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Monstrum: Broodmother - Part 1

By WintermuteX
[email protected]
//pegast-irk.ru/~Wintermutex/

Previous stories:
Monstrum: Bitch

Tags: Mg, bd, best, magic, nc, ped, rape, reluc, viol

Content: Rape, Monster Rape, Young Girls, Magic/Fantasy, Gore, Death, Bondage, Pedophilia, Pregnancy

10-year-old Kali looked up from her textbook. Driving wind pushed the rain in waves outside the grimy flap of the tent. It splattered on the canvas roof, pouring down in rivulets and forming muddy puddles through which the camp soldiers trudged. Three days of miserable rain had hampered their patrol, and it showed no signs of letting up.

The other two beds in the tent were empty, her fellow mages called out to deal with a fallen tree on the mountain path. Kali rolled over onto her back in the cozy bunk, luxuriating in the soft pelts that kept the cold at bay. They had been out a month, dispatched to the western passes near Bridonia. She had barely returned from her last assignment - a disastrous skirmish with Hellhounds - when she was immediately reassigned and dispatched with another patrol heading in the opposite direction. More Org-reh, or maybe it was Centaurum this time, pillaging and destroying the outer villages of the kingdom.

She sighed. It seemed like the monsters were everywhere these days. Once, Teleria had been a shining jewel of civilization, with a formidable standing army, a mighty queen, and a highly-trained school of mages, able to accomplish seemingly any task with the powerful magic at their command. Now, after twenty years of increasingly aggressive and numerous monster attacks, it was rotting from within. Skirmishes went poorly, the combined might of trained swordsmen and capable mages suffering under the assaults of the monsters. Ambushes, feints, and hit-and-run tactics were taking their toll, sometimes bringing a horrific end to entire squads. The monsters were getting increasingly clever, threatening outlying cities and taking over whole villages, and the forces of the kingdom didn't seem able to stop them.

The queen hadn't been seen in months - supposedly cloistered in her tower and unwilling to speak to anyone. Her council turned deaf ears to the cries from the military and the mages, insisting on the traditional principles of engagement: disciplined soldiers combined with the potency of the mages - young girls between the ages of 8 and 14 in whom magical abilities were at their peak - was a devastating force that could not be beat. In the beginning of the war, it seemed they were right. The squads had won every battle, liberating the fortress of Axonbad from the Org, protecting outlying villages, driving the monsters back wherever they had appeared. But the years had worn on, and the monsters grew in cunning, until many of the engagements began to turn in their favor. Hushed whispers, at least among her friends, said that someone must be controlling them. After all, nobody knew where the monsters came from, or how they got to Teleria in the first place. Anna, out there somewhere in the rain, loudly insisted to anyone that would listen that the Org-reh mages, large cruel brutes with notable intelligence and a rough smattering of magical ability, must be responsible, but Kali wasn't so sure. Sometimes, the monsters were too clever. They would seem to know about a patrol before it had even arrived. It didn't add up.

There was no use brooding. She returned her attention to her book, the Monstrum Factorum, a thick, black tome with an elaborate binding and gold-worked frame. Its thousands of heavy pages comprised a guidebook of virtually every known scientific fact about all monster species. No responsible mage was ever without her copy of the Factorum. They were nearing the pass where monsters had been sighted, and she had to be ready if she was going to be effective.

"Centaurum are large, hybrid creatures that possess the lower body of a horse and the upper body of a human. They are notable for their great stamina, fighting skills, and cruelty to each other and to their prey. Hunting in packs typically numbering between five and twenty, a Centaurum war party will use their superior speed to their advantage, either chasing and surrounding their prey, or forcing their opponents to pursue and fight them on a battlefield of their own choosing. They prefer wide-open prairie land, as befits their equine nature, and are highly adept with bows and spears.

"When capturing human prey, Centaurum will kill the males in cruel games, and take captive the desirable females, preferring young human women most. Centaurum posses a genital anatomy comparable to a horse, and will attempt to breed with their prizes almost ceaselessly when not fighting or hunting. While new prey is typically unable to accommodate the substantial girth of such an organ, this does not stop the Centaurum from trying. Exposure of the mucous membranes to Centaurum semen causes one of the most rapid Conversion effects known to Monstrum science, with the resulting morphological and pathological transformations beginning almost immediately. In under 24 hours, the genital region begins to undergo a dramatic widening and toughing, making it more suitable for deep penetration by the equine penis. Secondary transformations follow at a somewhat slower pace, and entail a subtle restructuring of internal organs in the victim, allowing for a lengthening of the vaginal canal and eventual accommodation of the entire length and girth of the Centaurum anatomy. The hips and pelvis undergo small structural changes, and the uterus, bladder, and lower gastric regions slowly migrate to new positions. Though progress is swift at the beginning, the anatomical transformations can take up to 6 months to reach their final stage. Victims this far into the Conversion process are highly prized, and Centaurum are known to trade these sexual slaves as a rudimentary form of currency with other tribes."

Kali tried to repress her distaste at the diagram on the opposite page. Why was it necessary to include a full-page color diagram of a Centaurum in full penetration of a little girl? The anatomical cutaway that showed how the monstrous, veiny horsecock filled up the vagina and pushed the internal organs aside was luxuriously detailed and revoltingly informative. It was all in the name of science, Kali supposed. The cover page of the Monstrum Factorum espoused its philosophy: Percutere Inimicus, Intelligatis. You needed to understand an enemy to beat them. She skipped over the remainder of the sexual diagrams.

"Guidelines for magical combat against Centaurum: first restrain with Air or Earth, countering their speed. Raise deflection spells against their arrows, which they fire with skilled precision. Eruptions are notably effective, as they can toss a galloping creature aside, causing it to break its legs. Ensure that proper alarms and sentries are set whenever travelling over open ground, as Centaurum are known to stalk and-"

She turned to the next chapter with a sigh. She knew how to fight Centaurum. Blow them up and don't get turned into a pincushion of arrows. There wouldn't be any Centaurum out here near the mountain passes. It was terrifying what the creatures would do to the girls - and to the mages - that they captured.

"Sewer Squelches prefer to dwell in dark, moist tunnels. They can be frequently found near underground rivers and in the labyrinthine sewer systems of moderately-sized cities. The body of a Sewer Squelch consists of between twelve and thirty long, pink appendages protruding from a roundish orb that is dominated by a gigantic eyeball. A Squelch floats on its own power, using an unknown magical mechanism to achieve its levitation. The tentacles of the creature are thin but versatile, able to achieve a variety of feats from digital and magical manipulation to rape and insemination. Squelches prefers to lurk in dark places until prey comes in range, at which point they will-"

There wouldn't be any Squelches out here either. They liked to lurk in sewers and stormdrains, and snatch incautious little girls with their tentacles, dragging them back to their nests and then raping them repeatedly. They weren't a major threat unless they were ignored and allowed to breed, and could be dealt with fairly easily, presuming their nests could be found. She had helped a small team burn out a Squelch nest under a city a year ago when she was still in training. The girls, unfortunately, couldn't be saved. Conversion had a devastating effect. She turned to the next chapter.

