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PD – Prologue

The trees below him trembled with his passing. He flew low, to avoid detection, sweeping just a few dozen spans above the treetops.

His shadow, so lengthy, it blocked out the light long enough to confuse the beasts below him as he passed over. Would they think night was descending early?

The beat of his wings blew many beasts from their high perches, down to the ground, causing a feeding frenzy for the groundling beasts. Would the tree dwellers think him a errant storm? Would the groundlings think him the harbinger of prey falling from the sky? Would they worship him as a meal giver?

When they looked up, to offer their gratified prayers, they would see nothing but a passing darkness. They were unworthy of seeing his true form. He was a fleeting and absent god. His miracles confined to a single gorging meal.

Should he stop for a quick sacrifice in return for his mighty act benevolence? The altar of his hunger craved a succulent offering. Sadly, his pursuers would not stop while he filled his belly with new worshipers. He would keep moving, his hunger would have wait.

He comforted himself with the thought that beast meat tasted terrible. Not like those that pursued him. Their flesh the most tender. He enjoyed the way their fatty tissue melted in his mouth, and the way their bones added a wonderful crunchy texture to their consumption. He couldn’t eat just one, if he had one, he would eat hundreds until he was satisfied. He would gorge himself until he slept, nearly every time.

    More than their taste, he enjoyed their flesh for another reason. He delighted in the feel of their soft bodies beneath him. Their cries of pleasure and pain. Their guttural grunts, their bestial howls, as he took them. He reveled in the feeling of dominating their weak bodies and weaker minds. A different sort of hunger emerged in him as he remembered the endless procession of prey flesh that entered his sanctum, only some leaving alive, usually to bear his children or to bring him more meals.

    His memories turned to a bitter ash, as he remembered that his favorite prey had driven him from his sanctum. They had murdered his spawn, and his many mates. They destroyed the mountain he called home, and razed the surrounding villages that provided the bulk of his food. Only ashes and stone remained of what once was his vast holdings.

    He let out a growl that echoed across the wooded land below him. The sound frightening many of the groundlings from their meals. The thought of prey daring to fight back against him, chasing him from his roost, killing his progeny, and swarming him with their countless numbers drove him to rage. How he hated them. He hated them almost enough that it ruined the thought of their flavor and flesh. He needed revenge now. It was the only thing that would truly sate him.  

He admitted to himself, despite the humiliation, that he could not win against the  multitudes of prey that opposed him with just his singular might. He also could not rely on his own kind coming to aide him either. The truly powerful individuals of his kind were solitary. They did not cooperate the way the prey did. Even if they could find common ground to defeat the prey, his kind would not listen to him or heed his call. They thought him mad. They had called him vile things. It wasn’t that they hadn’t all tried the many pleasures flesh offered, especially those as old as he, but he was a pervert for never seeking a mate of his own kind. For not continuing his long line. For preferring lesser prey to an equal. For what they saw as his endless degeneracy. He cared not for their opinions so long as they left him to his indulgence, but now he had been denied his  favorite pleasures, by very prey he had once ruled over.

    He would have to find a different path to his vengeance. Something subtle, as direct action would only lead to failure. He was old, old enough to know how to play the games the prey played. He would destroy them from within, and sink their pathetic civilization into an ocean of blood. They would destroy themselves, and from their remnants he would once again build a sanctum. No prey left alive would know freedom from his rule. Prey would live, give birth, and die while waiting in the long line of flesh that would serve his needs. They would be happy to accept such a fate, for they would know no other possibility. It would be a fitting punishment for having the audacity to oppose one such as him. He would be their new god, embodied in the flesh and hungering for flesh.

    He had to remind himself that, while it was easy to fall into his dreams of future godhood, he first needed to plant the seed of his retaliation. He flew away from those that chased him. He flew toward the fertile ground he had chosen for the poisonous seed he carried. He flew forward to his retribution.

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PD – Chapter 44

Dem couldn’t say he was impressed by the circumstances he found the commander in, but the man at least listened to Dem’s description intently. Dem could tell the man didn’t like what he was hearing though. The commander’s face went from exhausted and hungover, with drooping eyes and slouching poster, to hunched over, chin in hand, and a look of stress obvious by the man’s crinkled crow’s feet. Thankfully the commander didn’t ask too many questions, and let Dem leave quickly. Sumisi stayed to talk about whatever had them stressed, so Dem was left to his own devices for a short while. He wandered the slowly disappearing camp, gauging the reaction of the soldiers to his beasts. No one approached him, though a few did watch him warily.  Eventually, a sergeant was sent to find him and explain that the scouts were being sent on ahead of the main force, and he was to join them. No other directions were given, the sergeant seemed to be a hurry and left Dem before any questions could be asked. Dem could only shake his head in confusion. Were breaker soldiers usually so disorganized, or was this an aberration? He wondered what waited for them at the border of the True Wilds.

***

    Dem arrived at the meeting place for the conscript guides. They needed to meet to agree on who would hold what flank and how far they should be from the main body. Dem assumed the soldiers would have regulations for their own scouts, or at least a set of best practices, but local guides would have differing opinions about any number of topics.

    As Dem took in the faces of the group he would be working with he recognized more than a few. There were six guides total, including one particularly familiar face, Ranger Keff. Dem couldn’t help but set his face to a frown at the idea of working with the nosey Ranger, but hopefully Wersa had scared the man into submission, but he doubted it. Wersa wasn’t here, but at least Dem had his beasts. They followed closely behind him, Graf towering over the small group of rough-looking individuals.

    Surveying the group, there were two like him, from the hamlets and Classed, though their Classes were a lower-tier than a Tamer. They were a Hunter and a Guide, both amateurs, if he remembered correctly. Neither true Adventurers, but both would have good knowledge of the Wilds. He couldn’t remember their names, and they didn’t offer them to him when he glanced at them, but they did get an eyeful of his beasts. There was Keff of course, and then another woman and a man. The man was older, older than Dem’s father, and had sparse grey hair and clothing in poor repair. Dem had never seen him before. The woman was perhaps a little older than Dem, with short brown hair, that came down to her ears, and a fit figure. Her combat leathers reminded him of Dice. Perhaps, she was a fighter of some sort.

    Dem’s arrival had stopped whatever conversation they were having before he’d arrived. His beasts were a little too eye catching, but he could do nothing about it. The two from the hamlets seemed to care little for him, but the other three were looking at him almost as much as they were looking at his beasts, though Dem had no idea why that would be the case.

    Dem coughed loudly, to draw their attention, and then introduced himself.

“I am Demneh, a Tamer, as you can see. These are my beasts, Graf and Ina.”  Dem pointed at the corresponding beasts, before continuing.

“What should I call you all?”

    Keff, put on a strained grin, “I.. uh, thank you for your previous help, Tamer Demneh. If you remember, I am Ranger Keff.”

    Dem, spoke, trying to be polite, “Indeed, I remember you Ranger, I hope your party member made a full recovery.”

    “She will eventually, there are still some left over effects, but she will be fine.” said, Keff.

    “That is a shame, but at least she will be fine in the end, as you say.” Dem wanted this awkward conversation over as fast as possible, but hadn’t learned any new names.

    Dem turned towards the others expectantly.

    The older man grunt, but the woman Dem didn’t know spoke for both of them.

    “I am Firlith, a Terrain Fighter, this is my uncle, a Glod, a Woodsman.”  

    Dem smiled in greeting, and so did Firlith, but Glod merely grunted looking away.

    Woodsman was a fairly mundane low-tier Class, meant to give a person a battery of spells to help them live in the Wilds. It was fairly common among those from the Hamlets, and only cost ten or twenty silver for its grimoire. The Terrain Fighter was an unknown to Dem, perhaps a fighter than had spells that helped with fighting in various terrains, he wasn’t entirely sure. There were always a number of strange Subclasses out there, not yet officially recognized by the Tower through the work of a recognized Classmaster. Perhaps Terrain Fighter was one of those.

    The two men from the hamlets, eyed Dem’s beasts for a second, and the taller one spoke.

    “I am Hunter Gram, and this is Guide Weer, I’ve heard of you Demneh, though I had no idea you had such beasts at your command.”

    Keff focused on Dem, as Dem responded, “Yes, Graf here is new, but Ina I’ve had, she made something of a gain recently.”

    The Hunter and Guide looked at each other and then simply nodded to Dem.

    Firlith spoke up then, breaking up an awkward silence, “Fellow Classed, shall we discuss our duties? The sergeant who brought us here has informed me we will also be bringing along soldiers for Wilds training as we move. It’s more than a rotation to the furthest northern settlement, and a number of cycles past that to the True Wilds. Have any of you been there before?”

    When no one spoke up, Firlith sighed, “We I suppose anyone with real experience is already up there.”

    Dem was happy to let Firlith organize things and he listened intently as she spoke.

    “I think we should take turns…

***

    As they discussed roles and who would be doing what, Dem had a burning question on his mind, that he decided to put to his fellow guides. As they were wrapping up, and the local guides were beginning to step away, Dem stepped forward, and spoke seriously.

    “Do any of you know why we are here? The real reason for all of this?”

    Keff immediately answered with a series of questions of his own. “Do you you? Does it matter? They told me I would be arrested and put to labor maintenancing the Breaker Wall if I refused.”

    A component of the pact he had made with Sumisi was that he couldn’t talk about the pact, and so Dem had to be vague.

    Dem responded, “I only have guesses. I wanted to ask all of you. Maybe we could make sense of it together.” Dem waited then, for some sort of response, but no one else spoke for a moment.

    Eventually, Glod turned his back to the group, and started walking away, ignoring Dem’s questions.

Firlith spoke, as she hurried after her uncle, “We aren’t sure either Dem, but there isn’t much point in speculating. We will find out when we find out.” With that that she too turned her back to the group, and disappeared from sight into the vegetation ahead of them.

    Both Gram and Veer merely shrugged, and left as well.

    Only Keff stayed, thinking, judging by the look of consternation on his face.

    Finally, breaking the moment of silence, Keff spoke,“I don’t know, but I agree with Firlith, there isn’t much use in us worrying about it.”

    Keff’s eyes shifted as they began to focus on Dem, “Did that Warrior you were with pay well? She was frightening. Speaking of that incident. You didn’t answer my question from last time. How did your beast grow so much so fast? You even have another beast now.”

    Dem could see the calculation in his Keff’s eyes.

    Dem decided to just tell the same lie he had told before, and then try to avoid any more discussion of it.

    “Ina ate something, I don’t know what. She can’t really describe it. Something good obviously. We searched for it, that is why I was with the Warrior in the first place, but didn’t find anything. It’s likely that Warrior will return. I would be careful if I were you.” Dem said.

    Keff scoffed at Dem, “She is long gone, and my father could handle her anyway…”

    Dem just looked at Keff, his expression neutral, waiting for Keff to think about what he was saying.

    Keff saw Dem’s expression, and said “She is just a Warrior. My father is a Ranger!”

    “She helped me defeat Graf, and bond him. He is a Classed beastman Warrior. She defeated him easily. She was also quite a bit older than she looked. You father would have sense enough to stay away from her.”

    Keff looked angry then, his face growing red, “My father is a great Ranger! An arrow in the Wilds will kill anyone if they don’t expect it coming!”

    Keff hefted his Ranger’s bow, as if it was proof of what he was saying. Dem also caught the subtle implication that an arrow could find Dem as well.

    Keff seemed to be about to rant further, perhaps to threaten Dem more explicitly, but a clawed tail found its way near Keff’s face, hovering near Keff’s temple. Graf had also apparently been paying attention, as he took a large heavy step forward, toward Keff. Dem was pleased, the boar beastman at least understood his role.

    Keff stopped dead, his mouth hanging open, before slowly closing.

    Dem spoke then, to offer his own threat.

    “Graf here is new to our bond, but Ina is my lifelong friend. Should something happen to me, well, I would imagine you will find out that a claw kills the unsuspecting just as well as an arrow.”

