younger one picking up what she implied.

She had only turned her head to face them. Looking over her shoulder was the best she could do since her breasts were much larger now, and hung down past her torn blouse swinging freely. Unfortunately, to them, she was just appearing to act chaste. Their minds were already concentrating on their cocks and their libidos were inflamed by her actions.

‘I’ll be damned if this is my fault.’ Janis thought.

“I am not working.” She said flatly. Then added after a moment, “Ask the other girl when she gets here.” Saliss would know what to do.

“Awww,” the older and dumber of the two said. “You’re already naked and comfortable, can’t you do something for us?”

“Just go.” Janis said turning to confront them head on. For a second they were silent and their eyes dropped to her rocking breasts as her swaying nipples grabbed their attention.

“hu hu…” The smart one giggled. “That’s nice. Well if you’re not going to give us more, thanks for the free show.” He said turning. The other man stayed rooted to his spot.

“I ain’t got no money anyway.” He grumbled fumbling with his crotch. “You’re gonna suck this cuz you’re too good a whore to ignore.” He said stepping onto the blanket looking down on her.

Moving quickly, she stood to face him and tightened her jaw till it hurt. “Go away! There is nothing for you here.” She tried to say but her voice cracked making the man before her grin.

“Come on Hime, you got a wife. If you get the rot and bring it to her she’ll kill you dead.” The second man said. He couldn’t see the intensity in Hime’s eyes as he and Janis stayed locked in a battle of wills.

For a faint moment, Janis could feel the energy of his hand build as he flexed it into a fist. The energy went up his arm and tightened his shoulder and bicep.

‘He’s gonna hit me. He’s really gonna-’

Janis moved to react as he released the tension and shot out his hand. He tried for her gut to drop her to her knees, but at the same time, Janis tried to block her face. Her hands flew up making their arms tangle instead of either one striking or blocking.

“Che-” Hime stepped back and came in with his other arm trying to hook her in the jaw. Janis saw it but couldn’t react properly with the new information she was seeing. As she blocked low, his fist connected.

She stumbled back less out of pain than shock. She had expected to fall from the hit, and she had almost let her knees go out. Not feeling anything save the jolt against her head, she straightened and looked at him defiantly. He could see the inner resolve in her eyes and the flaring intensity of confidence as she realized he couldn’t hurt her. She was stronger than him now.

He tried to hit her again and from a cool almost disinterested part of her mind, she swatted his fist away. Without the earlier panic, she could see him move without fear and panic clouding her judgment. Reeling back, he gave her a straight leg kick that would’ve buckled her knee. Rather than her falling in pain and ending the fight, he was launched away as she stood steady and still like a statue.

“Stay back, I’m warning you.” Janis growled at him even as he jumped at her.

She stood her ground and braced for impact but this time was different. A metallic taste filled her mouth and her arm ached. Looking down, she saw a small knife in the back of her arm just below the shoulder. Her muscles ached with sharp pain as they tightened around the intruding metal.

“Ah-” Janis exhaled half shocked.

“Now you know you should’ve listened.” The man said growled as he started to push her down to her knees.

With a roar, Janis shook him off and spun her arm up in a blur to knock his head off.

“Stop.” An even voice behind her called freezing her in place.

Janis dared to look and saw Marcos sitting up. His face dripped sweat and he looked half-asleep in the crumpled clothes he had slept in. “You were going to blow off your hand if that connected. Allow me to finish this for you.”

“You the money man?” Hime said with a sneer. “Coward. You can’t even protect your girls. I knew you were awake too, why don’t you do something?”

“Hey Hime,” the second man called “Let’s just go-”

“I’m taking this whore with me! Are you gonna stop me?” Hime shouted at Marcos.

“No, why?” The bodyguard replied almost softly with an odd coldness to his voice.

Hime turned to yell at Janis but he didn’t get the chance. Before her eyes, Janis’s fist that had stopped in mid swing opened and she used her fingers to catch onto the side of Hime’s head and hold him still.

Her other hand came up slowly since the arm was injured. Using the heel of her palm, she thrust up into the center of his chest just below the ribcage. Everything seemed to move slowly as she felt the softness of his body, the obstructing muscles, and the organs within him cave. Energy came up in a bright warm wave from her center. It ran up her chest and out her arm into him a few inches till it found his pulsing heart.

She felt the energy wrap around the slick organ as though poured on to fill the space around his heart. The squishy flesh suddenly turned freezing cold, and in a flash, the lazy flowing energy contracted around it hardening and tightening. His heart struggled with its next beat under the layer of constricting power binding him. If Hime felt something out of the ordinary it was too late.

Just as his heart filled with blood and bottom part contracted, the heavy wrapping of energy was released to explode, destroying the heart and irreparably damaging any soft tissue that had a blood vessel running through it.

In the blink of an eye, she had just killed a man without doing anything herself.

“What-” Janis blurted as the bloody meat sack that was once Hime fell away and flopped back across the ground.

Her mind replayed every detail as she though it all over. There was the feeling of warm energy moving up her arm in a lazy yet purposeful way. That odd coldness that drew it all in like a magnet seemed important. Finally, the instant his heart contracted, and imploded. Then there was the after image of the faint pinkish mist of blood that shot out his black eyes, ears, and nose. It felt like a dream.

“Excellent,” Marcos noted from behind her in a dry whisper. “That was easier than I thought it would be.”

“Hey! What the fuck did you do?” The second man said rushing to his friend Hime who of course hadn’t moved at all since falling like a sack of potatoes.

Janis knew Hime was dead already. Marcos knew Hime was dead too. After a moment, the man came to the same conclusion. “He’s dead! He’s dead! Look at him! What the fuck did you do you crazy bitch!?!”

Janis could tell his emotions were flooding him now. He wasn’t violent yet because his mind was too confused. Fear and anger were there in equal parts far below his shock. If she gave him a reasonable warning to leave her alone, his fear would evaporate. If that happened and his anger took over, Marcos would likely have her kill him too. Directly confronting him would let the fear win out and scare him off.

Hopping forward to stand nearly atop him, he backed away quickly. Fear was already in his eyes when she bent and picked Hime from the ground with one hand. “Take your friend. He should have listened to you.” Janis heard herself say. With a flick of the wrist, she tossed the limp body over so he fell over trying to catch it.

Watching him struggle to scramble off with the body, Janis relaxed and her body was hers again.

“What was that?” Janis asked turning to Marcos who lounged back looking tired but amused. She wasn’t angry with him for possessing her. Or, more truthfully, only a small part of her was angry. Her old feelings of helplessness flared up because she didn’t handle it all herself.

“That was me teaching you your limits.” Marcos said motioning her to sit before him.


******


“Okay what was that really?” Ruegin asked before Ein got the chance.

“I’ve never seen him do that,” Ein muttered wide-eyed.

“It was something he forgot. In the past Marcos knew how to manipulate an innate form of power. He was truly terrifying with it but he forgot that too.” Janis said simply. “I actually learned it all from him, but you all saw how he struggles with it now in this era.”

“huh…” Kaarthen said frowning perplexed.


*******



After sitting back on her knees, Marcos took her hand in both of his and the tension she didn’t realize was there was released throughout her body.

“Whatever you did ramped up your spirit.” He started and closed his eyes.

Janis followed suit and could see a picture herself in her mind’s eye that he was trying to show her. “Mind, body, and spirit. The mind is the you that you project. Sometimes spirit is called the will, the energy, or other things. It is what you want. You think, move, live, and draw your awareness through it.

“You know the body obeys the mind. We walk, talk, and eat because we think too. The spirit is the bridge. If it is weak, the body does not obey. But this is important: if the mind is unfocused the spirit will be confused, and the body will falter. Your spirit is very strong. Its fidelity is enough to give you powerful control over your body. It now even exists outside your body opening your mind to a powerful and unique sixth sense.

He opened his eyes looking her over.

“It is so strong however that you can destroy your hand punching something, or even mangle it just by creating a fist. Your spirit will drive your body to destroy itself if you aren’t careful.

“What you need now is a strong mind to control this power. You need discipline, and some experience so that you know what you are doing to yourself.”
“So… Training?” Janis ventured.

Marcos closed his eyes again. “Yes, but not with swords.”


His concentration changed. Janis’ shoulder wound where Hime had gotten in a lucky shot with his knife came into view. He showed her a view of her arm through and under the skin. She saw the energy flowing in the blood, along muscles, and nerves. The cut was a tingly gap with sparkly edges that went in deep.

