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Introduction:

Building Supports
Having survived an attack from TanaVesta, and relieving himself of a powerful enemy in the process, you’d think Lyden would be safe and sound, right? Things are never that easy, as the battle to save two worlds continues.

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Chapter 30
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Building Supports

I wake up, my jaw shivering from the cold of the floor penetrating my bones.

“W-what’s h-happening?” I ask, my teeth knocking against each other and my breath misting in the air. Looking around, I see the elf poised above a sleeping Angela, knife at her throat. Blue is also sleeping; at least, I hope she’s sleeping. Considering that she’s a reptile, I hope her inner fires are enough to combat this cold. Frost can actually be seen covering the adamantium that I’d used for mass, and I realize I’m completely nude, except for Murasame on my hip.

Why hadn’t I remembered to form my clothes when I changed back from being a dragon? I remonstrate internally as I curl into a ball.

“The Pillar of Fire is dead,” the elf states, almost as coldly as the frigid air around us. “This traitor said she could help you recover.” Her eyes rove over my naked body, and she must agree with what she sees, as she nods. “I see you’re recovered. We need to get moving.”

Why she isn’t affected by the cold, I don’t know.

Closing my eyes, I concentrate on forming a large coat over my body, and am glad I’m already on the ground, by the amount of energy that abandons me. I’d forgotten how much energy creating clothing takes from me. Why is creating clothing so exhausting, but changing forms less so? I dismiss the thought, knowing it’s not the most important concern right now.

I’m still cold.

“If we don’t get somewhere warm soon, your dragon is going to die,” Angela states groggily, opening her eyes, but remaining motionless beneath the knife at her throat. Her eyes remain locked on the elf for a second, until the knife pulls away.

“We’d better get F-Fujin’s m-mantle, and g-get out of h-here,” I chatter.

The elf holds up something that I can’t quite make out. It looks like blurry cloth draped over her hand, completely opaque, and I realize this must be the mantle we’d come to get.

I take another look around, looking for TanaVesta, and after a moment I spot her. A tiny woman with bright red hair, barely larger than Arethusa, lies bloody and beaten on the ground, ice forming around her cold body. From the shocked look on her still open eyes, I can see that she hadn’t expected to be defeated. This must be her true form.

“Where’s her mantle?” I ask, glad to finally get a sentence out without stuttering.

“Under your dragon, keeping her warm,” I’m told by the elf. I really wish I knew what her name is. I’m getting tired of just thinking of her as ‘the elf.’

“Her name is Alloria,” Angela informs me, reading my surface thoughts.

“If I’d wanted him to know my name,” Alloria growls, “I’d have told him, succubus. Don’t presume that just because you healed the generator’s wounds, that you’re forgiven for your treachery.”

“Why did you care if I recovered?” I ask, the sudden thought making me wonder. “I thought you hated me.”

“I don’t have to love you, to want the world I love saved,” she responds snidely. “Besides, Gaia ordered me to make sure you lived.”

And here I’d hoped I’d been growing on her.

“Let’s get going, then,” I order, walking over to the pile of adamantium. I hesitate for only a moment before holding my hand out to Angela, which she doesn’t miss. I see her cheeks burn at the doubt in my mind, but she says nothing as she takes a firm grip on my hand. It’s going to take some time to fully trust her again, no matter what we did in my Mens Mundi.

As soon as Alloria’s hand tentatively touches my shoulder, I close my eyes, flatten my hand against the powerful metal before me, and change back into a dragon. The raw shock of power isn’t there this time as I change forms. I end up having to use some of my own fleeting reserves. If only I hadn’t been so wounded in the battle with TanaVesta. My sides still ache from the damage done by her claws, and even the time with Angela wasn’t enough to fully heal me.

The cold suddenly intensifies, and I mentally hear both women inside me start shivering. Moving over to Blue to wake her up, I notice that the air marginally warms. She stirs sluggishly, and after a couple moments I’m able to get her to her feet. We leave out the large opening in the side of TanaVesta’s chambers.

I’d forgotten that I become cold blooded in this form, and know that if we don’t hurry, I’ll have to change back. Which, of course, will only slow us down more. Why couldn’t things be easy just once?

“I was easy,” Angela jokes. I’m too cold and tired to find the humor.

The air barely supports us as we travel, and I have to constantly work at keeping Blue and myself moving, the cold slowing us down with each passing second.

I don’t understand why everything got so cold, I state internally. When Fujin was killed, all the air didn’t suddenly disappear.

“TanaVesta, and the Pillars of Light and Darkness are different from the other three,” Alloria states. “Those three control energies in this world. The Pillars of Water, Air, and Earth control mass. When Fujin was murdered, the air in this world had nowhere to go. The wind has died, but the air is still there. Now that TanaVesta is dead, her strength and control of those energies she commanded has fled.”

I remember how cold I’d gotten before I passed out, while Blue must have been battling the large red dragon. At the time I’d thought it was due to the loss of blood and me dying. Now I know better.

“It was,” Angela says sadly. “It took several hours for it to grow this cold. If all of TanaVesta’s control had fled at once, everything would have been flash-frozen.”

Once again I marvel at how much the one-time, four-hundred year old, slave understands about things.

“You pick things up over the centuries,” she responds to my unspoken compliment with pride in her voice.

Blue suddenly plummets, and I have to return my concentration to keeping her moving. Being cold blooded really doesn’t agree with either of us. I can see she’s carrying the power of the Pillar of Fire in her right forepaw, its light seeping around her sharp talons as she holds it close to her body, but it’s not enough to keep her going. It soon becomes apparent that the large blue dragon won’t make it all the way back to Gaia’s earthen palace.

