It was strange that Okino was awoken by the warm, wet, slightly ticklish feeling in his ear—and not by the breathy, feminine whispering mantra. It was also strange that he only gradually became aware of the latter as consciousness returned to him.
“I am needy, I am Hers. Her pleasure is mine, Her lust, Her cries. I am needy, I am Hers...”
His eyes shot open in alarm.
The Knight of the City was lying on the massive chair that Mistress—that Ytheri the Sorceress had made him cum to sleep on. Somewhat surprisingly, it was completely clean now. The Knight of the City found himself completely naked, buried in soft blankets and staring into the deep, all-seeing eyes of the psychopomp.
Kuolema—that was what Ytheri had called her—had black, bottomless pools for eyes. They weren’t dark. They were void. They made his heart pound when he looked at them too long, and yet he couldn’t look away. His heart kept pounding, and he started to feel a distant pain in his left arm. The pounding was growing louder when her eyelids suddenly fluttered, and like that, he was free. Kuolema let out a wispy moan as he quickly looked away.
She had long, white hair, currently done up in an immaculate topknot. She was very pale—pale as bone—and her large breasts heaved with every gasping breath she took in. She was totally nude. The air around her stank of sage and mint, and Okino saw that her hands were currently thrust between her legs as she sat, legs spread, on the arm of his chair. Her toes poked into his hip.
She batted her eyelashes at him. “You are awake.”
“I...” Okino tried to avoid looking into her eyes. Something told him that that path led somewhere far darker than hypnosis. Somewhere dark, and cold, and lost to the world. Instead, he looked at her breasts. “You’re Kuolema,” he said, partially just for something to say.
Kuolema let out a small laugh. It was cut off midway by a much longer moan. She really wasn’t holding back, was she? Okino felt his member hardening as he listened to her noises, watched her stab into herself again and again with three spindly fingers. “You’re Mistress’s new pet.”
Okino bristled. His mind felt rejuvenated, somehow—the honey and mind control were now distant, pleasant memories, and he found his will was fully his own again. And yet something felt off. Her words echoed in his head like stones cast down a bottomless well. I am needy. I am Hers.
He tried to get up, but the heavy blankets weighed him down. “I am no one’s pet. I am Okino, Knight of the City.”
“Mm. Okay.” Okino clenched his fists in impotent rage. Her tone was so calm, so patronizing, that Okino wanted to...wanted to...wanted to grab her, and...
Her pleasure is mine, her lust, her cries...
...wanted to grab her, and pound into her, and keep pounding until the little blonde slut begged for his tongue...
Okino’s mouth was dry. He licked his lips and swallowed. “You have to help me,” he whispered. “I can—I can bring back help for you.” The lie came hard to Okino. He was, to a fault, honest. At least, he’d always thought so. Now he was having trouble remembering anything honest he’d done in his life. He was the one who’d dragged Yathi along just to hit on her. He was the one who’d gotten the whole patrol captured by his own overconfidence. Rhoelt had warned him, and he hadn’t listened. Why couldn’t he have listened?
And where had these longings for domination come from? Okino had never seen himself as the sort who needed to control women. Not like that, anyways. Were they turning him into some sort of beast? Or had this always been...
He tried to cut the thought off. He only succeeded thanks to a helpful distraction.
Kuolema was smiling. She reached forward with one hand, the other still busy between her legs. Cupping his chin in one hand, the psychopomp raised his face to look at her. He stared carefully at her supple lips. “There is no escape for me, little mortal,” she whispered. Her lips seemed to savor every word. “Save through pleasure.”
Her fingers were sticky and warm. Her lust. Her cries.
Okino pulled himself away and started shedding blankets. He had to hurry. Had to get away from this woman. This thing. Her raspy voice was hypnotic to him. It sent tingles down his spine to see her like this, to hear the sticky sounds below, to feel her sensuously whispered words as though they were brushing his skin. It was all too easy for his eyes to fall upon her wet pussy, to see her fingers working it, to see her thumb stroking gently around her clit. So easy.
I am needy. I am Hers.
As the last comforter fell onto the floor, his cock sprung free. Hard. Erect. Okino’s heart sank as he saw it.
By contrast, Kuolema cooed with exquisite delight, leaning over and staring at the cock in rapture. “Your manhood awakens for me!” she said, giggling. “Oh, such pleasures you mortals bring.” Her hand crept forward. “I shouldn’t...”
“Please don’t,” Okino whispered. But he didn’t move as Kuolema’s fingers lightly stroked his cock. The light touch sent electric shivers throughout his body. “D-don’t,” he repeated, somewhat less convincingly. I am needy. I am Hers.
“You cannot escape,” the fair slave said cheerfully. “So why not simply submit?”
Okino reached forward and, trembling, pulled her hand away. “I mustn’t,” he gasped. But now it sounded less like a denial and more like... him looking for an excuse.