    Keff’s eyes were still angry, but he began to back away slowly, keeping his eyes on Ina and Dem.

    After Keff was out of sight, Dem’s face twisted in annoyance. Dem didn’t like the thought of having to watch his back all the time. Keff was right, an arrow at an inopportune time, would be a sure death. Would he have to find some way of dealing with Keff? What about Keff’s father? The idea of using his Class bubbled up immediately in his mind. The easy solution it provided was tempting. Of course, it wasn’t that easy. His skill with the spells was still far from subtle. He could control Keff surely, but to what end? He couldn’t be sure he could control Keff to such a degree it would go unnoticed, Keff would have to die by some indirect means. A Ranger would have decent innate toughness, so walking him off a tree wouldn’t necessarily kill him. Whatever happened Dem would need to have some sort of deniability. It would have to look like an accident.

    Dem’s face fell further when he realized he was plotting murder. He shook his head trying to banish the dark thoughts, but couldn’t deny he was worried about retaliation in the future. Keff was a greedy, spoiled idiot, but Dem understood that from Keff’s perspective, Dem was just a Tamer, though a Tamer with a couple powerful beasts. Dem needed a way to project more strength so weaklings like Keff wouldn’t challenge him. The stigma associated with being a Tamer and someone from the hamlets worked against him constantly in the minds of those who met him. His young age was also not helpful. The only thing he could think of was either changing himself in some fundamental way or leaving for parts that might be more friendly to him. Neither option appealed to him because of his parents. His mind lay in turmoil, as he moved away with his beasts to do his portion of the scouting work.

***

    Nearly ten cycles had passed and Dem still had no idea what they were all doing out there, but his duties weren’t terribly difficult. The scouts rotated every cycle, moving with the soldiers, one to the front, back, and both sides. There wasn’t much chance of major danger out here, or at least no more than the Wilds usually provided. They were still too close to human settlements for the truly fearful beasts, but there were always issues with the terrain and particularly nasty kinds of the beasts that swarmed, or were just plain annoying. The guides that weren’t currently out scouting would be taking turns training the soldiers in basic Wilds-craft, resting, or hunting. The scouts also were a big help in keeping meat in the soldier’s cook-pots. Keff was particularly good at snagging down different kinds of birds beasts from the upper reaches of the trees Dem had heard, a favorite with the soldiers. Dem had been lucky so far, none of his scouting duties had corresponded with Keff being free to hunt or roam near his position. Dem couldn’t be sure his warning had worked as he had hardly seen Keff since their last run-in.

    There had been something of a silver lining and complication to Dem’s situation. He was rather popular with the soldiers himself, for a number of reasons. Ina brought in far more than Keff could, and usually a wider selection. It had been a simple exchange for her to find good tasting game in return for a bit of cooking, though it had taken the soldiers a few cycles to warm up to her, even with Dem acting as a go-between. Dem was also popular for another reason, one that surprised and confused him.

More than half the soldiers were women, and no small portion were interested in him. He hadn’t really realized they were mostly women at first, as most of the soldiers had similar stocky, muscled body-types, which he had assumed was the result of their training and Class, but most soldiers he had met so far, had been women. Being around so many combat Classes had been interesting enough that he hadn’t been looking at the gender of the soldiers. Most of them kept their armour and helms on whenever they weren’t resting. The armour had been spelled to keep them cool and keeping it on was part of their training.

More than a few of the female soldiers, and a small number of the male soldiers, had approached him, clearly seeking something more than training in surviving the Wilds. On the occasions he seen the other guides they had experienced similar interest, though not as much as Dem had. Dem considered for a moment that the commander might have brought the local guides as camp followers as much as anything, but that seemed far-fetched. It happened nearly every cycle, either when he brought back kill,s or when he was training the greener soldiers, it never failed that at least one would offer to ‘help’ him bring in the next kill or ask to spend some time with him alone in a tent. What surprised him most was that he hadn’t turned them all down. For the first few cycles, of course, he had turned them down, as he was a bit tired from his time with Greer. Eventually though, he began to miss the pleasures Greer had brought him, and had given in.

    He had no interest in the male soldiers, but the women soldiers, were all fit and attractive in their own way. This was the part that surprised him most, that he would feel this way, needing the company of others, wanting take part in the pleasure of their flesh. He remembered a rotation ago, when he thought just having Ina’s company would be enough, but now, he wasn’t so sure. He had spent some quality time with Ina as well, but that had consisted mostly of her riding him hard, a good experience, but not quite what he was looking for. The way she cuddled him afterward told him she had missed him, while he had been absent. His time away from the camp and scouting, with Ina, had been enjoyable, but it hadn’t enticed him in the way his time with soldiers did. They were lonely out here, and entanglements with fellow soldiers were more complicated than fucking a local conscript. Maybe they were just bored of the other soldiers, Dem thought. Either way, they wanted Dem, in a rough, desperate way, he had never experienced. His Class was at work here, though to what extent, he had no idea.

If he had to be honest, the true benefit of spending time with the lonely soldiers, was that he often took control of their sexual encounter, dominating them thoroughly. Leaning heavily on what he had learned from Greer and Dice, he had done his best to offer pleasure, but in reality, he had to admit this was about advancing his Path. Each conquest was a small boon to him, nothing as significant as dominating Wersa, but still helpful. He understood, objectively, that advancing singularly down a powerful Path was often addictive and could cause a sort of single mindedness, or worse, self-destruction, but he couldn’t help himself. Most people would transition from one Path to another, or try to straddle multiple Paths, to help mitigate these sorts of issues, but his Class was bizarre, and rejected his previous Path. Though that did make a kind of sense, mutualism and domination weren’t especially compatible, mostly because Domination didn’t allow for equals.

Not every soldier had been interested in what he was looking for, but most had, and they had obviously told their friends, because now he was pretty much inundated in offers. They seemed to enjoy the thought of being with a Wilds Tamer, as if it were something of a taboo. He would often take them out into the Wilds for their trysts to add a hint of danger. Sometimes he would leave them alone long enough they would begin to fear how they would get back without him, only for him to appear and take them hard, bent against a tree. They were all strong enough to fight him off if they wanted, but they did not, the fear added to their pleasure. Not every soldier was interested in this sort of roleplay, and so sometimes the occasional quick session happened inside one of their tents. Dem had learned quickly how to take their armour off, finding a new appreciation for the spelled gear. When he got back to the settlement, he decided he would look into getting some gear of his own.

Dem had also been practicing his Gaze and Influence on these soldiers. As much as he was disgusted with the nature of his Class, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to learn to use it better. It had saved his life a number of times already. He used his Gaze when he had one of the soldiers alone in the Wilds with him, where no one would notice. It seemed to enhance their pleasure in the situations he offered. He also learned to lower the intensity of it, so that the person he was using it on would hardly notice anything was different. Spreading his Influence around had also gotten him more offers, and more time to test the limits of what his Influence could do. He had learned that while he couldn’t directly control someone, his very presence often caused far more emotion as his Influence grew. These emotions, with the right words or situation, could often lead to him getting what he wanted through suggestion. It required more work than Dominate Mind but it was far more subtle. From the outside a person would just assume Dem was charismatic, but from the inside, Dem could tell people were far more suggestible, the more time they spent in his presence. There were limits, people wouldn’t harm themselves for him, but he believe with enough coaxing, they might harm others. He didn’t feel good about this latter possibility, but it was a tool he could use to save himself.

Over the last ten or more cycles, Dem’s life had been going better than he had expected it, with the exception of Keff’s possibly interference and the total unknown they were all heading into. Then on twelfth cycle of their mission, a strange thing happened. All the offers dried up, and hardly a soldier would speak to him. Then, early in the next thirteenth cycle, Sumisi asked to see him.

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PD – Chapter 43

The hiveling smelled terrible, to Dem’s sensitive nose, but the worst part was touching it. His spell, Understand Beast, required touch to work, and touching the the wrinkled dirty skin of the hiveling made Dem’s stomach turn. Graf held the beast’s arms as Dem grabbed it by the ankle. It was hurt and didn’t have much fight left in its sagging body, but Dem didn’t want to take any chances.

    He hadn’t learned much at first. The hiveling, despite its beastfolk form, wasn’t exactly much of a talker or thinker. After some false starts, and confusion, Dem had to rely on simple yes or no questions. It had answered readily enough to those, at least. Each of his questions was sent mentally, through pictures mostly, with the intent of a question sent at the end. Understand Beast was could used for both direct communication and to send feelings.

    The hivelings answers were unsatisfying, though they did address Sumisi’s most immediate worries.

There were no more hivelings nearby, so far as this hiveling knew. So at least this wasn’t some sort of hiveling migration.

Had it visited the northern human settlement? The answer was no.

Did it receive its wounds from humans? Answered no.

Were it’s wounds from other beasts as it came south? This one confused the hiveling as it gave both a yes and a no, so Dem clarified his question.

Did some of its wounds happen as it came south? The answer was yes, though not a very strong yes.

Did its wounds mostly happen north, in the True Wilds? Yes.

At this point in the question and answer session Officer Sumisi stopped Dem. Dem had been detailing the answers outloud for everyone to hear, which made her nervous, judging by her body anxious body language.

Sumisi cleared the area of other soldiers, but for her, Dem, Dem’s beasts, and the Sergeant. Then she gave Dem a warning.

“Tamer, you will now ask it about why it is this far south. Ask it about reasons it left the True Wilds. Ask it if was pushed out of its home by other tribes. Whatever answers it gives you, you will, of course, shares those with us, but then you are sworn to secrecy. I have already sent a runner for a Tower pact of secrecy, to ensure there will be a penalty for if you should speak about what you learn here.” Sumisi’s tone left Dem little room to wiggle, though he had no idea who he would tell about it.

He considered her words for a moment, and then spoke, “I will agree to your terms, but I would like the room within my oath to be able to tell my beasts and ask their input.”

In turn, Sumisi considered his request for a moment, “I agree, but they will also have to make an oath to the pact.”

“I agree, Officer. I will now ask your questions as best I can.”

Dem’s next series of questions were more complex and harder to answer yes or no to. Dem began to guess at reasons as to why the hiveling might have gone south. Lack of food? No. Did a powerful predator attack it? No. Disease? No. Was it exiled? No. Was it here because its hive was destroyed? The hiveling gave no response to this, perhaps because it did not know if its hive was still intact. Dem could sense the beastman’s fear over their temporary connection. It was obvious to Dem something drastic had happened. Was this thing what had Sumisi so spooked? Was this why she was so tight-lipped?

Finally, Dem decided to go with Sumisi’s most specific question. Did it leave the True Wilds because it was pushed here by another tribe? This was a.. yes, but a very weak one. Dem could only assume that other tribes had something to do with it, but weren’t the whole story.

This answer didn’t really satisfy any of the questions in Dem’s mind, and so before relating the hiveling’s answer to Sumisi and the sergeant, he asked a broader question.

What drove you south?

What Dem got back in response was a series of images. His fellow hivelings fleeing in every direction, being chased, and in some cases stepped on, by other beasts and beast folk. He could sense this wasn’t the root issue though, as the hiveling sent him one last image, of something large and terrible, like a towering black wave, that threatened to crash down the beastman’s hive. Dem couldn’t make out specifically what the hiveling feared, but rather could tell this image represent its fear of something powerful and unknown. What left Dem the most shaken was the rumbling of ground, that accompanied the image. Dem had never know the ground to rumble like that. He had heard of landslides and mudslides, but nothing like what he found in the hiveling’s image.

Dem let go of the ankle of the hiveling, and took a step back. He lost himself in thought at what he had seen. Graf stepped back as well, letting the hiveling sag further down.

By the time Dem was done digesting what the hiveling had sent, Sumisi was impatient and angry, waiting for Dem to come back to himself. She had even taken a step toward Dem, to rouse him, but Ina had shift her weight in a way that made it clear no one was to approach Dem. Sumisi tried to ignore the beastwoman’s interference, but did not approach Dem any closer. In this extra moment Ina had gained him, Dem considered not describing this last image to Sumisi. Something about it was a important and a secret, but he wanted to see her reaction to his words. His curiosity won over his fear.

