Gerrim strolled down the busy dusty road of Skarrivan, sidling around clanking tinker's carts and dancing musicians without even breaking his stride. Though his pace was springy and cheerful, his back ached from a long, long day's walk—and a very heavy backpack. He was very much looking forward to setting the latter down and lying back in a soft bed.
It was hard to be in a bad mood about it, though. The people of Skarrivan were so friendly. He couldn't help but return every smile, and his face was getting sore from it.
Skarrivan was a large town, by Western Plains standards—positioned right by the river, this town had been able to thrive where other baronies had been forced to squabble over water and food like bandits in the wasteland—but everyone here seemed to know each other. They showed a familiarity with each other that made it feel more like the little village Gerrim had grown up in.
Gerrim returned a passing milkmaid's smile. She giggled, blushing, and hurried on, leading her sleepy-looking cow after her. Of course, while everyone had smiles for him, pretty ladies and gentlemen always seemed to smile the brightest no matter where he was. Gerrim cut a striking figure—at nearly six feet tall, with bright brown eyes, a muscular, powerful build, ruddy brown skin and prominent dimples, he tended to get along well with those looking for a good time.
Not that he ever indulged, of course. Gerrim grinned at a couple of shepherds and adjusted the cowl of his cloak formally, enjoying the attention as the two young handsome men observed his departure. One of them whistled, and Gerrim felt his cheeks glowing like embers.
No, the Toxin Rangers encouraged abstinence, or at least waiting for marriage. Sex was a perfectly fine thing, of course, as long as it happened behind closed doors, and you never talked about it or practiced it too eagerly. And as long as you weren't... well, playing around too much with the wrong sort of people.
Okay, so the Toxin Rangers were a bit puritanical. Gerrim adjusted his brass mushroom clasp. And maybe a little... normative. But Gerrim was only twenty, and fresh to the order. He tried not to make waves by flirting with too many cute boys in front of his teachers. And he did like the idea of waiting til marriage.
And girls were cute, too, anyways.
No, flirting was all fun and games, but Gerrim had no intention of fooling around. Not anytime soon, certainly. Ranger work was no joke. Especially not today.
He trotted over to a stall. The owner, a plump middle-aged fellow with a long black beard and weak eyes, smiled broadly over his wares of melons and grapes. "Good harvest, stranger!"
"Good harvest." Gerrim shook the man's hand. "Gerrim."
"Tarkin." The farmer returned the handshake eagerly. "We often see visitors, but rarely Rangers. What's brought you out to our quiet little town, friend?"
"My first assignment." Gerrim proudly flashed his badge. "Apparently, Skarrivan's got a reputation for being quiet, and the Toxin Rangers think it would make a good base of operations if we set up a cabin in the Plains. Good, um..." He noticed Tarkin's face cloud over for a moment. "Good safe place from which we can keep an eye on river traffic. Lot of unpleasant people around here. No offense."
"Hm. No." Tarkin nodded carefully. "No, there... the indulgent diplomats are a big problem. But honestly, Skarrivan might not be the best place for you."
"Oh?" Gerrim blinked.
"It's. There's quite a lot of trouble around here." Tarkin coughed. "Lots of... of, um..."
"Are you saying that Skarrivan isn't safe?" Gerrim kept his voice low. He glanced over his shoulder, wondering if Tarkin was afraid of being overheard. Nobody seemed to be paying them any heed, but you could never be too careful. The Toxin Rangers did have powerful enemies among fey and mindweavers.
"No, no!" Tarkin said quickly. "We are very safe in Skarrivan. It's a wonderful place, and you're very welcome here. We'd love to have a Toxin Ranger set up shop."
"Well, I'm just scouting around." Gerrim shrugged. "If it seems like a good spot, I'll send in word. Maybe I'll get assigned to the cabin, if I'm lucky, but I'll probably be accompanied at first by someone more experienced."
"Ah. Yes." Tarkin smiled. "Well, I hope you like what you see." His expression was clear again. "We get a lot of travelers, and a lot of people like it here. The Rangers might find it a good town to set up in. Be nice to have someone around to keep an eye on—"
Behind them, a door slammed.
Tarkin looked up sharply, and following his lead, Gerrim spun around. He blinked.
Without any clear signal, everyone all around seemed to be in a sudden hurry to clear the path. Carts were careening to the alleys, or just parking on the side of the road—some even blocking doorways. A few people were hurrying into their homes, while others just wheeled their stalls back a little bit and cast their eyes downwards.
A wide space had been cleared in the middle of the road leading up to the castle, as though a stampede of cattle was bound to run through at any moment.
"Odd." Gerrim frowned. Was it closing time? People weren't all leaving, they were just... moving. He leaned over and peered up the road, but he didn't see any kind of procession or carriage.
Someone gripped his hand. Gerrim spun, reflexively reaching for his knife before he saw that it was Tarkin.