That must have been what Kuolema heard, anyways, because she just laughed. She took his hand before he could react, bringing it over to her chest. She set his hand on one breast, and smiled at him. “You must,” she said simply.
Okino marveled at the sensation. She was so cold. So smooth. Her nipple was hard and pointed, and he brushed his hand over it, listening to her little gasps. He could feel her heart beating rapidly beneath, could feel the air as she moaned and breathed in.
“S-so easy,” she whispered. “Just submit to me, human. I will be—I will keep you as long as I can. Fuck you again and again. I will be so much kinder than the Thriae. I will hold you and comfort you. I will be gentle. Take pleasure in me. You’re so needy. So needy.” The words made his heart drop.
Okino felt her hand release his, but his hand didn’t move. He watched with dread as her newly-freed hand returned to his cock, bringing back the cool touches. “I cannot be warm for you, as she can,” the psychopomp whispered. “And I can never be as perfect as Mistress. But if you break for me...”
Her legs parted slightly. He stared at them, hypnotized by her wet, womanly folds. “I can open your mind to new experience. You can be mine. I will be so dedicated, so wonderful—it brings me pleasure to bring humans pleasure now.” She started to rub more firmly, and he whimpered, feeling the pressure starting to mount. “I’ll never tease... never hurt...”
“I need to get b-back to my patrol.”
“They will be lost soon.” She smiled at him. “You need not fear for them. Please.” Her foot brushed over his. “Live for this present.”
She leaned close and began to kiss his neck. He felt the tingling spreading through his entire body. It felt as though his whole body was falling asleep, but there was no numbness in his member. Down below, her fingers wrapped all the way around it and started to stroke faster. “Lose yourself in me,” she commanded.
I am Hers. I am Hers. Her pleasure is mine.
Okino felt his mind slipping, and he struggled to hold on. It was like he was on a wooden ship breaking apart in the void of space. He jumped out to grab a piece, but each time he did, he fell further out, further from the rest of the vessel. “No,” he managed.
The psychopomp laughed and kissed his cheek. Her leg rose up, straddling his left thigh. “You will. You cannot resist.” Her other hand crept over his chest like a spider. “Is it not a human’s purpose to be lost to Death?”
“I’ll be so gentle,” she cooed, nibbling his earlobe. She rose up again, her whole pert rear rising up into view as she practically straddled his crotch. “So kind. So sweet.”
As she descended down on Okino’s cock, he felt her wet sheath touch him. It stroked his cock with the utmost gentleness, and despite the alien lack of warmth, something about it intoxicated him. The pleasure whirled within, a gale of sensation, drawing his mind further and further away from his body until he felt trapped in dark, endless pleasure.
She began to slowly rise up and down. He shivered, both from cold and from desire. “Take comfort in me,” she whispered. “Take solace in me. All you need do is ask.”
“I must fight!” he cried, but the outburst sounded strange to him. It didn’t sound like him. It sounded like a dream’s version of him. A desperate approximation of resistance. Was he already breaking for her?
Would that be so bad, really? He shuddered as she rose up. It felt so wonderful to lie there and let her take him. To take comfort in her.
“And you can,” she soothed, stroking over his chest with a hand, touching his nipples lightly. Her lips ran over his forehead, kissing him tenderly. “You can take pleasure in me. Take strength in me. It will help you resist Mistress. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.”
“I...” Okino felt his thoughts scatter for a moment as she rose up on his cock. “I must...” She came down again, again cutting away his attempt at defiance. He heard her giggle against him.
“Take it in me,” she hissed in his ear, then lowered down and started kissing his neck. “Take solace. Take comfort. Take it in me. Take me! Take me!”
Her pussy lips contracted around his cock, forcing a moan out of him as he struggled to formulate objection.
“You will be so good,” she gasped, licking along his throat. “I will be so good for—oh, so good for you!”
“But...” Okino trailed off as she squeezed his cock again. “I need to... escape...”
“And you can!” Her voice was getting slightly higher-pitched now. “Can—can be lost in me, and I can protect—can comfort—so easy—so horny...” She let out a long, throaty moan, her lips vibrating against his skin, and she started to buck wildly atop him. He felt warm juices running down his cock as she came.
Her pleasure is mine, Okino thought, shaking. And indeed, it coursed through him in a torrent. He didn’t come, but he could feel the need rising, and rising... I am hers.
“S-so easy...” she hissed.
“Yes,” he heard himself whimper.
For a moment, her attentions slowed, as she bathed in the afterglow. Then, Kuolema started to kiss up along his neck, and her hips started to rise slightly faster. “So, little boy...” she moaned, her lips mere millimeters away from his, “… what do you desire from me?”
His lips moved without thought. “To be lost,” he heard himself cry as his cock gave a needy throb.
“Lost?” she whispered, giving him an affectionate peck on the lips. Her eyes were closed. “Lost in me?”
