Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Chapter 31 - To Bide One's Time

The shadow of dusk enveloped the silhouette of ruins as the twilight hours began. The sun hid behind the horizon, still warming the air with it’s trace of light. The flutter of stars slowly peeked from beyond the soft blue canvas of sky. As night slowly approached, Willow welcomed it from atop a teetering spire, legs hanging over the edge of what once was a simple tower of stone. The remains of the building had been left shattered and broken. Most of it’s walls had collapsed, the spiral staircase cracked and split, yet still sturdy enough to climb. It was from high above the city that she sat in silence and gazed out on the desolation of Daveryn. Most nights, she made her way here alone, to simply sit and watch the night encompass the city. She would wait, hidden in shelter as the sun fell below the mountains, before appearing as dusk came once again. It was no vision of sunset, but the arrival of twilight still held some comfort.
Tonight, she had heard the soft sound of following footsteps far behind her. It took her only a few streets to recognise the familiar stride. She was not worried, merely curious as to why she was being tailed. And so, she sat atop the stone wall, and waited to be approached.
“Do you need something, Garvana?” she asked, as the quiet steps climbed the stairs.
“Huh,” she huffed, “So you knew I was there?”
Willow smiled, still gazing across the city, “You thought you’d catch me unaware?”
“Not really,” she grouched, “But I had hoped.”
Willow turned her gaze down the spiral case, chuckling as the less than nimble woman picked her way up each cracked step. When she reached the top, she frowned, unsure how she was going to lift herself the ten feet to the wall’s peak. Willow hooked her legs tightly along the jagged stone brick and leant down, offering a helping hand up. With a few grunts of effort, the scuff of scuttling feet and a hefty chuckle from the pair, they managed to manoeuvre Garvana up to Willow’s side. The stone wall they were sitting on was quite slender, only wide enough for one as small as Willow to sit comfortably. Garvana held the wall tightly in her grasp, a look of worry as she balanced precariously atop the stone.
“This is what you do every night?” she balked.
Willow laughed softly in response, “Yes, what did you think I did?”
“Something a little more scandalous at least!” she grunted, “I thought maybe you’d taken a lover in the Fire-Axe’s rank.”
Willow grimaced, but laughed at the accusation.
“Or perhaps,” Garvana continued, raising her brows, “The Fire-Axe himself?”
Cringing at the thought, Willow shook her head.
“Nothing so vile I assure you. Though he may be mighty and fearsome, he is a tad too bestial for my tastes.”
Garvana nodded in agreement, “I would think I would like them a little less hairy.”
Willow grinned, turning her gaze back to the scene of ruin. They sat in silence for a time, simply watching the last light in the sky fade to blackness.
“Were you merely curious as to my whereabouts?” she asked eventually.
“Well,” Garvana began, “No. I… wished to speak with you alone.”
A heavy sigh came from her chest.
“I have had much time to think of late, and my mind continues to return to the numbered runes I saw on the tombstone of Murphy Massidan.”
“And have you come up with anything?” Willow asked.
Garvana frowned deeply, “Many things. Yet none seem to fit. The best I have is that the numbers correlate with infernal letters, yet no matter how I arrange them, they speak nonsense.”
“Have you considered,” Willow speculated, “That you do not have all of the pieces of your puzzle?”
“What do you mean?”
She smiled gently, “Perhaps you have not gathered all of the numbers. Perhaps you have been given only a taste to entice your appetite for more?”
Garvana’s brow dropped lower, as she looked to Willow in confusion.
“How can you be sure? I could simply have missed something.”
Willow chuckled softly, “Perhaps. Because I cannot be sure you do not possess them in entirety, just as you can not be sure that you do.”
“You’re just as cryptic as the damn numbers, Willow,” she grunted.
At that, she laughed.
“Be patient Garvana. Whomever revealed the sliver of information, may plan to release more when they feel you are ready for it.”