"Venoma Vines are one of the few truly symbiotic Monstrum known to exist. A Venoma body consists of two parts: the core is an ovoid central organ somewhat resembling an orchid root, housing the brain and digestive facilities. From this organ grow dozens of strong, dextrous tentacles of varying lengths and purposes, reaching up to eighty feet and resembling the hanging vines of leafy plants. Venoma Vines will embed their core deep in the earth where it can be protected, and extend their vines upward to the surface, often hiding them under bushes and draping them around plants. The upper extent of the vine appendages possesses a tough skin and can change its color slowly over time, to better camouflage in the local flora. For this reason, Venoma prefer to dwell in jungles and leafy forests, subsisting on local prey.

"Venoma Vines will capture and eat almost any living creature that wanders into range of their tentacles, with the exception of larger mammals. Venoma will preserve such prey, wrapping it in tentacles and dragging it into the earth where it can be totally restrained. The unique feature of Venoma presents itself here: A Venoma will kill male mammals, but attempt to fuse with females. The shorter vine type of the Venoma secretes a substance from the tips that functions as both a light acid and a potent painkiller. The Venoma will slowly work these vines into the victim's skin in a painless process that takes many weeks. The vines penetrate both the dermis and fascia, finally seeking to embed themselves near the brainstem, spine, and genital region of the prey. Once the tips are sufficiently deep inside the victim's body, the nervous systems of both creatures begin to fuse.

"Venoma seem to greatly prefer humanoid girls for this process, if available. Over the course of the fusing process, a female is raped incessantly by the vines, which indiscriminately penetrate the vagina, anus, and mouth, advancing the Conversion process. When the nervous systems are connected, the orgasms of the female transmit to the Venoma itself, and echo back to the victim, creating an intense, heterodyning feedback loop of ecstasy. The victims of a Venoma need no separate sustenance due to the connected nature of their bodies.

"Once fused, the final phase of the breeding process can begin. Specialized tentacles will enter the vagina of the victim, secreting a potent-"

She hurriedly turned to the next chapter, avoiding the excruciatingly-detailed diagram that showed how a Venoma would impregnate a human. She knew how to fight Venoma too. Burying them wasn't effective. Burning the vines didn't accomplish much, since they would just grow back. You had to uproot the core from the earth and destroy it completely. She had killed one, once, working in concert with a squad of soldiers and three other mages. The Vines had taken three girls from the local village. In the weeks it took her patrol to travel to the remote region, they had been totally converted. The monster had little more than three screaming organs at that point that it could masturbate itself with on a continuous basis. Killing a Venoma would kill any fused victims - they couldn't be saved. She tried to put the memory out of her head and keep studying. Venoma were rare in mountains, but not unheard of. She reminded herself to prepare a spell the next day that would detect their aura if they travelled near any.

The next chapter of Monstrum was the one she hated most: Arachma. Disgusting, man-sized arachnids that built hives and snared their prey in ambushes. She skipped to a random page in the chapter.

"The Arachma phallus is a strong, dextrous organ that emerges from a protrusion in the chitinous shell at the base of the abdomen. It is composed of over a dozen flexible strata of erectile tissue. Each layer is capable of erection and extension independently of the others, allowing substantial control over the girth and length of the organ during intercourse. This adaptability is most evident in the innermost layer of tissue: a flexible, tubular extension, vaguely similar to an ovipositor, that can probe its way through a narrow vaginal canal to reach the cervix. Arachma are capable of inseminating even very young human girls, preferring prey that-"

Kali couldn't stand it. She closed the heavy book with a slam and tossed it aside. Lying on her back, she gazed up at the hypnotic swaying of the tent roof as it was blown by the cold wind outside.

There was a sudden rustle as the flap of the tent was pushed wide, and Lisa stepped inside. She looked pathetic, shivering with cold, her half-naked body soaked from head to toe.

Kali sat back on her elbows. "Hi Lisa. I was beginning to think you'd be out there all day. Did you take care of the tree?", she asked.

Lisa stared at Kali for a moment before giving a silent nod. Water ran in rivulets from her soaking hair down her flat chest. She must have been freezing in the rain, in just her mage uniform. Condensed magical energy would decay normal clothing at an astonishing pace, so the official uniform of a mage consisted of just a thin frame of golden allocitic metal and a few thin scraps of the royal-blue dreamcloth. Lisa reached behind herself to undo her top, a sparse assembly of allocite wire and chain, with two small, hanging flaps of dreamcloth that covered her nipples and little else. She sighed as she pulled the wet metal framework off and dropped it on the floor.

Her panties weren't much more than an allocite chain running over her hips and a couple flimsy scraps of dreamcloth to hang over the pussy and ass. Giving any other clothing to a mage was just a waste. The allocite and dreamcloth were so difficult and expensive to manufacture that a mage was supplied with the bare minimum that could be spared. Kali remembered how embarrassed she had been when she first had to wear her uniform during her training. The men liked to stare at her, running their eyeballs over her butt and hips, admiring her flat tummy, hoping that a sudden breeze would push the dreamcloth aside and show off the little girl's pink cunt or ass. She got used to it though - it was just part of being a mage, and overall she had made much larger sacrifices in the course of her duty.

Lisa grabbed and twisted the dreamcloth scrap hanging over her pussy, expelling a gush of water, before flopping miserably onto her bunk. The brazier provided little heat to the tent so drying out would be hard. Fuel was already running low in camp and had to be rationed.

Kali frowned when her friend turned away from her on her bunk. Since her last patrol, Lisa would scarcely talk at all. Kali was worried about her friend. Eleven years old and in the class one step above her, Lisa had more experience than Kali did. She used to be the cheeriest person Kali knew, dominating any conversation with sarcastic jokes that made everyone laugh. Kali didn't know what had happened the last time Lisa had gone out, but her friend staunchly refused to talk about it.

Another chilly gust blew into the tent through the loose flap, stealing the warmth that had crept into the air. Many of her friends hadn't come back, Kali thought. She hadn't seen her mentor Sarah in years. Sarah had said goodbye to Kali before going on patrol the week before Beltane and hadn't come back. Kali had tried to ask her commanders what happened, but deployment information was classified, and they just yelled at her to stop asking about sensitive matters and get back to training.

Now, their own patrol was supposed to find out what had happened to the last squad dispatched to this region. Kali only knew one mage that had been with the troops stationed here: her friend Niki. The last time she had seen Niki was at their graduation ceremony over a year ago. Kali and her classmate had been very close, sharing whispered secrets and dreams in their bunkroom long after the official lights-out time. When they discovered they would be assigned to separate commands after graduation, they barely had time for a teary goodbye before being hustled off to deployment. The girls had exchanged letters, sharing old jokes and commiserating over the burdens of military duty, but Niki's messages had abruptly stopped. "Things are crazy now, but I'm sure that somehow the chaos will end and we'll be together again," was how her friend ended her last letter. If Niki was still alive out here, Kali would do everything possible to find her.

"Well well, isn't that just so purty". A guard had abruptly pulled aside the flap of their tent. He was leering hungrily at Kali, who had let the wind blow the dreamcloth scrap away from her pussy, leaving herself exposed as she lied on the bed. The filthy man leaned on his halberd, his crooked grin peppered with rotten teeth, as he watched Kali blush and cover herself.

"You're supposed to announce yourself, you know". Kali was indignant.

"Am I now? I'm supposed to announce meself in me own camp? Well little girl, consider this your announcement. Barth is here. All hail Barth, Lord of the Mud and King of Division Three. Now stand up and present yourself. Commander wants to see you." Normally a soldier would never demand a mage stand at attention, but the men of this camp grew more undisciplined and insolent every day.