He needed release. He needed pleasure. Needed to cum so he could think. Needed to satisfy her so she would leave him. Needed to take comfort in her. Needed to take strength in her. Needed to take her. Needed to be... to be...
“To be lost in you! Oh, please.” He bucked up into her. “Please, before that m-madwoman finds us! Take me! Oh, fuck!”
He heard her giggle. “Oh, poor, silly human boy,” she murmured, locking lips with him. He heard her voice whisper in his mind. With every submission, you lock yourself closer to Her.
His eyes widened, but it was too late. She started to bounce in his lap, kissing him with a lusty hunger. He moaned despite himself as her slick slit rose up and down around him. Her breasts pressed against his chest. Her tongue thrust into his mouth.
At first, Okino went limp, allowing her to fuck him. But after a few seconds, that began to not be enough. He felt the hunger growing within him, rising to match hers, and he resented her gentle touches. He wrapped his arms around her, grabbing her pert ass, and he pounded up into her. He heard her gasp from the sudden thrust, and that only made his lust burn hotter.
Suddenly possessed of an aroused fury, the Knight of the City rolled the pale slave onto her back. Her eyes were screwed shut in pleasure. Something about this aroused him above all else. He needed to master. To dominate, to control. He drove down into her. In his frenzy, he found himself imagining that it was beautiful Yathi whom he was fucking, imagining that those gasping lips were Yathi’s as he kissed her roughly.
“Yes—” she cried, “yes, mm, oh, yes-yes—’esss!”
He imagined that she was a Thriae, that he was drilling one of their hot, gooey pussies, finally making those whores pay for every humiliation—every second of unsatisfied lust. “Little bitch,” he hissed, surging into her. He was so close. “You fucking—slutty—”
“Yes, yes—” She was almost crying. “Just like a mortal slut—”
“Then cum like one!” he roared, and came. He came into her, crying out, shaking all over. Her slender arms snaked around him, and she was screaming, too. Her lips were all over him, licking his face, kissing his cheeks and his lips, like she just wanted to taste his mortal, masculine musk.
Okino spasmed, unable to control himself anymore, but she was fortunately quite happy to grab his hips and force him up and down inside her. The orgasm went on, and on, for what felt like minutes. It felt like days.
At last, as his thrusts began to ebb, she released him. He fell against her soft, cold body, gasping for breath. She wasn’t breathing at all. She just lay there, a smile on her face, eyes closed in peace.
Okino slowly rose up, shaking all over. Fuck. Fuck.
What had just happened came to him slowly, but he knew he’d made a terrible mistake. He pulled himself out of her. She didn’t stir. Was she...dead?
Probably not. He hesitated, then grabbed some of the blankets and threw them on top of her. She looked almost normal, lying there in the chair. Almost human.
Poor thing. No one could resist Ytheri. Not even the Reapers.
He got up and looked around. Spotting a towel, Okino wrapped it around his waist and hurried from the room.
He had to find the exit. With every submission, he grew weaker.
* * *
“So this is the Western Evergreen.” Yathi grimaced, surveying the road ahead. She had never been this far from the city before. Not since... not since she was a kid.
It seemed so distant now. Years ago, long before she’d ever seen a Thriae. Long before she’d been...well, she didn’t want to think about that. Now here she stood, belly full of Thriae honey and locked in the first stage of mead addiction, chasing a troop of Thriae straight back to their own hive. It seemed like madness.
But she was strong. She could do this. For her city, for her team. She swallowed. “A lot of trees, huh?”
Trys stepped up level with her, raising an eyebrow. The ex-mead addict looked skeptical, though the Western Evergreen seemed quite peaceful at the moment.
The Evergreen Forest was the largest forest on the continent, and ran more or less straight through the middle of the landmass. It was infamous for the danger it posed to travelers who strayed from the path, being infested with fey, sex-crazed plants, just generally crazed plants, and, of course, the infamous Gray Wraiths. The Western Evergreen was generally agreed upon to be the second-worst section of the forest, right after the completely wild Southern Evergreen. This was because the Western Evergreen had something no other part of the forest did:
Brist stepped up, too, and gave the forest a long look. Yathi swore she could hear the black-skinned, white-haired crystal mage gulp. “That’s... wow. I’ve never seen trees so tall.”
“Aw. I bet Brist didn’t know they grew that big.” Ia clapped the wizard on the shoulder. “Feeling impotent, wizard?”
Brist jerked away, scowling. “Can you be serious for one moment? We’re about to enter the Western Evergreen. Anything could happen in there.”
“As long as we stay on the path, we’ll be fine,” Yathi said, though she herself wasn’t fully sure. The fey followed those rules—more or less, sometimes, depending on their mood—but the druids probably didn’t. Hopefully the druids wouldn’t pay them any heed, or weren’t in the area. “We’ve just gotta move quickly. This is only a short strip of the wood—the Thriae think they’re going to lose us in here. They’ll cut through the strip and curve around, straight to their hive.”