The man's eyes were wide. "Behind the stall!" he hissed.
Gerrim blinked. Very quickly, a few thoughts ran through his mind.
One: Tarkin was acting very strangely, and seemed oddly afraid of the Rangers. Perhaps he was a mindweaver, and this was a trap.
Two: Tarkin seemed afraid of something, and judging by the odd road-clearing, he was probably trying to warn Gerrim of something.
Three: Anything worth nearly crashing your haycart for to avoid was probably worth avoiding until he knew more.
Gerrim hurried around the side, swinging his backpack from his shoulders, and ducked behind the stall and beneath the counter. His heart was racing.
What in hell was going on?
Tarkin hurried back into place, scooting up his stool—forcing Gerrim to hurry back and press against the far side of the stall. It was dry, splinter-friendly wood, and the ground beneath was dusty. But it wasn't too dark.
There was a convenient knothole in the front of the stall.
Again, choices ran through Gerrim's head—risk of knowing versus not knowing, the chances of whatever was out there having some kind of passive visual hypnotic effect...
He pressed his eye to the hole.
The rookie Toxin Ranger stared in shock. A slight whimper of confusion slipped out, earning him a light warning kick from Tarkin. He just... didn't understand.
Two women were coming down the road from the castle.
One was rather short; petite, yes, but busty. She had long strawberry blonde hair and bright blue eyes—a common trait in the Western Plains—and wore a comfortable blue-green sundress. A pair of bright sapphire earrings dangled from her ears. Her lips were painted bright red, her eyes deeply shadowed.
She was gorgeous, perfectly-dressed, her hair perfectly styled. Obviously wealthy. And she radiated power. Confidence. Her eyes flitted over Gerrim, and his heart stopped—before remembering that she couldn't see him. Could she?
She glanced right over the stall, her gaze imperious, perfectly confident in her power, her control. It was so casually arrogant, that expression. As if nothing could ever, ever challenge her.
That arrogance was especially remarkable because there was no way she was a day older than twenty-three. Gerrim had been taught a general respect for his elders, but this woman... he couldn't imagine her showing respect to anyone. She strolled through the town like she owned the place.
And then he noticed the woman in front of her, and his jaw dropped.
The woman ahead of her, who had to be in her early thirties, had long, wavy dark hair and big, pretty brown eyes. Very pretty. There was something oddly appealing about this eyes, which looked very calm. Very glossy. Sparkly, almost.
One could get lost in eyes like those.
That is, if her tits weren't hanging down and swinging with every step as she crawled forward, eyes cast meekly to the ground as the leash the blonde woman held tugged at her collar and caused the little brass cowbell on it to cling softly. She seemed to whimper every time the bell rang. Unluckily for her, the bell kept bouncing against her massive, almost holstaur-level tits. Her tits were visibly dripping with milk.
Gerrim started in wonder at them, even as he mentally noted, Nurselily extract. Daily dosage. Holstaur's kiss to get them to that size—it doesn't usually grow around here, so it might be imported. Applied every full moon, of course. He licked his lips as the women drew nearer, the smell making him feel a bit woozy. Um. Mummywort. That smells like mummywort tea's effects. Causes being milked to inflict orgasms, gives the scent and... taste of milk... aphrodisiac, um...
... um, pleasuring... feels good...
... smells good...
Gerrim's sluggish mind worked just quickly enough to wet a rag with crystalbloom sap and press it to his nose. The cool, minty, acrid smell helped clear his head as the whimpering woman crawled past, and he remembered to lean away from the hole just as she glanced towards the stall.
A hypnotically tempting effect, he finished belatedly. She's been well taken care of.
"Oh, hi, there," said a girlish voice. Gerrim nearly started into hitting his head on the top of the stall, before realizing that the blonde woman was addressing someone else. "I haven't seen you in a while. Lucky for you I went for a walk today, huh? You're a cuuute one, aren't you?"
Gerrim craned his neck to see through the hole who she was addressing—one of the young men who had catcalled Gerrim earlier, a big, muscular fellow with curly blond hair wearing nothing but a simple vest.
He towered over the petite blonde. He seemed terrified. "Um... thank you, Baroness."
She giggled, and again, Gerrim almost jumped as he heard and felt three knocks on the stall top. She was patting it. A moment later, a shadow moved over Gerrim's view, and he heard the burly fellow sit down obediently. "There's no need to be so bashful," she teased. "Like, I know I'm the hottest girl you've ever seen, and you probably pump yourself to sleep every night thinking about me, huh?"
Gerrim watched her face light up with glee. "Oh my gods, you just admit it!" She leaned in, and Gerrim saw her breasts flushing with excitement. "I like you! So honest about how big a perv you are."
Gerrim stared in shock. What was this? The reports from Skarrivan hadn't said anything about this. This was the Baroness of Skarrivan? How hadn't they heard about her before now? What was happening here?
Gerrim could see the big man trembling. This man was scared out of his mind. "Um... I, um..."