I wonder why I’m able to do better than Blue at keeping myself moving? Is it because of the weakened adamantium? Neither of my passengers knows either.

It takes all my concerted concentration to keep us both moving long enough to reach the cave where Angela and I’d been captured, and where later I’d gotten Sheila pregnant. I end up having to drag the nearly comatose lizard inside. There is one benefit from the cold: the terrible stench that’d permeated this place before is tamped down.

It takes some effort, the fire resisting my efforts to start it, but I’m eventually able to get a small burn going in the same pit where the Orcs had intended to cook the succubus and me. While the cave never grows warm, it does at least grow less frigid, and I change back into my human form, making sure that warm clothing surrounds me, and creating a slight barrier between the cave entrance and the fire with the adamantium to hold in as much warmth as possible.

“What are you going to do?” Alloria asks me as she gently pats Blue’s eye ridge. I’m a bit surprised at how much she seems to care about the fate of the dragon. “You can’t stay here forever, keeping a fire going, and she won’t make it back to Gaia so we can figure out what our next move should be.”

“Can we make her the Pillar of Fire temporarily?” I ask, holding my hands out over the fire.

Angela shakes her head before answering. “From the way TanaVesta had talked, it’s something that’s permanent, or at least until death.”

“The dragon can’t become a pillar anyway,” Alloria adds in, giving Angela a slight glare. “It requires a certain amount of mental fortitude, which unfortunately the poor beast doesn’t have.”

“She may surprise you,” I say about the slumbering creature. “She’s smarter than she looks.”

Alloria gives me a calculating look for a moment, making me terribly curious what she’s thinking, before shaking her head. “I didn’t say she was dumb. No dragon is dumb, but she isn’t the type of dragon that is strong enough to become a pillar.”

I stand in silence for a few moments, trying to weigh the options, before asking softly, “What about you, Alloria?”

“I haven’t given you permission to use my name!” she scolds me so hotly, I blanch away from her. It takes her a few moments to calm down, but I don’t miss Angela’s slight smile. What does the succubus know? “I can’t become the Pillar of Fire,” she says, still breathing a bit heavily from her outburst a moment ago. I open my mouth to ask why not, but she answers before I can get the words out. “Nominally I’m aligned with Earth, being an elf. I could only ever become the Pillar of Earth, but I respect Gaia too much to ever desire that burden.” I’d once thought that she would be the next Pillar of Air, but I guess I was wrong. Who did Gaia mean for the job, if not the elf? “Only the dragon and . . . the succubus are aligned with fire enough, but I’ve already explained why the dragon can’t, and we can’t trust her.” If I had any doubts about how Alloria feels about Angela, they’re gone now.

“I don’t want it,” Angela says, looking up to meet my eyes. I can’t help arching an eyebrow at the certain in her voice. “Lyden,” she continues, addressing me directly and there is no mistaking the intimacy in her tone as her voice caresses my name, “if I became the Pillar of Fire, I would lose you. I would be stuck to that mountain, except for short trips away. In some of her more lucid moments, TanaVesta told me that she sometimes felt like a prisoner with her power. Every time she left her volcano, she’d grow weak, until she could return and recharge.”

As she speaks, her eyes remain locked on mine, and there is no doubt about the sincerity of her statement. She truly doesn’t want to be the next Pillar of Fire.

I also lose my doubt about her affection for me. Her eyes paint a picture into her soul that I can’t miss, and can’t be feigned.

Filled with shame at having doubted her, I look away first, but my gaze goes back to the slumbering dragon. She’ll die if someone doesn’t become the next Pillar of Fire soon. And Aldol. . . . With two pillars down, how much weaker is the Shadow World?

“Chances are,” Angela answers my unspoken question, “it’s frantically trying to figure out what happened to its ally.”

A very small smile splits my lips at that. At least there is one small silver lining to all of this. But that doesn’t help with my concerns over the pregnant dragon.

“If you have one large failing,” Angela says, her voice full of resignation, “it’s that you care too much for others, and not enough about yourself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, confused by her words.

She doesn’t answer immediately, however, as she walks over to Blue. Alloria glares at her for a moment, on the other side of the dragon’s head, but says nothing.

“I mean, your heart is too big. I’ve had my time with you, and even though I know you don’t love this dragon, you care for her and the eggs she’s carrying.” As she talks, a deep sadness comes over the dark skinned woman and a feeling of trepidation worms over me. “Because you care, so do I. What right do I have to be free, when it means so many others will die?”

Too late I see what I should have seen from the start, as Angela bends over, placing her hand on the forepaw holding the Pillar of Fire’s mantle. It only takes her a split moment of concentration, and it’s too late.

“Angela, no!” I yell, moving forward to stop her.

A glow moves its way up her arm, and I watch as her eyes grow large and she gasps.

“What have you done?” Alloria demands. The sound of her sword clearing the scabbard echoes around the cavern.

“What needed to be done,” she gasps, stepping away from the dragon. “My God, it’s so hot. No, stay back, Lyden my love,” she adds when I move to enfold her in my arms. “I—“ whatever she’d been about to say is lost, as her entire body is engulfed in flames. Searing white-hot heat blasts out from her, and I have to step back. The temperature in the cavern is quickly rising, and I know it won’t remain survivable for long at this rate.

Thankfully, I see Blue start to stir, and I mentally command her to get out, while I grip the elf’s wrist, hauling her to the adamantium. Alloria moves with me, without any arguing, and I can already begin feeling my skin burning as I touch the heated precious metal.

As soon as the makeshift barrier is down, Blue darts past me, and I’m hot on her heels, trying to escape the furnace Angela is turning the cave into.