“Look at this gash. As bad as it is, you don’t even bleed because the energy of your body bound to the blood is fixed within you. The body’s healing processes have been sped up by your copious amounts of energy reserves. You have enough energy to heal yourself. I will demonstrate and pull your power along to align it. Witness…”

A clump built up in her navel before moving up to the armpit and down to the arm’s wound. Once it met the wound, it stopped and just sat surrounding it. The wound tightened and pinched shut and started to heal. After a moment, it was done and completely healed. The gathered energy once released added itself seamlessly to the rest of her body.

“Pulling energy is a simple task with so much. After pinching the wound closed, you saw the body take over and the spirit energy accelerate the healing. When you rest, you will replenish your energy. The more you have, the faster that process of replenishment will be. As you lose energy however, you will feel a steep decline in ability until you are able to rest.

“You must understand that your will is strong but the flesh is weak. Average men will not have enough strength to hurt you. But as you saw, once he cut you, everything changed. You will have to harden your mind to be a more perfect master of your spirit. You will have to meditate to gain insight into yourself to learn and understand what you are capable of.

“I also want you to know that fear, confusion, panic, and ignorance are your worst enemies. Fighting at this level is no longer about strength, or even weapons. Barehanded, you can kill very easily now. But again, even if the strongest person is panicked, unfocused, confused, or blind with rage, they become just a normal and easily dispatched human being. The strongest enemies you will meet are also those that understand that.

“To at their level you will need to find their weakness, and exploit it while they are trying to do the same to you. You will need to stay focused even in your unguarded moments. You should start that now. Let me show you how by concentrating on your breathing you can be in control of the rest of your body. If you’re in a panic slowing your breathing will force you to calm down and pull you back from thoughtless reacting that takes away all your advantages.

“So let’s start now. Exhale and breathe in for three, hold for three, release for three, and hold again for three more. I don’t usually do the holds for that long but right now let’s do the basics. If you would like, try to concentrate on your inhales by pulling in energy to a place deep below your belly button. Try it once.”

Janis took a long deep breath and focused on her gut as it inflated. It felt slightly different like something tickled but she couldn’t tell if it was right. Marcos’ hand fell on the top of her breast and slid down to her navel.

“That’s good you’re not easily distracted. Keep going like that. You’ll feel a tickle almost in your bladder sometimes when you do it. Concentrate on holding it in even as you exhale. Now, give me your hands, we are going to breathe together.”

Saliss returned a few hours later with an outfit for Janis. Her excuse for taking so long was she had to ‘raise the funds’. She hadn’t left that morning with any money so everything was earned from clever dealings in town.

The outfit was best described as skimpy. Soft leather boots came up past the knees, but unfortunately, Janis couldn’t squeeze into the pants and had to rig up a loincloth from the dirty grey shreds she had worn earlier. Up top, was a blouse of purple silk that was tight across her breasts and very loose down her arms. With her dagger, she looked like a dancer. As Marcos’s eyes moved over her body for the dozenth time, she finally spoke up knowing any minute now some idiot was going to come by and proposition her.

“We should be training,” Janis said standing up knowing Marcos’ gaze was following her every move. “Train me.”

“Hmm…” Marcos stood with her and didn’t bother to hide the adjustments he made for his erection. “Come with me.” Turning, he led them down near the water beyond the trees that lined the clearing of the campsite. Finding a large oak and inspecting it, he turned and gave her an assignment.

“Your next task will be to strengthen your body. Breathing can keep you calm so you don’t do anything stupid while panicking. But, knowing your limits keeps you from unwittingly damaging yourself, and toughening your body will make damage less likely. I want you to be able to use your body to the fullest as quickly as possible. That means hardening your hand, wrist, and fingers so you don’t destroy them trying to punch someone. Witness”

He turned to a nearby tree and with exaggerated smoothness punched it slowly three times with each hand rocking left to right.

“Nothing tricky,” Marcos informed her. “Just straight punches as you breathe like I taught you. You will also concentrate on what your hands tell you, and remember to pull them back to be ready to guard your body. You can go up in strength once you get a feel for it. It will hurt a little but pay attention to if you are actually hurting yourself. One day we will work to deaden your nerves, but first we’ll do this to teach you your limits. Pay attention because you can kill yourself in a fight if you fail to get down the proper basics.”

Janis nodded and squared up to the tree. “Start your breathing first and begin once you’re in rhythm.” Marcos coached her as he moved back.

For what felt like hours, Janis was taught combinations of strikes with the knees, elbows, back kicks, side kicks, straight leg kicks, all manners of punches.

As she zoned out during the punches she started to remember the fight with Hime. The feeling of time slowing was unnoticeable as she concentrated on the feeling of energy moving up through her chest and out her arm.

**Zzzch** Janis woke up feeling a pain in her hand. The energy had came up into her hand then it wouldn’t go further until it dissipated right on the surface of her skin as she hit the tree.

“Impressive.” Marcos noted from back behind her. “Believe it or not but that was the basis of external energy. Witness.”

“Pulling the energy to the skin strengthens you. It is a technique to defend against another person’s energy. Once you push it out of your body you must visualize what is happening.” Marcos raised a hand and a glowing ball appeared. “Remember this is an extension of your spirit energy directed by your mind. So raise the energy to your hand and visualize a ball lifting off and taking shape.”

Janis tried to lift the energy off but it resisted and stuck to her hand. A glowing white puddle pulsed in her palm as she tried to give it form.

“Don’t worry some have a better time visualizing outside of themselves. It gives them flexibility. See yourself outside your body and push the surrounding energy into a ball in front of your mind’s eye.”

Janis tried it that way closing her eyes. Like before when she knew her pose on the blankets from Hime’s perspective, she saw first herself then her surroundings from a few yards up over her shoulder. Coming in closer, she swung down over Marcos’s shoulder and looked at her body. Standing completely still, she looked drugged as she breathed slowly. Janis cursed Saliss again for getting her dressed like that. Now she knew where Marcos had been looking all this time. Because of her chubby ass and muscular legs, she couldn’t at least wear the pants. Her breasts, hips, and legs were all either exposed or outlined in lewd detail. From the angle Marcos was standing her entire left breast was visible through the gap of her shirt.

Janis watched as her easily visible nipples started to harden in the silk blouse and gave a mental shrug.

‘Concentrate. Form a ball.’ Slowly she pulled in energy from what felt like the void of air around her. Switching tactics, she made a cold speck in the center to attract energy and tried to push energy into it.

“Excellent,” Marcos said suddenly.

After what seemed like an eternity of pushing and pulling on nothing, Janis had hardly worked up enough energy to glow faintly.

“That is called ‘Air herding’ for obvious reasons. Energy seeks a balanced state in the world just as it does in our bodies. It is very diffuse to be spread evenly in the huge world around us. A few places have a large enough ‘furnace’ to disrupt the environment and fill a place with more energy.

“As you noticed, you need a lot of air in order to build up a workable amount of energy. This is why breathing exercises and meditation are important. They are forms of air herding that uses your physical body collect and absorb energy as you pull it in with each breath. By filling up on it, you have more to use later. This also builds the mental control needed to handle it later. You have a lot more spirit than anyone will ever have in a lifetime so you will need to make sure you’re in control.

“Now return to your body. I’m sure you are interested in this free floating view so try out different things later. I will show you a few things and then let you practice on your own while I check on Saliss.”

Janis popped back into her body. Marcos stood in front of her and eyed her chest from time to time as he continued to explain. “Now try and draw energy like your herding it. Pull from the direction of your palm as you push the energy up and out of your hand. Attract and repel just like free air herding.

Slowly the energy came out. It glowed brilliantly compared to what she had made earlier. “Very good. Doing air herding first has taught you to compact your energy tightly and keep it neat.”

Janis beamed at the compliment. Real progress felt good.

“Spreading that energy out in front of your fist will give you a harder punch. It will be enough to put anyone down. In fact, I want you to learn it now. Try it out and remember it. It will keep you from shattering your hand.”

Marcos demonstrated a glowing bar like a wide brass knuckle over his fingers. “Done properly and with practice, this will be the only punch you ever throw. In fact, I will train you to the point where it will be difficult for you to not shield your fist.”

He shifted to create a foot and a half tall fountain coming out of his fist that circulated energy out to a point before it came down the sides in a wide glowing cone that engulfed his hand to the elbow. “This is a style for penetration. Focusing on a tight high-energy point will allow you to go through anything. Aside from the punch, this will be a devastating number two. Be careful where you use it. Even an enemy’s armor can be opened with this. This separate style opens a path from your center up and out your arm to several points by the elbow. You must spread it around evenly as it flows down, or you will create and imperfect form with weak spots. If you get skilled enough however you can re-circulate a controlled amount of energy so that these projections can be held indefinitely. Doing that will allow you to fight longer.”

His lance changed into a sword where the energy fell back only along two bright edges that ended at his wrist.