"I like that you're a total pervert for me." The Baroness giggled and leaned away again. "And tonight you're gonna go home and, like, just frig your brains out for me again, aren't you?"
There was a pause. "Oh! Yes!" He sounded audibly relieved. "Yes, of—of course, Mistress!"
"You wish I'd take you to my castle," she said smugly. "Cause you looove me. Right?"
"Mm." The man gave a tiny, hesitant nod.
Behind him, Gerrim could tell that Tarkin was frozen stiff. Gerrim, too, stayed still. His heart was pounding.
"Oh, of course you do." She sighed and tapped him on the nose. A tiny charge ran through the air, and Gerrim's hair on the back of his neck stood on end. "Stay faithful to me here, okay? It makes me soooo happy. I work so hard to take care of all of you."
"Yes. Yes, Mistress." The man was still scared, but Gerrim realized he was now shaking with his intense relief. And... maybe something else, too. The Baroness's eyes were fixed on the man's crotch, which Gerrim couldn't quite see.
In fairness, with the way the crawling woman was sniffing and delicately licking the man's hand now, it would be hard to avoid some erection. Gerrim had to be very careful—she was very close to eye level with him right now.
"Hee! Everyone's always so horny for me." The Baroness rolled her eyes with a smirk. "Oh, well. You can go back to work, Arren."
"Oh, um, Jett, actually," the man said. "Arren is my—"
He cut off abruptly. Choked off, almost.
Both Jett and Gerrim had seen the Baroness's eyes narrow as soon as he'd started speaking.
"Um, no," she said, her tone ever-so-slightly sharp now, "I'm pretty sure it's Arren. I remember because I caught you fucking Jett in a haystack once, and I gave Jett that 'sucky-sucky' trigger."
A soft whimper came from Jett, above. "Th-that was me," he whispered, and Gerrim heard him squirming. "Um... Arren was the, um..."
"Stop correcting me! I'm right!" Violet glared. "Gods, you're being so fucking rude!"
"I gave Jett the sucky-sucky trigger," she went on, looking genuinely affronted, "because you were fucking him in the ass, and I thought it'd look better if he was sucking you off whenever you said 'sucky-sucky'."
"Mm." Jett was wriggling helplessly, and Gerrim heard another whine. Then he started to hear soft wet sounds.
"Ugh! Stop pretending you have the sucky-sucky trigger!" Violet was incensed. "I gave that to Jett, not you! You're Arrin! Just admit it!"
"Mmuh... Immm..." Jett was clearly struggling to speak around his fingers. "Arremmm.,.."
Violet stared at him a moment. Her eyes were blazing.
Gerrim had a momentary but of terror that she was about to attack him—or worse, try to flip the stall and expose its hidden occupant. Behind him, he could tell that Tarkin was tensing up. But for what?
Then Violet's face... relaxed.
No, not relaxed. She put it into a different shape. She smiled, indulgent now, teasing, her eyes glinting with meanness.
"Okay," she finally said, sweetly—but Gerrim heard Jett moan in fear. "Okay, silly baby, so you're still confused. That's okay. I'm usually the only one around here who knows anything, and I can tell when someone is making a desperate cry for attention."
All was silent, now. All save for Jett's soft sucking and little whimpers, and the sounds of the crawling woman still licking his hand—tiny, kittenish licks, her eyes closed as though nothing brought her greater pleasure.
The baroness giggled. "Okay, sweetie. Since you're so desperate for me to make you sucky-sucky like a little baby..." She glanced down with a mischievous grin, running her hand possessively through the crawling woman's hair. "Kittencow?"
The brunette looked up at her, eyes wide. At the same time, Gerrim heard the man's whimpers rising in panic. He was almost pleading now.
But it did him no good.
Slowly, 'Kittencow' rose, clutching her breasts to her as if they were almost too heavy to bear. She rose out of view, and Gerrim heard Jett's whimpers break into a moans of fear. "No," he managed, "no, please, Mistress, I don't... mm... donmmm..." He was licking and kissing even as he tried to speak. "Mm... don't... mmmm..."
"Just as I thought," the baroness said, admiring her handiwork with positively punchable satisfaction. "See? Don't I know best?"
"Mm..." The sounds of lapping and sucking became louder above Gerrim's head. And Kittencow started to moan. Gerrim saw her knees buckling as she leaned further over the counter. They were both panting, moaning, trapping Gerrim in a soundscape of sex and pleasure. He kept the rag clutched to his nose, knowing how the place probably reeked of enticing scents by this point.
"Ooh, um, you don't mind this, do you?" he heard the baroness ask someone else.
"No, Mistress Violet," Tarkin said meekly. "I'm just... glad my stall was deemed suitable for your use."
"Aw!" Her face lit up. She leaned over, planting an audible kiss on Tarkin's cheek. "You're such a sweetie. See, I can be nice when people are being honest and reasonable about things, can't I?"