She hurriedly stood and stepped out of the tent into the rain. Barth gazed into the tent at Lisa, admiring the little girl's smooth ass and back as she lay on the cot facing away from him. "Mmm-hmm very pretty indeed, you mages. Maybe I'll come by later." He gave a rude gesture towards the tiny figure beside him. Well, get on then."

Neka was waiting, wet fur and ears drooping in the damp weather. The catgirl gave a brief bow. "Good evening My Lady. Please accompany me to Commander Varus' tent. He has need of your expertise."

Kali almost smiled, despite the gloomy weather. Neka was preposterously formal, but the commander's personal assistant could be friendly, in an odd cat-like way, once her guard was down. "Sheesh. Don't be so formal Neka. It's good to see you."

The delicate cat ears twitched inquisitively, and Neka let herself smile briefly. "Hi Kali. Let's go. This rain is awful.".

Kali considered the girl as they trudged through the mud. The poor assistant had only a short black cloak with no hood, and the rain was streaming down her head, soaking her ears and the soft fur of the back of her head. Felis loathed being in the rain, preferring to avoid it at all costs. Kali didn't know much about the strange catgirl species, recalling only that they kept to themselves in reclusive villages and rarely ventured into human society. When they did, it was often as slaves and servants.

The surly guardsmen surveyed them both with distaste before reaching to open the flap of the oversized red tent that marked the commander's office. Once inside, Neka gave a formal bow. "Sir, I have brought Kali Eventon, Mage of the Fifth Order, as you requested."

Varus dropped the chart he was examining back onto the table and scowled. "Well, fucking great Neka. You got Kali. Thanks so much. Only took you ten minutes too. Why don't you go get me some fucking stew or something? Or find out where that miserable cunt Goels went - the bastard needs to come give his report."

Neka weathered the tirade with her usual unflappable grace, giving a short bow before heading back into the rain. The guard tied the flap closed behind her.

At least the commander's tent was warm. Kali rubbed her arms as she tried to stop shivering. The grumpy commander looked her up and down before dropping into his camp chair.

"So, the scouts tell me they've spotted a force in the rocks above the pass. Ettu probably. Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, we'll be able to reach them, and gut those fucking monsters." Varus seemed angry. He was always angry. He speared her with a piercing gaze. "So, are you mages going to be ready?"

"Yes sir", Kali replied stiffly. "We're fully prepared to deal with any forces arrayed against us. You have three fully trained and experienced mages bolstering your men. I've already prepared a list of scries and wardings we can use to prepare as we near the p-"

"Great!" he snarled. "Chants and charms and bullshit. Fantastic. What I really want to know is-", he leaped up from the chair, walking around the camp table to confront her. "Are you going to be fucking ready? Three little girls. Are you going to fucking fireball them? Slice them up with those little wind razor things? Shoot those pillars of rock up from the earth and right into their assholes?"

She tried to stand up to his aggressive posture as he loomed over her. His black hair was tangled in a chaotic mess. He hadn't shaved in gods knew how long and he smelled like the cow dung that fueled the braziers.

"We adjust our tactics to suit the situation, commander. Different monsters require different approaches, and-"

"No," Varus interrupted. "They don't require different approaches. You fucking kill them. Murder them before they murder you. Or worse. That's the approach. Don't wait. Act." Kali didn't have much to say to that, so she kept quiet.

"Do you have any idea how many fucking fights I've had to break up in the past week? I have three little girls in my camp. You stroll around like little fuck puppets. You show off your assholes every time you bend over. Do you have any idea what that does to the men?"

Kali opened her mouth to reply but Varus cut her off with a slashing gesture.

"No. Shut up. Listen. It's been three months since my men were last in town. They may start pricking each other at this rate. No entertainment out here at all, except three sexy little sluts whose cute little butts and pussies can be seen every time the wind blows wrong. Fucking useless, that's what you are."

Kali was wilting under the angry diatribe. It wasn't fair. She had to give up everything she knew and train hard for years to become a mage. They deserved respect. A few years back, nobody would have dared shout at one like this. Mixed squads used to dispatch with both a military commander and a trained mage liaison, someone who understood mage tactics and mixed unit tactics and could help coordinate affairs between the regular soldiers and mages. Her own commander, Marcus, a sandy-haired veteran with a handsome face and a quick grin, had been reassigned to another squad and never replaced. There were too few of them now. Fewer mages, fewer soldiers, fewer skilled commanders. The monsters were taking a toll and everyone knew it. There weren't many still fighting who hadn't lost companions or loved ones to the monster attacks.

"Well?"

She swallowed. "I don't know what to say, commander."

"She doesn't know what to say. Fine. Great. Can you swing a sword?"

"Um, no sir," Kali replied.

"What about an axe?"

She shook her head.

"Halberd? Spear? Hammer?"

She looked down at his boots, face burning with embarrassment.

"Just what CAN you use?"

"Sir, I am proficient with staff, dagger, and shortbow. I've trained with short and long-range melee tactics, Kebdo wrestling, close-range magical defenses, and long-distance running."

He stared at her. "Dagger. A fucking dagger. Well I suppose if you stab an Ettu in the toe, he might laugh himself to death. Great. Do you have your dagger with you?"

She had not equipped herself before being summoned. "I do not sir."

He sighed, before crossing his arms and leaning back against the table. "One more question. How many monsters have you killed?"

"Two Hellhounds, five Sewer Squelches, eight Rapewolves, one Ghast, and over two score each of Org-reh and Ettu. I also participated in the battle against the Fiend at Vicca."

He rubbed his stubbled chin thoughtfully. She opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and remained silent. She didn't like the way he was looking at her.

"Fine," he mumbled. "Let's see what standards the mages hold themselves to now. Stand at attention!"

She snapped her arms smartly to her side, locking herself into a rigid posture, staring straight ahead.

He loosened the leather straps of his vambraces as he approached her. She kept her gaze fixed forward, holding perfectly still. The heat of the tent had driven the chill from her body, and her shivers along with it. Now she was sweating slightly in the yellow light of the lamps.

He slowly circled her, penetrating gaze examining every detail of the girl, admiring the trim body and smooth skin marbled with beads of sweat. When he stopped behind her, he gently caressed the sweep of her long hair before placing his hands on her shoulders and rubbing them gently. She tried not to tense when his callused fingers ran down her sides and over her curving hips. He crouched down, seemingly amused by the flimsy allocitic material of her panties, then pulled the hanging dreamcloth aside to look at her asshole.

She tried not to cry. This wasn't right. Mages used to be respected and revered. When her commander was around, nobody would have dared do something like this to her. But nobody was around, not even her friends. She was alone.

Kali jumped slightly and tensed when he ran his finger along the crack of her ass. She thought he would punish her for breaking stance, but he ignored it, using his fingers to gently tickle her anus. For a brief, horrified moment she thought he was going to use his fingers to go deeper. Instead, he grabbed her asscheeks, gently kneading them.

"Clean. Very nice. Turn around."

She did as she was ordered, tears falling down her face. He continued his inspection at her front, pulling the scrap of cloth aside and running a finger along her pussy lips. He spread them apart, ignoring her shiver, feeling her reluctant wetness. A gasp caught in her throat when he gently flicked her clit, and her hands reflexively pushed down over her pussy.

"Hmm. Well, you're clean, as a good soldier should be. That's something." He stood up, beginning to unbuckle his tunic. "Get down on your knees."

The hope that he would let her go with just a humiliating inspection was crushed. Trembling, she did as he asked, kneeling down before him. He could cause a lot of problems for her if she didn't follow orders. She closed her eyes when he unzipped his trousers and pushed them down.