“This sword will cut flesh well enough, but, it is useless against the real thing. In fact aside from the punch that lance will be the most useful. Feel free to invent though.” Marcos said somberly. After a moment, he changed the sword to a three bladed triangular design similar to the lance. “These projections should be wielded as a last resort. They should pop out as you swing in a surprise attack. Normal people won’t understand an energy attack at first if they saw it but they will learn if their life is on the line and they’ve been given the chance. If seen enough times they will defend against it and maybe even find a counter. Never let people know what you’re capable of doing.

“Deception is the key to individual warfare. These things I’m showing you aren’t meant to be used in fighting, with they are meant to end fights. The first time you use it on someone it should be the last surprise they ever see. Practice the fist until I come back. Think about the principles behind the lance. Later on, I’ll have you consider how you would try to create projectiles to attack at range. Everyone has their own style depending on what they want from it. This is something you should get a feel for yourself.”

Marcos ambled back to the campsite. As he took his seat, he noted the tension in the air. Saliss sat unusually straight backed on her stool. “Were you hungry?” Marcos asked.

“Yes, however I also think you should tell me about the fight you had.” Saliss replied without turning around.

“Hmm… Janis fought off a few men this morning. Have they come back?”

“They were looking for her. They were angry too. I… almost had to hurt one.” She raised a thin black poisoned stiletto.

Marcos got up and came around in front of her. Saliss as always was immaculate in her rich velvet purple robe but still she needed a hug. After a moment he pulled back and gave her a long inspection, He could see nothing wrong. “So what happened after that?”

“An interesting man hung back after they left asking who taught us ‘filthy women’ the ‘holy arts’ of his home land. He stayed back but he made it clear he would be watching…” Saliss looked up at him so he could see into her ice-cold blue eyes. “Marcos, I think he saw past our cover. He mentioned some thing about us being ‘death worshippers’. Didn’t grand Uncle Mariuan fight a long war to kill the people who spoke such words?”

Marcos nodded. “The Mestapin Clan. The war was quite short but pretty bloody for just a simple eradication of a cult, and a clan. It was short enough that someone who knew their art could have hid and been overlooked. He would’ve had to be very young though to be alive now. We were quite thorough in our purge though. I will stay close.”

Saliss relaxed as the information gave her understanding. “I think that is why we’re out here though. The Goddess has brought us this enemy. I want to remove that man, and find out where else they are. Let’s follow this group as they head north, and find out what we can of the person. I only wish I had seen a face…”

Marcos backed away and finished cooking while keeping an eye on his charge. Saliss had been pushing pretty hard to go north, and now this... Zealotry was never a good sign. Mestapin was a victim of it, they were a well rounded enemy that wasn’t above using the shadows. They were a people similar and yet very dissimilar to his own. The clan had taken the full brunt of his country’s aggression and only their neighbors lived to tell about it.

After he finished cooking, Marcos looked up but noticed Saliss was still thinking to herself. “Saliss, I’m going to go get Janis. Keep an eye out, and arm yourself if you haven’t already.” Marcos didn’t need to tell her much else since no one cared more about Saliss’s health than Saliss.

Down by the trees, Janis had worked up a sweat beating her fist against the trees. “Hey take a break it’s after midday.” Marcos called. Janis was improving pretty fast. Several parts of the tree had burns, and a few other trees had gouges in their bark. “What have you picked you so far?” He asked as they headed back.

“I got the punches down, and I can do the projections but the timing is wrong.” Janis replied breathlessly.

“That’s pretty fast.” Marcos said genuinely impressed. They began to walk back through the trees towards the camp. “So are you ready to fight?”

“I…I can’t yet! I don’t know how to-” Janis protested.

“Look you’ll have to at least spar to learn how to move your body around an opponent.” Marcos said slowly, “Besides this power of yours should only be a backup to augment your own strength. You’ll also get a chance to become quite familiar with healing yourself.”

“Right…” Janis grudgingly agreed while still giving it thought. “Well I guess-”

“Good!” Marcos pounced, “I’m glad you haven’t started to become a coward with your strength. Take the guy who was watching you down there while you were practicing. After seeing your strength for himself, he wouldn’t come out and fight. Isn’t that right!?” Marcos shouted and whirled around.

“Wha-?” Janis gasped turning to see what he was looking for.

“I see, you are the master…” A voice called from above them in the trees. “I should be glad of this chance to punish you…Instead I wonder what else you can show me…”

“You disrespectful knave, if you want training show yourself. Your ancestors are crying out knowing all that’s left is a coward.” Marcos shouted. “If you want to see the lost arts you’ll have to ask my student nicely and perhaps she will show you!”

A small body dropped out of the trees before them. Standing about shoulder height it wore a light grey outfit with dark leather boots. Looking closely Marcos was surprised to see it was a young woman with dark eyes to go with her long black braided ponytail that reached past her hips. In her hand was a short sword. Several throwing knives were ready in her other hand.

“You’re too young, too young to have learned the arts. Where is your master child?” Marcos growled icily as he realized his old enemies were multiplying behind his back.

“My father was a student when the death worshippers came and wiped away the clan. He is long gone. Now I am here to avenge his shame, and our clan’s name.”

Marcos reached through a sleeve in his robe and pulled a sword from a holster on his back. Janis recognized it as the straight edged blade the army of Menthino carried. Heavier and slightly longer than average, it was completely black except at the blade’s edge where it was polished to a shine. “Well child introduce yourself.”

The small woman straightened. “I am Paer of the militant family of Canes in the true clan of the Mestapins. My art is the true mind of light. I will punish you for stealing our style!”

Marcos nodded absently then turned to Janis when Paer was done. “Well, remember to watch her energy. Remain calm and you’ll be able to see, and react.” He handed the blade over to Janis. “Keep your introduction short.”

Janis took the blade’s handle and raised it to her nose in salute in the Amazonian style as she watched her adversary over the blade. “I am Janis of the shattered grey rock enclave. My art is new…Witness my strength.” She finished in the Amazonian manner as though this was a sparring match and ventured a look at Marcos.

“Don’t look at me. Kill, or capture her. I want to know how big her family is!” Marcos said jumping back.

Janis turned to Paes just as the small woman charged. Janis set her feet and watched the woman advance. Her mind fought to calm down as she squeezed the blade tight in her hands. When Paes came in close, Janis swung and stepped through as she was taught all her life in the enclave. The small woman blocked with a dagger and took her own swing over Janis’s sword.

In a flurry, Janis almost dropped the sword to grab the incoming hand, and jump back at the same time. Shaking her head she found herself several feet back, and jumped to the side just in time to avoid a dagger thrown by Paes.

“Maybe I should call you happy feet. Remember to breath, and panicky things like that won’t happen.” Marcos admonished.

Trying to keep calm, Janis started the rhythm of breathing out of her mouth and tried to ignore the burning feeling in her cheeks. As she breathed, her body relaxed and she started to feel clear headed and normal. Paes advanced warily noticing the change in the Amazon’s demeanor.

Janis started to think more critically about her position, as the small woman started circling to charge from four paces away. As she came in Janis did the calculations and realized her last step would be on her left foot just as before.

Sure enough as Paes’s left foot hit the ground, the small woman swung cleaving down from right to left. Janis was already moving, and swung her blade up in a powerful two handed swing as she stepped out around the smaller woman’s right side behind her.

Paes quickly lowered her center of gravity and tried to block. Janis’s superior weight and strength allowed her to absorb the impact and sweep the small woman up and away. Again, the small woman threw a dart as she landed and found distance between them. Janis merely leaned to the side to dodge and watched Paes turn tail to run towards a tree.

Looking up she saw a low branch on the tree Paes was moving towards and jumped for it without thinking. It surprised her when her vision shifted to over the tree branch watching Paes as she closed in on the trunk. “shit.” Janis muttered pulling back to her body.

Looking forward, she saw Paes had stopped and leaned against the tree trunk. Turning around, the small woman had a tense worried look about her. Janis stepped forward remembering to breath. Expecting any manner of trap or trick, her vision was clear and steady as she came forward and stopped to look at Paes closer.

The small woman had broken into a cold sweat suddenly. Her face still looked tense as she stood with her feet together, knees bent, slightly stooped with a hand behind her.

“What did you do to me!?” Paes shouted enraged and breathless. The sound of her bowels shifting and slipping accompanied the smell.

“Hmm…” Janis was suddenly not all that impressed with her opponent.

Marcos stepped in from nowhere suddenly and walked up from behind them. “Amazing, I suppose that was by accident?”

Paes still tried to face them, and raised her short sword defensively as she tried to keep from shitting herself.

“What did you do to her?” Marcos asked plainly curious.

Janis thought back and replayed the last few seconds of the fight. “When she ran for the tree, I knew she would climb it or something so I looked at a low branch and tried to jump over to it. When I realized I jumped out of my body instead, I was annoyed and jumped back.”