    It took him a few false starts, and moments where his words hung in the air, but eventually he related everything he had gotten in response his last couple question.

    Sumisi listened intently, forgetting her previous anger. At the description of the sense of imminent disaster, where the ground had trembled, Sumisi had gone pale and by the end of Dem’s description, sweat had begun to accumulate on her face. In a tight voice, Sumisi had asked him a few more questions about the last image, as she did so she drew closer to Dem and the hiveling. Ina didn’t stop her now, but simply watched warily. As Dem answered Sumisi’s last question about the image, the Officer drew her sword and in one smooth, swift motion, plunged it into the hiveling, nearly decapitating it. Its brackish, dark blood splattered the Officier, Dem, and Dem’s beasts. Ina and Graf took defensive stances, though neither had moved to defend the hiveling. Dem was surprised certainly, but made no comment. He thought about asking what all this meant, but he assumed the Officer would have told him already if she going to. He tried anyway..

    “Officer, what…”

    Sumisi just shook her head at him, not saying anything and staring at the corpse of the beastman. Dem busied himself clean the blood off, to make the time productive, at least.

    As Dem was casting cleaning spells, getting the blue-black blood off his clothing, a messenger arrived carrying a scroll case. In short order, Dem, Ina, and Graf had all made a pact not to reveal anything they had seen or learned here, by channeling a little of their Path into the document. When everything was finished, and the body was being disposed of, Sumisi still explained anything. She also wasn’t quite ready to leave him to his own devices.

Sumisi sighed heavily, and the let out a little laugh,“Now, we go to report to the commander. I think he will like you.” Her voice still had a shade of the earlier darkness in it, despite the playful tone she had used in her last sentence.

***

    The commander had liked him, and so had someone else in the comander’s tent, far more than Dem would have liked.

When they had arrived outside the largest tent in the encampment, Dem had expected the commander was another woman like Sumisi, judging by her earlier tone, or perhaps the commander was some old man who hated Tamers. All Dem knew was to expect a trick or joke here, probably at his own expense. Instead, Dem had gotten his ass grabbed by a drunk, foppish-looking man, little more than his own age.

    To gain entrance, Sumisi had sent in one of the two tall, handsome guards that had been standing outside the tent, into the tent to seek out the commander. After a while, no one had come out, and then Sumisi had sent the other guard in. Again, no one came out. After a while more of waiting, Sumisi had gone in herself, dragging Dem in, leaving Ina and Graf outside. Inside the dimly lit tent, Dem saw a small writing desk, several chairs, a table with maps. The guards who had entered were standing off to the side, looking confused and embarrassed, their gaze towards a wide cot with several bodies laying in a pile of blankets and spilled wine.

    Officer Sumisi marched up to the cot and began to rifle through it, until finding the appropriate person, and dragging them out by an arm. The man she pulled from the pile was short, thickly muscled, and had some paunch around the middle. He was darkly bearded, and nearly as hairy as some beastman Dem had seen. He appeared to be drunk, and or otherwise incapacitated. It generally took a lot of alcohol, or very concentrated alcohol, to get a combat Classed adventurer drunk, and Dem supposed Classed soldiers were no different. Caius literally drank for half the day to maintain his perpetual stupor, and undoubtedly stole from the church coffers to afford it. This man was have been drinking something concentrated and potent because Dem saw no kegs or barrels nearby.

    She then called over to Dem, “Do you have a restoration spell for our dear Commander here?”

    Dem was still surprised when she had called the man the commander, despite the obviousness of the situation. He hurried over and channeled his Path into his spell. The spell was a slight bit more sluggish than what Dem was used to, probably due to his own cycles of debauchery. He needed to do some hunting, or perhaps spend some time with Ina to clear his head and sharpen his resolve.

    While Dem as casting his spell the pile of blankets began to move, but Dem ignored it, as he focused on his spell. Eventually the bleary eyed, head of a youngish man, popped out from under the blanket. The face was thing, and had high cheekbones with a mop of blonde curly hair. The unfocused eyes seemed to find Dem, and out of the corner of his eye Dem could see the man reach up to lay a grasping hand on Dem’s ass, giving it a firm squeeze. This set Dem’s teeth on edge, but he endured it so that his spell would finish properly. Once the spell was complete Dem spun around to slap the hand away, but the man had already fallen back to sleep, hanging limply off the edge of the cot. Dem sighed, and looked back toward the commander who was now opening his eyes.

    The man spoke in a deep tone, “Oh, the Divinity above, I should drink less. Is it time to leave already? Sumisi? Where is Sumisi?”

    Officer Sumisi was, of course, standing just to the side of the man, holding him up. Her face looked annoyed, her eyebrows down cast, and face wrinkled, but Dem could tell she wasn’t as furious as she might have been. Whether that was out of respect for the commander’s rank or because she was simply used to his ways, Dem did not know.

    Sumisi responded by given the man a good shake and then standing him up. She pulled him to stand position effortlessly, showing both the passive strength of her Class and her experience with heavy, dead-weight drunks.

    After taking a moment to steady himself, the commander gazed around the tent, finding Dem first. The bearded man’s eyes looking Dem up and down.

    “Interesting. A messenger? Not bad..” The commander eyes did yet another pass of Dem, this time more slowly.

    “Someone rich must want something from me to be able to afford a toy such as you! What do they want? Tell them we are leaving this very cycle. There isn’t time to do any favors.”

    There was a cough at the commanders back, and his bushy eyebrows raised. He turned around to face Sumisi.

    Sumisi spoke, facing the commander, a tone of annoyance unmistakable in her voice, “Ahem, Commander Paus-Paun, this is Tamer Demneh. We have something to speak to you about, and we will be ready to march out soon. I think-”

    Before Sumisi could finish, the another head popped out of the blankets on the cot, this one had the face of a masculine-looking woman, dirty-blonde hair cut short. As she emerged from the cot, her smallish breasts bounced slightly. As she rose to her knees her actions sped up as her face took on a green color, and she proceeded to move the edge of the cot and vomit right on to Sumisi’s armoured footwear.

    If Sumisi hadn’t been angry, she was clearly angry now. Sumisi grabbed the woman by the hair, after she finished spewing, and then slapped her across the face. The commander didn’t move to stop his vice-commander, but did have the clarity to look mildly ashamed.

    Finally the beard man spoke up. “Ah, Sumisi don’t be so hard on your cousin. In fact, you should have joined us last night. It was quite the party. I’m sure one of us could have provided what you enjoy..”

    The fury on Sumisi’s face lay unabated, and she looked like she might punch the commander, but after a quick moment, she contained her anger.

Through gritted teeth, she spoke again, “We have things to discuss. Send your Tent Sergeant and my useless cousin out. We have some new information about our destination. Tamer Demneh has communicated with a beastman from the north that arrived today. He is already making himself useful.”  

Dem didn’t know if the latter emphasis on ‘useful’ was a compliment for him, or a indictment of the people in the tent.

The blonde man who had grabbed Dem earlier had woken up again, just in time to hear himself called ‘Tent Sergeant’. Dem wasn’t sure what a ‘Tent Sergeant’ was, but he assumed it had something to do with the time the man spent in the commander’s tent. The man sputtered and then cursed at Sumisi, to only receive a backhand from her in return. Sumisi then ordered the two guards to take the commander’s bedmates out of the tent. The commander found a camp chair to sit in, and sat down heavily, the chair creaked with his weight, but did not give way.

The bearded man gave a heavy sigh, and focused his dark eyes on Dem. He spoke then, in a weary tone, ignoring the still angry Sumisi standing off to his side.

“I am Commander Paus-Paun. Of the Nep Isles.  So you are not a messenger, but a Beast Tamer? You are one of our conscripted guides then, a local. You bring me a message of a different kind. Let me hear it.”

Dem complied and told the tired-looking man everything he had learned from the hiveling, leaving nothing but his own thoughts out.

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PD – Chapter 42

Dem walked slowly behind Officier Sumisi, more confused than anything else. His eyes ignoring the exaggerated sway of Sumisi’s hips. As they had begun to walk toward the side of the encampment the beastman had appeared on, Dem had realized it was the wrong direction. Ina and Graf were still a short distance away, moving in the trees to avoid scaring the hamlet folk. Graf was slow that high up, and so it taken them longer than Dem had initially thought it would. The problem was Ina and Graf were coming from the opposite side of the encampment than where the Officer was leading Dem. Graf and Ina were coming from the other side of the settlement, where most of the hamlets were, the side facing toward the True Human Realm. Sumisi was leading him toward the side of the encampment that led toward the True Wilds.

***

This beastman, he was going to meet, wasn’t his beastman. He had confirmed that fact with both Ina and Graf, both of which were convinced they hadn’t been sighted yet. This made some sense because normally Dem, and the other guides, would be the one identifying incoming threats, but this close to the settlement should be safe, and so lookouts were all that was necessary. This other beastman must have literally walked right up to the camp to be noticed.

Dem was embarrassed now. He had planned on showing off a bit, and maybe impressing these soldiers enough they left him alone. He didn’t believe they, as sworn soldiers, even ones lacking in discipline, would try to take Ina and Graf from him. They weren’t bandits, and from what Greer had said, they did have to maintain their reputation to some extent. It would be something of a blackmark for Breaker soldiers to be caught robbing from their own conscripts. He didn’t fear their envy or greed exactly, but he was still wary for underhanded tricks. He fully expected Stass to try something at some point.

Dem was roused him from his thoughts of potential treachery by Sumisi stopping in front of him. He looked past her to see a small clearing with a tall post sticking up out of the ground. Tied to the post was the the ugliest and weakest looking beastman Dem had ever seen. He recognized it right away as a hiveling-scavenger. It was something like a large rat that had an extra pair of webbed arms on its back that they used to glide away from predators. They lived in communal hives centered around a single matriarch female. They weren’t dangerous unless you attacked the hive itself. They mostly scavenged for scraps and carrion. They were beyond ugly. They had tufts of patchy grey-green fur here and there on their otherwise naked and wrinkled-skin bodies. They a few odd insect-like features like their large compound eyes, and a long rancid maw with teeth like a crocodile. They were little bigger than a house-cat usually, but this beastman come up to Dem’s belt. He couldn’t imagine a whole hive of these things. There would be hundreds at least.

This particular specimen wore little more than a loincloth and some strange tribal jewelry. Its crudely made spear leaning against a tent out of its reach. Dem noticed that the hiveling was worse for wear, sporting a number of small wounds, black bruised skin, and a ripped arm-wing.

Such creatures were something found on the outskirts of the True Wilds. They weren’t strong enough to hold territory of their own, and so they were pushed to the outskirts of territories of stronger beasts. A beastfolk version of such a creature would have long since been hunted to extinction anywhere near the settlements. There was no reason for it to be here, and certainly no reason for it to approach a settlement this close.

    “So, Tamer, you know this beast?”

    Beastdung, Dem hadn’t even been thinking about his earlier bragging, his mind consumed by the mystery of this hiveling beastman.

    “Uh, no, Officer. I do not. This is as big a surprise to me as it is to you.”

    Sumisi looked back at him, a smirk on her face, as if laughing at his discomfort.

    “I see, perhaps you can be of use anyway. Tamer, do you recognize this beast? I confess I do not.”

    Dem sighed, his plan to push his image with these soldiers having failed, he resigned himself to being of service.

    After a moment of consideration, Dem spoke up, “It is a hiveling-scavenger. Where there is one, there are hundreds more at least. Normally you wouldn’t see one this far south. They are weak and are only dangerous in the great numbers you find at their hives.”

    Sumisi’s face took a scowl then. Her voice much more concerned, she asked him the most obvious question, “Why do you think its is here?”