By comparison to the inside, beyond the mouth of the cave is cool, but not nearly as cold as it had been before.

Some inner instinct warns me, and I catch up to Blue in enough time to bump her to the side, as pure, blinding fire belches from the cavern. I sense, more than see, something shoot out, and head back towards TanaVesta’s mountain.

Angela’s mountain, I realize, now that she’s the Pillar of Fire. I hadn’t even got the chance to say goodbye.

“We need to go after her,” Alloria’s voice says in my mind. “She can’t be trusted. We can’t leave that kind of power in her hands.”

I ignore her, letting my emotions be answer enough. I check over Blue and verify she’s all right, before checking myself. We’re both a little singed, but otherwise unharmed.

I’m not sure if normal dragons are capable of crying, but that doesn’t stop my eyes from watering as we take to the air, flying back to Gaia’s stronghold. Alloria continues to protest, but her words are swallowed up by my damaged heart.

* * *

“And you feel her loyalties can be trusted?” Gaia states over her steepled fingers.

“No,” Alloria says without hesitation, at the same time I say, “Yes.”

“I believe you, Lyden,” Mother Earth states after some contemplation. “I watched what enfolded in that cavern, and while her ultimate loyalties may remain in question, I have no doubt about how she feels for you. For now, it will have to be enough.”

When we’d arrived, Blue and I were ushered to the same balcony we’d left from, and everyone came out to greet us. Gaia had immediately made the pile of adamantium disappear, sending it back to wherever she keeps it. Brooke, Areth, Becky, and even Jennifer had all hugged me happily, telling me how happy they were that I was mostly unharmed. They didn’t know that I was on the brink of death. Sheila waited patiently, until I had to order her to join the group of women around me.

Jewkes and Thomas both shook my hand heartily, Ondine remaining quietly back. I don’t have time to consider her behavior, but make a note to myself to take care of that soon.

The air is still cool around us, but not nearly the frigid cold it had been before Angela took the Mantle of Fire upon herself.

“Forgive me, Lyden,” Jewkes states hesitantly, stepping forward. They’d all remained silent while Alloria and I told our tale. “How do we know that this outsider won’t just control her like it did the previous Pillar of Fire?”

I have to fight hard to tamp down the sudden anger I feel at his accusation, but I know where it’s coming from.

“How many of those glasses of yours, those Blublockers, do you have?” I ask the hook-nosed police officer.

“Only what I’ve already handed out,” he states apologetically.

“May I see a pair of those?” Gaia asks, walking towards us.

Richard hands over his pair, and the Pillar of Earth examines them for a second, even putting them on. After a few moments filled with her ‘hmm’ing and ‘huh’ing, she hands them back. She drops to her knees, and at first I think she’s suddenly exhausted. Then I see her stand back up, a pair of wood-framed glasses in her hands. The lenses are the same rose color as Jewkes’s original pair. She hands them to the older man, and he dons them, looking around for a moment before handing them back.

“I think they’ll do, ma’am,” he tells her politely.

She nods to him, before setting them back on the ground and they sink slowly in. “The new Pillar of Fire will receive these shortly,” Gaia states to the room.

I truly have to marvel at the power the Pillars posses. To be able to create something so easily, and then transport it with ease, just seems mind-boggling. Hopefully Angela will be able to get her flames under control, before she burns up the frames.

Gaia’s gaze pierces me, and I can tell she isn’t happy. “My orders to you were to retrieve the Mantle of Air, not kill the Pillar of Fire. The strain of having two pillars down was immense, and there’s no telling what the Outsider was doing to take advantage of the situation.”

For some reason, instead of being cowed by her attitude, I feel indignant. “Since the choice was kill or be killed,” I tell her firmly, meeting her dark gaze without flinching, “I won’t apologize for my actions. Alloria has the mantle, and you can sit here and chew me out for circumstances beyond my control, or you can help appoint the next Pillar of Air, and reduce the strain on yourself even more.”

I expect her to yell at me, or berate me, or for the ground to open beneath me, swallowing me whole, but I don’t expect her to grin and nod at me.

“I hope your daughter has as much backbone as you do, Mr. Snow. You misunderstand the nature of a new pillar, but you are correct in that we shouldn’t waste anymore time.” Her voice is smooth and gentle, but there is an unmistakable solidity to it.

“My daughter?” I ask, looking to Sheila. Surely Gaia doesn’t plan on making one of the unborn twins the next Pillar of Air!

“Not from her,” Gaia corrects my thinking, but doesn’t offer a different solution. “When a new pillar is formed, they have to learn control of the power they inherit. Even now, your succubus is sitting in the deepest parts of her volcano, the rock walls around her turning molten, attempting to get the power she took under her control. The strain of supporting this world is still there, as it always is. In truth, until she can control her power, the pull on my own strength is still strong, if not worse. Creating the new Pillar of Air may well incapacitate me, until she can control herself.”

“Forgive me, Mother Earth,” Becky asks, coming to stand next to me, “but who do you intend to take on the Mantle of Air?”

I place my arm around the very short brunette’s shoulders, wondering the same thing, and pulling her tightly to my side.

I don’t like the gleam that shines in Gaia’s eyes as she looks at me. No, I realize after a moment, she’s not looking at me, but through me. I shiver inside, and thoughts start going through my mind, pieces falling into place, as I get a sinking feeling.

“Lyden Snow, I believe it’s time you met your daughter,” Gaia says officiously. “She’s been hiding in your mind long enough.”

“Lyden, what’s she talking about?” Becky asks me, pulling away from me.