“That’s it?” Marcos said flatly walking up to grab Paes by the ponytail before she could waddle away. “Was that really all you did? There was nothing more to it? The body doesn’t usually do that in the middle of stressful situations. You obviously compelled her to shit herself.”

Janis almost nodded but stopped herself. “I think I said ‘Shit’ when I realized I wasn’t jumping with my body.”

“Well, you see now what can be learned in battle?” Marcos said stepping around her and yanking Paes back by the braid so she fell on her back with a squish.

She moaned and writhed on the ground for a moment then flashed a knife that Marcos promptly kicked out of her hand. “Were you looking at her? How far was she from you when you did it?”

“I was on that branch. I saw her just a few steps before she was going to reach the tree trunk.” Janis replied pointing out parts of the tree. “She seemed to be maybe five or ten feet away as she passed under.”

Marcos took a moment to tie Paes’ arms by the elbows and wrists with her own ponytail as she lay on the ground. He then rolled her over and pulled off her pants and shoes. After delicately searching the pants, he let her relieve herself properly before he got her up to start moving.

“What will you do with her?” Janis asked suddenly feeling guilty. It could have been her.

Marcos thought for a moment. “I’ll let Saliss decide. I could kill her, or I could make you fight to the death again. I’ll have some questions for her before we get to all that though.”

Coming back to camp, they found Saliss eating on her stool. “Foods ready,” She announced apparently over whatever bothered her. “Why did you take so long, and who’s that?”

“She is our militant Mestapinese-Metapiniatian* captive.” Marcos announced as he tied Paes down.

“Why does she stink?” Saliss asked sniffing the air. “I can’t eat around her, give her to the men who keep coming around like I owe them something.” She straightened. “Actually that isn’t that bad. We could generate some money if she was bathed at least. Perhaps even if she’s raw like this too.”

Marcos turned to Paes with a compassionless grin and a blank look in his dark eyes. “You could at least tell me something about yourself if you want this unpleasantness to be avoided.”

The little woman snorted and turned her back to Marcos. Quickly he got up, untied her, and dragged her up by her hair.

“I lost my appetite. I’m going to clean up this nasty girl now before it gets any ideas.” He called back over his shoulder as he towed Paes back down to the water.

Janis watched apprehensively until they disappeared. With nothing to do, she waited in the campsite while Saliss went into town for entertainment. As she waited, she tried jumping out of herself and picked up a trick to focus on something not too far distant and jump out of her body to that point. If she picked a point too far she couldn’t focus right. After 50 feet, it didn’t seem to work even though once ‘out’, she could go anywhere she wanted.

Still bored, her mind’s eye went down the trail to the pond. She found Marcos by himself standing in chest high water. She wasn’t completely shocked when Marcos brought Paes up from underneath the surface. She had a beaten look about her as she wheezed and coughed at the end of Marcos’ arm.

“Come along, you’re clean enough.” Marcos growled. Leaving the water, Janis was again treated to a look at Marcos’ nude form. Paes was also naked although she still had shreds of clothes around her neck and arms.

Pulling Paes to the grass, Marcos stepped behind her and cut her ponytail freeing her arms.

“I thought I would be nice. Just answer my question and don’t try to escape unless you honestly think you can mak-” Marcos was cut short as Paes launched herself at him.

Marcos caught the tiny woman easily and used her momentum to throw her into the ground. Like Janis had been, Paes was determined and got up a few times. Unlike Janis and even Garec, Marcos didn’t throw her up or off to the side. Instead, he guided her energy into the ground at angles steep enough to make her bounce of the mud a few times.

It was as educational as it was cold hearted to watch this woman’s futile struggle. Even after the shock and surprise had worn off Paes still struggled to her feet only to be swept off them.

‘Stop!’ Janis cried out from her ethereal form unable to watch anymore. Marcos looked around then took a jerky step forward but Paes, who lay flat, stayed on the ground. ‘Just tell him what he wants.’ Janis instructed.

Paes got up onto her hands and knees and stopped. Marcos stood in front of her, and he had come so close that she had to stay low in order to keep his groin out of her face. He kneeled down and pulled her head up once it was clear she wasn’t going to move further.

Keeping one hand on her head, Marcos reached back to run his hands over her body. His cock had hardened and now stood from his groin like the spear tip of a charger’s lance. The wide flared head poked her in the side. Janis could see Paes under him trying to twist herself away from it.

“So tell me girl, are you alone? Is anyone going to rescue you, or are you going to have your dreams come true right her right now in this forest?”

Janis watched how as he spoke to her, his cock rubbed her skin to skin. His hips seemed to thrust it into her repeatedly to drive in whatever point he was trying to make.

‘Just tell him.’ Janis pleaded louder.

“Do you hear that now? That whisper compelling you?” Marcos said in a low voice leaning in and pulling Paes in so he could crouch over her further. “Speak girl! You look too scared to talk. All of your training and yet you’ve be reduced to a naked wench shaking in fear!” Marcos shouted suddenly and pushed her head into the mud.

He held her down firmly as she started than eventually stopped fighting him. She whimpered as he rolled her over on her back. Clean streaks were cut through the mud as she cried quietly. Marcos moved over her, slapped her thighs apart so he could settle between them, and her crying picked up.

“You think I’m gonna rape you? You think I’m gonna abuse you as a woman? You quit fighting so you must want this don’t you?!” He leaned over her and rubbed handfuls of mud into her face and hair. His long cock pushed up along her cleft as he covered her body with his. Her body was heating and starting to moisten under him. “I wouldn’t waste my time with a dirty amateur like you. You would only make weak children only good for getting wet on someone’s sword. I bet you think that’s why you’re here. What a slut you become when fighting isn’t an option.”

Compelled to stay still and completely petrified of Marcos, Paes could only shiver as he grabbed at her throat and raised himself over her so his cock pushed against her so insistently that it started to part the puffy lips of her sex. As she got frantic and clawed at his hands it slipped down under her crotch.

“You are nothing without your little knives. You aren’t even a decent woman who would bite their tongue. You’re just a scared little coward. Just a dirty little thing in the mud now aren’t you?” Under him, Paes gurgled as her air was cutoff.

Giving one last squeeze, he backed off and stood up looking over his shoulder towards Janis with a cryptic grin. Under him, Janis saw Paes had fainted with her legs still spread obscenely. “Well you’re just bait now anyway.”

********


“So he didn’t…?” Ein asked slowly.

“No.” Princess Nossin retorted.

“I’m more surprised he hasn’t tried Janis yet.” Kaarthen said thoughtfully.

“What would make a man stop?” Princess Ruegin asked rhetorically before adding. “He could have by all rights taken that Paes girl then and there. Did he hold back because of Janis? Why didn’t he do it infront of Janis?”


******


The group of dragon hunters left moving north the next day. Saliss drove Marcos to be sure they followed them, if not for the dragon than for more of the winnings they left behind with her. For several days, they traveled along the road going through the forests along the sides of the mountains to the east. The temperate environment started to cool as they also ascended in elevation. Marcos’s attention became firmly fixed on Paes much to Saliss and Janis’s irritation. He constantly hounded the small woman’s every action.

In order to keep Paes compliant, Marcos kept her naked body binded with ropes and her mind binded in a fog of arousal. Since her capture, Marcos had kept Paes’ arms bound behind her by the elbows and kept a braided leather cord though her mouth resembling a horse bit. She had to use her teeth to fetch utensils for cooking, bathing, and anything else at camp. She was kept naked and vulnerable as Marcos thought of the things he would do to her.

Numerous times throughout the day, Marcos would ‘reward’ her by massaging her nearly to an orgasm before stopping. He never touched her like he did the first night, Saliss had made him promise not too, but still he found other ways to harass her further. So she could help him when he polished and sharpened the blades at night, Marcos had made her take the whole handle of his swords into her ass.

Janis had awoken at night a few times to see Marcos get up from where he slept with Saliss to crouch over Paes and shoot his sticky load out onto her face as she slept. In the morning he made sure his cum stayed on her face the whole day till it dried.

Paes was changing before the group’s eyes. She was never very feisty, but now she seemed slow and lethargic. She was sweating constantly now and had started to drool like a dog. Marcos noted when Saliss asked what was happening, that Paes’ ‘hormones were being adjusted’. She didn’t fight the ‘rewards’ Marcos gave her anymore in fact she cried and mewled when it was over. Marcos was getting to her and the transformation was unnerving for the other women to see.

The two women tried to ignore the happenings of their mentally absent bodyguard, and trainer but they found little else to discuss as the monotonous days of travel went by.

In the quiet late morning light, the group was on the road surrounded by thick grey fog that had come down from the mountains. As they made their way to the next large town along the road, Saliss decided to voice her thoughts and remove Paes, the source of her irritation, from the group.