    “It shouldn’t be here at all. There are very few hiveling hives near here of the normal variety, and certainly none that have ascended to beastfolk. To get here from the True Wilds, using the most direct path, it would have missed another settlement by a cycle of walking time. We are more than forty cycles from that settlement. I would guess it went there first, was attacked, and then came here. That would explain its wounds.”

    Officer Sumisi’s face lost a little of its darkness after hearing Dem’s explanation, yet still she seemed far too concerned by the appearance of a single hiveling. Was she worried about having to face the entire hive? There was no real reason to have to fight the hive, when you could simply move around it. They were quite cowardly from what he understood, unless you attacked their home. He doubted fighting hivelings was what the officer was unhappy about.

    Sumisi paused for a moment considering something, and then asked Dem another question, “Well, what are the chances it will have a beastcore? I don’t suppose it’s worth something? Perhaps its meat is a rare delicacy?”

    “Officer, it eats carrion. It would taste little better than it currently smells. They were hunted around here to extinction because their hives are large and often in the way. They also collect junk, some of which might be valuable, if you’re lucky. I suppose I could..”

Before Dem could finish, Sumisi interrupted him. “You want to tame it? It’s disgusting. Are you so desperate for beasts?”

“No, officer, I was going to offer to try to communicate with it. It’s not necessarily going to know our language. The bloodline memories of beastfolk vary greatly.” Dem couldn’t consider himself an expert on beastfolk, but he knew two pretty well. Ina had a great command of human language, but couldn’t speak well due to her physiology. Graf could speak human, heavily accented, but was not as good with the language as Ina.

“Communicate with it? Why? Wait.. yes, yes I would like you to try, though if you do I may need you to..”

Her voice trailed off, as she got a far away look on her face. Dem was genuinely confused about this situation, but he couldn’t imagine that this didn’t have something to do with why they were out here. This looked less and less like a training mission to him.

Dem, we are here.

Dem sent over the bond. “Thank you Ina, I will meet you in a moment.”

Interrupting the officer’s thoughts, Dem spoke, “Officer, if you will excuse me. I need to go meet my beasts now, they have arrived. I will try to communicate with the hiveling when I come back.”

“Ah? Alright, but hurry back I will need to speak with you before you communicate with it.” Her voice sounded mildly surprised. Dem thought perhaps she really hadn’t believe he had beasts.

“Of course, officer. I will return shortly.”

***

    Dem made his way through the encampment without incident. All around him soldiers were breaking down tents and packing away their gear. Some of what they were moving was actually being placed on top of very wide and flat lizard beasts. Dem had never seen them before, and couldn’t remember their name, but knew he had heard of suchs beasts. They were only as tall as his waist, but their body was wide enough for four people to sit side by side on at the widest part. The had three sets of two stout legs, each clawed for finding purchase on rough terrain. Their wide flat bodies were actually sharp in front, almost like a giant walking arrowhead. They were good for use in the Wilds in the sense they could cut right through vegetation as they moved, but weren’t good for riding because they would have to move up and down trees occasionally to fit through vertical gaps. It would take some work and back-tracking to get these beasts through the truly dense areas, but each could haul many times what an individual soldier might carry. He wondered if they had an actual classed Tamer here to handle these beasts, but he thought better of it. These had been domesticated long ago, and didn’t require much in the way of beastcraft.

    Dem found it much easier to leave the encampment, than arrive. No one challenged him as he left, walking toward where he could sense Ina and Graf waiting for him. Originally, he had thought it would be fine if they just appeared, but with the other beastman showing up he didn’t want to alarm too many people. A Tamer with beastfolk was rare in the settlements, but not unheard of exactly. He had seen other Tamers certainly, but the ones who were strong enough to control multiple Classed and trained beastfolk would likely stay in the Tower, and probably in a settlement closer to the True Wilds.

    As he finally reached the shade of the nearby trees, a ways away from the cleared area of the encampment, a large rumble could be heard as Graf jump down from up high. Ina appeared to his right, her tails possessively entwining around him.

Ina spoke her greeting to him then.

Dem, I missed you. You should clean yourself, your scent is.. intermingled.

Dem spoke to both beastfolk over their bond, “Ina, it is good to see you too, and yes.. My parents are safe in the settlement now at least. I’ve been called up as a conscript. We will be heading north as I said earlier.” He tried to ignore Ina’s implication.

Ina’s tails tightened around Dem, in confirmation of his words. Graf simply shrugged his shoulders. Dem could see that the boar beastman was his usual taciturn self.

Dem spoke quickly, “These soldiers are not necessarily our allies. If they attack you, defend yourself but don’t kill anyone if you can help it. If they attack me, only defend my life. While in their encampment we will have thread carefully, as we will be in their power. My plan is to try to spend as little as time as possible with the soldiers, though spending more time out in the Wilds is dangerous in its own way.”

Dem was no general, to be rallying his troops, but he felt he had covered the basics with his beasts. He was most worried about Ina. She was the most overprotective of him, and also the most interesting of his two beasts. Ranger Keff, whom Dem had met on his way back to the settlement, had taken an interest in her. Dem assumed the interest was driven mostly by the fact that Keff would have known that Ina was just a lesser beasts less than a sequence ago. Much like Greer, Keff could only surmise Dem or Ina had found something interesting in the Wilds. Interesting usually meant expensive to adventurers. It was the basic greed and opportunism found everywhere in the Wilds.

Dem sighed, and turned around to begin walking toward the encampment with his beasts in tow. He noticed Ina had taken up a position directly behind Graf, hiding in his shadow. He believed only the most observant would notice her, especially at range.

As they strode closer, he could tell there were a number of people looking in his direction by the time he could start to make out faces of the soldiers on the outskirts of the encampment. The soldiers approached Dem cautiously, their hands on the hilts of their weapons. Dem tried to keep his demeanor calm, and unruffled. He stood as tall as he could, and began to a channel a slight amount of the power of his Path into his eyes. He had experimented on Greer earlier, with very low-level uses of his gaze. He couldn’t be sure it had much effect on the strange woman, but it wouldn’t hurt to try it here. As he had figured out before, influence didn’t necessarily mean control, but it did have some effect on the people he used it on. Already he had noticed people had strong emotions towards him, considering his interactions with Greer, Sumisi, Stass, Keff, and even in basic situations like when he had bought his clothes from that mustached clerk.

A number of soldiers came forward to stop Dem at line where the encampment began. Dem had just been through here a short amount of time before had, and so a few seemed to recognize him. A particularly tall soldier bearing extra markings on his armour stepped forward to ask Dem a question.

“You there, is that your beastman? What is your name? What business do you have here..” He could see the soldier struggled with asking the right question, as he clearly recognized that Dem had just been in the encampment a short moment before.

“Yes, it is mine. I am Tamer Demneh. Speak to Officer Sumisi for confirmation of my identity.” Dem hoped that if he made a significant enough impression he wouldn’t have to answer any more of these silly challenges, word would hopefully spread.

The soldier who stepped forward first, spoke again,“Ah? A Tamer? I thought you a young man of means with a beastman slave for protection, but a Tamer? That is interesting.” The soldier had a simile on his face as he spoke, as if there were a joke here. Dem assumed it had something to do with his Class, but he ignored it.

As Graf towered over many of the soldiers they began to look nervous, and hadn’t taken up whatever unuttered joke the speaking soldier had implied. One had already left to find an officer the moment Dem had finished speaking. Some of the soldiers were trying to peer around Graf, as they must have detected subtle movement behind him. Dem once again drew their attention by speaking.

“I am here because I was conscripted as a guide. Generally it is polite to introduce yourself is it not? What is your name…”

The soldier spoke again, smiling slightly at Dem, “Ah, yes, I suppose it is. I am Sergeant Wehern. You are a conscript you say? A guide? Well we will need you from what I understand. Our own scouts are..” The sergeant stopped himself before he could speak further, a slight flush of embarrassment on his face. He had clearly touched on a subject he wasn’t supposed speak about.

Dem noticed the man was tall, but still several heads shorter than Graf. He was older than Dem, maybe Greer’s age, but still much younger than Dem’s parents. His hair was closely cropped, like most of the soldiers Dem had seen. This was a stark contrast to Suimisi whose long hair was strange. Perhaps it was because she was of the blood? Or just a higher ranked officer? Dem wasn’t sure. Clearly, there was some favoritism going on here.

After making awkward small talk with the sergeant for a short while, a crowd of soldiers arrived, with Sumisi at its head. Dem’s vision of the woman was blocked by the soldiers in front of him, but he could hear her barking questions over their heads.

“Is that a boar beastman? Why are beastmen showing up from every direction? Sergeant, explain what this is..”

She stopped her questions short, as the sergeant in front stepped back to allow her a view of Dem.

“Demneh? Didn’t I tell you to come back quickly? Where did you find that beastman? Can you talk to him to find out what he wants? Make sure he knows to give up his spear if he wants to talk.” Suimisi voice sounded annoyed at all these complications.

Dem laughed, “I already know what Graf here wants thanks to our bond. I know I said I wouldn’t be needing any gear, but Graf here prefers axes to spears. Do you have any really large axes sitting around?”

“Why should we arm a random beastman. Dem, you already know the beast man’s name? That is good.. Wait, you said bond? This is your beast? A boar beastman? Is he Classed? He looks Classed!” Surprise lit her voice as her eyes widened.

“Yes, Officer. He is a Warrior. Graf would you say hello to the Officer?”

Graf merely grunted at the woman, looking bored. Dem chuckled lightly in response, his hand touching the back of his head to scratch a phantom itch.  

“So this is your beast? I am impressed! I underestimated you! A boar beastman eh? Classed no less! The Breakers have tangled with the boar tribes before, on rare occasions. They are fierce fighters.” Sumisi seemed genuinely happy, which made Dem relevate the woman. She hadn’t done a great job in reigning in Stass, but he could tell she respected strength at the very least. In that manner, she was definitely a soldier.

“Indeed, he is a great Warrior. I’m sure he appreciates the compliments.” Dem looked back at the face of the beastman, but graf was scratching himself with a vacant look in his eye. This was typical Warrior behavior, they were battle addicts, and little interest in pleasantries.

As Dem turned back to look at Officer Sumisi, she spoke again.

“Didn’t you say you had two beasts? Where is the other one?”

Dem smiled, and spoke, “Ina, show yourself, please.”

Behind Graf, a shadow rose and climbed up his back. Ina appeared then, standing on Graf’s shoulders, her tails twisting in patterns that caused most of the soldiers to look away. The reaction, despite their averted eyes, was immediate. Surprise and fear registered across their faces. Several even drew bare steel, before they realized this was Dem’s beast and therefore not likely to attack.

Sumisi looked surprised, and then had an oddly heated gaze crossed her face as she looked at Dem. Her face slightly red, she spoke then, confusion suffusing her voice,

“You.. Is that what I think that is? All those tails..”

Sergeant Wehern spoke up, “Ma’am it is a Many-Tailed, a predator beastwoman.”

Dem noted the emphasis on the word ‘predator’ in the Sergeant’s words. There was a difference between more benign beasts and those that were designated specifically as man-killers. A boar beast might kill you for entering its territory, or just looking at it funny, but a true man-killer hunted humans actively, even outside its territory. Ina had always been too small and weak to be a real threat, but as a beastwoman, in the greater beast realm, he supposed she was a true threat now. He couldn’t make sense of the man’s emphasis otherwise.

“Demneh, keep that thing on a short leash. You will be responsible for anyone or anything she eats!” Sumisi sounded almost exasperated at this turn of events.

Dem was a little hurt, hearing Ina called a ‘thing’, but he didn’t need to pick a fight over it. Fear was a natural response to a predator.

Dem answered Sumisi with a faux grimace, “Her name is Ina, and while she is something of a eater, she doesn’t people, mostly.” He laughed then, at their discomfort.

A female soldier in the back tried to speak up, before being silenced by a another soldier, “So you and her fu-”

He could hear the soldier who did the silencing whisper to female soldier who spoke up, “Do you want to be eaten? Don’t ask about that.” Dem ignored the question, it was going to be standard response to any Tamer most people came across he supposed.