"You know, I have a daughter, right about your age. She's a very pretty and obedient little girl." A thick stick of soft meat slapped her in the face. "Let's see how your skills compare to hers."

He was big, much bigger than she had expected. The round, thick shaft was capped by an enormous glans that was already leaking precum. Kali stifled a sob as she took it in her hands and guided it to her mouth. She had sucked cocks before, but this was the the largest she had seen. He was much wider than both Marcus and her father.

She licked the head, trying to coat it with her saliva, before moving on to the shaft. Her tongue ran along it in long, slow strokes, as she squeezed the base lightly with her hands. Varus was frayed, but not unpleasant to look at. He had thick calves and a heavily muscled stomach. She wondered how he had got that long, ragged scar that slashed its way from his thigh all way way up his chest. It looked like it hurt.

Once he was wet enough, she took him into her mouth, gently massaging the head with a sucking motion before going deeper. Kali had to stretch her jaw wide to try to get more in. She licked and sucked, running his prick in and out of her mouth, tasting the salty precum spread over her tongue.

Varus groaned in pleasure as she worked her mouth on his dick. "Fucking shit little girl, you do have skills. Did they teach you this in mage school?"

She worked into a steady rhythm, wrapping her lips tightly around the shaft for suction and letting it glide in and out. Sometimes she would withdraw a bit, kissing the head and running her tongue over it for a bit, before fitting it back into her mouth and going to work again. She tried to take him deeper into her throat, but he was too big and after a few strokes she had to withdraw, coughing and spitting. She ran her hands up and down his length to make up for it as she caught her breath.

She looked up at him to see if he was getting close. Varus was leaning back against the table, resting his palms on it, as he leered down at her, enjoying the sight of the little 10-year-old girl working on his cock. "Hmm, well you're almost as good as my daughter. Almost."

She went back to work on his shaft, sucking and slurping. His breathing was heavier and she could feel the blood pounding through the soft flesh that stretched her mouth open. Abruptly, he grabbed her hair and forced her deeper, cramming the oversized girth into her, stretching her jaw painfully and plugging the back of her throat. She tried to breathe through her nose in quick gasps as he took over, thrusting his pelvis forward and ramming her mouth repeatedly. The quicker she could get him off, the quicker she could get out of here. She wrapped her tongue around his prick and moaned, sending a vibrating sensation into his prick. Her own pussy was on fire, and she couldn't resist using her free hand to rub her clit.

Just when she thought her jaw would crack open from the pressure, he yanked her back by the hair, ripping his cock from her mouth. He jacked himself up and down madly before spasming with a feral groan. She had closed her eyes and opened her mouth - her Father had only had to teach her THAT lesson once - as hot jets of cum streaked across her cheeks, landing on her forehead, her eyelids, and in her mouth. He finished by rubbing his cock all over her face, smearing the cum everywhere and getting a glob stuck in her nose.

"Well, I guess you're not totally useless," Varus sneered. "Go back to your tent."

She tried to use the rain to wipe the cum off her face, to hide her tears, the fact that she was crying. Sticky mud squelched under her feet as she passed the soldiers in the camp. They were probably looking at her. She didn't care.

Only one soldier was near the green striped tent that marked the mage quarters. He sat on a stump nearby, oiling his sword, and regarded her with a worried frown as she passed, sniffling, into the tent. Bear was a nice man, and she liked him, but she didn't want to talk to anybody.

Anna was back too. She and Lisa sat up in their bunks, taking in the sight of their friend, filthy with rainwater and tears, globs of stray cum on her face and ears. They didn't say anything. There wasn't much to say.

Kali buried herself in her bunk, trying to wrap herself up in the pelts for maximum warmth. She wanted to shut out the world, the endless rain and cold, the exhausting, thankless military duty of marching and magical practice that filled her days. Being a mage used to be a special privilege, but now each assignment was worse than the last. She was finally calming down, her breathing slowing down and tears drying up, when someone rapped sharply on the wooden panel outside. A man threw back the flap and entered. Bear. He had a tray with three steaming bowls on it and a platter of sliced apples and cheese.

"Damnably wet outside isn't it?" he mumbled in his gravelly voice. "I thought you girls might not like to go out in the rain again. I brought you some soup."

He offered a bowl to Kali, trying to gauge the damage done to the little girl. She felt sick inside, like she wanted to barf, but accepted it anyway.

"Eat, girl. Soldier's first rule: always eat as much as you can, as often as you can, even if you don't want to." He smiled feebly. "Sometimes even the worst rain is lessened by a warm meal."

The girls dug in hungrily. Bear was one of the few men in the camp who treated them kindly. He seemed to have a sixth sense about people, and he would know when the girls were feeling homesick, or afraid, or when they had had the bad dreams filled with monsters that sometimes plagued magic users. Once, after a particularly bad night, he had cheered them up with a ridiculous story about hunting in a far-off land, where he had lassoed and been dragged by some impossible long-necked animal called a "Geraff". He always had a tall-tale ready for every situation, and could eventually bring even the surliest soldiers around to reluctant laughter. He would never talk about his past though. Kali didn't know if he had a family or a home or what his real name was. He was just Bear, the old man with a ready smile and tales of adventure.

Later, when the darkness fell and Kali was drifting off to sleep, she tried to remember if this was her twentieth assignment or her twenty-first. They all seemed to blend together now. If she killed every last monster tomorrow, it still seemed as if they would lose in the end. Even when they were victorious, there were somehow always more monsters to fight, more towns attacked, more bad news coming from the countryside and villages at Teleria's borders. She tried to remember the faces of her mother and her sisters, back in Anson, the little town where she grew up. She hadn't seen them in years, and their faces blurred together in her memory. She had to remember them, to remember why she needed to keep fighting. Father was gone, slain years ago by monsters. After that, Kali had decided to train as a mage, knowing that she was the last one remaining that could keep them safe. That was the only reason to be out here, with monsters both inside the camp and out.

A horn blast echoed down the pass. The company had been marching all day, following the Ettu tracks up into the mountains. The rocky trails had twisted and climbed, bringing them up to the bottom of a narrow crevasse that looked like an obvious place for an ambush. Scouts up in the hills had blown their horns when they saw the soldiers approaching, giving warning that enemies were nearby.

The men had nocked their bows, keeping a wary eye on the cliffs around them, while Varus consulted with his lieutenants. Kali waited tensely, eyes scanning the hills, gripping her staff tightly as it thrummed with condensed magical energy. If any monster showed so much as as a nosehair, she would blast it into oblivion.

The brief shouting argument up front was just as briefly ended. Varus seemed to have made a decision. He was going to forgo the canyon. He ordered the company to turn west, onto a gentle slope of green mountain grass that stretched upwards to the peaks.

A hushed silence blanketed the hills. Giant boulders loomed menacingly, the men muttering as they passed them by, wary of ambush. According to their intelligence, the Ettu had been raiding the nearby villages. taking prisoners and then retreating into the hills. The scouts they sent ahead seemed to confirm their presence, finding sign of Ettu and Org everywhere. The probably had a camp somewhere near the peaks, somewhere defensible, where they could keep prisoners and supplies while they waited out the winter. They wouldn't be caught unawares though, and as the company continued on along the side of a gorge, a tense paranoia seemed to grip the men.