Slowing to speak to Marcos as he tugged the small woman along by a short leash, she spoke in a casual buttery voice that belied the cold note of her simmering anger.

“Marcos, you have been going on about your poor little slave for a while now. I think your attention is not being spread equitably. Our dearest Janis is not being trained. I no longer feel protected. The poor little dear Paes hasn’t even made us a dirty coin despite how you’ve been dangling her nude ass in front of the host party.” She gestured to the larger group of ‘Dragonslayers’ strung out before them. “How long will you keep her? I think it best if you or I killed the poor little thing here and now.”

“She hasn’t answered any questions yet.” Marcos said calmly despite his acute awareness of Saliss’s murderous attentions toward his ‘poor little’ pet. “There have been two people following us,” Paes gasped at his words and looked back to search for them in the mist before Marcos tugged her. “They may not be everyone. I don’t wish to allow you to learn the stress of being stalked, so allow me to take care of this my own way.”

Saliss opened her mouth but closed. After taking a slow breath to collect herself she put forward her idea. “How about this, we’ll be in a large town by tonight. Assuming these ‘dragon hunters’ stay there for two days to rest as they have done before, can you handle all this before we leave?” Saliss offered.

“If they come into town,” Marcos nodded. “Yes, but they are unusually timid.”

“Well get it done.” Saliss grumbled and sped up to walk with Janis.

By mid-afternoon, they entered a town twice as large as the last. This city was dedicated to the minerals mined in the mountains. It was built into the saddle of the mountain and a large hill. After setting up camp on the hill, the ‘Dragonslayers’ went in to recruit, and have some fun. Marcos found a small patch of grass for the group on the backside of the hill.

Janis, and Saliss went in town to find a swordsmith or armor as Marcos tied up Paes and busied himself setting up camp and cooking.

One of the armories had a good selection of weapons for Warrioresses. Though the armor and clothes were skimpy, Janis found a good sword, a helmet, a decent set of metal arm and leg bracers, shin guards, and a molded armor chest plate that fit over her large breasts comfortably. Saliss paid a fortune for the equipment but didn’t complain since she was happy to be away from Marcos .

“Well now you look like you got some skills.” Saliss remarked dryly as they left. “I think we passed a few taverns. I’m going to go make my money back.” She said and walked away as Janis headed back out to the camp.

Finding her way back, Janis found Paes tied to a tree as Marcos cooked meat and beans in a small pot over the fire. Dropping her armor and taking a seat, she set about adjusting it for a comfortable fit while watching him.

“It seems you’re ready for another fight. Was there something you wanted to say? Or perhaps…” Marcos said suddenly. “Did you want to challenge Paes to a death match too.”

Janis scoffed at the idea. “No Marcos I’m not that angry. I am glad to have your attention though. I think Saliss liked it when you doted on her. She just feels neglected that’s all. I’m sure you two are close. She doesn’t let you see how much she thinks of you. She really values your attention. I mean we both do. Saliss just wants it how it was…”

Marcos grunted and went back to cooking. “Saliss wants what Saliss wants. Those bastards better hurry up though.” He muttered quietly.

Later that evening as the sun fell Saliss finally returned reeking of strong liqour. She sat quietly on her stool and leaned back as much as she could to enjoy the breeze. A man came bustling in not long after. He waddled a bit and seemed a couple pounds overweight under his simple tunic. His face was red in the cheeks, and Janis could detect the smell of beer about him.

“Oi! Oi ladies.” He called as he entered the clearing. “I heard some ah, some warm company was hiding over here. I…I have me some change. I wanted to have some comfort for it.”

Janis, Marcos, and Saliss ignored the man as he tried to get anyone’s attention he could. “Take the small one.” Saliss said finally nodding to the tree where Paes had been tied without opening her eyes.

“Oh? May I?” He said hopefully as he walked over to stand in front of Paes. She took one look at him and let the man paw her meekly.

Saliss nodded and waved to nearby cooking bucket. “Leave your money there if you would like to buy some time off her. When you come back, we can talk about selling her.”

Janis looked to Marcos who seemed to ignore everything. The man untied Paes and paid with her in tow on his way out. They had almost entered the brush when Marcos stood.

“Are you her master, her brother, or some foolish husband of hers?” Marcos inquired. “It was silly letting her go out with that level of skill.”

Saliss’ shot up in her seat. Janis couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.

“I am a ‘brother’ to her,” The man said turning to face them. His once smiling warm face had dropped to a blank expression that made him seem bland, and yet very dangerous. “Perhaps you’re right. I didn’t think it was something I had to attend to personally. I am the ‘Master of styles’ in the principalities. All of them.” He announced with a touch of arrogance. “I didn’t think you worth the effort.”

“Oh?” Marcos grunted approvingly as he stepped forward around the cooking pot. The camp took most of the space in the clearing, and he stopped once he was a few paces from them. “What those cities call you means nothing, I am from Menthino.”

Drawing the long, straight, single edged, black blade of Menthino’s heavy infantry, Marcos reversed his grip to use the back of the blade, and held it low across his body. “Sorry Janis, I’m going to taste this man myself.” Saliss’ bodyguard said airily.

The man looked around the enclosed campsite and nodded. “Perhaps you want to fight up on the hill? I will want this fight to be witnessed. Meet me atop the hill by the road and we shall let our weapons talk. I won’t spare your life for what you’ve done to.” He paused looking over at Paes then added in a low voice. “You evil death worshippers must be punished.”

The pair backed out of the clearing as the three watched.

“This is excellent.” Marcos quipped after the man slunk away with Paes. He looked at Janis and Saliss with a giddy grin. “This is rare. I think it’s worth coming up north for this. A real master level fight is rare. I’m gonna make sure he goes all out for this.” As he spoke, he rustled in his robe emptying pockets, and looking over what he had.

Janis finally asked what all the fuss was about. “What’s a ‘master of styles’? Is that good?”

Saliss calmly answered after Marcos showed he wasn’t paying any attention. “There are many people who wield weapons. Masters are those who have true skill. They command a high price because they are usually the best in any group they join. Since most people master swords, they have another level of mastery. ‘Master of Arts’ is what they call it. It’s for each school, or style of swordplay. There are as many ‘Master of Arts’ unfortunately as there are ‘schools’, or ‘styles’.

“Each country has a festival to find the best of these from within their borders. The one who wins is the ‘Blade Master’. Usually people who master spears, staffs, and bows compete also. However, for people like them, after ‘Master’ there is only ‘Master of style’ which is also called sometimes ‘Master of Arts’. I don’t understand it but it really depends on what weapon the person has-”

“He has the sycthe and chain,” Marcos spoke up after getting prepared. “Commonly called a chain-sickle, it’s a very formidable weapon and common for the Mestapins. A Master with a staff may defeat a Master swordsman or two. A Master with a chain-sickle should be able to defeat a whole group of them. It’s a very good weapon for offense and defense, cheap to produce, and extremely versatile. This will be a unique fight so make sure you watch closely.”

Marcos had stripped down and now wore his robe stripped of most of its bulk. A tight black leather tunic carried a few throwing darts in the sleeves. His straight sword he wore at his waist, and he carried a shiny curved specialty sword in his hand.

Starting up the hill, Janis and Saliss followed quietly. They arrived to find most of the dragon slayers standing around a makeshift sparring ground at the top of the hill. In the center, the man had his scythe out and spun the weighted chain around his body while stepping around it. The sickle was a foot long stick with a small crescent blade sticking out the side of one end. The sturdy looking chain was as thick as two fingers and attached to the bottom of the sickle. On the other end of the chain was a small weight the size of a wine cork.

Janis marveled at the control he displayed. He swung and thrust the weighted end by kicking out his arms and legs to interfere with its spinning. The weapon’s long reach allowed him to control the cleared area almost to the edges.

The two women pushed up to the opposite end of the grounds. Saliss dropped her stool and sat back bored. Janis stood near her suddenly feeling ridiculous in the armor that still left most of her body exposed. After putting it on, she found that only her upper chest was armored, her limbs also were also minimally protected. Full Warrioress armor was heavier, but only mismatched partial sets had been offered. Despite looking purely decorative this set was better than the incomplete sets.

Marcos made a show of stretching as more and more people from the town, and camp showed up. Finally, the man finished his movements and stood ready. Marcos advanced after leaving his curved sword with Saliss. Ambling over slowly, he stopped and formally introduced himself.

“I am Sir Lord Marcos Panthi. The First Knight of Menthino. I wield the black sword of Menthino, and a specialty sword. My styles are too many to mention and I include yours among them.”

He stepped back a pace and stood relaxed but ready to draw. The next man stepped forward and addressed the crowd.