“I’m ready now,” she grumbled, “But I suppose you are right. I shall wait, but I sure wish they’d hurry up.”
“That is not how you be patient Garvana,” she laughed.
Another sigh accompanied her laugh, but the two of them sat in comfortable silence as they spied the wandering linger of torchlight, marking the patrols of the bugbears below them. After a while, Willow’s mind turned to her own curiosities, though she was willing to speak little of them. As her thoughts turned to her family, she realised she knew little of Garvana’s own past.
“Will you tell me of your family?” she asked.
A guarded expression wiped the casual smile from her face.
“Why?” she frowned, “What do you want to know?”
“Relax, Garvana,” she chuckled, “I am merely interested. The only mention of them was long ago in Thorn’s manor, and that was only a brief glimpse. I will tell you of mine, if you wish. But I remember little of House Forthwise.”
Garvana sighed, “I am sorry, it is just, I do not speak of them for I think I wish to forget.”
“It is unwise to ignore your past,” Willow said quietly, “For it has a way of finding you and making you remember.”
Staring out across the expanse, Garvana inhaled deeply.
“My mother was a magnificent woman,” she began, “Countess Hervella of House Forthwise. Strong and proud, elegant and dignified. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She was my world. She was everything that family meant.”
“Did she pass?” Willow asked gently, a slight frown on her brow.
“Yes,” Garvana nodded solemnly, “When I was very young. I remember little else from that age. Only the day my world fell apart. Father came home one night and told us she had been killed in a carriage accident, and I did not see him again for weeks.”
“Us? You had brothers and sisters?”
“Only a brother,” Garvana said bitterly, “I believe he still works for the throne.”
“And your father?” she enquired softly, “I remember as much to know he died in the fire.”
Garvana’s lip curled, “May he rot in whatever afterlife he resides in.”
Willow felt the bitterness seething within Garvana, with venom enough to know the hatred had not dimmed over time.
“Did he kill your mother?” Willow guessed, softening her voice.
“He may as well have,” she spat, “Abandoning your wife and the mother of your children, he may have well been the one to light the pyre.”
Willow was infinitely curious to learn more, but remained silent as Garvana smouldered with loathing. After she clenched her eyes tight and calmed her anger, she sighed again.
“I was sixteen when I found out the truth,” she said quietly, “The coward could not even tell me himself. It was my first time in court, and once the chaperone had his back turned, Welsey Armitage began to tease me about it. Consorting with the dark powers. My mother had been caught in a summoning ritual in communion with hell. And so the witchhunters had captured her, tried her, and burnt her at the stake. My father kept it secret, keeping us from court until the years had passed and he had restored our name. I could never look at him the same. He should have defended her; he should have fought to keep her alive! He should have died for her!”
She gritted her teeth in anguish, contempt for her father swarming her face.
“And yet he did nothing. He stood with the Talriens, he watched her burn. I am told he pleaded his own innocence profusely, begged for pardon, and did not shed a tear for his beloved.”
She turned to Willow, agony and tears in her eyes, “How can someone claim to love another and stand by that kind of atrocity? What is so terrible about consorting with darkness, when the woman loved you, married you and bore your children?”
Willow knew not what to say. She did not know how to respond, how to comfort Garvana in something that pained her so.
“I do not know,” she replied quietly, “It is a sin against Mitra. And that is apparently enough to nullify the love once felt.”
Garvana wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve, scoffing at herself.
“It would seem even now; I have tears to weep for him. Though they are not of sadness, they are of resentment. I do not remember what happened that last night. I hated him, I despised him. I was so angry at him. I had spent years knowing the truth, and yet I had never confronted him. Until, that night. I could not control myself any longer. It was the anniversary of her death, and he went about his day as if it were nothing! I remember the seething hatred; I was filled with rancour. And as the sun dawned the next day, I awoke in the ashes of the Forthwise estate.”
“And the scar?” Willow asked curiously.