“Are you sure they’re using the path?” Trys asked, eyes narrowed. She glanced at Yathi with clear skepticism. “They’re fey.”
“There’s worse things than fey in there,” Yathi said darkly. “It doesn’t tend to go well for anyone who wanders where they shouldn’t, and the Thriae are as much guests as we are. The Evergreen Forest has its own sort of order to things.”
There was a long silence. The Gray Wraiths hung over the conversation like a funeral shawl.
“Welp!” Ia clapped her hands excitedly. “Let’s get moving, guys. Time is honey.”
Yathi suddenly did not much care for that old city expression.
* * *
Ia stopped short. She glanced back at Yathi, arching one eyebrow, and tried to hide any alarm this word had caused beneath her usual flippancy. “Hm? Hm? What’s that about, Yathers?”
The scout was studying the treetops with a nervous frown. Ia noticed that Yathi was squirming a little in her stance. Ia sort of knew the feeling. Sometimes I just want to rip off my clothes and...ugh. She tapped her head with a knowing smile. Careful, Ia. Don’t look at her when you’re thinking such things.
Yathi had always been beautiful to Ia. Extremely beautiful. Ridiculously beautiful. Her short dark hair always seemed glossy and sleek, and her leather bodysuit really didn’t do a thing to hide her flawless figure. She’d always seemed incapable of wearing anything that didn’t make Ia a bit wet, actually.
But now Ia’s attraction was tinged with a sort of empathy that wasn’t helping things one bit. Every little fidget, every little wince and whimper when someone brushed by her bare skin. Yathi was in Stage One of the honey addiction, and it was the sexiest thing Ia had ever seen in her life. Except maybe watching Yathi lick three Thriae pussies out a few hours ago.
“The moth fairies,” Yathi muttered, dispelling Ia’s unwanted daydreams. “They’re gone.”
“What does that mean?” Trys asked, her hand straying to her sword.
“What are moth fairies?” Brist asked.
“Little, er, fairies.” Yathi glanced at Brist, then quickly averted her eyes. “With moth wings. Fuzzy skin. Kind creatures, but impressionable. They normally infest the branches of the Western Evergreen.”
“What does it mean?” Trys repeated. The normally perfectly-controlled warrior looked a bit annoyed.
“It means...” Yathi squirmed. Idly, one of her hands rose up and gave her left breast a squeeze. She didn’t even seem to be aware she was doing it. Ia felt her legs quake slightly. “I don’t know what it means. It could mean... I don’t know.”
Trys appeared eager to press the matter, but something made her stop. Ia cocked her head, but said nothing. She got it. They needed Yathi functioning. Maybe it was better not to press her too hard on things.
Maybe it was nothing.
* * *
Menta gave the jar a good shake, giggling like mad at the ensuing shrieks and squeals. “Powder up!” she cooed.
The three little gray-skinned fairies inside struggled to find purchase, their little moth wings fluttering frantically to no avail. Every time Menta shook the jar, it made the little green dust she’d poured into the jar rise up in great clouds. The fairies struggled to avoid the dust, but with every little rattle and shake, the tiny, fuzzy, big-breasted women became increasingly coated in it. The powder stuck in particular to their lips, eyelids, cheeks and nether regions.
They squeaked unhappily. Faintly, Menta could hear them pleading for release, but the catgirl had no intention of obliging. Not when she was having so much fun! Instead, she concentrated her energies in the World Base.
The remaining green dust rose up in a miniature twister.
“Oh, the fun we’re gonna have,” Menta sang.
The blonde catgirl was perched up on a branch high above the forest floor. It had been hard to catch these few—the moth fairies knew better than to listen to her hypnotic voice. But sometimes a hunt called for brute force magic. They were Low Fey, like her, and vulnerable to a druidess’s charms. What she wanted, she got.
She beamed at the fairies as they collapsed in a pile. They were beginning to moan now. Their eyes were heavy-lidded, and they licked their suddenly plusher green lips in hunger as they began to wriggle and writhe against one another.
“Always nice to have a little show,” she whispered, “before the dessert.”
Oh, she was looking forward to enjoying these three after the chase they’d given her.
At that moment, though, a strange smell reached her little button nose. A complex smell. The druidess froze. She cocked her head, raised her nose up, and sniffed.
Her catlike ears perked up, and her eyes widened. She let out a little purr of delight as she caught the smell of fresh honey. The purr grew more intensely pleasurable as she noticed, beneath the smell, a scent almost as intoxicating and far more unusual: Human musk. Human arousal.
She clapped her hands and squealed with excitement. “Oh, fun! New toys!“
The catgirl turned and sprung to the nearest other tree, making her way through the Western Evergreen. She had to find the others, and fast.
Oh, how the bee girls spoiled them, she thought, with a wicked grin.