“I am Mios of the militant family of Caes, formerly the first family of the Mestapins Clan. I fight today for the honor of those who were slaughtered for the greed of the death worshippers. My weapon is the chain-sickle. I am a ‘Master of Style’ in the principalities. I have waited a lifetime for this fight. Today I shall have my vengeance.” The crowd murmured loudly around them as he spoke.

“Such beggars.” Saliss snickered. She leaned over to Janis. “Would you like a wager? Ask around and see if anyone will take bets.” She caught something out of the corner of her eye and straightened smoothing her dress before she waved over a surly looking old man with a balding head and a bushy beard.

“Hello Saliss, you look like the queen of this place. Decent folk shouldn’t be around this mess. A few travelers say they have seen this one fight before, they say this match will be bloody. But, if you are here for some coin then tell me if you’re betting on the Master from the Principalities? I was favoring him myself.”

“No Mister Oggbe,” Saliss shook her head. “Though that might be best, I want to bet on the other guy. He travels with me and I’d like to think he has a chance.”

Janis had to wonder when she heard Saliss sigh in exasperation. “I know he’s not the crowd favorite but what odds will you give me?” The blonde inquired as her blue eyes started looking over Oggbe and the men he came with. “Is it just you six?”

Janis lost interest as Saliss worked the old man up to high numbers with only a few flutters of the eyelashes.

“If you lose this, both of you two flowers will be under someone’s...thumb.” Oggbe said walking off to find a seat. He talked with the men sitting near him and collected money, bets, and some lighthearted slaps on the back.

“Don’t worry,” Saliss said turning to Janis. “Marcos won’t lose. Each year one of his daughters wins the title of ‘Blade Master’ in Menthino. He trains all of them, and usually by the quarter finals no outsiders are in the competition anymore.”

Around them, the crowd hushed as the two fighters in the circle tensed. Moving quickly, Mios yanked his chain and spun the weighted end overhead. He stepped forward and released it straight as an arrow at Marcos.

Janis had to focus to keep an eye on it as the chain crossed over to shoot past Marcos’s shoulder. He didn’t even flinch as it bolted past him. He just ducked down and waited. Janis crinkled a brow but then saw the chain’s straight path start to arc back and curl up over Marcos’ head.

In Mios’ hands, the chain had come alive like a serpent searching for its prey. The weight on the end came up high into the air as the chain created a large loop behind it. All at once, Mios pulled his end back to retract the chain and collapse the loops over Marcos.

With a metallic *PAANG* Marcos swung the back of his sword at the weight as it looped around toward him from behind. The weight and the chain unwound and arced off into the crowd to the right as Marcos charged the opening made on the left. Mios corrected his spiraling chain in only a brief second, but it was enough for Marcos to close to within his sword’s reach.

Mios went into a flurry to coil his chain shorter and keep Marcos back. Using the short length on a swordsman meant both men had only split seconds to react. Mios used his weapon to block the flicking slashes of Marcos’ sword by using the chain wrapped tightly around one arm.

After Mios got his footing and started moving Marcos back and out of his face, he went into overdrive. Slashing wildly with the sickle, or using the doubled up extra length to try belting Marcos and tangle his sword. Mios fought desperately to keep Marcos away. He had good reason too.

“This is just sick.” Saliss muttered shifting in her chair. “He’s toying with him. Marcos is breaking him down like he’s laying siege.”

To the untrained eye, the two seemed as if they were equally matched. Mios looked too fierce to allow Marcos off the defensive. It was apparent though that soon one was going to fatigue.

Janis however could see what Saliss had noticed. The swordsman in black was masterfully dodging the chain so he only had to move once for every third strike Mios made. Marcos spent his unmolested time just sitting in front of Mios making tweaks to his posture and keeping Mios completely occupied defending against the threat of attack. Simple gestures with his handgrip and the set of his shoulders were drawing Mios’ trained eye and making him adjust his erratic defense.

The chain Mios wielded seemed unpredictable compared to a sword or a spear but Marcos was always several steps ahead. In the maelstrom of activity, the swordsman was looking bored while Mios’ snarling beet red face and enraged eyes matched how he lashed out blindly.

“You’re right,” Janis confirmed. “I wonder how long he’s gonna be at this.”

“He’ll drag this out as long as he can so he can take his own measure of this guy. Marcos is twisted like that.” Saliss raised a brow. “Eventually he is just going to break Mio’s hopes and crush him like a bug.”

True to her words, after waiting till his opponent slowed and his rage turned to panic and a glimmer of realization sparked his eyes, Marcos elaborately disarmed Mios by smashing a finger with the back of the blade and knocking the sickle free.

The black swordsman flowed forward as Mios started falling back in pain. Reaching out, he stripped the coiled chain from his arm like a nimble pick pocket after ladies bracelets. Before Mios could realize the trouble he was in, Marcos gave the poor man a vicious straight leg kick to the chest.

Knocking the shocked man back onto his ass at Paes’ feet, the two looked up with an identical pale look of stunned horror as Marcos stood before them admiring his latest prize.

After looking over the sickle-chain, Marcos scurried back over to Saliss grinning like a child before planting his sword in the dirt and wrapping the long chain over an arm and brandishing the sickle for all to see.

Saliss harrumphed and motioned for the bet taker as she adjusted her stool. Ambling over slowly, the Mister Oggbe balked at paying so soon.

“Your man hasn’t killed him. The fight is not over, the ‘Master’ still has a chance.” He noted.

Saliss smiled up at him as if he was a small child full of ideas, dreams, and imagination. “Well I suppose, but how?” She motioned to Mios who stood ready to defend himself. Unlike his eager start, he was now keeping his distance from Marcos and stood at the far end of the circle from him. He favored his wounded hand and held a small throwing knife uncertainly in a low defensive stance while he looked around the crowd.

“Well,” Saliss started and cleared her throat. “Well then throw Mios a sword so this is interesting. However, if you do give him a sword or something, that’s gonna be extra. You tell them all to double their payout.” Saliss said finally and turned to the old fool who bet against her. “What say you?”

“Hmm… I’ll tell them what you want.” The man said with resignation. He ambled back slowly then motioned to the others to toss in a sword.

The sword they tossed in was tossed high so Mios could see it. Before he could act however, Marcos snapped it up with the chain. With it wrapped tight and secure, he snapped it overhead and took a few steps forward. His swings were off balanced from the sword at the end making the swipes at Mios all the more unpredictable. After a few moments, the chain fouled as the sword planted in the dirt behind Mios. Marcos gave a tug to test how secure it was before shaking the chain off and leaving it.

“Now Marcos is just waiting for the fool to die.” Saliss muttered. “This is sad.”

The two men stared at each other as Mios gathered his courage to make a move for the sword. Marcos stood ready and leaned forward waiting for the first move from his opponent. Both men knew once Mios took his eyes off Marcos and turned his back He was dead.

Just before Mios could make his move, Marcos turned to the crowd.

“Your apprentice will die by my hand just as your family has done, and your daughter is a whore for the enemy. You still cower and watch from afar but I feel you and your weak resolve. Come to me, I will relieve you of your vengeance. That burden is wasted on a coward like you. Your foolish ancestors are crying in their graves to know you won’t even try to avenge them.”

As he spoke, the crowd in front of him parted as puzzled people stepped out from under his wrathful words and murderous gaze. As the masses stepped away, a short old man was revealed standing with his hands together in front of him over a short walking stick. He was very pale with beady intense black eyes and beaklike nose. His balding head had some white hair on the sides. His clothes were sun bleached a drab dark grey and brown. His knee high boots stood out for being well cared for; they had a shine to them too.

As the spectators moved away from Marcos’ heated gaze confused by his seemingly random act of hate, this man stood firm where the masses could partially obscure him. He continued to stand silently and regard Marcos with a haughty untouchable expression.

“Well old man, which one were you?” Marcos asked in a low voice. “Did I rape your mom? Was I the one who gave the order to have your house burnt down with everyone inside? Did you find your father wandering the fields with his eyes pulled out and his hands cut off? Maybe your family was one of the ones whose legs and arms were crushed before they were dropped into the wells and latrines still alive.”

The old man held his ground as Marcos lifted his gaze and continued to taunt him in an almost airy voice. “Did your father tell you how great your people were? Did they pound the dinner table and say ‘we deserve the lands to the west! It’s our right!’ Did they use the word fair?” Marcos dropped his grip on the chain as his voice got angry for a second as he said that last word. “Was that what the used to justify themselves?”

“Maybe they told you that your people would defend their lands with the arts they had come up with. Maybe those same arts are the ones you think will be enough to defeat me. Maybe you really do think that your people, a bunch of incestuous dogs without culture or even their own written language, came up with ‘the Divine Heaven’s Fist’? Perhaps the ‘mind of light’ really was something your dog people discovered?”