"You're being very kind to... to Arrin, Mistress Violet."
"Right? He thought I'd forget my own subjects' names!" Violet sounded cross.
"Of course you wouldn't."
"Hm." Violet raised an eyebrow, peering across the counter at Tarkin—totally ignoring the squeals, moans and slurps from her two victims. "Though, just between you and me? I think his name actually was Jett." She giggled. "I'm remembering now—Arrin was the one with the red hair, wasn't he? I can't believe I got those mixed up. Pretty natural mistake, though, considering how many people I have under my care these days, right?"
"Oh, of course!" A pause. "So... are you not going to take Jett back with you, then?"
"Nah, he's cute like this." Violet smirked. "And I might be able to wean him off that bad attitude of his. Maybe I'll come get Arrin later. It's so sexy seeing them all drugged up like this—I wish I had more pets like Kittencow here. Kittencow! Suckyslave! Isn't that better now?"
"Ooh. Mew!" Kittencow was panting, releasing soft kitten sounds as she audibly pushed 'Suckyslave' off her breast.
Gerrim could tell he'd been pushed off because he immediately started wordlessly babbling, whining, begging for mercy. Or... for more.
"Isn't that better now?" Violet repeated.
"Yes, Mistress," Suckyslave whimpered.
"See? I'm super nice and forgiving, aren't I? No need to be scared. I'm gonna take care of you now, okay?"
"Yes, Mistress. Thank you, Mistress."
Violet dragged him back to his feet by the hand and pulled him close, wrapping his arms around her and grinning, like he was a posable doll for her enjoyment. "You're gonna come home with me now."
"No more telling me I'm wrong?" she cooed, running her mouth over his bottom lip. She slowly nibbled it as he trembled, even though she had to be on tiptoes to do it.
"Mistress is always right," he whispered.
Violet beamed. "Was that so hard?" She spun and beckoned, releasing him. "C'mon, Kittencow. Let's go back to the castle. I'm bored of exercise."
Kittencow dropped back to her hands and knees, appearing without warning right in front of the hole.
As her eyes glanced his way, Gerrim recoiled so fast he bumped into Tarkin's leg. Tarkin kicked him away reflexively.
Gerrim's heart was pounding. Had she seen him?
After a long pause, as he heard the bell getting further and further, Gerrim lowered the rag from his mouth and breathed clean air—albeit a little musky.
"It's safe," Tarkin murmured. "C'mon out, stranger."
Gerrim rose up from behind the stall, slowly, noting that the Baroness and her two pets were far off down the path once more. Meanwhile, all around, townsfolk returned to their day-to-day lives as if nothing had happened. A couple looked stricken by Jett's unlucky fate, but they hurried behind closed doors without a word. Soon, the bustle of the marketplace was back in full swing.
"Who was that?" Gerrim whispered, staring back towards the castle. He could make out the Baroness's, Jett's and Kittencow's retreating silhouettes.
"Our lady, Baroness Violet of Skarrivan." Tarkin cleared his throat. "Many around here call her the Brat Baroness. She has a reputation in the Western Plains, but... perhaps less so outside of it. I was surprised when you told me the Toxin Rangers didn't know about her."
"Brat Baroness?" Gerrim looked back at Tarkin. "How old is she, anyways?"
"Twenty-two, I think. About your age, I'd say." Tarkin leaned back in his old chair. "The old baron, her grandfather, died when she was twenty. He was a real terror—the last salt of our old oceans, back from when the Western Plains barons fought and squabbled with swords instead of mindweaving. We all thought we were screwed when a kid took over, with all the enemies her grandpa had made us." He gave a short laugh. "Well, she's not so easily taken in, I'll give her that."
"So you call her that because she's young?"
"Nah. We call her that because she's a spoiled, entitled little monster." Tarkin bit his lip. "But it... won't do to say such things. All of us has at least one or two triggers over the years. Us old-timers have fewer, since she doesn't like to play with us and she's as lazy as an old steer about stuff that isn't fun for her." He gave a short laugh.
"Wait, everyone in the village has a trigger?"
"Yeah. Just to make sure we don't—"
"No, I get that. Just..." Gerrim stared after the silhouette. "Even one trigger is supposed to weaken your willpower. That many triggers, over that long a period..."
Gerrim knew all about triggers. Triggers were ongoing spells. Constructs you had to maintain in another's mind. They lasted forever, just about—but they had consequences. A suggestion was shorter-lived, but much more flexible and less taxing. Good mindweavers only used one or two triggers at a time, and only as a temporary measure.
But bad mindweavers, arrogant mindweavers, ill-trained mindweavers...
"You mustn't underestimate her," Tarkin said urgently, drawing Gerrim's attention back to him. "That woman with her used to be with the Guild, they say. A major enforcer."
Tarkin stared at him. "Oh, gods, you're green, aren't you?" he muttered.