“I do not know,” she shook her head, “I awoke with it seared into my flesh. The first I knew of it was the townsfolk screaming in terror at the sight of my back. Of course, the court did not believe that it had merely suddenly appeared. So I was tried and convicted for heresy, amongst other things.”
“Will you tell me more of your mother?” Willow asked gently, “Did you ever suspect she was of the Asmodean faith?”
A curious look of thought lingered in her eyes, as Garvana turned her sight back to the darkened city.
“Now I look back, it makes more sense. Before I knew the truth, I found a sealed letter hidden in the lockbox beneath my bed. I did not understand it then, the words were strange and confusing, my mother speaking to me from beyond the grave. The letter burnt with the rest of the manor, yet I still remember the words as if I were reading them aloud. Never deny the power inside you, or the greatness you deserve. You are strong, my daughter, stronger than you know. Promise me, that you will never doubt, nor sway from what you believe is right. Promise me, that you will never bow to others and that you will always take what you rightfully deserve. Promise me, that you will always follow His path…
As the words lingered between them, Willow reached out her hand to gently grasp Garvana’s shoulder. When she turned her head and they looked into one another’s eyes, Willow smiled.
“She would be proud of you, Garvana…”

Upon the dawn of Wealday, the indentured servants of the Forsaken grew restless. They had little to do within the wrecked city of Daveryn, most choosing to stay hidden in their barracks to avoid braving the raiding patrols of bugbears and beasts. When Willow heard word of yet another fight that had broken out between their men, she sighed in frustration.
“You would think they would be glad for the respite from fighting,” she groaned to the others, “Useless fools. We need to give them something to do.”
“Perhaps we should send them searching for the Duke?” Garvana offered.
“They’ll probably just get themselves killed,” Willow scoffed.
“Still,” she shrugged, “It would keep them busy.”
“Jurak!” Pellius beckoned, calling forward the guard from the other room, “Gather the men. We have a mission for them.”
“Yes, my lord,” he said, bowing his head to avoid eye contact, before rushing out the kitchen door.

Together the four of them entered the large hall by the manor where their men had gathered, taking their place upon the small podium under the sea of fearful eyes. They stood and looked out over their small yet not insignificant force, with cold and hard faces that spoke of no room for weakness. Willow stood by Pellius’ side, arms clasped behind her back, head held high. Each time they gathered their retinue, she marvelled at the natural command Pellius took, his graceful yet merciless approach paired with the icy promise of dark retribution. He stood ahead of the others, silent and still as he looked each member over. When he spoke, his voice lashed like a whip, clean and cut commands that were impossible to ignored.
“It has been almost a year since most of you have joined us,” he began, his voice cold as ice, “And what have you done? What have you accomplished? It is true, there a few among your number who have proven at least not a complete burden. Your guard of the Horn of Abbadon was, at best, adequate. Your besiegement and and assault upon the Vale of Valtaerna was successful, only due to the large force of allies we provided, your own performance – at best, adequate. You have been rewarded. You have been rewarded with more gold than any of you could have hoped to accumulate in your pathetic lives. And when it comes time to lay low and respite, what do you do?”
His eyes flared a vibrant crimson, his voice lowered to a terrifying rumble.
“You fight amongst yourselves like feral scum! You conduct yourselves with as much tact and class as the barbaric horde of bugbears! I have had enough! You cannot be civil? You cannot simply take and enjoy this brief recess between our battles? Then we will give no respite!”
As Pellius seethed, convincingly enough to have Willow believe he was truly disgusted in their men, she took over the address.
“The former Duke of Daveryn has escaped the clutches of the Fire-Axe,” she said formally, head held high, “He is believed to be hiding somewhere in the ruins of the city. You will be split into teams, each with the same mission. It is our hope that at least this way, some of you may prove useful. Your mission is simple. Find the duke, and return him to us. Those who return successful, will be spared the punishment for misconduct.”