Marcos offered a smile as the old man straightened his back but other wise stood firm. If looks could kill, the old man might have stood half a chance stepping into the ring like Marcos wanted.

“Perhaps, you want to see the pure form of the style you heathens tried so hard to emulate. Perhaps, you want to know why we reacted so harshly? You probably still don’t know why Menthino’s Imperial army came for the blood of your clan over what supposedly just a minor territorial dispute. Perhaps, you also want to know why no one came to stop us as we burned through the fields and towns of your people.”

Marcos turned his back on the old man but spoke louder as he continued his insidious remarks.

“Have you found any of those truths in your travels? Were there any clues in the cold fire blackened towns? Did former slaves of great houses tell you the story of how the lords and ladies of the once powerful clan were raped, mutilated, and made to watch the death of their children?” Marcos turned back to the man but his face was hard. His lips were curled in a cruel sneer. “Well? I can tell you. I was there after all.”

“In fact if I remember right, you were that egg-headed bastard to one of the military families. Sic, Slic, or Class, or Cass.” Marcos shrugged and the old man’s face started to blush. “You father was a decent fighter. We burnt him alive inside the house with all his servants, and your mother too I’m guessing. But then, we could have taken her to a dark corner to see how badly she wanted to live. You’d be surprised what women instinctively do to survive.” Marcos nodded over to Paes. “She was one. She has been very eager to see the morning light of just one more day. Of course, I’m usually asking at night just what she’ll do... So far, she has kept me satisfied.

“Perhaps your mother would have put up a good fuck too. I’m sure the men had enjoyed her to the fullest.” Marcos paused realizing the old man was going to stand among the safety of the crowd no matter what he threw at him. Slowly he turned to square up to the older man with a cold calculating gaze. “So do you want to die? I could let you and your children live.”

The old man shifted his feet and looked at Mios and Paes. The two both looked at the ground ashamed.

Marcos stepped closer. “Tell me how many others live. You were young back then. When the killing started, you must have been taken in by a family or a lonely woman. You grew up in either your old lands that became someone else’s, or perhaps in some foreign land down the river. You must have seen others as you grew up, or after you left. Tell me where they are and you may live out the rest of your days.”

“No one else,” The old man said slowly. “In all my years and in all my travels, no one even knew what was there before they came to my homeland and settled. You did well wiping my people from their lands, there aren’t even ruins.”

Next to Janis, Saliss snickered quietly.

“So I guess you still don’t know why?” Marcos inquired with a grin turning away and showing his back again. He started wandering the fighting circle as he spoke

“It was simple. The Principalities are never allowed to unite. Your clan, the Mestapins, were the closest to doing that. They had created a fair amount of resentment both inside and outside their lands. They tried to rally the last of their western enemies into allies by attacking our eastern frontier. If the gambit worked, they would have had effective control over all the lands from the far eastern sea to the Ort on the west, and every thing north of the Lazy River. On paper it would be the second largest nation if not the largest if you include the small towns that border the wilds on the south side of the Lazy River.

“And do you know how these Mestapins became to powerful?” Marcos stopped in the middle of the Circle waiting for an answer.

“They were always a militant family that served as generals and guards for Princes. However, they weren’t special in anyway or even sought after. They served quietly, and held little power that is until they asked for the power through the our goddess the Dark Mother herself. They called her out and the goddess of death gave them an art for the purposes of war.” Marcos turned again and continued his stroll. “The names given to the tactics weren’t fanciful

“But of course once they had the power, they made it their own and abandoned the word they gave. And of course they ignored the warnings of their actions. And of course they attacked us wielding the very arts we gave them.” Janis watched Marcos pause and raise his face to the sky.

“For all their fervor and energy they were simply being made to pay for what they had done.” He took a deep breath and faced Mios before looking back to the old man. “The toll the goddess demanded was heavy. Even your people’s pride had to be taken back. They knew whom they had made a deal with. They knew that they couldn’t be simply forgiven. Generations had passed… But now…”

The ball weight and several lengths of looped chain dropped from Marcos’ left hand. Jumping forward high into the air Marcos pulled the trailing chain like a whip and snapped it out towards the old man.

The elderly man moved quickly and tumbled into several onlookers trying to dodge. As the chain reached the point where his head had been, it flicked about like a tongue tasting the air before Marcos yanked it back to coil onto his arm.

Covered by the crowd the old man threw out his own chain.

Marcos jumped over the chain and counterattacked with a wide sweep to separate the old man from the crowd. Janis could see how the taller people the old man hid himself among were only obstacles to Marcos. Hitting an onlooker too stupid to move would block the ball weight and foul the chain.

Just indiscriminately hitting those people in the way could cause a panic so these crafty rogues could escape. How long Marcos could keep missing was anyone’s guess. He moved too fast to be making any calculations with the weapon he was still learning to use.

Next to her, Saliss was having a fit with her bet taker. “…Well I called it on the old man first… If you are just going to follow my bets now then put my earlier stuff to coin now because Mios is done… So what?... Mios gave up and has been hugging his wife or sister over there for the whole history lesson… No, I don’t care! PAY ME NOW!” Saliss growled from her stool. The old man next to her pointed at Mios who had entered the fight if only to distract Marcos.

Salis chattered away keeping one eye on the three. “Oh he’s getting up, well good that is what I like to see. Your bets stay with your man… So then, if you pick up the old man now too, I want another set for him and Mios… No, no eighteen to one… Ya…” she beamed at the old man who shrunk back at the intensity of her smile. “Ya that should be it for now, go and tell them.”

Janis felt a little sorry for the old man who scurried away. From what she gathered, they had initially bet in the hundreds. Payout now would be small ransom. Saliss was going to milk the whole town dry just to keep herself entertained.

“Are they really prepared to pay that much Saliss?” Janis asked finally. “You are doubling and tripling the payout. Might these men just leave or attack us while Marcos fights? They are surrounded by mercenaries already and even a fraction of what you are owed could buy a lot of swords…”

She really didn’t need to say more. Saliss knew where this was going, and it touched on something she might have thought of earlier. The blonde’s brows crumpled and her face darkened. “I wanted to see that dragon too…”

Down in the circle, Marcos was having his own high stakes fun. The old man had come out from hiding to keep the heat off Mios and Marcos was able to bring to bear all of his cunning and experience. With a sword in one hand and the weight in the other, Marcos swung the chain with the scythe at the end attacking Mios and the old man in a steady rhythm of elegant flourishes. In his hands, the two weapons complemented each other as he bore down on one man then jumped over to pound away at the other.

Mios for his part was awkward with the sword he carried and several times, it seemed he was going to lose his head. Unlike Marcos and the old man who both seemed untouched, he was sweating profusely and bleeding from several cuts. He doggedly staggered back into the fight out of breath as Marcos fought off the old man’s chain.

“Dammit! The perverts may get a plan going if this takes any longer.” Janis could practically hear Saliss grinding her teeth at how long this fight was taking.

Suddenly slender blonde shot up from her stool and raised a finger imperiously as her voice roared over the assembled crowd, “Finish Him!”

Jumping back over to Mios, Marcos slunk down behind the tired man, wrapped the chain around his thick neck, and pried the sword from his fingers. The old man running over froze when Marcos turned the sword blade down and stabbed it through Mios’ foot into the ground. Using his own sword, Marcos pinned it down through the chain. Saliss’ bodyguard left just enough length to slowly choke the immobilized Mios.

The scythe was used to cut at the hamstring of Mios’ other leg before it was dropped blade up to keep Mios from simply sitting down and ruining the whole effort. The cresent blade caught the sunlight and shined between his legs as Mios stood over it on one shaky leg. His gurgling coughs and struggling wheezes made a pleasant jangling sound with the chains.

Janis giggled at Saliss’ face. The blonde had froze with her hand up and a quizzical expression on her face as her eyes darted around following the chain binding Mios’ neck and the various blades that kept the man imprisoned. On one hand, she just wanted this over with already, and on the other hand, this startling development was perversely interesting. She, like everyone else, wanted to see how this would play out.

“This is it old man,” Marcos called out from behind Mios. “I may keep Paes, but you two must die.”

“If that is your wish...” The old man acknowledged. “This old body has one last move in it. You both may die but you will not escape.”

The old man straightened and looked Marcos in the eye with a hard look of determination. I’ll send you to the Goddess with this and you can give her my thanks. Now face Heaven’s Resentment.”

The old man took an exaggerated deep breath and then just disappeared.

“What? Where did he go?” Saliss said. “Wait he’s there! Look!”

Janis followed her gaze up. The old man was using the chain to climb through the air itself by throwing it higher and higher and spinning himself up by some impossible flipping maneuver as the chain fell.

