This story takes place after the events of Darklaw: Book One of the Darklaw Saga. Content Warning: graphic sex, gore, alcohol use
In the Shadows of Gods
Dark Quarter, a forest near the imperial city of Sahrdon, capitol of the Empire of Darklaw.
“I know what you’re planning.”
“I doubt that.”
“Rook told me.”
“Well then.” A grim smile spread across Avestine’s scarred face. She glanced across Kami’s naked body. “I’ll have to speak with him about that.”
“I won’t let you do it.”
Shadows hid Kami’s brown eyes, but Avestine knew how dark they were. How angry. Kami hadn’t changed much. She was as defiant with the god in her as she had been when her only power came from spreading her legs. “Of course you won’t. I expect nothing less than to see your beasts devour my army until they’re sated. The men that remain when your horde leaves will finish their work, and you’ll have murdered thousands and still not defeated me.” Avestine shook her head. “Do what you must, child. And so will I.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Avestine was a woman of masculine proportions, and she used her size to intimidate. Kami stiffened defensively when Avestine stepped closer. The effect thrilled Avestine, but she restrained herself. She could not control Kami. Even as the Avatar of Arujan, with his power of tyranny, Avestine was unable to push Kami, who had a unique self-possession long before Bala entered her.
Earlier that day, Kami had come to the military camp of the kingdoms allied against Darklaw. As a falcon, she found her way through the tents and soldiers. The confrontation had been brief, and Avestine followed Kami into the forest far from the presence of men. Now, night was falling, and the Blue Sun was low in the cloud-streaked sky. Avestine glanced around assuring herself they were still alone, that neither her soldiers nor Kami’s beasts lurked.
She rested her palm on the hilt of her sheathed sword and slouched. “Still,” she said, returning her attention to Kami. “I wonder why you send wolves and flies instead of arousing the vermin you said were in our guts.” She closed her eyes at the memory of insects devouring her men. She didn’t want to think of it, but she had to put this idea in Kami’s head. She shook off her disgust. “So, we’ll fight tomorrow.” She reached out a hand. “But we still have tonight.”
Kami grunted with disbelief. “You’re going to burn the Dark Quarter to the ground tomorrow and think I’ll share your bed tonight?”
“What does tomorrow have to do with today?”
“All that life wasted, and it means nothing to you.”
“Life?” Avestine’s nostrils flared. She leaned closer. “You mean the filthy vermin that eat the flesh of children and decimate the security of empires? Go pity the avaricious beasts, child, but I’ll save my pity for men who pray for mercy from gods like you. Because we all know Bala has no mercy.”
Kami’s jaw flexed. Avestine wished she could see the dismay in the shadowed eyes. She relished reminding Kami of her mindless and murderous rages, of those times when the ecstatic expression of a chaotic deity became a thing of horror.
Although there had once been thousands, only six Essanti remained. Each was the last votary of a priesthood. Kami was the last of those who served Bala. She was the last Essanti of Instinct. When all the parts of the god finally resided in her, the god had returned to the world.
She held within her the god of the Wild, a champion of chaos with the power to control those who served the Emanation of Instinct. Kami was the Avatar of Bala, but she was still Kami. Bala was a god obsessed with radical freedom, but reason and compassion drove Kami. Avestine wondered if Kami ever recognized the contradictions.
She touched Kami’s arm. “How long has it been? Two years since you left me at Renegade’s Sea? Two years since you lay under me?”
“You must give up this ambition.”
“This war of attrition will force Sahrdon’s surrender. Darklaw will belong to me very soon.”
“And once you have Darklaw, then what? You won’t be satisfied until you have the other four empires of the world.”
Avestine smiled. “Oh, child, I won’t stop there.” She seized Kami by her shoulders and drew her into a kiss.
Kami pushed, but Avestine didn’t let go. She managed Kami’s struggles with practiced ease. “Give in now,” she said, holding Kami’s wrists as she fought her, “and we’ll have more time for pleasure. Eat my troops tomorrow, but I’ll eat you tonight.” She forced her mouth roughly against Kami’s.