Shaking my head, I try to understand. It can’t be, I think. It can’t have really happened. We were in my mind, at the time, and she died right afterwards. There’s no way she could have gotten pregnant and given birth in that short time.

But I had seen Lisa’s blonde hair in my Mens Mundi, and there was that unknown voice that spoke to me before when I was depressed.

“Are you there?” I mumble under my breath. Not sure what scares me more: knowing that someone may exist inside my mind without my knowledge, or knowing that I have a daughter I never knew about.

“I am, father,” that unknown voice responds hesitantly. My knees sag beneath me, and I feel someone’s arms help support me as I’m laid back onto the floor.

“How?” I ask the question meaning so many different things, closing my eyes, and seeking entrance to my Mens Mundi. I hear other voices outside, demanding answers from someone, maybe me or maybe Gaia, I’m not sure. Ignoring them, I continue to turn inward.

“I helped hide her,” Shemhazau states, his form solidifying before me as the now familiar forest and stream scene surrounds us.

“Why would you do that?” I demand of the man, clenching my fists and teeth.

“Because I was afraid,” the feminine voice says, and I spin around to see a young woman with Lisa’s blonde hair and blue eyes looking back at me. She’s a little taller than Lisa had been, and she doesn’t possess any of her mother’s self-confidence. I can see something in the shape of her nose and jaw from me, but her age is impossible to tell. She could be eighteen or forty, instead of only a matter of weeks old.

My heart aches with a pain I had thought mostly under control as I look at her, wanting to take her in my arms, and hold her tight, but also terrified of what this all means.

“How is this possible?” I ask, turning back to my father, but he’s no longer there. Apparently this is a moment for my daughter and me, without her grandfather.

“I’m a child of your minds,” she tells me when I turn back to face eyes that are the same as my late lover’s. “I was conceived before she died, and developed at the speed of thought.” Her feet shuffle as she talks, and my mind seems to struggle to understand what she’s telling me.

A child of Lisa’s and my minds? Developed at the speed of thought? I had no idea such things were possible. What then does that mean for Angela? I’d made my sperm potent when we’d been together earlier today, not three steps from where I’m standing now. Is there another child suddenly developing in here, or is it with her since she still lives? My head starts to hurt, trying to figure this out.

“Why did you want to hide from me?” I ask, trying to grasp at anything I might be able to understand.

She remains silent for a while, and just when I’m getting ready to ask again, her voice breaks as she tries to form her response. “I didn’t know you. I may have developed in your mind, allowing me to speak and learn, but I watched as you went up against the Pillar of Fire, and lived. I could tell how conflicted you were concerning having kids, and didn’t want you to hate me. What if you thought I was a monster?”

“Hate you? A monster?” I repeat her words stupidly, somehow trying to make sense of them. How could I ever hate one of my children? Much less Lisa’s daughter? “I could never hate you,” I tell her, still dumbfounded and reeling from the revelations that are trying to swamp me.

In the blink of an eye she vanishes, but I don’t wonder where she’s gone for long, as I feel her arms wrap around my torso, hugging me tightly.

“I’m scared, Dad,” she cries into my chest, and my arms go around her automatically.

A chill runs down my spine as she calls me Dad, the unfamiliar word getting applied to me. I’d grown up without my parents and in a way so had she. Can I be the father she needs me to be? What if I screw up and make a mistake?

Knowing that no matter what I do, I’ll never be perfect, I hug my daughter closer to me. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” I tell her, knowing my words for lies, but not certain what else to say.

“That’s not true,” she chides me, but doesn’t pull away. “I don’t know if I can become the Pillar of Air like she wants. I don’t even know how to get out of your head.”

Just like that, I’m dumbstruck again. I had completely forgotten about Gaia and her plans for my daughter.

“We’ll have to find someone else,” I tell her simply, unsure just how I’m going to do that. “I won’t let anyone hurt you,” I tell her fiercely, meaning it with all my heart. How strange, some part of my mind wonders, that I could suddenly grow to care so much for someone that I didn’t even know existed until just a few moments ago.

“No, I know I need to do it,” she tells me, for a moment sounding much like her mother. “I’m just scared. The worlds need me. I can’t turn my back on that. You wouldn’t, and my mother wouldn’t.”

Powerful pride fills my chest at her words; while at the same time fear for her clouds my thinking. “Where did you learn to be so responsible?” I ask her.

For the first time she laughs and my heart breaks all over again. She laughs the same way her mother used to. “From watching you, of course.”

Shaking my head, I’m suddenly embarrassed at some of the things I’d been up to. The scene with Gaia as well as being in here with Angela earlier, just to name a couple. And my daughter had been watching. . . .

“I don’t even know your name,” I tell her to get rid of those thoughts. I don’t think I’m ready to have the talk with her just yet. Or for that matter, I don’t know if I even need to have the talk now.

“That’s because you haven’t given me one,” she tells me through her mother’s sweet laugh.

My mind immediately goes blank. If this is what parenthood holds in store for me, then my children are in serious trouble! “Is there a name you’d like to have?”

Her head pulls back for the first time since she started hugging me, and I see her blue eyes sparkle uncertainly. “Yes, but I don’t know how you’ll feel about it.”

* * *

I stand alone, fidgeting in a circle, wearing nothing but a loincloth. My legs are buried to just below my knees in the ground. The air outside is still, much as it has been since Fujin’s death, and it has warmed enough that I no longer feel chilled in my almost nakedness. In fact, a small rivulet of sweat can be felt slowly rolling down my back, as I nervously wait. Gaia had wanted me completely nude for this, but I’d refused, on the grounds that I didn’t want to bring my daughter into the outer world with me completely naked. The irony of that thought isn’t lost on me.