He stopped in the air finally and started falling from two chain lengths up, an impossible height.

From his decent, he coiled and threw out the ball weight in bursts. It slowed his fall even further and pulled him forward so he seemed to hover in the air repeatedly throwing the weight into the ground towards Marcos. The ball weight was moving so fast it could barely be seen until it reached the end of the chain and recoiled back. As the old man came in closer and fell further, the ball weight started to hit the ground.

With loud thumps, the dust was kicked up as the old man walked the ball weight onto its target. As it got close, Marcos unwound the chain from Mios’ neck and shouldered it looking ready to run. As it started to impact among the pair, Marcos jumped around to avoid its impacts leaving the helpless Mios in the path of the old man’s steel rain.

With a sickening thunk, the ball weight slammed into Mios once then twice more in quick succession. Using that as the distraction Marcos rolled out of the way and threw up his own chain. The ball weights collided and the chains tangled. For an instant time froze, then Marcos tugged the old man to him on the ground.

The old man bounced through the dust and lay face down for a moment then struggled to lift his head. His face wore a depressing look of defeat. “Well this is the end old man,” Dropping his end of the chain, Marcos backed up leaving them knotted together. “You see, though it was interesting to see that, it wasn’t real. But I think you deserve to see a few things before you go.”

Stepping around to Mios, he pulled him upright and looked over his broken body. The old man shivered and wiggled a bit trying to stand but was unable to move as Marcos whispered into Mios’ ear. When the broken man nodded to whatever was said, Marcos grabbed his head roughly and gave a sharp twist snapping the neck.

Moving over to Paes he put his foot down on the back of her neck forcing her face into the dirt. “I’ll have to get some convicts from our army to breed the cowardice out of this one.” He announced haughtily.

Marcos let his body relax even as his mind stayed at full alert. “I think I will now show you the true Heaven’s Resentment.”

Dropping his head and rolling his shoulder’s forward Marcos seemed to shimmer as though some thing was pushing out from within. Behind him a line in space, a line in nothing appeared then started widening and opened into a hole showing a shadowy image of the clearing they stood in. From where Janis was looking it appeared to be the same clearing but the people on the other side couldn’t be seen. Only a colorless image of the a moonlit hilltop was visible.

The edges became indistinct around the edges of the portal even as the darkness inside the hole became more intense. A cold wind blew from that darkness and shadowy figures that lurched out on stiff legs.

“Close your eyes Janis we aren’t-- We cannot see this.” Saliss screeched dropping onto the seat of her stool and covering her eyes. “Don’t look at him, and don’t open your eyes.”

Janis had a moment to see the look of pale fear on her face. Looking back, she saw a large figure emerge from behind Marcos and meet her eyes.

“Garec?!”

“Close your eyes Janis!” Saliss shouted.

“But?” Janis looked behind him and saw others coming out walking towards other villagers. “Shut your eyes it’s an illusion! Don’t get sucked in!”

Garec reached for her as he moved closer. He reached out to beckon wordlessly with the sheepish grin he wore sometimes on the few gentle days they were together. Around the circle, a macabre reunion was taking place as villagers wept and embraced departed friends and loved ones.

“Wait let me see him,” Janis shouted not knowing why she was suddenly so curious about what he had to tell her of the other side, “He wasn’t that bad, I just want to know he’s well. Let’s talk to him--”

“Damn it you fool,” Saliss stood and groped for Janis’ arm with her eyes closed. Pulling her close the blond clutched her head to her breast blocking her sight. “Just be still…”

Robbed of the vision of an ideal Garec wishing her well from beyond the grave, Janis’s other senses told her truth around her. The cold wind was picking up as the happy voices of the living greeted back their ancestors, dear friends, and even pets.

“…You came back!” The cries were one sided only the living could be heard.

“Come…Look at our son!” The dead did not speak words Janis could hear but those in the illusion conversed with them.

“You saw them on the other side too? It gives me pleasure to know you aren’t punished. We were wild back then weren’t we?”

Saliss tightened her grip when the shouts they heard over the now steady freezing wind turned to panic one by one. “Mother! Father! NO! Let go!”

“…Please you’re hurting me! No!--” A woman screamed making Janis stiffen.

“It’s too late for them. It’s almost done, let them go over.” Saliss whispered quietly. Around them, the wind a picked up to a gale and buffeted them. People’s panicked shouts and loud torturous screams could only be heard as the wind picked up even more till even they couldn’t be heard anymore.

The wind began to die down and blow from the other side as it pulled back. The air became warmer and the smell of grass and flowers rode the gentler breeze. Finally, it stopped with the sound of a long held sigh and gentle warm breeze came in from another direction. Saliss let her grip slacken once the sounds of crickets reached them.

Opening her eyes, Janis looked around at the fury of Heaven’s True Resentment. What shocked her initially was the lack of anything. Marcos stood with his foot atop a very dusty Paes. Around them the people, the camp, and even the grass had disappeared in every direction on the hill. The flat surface Marcos had started his fight on was now barren of all signs of life, and any traces it had ever existed.

“All those people—“ Janis muttered as the totality started to become apparent.

Under foot, the magnitude of what happened was even more stark. The ground was now only fine dust. Rocks, pebbles, and sand were reduced to a fine white-grey powder that made clouds around Janis’ tentative steps.

“I read once that the dead envy the living.” Saliss said quietly from behind her. “It was muttered by a knight-captain bleeding to death in the halls of the castle he was charged with defending…”

Janis turned to the blonde and saw her somber look and the tears in her eyes.

“This…” Saliss motioned around herself. “‘All that lives would be taken to appease that hunger, that jealousy. The people, the plants, and even the things the wriggle in the soil are hated by those without breath in their chest. Perhaps it is envious despair.’ He survived the wound, and when he wrote those words, he was trying to put the feelings of death in words. He became more famous than the battle he fought.”

“But don’t you see what he’s done?” Janis sputtered. “This is- This is just…I mean…what Marcos ‘unleashed’ was- is just…“

“Extreme?” Saliss finished for her, “How much do you love life? All the aspects you can name and all the ones you forgot?”

Janis let the thought hang. Her life had never had any truly happy times. Even in childhood, she was shunned for her misshapen weakness among Amazons who idolized the Goddess’s ideals of strength and femininity. Recently being saved and the optimism of training were the only things of happiness that were easy to recall.

The man occupying her thoughts stood unmoving. As Janis approached, the wind glided past her breaking the stillness of the wasteland.

“I hope you learned from this day.” Marcos said in a dry voice. He lifted his head to study the sky. “You saw a fight that could teach you much about the nature of combat.”

“Marcos these people-”

“They are with the Goddess now. In fact, they never really left her. For them, the dream is over.” He stepped back from Paes and let her raise herself. With an astonished look of wonder she took in the scene around her.

Marcos let her scramble up to the spot where the old man had fallen. She dug through the dust trying to find a clue. After a moment, she stopped and looked back at them with a look of pained confusion.

“That girl needs you. You should go to her.” Marcos said quietly. “Tell her she’ll see those two again. Tell her they are close and that they will leave room in her life for the rest of what fate has in store.”

Walking over slowly, Janis dropped down to Paes who shivered pitifully in the grey powder and they embraced as only two women with grieving hearts can.


**************************


“So… you hate him for that?” Ruegin asked after the group came to grips with the story.

“No that was just his nature,” Janis admitted huddled on her seat. “It was a perfectly reasonable to him to do what he did.”

“It would be years later when the after affects of that potion Saliss gave me started to rear itself. I had flashbacks of a life that wasn’t my own. I’m surprised he can live with himself, you can’t love someone knowing everything about them.”

“And they say familiarity breeds contempt.” Ruegin offered, “But enough to ruin love?”

“You know him too much is that it?” Ein asked swooping in close enough that Janis had to nudge her away.

“I suppose. Honestly, he and I both have things we wish we didn’t do, but I don’t know anymore. I don’t know if it’s him I hate or myself, the line has been blurred so much.” Janis muttered looking around. “Ladies, let’s finish this later. I don’t know how princess Nossin does it but I feel like I’ve been reliving those weeks. It’s just too much for right now.”

6 comments

anonymous readerReport

2013-10-26 14:26:51
fgc80J Thank you for your blog post.Really looking forward to read more. Fantastic.

anonymous readerReport

2013-09-13 08:42:49
k73Eyq Really enjoyed this article.Thanks Again.

anonymous readerReport

2013-09-07 16:29:12
pel8ts I really enjoy the blog post.Much thanks again. Will read on...

anonymous readerReport

2012-09-12 02:07:52
Really enjoyed the story, very imaginative!

anonymous readerReport

2012-09-01 00:23:30
Please continue, need more of marcos!!!

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