When Kami bit her lip, Avestine slapped her. With ferocious hands she seized Kami’s narrow shoulders and shoved her backward against a tree. She kissed and chewed on Kami’s neck until a red snake dropped from above and coiled around her arm.
As its mouth spread with dripping fangs, Avestine stumbled backwards and shook herself free. She was immortal, but she wasn’t content to let an animal ravage her. She drew her sword and sliced the snake in two.
Her icy blue eyes flashed, and through clenched teeth, she said, “I’ll send that bitch back to hell. Then all you’ll have is me.”
Kami took a step back, collapsed into the form of a falcon, and flew away.
Dark Quarter, a valley on the tradeward coast of the Bejellian Sea.
As her penetrating gaze swept the landscape and the sky, Avestine found she was holding her breath. Sweat trickled past one ear, though it was a cold day. When she released her breath, steam warmed her lips. She wiped sweat from under her braid of blonde hair and loosened the ties at the neck of her leather tunic. She let her fur cloak hang low off her shoulders.
Stones crunched beneath her metal-toed boots as she stepped onto the promontory. She gazed across the valley. The haze floating above the purple ridge of trees was both smoke and fog. On the other side of the rise, almost one thousand soldiers were setting fire to the wilderness. She watched as the sky beyond the ridge began to glow.
Darklaw troops were defending Sahrdon’s gulf-side shore, fending off a naval attack from three-hundred ships sent tradeward. Avestine had brought this relatively small army to Sahrdon’s back. Her legates stood at attention ready to call forth their additional legions. If Kami sent her beasts to devour the front troops, Avestine would simply replace them. The tactic had worked in the Trade Quarter, and she was counting on Kami’s ingenuity to make it fail this time.
The entire ridge was aglow. Smoke gathered and mixed with the fog, spreading like a malevolent tide across the sky. Her ears sought the sounds of screeching and panicked beasts, but nothing arrived in sound or body. The land was utterly silent. She glanced at Rook, who shared her concern.
“Something’s coming,” said Rook. “I feel it.”
Avestine nodded slowly. The hairs on her neck prickled. Sweat continued to accumulate at her temples. “What do your ghosts tell you?”
Hidden in the shadows of his hood, Rook’s expression reached her only in thought. We shouldn’t be here.
“Go learn what they know,” she said. She watched his robe drop to the ground as his body joined the wind and scattered. Jaw clenched, she continued to stare where he had been.
She didn’t like what he had become anymore than she liked what Kami had become. The six gods had returned to the world in the bodies of their avatars, but the avatars had been her Essanti. They don’t belong to the gods, she thought. They belong to me.
She would have Rook and Kami back as they should be: obedient and using their gifts for her benefit. She would send the gods from the world. She would send them to hell. This fiery destruction was the kind of bait neither Kami nor Bala could resist.
She smiled at the thought, smiled for the utter simplicity of her plan. She returned her attention to the distant ridge and awaited the signal from her forward scouts. She waited as the hazy skyline grew hazier and the smoke of burning trees stung her nose.
She thought back to her years in the Trade Quarter under the Unsetting Sun. She was glad to be standing on the volcanic shore near her beloved Sahrdon. She would rather spend a thousand frigid nights on black rock than return to the soft woodlands lighted by a warm, yellow sun that never set.
Avestine was sahr. She was the last living child of the Architect, the man who had carved the Empire of Darklaw from the world like a mad butcher and made monsters of his own children. She would reconcile every brutality and sadistic pleasure he had inflicted upon her by assuring no one ever controlled her destiny again. Lust for power had consumed her soul long before Arujan, the god of Kings, made her his avatar.
When the sign of Kami’s presence arrived, it reached Avestine on a horse, half dead. The scout she had sent forward fell from his mount as he crested the ridge.
Soldiers retrieved the body and shared the news: some kind of hemorrhagic fever. The body was still bleeding, and when it lay at Avestine’s feet, worms erupted from every orifice. Within minutes, the soldiers who had retrieved the body were bleeding. The sight weakened the line, and her foremost soldiers began to murmur and shuffle backwards. Before they could break ranks, she ordered retreat.