* * *
Brist’s legs were beginning to give out from under him. They’d been walking for the entire day, now, and as twilight settled upon the Evergreen Forest, he could feel a much more basic sensual longing than sex taking over. He was tired. More than anything, now—more than all the Thriae in the world—he just wanted to lie down.
“Brist, you’re slowing,” he heard Yathi snap. “Keep up the pace!”
He looked up at her. The scout walked ten feet ahead of the rest of the team, facing straight ahead. He glared at her pert ass. “Yathi, do you really expect us to walk through the night?”
“Did you become a Knight of the City by whining constantly?” Yathi asked. “Because you’ve done naught but complain since we got here.”
Brist felt his face heating up. “What? No, I haven’t!”
“Yathi, lay off,” Trys said. The blonde warrior walked alongside Brist at the group’s rear, probably because she was the one carrying all the supplies. She looked as exhausted as Brist felt. “You’re being ridiculous about this. We need to rest sooner or later.”
“Rest when the duty is done, Trys,” Yathi barked, sounding for all the world like a drill sergeant.
“So you keep saying,” Ia complained. The pantsless knight put her hands on her hips. “Look, I’m all for making Brist suffer, but now I’m suffering. That’s not okay!”
“Thanks, Ia,” Brist said, rolling his eyes.
“You are welcome.”
Yathi whirled on the group. “The Thriae are out there!” she hissed. “We’re in a deathtrap forest! And you want to make camp?”
“Well, not really a deathtrap.” Ia giggled. “More like a sextrap. Fey, y’know.”
“Yathi, we can’t walk all day and night,” Trys said. Brist glanced over and nodded his agreement, and saw Ia doing the same. Trys’s tone was as measured as always, but there was a terseness that seemed new. “We have to make camp sometime. I know people who’ve journeyed through the Evergreen, and I’ve never heard anyone say you can’t stop to rest.”
“Do you think the Thriae will stop to rest?” Yathi finally stopped walking and turned to face them. “Rest when the duty is done!”
“Oh, for the dead gods’ sake!” Trys clutched her forehead, “Yathi, you’re being... I’ve been trying to be patient, because I know you’re going through a lot, but not sleeping is as liable to get us killed as anything Brist proposes. And yeah, actually, I think the Thriae will rest.” She came to stand in front of Yathi, and cast her hands out as though setting a scene. “Thriae are sensual beings. ‘The then for the dead, the now for the fey, the next for the demon.’ They aren’t going to push themselves or their bees to discomfort if they can help it.”
Yathi visibly squirmed at the words ‘sensual beings’. Brist swallowed and averted his eyes. He noticed that Ia and Trys didn’t.
He tried not to judge them for that. Trys was an ex-mead addict, and Ia...Ia apparently had some baggage from the ‘inoculation’. Even unafflicted, Brist had trouble not looking at Yathi. He always had. He was pretty sure a gay Cloistermage monk would struggle to avert his eyes from someone like Yathi. He had no right to judge.
It seemed like Yathi was yielding to group pressure, and Brist, feeling redundant (and not wanting to gang up on her), backed away from the group. Might as well start picking out a place for the tent, he thought, suddenly regretting that they had only managed to retain one tent—Trys’s. That was going to be awkward.
At least they had one, though. This forest gave him the creeps. He didn’t want to sleep exposed. Who knew what would find them while they slept?
He picked out a small area of grass next to the path and went to work, picking away rocks and plucking out thistles.
“Wonder if Yathi was like this before she got honeyed up?” Ia said, appearing in Brist’s field of vision as he reached toward a cluster of large purple thistles that sort of reminded him of artichokes. He jumped. Ia had a smug look on her face.
“Now you’re being an ass,” he said curtly, wrapping both hands on the largest of the green stalks. He grimaced, feeling slight prickles brush his skin, but it didn’t feel like there were any real thorns. He gave a tug. The thistle held firm.
“Aah, I’m just calling it like it is.” Ia snorted. She reached down and yanked one of the thistles out of the earth, showing almost no effort in doing so. Six remained. “Gods, Brist, you’re weak as fuck.”
“I’m a mage, not a brawler!” he snapped, glaring at the thistle. Its vibrant purple inflorescence was quite beautiful, and looked very soft. Slightly curious, he ran his fingers over it. The little flowers within the thistle were surprisingly prickly, and he jerked his hand away, thinking he had cut himself. But his hand was clear. “Maybe instead of mocking me, like you always do, you could put that youthful energy into helping.”
“Eh.” Ia leaned back against the tree trunk. Brist only saw her out of the corner of his eye, but she seemed slightly miffed. “I was gonna, but then I remembered you’re a pretentious twat. So have fun getting pricked, prick.”
“You’re such a child,” he muttered. Again, he tried to yank on the flower, and again it held firm. It barely even shifted. It must have deeper roots, he reasoned.
“You’re, what a year older than me?”