Becky had responded the most about the news that I had a daughter with Lisa. At first she’d been angry that I’d kept it from her, and it took some time to convince her that I hadn’t known until just barely. Then she’d been hurt that I’d chosen to have children with Lisa, Sheila, and even Blue, but not her. I didn’t even know she wanted children. I wisely chose not to tell her that I may even have gotten Angela pregnant. She refused to listen to the fact that I didn’t know or mean for it to happen in either case. Then she demanded that we hurry up, and get this over with, not speaking to me again.

“Are you ready?” Alloria asks me, stepping suddenly from the tall grass that surrounds the perfect circle around me.

I nod, and sense my daughter nodding too. Now that she’s no longer hiding from me, and I’m aware of her, it’s easy to feel her presence.

Alloria holds her arms out, and I can just make out the blurry form of Air’s Mantle in her hands. “Then Lysa, I call you to come forth and take up the Mantle of Air, as is your destiny.” At the sound of the name my daughter chose, a combination of Lisa’s and mine, I feel something inside me shudder. “I command you to leave the body of your father, and enter the world.”

Alloria’s commanding voice continues to implore Lysa to step free of me, and take up the proffered power. My insides twist and knot as I feel her try to break free, the power of whatever spell the elf is casting helping her.

“How will she be compatible with Air?” I remember asking the Earth Mother, remembering that only Angela had been capable of taking over for TanaVesta because of her ties to fire. Neither her mother or I are tied to air.

“Because she is a child of the mind. She has no solid form of her own, and is the best suited for this task.” Gaia’s words had been soothing, and I realized at the time that she was trying to calm a concerned parent.

“What will happen to me when I take it?” Lysa asks me, and I repeat the question for Gaia.

“I suspect that there’s a good chance that you may be blown away as she tries to wrest control of it. That’s why I have a wide open field prepared for this.” Gaia’s eyes meet mine, and I realized her next words were for Lysa. “I can’t promise it’ll be easy for you, but you really are our best hope in this, and I know your loyalties will lie with the young generator.”

A sharp pain between my eyes brings me back to the present. Something indistinct is pulling away from me, coming out of me, and reaching for Air’s Mantle. Internally I cheer my daughter on, willing her to take up the Mantle and become the next Pillar of Air. I try to shove aside all my doubts and fears for her, knowing that this needs to be done.

Lysa’s shadowy hand touches the rippling item in Alloria’s hands and suddenly gale force winds knock me painfully to the ground. My not entirely healed wounds from TanaVesta throb in agony as the world seems to spin around me. I have no doubt that if my feet weren’t securely locked in rock, I would have been blown away just as Gaia had said. As it is, from the pain in my legs, I half suspect that something is broken or torn.

Thankfully the gale lasts for only a few seconds, and then is gone as quickly as it’d come. Alloria bends over me, smirking, and I wonder how she’d stayed upright during the whole thing. Sitting up, I see that the grass in all directions has been laid flat, swirling out from the circle as though a tornado had swirled them down. My loincloth has vanished at some point as well.

Alloria mumbles some sort of spell, and the ground around my feet opens up. I’m able to pull my legs free. Both knees hurt when I try to put my weight on them, but I manage, doing my best not to look damaged in front of the self-righteous elf.

The long walk back to Gaia’s domain is thankfully shortened by Blue’s arrival, and she carries us back up to the room where everyone else was waiting. Thankfully she also brought me a change of clothing. I try not to act too smug about Alloria having to hold onto me on the dragon’s back, and I’m sure she tries equally hard not to slip a dagger between my ribs or knock me off.

I grunt painfully when Brooke and Becky practically slam into me, pressing me back against Blue. I can feel Areth hugging her body against my cheek, her feet on my left shoulder, and a moment later Sheila takes the initiative and joins the group as well. I want to tell them all that I’m alright, and that they didn’t have anything to worry about, but the thought of my daughter out there, trying to cope with untold power keeps me silent. At least Becky has forgiven me.

“If you three hug him any tighter, I’m going to have to consider this an orgy and join in,” Jennifer laughs.

“Only because you want to be with him, too,” Becky says, and I see the large-chested woman’s cheeks burn red. Apparently the brunette’s comment struck something in her.

“Everything went well, I take it?” Jewkes states and I see that Jennifer’s comment or reaction has embarrassed the older man. I know he’s married, so why does he keep looking at Jennifer like that?

I see that Emmet is tied up in a corner, and Ondine has her head bowed, standing directly behind Thomas. Where Emmet is standing and facing me, Ondine is acting as if she’s a prisoner.

“She won’t talk to us,” Brooke whispers, seeing where my gaze is. “After you left, Thomas convinced Gaia to let her into his room, and she came back out acting like a beat puppy.”

I’m torn for only a moment. Thomas has been a good friend to me, but I can’t stand seeing someone act as Ondine is. Even Sheila doesn’t act like that when she’s in full slave mode.

Gaia already knows what I’m going to ask before I do, and I see her nod my way in approval. How long has she been watching me that she can read me so well? I don’t miss the strain in her dark eyes, and wonder how much effort she is having to put forth, just to be here with us right now? She’d said that two new pillars would add to her workload.

“Gaia,” I say, concerned for the pillar, “I know you’re under a lot of stress. Please rest while we recover.”

Mother Earth looks at me for a moment before nodding. A moment later she practically melts into the floor.

I’m surprised to see Alloria actually smiling at me. At least, until she catches me looking, and turns it into a glare.