She sent her personal guard with the troops. She dispatched the sick men with the quick use of her blade. When she stood alone among the dead, the land was again silent.
“Very good,” she whispered to the sky.
Years before, Kami had sent beasts to stop her army but their attack ended when their bellies were full. This time, Kami was unstoppable, for vermin were never sated. Avestine shuddered at the thought of parasites. Kami was growing more powerful. She could compel the smallest of beasts now as easily as she had once compelled wolves.
Avestine released a long sigh and whispered again, “Very good.”
She let herself smile. She smiled because she knew she would win this war. Not just the war with Sahrdon but the one she had been fighting her whole life. She would destroy the gods, and then the world and everyone in it would belong to her.
Dark Quarter, the warmaster’s tent in the military camp of the Castle Alliance.
The camp was unusually quiet. Avestine had been warmaster of the Alliance for over a year and had never experienced such a mood.
The army was frightened. The men didn’t gather outside their tents as they had the night before their first battle. Rumors spread, so Avestine sent her guards to intercept the worst of them — to identify the men who should be removed and provide whiskey to those who remained steadfast.
She was alone in her grand tent except for two guards. She had sent her concubine to away for the night. She paced, pausing to run her fingers over the map on her table and checking the oil in the three lamps, where dark smoke curled and shivered at her passing.
She wondered why Rook had not returned. With Coth, the god of Judgment, possessing him, he could speak with the dead. Avestine coveted that power as she coveted every power. She had tried to find a way to make it hers, but since she couldn’t, she would be sure no one possessed it. Her plans for Coth awaited another day.
Her thoughts faded when a noise opposite the door drew her attention. Her guards approached with spears ready, but she waved them back.
Something was burrowing under the thick leather wall. It came up through a hole into the tent. A mole rose from the dirt and kept rising as it grew into Kami. The flickering oil lamp cast her naked body in dramatic shadows that emphasized her soft brown skin and generous breasts.
Avestine told her guard to leave the tent and sat down at her table. She poured herself a cup of whiskey and masqueraded as the defeated. “Come to gloat?”
“You saved your men. I thought you would see them die before you surrendered.”
“The battle is lost. Not the war.”
Kami nodded. “That’s more than I expected.”
“And your cleverness is more than I expected.”
“Come with me. You don’t need Sahrdon.”
Avestine finished her cup in one gulp and rose from her chair. “You mean we can live together in the forest? Festivals and sacrifices? You offered that to me once before. I left you to your orgy.”
“But you thought you could defeat me then. Now, you have no choice. You must do what I tell you.”
Avestine restrained a smile and reached out. When Kami stepped back, Avestine said, “Why are you here, child, if not to comfort me?”
“I’m here to talk you out of your madness.”
Contradictions and conflict were part of the bargain. Avestine knew the game well, but no one played it better than Kami, if only because Kami didn’t think of it as a game. “You’re here because you need me,” said Avestine. She took Kami’s hand, and this time, Kami didn’t resist. “You’re here because what is chaos without order?” Eyes narrowing, she added, “What is a dog without its master?”
Kami dropped her hand, but Avestine laughed and slid her hand into the cascade of black curls. Avestine looked into Kami’s glossy dark eyes and whispered, “Are you wet?” She didn’t wait for an answer and reached her hand down, pushing through the furry tangle between Kami’s legs. She pressed her middle finger between the warm folds and slid into moisture. Her heart thudded. Heat broke across her neck, leaving sweat in its wake.
“Look at that,” she whispered as she leaned away to gaze down where her hand worked. As her fingers fondled Kami’s pussy, the tendons of her strong hands flexed, and her short, white-tipped nails contrasted against the black hair. She liked the contrasts of black hair and bare skin, of her corded hand against Kami’s youthful tenderness. She spread the hair and folds so she could see the inner pink before Kami fell against her and began to hump. Avestine felt Kami’s pounding heartbeat against her arm.
Avestine trembled with unmet desire. It wasn’t that she lacked sex: her concubine was an obedient and enthusiastic girl, and she had visited her harem before the campaign began. But this was Kami. This was the girl who had journeyed across a continent to worship her as a hero and then made every effort to destroy her as a tyrant. Kami hated her and she loved her, and there was nothing better in the world than when Kami needed her.