“Each group will be given a map,” Garvana continued coldly, “And sufficient gold, for a few well placed bribes. We shall send Raiju to watch over you, and report on your progress.”
“You have five days to find him,” Willow warned menacingly, “If you have not found him by then…”
Enough!” Pellius snapped, “You have your orders! Now, GO!”

The warmth of spring eased the cold breeze that blew along the slight hills of outer Daveryn. Striding across the farmlands upon horseback, hidden by shroud from the fatal shine of the amber star, Willow relished the wind as it rippled through her hair. While their men had set off through the city, the four of them had decided to search the humble farmlands that surrounded the ruins. When they entered the Angleton region, they came across a peculiar scene. A band of bugbears and goblin wolfriders camped far from a lone manor. Two hundred yards of barren land surrounded the estate, only littered by the bodies of bugbears peppered with bolts. The Forsaken slowed their steeds, approaching the largest of the brutes in camp.
“What have we here?” Garvana asked, brows tall in question, “You there! Tell me, what’s going on?”
The bugbear’s lip turned up, his feral growl rumbling in warning. The other in his band clenched their weapons tighter, eyes narrowing upon the Forsaken. Willow laughed, shaking her head as she pulled free a small velvet pouch of gold and tossed it towards the creature. As he caught it and the metal clinked in his hand, his growling ceased.
“Now,” Willow smirked, “Would you tell me what is going on here?”
“Bunch of hummies locked up in the house,” he grunted, “Rushed it yesterday, lost four of me brothers. We was thinkin’ of tryin’ again, but these others are all empty, much easier.”
“Humans?” Willow repeated, eyeing the large manor.
She pushed her horse forward a few steps towards the estate, spying the silhouettes of crossbowmen upon the tall stone brick walls. With straining eyes, she could barely make out the insignia marking the grand abode.
“House of Veryn,” she mused, “Of the Barcan line.”
“Do you know who lives here?” Pellius asked.
“I believe it was the Baroness Vanya,” she said thoughtfully, “If I remember correctly, she was one who apposed Darius rule, but was of course overthrown. She could prove useful…”
Willow pushed her horse forward again, sitting tall in her saddle, raising her voice loud.
They stood upon the crest of the hill, awaiting response from inside. After a few moments, a sultry female voice called from the walls.
“Come forward slowly! Only the four of you! I have fifty veteran soldiers at my command and by the gods, we will fight to the death if you charge this manor!”
The Forsaken moved their steeds at walk, approaching cautiously, eyes peeled to the walls. As they reached the large reinforced wooden doors, the silhouette of a graceful feminine figure peered down towards them. 
“You lead this rabble?” she called down, “Most excellent. I am the Baroness Vanya of Veryn, rightful duchess of Daveryn, deposed by the damned Darian usurpers. And who might you be?”
“I am the Lady Willow of House Monteguard of Matharyn,” she replied regally, “And I believe we may something to offer one another.”
The baroness’ outline paused, before retreating from the walls as her voice lingered down.
“If you can promise to be civil and not steal the silverware, you can come in and we can discuss terms…”

Stepping inside the great hall of House Veryn, was akin to stepping into a manor estate that was surely not surrounded by burning city ruins and leagues of monstrous bugbears. The shining marble floors were clean and polished, the candles still tall and lit, the finery still draped upon it’s walls. Upon entry, they saw that instead of the fifty guards the baroness had boasted, her number sat only closer to twenty.
As they entered the vestibule, a beautiful woman dressed in fine violet silk that complemented her long roped ebony locks, gracefully began descending the ornate staircase.
“My lords,” she said, her elegant tone smoothing her words, “I am the Baroness Vanya of Veryn. It is a pleasure to finally meet someone within this atrocity with a touch of class.”
Willow inclined her head, “Likewise, my lady.”
“So,” she clipped, coming to halt a few steps above them, “You seek audience. Well, here I am. What have you come to offer?”