"I'm not underestimating her." Gerrim folded his arms, his mind racing. "Thank you for hiding me, Tarkin. I think I know what to do."
"How many slaves does she keep, Tarkin?"
"Um..." Tarkin rubbed the back of his neck. "Twenty, maybe? Counting the maids and manservants, maybe forty?"
"I need to get into that castle." Gerrim tapped his sword pommel, thinking aloud. "Tonight. She'll be playing with one or two of them—'inexperienced mindweavers will often overindulge, high on their power'—"
"Wait a second..."
"I need to get in there as soon as possible. I can put a stop to this." Gerrim nodded decisively. "And she's an enchantress, I'm guessing?"
Tarkin seemed flustered. "Y-Yes, I think, but—"
"Tarkin, I'm a Toxin Ranger. I can help."
"No, you can't!" Tarkin burst out. A few pedestrians glanced their way, and Tarkin glanced around furtively, gripped Gerrim by the shoulder, and pulled him closer. "Now, listen to me, I know you <i<>think you can do this, but—"</i<>
"Tarkin, someone has to stop Violet." Gerrim's eyes narrowed, and he spoke very clearly, coolly and quietly, as he'd been taught. "I am a Toxin Ranger. It's my job to help you. You don't have to help me, but I'm going to stop the Baroness. And I could use any advice you've got that isn't, 'don't do it'. Do you understand? I am going to stop Violet, and I need your help."
Tarkin stared at Gerrim, mouth agape.
He closed his mouth smartly. Something seemed to have shifted in his eyes. "Yes," he said slowly. "Okay. Yes. You... you want to stop the Baroness? You're sure?"
Tarkin nodded. A glint of something—hope, maybe, or determination, or newfound certainty—had entered his eyes. "Then I will help you. Someone's got to take that bitch down. Go speak to the barmaids in the pub—three blondes, each with a little butterfly tattooed on their chest. Tell them you're going to stop the baroness."
Tarkin nodded slightly. "They used to work for her grandfather, and they'll be able to help you. Don't let anyone hear you say it except those three. Everyone in town has at least one or two triggers on them." He seemed to be emphasizing the last point very urgently.
Gerrim nodded, sensing Tarkin's intensity. "Thank you. I will."
Tarkin gripped his hand tightly. "You must trust no one," he hissed. "Be careful, friend."
"I understand." Gerrim shook Tarkin's hand and, with some difficulty, pulled away. "Thank you, Tarkin."
"Good luck, Gerrim!"
He turned and started towards the pub.
He could understand why these townsfolk were scared. Violet had had free, unchallenged reign over this barony for the last two years.
But the Toxin Rangers knew about her now. And Gerrim was going to make certain she knew about them.
~ ~ ~ ~
The pub was a surprisingly busy establishment for such a quiet town. It had a quaint, old-fashioned feel to it, with red hardwood floors and many-colored brick walls spelled for smooth surfaces. A trio of good-looking bards performed in the corner, playing relaxing woodwind tunes as everyone else largely ignored them.
It took Gerrim a moment to track down one of the barmaids—a buxom blonde in a pastel green dress that hugged her curves and swished around her legs. She had a tattoo of a brilliant swallowtail butterfly, tastefully placed just low enough to draw the eye to her left breast without actually being placed there. Her hair was done up in a nice bouffant, giving her the look of domestic elegance.
"Hey there, sugar," she said, flashing him a smile as she noticed his attention. She held up her tray, laden with drinks. "Mind givin' me a moment and I'll be right with you?"
"Um." Gerrim shifted to allow a very drunk woman to pass by him. "Okay."
He hesitated, then walked over to the bar and, well, waited. There were only three people at the counter, and two of them were immersed in conversation and paying him no heed. The third was unconscious, with a small napkin tastefully draped over his face—the words, 'Not dead just very tired!' scrawled upon it.
After a moment, Swallowtail seemed to notice where he'd gone and extricated herself from the crowd, already looking rather flustered. "Sorry about that, sugar," she chirped, bustling behind the counter. "What can I do for you?"
"I..." Gerrim looked around furtively, then leaned in. "I'm here to stop the Baroness," he whispered. "Tarkin told me you could help."
Swallowtail's smile dropped for a moment. Just a hair.
Then it returned, wide as ever. "Alright, then, sugar! Why don't you head upstairs? I'll get the girls."
~ ~ ~ ~
Gerrim didn't have to wait long as he idled in the hallway, biting his lip at the sounds of a couple in one of the rooms apparently having quite the row. Something about a vampire harem. Honestly, the problems couples found for themselves...
"Sorry again," he heard Swallowtail say, and he turned to see her approaching—now with two other barmaids accompanying. One wore a pastel pink dress of identical make, nicely complementing her slightly larger assets. Her monarch butterfly tattoo was placed right above her left breast, and her platinum blonde hair was cut to shoulder length.