“Yes, you’re very immature for your age.” That had almost been a quip. Brist was slightly proud of himself.
He studied the bloom. It had a slight spiral pattern in the color of the flowers. It was quite pretty, though he was still planning to kill it. He tried to focus on the task, and not get annoyed at Ia’s constant harassment. That’s what she wants, he told himself, staring at the purple flower.
“This coming from a guy who can’t look at me without getting a boner.”
And just like that, his efforts failed. His eyes widened. He tore his face from the thistles and looked up at Ia, feeling his face heating up. “You—don’t flatter yourself!”
“Oh, come on.” Ia smiled and rolled her eyes, giving a languid shrug. She had been without pants ever since the escape from the Thriae, and her red panties were on plain display. ‘Casualties of war,’ she’d said. Her dark, spike hair hung in messy knots around her cute face. She wasn’t exactly clean, but there was a rugged beauty to her that she at that moment seemed keenly aware of. She tossed the hair with a hand. “I’ve seen you blushing. Don’t think that having skin that dark keeps me from noticing. I see all.”
Brist swallowed. He was starting to sweat, and he hoped it wasn’t obvious. He didn’t want to be attracted to Ia. She was infuriating. She was childish. “D-did you consider,” he said, mind racing, “that I’m like that because we’re in a party with Yathi?”
Ia stopped stretching. Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Oh, what dragonshit is this.”
“Have you seen her?” Brist hissed.
He was counting on Yathi’s argument with Trys to keep from being overheard. Nearby, Yathi seemed to finally be powering down as Trys explained to her—in a very, very brittle tone—the consequences of exhaustion. At least, he hoped Yathi was done arguing, because Trys sounded about ready to snap otherwise.
“And her—I mean, at least she bathes!” he went on. “And wears shoes!” He knew he was being an ass on multiple levels, but damn it, Ia had been an ass all day, and he couldn’t let her think—let her know—
“They’re prisons for feet!” Ia snapped, looking stung.
Brist dropped his gaze, worried that his eyes would tell her too much. “And you’re weird,” he muttered, carefully studying the flower to avoid Ia’s gaze. “Weird, and gross, and...I don’t think anyone would—”
He was never able to say what he didn’t think anyone would do, because at that moment, Ia tackled him. She bore him to the ground and grabbed his arms, wrestling him away from the crystals he sought to grab. She glared at him. “You arrogant bitch,” she hissed. “I should just—just kick your ass, and—”
Brist’s struggles slowed for a moment. He realized that Ia’s face had gone as red as her panties. There seemed to be a look of real hurt in her eyes.
In that moment, Ia put him in a headlock.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake! You fucking morons!”
Brist had never heard Trys angry before, and as one, he and Ia froze. One hand grabbed him by the collar, as another wrapped around Ia’s wrist. The hands yanked the two apart in a single motion. Trys stood over them, glaring daggers. “What the hell is wrong with you two?”
“This—” Ia writhed like a python, but the grip on her wrist appeared to be as solid as steel. “This asshole—”
“Ia, are you an actual child?” Trys snarled, and Ia went still. Brist felt his heart plummet. There was real alarm in her eyes. Evidently, she’d never seen Trys mad, either. “Are you a ret—are you a—you are a fucking idiot!”
Ia said nothing. Neither did Brist. Trys shook them both, as if trying to startle them into compliance. “You’ve been acting like a little brat this entire mission! You know it might be your fault the Thriae caught us by surprise back there? You know it might be your fault Okino’s getting his brain scrubbed right now?”
Ia swallowed, and still said nothing. Brist bit his upper lip. “Um, Try—”
Trys didn’t even seem to hear him. Her eyes were blazing. “I’ve been putting up with your idiocy because I thought, maybe, there was enough sense to be worth it! Because I felt bad for you!” She rolled her eyes. “Oh, she’s a kid, I told myself.” She pushed both Brist and Yathi away. Brist’s head fell directly next to two of the thistles, while Ia landed in the middle of the little clearing. Ia fell on her rear and didn’t move. She just kept staring up at the warrior. “But no! Our captain is effectively dead and here you are, fucking around with the one member of the unit besides me who’s been able to keep his head about everything!”
I don’t know if I’d go that far, Brist thought, wringing his hands. He sat up and looked across at the large purple blossoms.
“And I have had it!” Trys smacked her hands together. “I’ve learned to meditate to deal with seduction, with honey, with torture, with the worst tests of our will fey, demon and humans have been able to come up with, but apparently a little welp who got into the knighthood by fucking her superiors—basically a step off from a fey, really—” She turned away, visibly holding more insults in. Her eyes bulged, and with an almost feral cry, she reached down and ripped two of the thistles out of the earth and threw them away. Now there were four.
She stood there a moment, leaning over the remaining blooms, breathing heavily. Her breaths slowly regularized, then took on a rhythm, and Brist realized she was starting to meditate again.