Willow’s eyebrow arched, “Perhaps you have somewhere more suitable for us to commence our discussion?”
The baroness raked her shrewd gaze over Willow, calculating and keen, before nodding.
“Right this way,” she said, continuing her descent, leading them to the eastern wing.
She opened the door revealing a beautifully adorned chamber, embellished with a large fine oak writing desk and an arrangement of six elaborately carved and covered chairs. They took their seats as she called for wine to be served, and once the servants had returned, she turned her gaze towards them and motioned for them to begin.
“You have a splendid estate here, my lady,” Garvana said politely, “And it is most impressive that you have weathered the sack of Daveryn so well.”
“My dear,” she sighed condescendingly, “I have been in enough negotiations to know when someone is being unctuous. Be done with the pleasantries, what is it you have come to me for?”
“We come under the banner of parley,” Willow said simply, “For we believe a deal could be mutually beneficial. We could offer much. Simple safe passage from the city, if that is your wish. Or an alliance. For when the noble ranking of the country falls, we will need strong houses to rebuild it.”
“The country falls?” she repeated, raising her brows, “You have that much faith in the bugbear horde?”
A slow smile came upon Willow’s lips. She was unsure where Varyn’s loyalty lay, but her instincts told her that when offered an alternative, it would not be with the king. In a slow deliberate movement, Willow pulled her Asmodean pendant free from behind her chestplate. She watched the baroness’ reactions carefully as the pendant fell upon her chest. It was only the smallest hint, but her brows rose slightly.
“So you are with them…” Varyn said quietly.
“The line of Darius tried to rid the country of the mighty Infernal Lord,” Willow said viciously, “We would see them and their pitiful sun god wiped from the land like the stain upon it that they are. I said we would need to rebuild the noble hierarchy; we would rebuild it with allies whose faith was true.”
The baroness eyed Willow curiously, before looking over the others.
“I have always revered the Lord of the Nine,” she replied, “For his true doctrine of might makes right.”
“It is the way of world,” Garvana nodded, “The strong must rule the weak.”
“We offer much, do we not?” Willow said, brow arched high, “What is it you would offer in return?”
“I have my veteran soldiers that I would put at your disposal,” she responded regally, “The allegiance of my house, and of course, my skills in any negotiation you may need.”
“And what would you require?” Garvana asked.
“I would have thought it would be obvious,” she said plainly, “You will of course speak to the Fire-Axe on my behalf and get rid of the filth attempting to siege my manor.”
Willow couldn’t help the small smirk that lifted her lips. Her attitude and blatant wit were things Willow saw mirrored in herself. As the negotiations continued, she saw a real potential in the alliance.
“I will require to be left alone for the hour of midnight tonight,” Varyn said formally.
Garvana frowned in suspicion, “The hour where the veil is weakest between our worlds. Who is it you will be speaking to?”
The baroness’ brows rose in indignation, “That, is none of your business.”
The conversation continued, as the Baroness Varyn bargained with the Forsaken. Once the terms had been settled, she arched an eyebrow at the four of them.
“As a show of good faith, I will reveal something to you. If you will follow me.”
They were led through the opulent hallways towards a hidden door within the library. As they followed the baroness deep into the darkened basement, they stood in awe as she lit the candles that lined the base of a grand altar. The enormous stone block was adorned with the unmistakeable iconography of hell. Leering devils cavorted with mortals across it’s face, sickly black blood stained with age leaked into each crevice and seam, carved infernal tongue in runic script.
By blood and devotion to thee,” Willow rasped in translation, O Lord of Hell, are we preserved forever.”
“It is a blood altar, though I presume you know this,” Varyn said formally, “A ritual can be performed once a year, to keep the living young and vital. I will not go into the details, unless any of you are interested, but I offer the altar for your personal use.”