“Officer, if you would lead the way, we have a beastman to speak with don’t we?” Dem said, trying to keep the conversation moving along.

Sumisi shook her head, to clear her thoughts, and then waved him toward her. Together they strode forward toward the hiveling through the encampment, soldiers parting for them and stopping to stare. Dem supposed they looked like a strange sight. The long-haired officer led their strange little party, with the young-looking Tamer following behind her, and two beasts following the Tamer. Ina was crouching on Graf’s shoulder, seeming to enjoy her new roost. Dem thought even Graf looked a little wary having the beastwoman so close.

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PD – Chapter 41

“I can’t say.” Her tone was final.

Dem’s influence with Greer was surprisingly weak. He had to remind himself that while she might enjoy him, it was not the same thing as control over her. Perhaps, he had just relaxed too much after getting back from the Wilds. Still, Dem had never know Greer to be evasive, manipulative certainly, but never evasive.

“Can’t say? Or won’t say?” He asked, trying not to sound hurt. She had said they needed to talk, but now wouldn’t answer his most basic questions. They had discussed a number of topics after the soldiers had left, but eventually they had ended at this dead end.

    Greer didn’t respond to his last question, turning her back to Dem.

    “You won’t tell me why you think these soldiers are heading toward the True Wilds?” His voice full of doubt.

    “I’ve sworn not to speak of it, as one of the blood. The possibility is remote anyway. This is likely just a false alarm, or some sort of training. You will be back in mere rotations. What you should be asking yourself is who was it that suggested you for conscription. They wish you ill.”

    He had no idea who had gotten him conscripted, but it hardly mattered now. Right now he was bitter at Greer’s coldness.

    “You had your cycles of fun with me and now..”

    She turned back toward him, reaching out to touch his chest.

    “It will be dangerous, and you’ve already made some enemies. It might be safer if you spent as little as time possible camped with the soldiers.”

    Fear crept into his voice, “These soldiers are more dangerous than unknown Wilds? There may be calamity..”

    “It is likely they will stop just short of the True Wilds. I cannot tell you why I know this, but..”

    He decided to change the subject, “What is the ‘blood’? A clan? A nobility? Should I be bowing to you? The officer..”

    “It’s.. a broad-term. For anyone who is a descendant of the First Party. You know the story of the First Party?”

    “The First Party is just a myth? What truth could there be to a story about..”

    “It is both myth and fact. The Protector had many companions on his journey to carve out the True Human Realm from the territories of monsters and non-humans, in turn, they were given special status for their labor when the great work was done. Their status was passed on to their children. Those of us who can trace our lineage to the bloodlines of those companions, are called the blood. Each bloodline can’t be considered a clan or a noble line, there are too many of the blood. In many kingdoms and clan territories, being of the blood is nothing special, especially certain bloodlines, but out here? On the edge of humanity? Its afforded me a decent place to live, and an easy job in the Tower. The soldiers might be disrespectful, but they wouldn’t do anything serious to me. Not because of my bloodline, but because I work for the Tower. My position isn’t high, but it’s enough to thwart a few conscripts from the Wall. My lineage merely helped me find work in the Tower.”

Dem was nearly speechless. Myths had just become reality, and a whole new level of complexity had been added to the world for him. He asked her the first question that came to mind, while he grappled with what he had just been told.

“They were conscripts too? The officer..”

“She is of the blood, but likely disgraced, exiled, or banished. Perhaps she choose service over prison or slavery. The others were likely regular conscripts. Few people choose the Breakwater Wall. Its an exercise in boredom, and when its not boring, its deadly. Conscripts from the Wall are usually the first bodies thrown at any force that might invade or threaten the borders of the True Human Realm. They go on training missions, occasionally too. They’ve passed through here a couple of times while I’ve lived here, though you were too young to have noticed.”

She continued, but with more worry in her voice, “You need to be careful. Even training missions are dangerous. Such missions often are a way for the Breaker to.. remove the weaker soldiers from their ranks. Judging by your ability there, with the soldier that was trying to touch me, you’ve improved. You’ll do better than the average soldier. As a scout you can’t be expected to stand and fight in a pitch battle.”

He mulled over her words, and then responded, wanting to tell her about Graf, hoping it would set her mind at ease. “Yes, I have bonded another…

She interrupted him then, pushing him against the closed front door lightly.

“Did I mention how much I enjoyed it to see you so protective of me? I think you deserve a reward..” Her voice was husky.

He smiled then, his tone playful, “Is this a reward for me or for you..”

She sealed his mouth with a kiss. His thoughts were mostly of the tongue exploring his mouth, but he spared a thought to the idea the Greer was distracting him from asking more questions. He cared about asking more questions, but not so much to break their kiss.

He pulled her closer, then spun them both around, until her back touched the door. She was surprisingly pliant to his ministrations, without the usual smile on her face. A look of angry lust had taken the woman over, as he ran the tips of his fingers up her inner thigh, tracing a line across her stomach. Perhaps this time he would finally tire the woman out.

***

    Dem had escaped his pleasurable imprisonment, after leaving his seed in Greer a few more times. The woman had fallen asleep finally. He was able to gather his things and leave in peace. He wondered if he should stop by to see Greer again, before he left. Would she be any more willing to answer his questions then?

    His parents had been overjoyed to see him, after he found them just where Greer had said they would be. He was surprised though, what he found, when he arrived was strange. The home Greer had found them not far from her own, and was much nicer than he was expecting. The juxtaposition of his poor parents living in relative opulence was both amazing and disconcerting. It wasn’t as grand as Greer’s home of course, but it was still nearly the same size as their home outside the walls of the settlement. It was large for a settlement apartment, where space was at a premium. More interesting was that Greer had apparently stocked it with items befitting a home of quality in the settlement. Soft rugs covered the floor, carved wood furniture haunted every corner, and the tableware was polished metal. His parents had even been fitted with simple but sturdy clothing, much softer and finer than anything they had previously.

    What did Greer want from him? He thought he understood her, having known her for nearly half his life, but now he wasn’t sure at all.

    Explaining to his parents that he was leaving again for a long trip, and where he had been the last five cycles, would have been awkward, had he decided to do so. Instead, he simply said he would see them again soon, and that he was going out again.

His mother argued with him less than usual. He wondered if she now understood what he was trying to do, and that it required him to earn coin. Her face had a look of confusion occasionally, especially when he caught her looking around at all of their new possessions. She had kept herself busy taking care of a small forest of potted plants she had placed around their apartment. His father still left the settlement everyday to work as lumberer, but the coin he earned was now mostly used to buy food, basic necessities, and more pots for plants. Dem wished his mother could be content, but he would rather her this way and safe, than outside the walls of the settlement.

***

    With barely a quarter cycle left until he needed to meet the encamped soldiers at the Wilds-gate, he had to finish his errands quickly. His time with Greer and his time with his parents had taken up the majority of what he was allocated to get ready to leave.

He still had no idea what all this was about. When Greer had told him they needed talk, Greer had been more interested in discussing who might have put his name up for this conscription, than in actually giving him an idea of what he would be doing. He didn’t even know how many soldiers he would be traveling with, or where specifically they were going, other than north. Greer had questioned him about how successful the Party with Karmis had been, and if Karmis held any anger towards him. Dem had lied of course, simply saying that Dice had died due to her own stupidity, and that Karmis had been happy enough with him despite the setback. Greer had grilled him on why the Party had gone were out there in the first place, but he simply feigned ignorance.  

    As a part of his errands, he took his spear to a smith to be checked for damage. He had his own clothes repaired, and even setup an order to have Graf’s axe fixed when one of the smiths who specialized in large weapons had time. He had given Greer the beastcores from the last trip into the Wilds. As they had lie in bed, Greer asked him why Karmis had let him have anything from the trip, normally he might only expect a small tip, but he had simply said it was part Karmis showing her satisfaction with his work. It was thin lie, but it was what he had to work with. Greer’s response had been baffling at first. Her usual smile had fallen a bit and she had pat him on the back, like she was comforting him, while nodding her head knowingly.

    Greer had then said, with her usual smile, “You do what you have to do. Karmis would not be the worst first partner, she was very experienced and beautiful. Her Path was definitely related to seduction or charm. Is that why you’re as good as you are? Did she teach you a few things? Perhaps I should send her a thank you gift as I’ve benefit from her training you. You got quite a lot for your hard work, one of these beastcores looks expensive. Not everyone is so richly rewarded for their first sexual experience. It is a shame I was not your first, but at least I did not have to go through the work of teaching you to use your tongue.”

She had laughed then, at him. His only response was to roll away from her, and contemplate how he could win out over Greer in the end. Using his Domination spells might be effective, but he had no wish to harm Greer, even accidently. He also worried about what the Tower might do if it detected something amiss with one it’s employees. The Tower’s spellcraft was always a mystery Dem. It was far and away more complex and powerful than what could be bought locally. It was also much more costly, and usually only available to adventurers.

While shopping he even found some more clothes for Ina, so that she would have a spare set. He considered finding some clothes for Graf, but he already wore a set clothes and armour, Dem also had no idea about the beastman’s sizes.

He left a message for Wersa at the Tower, explaining his situation and asking her to catch-up if she thought it was possible. She had been gone a while now, and would likely be back soon, or so he assumed. It was unlikely this group of soldiers would travel faster than Wersa could alone. The real problem was making up a reason for them to travel together. Perhaps, they could concoct a plot about her wanting to travel north for some other reason. In his note, he had asked her to think of an explanation, while he also thought of one, and they would simply use the best between the two or some combination as their excuse. He revealed no details in the note, though. He was careful to make everything sounded like a request. He had no idea who might end up reading their correspondence. Technically the Tower safe-guarded it, but he couldn’t rely on such a thing.

    With less than a sixteenth to spare, Dem finished his preparations and set off toward the Wilds-gate, with a heavy sigh. His five cycles with Greer had seemed too long, just a cycle ago, and now, facing danger again, he felt they hadn’t been long enough.

***

    Dem checked his pack for the sixth time, making sure he had everything he needed, as he walked toward the encampment. Was he nervous or just worried? He would feel more comfortable with Wersa or his beasts at his side.

The encampment wasn’t far from the gate door. As he got his first real glance at the soldier’s camp, he realized there were too many soldiers to fit them easily within the settlement. Perhaps that was why the officer had asked to stay with Greer, not only for her obvious invitation, but also to avoid having to camp out yet another night or pay for an inn. There were hundreds of soldiers here, swarming all around, busy preparing to march. Each was a mirror of the soldiers he had met earlier. Had he not been confined to Greer’s apartment over the last five cycles he would have noticed all of this earlier. He suspected Greer had some idea that soldiers were in town, she hadn’t seemed too surprised to see them at her door. She had received a number of messages during their time together, it had been one of the few reprieves Dem had gotten between their sessions.

    As he walked closer, a soldier stopped him and asked him his business. He simply stated his name and that he was a conscripted guide. The soldier had looked him up and down, and then brought him toward the central tent without further challenge. Dem took this to mean he was nonthreatening enough that the soldier didn’t feel it was necessary to confirm Dem’s identity. Dem didn’t know how he felt about this. On the hand it was good to be unassuming, on the other it invited trouble to look weak.

    The first soldier quickly found another soldier, who in turn, finally brought Dem to one of the larger tents at the center of the encampment. Dem was then ushered inside. Inside the tent was fairly dark, clearly intended for easy sleeping. There was a cot, a small writing desk, and a collapsible chair. There was room enough for five or six people to stand, though only three people inhabited the tent. He recognized one as Officer Sumisi. She smiled as she looked up at him, the smile not quite reaching her eyes. Dem wondered if she was still unhappy about being denied by Greer.