Brist swallowed. His mouth tasted gummy and stagnant—he needed a drink more than anything else. He looked out of the corner of his eye at Ia, who still looked stunned. He stared at the flower.
Its petals seemed to move slightly.
Next to him, Trys sat down crosslegged, continuing the breathing exercises. She seemed to be studying one of the thistles as well. It was calming, Brist thought. He needed calm right now.
“That was loud,” he heard Yathi say, her voice as curt and critical as ever. He felt a pang of annoyance, but tried not to say anything in response. It wasn’t a good idea to confront right now. He needed to calm down, and watch, as the little flowers of the thistle bloom began to stir with the wind.
“Nobody cares, Yathi,” Trys said, sounding tired. “Nobody cares. Ia can shed a goddamn... tear once in a while. The world will... continue to spin.”
Spin. It was funny how the little spiral patterns seemed to spin in the breeze. Brist focused on them, trying to tune out what the others were saying.
He hated conflict, in truth. He always had. He wished Ia hadn’t had to be so difficult to him. It would have been nice to have someone closer to his age he could trust in the party. Instead, she had mocked and messed with him at every turn. He didn’t understand her at all.
He could feel himself starting to get annoyed again, and he tried to tune it all out and concentrate on not thinking about it. On not thinking about anything. The thistle was a good conduit for that. He reached forward absently, running his hand over the prickly stem. He gave a little tug, but it didn’t budge.
“I’m not crying,” Ia said at last, her voice somewhat muffled. Brist could almost tune her out, but not quite. “You’re the one who’s too emotional.” Her tone was mulish, hurt. She was retreating into a safe way to speak with people. So much difficulty. So much easier to just concentrate on something calmer, Brist thought. “And Brist, seriously, you still can’t pull those things out? It’s not that hard. Even Trys could do it. It’s easy.”
“Yeah...” Out of the corner of his eye, Brist saw Trys running her hand over the stem as well. There seemed to be a number of very small cuts on her hand, strangely enough. She seemed to tug slightly, but the plant didn’t budge. “Easy...”
Easy. It was so easy to slip away. Brist watched as the petals’ spiral seemed to move more deliberately now. So it wasn’t the wind. He stared at it in wonder. It was so easy to get lost in the spirals. So easy to slip away.
“Gods...” Ia let out a harsh laugh. “Wish I could do that. Just meditate. Just forget how scared I am, how angry I am, how... how fucking horny I am. All the time. But I can’t, Trys. We’re not all fucking perfect like you.”
“Mm.” Brist heard Trys mumble something, but he couldn’t make it out. He slid his hand over the stalk again. He could swear his hand had some slight bits of blood on it, but he hadn’t felt anything cutting him. He leaned close and smelled the flower. It smelled slightly bittersweet, like a grapefruit.
“Hey.” Ia sounded puzzled. “Brist. Trys.”
“Mm?” Brist tilted his head, but didn’t look away. He heard Trys make a similar sound. The flowers had begun to open and close a little. The spirals continued, now accentuated by dozens of little shifting petals. It was almost... hypnotic.
“What are those flowers doing? Get a grip.” Something moved in front of Brist’s vision, but it didn’t matter. He could still see the flower. And when the something left his vision, the flower was there again. “Hey! Yathi!”
Ia’s voice was so distant. Just whispery white noise now. Brist felt himself slowly smiling. He’d been so stressed out a moment ago. There was no need for that. He just needed to be calm. Calm and pliant. Pliant and sleepy. Sleepy and... and...
“Weak,” he heard Trys whisper, and he smiled wider. Yes. Calm. Pliant. Sleepy. Weak. It was so much easier. He watched the hypnotic blossom. It felt so good to concentrate on the flower. It was hard to concentrate on anything else with the flowers moving so steadily. He counted silently. Each tiny bloom stayed open for exactly two seconds, and closed for exactly one second, but they weren’t doing it in synchronicity, which led to a complex series of openings and closings. So fascinating. So easy to watch.
Ia shouted something else, and Brist was vaguely conscious of rapid footsteps coming toward them. “... won’t budge anymore!” he heard her say. Something pushed at him, but he resisted it, holding onto the stalk. His hands were beginning to tingle. “... their hands!”
The flowers began to close again. Brist watched them curiously. Something was happening. He felt a dull vibration in the stem he clutched.
The footsteps stopped, and then Yathi shouted something and dove toward them.
At that moment, the thistle blooms opened and released clouds of pale yellow pollen. Before he could even think, Brist breathed in.
The wizard felt his heart fluttering. His lungs felt for a moment very dry, and he started to cough. He heard Yathi, Ia and Trys coughing, too.
He blinked. Leaned back, at least tearing his eyes from the thistle flower. Next to him, Trys was also blinking rapidly. It looked like Yathi had caught some of it as well, because her eyelids were fluttering. Her knees seemed to be buckling slightly. “Guys...guys...oh my fucking god...”