The other wore an especially frilly pastel blue dress. She was taller than the other two, but no less curvy, and her hair was particularly long and wavy, spilling past her elbows. She was a little bit more made-up than the others, too, with painted pink lips and heavy pink eyeshadow. Her tattoo was of a blue-green crystalwing butterfly.
They used to work for her grandfather, echoed Tarkin's words in Gerrim's head. Looking at Crystalwing, he had a niggling suspicion on what they did for the man.
"Hi," he said uneasily, glancing around again to ensure they weren't being overheard. Remembering Tarkin had him nervous again. "Um, my name is..."
"No names," Swallowtail said, shaking her head with a smile. She slipped past him and unlocked a door, entering one of the bedrooms. "Come on. The walls are thick—those two are just loud."
"We are not!" Crystalwing protested.
"She means the yelling couple," Gerrim said, giving a slight smile as he followed Swallowtail in.
"Oh." She bit her lip. "Oh, um, right. Yes, of course."
The pair followed after them.
Swallowtail closed the door, eyes narrowed. She glanced around, as if making sure the room was empty. Gerrim took stock. It was a simple bedroom, with little besides a large red bed, a cabinet, and a washbasin. Nowhere for a spy to hide, anyways. There was a window, but the shades were drawn.
As she and Gerrim examined the room, Monarch walked over and sat up on the cabinet, pursing her lips. She seemed to size him up. "So, is it true?"
"Yes." Gerrim nodded. "If by 'it' you mean my plans to deal with Violet for you. My main problem is getting into the castle."
"I'll say." Crystalwing tapped his pack with a slight smirk. "Were you going to lug this all the way to the castle, hon?"
"Well, I..." Gerrim hoisted it off his back and set it on the ground next to him. His muscles cried out in relief. "I need my supplies. But I need to get in without being seen. She's got a lot of servants."
"Forty-three, counting the maids, and not counting her agents in town." Monarch bit her lip. "Yeah, hon, if they notice you, you're done for."
"How is security at the castle, then?" Gerrim bit his lip. "I was hoping it would be light, with her... inexperience."
Monarch tossed her hair back. "Violet's a cocky bitch, but she's been a bit more careful lately since the issues with the Guild. And you can't underestimate the servants."
There's 'The Guild' again, Gerrim thought, rubbing the back of his neck.
"Every one of her servants knows some basic seduction," Swallowtail said, nodding, "and some of 'em used to be mindweavers themselves." She poked him in the chest. "They'd melt you as soon as look at you, and she'll tell them to do it quicker, sugar."
Gerrim swallowed. The memory of Jett's rapid submission ran through his head, and he imagined Kittencow advancing on him, taking his hand so he couldn't cover his nose, making him inhale her scent, encouraging him to lean into her embrace... "I see. Hm."
He knew his cheeks were glowing again, mostly because of the amused glances Swallowtail and Monarch were trading. Swallowtail giggled and patted his shoulder reassuringly, her bouffant bouncing slightly. "Now, we don't want sugar to melt, do we?"
He laughed. "... no. Definitely not."
"Definitely not," she agreed. "So you'd better have a plan. It's not just ex-Guild agents you have to worry about. The Baroness is arrogant, but her—"
"What is the Guild?" Gerrim blurted.
There was silence for a moment. Checking her pink-painted nails, Crystalwing chewed her upper lip, as Monarch and Swallowtail's eyebrows arched slightly. Gerrim quickly added, "I j-just want to be sure we're talking about the same... Guild." He gave a nervous chuckle.
"Move away from the door, hon," Swallowtail said softly. "We don't wanna be overheard."
Gerrim nodded and moved over to the bed, leaning his rear against the frame.
"The Weaver's Guild is a group of mindweavers," she said, coming to lean next to him. "Run by a woman named Lady Mistress. It's one of the Toxin Rangers' greatest enemies, they say. Got a reputation here 'cause they go after the Baroness every now and then. See, they hate 'freelancers', especially ones who openly flout it."
"Haven't won yet," Crystalwing said. She sounded maybe a bit too proud of that fact. "But they come close, which, I do declare, is a lot more than most can say for dealin' with Violet."
"Okay. So..." Gerrim reluctantly decided to rip off the bandage on this. "... if they're so dangerous, why haven't I heard of them?"
Monarch leaned back on the cabinet. "Because they're dangerous, hon." She winked. "And when it comes to weavers, sometimes you really are better off not knowing."
Gerrim scowled. That sounded like more of the same defeatist track Tarkin had told him. He didn't have time for this right now—he'd ask Talla about it, maybe, the next time they met up. "I'm a Toxin Ranger. I'm trained in dealing with things other people are better off not knowing about."
"Your baggy here smells like rose petals," Crystalwing remarked, hoisting up his bag curiously.
"It's... herbs. Flowers and poultices." Gerrim grimaced. "They're important for... counter effects and such."
Crystalwing giggled. "Aw, okay, flowerboy." She started to open a pocket.