“Ondine,” I say, trying not to grimace at the way she jumps at the sound of her name, “I’ve got a plan in mind to defeat Aldol, but I’m going to need you to do something for me.”

“What do you need of her?” Thomas asks, stepping forward.

“I’m sorry,” I tell the older man, trying to sound as if I really am, “but I’m afraid it’ll have to remain secret. Only she and I can know if my plan is going to work out.”

“I don’t like it,” he says slowly. “She can’t go.”

Despite how Ondine has been acting, Thomas’s statement catches me off guard.

“She . . . can’t?” I ask, raising an eyebrow. “I think that should be her decision.”

“Ondy is my woman now,” he tells me, using her name from Marchosias’s nightmare world, and I can detect a quaver of nervousness to his tone. “What she does affects me now, and I won’t let her do something that might put her in danger.”

“We’re all in danger,” I state, my voice growing hard as I try to control myself, and make sense of what’s happening. I wouldn’t mind his attitude, if Ondine wasn’t acting so poorly. “I want to hear what Ondine has to say for herself.”

The corners of Thomas’s mouth tighten as he grimaces, but he turns to the brown haired mermaid and commands, “Tell him, Ondy, that he’s wasting his time.”

She looks between us for a moment when Thomas steps aside, and I can see indecision in her gaze. I watch as she chews on her lower lip in thought for a few seconds before dropping her gaze back to the floor, her shoulders slumped. I’m certain she’s about to agree with her boyfriend, until I hear her voice break as she speaks. “If I can help save our worlds. . . .”

“No!” Thomas shouts in a pained tone, and I can see his face begin to turn red in rage. “I forbid it, Ondy. You are my woman, and I won’t—“

He cuts off as I shoulder him out of the way, grab Ondine’s wrist, and pull her to the room I’d used as my own earlier. Gaia’s nod had let me know that she would allow Ondine to enter my room, and I hear a thump behind me as Thomas runs into an invisible barrier, trying to follow us. The look on his red face as I close the door on him is nearly priceless.

Ondine starts to talk but I hold my hand up to silence her. Placing my other hand against the wall next to the door, I close my eyes and concentrate. The scene on the other side unfolds in my mind. Thomas is raging at Gaia to be allowed into my room, but either she is resting and can’t hear him, or she’s ignoring him. Everything he yells can only be heard in my head, and I realize that this room is soundproof.

No one is watching Emmet, however, and I can sense the man begin casting a spell. My heart begins beating faster, suspecting the man of trying to escape, until I notice the sweet strains of the sleep spell and notice that his gaze is locked on Thomas. Sure enough, the older man begins to wind down in his tirade, is interrupted by a yawn, and a few seconds later, he slumps to the floor, unconscious.

I pull away from the wall, ready to face the irate mermaid.

“What did you do?” she demands of me, more life in that one question than I’ve seen in her in the last while.

“He’s sleeping peacefully right now,” I tell her calmly, meeting her glare with as placid an expression as I can force onto my face.

Her confusion at my statement lasts for only a moment, before she’s on the warpath again.

“You have no right to drag me in here like that. You don’t own me. I’m not some piece of property to be bullied about at your expense!” She has to draw in a breath to keep up her harangue, and I wait patiently. “I’m not one of your silly women, at your constant beck and call. Don’t you dare treat me like I’m your slut slave, Sheila.”

I count silently to three, making sure she’s gotten everything out and trying to ignore her jibe, before I softly state, “You’re right.”

The sudden shock in her blue eyes is almost as comical as Thomas’s had been, but somehow I keep the mirth from my face.

“You’re not my slave,” I continue talking to her in the same even tone as before. “You’re no one’s slave. So why is it that you act like Thomas is your overlord?”

Her mouth works wordlessly for a few moments before I hear her teeth audibly click shut. She glares at me for a couple more moments before responding, “I don’t have to answer to you.”

“Once again, you’re right,” I state, nodding my head and not looking away from her. “But you have friends, and I’d like to consider myself one of them, that are worried about you.”

Uncertainty enters her eyes then, and I know I’m starting to get through to her. One way or another, I’m going to get a straight answer out of her, and I’d rather not have to stoop to plan B to get it.

The lapse lasts for only the briefest of moments, and is replaced by a steely gaze. “You don’t need to worry about me. I can take care of myself.”

Sighing heavily, I shake my head. “I know you can, Ondine, which is what makes this whole thing that much more confusing.” Locking my eyes on hers again, I recall that first night after being with Angela, and how I’d felt like going to the club. I remember using some kind of seduction power to break down Sheila’s barriers the next day. I had my pick of any woman at the club, and ended up leaving with Becky and Lisa. My heart aches, as I think about Lisa’s eventual fate, but I know I can’t change the past, and focus on the present. I focus on the attractive woman in front of me. I force her to be seduced by my mere presence. I hope Thomas forgives me. Screw that! I hope he never finds out!

I watch as Ondine’s blue eyes dilate, and her breathing quickens.

“Please, Ondine. If he is abusing you, you can tell me.” I let my voice drop in pitch, but keep it calm as I talk with her.

“Y-you don’t understand,” she stammers. “How could you? You have so many women around you, always willing to do anything for you. Who does he have?”

She shudders as I place my hand on her shoulder, truly sorry about using one of my abilities on another man’s woman. A friend’s woman. A friend. But I can’t sit idly by and tolerate any abuse to any woman.

Her eyes growing suddenly wide is all the warning I get, before her fist connects with my jaw, sending me sprawling. “How dare you!” I hear her cry out over the ringing in my skull as my back strikes the thankfully carpeted floor. “He is your friend, and you’re trying to seduce me?” She jumps on top of me, and I try to get my arms up to fend off her attacks. I should have known she’d see through my ruse. It’s not like I was being subtle about it.