Kali surveyed the gorge as they marched. Under better times, it would have been a beautiful spot for a picnic. The mountain had split as if by a knife's edge, leaving a sharp, narrow, chasm that reached down into the earth. A rushing river filled the bottom, and green lichen and mountain flowers peppered the dark, rocky walls. Kali was looking down from the cliffs on the shallow side, but on the far side of the precipice, the sheer rock face rose much higher, and raptors wheeled in circles high above before returning to their nests in the cliffside. Kali squinted, shielding her eyes from the sun as she looked upwards at the top of the ridge. The magical wards were in place, which would warn her of any approaching Org-Reh or Ettu, but it was best to check with your eyes as well.

The path spread out, becoming a flat shelf above the gorge. The scrubby mountain grass grew deep in the soil here, and on the slope ahead of them rose a heavily forested area that seemed to pass over the ridge.

Varus called a halt again, eyeing the treeline with his typical angry scowl. He turned and beckoned Kali up to the front.

"Any monsters?" he asked.

"No Org-reh or Ettu, sir."

He gave her a funny look, opening his mouth to say something and then closing it again. He probably remembered that mages couldn't run many wards at the same time. They would conflict with each other.

Varus turned to the gruff man next to him. "Goels, what do you think?"

"Eh don't fookin like it one bet ser. Bloody fookin trees prob have fookin monsters I sayuh." The dirty man punctuated his florid speech with a spit of tobacco.

"The scouts haven't returned, Gedwyn?" Varus asked.

The short, fat man shook his balding head. He was a talented horseman and master of scouts, but no man had ever looked less the part. "No sir. No report."

"There is no scout sign and no horn like there was at the pass. We'll press on, but slowly." Varus rolled up the crude map of the area that the scouts had supplied. "Order the men to stay alert."

The forest was a somber crowd of white ash trees, cut by the rumbling of the water in the gorge a short distance below. As the company moved in, the spreading canopy blocked out the sun, leaving the forest floor in shadow. There was little undergrowth, and the coarse soil had the same curious whiteness as the trees. Kali nudged it with her toes, a vague sense of unease growing in her stomach. She kept alert, straining her ears for any sound beyond the rumbling of the river.

Lisa and Anna drew close to her, and the three girls walked on into the murky wood, surrounded by the company of soldiers. This place was old and wild, Kali thought. The forest had probably stood for hundreds of years, trees sinking deep roots to take their water from the mountain gorge. White trunks rose hundreds of feet overhead, but no wind moved their branches. Maybe the cliffs blocked the wind. Instead of the gentle rustling of swaying branches, Kali could only hear the river. Occasionally, small patches of dappled sunlight tumbled down to the forest floor, dispelling the cheerless gloom where they landed.

"We must be nearly through", muttered Anna. "These woods should let out on the other side of the ridge."

Lisa had stopped, looking upwards into the dense branches. She pointed, and Anna looked up too.

"Are those ropes?" Anna asked. Lisa just shrugged. Kali looked upwards, trying to spot what they were seeing. High above, near the top of the canopy, there might have been some kind of network of bands running between the trees. She squinted, but it was too hard to see. "I think they're just thick branches," Kali said. "They look kind of weird though."

They trudged on. Kali kept looking over her shoulder, the disquieting sensation refusing to leave her stomach. She listened for any sound that she couldn't identify. The brooding nature of their surroundings was putting everyone on edge. Finally she shook her head, trying to keep her imagination from running away with her. Just a little bit farther, and they would be out of the wood on the other side of the ridge. The men were all around her, keeping in a disciplined formation despite their obvious apprehension.

She scuffed her feet on the forest floor as she walked, kicking the powdery white soil with her allocite sandals. The sound seemed to die away after a short distance, like the trees were soaking it up. She looked up again. Something clicked.

It wasn't that she was hearing something wrong. It was that she wasn't hearing anything at all except the river and their own movements. Where were the birds? The bugs? Flies had pestered her for miles, buzzing around and biting her all over. Where had they gone? She hadn't heard any buzzing since they entered the woods. She couldn't see any nests in the branches. The small burrows and niches around the trees had no animal signs around them, no scratches.

She turned to her friend. "Hey Anna, doesn't it seem awfully q-"

The man in front of her pitched forward abruptly, then screamed. In a fraction of a second, the ground under his legs broke into pieces and he fell into the pit up to his waist. He grasped wildly for a handhold, shrieking, as his legs disappeared into the earth. An awful, wet squishing sound came from underneath, and blood and viscera squirted out of the hole. He stopped moving.

Time seemed to slow down. More men fell into the traps, swinging their swords uselessly, legs pulled down and shredded by dark, shuffling forms. The silent forest filled with screams and bellows. Somewhere, one of the men began to blow a horn, but the sound was abruptly cut off.

Swift, black bodies were now racing up out of the tunnels that had eaten the soldiers. The remaining men formed desperate circles, fighting back to back as they were swiftly surrounded. Kali gripped her staff in terror. It was the worst thing she could imagine: Arachma. The enormous, revolting spider creatures from her nightmares, the monsters she had fervently hoped she would never have to face, were tearing apart the men around her.

Her paralysis was broken when a fireball whooshed past her face with a blast of hot air. It landed squarely onto a charging Arachma form, obliterating the creature in a blazing explosion which set the nearby trees on fire. The man it had been charging whirled around to face another, yelling and swinging his sword. It bounced uselessly off the heavy chitin of the huge creature he was facing.

Blood pumped in her veins. She whirled her staff, releasing the pent-up energy. A dazzling purple lightning bolt flickered into the center of a group of three of the creatures, halting their advance on a group of soldiers. The Arachma would be easy prey for their swords while moving at a fraction of their normal speed. She spun around. A wave of force slammed another black form, launching it into the trunk of a tree with a loud crack. The spider fell to the ground, its carapace cracked open, oozing fluid, twitching legs already curling up under it. She didn't pause to savor the victory. Her staff flicked back and forth, each motion releasing a powerful blast of energy that decimated the charging forms. She speared one with a spike of earth, incinerated two more with a fireball, and instantly turned the ground behind some frantic soldiers into a quicksand trap, which swallowed the three Arachma that had been charging unseen at their backs. They skittered and clacked their mandibles as their overturned bodies sunk rapidly, chitinous legs clutching uselessly at the air.

An invisible aura of potent energy vibrated around Kali. Her training had taken over, and she danced in lethal motion, unthinking. Her blue dreamcloth coverings whirled gracefully through the air as they followed the movement of her body, the light cloth floating as if charged with static. Shining sparkles coalesced around her, streaking into her staff, forming themselves into flashing rays of death that lanced towards her enemies. Far away, she could hear herself howling.

A deft sculpting motion, like a potter guiding his clay, drew the torrent of Air and formed it into a spear, which she sent hurtling into the side of a beast that had knocked over a soldier and was about to eviscerate him. She took the cast-off energy of the magic before it could dissipate, funneling it back through the staff and drawing it again as Life, which she sent into the channels of the previous spell. A wildly fluctuating arc of green light stretched from her staff towards the prone soldier, closing the worst of his wounds and giving him energy to recover. Reshaping energy like that instead of drawing it again was a hard trick, but she had learned well.

More forms swarmed up from the holes. They seemed endless. She tried to draw Earth, to close over the tunnels, collapse them, but a gigantic form suddenly loomed over her, and she instinctively sent the energy into it instead, blasting it away from her. She barely had time to duck and roll as another Arachma leaped at her, slamming its chitinous claws into the soil where she had just been standing. She drew more power and blew the creature apart. There were so many, dozens more climbing out of the pits every second.