Willow eyed the marvellously carved statue, a strange longing settling deep, for her own altar within her past home of the Monteguard estate. As she looked over the intricate stone, an odd thought came into her mind.
“The undead do not age…” she said quietly to herself.
Though the words were not for her, the baroness scoffed her reply, “Not all of us are so lucky…”
As they commenced their new partnership, Willow eyed the curious woman. Strong, stubborn and shrewd. An asset, worthy of their service. Slowly, they were building their foundation for the reinstatement of the lands’ rightful leader and lord. Slowly, they were paving the way, for the mighty and undying Prince of Hell.

It was late that night that one of the bands of the Forsaken returned to the manor. Although they had not managed to capture the Duke of Daveryn alive, they had brought his desecrated corpse, still donned in his house livery. Though his face had drained of all blood and colour, Willow recognized his thin crooked brows and sunken beady eyes. They called for Sakkarot’s lieutenants to return the body to the Fire-Axe as confirmation of his death. As their five successful servants piled most the wealth they had found in a horde upon the chamber’s floor, Willow was pleased to see that it was her own underling Cassandra that lead the group. They piled useless things; silver candelabras stolen from churches, brass rimmed metal pulled from decorative doorways. The only thing of real note was the impressive amount of liquor they had procured.
“Is that all?” she said, arching her brow at one of the men.
The tall muscled brute in front of her, stared back into her eyes, seeming to question his own answer. Smartly, he decided against blatantly lying to Willow, pulling out another bottle of fine elven wine from his sack. She knew he was concealing more. They all were. But she cared little for their pathetic trinkets and few pieces of gold and silver.
“You have done well,” she said plainly, looking down over the five of them, “As reward, you may return to your barracks and rest. Do not tell the others of your success. It is their punishment to continue the pointless search, while braving the city and its inhabitants.”
“And they will continue,” Pellius said sternly, “Until we are ready to leave Daveryn. Now go, get out of my sight.”
Cassandra made show of bowing low to her masters, making eye contact with Willow before inclining her head and turning for the door. When they had cleared the room, Willow retrieved three of the bottles from the stack of piled treasure.
“Nine bottles of Viander Vino,” she smirked, “Two bottles of Harper’s Malt, two Gattletale’s and four bottles of Crystalshine?”
“Out of all the things they could find,” Garvana frowned, “I wonder why they would focus on so much liquor?”
Willow turned to the others with a wicked grin, “I propose that tonight, we drink. We have come far and achieved so very much. And for now, we are merely biding our time until we must continue and return to our missions. I, for one, think we should use this time and celebrate.”
Bor laughed a hearty chuckle, mirroring her grin, “I strongly agree!”

The four of them lounged in the parlour of the manor, dressed in simple and comfortable clothing, easy conversation flowing. It had been a long time since they had found time to relax in each other’s company, to simply sit back and rest, to simply laugh. Garvana had used a small arcane trick to summon a playful melody from the ether, that drifted through the halls in cheerful song. After quite a few drinks, Bor even accepted Willow’s invitation to dance, the large brute stumbling over his own feet as she twirled beneath his arm. They laughed in companionable joy, lighthearted fun that carried on throughout the night. As the drinking continued, the four of them recalled their most impressive and memorable battles.
“No!” Bor laughed, “I believe Garvana’s greatest one was the dragon! When she exploded into that red creature, and just caved in his head!”
“Oh, you were so ugly like that,” Willow giggled, “Like an overgrown turnip!”
“Hey!” Garvana frowned, though she could not help but laugh, “I looked mighty and imposing!”
“Yes!” Willow exclaimed, “A mighty and imposing overgrown turnip!”
The four of them burst in laughter, grin’s wide and intoxication high. Garvana turned to Bor, a look of humour tinting her flushed cheeks.
“For me,” she said with slightly slurred words, “My favourite was that guard you crushed through the arrow slit back in Balentyne!”
“Oh that was disgusting!” Willow called out, grimacing through her giggles.