“Wait!” I cry out, “You don’t understand.”

“I think I understand just fine, Lyden Snow,” she growls, but at least she quits hitting me. “It’s you that doesn’t understand. You think he’s abusing me? Ha! The man barely lays a hand on me.” She grabs handfuls of my shirt, and pulls me up to look her in the eyes. “I do everything I can to please him, but it’s not good enough.” Her eyes narrow and I can see her debating with herself. “You want to know what’s wrong, Lyden Snow?” she demands and I nod. “He’s not you! And to make matters worse, I’m not Angela! He’s jealous of the way you have woman at your every beck and call, and I’m jealous of the fact that you’re able to satisfy all of them.”

I blink in confusion at her torrent of words, trying to make sense of them. I can’t. “Huh?” I ask as eloquently as my throbbing head and jaw will let me.

“He doesn’t abuse me,” she nearly shouts. “I act like I do, because I want him to know that I’ll do whatever I can to please him.” She emphasizes her point by grinding her crotch against me, and for the first time since she knocked me flat, I realize she’s on top of my groin. “He wants someone who will do whatever he wants, like you have Sheila. He wants someone to listen to him, like you have Becky. He wants someone to change for him, like you have Angela. He wants someone to give up everything for him, like you have Arethusa and Brooke. He wants someone to love him, like you have with all of them.”

“What do you want?” I ask, seeing a tear begin to break from the stalwart woman’s eye and wend its way down her cheek to fall on my chest. I know that now is not the time to tell her I no longer have Angela. “You’ve told me what he wants, Ondine, but I want to know what you desire.”

She hunches over, pressing her face into my shirt, and I wrap my arms around her, letting her sob. I hear her mumble something, and have to release her, to hear her response.

“I want what all of them have,” she says softly. “I want a man to make love to me, and satisfy me. I want to cum.”

It takes a moment for that to sink in. I remember in Marchosias’s fantasy world, Sheila claiming that Thomas could never satisfy a woman, and wonder if the demon had known, if Sheila and Thomas had been together at some time in the past, or if, as with our fighting abilities, Marchosias had made it reality.

I’m brought out of my thoughts when I feel the brunette’s lips brush my throat on the way up to my lips.

“Ondine, wait,” I try to protest, but she stops my protests by pressing her lips to mine. Hungrily she kisses me, her hands leaving my shirt and going to the back of my head while she plasters her body against mine. There is no love in this action, just unquenched lust and desire. Her tongue brushes against my lips, and I don’t fight her, but I don’t respond either. Seeing her way free, she slips inside my mouth, exploring around and it takes a great amount of willpower not to respond. She’s good! Her hips start gyrating against my pelvis, and I hear her moan in frustration that I’m not helping. My cock is definitely responding to her, however, and I curse it for a traitor.

“No!” she finally gasps after a few more seconds. “You don’t get to do this to me! You can’t turn me on, and then just lie here. If you’re truly my friend, then I need you to do this for me,” she pleads with me, and I’m overcome with guilt. I had done this to her, but I don’t know if I can go through with it now.

“What about Thomas?” I ask, my voice full of conflicting emotions. I hadn’t felt guilty about seducing a woman away from someone abusive, but now that I know that their problems are entirely different, things have changed.

“What about him?” she asks back, sitting up and pulling off her shirt. “This will stay between us. No one else has to ever know.” She’s in just a white bra and her pants now, but still I’m reluctant. “Okay,” she says when I still make no move towards where my cock is desperately demanding I go. “Consider this penance for what you were trying to do. You tried to seduce me, now live with it.” Her right hand brushes along my cheek, until it reaches my hair, at which point she grabs a handful and painfully lifts my head up. “But you’d better get me off. I’m already leaking through these pants. Let me worry about Thomas. You worry about making my cum.”

I realize that she’s just using me, and surprisingly, I’m okay with that. Is it only because I don’t have enough blood flow to my proper brain, or my guilt over what I’d considered doing?

As she pulls my face up to meet hers, I realize I no longer care. Here is a very attractive woman, who wants me for nothing more than sex. Sex that her own man can’t seem to satisfy her with. I’m doing her a favor, here. I realize I’m trying to come up with justifications, and stop, deciding to just enjoy the moment.

My hands go to her back, and the moan of pleasure that escapes between our devouring lips as I undo her bra would have made me hard, if I weren’t already painfully straining against the front of my pants. Without looking, I pull the shoulder straps down her arms, and bring my hands around to the front of her tits. She flinches slightly as my fingers find her nipples, and I’m surprised to find metal studs piercing the hard nubs. My surprise doesn’t last long, as I remember Thomas asking if I’d thought she’d be willing to do something like this. I guess I know, now.

Realizing how sensitive the new piercings likely are, I move my hands to the firm flesh around her nipples, massaging her breasts.

Ondine lifts her hips up without breaking our kiss, and I feel her fingers working at my crotch, trying to free my manhood. I can’t stop my own moan, both in relief as my pecker is freed from its uncomfortable prison and pleasure from her firm grip. Her hand frantically works on my shaft, using the precum leaking from the head as lubricant.

As much as I’m enjoying what she’s doing, I want to change things a bit. Rolling us over, I break the kiss, sit up, and take a good look at her. Her cheeks and chest are flushed, her breathing heavy, as she licks her lips looking back at me. I can see that her nipples are a bit enflamed from the intruding metal, her breasts, approximately B-cups, rise and fall with her breathing. I realize that this is likely my last chance to stop this, but the look in Ondine’s eyes, blue eyes filled with lust, desire, need, and even pleading, convinces me to continue.