Where was everyone? A group of soldiers was down in the distance, Arachma looming over them, tearing them apart with spearlike claws and clicking mandibles. Another soldier nearby slashed with his sword at the chitinous shell of a charging Arachma, but it bounced off uselessly. He dodged aside and cast his sword away, drawing a shortspear and slamming it straight into the shell with vicious force. They both tumbled over and she lost sight of them.

Anna was at her back, swinging her staff and flinging spells, but a line of dark forms were cutting them off from the soldiers. Where was Lisa? She looked around frantically. Her friend had been right beside her. A huge spider form jumped at her head, and she had to dodge again. She couldn't get a good look. The Arachma were everywhere. She conjured a wall of force to hold them off her backside.

A bloodcurdling scream came from above her. Kali looked up. Lisa was hanging upside down, snared by a loop of webbing around her foot. Arachma in the trees reeled her in, then clutched her body with their long claws. Lisa didn't have her staff. She must have dropped it. The Arachma held the struggling girl against the trunk.

"Please!" screamed Lisa, eyes bulging with terror. "Oh Gods, no! Don't let them take me!" An Arachma wrapped its claws around Lisa, pinning her in place, then squatted against her. "Please Kali! Anna! Help me! Do anything!" The little girl was rolled over rapidly, helplessly, arms flailing, the spinnerets of the creature tying her legs up with silk. "Kill me! Kali please! Don't let them take me again!" Lisa's shrieking was abruptly cut off as the Arachma finished its spinning, binding her tightly from head to toe with woven silk, making a neat package.

Kali tried to process the naked horror of her friend pleading to be given death instead of being taken. Fireball, no, lightning? Wind spears, maybe pull the tree down - no can't do that - can't time slow they're too far. Her mind raced in frantic circles, trying to think of a spell that could save her friend. Nothing. She brought her staff around to loose a fireball into the tree, the only option left in the fraction of a second before the Arachma scuttled away with their prize.

"OOOooofff!" the wind was knocked out of her and she pitched forward, slamming face-first into the ground. Bitter soil mixed with the taste of blood in her mouth. Clacking mandibles sounded next to her ears. She squirmed under the spider's bulk, struggling to crawl away, but it held her down, chittering excitedly. She could barely see through the tears in her eyes. Lisa was gone. She had failed.

She was shoved to the side again as the creature above her was pitched off. Two soldiers were upon her, one fighting to keep two more Arachma off the soldier that had just rammed his spear into the monster pinning her down. She looked up, trying to see through the tears and the dirt on her face.

"Bear!" she yelled.

"Come on Kali! Get up!" he roared, and swung back around to dispatch another creature. It lunged at him with a preternatural quickness. He didn't even try to dodge, instead setting his feet in the dirt in an instant and ramming the spear right into the middle of the eight eyes of the beast. He screamed, pushing with his feet, driving the spear deeper into the quivering horror's head, forcing it back bodily until its mandibles stopped clicking and its legs curled up under it, then he whipped the spear out in a rush of gore.

Dizzy and disoriented, Kali struggled to her feet. Where was her staff? There. She scrambled to pick it up and whirled around, trying to orient herself.

The other soldier swung wide with his axe, and the Arachma reared up on its hind legs and jabbed its two forward claws straight into his chest, puncturing him clean through. Blood bubbled from the soldier's mouth in shock, and the monster pulled him bodily forward, then ripped his face off with its mandibles. Bear screamed with rage, but he had all he could handle as more creatures moved to surround him. He couldn't get any room to drive his spear, and the Arachma behind him eventually leaped onto his back. He pitched forward, stumbling, falling onto his hands on the ground. In an instant, the Arachma in front of him brought its front claws down hard, driving straight through the bone and flesh of Bear's palms and pinning him to the dirt. Bear screamed in pain and rage, struggling as he was lifted up off the ground by his impaled hands.

"FUCK YOU!" he screamed straight into the monster's face, then spit into its red eyes, a last gesture of defiance. The Arachma reached forward with its mandibles and pierced Bear's trachea, then with a heave, tore his throat out. Blood spurted everywhere. It tossed the mangled body away.

For Kali it all happened in an instant. She had hit her head too hard. Her ears were still ringing. Terror coaxed a flood of adrenaline into her veins, and she forgot her training. She didn't draw magic slowly into her staff, controlling its flow, subtly guiding it into the shape she wanted. Instead, she hysterically grabbed the power, ripping it violently from the weave around her and hurtling it unformed at the Arachma that had killed Bear. It wasn't a firebolt that came out of her staff, but a lancing arc of raw power that knocked her down with a thunderclap. The creature exploded - legs, eyes, chitin and goo hurtling in a thousand different directions.

The world was a nightmare. She needed to wake up. Hazy, she could barely make out the tree branches above her. She stubbornly clung to consciousness, trying to remember why she needed to get up, to keep moving. Every muscle of her body screamed in pain. There was a salty taste on her tongue, and something on her face.

It took a thousand years, but slowly she sat up. There was white goo on her face. She wiped it off. Not just goo. Some kind of organ. It was all over her. She could taste it in her mouth: disgusting viscera. She spat. Green and red fluid plastered her chest. When had that happened? There was some kind of stomach or intestine or something. It was half wrapped around her. A sloppy mix of putrefying fluids covered her legs, topped by a shattered piece of chitin like a macabre sundae.

She couldn't think. Staff. She had her staff. No she didn't. It was over there. No, that was someone else's staff. Hers was in her hand. She could feel it. The world spun dizzily. Someone was screaming at her. Far away. No, right here.

Her arm was grabbed roughly and wrenched upwards. She bent over, heaving, vomiting up every meal she had ever eaten, writhing on the ground. Something. She had done something. Channeled probably. It explained the headache. She heaved again, stomach and throat twisting themselves into painful knots. Pretty bad idea to channel. First thing they teach a mage is to never do that.

With agonizing slowness, her senses returned. The men were fighting something. Arachma. They were all around. The thumping rush of her heartbeat pounded in her ears. She shook her head.

"KALI GET THE FUCK UP NOW YOU LITTLE BITCH AND FUCKING DO SOMETHING!" screamed Varus' voice in her ear. She let herself be lifted to her feet, swooning against him. She had her staff. Never lose your staff.

Ten men were fighting a losing action against the horde of swarming spiders. The creatures were on the ground, coming out of tunnels, in the trees, leaping down to attack the solders with razor-sharp claws and mandibles. She tried to raise her staff but couldn't. Reaching for the weave amplified that ringing sensation in her head into a screaming vibration until it seemed her skull would explode.

Varus let her drop to the ground. An Arachma had leaped down from the trees. He moved backwards as he readied his two-handed sword, gaining distance on the creature, provoking it to jump at him. When it did, he darted to the side with astonishing swiftness and brought his great sword down into the Arachma's body, severing it in two right between the abdomen and the cephalothorax. The monster chittered wildly in its death throes, then curled its legs and went still.

Varus grabbed her roughly, dragging her bodily along the forest floor. "To me! Rally to me! Get back to the river!" he screamed at the soldiers. They fought defensively, keeping the creatures at bay, trying to keep from being surrounded.

They retreated, losing men one by one to the swift attacks of the Arachma. Kali struggled to keep her feet under her as she was dragged along. Varus dispatched two more creatures, severing one that jumped at them from the trees and running his sword into the head of another as it came up out of a tunnel. He dripped with blood from the wide gashes on his arms, and his studded armor was rent open in several places.