She took Kami to her low, wide bed and pushed her onto her back. She stripped off her own clothes and crawled on top of her. She shifted so their legs interlocked, and when she began to bear down sinuously, Kami’s breathing changed with the rhythm.
The feel of warm flesh captivated Avestine until a sudden pain surprised her. Kami was chewing on her shoulder. Avestine propped herself up by holding Kami against the bed. Her clitoris found the hard curve of Kami’s hip again. She rocked until Kami squirmed loose and bit her arm.
Avestine shook her. “Hold still, child.”
She wrapped a firm hand around Kami’s neck, holding her down as she continued to grind against her hip. But satisfaction seemed far away. She was too excited, her nerves raw, over-stimulated. She left the bed. She returned and shoved a leather-clad stick into Kami’s hands.
Kami stared dully at the rod.
Avestine was fevered. Her body throbbed. She blinked sweat away from her eyes. She drew Kami to the corner of the bed, and then she mounted her, legs to either side, feet on the floor. She positioned Kami’s hand holding the rod and lowered herself onto it.
She began to ride, raising and lowering her body on Kami’s lap as the rod slid in and out. She was weak with pleasure. Shivers raced up her spine and prickled through her hair. Her thighs strained with effort, and her knees hurt. She leaned on Kami’s shoulders, and Kami ran one hand over her hips and up to her breasts. Avestine arched her back as Kami sucked on her hard pink nipples.
Avestine was so shaky it was difficult to keep fingering her own clitoris. Every time her fingers slipped off, she felt like she would lose her mind, but she finally came with cascading groans. When the waves of pleasure had passed, sweat dripped from her nose and chin. She rose from the bed and asked in a husky voice, “What do you want?”
Kami’s desire expressed itself in a painful frown. She fell back, her legs sprawling wide, and Avestine lost her breath at the sight. She dropped to her knees, lifted Kami’s legs onto her shoulders, and buried her face in the soaking pussy.
She smeared her cheeks and nose, and her tongue slid through cream, touching skin so soft and wet she had no sense where the clitoris was. She spread the folds of flesh with her fingers and clasped the inner lips with her mouth. She sucked until she felt the small bump recede and then grow big again.
Kami writhed, which made it difficult for Avestine to keep her mouth where she wanted it, but when Avestine speared her with one, then two fingers, Kami dropped her hips and remained still.
Avestine sensed Kami’s tension building, knew she was concentrating. There were as many kinds of orgasms as there were women. Kami’s were the quietly intense kind, just the opposite of everything else about her. Avestine picked up the rod, but Kami pushed it away.
“Stop fighting me,” said Avestine. She pressed the end against Kami’s small slit. Kami again pushed it away. “You’ll do what I tell you,” ordered Avestine.
“I want your tongue.”
“You’ll have my tongue, too, if you do what you’re told.”
Kami eased back and let Avestine slowly work the rod into her.
When Avestine also bent forward and licked her clitoris, Kami began to murmur pleading words. Her legs pressed together around Avestine’s head.
Avestine forced the rod through ever tightening muscles. And then she pressed a spot on the end. A trigger released a small latch on the end that was inside Kami. As Kami took hold of Avestine’s hair and rocked and moaned, the contents oozed into her. Avestine continued to thrust and to lick and welcomed a feeling of relief. Success.
When the shuddering left Kami, Avestine dropped the rod to the ground and lay next to her. Kami curled up and fell asleep.
Avestine didn’t know when Kami would feel the change. Would it be immediate, at the very beginning? Or would it happen much later, after the quickening? Perhaps it would not happen until the birth itself.
It didn’t matter when her plan reached fruition. Kami, lover of life, would never sacrifice a child to possess a god. When Kami realized she was no longer in sole possession of the god, that she now shared Bala with her child, she would accept it. Bala would be banished back to her hell, leaving only the sparks of her divine power to be shared by the remaining Essanti of Instinct.
Kami would be merely one of many, and she would again serve Avestine, as she had in the days before the end of the world.