    She spoke to him, interrupting whatever other conversation she was having with the other soldiers, “Ah, our Tamer! Demneh, was it? Thank you for arriving in such a timely manner. I’m glad I didn’t have to send any soldiers after you. I’m sure you’re interested in where we are going and what we are doing, but there will be time to explain, as much as I can, as we travel. Let us discuss your work, and what you will be doing.”

    Dem responded casually, happy that she was interested in talking work with him right away, “Yes, of course. I’m glad to be of service.”

One of the other soldiers in the tent then spoke up, loudly barking at Dem, “You! You will refer to the officer as ‘ma’am’. Don’t even look her in the eye you fucking worm. You bumpkin trash, beastfucker. You..”

Dem was taken aback for a moment until he recognized the soldier in question. It was Soldier Stass, the one who had tried to grab Greer. Dem was already sick of the man. He was clearly just trying to bully Dem. Greer had explained, during their last conversation, that while Dem was a conscript, he wasn’t an official soldier and was only required to do the job that was asked of him, and nothing more. It had been one of the more important things Greer had wanted to explain to him after the soldiers had left. He was only subject to military discipline if he committed some sort of crime, or refused to do the job they had conscripted him to do, but he didn’t have to follow military decorum.

In response to the Stass’ tirade, Dem merely held a neutral expression on his face. He considered smiling, but antagonizing Stass more, served no purpose. Finally, when Stass was done, his face red and angry, Dem turned back to Sumisi, waiting for further explanation.

Sumisi looked from Dem to Stass and then back to Dem, her smile finally reaching her eyes.

She spoke, amusement in her voice, “Stass, I don’t think Dem will be as easy to bully as you wish. Dem I hope you forgive Stass, he enjoys giving new conscripts a hard time.”

Dem merely nodded his head, while taking another survey of Stass face, but the soldier had turn away from both of them. Dem guessed Stass was now genuinely angry his provocation hadn’t worked, his earlier act just for show.

“As I was saying, your work here.. We are short on scouts and guides. We also need people to train some of our.. newer conscripts on living in the Wilds. You will also serve as a lookout, and train others on what is required of a lookout in the Wilds. Some of the soldiers here have Wilds experience, but most don’t. You will be doing quite a lot of hand-holding, but I assure you the fighting will be done by the soldiers here. You merely need to relay information, scout ahead, and train some of the soldiers as we move.”

Sumisi looked at him expectantly then, clearly waiting for his questions.

“I take it this is a training mission then?” Dem asked the most obvious question that came to mind.

    Sumisi responded curtly, “That I can’t say, just yet.”

    “What about beasts we encounter? Do I or the other guides get a cut if we find something worth selling?”

    She laughed then, “Only if you kill it, otherwise it gets added to the coffers of the unit. You will be given a small, and I mean a very small, stipend for your time as a conscript at the end of the mission.”

    “Will I need to camp with the soldiers every night?” He already wanted to be away from this camp as much as possible. Sleeping around so many people was loud and bothersome, he imagined. With Ina and Graf, he could be fairly safe camping away from the soldiers, for a while at least. When they neared the True Wilds, he might change his mind.

    “When you’re not out scouting or on lookout duty, it would be best. It would be hard to teach our conscripts if you aren’t with our conscripts. Perhaps, we can send them out to camp with you! Make sure to feed them well!” She laughed then, at her own joke, but Dem didn’t it think funny. He had no interest in feeding or teaching Classed Soldiers. He tried to smile in response though, to leave a good impression.

    It was then, that Stass interjected, derision in his voice, “Where are you beasts Tamer? Do you even have one? What is the point of Tamer with no beast? Do you get cold at night with a beast to f-”

    Before Stass could finish, Sumisi stopped him cold.

    “That is enough Stass. Listening to you will make Dem think we lack discipline. Do you require another reminder Stass? Of our discipline?”

Dem was happy the officer was finally willing to reign in her subordinate. Dem supposed that since he was not actually part of their hierarchy, on the one hand it meant Dem was not beholden to strict military decorum, and on the other hand was also not protected by it. This situation allowed Stass some leeway for his bullying. Dem also noted that Stass was something of a hypocrite. Despite Stass’ earlier anger at Dem for a breach of military decorum, the soldier seemed to have no problem interrupting his superior officer’s conversations. He was indeed beginning to wonder about the discipline of these conscripted soldiers. He didn’t know much about militaries, but this was not what he was expecting.

Stass responded quickly, but didn’t seem entirely cowed, “No, ma’am.”

Sumisi continued, this time speaking to Dem. “Perhaps we can help you tame a beast on this trip. I’m sure we will encounter many suitable beasts.” Her slight frown as she told him this signaled to Dem she felt no small amount of pity at the thought of a Tamer without a beast.

“Ah, officer, I have two beasts actually. You needn’t worry about me. I appreciate the offer though.” Dem tried to project as much confidence as he could.

    Stass spoke again, in a more quiet voice, not able to help himself, “Where are they then?” Stass then sneered at Dem while crossing his arms, as if waiting for Dem to pull a fighter-bird his pack.

    Sumisi gave Stass a withering glare, but didn’t speak to reprimand him. Perhaps, she too was wondered where Dem’s beasts were.

    Dem looked from Stass’ face, to Sumisi’s face, to the the face of other soldier in the tent, gauging their reaction to Stass’ behavior. Both Sumisi and the other soldier just seemed tired, and shrugged their shoulders, as if to tell Dem that this is who Stass was and he could be no other way.

    Dem sighed, and simple said, “They are near, they should be here soon.”

    Dem had indeed asked Ina and Graf to come to the campsite earlier, and from his bond with them, he could tell they weren’t far away.

Dem had debated with himself over revealing his beasts to the soldiers. He would lose some advantage in potential surprise, but fundamentally, they would find out anyway, he had come to realize. Traveling to the True Wilds would take rotations at the very least. Whether he liked it or not, his beasts would be seen eventually. Now that he knew he would be training soldiers as well, it made it all the more apparent that some his secrets would be revealed, just hopefully not the important ones. At least showing off his beasts early on might gain him a measure of respect. Maybe it would cut off any more hazing from Stass and any soldiers like him. Keeping them secret would only help him if he were run afoul of all these soldiers, but if that happened it was unlikely his beasts could help him anyway.

    “I see, well that is good, Demneh.” Sumisi responded, not appearing to entirely believe Dem. Was it his age that caused them to underestimate him? He was an adult now, but still young, far from middle age.

    “Ok, Stass, I need you to take Dem to the arsenal-”

    Before she could finish her command, a messenger arrived, asking for Sumisi’s attention. The messenger was another soldier, in lighter armour, breathing heavily.

    Sumisi quickly offered permission to speak to the messenger, not caring if Dem heard apparently.

    “Ma’am, beastfolk activity sighted nearby. The commander’s guards refused me entry to his tent, so I came here to you. What are your orders?”

    “Beastfolk? Here? I don’t believe any beastfolk trading parties were expected. How many beastfolk have been seen? Surely they would not be foolish to attack the settlement with hundreds of extra soldiers here.”

    “Ma,am. Only one.”

    “One? One-wait, one beastfolk? You’re saying there is exactly one beastfolk out there approaching?”

    “Yes, ma’am. One beastman.”

    “No others, just the one?”

    “Yes, so far as we know ma’am.”

    Sumisi sagged slightly at this news.

    “Why should we care about a single beastman approaching? It is good you didn’t interrupt the commander with this.”

    “Ma’am, I thought someone should know, because the beastman is headed towards us and not the settlement.”

    “I see, well, I suppose I will go out to meet this beastman. Perhaps he give me his beastcore if I bat my eyes at him prettily.” Sumisi said with a laugh.

    She spoke again, some of the mirth leaving her voice, “As, I was saying earlier, Stass, tak the Tamer to get whatever gear we can spare for him. Perhaps, you two can learn to get along.”

    Dem spoke up then, “Officer, I would like to accompany you instead. I don’t need anything gear. I already have everything I need.”

    Sumisi stopped for a moment, to consider his refusal and his request, and then shrugged.

    She smiled at him then, and spoke, “Fine, don’t complain later if you are lacking in equipment. I’m sure you’d look fine in our armour. You may can accompany me to meet this beastman.”

    Dem smiled pleasantly at the officer in return. He had a feeling he knew this beastman.

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PD – Epilogue – Book 1

Soon his revenge would begin, but first he had to make a decision. In his current, natural form, it was always harder to deal with these sorts of details. When he took a more humanoid form, he was less.. distracted, his mind clearer, but he couldn’t afford take the time to change forms now. He just needed to make a decision here and keep moving.

    The seed of his revenge would be planted soon, but he needed a vector, an agent, an unwitting pawn. Fertile soil. He had found what he sought here, in this weak land between the territory of the prey and what they called the True Wilds. It had taken him.. He couldn’t remember exactly how long it had taken him to find one that smelled right. Time was a loose thing, to one such as him, especially in his natural form.

    This.. boy, had the right scent. He would do. He was so very weak, but his weakness would be of use. No one would suspect such a weakling to be an instrument of a greater power. He would be an unsuspecting poisoner, delivering death to the heart of the lands the prey called home. Even if this particular instrument died, the poison would be passed on to a more capable pawn. The prey were nothing if not envious. Their own avarice would be the beginning of their own undoing. They would pass on the seed of his revenge through murder and guile, until a chosen one used it for its intended purpose. All that was left to was to decide how to introduce it.

    He could not simply confront the boy, offering power. He needed to ensure there was no connection between them, no memory left behind for pursuers to find in the mind of the  boy. It was unlikely this boy would ever understand what he would hold, but it was best if the boy had no clue as to its origins. He had considered simply leaving it for his pursuers to find, hoping they would be foolish enough to use it or pass it on, but it was just as likely they would lock it away. They were already strong enough, for prey, and had no need for such a thing.

His thoughts were sluggish, and he hungered, but before he could leave, he had to make a decision. Could he hide it near the boy, and then have the boy find it? How could he do that if he couldn’t stay here? He had no time to set the boy on a quest seeking it, or setup circumstances for the boy to stumble upon it. His pursuers would eventually arrive, and he wanted to be done with this.. How could he ensure the boy took it and kept it? How could he make sure no one would associate the two of them, even approaching too close might alert the beasts near the boy. It might cause the boy to flee toward the human settlement and those that might detect one such as him.

This situation required subtly that was hard for him in his true form. The need to continue to move, to keep ahead of his pursuers, and the need to feed, both drove him away from this spot, yet his need for revenge kept him here, frozen in indecision.

At some point he noticed that the boy was battling beasts and losing badly The more he watched, the more he scoffed at the boy’s weakness and inevitable demise. He enjoyed laughing at the misfortune of prey, it was one of his favorite pastimes as he flew over his lost territory..

He stopped himself. He struggled to focus on what he was here to do. Eventually, he understood that the boy dying would mean he would have to search further for another instrument. It cost him even more time. He couldn’t save the boy directly, for the same reason he couldn’t give it directly to the boy. Was there a way to turn this situation to his advantage?

He lost himself in thought again, until it appeared the boy might lay down to die. He knew the look on the boy’s face, as his life was leaving him. The boys face betrayed selfishness, and anger at the world, at its unfairness. It mirrored his own outrage at the loss of his sanctum. He felt confusion for a moment, at his understanding of what the boy was going through, but eventually he rejected the emotion, and supplanted it with a forced apathy. The only thing worse than be humiliated by the prey, was coming to understand the prey on their level. That was true humiliation.

    He was tired, hungry, and wanted to be away from this moment in time, away from the face of this boy. He decided to go with the simplest solution to his problem. He tossed the it to the boy, controlling it so that it might wake the boy one last time, giving the boy a chance to live. If the boy died despite his largesse, so be it. Another would find the seed of his revenge, eventually. It would take longer, for an appropriate instrument to be found, as it was passed from owner to owner, but in the vastness of time, eventually a proper vector would come to possess it. Then his revenge would truly begin. For the moment though, he would bide his time, and gorge himself on a meal deeper into what the prey called the True Wilds. His pursuers would be slowed by the territorial beasts there, and he would gain time to fill his stomach.