It only takes me a few seconds to rip off her jeans, and I take only the briefest of moments to look at her clean-shaven and glistening sex. Her inner lips are swollen and slick with her arousal. Reaching my hands forward, I use my thumbs to spread her open, enjoying the way she jumps at the connection.

“Give me your cock, Lyden,” she pleads with me. “I need to feel something big inside me. I need to cum!” Her words make me wonder how large Thomas is, but I shake my head, knowing that right now isn’t the time to think about that. She grimaces, not understanding my head movement, and I shrug internally. Actual intercourse will be fine, but if she wants to cum, then there is more than one way to accomplish that.

I lean forward, planting a soft kiss on her sensitive lower lips, smiling at her gasp of pleasure. My tongue snakes out, tasting her sweet nectar and liking it. I tease her gently, only allowing the softest of touches with my mouth muscle, until she grabs my head, forcing my lips against her, and moaning loudly. From the strength that flows into me, I know she’s finally cumming. Her fingers are almost painful, as she rubs herself frantically against my face. I do the best I can with my tongue, trying to shove it as far into her as I can. As her orgasm continues, I decide to change my tongue, allowing it to lengthen and fork, making it go even deeper, until I’m licking her uterus. I can feel her tight inner walls writhing and massaging my tongue, her fluids coating it and dripping off my chin.

Without warning my head is ripped away from her, and she hunches into a fetal position, shuddering and still climaxing. I can’t help but smile, proud of a job well done.

“That was more intense than I could have imagined,” she pants, rolling onto her back. “No wonder they all stay with you.”

The last statement actually stings somewhat. Do they only stay with me because of my prowess in the sack? Somehow that doesn’t sit right. Faces flash before my vision, eyes filled with true love and devotion, actions that speak louder than words surface in my thoughts, and I know that my women love me in truth.

Ondine isn’t aware of my thoughts, and they fly through my head in a matter of seconds. When she turns to look at me, I smile at her, knowing that her words were meant as a compliment. Still, I can’t help but make my next statement. “Well, you got to cum, so I guess that’s it.”

I try to stand, and have to stop myself from laughing as she frantically dives for me. Her hands hold my shoulders down against the soft floor, as she fiercely looks down at me. Her chest is still heaving, as she speaks, “Don’t you dare think I’m going to pass up the opportunity to have your massive cock in me.” Her hips swivel to emphasize her point, and I lift my own to meet hers. It’s answer enough.

Her hand slips between us, and she deftly has me poised at her entrance. She hesitates for only a second, before rocking back and impaling herself on my sword. Even as wet as she is, she’s so tight that it takes time to slip into her. Each centimeter is won with moans, and grunts of pleasure. I know I can shrink myself down, but she’d made it clear she wanted what she saw, so I let her take it all. I still have to shorten it a bit, as I feel myself hit the back of her tunnel, and there’s still some of me outside of her grasping hole.

When our pelvises finally meet, she looks down to where we’re connected with a look of awe. “I did it,” she murmurs. “I feel like you’re in my throat and about to split me in two, but I did it.”

I tighten my lower muscle, making myself twitch inside her. Her eyes close and she tilts her head back slightly, moaning in pleasure.

Lifting my hands up, I cup her tits, squeezing her metal-tipped boobs. Her hips move in slow circles at first, building up speed and vigor, until my whole body is moving along the floor, inch by inch. I’d worry about getting a rub burn, but I know as soon as she cums, I’ll be whole again.

Words escape both of us, too lost in the pleasures we’re giving one another, when she unexpectedly locks up, her pussy gripping my phallus in an iron grip, her entire body shuddering in orgasmic bliss.

I move my arms around to her back, sitting up, and then laying her back. I pull out all but the tip of my prick, and then drive into her tight orifice, pounding her sensory-overloaded vagina again and again, not letting up, and driving her orgasm on and on.

I know I won’t last at this pace, but I don’t care. My mind is fuzzed with lust, wanting to reach my own culmination. I see her mouth moving, trying to form words, but I can’t hear anything other than grunts from her, as I continue to drill her.

The first volley catches her off-guard, and I see her eyes open wide as I flood her insides with impotent semen. A long wail escapes her throat, and I can hear our combined juices squelching out of her with each thrust.

“Not a word to Thomas,” she states seriously, as we get dressed.

“He won’t hear a thing about it from me,” I tell her honestly. She gives me a quick peck on the lips, smiling appreciatively at me. “Besides, I think I have an idea on how to help out with your situation, without giving our little tryst away.”

So I take it I’m forgiven? my father’s voice fills my mind, responding to my thoughts and request to him.

“Not in the least,” I murmur under my breath so that Ondine won’t hear. “You hid my daughter from me. But I might not be so angry with you, for helping Thomas.” I walk over to the bed as Ondine walks out. I have some work to do, to atone for what I’d just done to my friend’s woman. Guilt fills my heart as I lie down, and enter my Mens Mundi.

Sex school is about to take place. My Mens Mundi will be the campus, Thomas the student, and my father the instructor. I guess that makes me the principal.


===================
Author’s Note: As always, mad props to Garbonzo. He caught some plot holes in this chapter that almost made it through, and saw some places that were confusing if you didn’t already know what was going on.

Please let me know how I’m doing in the comments below. Your feedback is ALWAYS welcome!

If you can’t wait for chapter 32, you can read it on the blog now. The link to my blog is in my forum signature. You will find the forum here: forum.xnxx.com/showthread.php?p=5847059#
It is the PleasureTrove blog at blogspot.
185 comments

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