The arousal hit Brist like a tidal wave of fire. It was overpowering—too much, too fast, and far too little will left to even comprehend it, much less fight it. He suddenly needed...needed...
… to fuck. His eyes widened. Before he knew it, he was pulling his robes off. “F-fuck,” he whispered. He heard Trys moaning next to him, and turned to look at her. The beautiful blonde warrior’s mouth was open, and she was gasping for breath.
She stared at him, eyes full of need. “This... this...”
Ia was coughing like mad as they both turned to Yathi. The gorgeous dark-haired woman’s face had gone pale. Her fingers were slowly crawling towards her pants buckle. “Have to...” she breathed, shuddering. “Have to... fight it...”
Brist’s fingers wrapped around his manhood. He stared at Yathi and started to stroke himself. “Can’t,” he rasped.
“Too good,” Trys moaned, and he heard her beginning to masturbate. They stared at Yathi, who trembled at their lusty stares. He stroked his cock faster, more desperately. He had to come. Had to fuck. Had to come.
At that moment, the flowers began to open and close again.
Brist’s ministrations slowed slightly, regularized, as the flowers drew his eyes back. He saw Yathi’s and Trys’s eyes lock on them as well, and their mouths fell open in blissful slumber as the blooms lulled them back into hypnosis. He fought for only a second longer. Ia’s voice echoed in his head. He felt her tugging on his arm, but weakly. It felt so good to watch the flowers and pleasure himself.
He was so calm. So pliant and calm and dumb. So calm and dumb and needy and sleepy and pliant and... and...
Open and close. Open and close. He felt a beatific smile settle on his face as he leaned closer and breathed deep.
* * *
“Guys!” Ia shrieked, as loudly as she could without entering another coughing fit. She tugged on Brist’s arm again, but her strength was still recovering, and his bloody hands—probably full of some sort of toxin—were wrapped resolutely around the stem of the plant. That pollen had done a fucking number on her. “Fucking goddammit!”
Her heart was pounding. Everything had gone so, so wrong so fast. One moment she’d been teasing Brist—flirting with him, really—and the next...
She felt tears springing to her eyes at last as she saw Yathi finally give in and start to finger herself. Yathi couldn’t take this right now. Why did bad things always have to happen to that, beautiful, sexy—
Ia cut the thought off and averted her gaze from the now half-naked scout, trying to ignore the squishes and moans that came from behind her. She would wait, she told herself. Wait until her strength returned, then pull Brist away. He could help with Yathi, and together, they could probably drag the statuesque Trys away.
Still carefully keeping the flowers out of her range of vision with a hand, Ia stepped back.
She heard a rustling in the bushes behind her.
Turning, Ia saw a small humanoid shape: a young redheaded woman with pointy cat ears. The woman was giggling silently at their situation.
Their eyes met. The catgirl’s eyes widened.
She turned and ran off into the bushes.
Ia was still groggy, and she was also still angry. More importantly, though, that had to be a scout or something. No way was she going to let her report this to anyone. Ia’s eyes narrowed. Without hesitation, she whipped out her sling and took off after. She spared one last glance at Brist, seeing him rubbing his long shaft, a dreamy look in his eyes. “I’ll be right back!” she called, in case any part of her teammates’ subconsciouses could process that. And she bolted into the forest.
The catgirl was a surprisingly bad runner. At first, Ia assumed that this was because the vines were slowing her down. The Evergreen Forest undergrowth was thick when one left the path, and even Ia, a very spry young woman, was having some trouble keeping from tripping.
But that was strange, wasn’t it? Ia frowned, ducking under a low-hanging tree branch she’d nearly concussed herself on. Catgirls were forest fey. Everybody knew that. Surely a catgirl would be better at running in the forest than a city girl.
Ia stopped short, catching her momentum on a nearby trunk. “Oh, fuck!” she cried, and turned to run back.
Still regaining her balance, her foot stepped back just a few inches to arrest her run.
She felt something snap.
Without any other warning, Ia was jerked into the air in a mass of string netting. She squealed with surprise and tried to scramble out, but too late: The net was already closing around the top. A basic net trap. She lunged for the top, but only succeeded in becoming more badly entangled.
“Shit!” she spat.
Yathi would know how to get out of this in a second, she thought peevishly.
Maybe the others would hear her scream, and it would snap them out of it, she thought hopefully. But that small hope was quickly dashed. Even if they did, it would be for the worse—they would be easily ambushed in their state. This had all been set up in advance to splinter her off.
Why her, though? Ia’s mind raced. Maybe they’d just wanted the group scattered. Maybe they didn’t want a girl immune to mind control to get in the way. Maybe they had special plans for her.
Or maybe these creatures hadn’t planned much of any of this, she thought darkly. And her team really had just fucked up that badly. She really had fucked up that badly.
It was a sobering thought, to say the least.