Without looking to see if the boy lived or died, he turned toward the north and flew away. Leaving the seed of his vengeance behind, he flew toward sustenance.

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PD – Chapter 40 – Book 2

A spark of fear struck Dem’s heart, and he hesitated opening the door, his hand hovering over the lock. What would this be about? If they were truly hostile, they would have already attacked right? If they were coming here to seek him for some sort of questioning, it could be just as bad for him as if they had attacked directly. He was exposed here, without the aide of his beasts or his soulbound

As he stood in front of the door, thinking about his options, and how he might escape into the Wilds, he could hear Greer pad up behind him. He turned to look at her as she reached out a hand to open the door. He didn’t try to stop her as he was distracted by the fact she still wore nothing more than her usual smile. Her hands deftly unlocked the door and pulled it open. Dem’s eyes left Greer and looked at the people who had come for him through the doorway.

    They wore gear similar to a settlement guard, but more worn and designed for heavier duty. The armour was thicker, and covered more of their body than a normal guard. He could see several men, and one women who appeared to be standing in the back. This gear, he vaguely recognized it, it was the armour and kit of a Classed soldier. If he had to guess the women was in charge, just going by her demeanor and the more complex insignia on her armour, though she did not speak. The armoured woman gave him a quick up and down. The men were his height, but broader and clearly of a melee oriented combat-class, judging by their solid frames and scarred jawlines.

    Dem looked back toward Greer. She seemed fine, standing there in the nude, in front of these soldiers. He knew she was shameless, because of the outfits she had liked to wear during their time together, but this was a bit much. Her small smile had waned slightly, but she still seemed confident. Her back was straight, and her eyes did not waver.

    The soldiers, to their credit, hardly gave her much of a look, except the soldier in front, who eyed both Geer and Dem in equal measure.

    Greer was the first to speak. “Good cycle to you. What brings soldiers of the Breaker here to my home?”

    Dem was utterly confused. Who or what was the Breaker? He turned towards Greer a question on his lips.

    The soldier in front answered Greer’s greeting, and Dem looked back towards the soldier before his question could slip out. The soldier in front was the smallest of the three soldiers and had especially bushy eyebrows, but otherwise was almost indistinguishable from the other two men, as their helms covered much of their faces.

“Merchant Greer, I presume? We are here to see your uh.. companion. I assume this is Tamer Demneh?” The man waved in Dem’s direction, almost dismissively.

Dem turned back again toward Greer, hoping she would explain what was going on. Greer seemed to predict his ignorance.

“Dem, these are soldiers of the Breakwater Wall. The wall that separates the settlements from the rest of humanity, and humanity from the Wilds They serve the person who commands the wall. The commander is always titled the Breaker.”

Dem responded in a quiet voice, “Ah.. Why..”

The confused look on Dem’s face made Greer roll her eyes at him. She continued to question the soldiers.

“What need have you, of my young lover?” Her arm entwined with his, and she pulled him closer, bringing his chest close enough to touch her right breast. Her nipple was hard against his arm. He wondered briefly if this situation excited her, or if it was the breeze from the open doorway that had given her such a reaction.

Her words registered in his mind suddenly, as he found the strength to ignore the hard protrusion poking into his arm. Greer’s declaration forced a blush on his face. Had she no shame? Her ‘young lover’? Really? He signed inwardly.

The soldier at the front spoke again, a grimace beginning to appear on his rough, unshaven face.

“Merchant Greer, your.. lover, is to be conscripted into the service of the Breaker. He has a cycle to prepare, and then we head towards the True Wilds.”

For the first time, Greer’s expression fell. Had she assumed this would be a problem she could solve with money? He didn’t know what it meant to be conscripted by soldiers of the Breaker, but the True Wilds was a frightening place, far beyond someone such as himself, or at least the person he wanted people to believe he was.

Greer tightened her grip on his arm.

Greer spoke again, “Surely you don’t need a mere Tamer. There are Rangers who..”

The front soldier cut her off.

“There are none. At least, in this settlement there are none. All of your Rangers and guides have all already gone north to the True Wilds with parties. There are only amateurs and freelancers left. We were referred the Tamer by a local source. He will do, and if not, we are also conscripting a few others from this settlement.”

    Dem considered the man’s words. They needed a guide? Was that what this was about? Greer had caught on right away, but it had taken Dem a moment to understand what they were looking for.

    Greer spoke quickly again, a look for thoughtfulness coming across her face. He knew that expression well. It was the same expression she used when evaluating a deal or a profitable tip.

    Greer hammered a number of questions into the soldier, “So this isn’t the only settlement you’re conscripting from? You don’t look like scouts to me, but rather infantry. I take it this isn’t a scouting mission. You’re doing what? Moving supplies? Hunting something specific?”

    “Ah, Merchant Greer, I’m not at liberty to say..” The soldier sounded contrite, and his grimace grew deeper. Was the man upset that he said too much, or was he unhappy that Greer had guessed too much? Dem wasn’t sure.

    “You’ve said enough. You’re taking my my lover to a incredibly dangerous place, without much explanation, because the best you can find for guides are amateurs and freelancers? Where are your own scouts?”  Greer didn’t sound truly angry to Dem, but she had put more steel into her voice.

    “Ah, that is.. accurate, Merchant Greer, I.. Our scouts are already…” The man began to wilt under Greer’s scrutiny, clearly not used to having to answer questions. Suddenly the woman in back spoke over the soldier in front.

The woman’s voice was deep, and full of gravitas. “Your lover will be fine. I personally, will ensure he is taken care of and brought safely back to you. The conscription will only last the duration of this mission, unless your lover should wish to remain in the service of the Breaker. We cannot reveal anymore about our current mission, Merchant Greer.” The armoured woman finished her sentence by removing her helm, letting loose her long golden hair to flow down her shoulders. She smiling broadly, as if to emphasize her point. Greer’s eyes narrowed at the woman’s face. Dem could only wonder why the woman would leave her hair so long, despite being a professional soldier.  

Dem gave the armoured woman a more serious look as she had spoke. She wore the same armour as the men, but with a slightly different chest piece to accommodate her bust. The rest of her was covered in hardened and spelled leather, with pieces of chain mail in key defensive locations. She had the same thickness of the men who accompanied her, making her obviously of a similar Class to her men. He did note that, despite her Class and armour, she quite was shapely, though he had little interest in finding out what was actually under the armour. He was a little sick of flesh at the moment. Her face was.. not beautiful, nor was she pretty like Greer, but rather she was.. handsome? Her chiseled features and scares made her more androgynous than anything else.  

Greer spoke again, sneering at the armoured woman, “I see. Who are you? Officer? I must know your name should my goo-, I mean, my lover come to harm. I will hold you personally accountable.”

“Merchant Greer, I am Officer Sumisi. I am the vice-commander for this mission. You needn’t worry, we will keep him quite safe. Right men?”

Her soldiers grunted in unison, in a practiced manner.

Speaking to Greer, the officer continued, with a predatory smile on her face, “Now that I have given my word, I will say again, we leave in one cycle. Do I need to leave men behind to ensure he is ready to leave on time? Perhaps, instead you prefer I stay here with you? If you would be willing to entertain me..” Dem was stunned at the woman’s blatant threat, and then strange offer she made. Dem could see the officier woman’s eyes roam across both Greer and himself, lingering in a way that made Dem uncomfortable. Did she mean for them to…

Gree spoke immediately, “I will not have you, or your soldiers, in my home. If you leave soldiers here, they can stand outside. I am a Merchant of the Tower. I am under no obligation to allow your soldiers into my home. The Breaker has no authority over what is mine. A Breaker may conscript freelancers and adventurers, but they cannot command Tower Merchants.”

The soldier in front spoke again in a congenial voice. A smile was plastered on his rough face and his eyes were glued to Greer, “Ah, but Merchant Greer, surely you wouldn’t deny hospitality to a soldier far from home..” The man’s hand reached out to touch Greer shoulder, but was stopped dead. Another hand had caught it mid-air, arresting its motion entirely.

Dem mind raced. He was angry the man would touch Greer, surprised by the quick response of whoever had stopped the man’s hand, and then doubly surprised when he realized it was Dem himself who had stopped the soldier from touching Greer. Dem’s recent changes had clearly been for the better. He doubted he was as strong as the soldier with buff spells, but still, normally a low-class Tamer wouldn’t be able to compete at all with a Classed Soldier in terms of physicality.  

    Surprise lit everyone’s face, including Dem’s, at this turn of events. The soldier responded by pulling his hand back, and Dem let him go, not wishing to escalate the situation.  

    Greer and the Officer Sumisi spoke in tandem.

    “You will not touch me, or I will have words with your commander. The Tower will hear of this.” Greer’s voice was now nakedly angry.

    “Soldier Stass, do not touch the Merchant again, or you will be on forward duty the entire mission.” The officer’s tone only contained a slight edge. If anything, Dem could swear the woman was amused.

    Stass angrily eyed Dem, but grunted his acknowledgment. Dem was relieved to see that, while the man had his fists clenched, his hands did not move toward the sword resting at his hip.

    Officer Sumisi continued, “I apologize for my soldier’s rudeness. If I can have your word, as one of the blood, that he will be on time next cycle, we can leave you peace.”  

    Gree spoke quickly in response, “I give my word.”

    “Good, thank you for your time Merchant Greer.” said the officer. She turned to look at Dem and spoke again.

“We look forward to working with you Tamer Demneh. We meet at the Wilds-Gate. Make sure you’re there at least an eighth earlier. I don’t want to send soldiers looking for you, yes?”

Dem spoke, annoyance in his voice, his dark blue eyes meeting Sumisi’s pale green eyes, “Greer gave her word. I will be there, Officer.”   

The armoured woman merely laughed, and turned away from them, beginning to walk away. She spoke over her shoulder as she left.

“Good cycle to you both, let’s go men.”

Of the three soldiers, Stass was the last to turn around to leave. His eyes stared daggers into Dem.

    Dem exhale a long breath after the soldiers were out of sight. The blood? Greer was some sort of nobility or a clan member? How had the officer known? The way both the soldiers and Greer had treated him, during their conversation, reminded him he was merely a low-level Tamer to them. He needed to not forget that. He also needed to chastise himself. Infuriating a Classed soldier was a terrible idea, especially because Dem would have to spend an unknowable amount of time with the man, possibly in dangerous situations. Dem would have to be vigilant. What would they even be doing out there? Why would they need his help? Where were their own scouts?

    Greer spoke to him then, her voice practically a command.

    “We must talk, Dem.”

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PD – Chapter 39

Dem’s home was just as he remembered it, though it lacked what he was looking for right this moment. His parents. As his party arrived, he could sense they weren’t within the hovel, and with the night cycles approaching they should have been barricaded inside. There was no damage to the exterior that he could see. Still he was worried, if they weren’t here, where were they? Had someone come for them because of him? Who

The night cycles always made the ground soggy and wet, each of his steps caused a loud sucking sound as he pull his shoes from the muck to take the next step. The sound was deafening as he approached his home, afraid of what he might find within. He didn’t smell the usual stench of death associated with bodies, at least. Though just because their bodies weren’t here, didn’t mean they weren’t elsewhere. His heart was beating heavily in his chest as he pushed into the squat structure.  

    He use a illumination cantrip as he entered, brightening the gloom of the single wide room. It was cold and lifeless, and most of the easily taken things were gone, though no disorder could be found. Nothing was damaged. At first was Dem was totally confounded, but eventually he found a note left on a piece of bark-parchment. Its contents were simple. A messenger had found his parents through some bribery to one of their distant neighbors, telling them there was a home in the settlement ready for them courtesy of a business associate of Dem’s. Apparently it taken several messages and flashing some gold before his parents would believe it was true. Knowing how stubborn his parents, or more specifically, his mother was, it made sense they would be apprehensive. Ultimately, though, they had taken what they could and left to avoid the oncoming night.  