When they reached the edge of the gorge, they had only two men left. Varus shook her arms angrily. "Do something!" Kali's head was still spinning as she tried to form the words. "Can't, I...it'll rebound. The magic." The two men went down in a spray of blood and fury, and Varus and Kali were alone, trapped on a rock shelf protruding over the gorge. The Arachma advanced, clacking their mandibles, feinting lunges at Varus. They didn't seem in much of a hurry.

Her shoulders jolted painfully as he shoved her onto the rock shelf behind him, standing his last ground against the monsters, screaming in defiance.

A thousand clanging bells rang in Kali's head. The world ripped itself in two. She reached for the magic anyway. It would rebound, but she had no choice. Every cell of her body burned with scorching fire as she reached into the blazing heat, hotter than the sun, seizing the magical energy that resisted her. Disastrous, for a mage that had channeled to try to condense magic again so soon. The energy tried to squirm out of her grip, but she held it, forced it, drawing it into the staff, and then letting it release.

The double world snapped back into one as her vision cleared in an instant. She had a single moment to see the enormous shockwave travelling away from her, shattering the ground, vaporizing the monsters, ripping the trees out of their roots and sending them flying into the sky. The wild thunderclap of raw magic, rebounding against the weave, tore the world apart around her, smashing the rock shelf into thousands of pieces. They dropped.

Maybe she was dead. She was so cold. Her body was rushing somewhere, immersed in a great roaring torrent. She couldn't breath or see. Far away, there was the pain of rocks smashing into her body as it was pushed along some unknown tunnel. Someone was slapping her. No, they were pounding on her back. She gasped, swallowed, vomited all at once. Water filled her mouth and burned her nose. She coughed and dragged air into her ragged lungs, then coughed again. More water came up.

Heaving, she curled her fingers into the sharp gravel floor. She could finally breathe. Her throat was on fire. Her chest felt like it had exploded. Someone was holding her shoulders, comforting her as she retched. They picked her up and put her on something soft and she knew no more.

Consciousness returned slowly, angrily, bringing a thousand searing pains with it. She opened her eyes.

Varus crouched over a tiny fire, clad in only his undertrousers. He looked at her.

"Well, the good news is that you didn't break any bones. Neither did I, amazingly."

She had trouble understanding. Her memory was a haze. The confusion must have shown on her face because he explained.

"We fell into the river. I don't know what you did up there, but I've never seen anything like it. Pretty sure it flattened the whole forest. Took the whole cliffside down. This river runs underground. I washed up on the shore of this cave and you drifted along shortly after.

He reached to the side to take a tiny vial from his leather satchel.

"Lethen", he said, as he poured it into her mouth. "It'll dull the pain. Too bad we only have one."

She tried to sit up, but decided against it when her muscles screamed in protest.

"This phosphene fire will only last about 18 hours. Just a bit of powder and some coal, in a sealed, waterproof satchel. Always be prepared, I say. We have enough food for about a day."

Kali looked around. They were in a tiny cave, with a small flat surface barely big enough for both of them. Water dripped into a small pool nearby, and the back of the cave was hidden by large rocks. The other edge ended in a shallow roof over the river. The water was barely moving here.

He had taken all his clothes and his armor and layered them together to make a small bed. She blushed as she realized his pants were all that were covering her up. She was naked.

"I have to ask of course...what happened to your clothes?"

"I...I think I channeled," Kali said. "It's when a mage draws power wildly without forming it. Normal magical activity will degrade inorganic material around the caster. Channeling will destroy it outright. Even allocite."

"Interesting. Didn't know that. And the uh...shockwave thing?" he asked.

She gulped, trying to figure out how to simplify the explanation. "Well, if a mage who has channeled tries to use magic again without waiting to recover, bad things happen. Really bad things. Remember the explosion at the mage academy in Lindburgh?"

He looked thoughtful. "Oh. So that's what it was." She nodded.

She tried to scoot closer to the small fire, absorbing the heat. The pain felt more manageable now. They said nothing for a while, but his face had that angry look again.

"Well, what the fuck happened?" he suddenly demanded. She stuttered trying to form a reply.

"Arachma in the ground under us. Arachma in the trees above us. Fucking monsters everywhere. And no gods-damned warning from the mages?"

"It, it doesn't work like that. We were warded for Org-reh and Ettu." she said.

"Oh, of course you were," he snarled, rage twisting his face. "Warded for monsters that weren't anywhere near us. Very convenient. Why didn't you close those fucking tunnels?"

"We tried to do that. The Arachma were right on top of us. We had to defend ourselves," Kali pleaded, wilting under the assault.

"Yes. You had to defend yourselves," he mocked her in a whining voice. "Right. Meanwhile, all my men are cut down by those cursed fucking CREATURES pouring out of the gods-damned GROUND!" He was shouting, accusations ringing off of the stone walls.

"I, I fireballed one! Several actually. We killed a lot, but they kept coming at us, jumping on us. We didn't have time to do more than cast to defend ourselves. I saw Lisa get dragged away..."

He glared at her silently for a moment, and when he spoke again his voice was icy cold.

"One hundred and twelve men were under my command. Now they are all dead, every single one. Every soldier, dead. Except the scouts, who will be dead very shortly. Did you ever stop to think that you could have closed the tunnels with your spells, even if it meant that you were overrun? If you had, you would be dead, but my men would probably still be alive."

Kali tried to shrink into her makeshift bedding as he glared at her. She really hadn't thought of that. She wasn't tactical. She had done poorly in her tactics classes, skimming by with barely passing grades. It was never her strong suit. Mixed units had actual trained soldiers to handle their tactics, not little girls.

He took her silence as a confession. They stared into the fire for a little longer, their only light source in the utter darkness of the cave.

The air hung with a strained silence. Kali curled up into a ball, drowning in the grief or her lost friends and comrades, trying not to sob. Finally, Varus shook his head. "Come on. Get up. I saw what you were covered with when we found you. The river didn't clean it all off. We'll use that pool."

Muscles aching, she managed to uncurl to get up and stumble over to the little pool with his help. It was just big enough for her to wash in. Her teeth chattered as she stepped in, lowering her naked body into the water. Varus removed another vial of powder from his satchel, spilling it onto his hands and rubbing it into a lather. Cheap, coarse soap. A soldier's soap.

He rubbed his hands over her naked body with a surprising gentleness. Fingers flicked small pieces of gunk out of her long hair, washing and rinsing each bit one at a time until it was completely clean. After a brief dunk in the cold water, his fingers scoured her face, her neck, her back and arms, using the lather of the grainy soap to clean off every filthy piece that the river had missed. His questing fingers slowly rubbed up and down her flat chest, letting his grip linger, amused at the effect of the cold water on her nipples. Then he made her stand up, and moved lower, washing her hips and butt thoroughly, cleaning down her legs and paying special attention to the spaces between her toes.

Kali was freezing in the cold water, but she felt a certain warmth as the half-naked man ran his hands all over her body, exploring every nook and cranny, gently kneading and rubbing away the filth and grime. He saved her pussy for last, thoroughly washing the lips and clit, making sure she was clean. He ran his big fingers up and down her pussy lips, exploring her privates. A tingling sensation started in her crotch. Varus may have had the charm of an ogre, but having a well-muscled man feeling her up in the dim light made her breath quicken on its own. She noticed the stiff erection poking at the fabric of his underpants and realized her body was having an effect on him too.