“I do not know how you made him fit,” Garvana said with feigned seriousness, “He should not have fit. It should not have been possible. But you did it. I am unsure whether to congratulate you or hope you never try that with me.”
“Garvana,” Willow said, arching her brows, “Look at the size of him, he would be used to getting big things to fit where they shouldn’t…”
The two men threw back their heads in laughter, yet Garvana simply frowned towards her. While she stared, Willow bit her lip to contain her giggle, bursting into a fit as the shocked looked dawned when Garvana finally picked up on the insinuation.
“I didn’t mean-…” she stumbled, “No, I don’t want you to- I mean-…”
The hysterics continued as Garvana fumbled through her words and her cheeks shined a crimson red. Willow quickly rose from her chair, scuttling to Garvana and planting a kiss firmly on her lips. As the blush only intensified, Willow giggled her way back into her seat.
“Alright, alright,” she grinned, “I will leave you alone now, Garvana.”
Bor took a long swig on the Harper’s Malt, before turning his gaze to Willow.
“Yours was that storm giant,” he smirked, “Such a little vicious thing, you were wroth with him after you thought he’d killed Pellius. You soared through the air with your broken heart and massacred him in one foul swoop!”
“Excuse me,” Willow said in joking indignation, “I was not broken hearted, I was merely inconvenienced.”
“Inconvenienced, my lady?” Pellius laughed, “When I came back up, you were so livid with me, I thought you were going to throw me back down!”
The others let out a great guffaw as Willow simply grinned.
“I should have,” she sniggered, “Would have saved me the trouble, next time you go trying to die like that. So inconvenient.”
Willow winked as he faked outrage at her reply.
“Well,” she said to him, “Your own would have to be the duel with Sir Valin. Glorious and heroic, fighting as my chosen champion. Like a legendary tale from a novel!”
“Oh come on, Willow,” Bor groaned, “That’s not how this game works.”
Willow held up her finger to silence him.
“It was truly magnificent, a great show of your battle prowess, your unwavering bravery, your endless might and sure to be fabled strength…”
Bor and Garvana groaned and whined, though Pellius’ brow arched high, awaiting the rest of her words.
“And then, we faced small balls of ooze…” she smirked as the chuckles began, waving her wine glass dramatically, “And you fell asleep and missed the action…. twice…”
The laughter exploded from the room, as Pellius merely grinned with his brows raised.
“And even though I kicked you,” she continued, “Repeatedly. You continued to snooze and let me handle the rest. My champion…”
As Bor and Garvana roared with laughter, Pellius stood from his seat, a sly grin on his lips.
“You, my lady,” he said darkly, slowly strolling towards her, “Have had far too much to drink.”
As he stood over her, he looked down with the dark promise of retribution in his gaze. He bent low to her, eyes piercing into hers as she leaned forward to bring her face inches from his.
“That mouth,” he said quietly, “Is getting far too loose. Let us see if we cannot find a better use for it...”
Without warning, he grinned and gripped Willow by the waist, lifting her from her seat with ease as he flung her over his shoulder. Her glass went flying from her hand, shattering against the wall, the remains of the red liquid splashing along the white stone.
“Pellius!” she laughed, writhing in his grip, “Put me down!”
As the others chuckled, he turned back to them with a grin.
“Goodnight to the both of you,” he said in mock formality, before heading for the stairs.
As he began the climb to their bedchamber, Willow grinned mischievously as she saw her chance. Using the wooden railing as leverage, she propelled herself upward with her hands, forcing her chest up and over his shoulder. As he struggled to hold his balance and his grip on her at the same time, she slid herself down and wrapped her legs tightly around his waist, bringing herself chest to chest and face to face. She grinned sinfully as she stared deep into his flaring crimson eyes. She spoke a wicked rasp as her fangs slithered low and she traced her tongue along the lobe of his ear.

“Tell me… of these other uses…”

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