    He sighed in relief, still staring at the note. This was likely the work of Greer. Someone seeking his life wouldn’t bother with such a convoluted plan to get his parents. It occurred to him his paranoia was getting the better of him because, so far as he knew, all his enemies were dead or bent to his service. There was no one currently seeking his life, or so he assumed, yet his paranoia was undeniable. He didn’t enjoy the thought of constantly living in suspicion. He needed to set as much as he could right and then relax, lay low, and enjoy his recent increase in wealth and security.

    The scare he had just, coming home to an empty place, was offset by the feeling of relief that Greer was ahead of schedule on their plan to get his parents to safety. He he would have to do his best to please the woman. He wondered, briefly, if she had any odd.. demands he would have to meet?

***

   Dem left Ina and Graf in his parent’s home. They were probably the scariest thing this close to the settlement, so he had little worry about them. He could see Graf eyeing Wersa as they prepared to enter the settlement, but Dem let it go. What surprised him was that Wersa wasn’t entirely indifferent to the boar beastman’s gaze. Dem could only roll his eyes at the odd romance. Wersa had never struck him as someone who would be interested in beastfolk, but then again neither had he ever imagined he would be interested in beastfolk either. No words were exchanged between the two Warriors, and he was thankful they hadn’t hugged as they parted. Did Warriors hug? He wasn’t sure

    As Wersa and Dem moved towards the settlement he could see small lights in the forest around him. This was the only the time the people of the hamlets made their locations known with fires to ward against beasts who shunned the light. It was rather beautiful, the waning light above and the small bits of light in the distance. The vegetation tended to curl up, almost as if it were sleeping during night cycles allowing one to see much further into the distance. The smell of woodsmoke from these fires was always pleasing to his nose, despite what they meant.  

    Wersa, taking Karmis with her, had split from him and gone ahead. Karmis’ condition was bad enough he had decided that the only reasonable explanation was that she had been sickened at some point in their journey. There was no way of faking otherwise considering her inability to stand by herself. Wersa would have to do all the work. He had left Wersa with a stark, and unneeded, warning about what would happen if she failed or spoke of what had happened within their Party. He felt like some sort of bandit or criminal threatening her, but he wasn’t sure what else to do. His life hinged on making what had happened totally unremarkable to the outside observer. Wersa had even offered advice about how to handle Karmis’ decline.

    In a minor act of cowardice, one he hoped he wouldn’t regret, he had told Wersa to handle Karmis’ eventual demise however she saw fit, so long as they completed the job with the Tower and she did not expose them. He told Wersa to take her time figuring out how to deal with Karmis, as he intended to lie low for a while and enjoy the safety of the settlement. Perhaps he would help his parents find new work, he wasn’t sure. It was doubtful his Da would want to do anything but cut down trees, but his Ma could find something new to do.

He still couldn’t just order Karmis’ death, despite its inevitability. There was something different about killing someone who could not harm you versus killing in self-defense. The latter was normal in the Wilds. If he had to be honest, both were actually both were pretty normal, but only the latter was normal to him. He had never had to kill a person before, but it wasn’t something that was surprising to him. The Wilds were that sort of place. Despite the cheapness of life, Banditry and criminality were more uncommon. The Tower would often put out bounties on the heads of the truly gregarious murders and thieves. Though, when the worst offenders were adventurers, the worst they got were fines and the suggestion they move on to a different settlement or city.

    When Dem filled reached the line waiting to enter the settlement, its was thirty or forty people long. Wersa, as an adventurer, would have the right to skip it, but he did not. He had opted to enter in a low-key manner rather than try to follow Wersa in. It was best he wasn’t associated with the Warrior woman in the meantime. Perhaps he could have her seek his services later, when he was ready to make some more gold.

    As he waited in line, he got the same occasional looks he had received the last time he was in line, but he ignored them. Instead, he looked at the bright lights of the bonfires steadily burning on the top of the walls of the settlement. He had always enjoyed the sight as a child. He was never safe in the hamlets, but the lights of the settlement were always, at very least, comforting. To him, the fire represented a kind of hope. The hope that safety did actually exist, and that one day he would gain it for his family. He smiled at the thought that he had finally gained what he needed, though it had come at a cost that wasn’t entirely yet apparent.

***

    Other than the wait, entering the settlement had been no problem. As a freelancer for the guild he could enter the settlement, even right before the onset of night. If he wanted to stay though, he would have to show residency. He needed to prove either than he had rented a room somewhere within the settlement walls, or even better, he had a settlement home. There was he could do the paperwork later to confirm his residency. First, he wanted to find Greer and then his parents. In reality, he wanted to do that in reverse order, but knowing Greer, she would want him to see her first, before he got to see his parents. If for no other reason, than to flex her power over him subtlety.

    He stopped by a local directory, spending a bit of silver, to find Greer’s home. Officials and merchants generally had publicly-known residences, so that they could be found by messengers, but of course the information hadn’t been free. He had kept some of the silver from the payment for his healing the amateur party, and he spent it now, buying Greer’s location and a meal for himself. He wanted to meet Greer on a full stomach. He even bought a bottle of fairly expensive fruit-wine from a local tavern. The woman proprietor who owned the tavern had gone out of her way to help him pick something good. She had stood a little too close to him, touch his arms occasionally to get his attention as she pointed out a particular good vintage. The woman was older than Greer, but was shameless in her flirting. He had trouble leaving the woman, as she had asked him a series of increasingly personal questions. She had offered him a room upstairs if he hadn’t a place to stay. He could guess what the room would cost. Turn her down in as gentle a manner possible, he was able to leave. Even as he left, the woman practically holding on to him.

    The night was full upon them as he finally reached Greer’s door. There wasn’t much business to do during night cycles, and so merchants and officials would often rest during the night unless some emergency broke the peace. Craftsman would work through the night cycles generally, if they had enough raw materials stockpiled to last them.

    He sucked in a breath and knocked on her door. Her home was rather fantastic, by his own humble standards. She had the entire top floor of a small four story building to herself, it even has a small garden on the roof. He assumed Greer was wealthy, but this was impressive. Several families could live in the space Greer occupied. Its sequence rent had to be in the tens of gold. More gold than he had earned in his life, up until recently anyway.

    Greer had answered the door, her face lighting up as she took him in. She didn’t say anything, and neither did he, as he let her look him up and down. The smile on her face was the same one she used when she was evaluating a valuable piece of merchandise. He was glad he had cleaned himself before he arrived, because the next look she gave him was more predatory.

Her hand flashed out and grabbed the front of his leathers, pulling him inside.

***

    Dem’s whole body would have been aching but for the healing he had performed on himself. The woman, despite being older than him, had been insatiable. She had ridden him in every room of her large home over and over again. Just when he was about relax, and maybe about to read one of her books, or go seek out his parents, she pushed him on the nearest flat surface, used her mouth to ready him, and then ridden him to their mutual completion. She had repeated these actions nearly every time he had the temerity to look like he was rested enough for another round. He assumed he would have to.. perform for Greer, for her help. He didn’t really mind, it had been something of a fantasy of his as he reached puberty, but this was something else. At least she hadn’t been selfish, always ensuring he finished as well. He had to heal them both several times to avoid chafing and soreness.

    He liked to think he had given as good as he got, but it wasn’t true. On the occasions he had decided to initiate, he tried to tire the woman out, or at least show her she couldn’t be in total control of whatever relationship they had. His approach had been aggressive, more aggressive than he had been with Ina or Dice. There was something about Greer’s weak, soft, body, that appealed to him, and had driven him to bend the woman over a few times. His increased strength had left some bruises, but Greer had take his aggression without complaint, with a slight smirk on her face, only demanding healing later. If anything, she seemed to like it when he initiated. He felt no real gain to his Path from any of this, which told him he fundamentally didn’t believe himself in the dominant position in their relationship despite whatever he attempted. He could only surmise Greer was far more experienced than he was, and everything was going to her expectations.

    He couldn’t understand the woman. This had gone on for nearly five cycles. Greer must have been pent up, to keep him here for so long. She had even spent silver to have meals delivered to them, which was surprising considering her obsession with currency. Though, perhaps her home was a testament the fact she also didn’t really mind spending money on her own pleasure. She had used a number of alchemists concoctions and tinctures to supplement their time together. He had to assume she had spent nearly a gold just keeping them there and supplied with food and tonics. He had been sure to use his contraceptive cantrip, and he assumed she was as well, but he had left his seed so many times in the woman, that he was still concerned. Contraceptive cantrips were afforded to everyone by the Tower, and had a good chance at preventive pregnancy, if even if one of the participants used them. If every participant used contraceptive cantrips then the chance for pregnancy was even less.

    He wondered what was really going on here. Greer could have had any number of other men in her bed. She was attractive and clearly more wealthy than he knew. Unless the grimoire had done something beyond belief to him, Greer had other reasons for wanting him here than just his looks. He didn’t know what those reasons were and he wasn’t in a position to outright ask for her motives. He needed her good will. He also could admit to enjoying himself, though too much of a good thing was a problem.

    Greer had been tight-lipped with him anyhow. She had only told him where he could find his parents after the first few times they had sex. Eventually, he even got her to admit that she had sold the elder snake beast core for an astounding sum of eight gold, minus her fees and the cost of having in appraised. This had been the impetuous for her rushing his parents into the settlement as it was a enough to fund their their living expenses for for the foreseeable future. He hadn’t actually gotten the chance to go speak with his parents yet, though he did speak to Ina and Graf over their bond. Wersa had left the the settlement with Karmis in tow, but had sent a messenger with a note saying she would return soon. He could sense vaguely where she was, or at the very least, in what direction she was heading, but he couldn’t communicate in words over their connection, whatever it was. He had tried to put all his concerns out of his mind over the last five cycles. Greer had even already filled out the paperwork to make her residence also his residence legally. He didn’t know how he felt about that, but it was already done. He would make up an excuse to go hunting as soon as Wersa returned. He never thought he would ever get tired of sex, but his life lately was full of the unexpected.

    As he was considering the exact words of the excuse he would make, he could feel Greer begin to waken next to him. Her dark hair framed her face. She was more pretty than beautiful, or at least until she set her usual grin on her face. Then she was more.. Striking? Captivating? He didn’t have the words.

She wore nothing, as was her usual dress, while in her own home. Her bust trembled as she yawn, and she stretched her arms into a wide ‘V’, one bumping into him. They lay on a large bed, with light color sheets. The bed looked new, as if she had just bought it for the purpose of bedding him in as much luxury as possible. All around them strewn their clothes and various outfits Greer had put on and then prompt taken off.  

    Her eyes snapped open, and her face found the smirk he always looked forward to seeing. Immediately her hand began to seek something under the sheets. He pretended not to notice. Letting her play her games, while he considered the future.

    “Lover, you look like you’re grappling with an important question. What is it?” Her tone was casual. Greer had taken to calling him lover, though she seemed to prefer when he addressed her in a less casual manner.

    “Gree-r.” His voice broke slightly, mid-word. Her hand had found what it was seeking just as he was beginning to speak. Her grip surprisingly strong.

    “It isn’t important, ah..” His voice trailed off. His focus elsewhere.

    Moments later, just as the woman was about to mount him again, what number this was he had long past lost count, there was a hard knock at the door to her home.

    “I-I better get it..” Dem stammered his words, as he left the too-big bed. Her grip on him slackened, and Greer’s face took on a slight pout.

    “Hurry back, lover.”  Her eyes predatory, staring holes in his back. He quickly slipped on his leather pants, and moved towards the door. As he was about to unlock and open the door, there was another great knock. This one was accompanied by a gruff voice, speaking loudly through the door.  

    “Demneh the Tamer, we seek Demneh the Tamer.”

    Dem’s body froze up. Wasn’t he finally safe? What could they want him for? Was the Divine Humanity rescuing him from a life of sexual servitude? Did he want to be rescued? Why couldn’t he just be left alone to find his lost contentment?

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