Gerrim's temper flared. "Could you please—"
"Crystal, leave the poor boy's things alone," Monarch said, rolling his eyes. "If he says he needs his flowers, I'm sure they have uses. And there's nothing wrong with smelling nice on the job."
"Especially with all the perfume she wears," Swallowtail murmured to him with a slight smirk.
Crystalwing shrugged and set the pack down by the door, looking up at them innocently.
Gerrim met her gaze—wide-eyed and naïve, as if she had no idea why he'd be cross with her—and looked back down at his feet, irritated. He tried to recollect himself. "Okay. So I need a way in. Do you know of any... I don't know, unguarded entrances?" He bit his lip. "Or... secret tunnels, or something?"
He felt foolish as soon as the words left his mouth, and desperately wished he could take them back as all three blonde barmaids immediately entered giggling fits. His ears burned. None of these barmaids were much older than him—late twenties, maybe—but they were certainly treating him like a kid.
Something felt horribly unfair about a trio of common barmaids being so able to talk down to a Toxin Ranger, even if he was new to the job (not that they knew that!). He tried to quiet his discontent and focus on what they were saying as the giggling subsided.
Swallowtail had at least had the decency to hide her smile with her hand. "Secret tunnels? No, no. Someone's been reading too many copper-coin-stories. Our plan is much simpler."
"We sneak you in in plain sight," Crystalwing declared. "Stand up, sugar."
Gerrim blinked. He stood up.
The heavily made-up blonde reached over to him before he could react. In one confident motion, she undid his clasp, causing his cloak to billow to the ground at his feet. "There we go!" she said happily.
"What?" Gerrim's hand went to his chest belatedly, feeling the clasp's absense.
"That won't be enough," Monarch warned. She brushed her platinum blond hair from her eyes. "Nobody goes to the castle except... well, fools and slaves. We can't have you being a fool—she'll let you in, hon, but you'll never leave."
Gerrim stared at her. "Okay? So..."
"So a different disguise is needed," Swallowtail said softly from behind him, still leaning against the bedframe. Gerrim started as he felt her fingers slip around his belt and start undoing its buckle. "You've gotta hold still just a moment, sugar."
"I—hey!" Gerrim squirmed as Swallowtail deftly pulled the belt away, and he quickly grabbed his pants to keep them from slipping around his ankles. He turned and stared at Swallowtail, momentarily shocked. She tossed the belt—and his attached scabbard, and the sword inside—onto the bed, not even looking at him.
Gerrim's mind raced. What was going on here? His instincts told him he was in danger, but was he missing something? He looked to Monarch and Crystalwing, hoping one of them was about to explainit a bit more clearly.
"We wanna help you, sugar," Monarch said, hopping off the cabinet. She flashed him a smile likely designed to melt late-night customers' hearts into tipping gold coins as she leaned forward, her fingers working deftly to unbutton his shirt. "But there's only one disguise that'll work." Her fingers skittered down his chest, working faster than Gerrim would have thought possible. "So you gotta trust us, okay, flowerboy?"
"Um." Gerrim stared at her in shock. Was she implying what he thought she was...
He was so thrown, he barely noticed the gentle tugging on his trousers until he felt them slip from his fingers and spill down around his ankles. He heard Swallowtail give a little hum of satisfaction.
Gerrim's breath caught as he realized he was left in only his half-buttoned shirt and underwear. And there were three gorgeous, sexy blond barmaids in very provocative dresses in the room with him. Surrounding him.
And his pack was blocking the door.
Crystalwing pressed her soft, bouncy body against him as his shirt fell away, smiling winningly. His eyes settled on the crystalwing butterfly on her big tit, squishing up against him. She was so... voluptuous.
What was she doing
She held his gaze, smiling brightly. Such bright, pretty blue eyes. Everyone on the Plains had blonde hair and blue eyes, and something about it was so alien, so exotic, so... alluring...
Gerrim closed his eyes, trying to snap himself out of the horny trance.
And he felt a pair of soft, moist pink lips plant a big, wet kiss on his cheek.
His eyes opened. "H-Hey! Stop that!" She just smiled back at him. His protest sounded shamefully feeble—probably because she was wriggling her hips against his groin, rubbing her body against his. His breath caught as she plumped her lips again and leaned in close.
She smelled like honey. Sweet, sinful honey.
"We've gotta get you covered in kisses," she cooed, kissing him again, very loudly and wetly. Gods, he could feel the lipstick marks on his cheek. "See, it's gotta look like you got com-plete-ly brainwashed."
"I—" Gerrim was cut off as she kissed him again, this time right on his nose. "Aah!"
"Nobody will suspect a slave," Swallowtail agreed, as he felt her starting to pull his underwear down. "Violet will be happy to be alone with you. It's your best chance, trust me."