"Ok, that's enough," he said abruptly. "Get out. Let's dry you off."

A small rag was all he had to brush the water off with. Kali was grateful to be out of the cool water. She was already warming up again.

"The fire won't last much longer and we have very little food. I saw an entrance to a tunnel back there behind the rocks. We're going to have to warm up, sleep to get our strength back, and try to make our way out. This river probably travels underground for miles," Varus said.

Kali nodded silently. It seemed the only way out. If only she hadn't lost her staff, she could have helped them escape any number of ways, but they'd have to use their own two feet.

"We only have a few coals, and once the phosphene is exhausted they'll go out. If we aren't able to warm up, we'll die. Cold saps your strength faster than anything." He was rearranging the bed of clothing in the small area. "The best way to stay warm when you can't make a fire is to use your own body heat. Come on. Lie down."

She lay on her side and he spooned up behind her, their bodies packed together, making maximum use of the space in the little flat area. He covered them up with the remaining clothing, then wrapped his arms around her as they both faced the pitiful fire. He was right. This was decently warm, her naked body pressed up against his and the clothing over them both. He was a big man and practically enveloped her when he put his arms around her. She could feel his chest against her back, hard muscles rubbing up against her with each breath he took. Her legs had naturally wrapped around his. She flushed when she realized she could feel his erect prick poking into her bottom, a taut shaft of flesh pointed up at her pussy.

Varus gently rubbed her stomach, seemingly unaware of his actions. She wiggled, trying to get comfortable. It was warming up under the makeshift blankets. She already felt much better, the deleterious effects of her channeling fading away. The aches were fading from her muscles, and her head had stopped its nauseating vibration. The cave was a freezing vault that arched away into darkness but it was almost cozy in their little cocoon.

He was gently running his hands along her dried hair. "You remind me of her."

She looked up at him. "Your daughter?"

"Yes. Little Vana. She's your age. Same hair." He rubbed her ears and neck almost affectionately.

"She's all I have left," he added awkwardly, the typical angry stiffness dropping from his voice. "I haven't even seen her in two years."

Kali didn't know what to say to that. His cock was bulging against her bottom. Her wiggling had let it escape through the flap in his undertrousers and it was pressed up between her legs, lying against the lips of her pussy. She could feel its heat pressing up against her own under the makeshift blankets. The jutting intrusion was teasing its own response from her body, and she could feel a wetness spread over her tingling crotch.

Questing fingers moved up her tummy, feeling her soft skin. He gently twisted and pinched her nipples, and she gasped in spite of herself. Heavy arms kept her pressed tightly against him, his hot breath on her neck. A moan escaped her lips as he trailed a finger with agonizing slowness down her belly, tickling her navel, before going lower. The juice from her cunt was leaking onto the hard prick pressed between her legs. Her muscles jerked involuntarily when he flicked her clit. As she wiggled, his cock moved back and forth along her pussy. She couldn't help herself, and she lifted her leg, inviting him in. Pulsing waves of warm pleasure flowed upward as Varus began a gentle thrusting, holding his cock against her pussy with his hand, and running it up and down in the furrow between her lips. The pressure of his flesh sent jolts all over her body. She began moaning as the lips of her pussy swelled with pleasure. She had grabbed the hand that was tweaking her nipples, and now her other hand went down, fingers feeling the silky hardness of his manhood as he rubbed it against her.

The warmth and the rhythmic pressure were pushing her over the edge. The head of his prick rubbed against her clit with each forward thrust. She could feel the low thundering, building to a crescendo in her tummy. He was thrusting harder now, his own orgasm building. Sweat rolled down her back where their bodies met. His hot gasps covered her neck, her ear, her face, and she turned her head upwards. His lips crushed urgently against her own, pressing her head down into the soft fabric, her gasps cut off as their mouths explored each other.

Her pussy blossomed like a firework, sending a warm explosion surging through every cell of her body. Her muscles clenched and her toes curled as a surging torrent of ecstasy roared in her brain, drowning out everything except the rigid pumping pressure of the iron flesh between her legs. Ragged breath filled her lungs as he let up off her mouth, a rumbling moan coming from deep inside his chest, vibrating against her back. Warm jets of slippery fluid spurted onto her stomach as he came, squeezing her against him in a vicelike grip, shuddering prick pressed tightly against her wet crotch.

Her fingers lightly traced the cum on her stomach back and forth as they basked in the afterglow of their shared orgasm. She wondered if she should get up and wash again, but his muscled arms were still wrapped around her, rubbing her smooth skin in long, gentle strokes.

They rested for a long time, both gazing into the glowing coals. Kali's cheeks were hot as she reveled in their sweaty, post-coital bliss. Varus' cock had wilted to a tepid half-erection, still pressed messily between her legs. His huge arms had clamped over hers, folding them against her chest. She looked down at the hairy bonds, wondering how he had got the lurid scar that wound its way from his wrist all the way up to the swell of his huge bicep.

"Varus?" She asked. A low rumble was his only response.

"Why do you hate mages so much?"

The question hung in the stony silence. After a few minutes, she had figured that he wasn't going to answer. She closed her eyes and tried to sleep.

"It was ... near Longborough," he said.

She stirred out of her reverie. "Hmm?"

"Longborough. That's where I lost him." He paused for an uncomfortable amount of time, staring straight ahead. "My son."

He was tense. His arms were squeezing her uncomfortably against his chest, seemingly without realizing it.

"What happened?"

He was silent for some minutes, and Kali wondered if she was an idiot for prying where she wasn't wanted.

"One of the first mixed units. They were going to liberate Longborough, a city that had fallen to Org-reh near the eastern border." For once, he wasn't speaking at an angry clip. "It doesn't exist on the maps anymore. It's completely destroyed. Gone. The military had been having a lot of trouble with the Org. They were too strong, too fast, too smart. And they had some of the early Org mages with them. The council said we should take mages of our own. There were only a few, then.

"They engaged the enemy near the river. The conditions were perfect. Our units were outnumbered, but the mages were supposed to balance this. The Org had to come across the bridges, and we would be able to hold them there and return fire across the river." Gone was the gruff, angry snarl of command he always used. His voice had dropped to a low, aching tone, as if dragging out old scars gained long ago.

"Well it worked, sort of. The mages were very effective from a distance. The regular soldiers were able to hold them at bay while the mages did their work. They wiped out over a thousand Org-reh with very few losses." He paused again.

"A second force of Org came from behind. This should have been fine. Any normal military unit would simply turn their flank and engage the enemy on the new front. The new Org force was outnumbered. Dispatching them should have been easy. But the mages...they didn't turn. The Org got too close, they got scared. They choked. They couldn't put any firepower into the new flank. They turned and ran even though the lines were holding."

He was squeezing her wrist without realizing it, the knuckles of his hand going white. It hurt, but she tried to stay still, hoping he wouldn't snap her like a stick.

"The Org on the other side of the river pushed back, and the men were trapped between two forces with superior size and fighting ability. They were slaughtered. My son he...he was a lieutenant. He never made it back. The Org-reh took them all. Do you know what Org do to their men prisoners?"

It was rhetorical. She knew.

"They like to...eat them. Fresh meat. I don't know if my son died on the battlefield or inside an Org-reh cookpot."

He didn't say anything more as he gazed into the fire. The iron grip was still squeezing her when a hot tear splashed down on her head.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He poured silent grief upon her head as they drifted off to sleep.

Part 2

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