"But I—" Gerrim was feeling strangely dizzy, and he tried to focus on that feeling, to isolate it as he'd been trained, but Crystalwing's sweet kisses kept scattering his thoughts. Her lips smacked on his chin, and he let out an involuntary sigh.
He felt the bimbo barmaid giggling against him, wriggling against him. He wanted to muster argument, but it was so hard...
"We're going to make it convincing," Monarch purred, her fingers tickling lightly around one of the marks Crystal had made on his neck. It tingled under her touch. "And maybe have some fun while we're at it, flowerboy. Surely that's not so bad?"
As she spoke, Crystal was planting kiss after kiss upon his unresisting face. He tried vaguely to lean away, but she just giggled and pursued. He was cornered. Or too confused to think of a way out.
"I—" *smooch* "—okay, but—" *smooch* "—can we—" *smooch* "...p-please—" Gerrim's head was spinning. His mind was floating. He lost his train of thought with every kiss. Crystalwing wouldn't let up, and he had so many marks, so many marks of her, and she was so soft and smelled so good, and oh gods, waiting for marriage sounded so silly...
"Please," he gasped, breathless and off-balance, "can we just—mmmMMM!"
And at last, Crystal took him into a deep, wet, sloppy kiss on the lips. She moaned against him, bouncing her whole body alongside his. His head was spiraling like a maple seed in the wind, and he lost himself to her tongue, her lips, her sounds and her touch.
At last, she pulled back with a pop of her lips and a giggle—the sort of giggle a barmaid would give for a drunk's clumsy flirting, which only made Gerrim feel more confused and embarrassed.
"Done!" she cooed, beaming at her handiwork. Gerrim was absolutely covered with lipstick marks.
Then Crystal dropped to her knees.
"C-Can we talk about this?" he finally squeaked. He was so disoriented. So horny. The barmaids were going to help him... weren't they? This didn't feel helpful.
But it did feel very, very nice. And pretty barmaids always flirted with him. Maybe this was just... just how they flirted around here. He stared down at the kneeling Crystal, her painted pink lips open in an 'o' shape as she stared back at him and batted thick eyelashes.
While he was distracted, Monarch and Swallowtail squeezed closer, sandwiching him between their buxom bodies. He looked up at Swallowtail, a tiny whine of panic nearly slipping from him. She smiled encouragingly.
"You blush so prettily," Monarch teased, patting his cheek as he turned to her. "Like pretty, sweet rose petals, sugar." She leaned in and planted a little kiss on his cheek, stroking a finger around it as her eyes held his, so very blue. "A pretty, blushing flowerboy. Perfect bait."
"She'll fall for you so easy, flowerboy," Crystalwing murmured, wrapping her arms around his legs like she was about to trip him.
"I... um..." Gerrim scrambled for words, thoughts, anything as his face tingled, his cheeks burned, his cock throbbed.
"You really are a cutie, sugar," Swallowtail cooed in his ear. "You just might be able to tempt her."
Their compliments made his heart quicken. Their soft bodies pressing against him made his thoughts slow.
Maybe he didn't need to worry. Their plan made sense. Didn't it? He looked at Crystal, then at Swallowtail, then at Monarch. The three barmaids were still fully dressed as they started to walk him around the side of the bed. They seemed so smart. So confident. Didn't they?
"Don't worry, flowerboy," Swallowtail's lips tickled his ear. "Just let us take care of everything."
"Um..." Gerrim's eyelids fluttered. "... um, okay..."
They giggled in delight.
Gerrim knew he was going limp. The Rangers called this 'self-surrender'—the state the mind entered where it convinced itself it had no choice but to give in. He could fight this. If he needed to. Did he need to?
The buxom blond barmaids were steering him towards the bed, and Crystal was planting kisses along his thighs. Every kiss tingled slightly, and dimly, Gerrim finally realized..
"You're... drugging..." he panted, as his head spun and spun and drifted away like rose petals on the wind.
Crystalwing yanked his feet out from under him. Monarch and Swallowtail shoved him back onto the bed. He fell into softness with a squeak.
He stared up helplessly as the three barmaids smiled down at him.
"Don't worry, silly flowerboy," Crystalwing cooed, her voice as sweet as Thriae mead, as she crawled towards his erect cock, swirling her tongue in preparation to begin truly drowning him in pleasure. "We'll make suuuure you get in to see Mistress."
Gerrim's mind still struggled to adjust, to understand his terrible mistake. He lost sight of her as Monarch and Swallowtail wriggled in next to him, trapping him beneath them, beneath their breasts, beneath their pretty blue eyes.
Swallowtail smirked, playing a single finger along his trembling lips. On his right, he realized Monarch had taken what looked like a fancy perfume bottle from the cabinet, with a little rose quartz gem cut into the shape of a heart topping the stopper.
"She's gonna loooove you," Swallowtail breathed, as the barmaids held him close—less to immobilize him, now, as he melted into their soft embrace. "That is, once you love her."
TO BE CONTINUED...