Chapter 13: Birthright

The people of Silas’s northern cities thought they understood snowstorms and the ferocity of winter. After all, every year Haven’s Ford bucked down, turning their homes into fire-heated caves, and turning their diet to consist of smoked meat and dried foods. Little trade would brave the winter months, and the city would slow into a languid torpor until the spring broke. Winter was an extreme inconvenience to most of the citizens, and they thought it harsh.

Those unfortunate enough to be without homes when the snows began to fall knew different. For them, the cold was a matter of life or death. It froze their bodies, turning food unnourishing in their bellies and chilling the air in the lungs. It drove men to suicide, and others curled up to slumber but never awakened, murdered by the merciless freeze in their sleep, only to be found the next day beneath a worn, threadbare blanket. Those misfortunate souls thought the winter harsh.

But in reality, no man who had not walked the tundra of the north, the passes of the savage barrier mountains during a winter blizzard could truly appreciate the raw power of winter’s fury unleashed.

Long ago, Maithum Falls

Lahk was born into the service of a slain god. He had never known anything else. He had never considered anything else.

From the moment that the priests thought he could understand their words, they spoke to him of the Lord of Suffering and his glory. They spoke of his might and the allure of power, of crushing armies and savage victory, of how Sanguinar had fought and died for the future.

But most of all, they spoke of Lahk, and the glorious role he had to play.

His birthright. They called it a birthright.

“I love defiant women.”

Aion was smiling from ear to ear, and Alissandra wanted to rip that smile from his arrogant face. His cock was rock hard, straining against his pants, and his lust broadcast clearly to the erinyes. He had taken many women in his life. Weak women, strong women, defiant women. But he could tell that she was something special.

He stood in front of her, towering over her apparently frail form, flushed from head to toe from her excitement as she looked firmly away from him. He waited a few moments for her to cool down, for him to plan his next assault on her, and was surprised when Alissandra gathered enough courage to stare back into his eyes in open hatred. He had never seen such defiance and beauty all at the same time. Her gorgeous, chestnut eyes virtually burned with rage enough to swallow him whole if she were allowed to.

If only she could get free of her bonds, she would teach this impudent priest a new definition of hatred.

Aion had decided it was time to continue. He grabbed the nearby rope and heaved, and her arm chains were being drawn outward, into the pulley embedded in the ceiling, and then further apart as the chains moved laterally, slowly pulling her into a vertical spread eagle in the center of the dungeon. The beautiful erinyes began to struggle again the chains, but the pulley gave Aion all the leverage, and she could do little more than squirm. With disgust, she realized that her squirming pleased him greatly. Soon she was standing on the very tips of her toes, and then she was lifted off the ground entirely.

Alissandra began screaming in fury as her shoulders took on her full weight and the steel manacles dug sharply into her wrists again. In a few seconds more, the chains were drawn taught, with the girl held spread with her feet half a foot off the floor. Aion continued pulling and the chains wrenched at her flesh, stretching her tight little body to the limits of endurance.

“AGH!” she screamed again, and her muscled limbs tensed and released repeatedly as she tried to struggle, but was unable to move against the incredible pressure on her arms and legs. Aion began walking slowly around her suspended form, out of her sight again and she cursed in her head. She was covered in a thin sheen of sweat now, and her silk gown clung to her body. She could feel air on her crotch, and knew the repositioning had lifted the fiber up her enough to completely expose her.

“Well, my little plaything,” Aion spoke, voice calm, “are you enjoying yourself yet?” He walked around and around her, his eyes never leaving her body as she breathed heavily, adapting to the painful stretch of her limbs. It felt like the priest was still tugging at her since the chains had no give at all, and she was stretched out just a touch too far for any comfort to be found.

“This is your life now, serving as one of the church’s slaves for the rest of your days, or at least until you grow too plain to be of service,” he continued, eyes scanning her perfect body. The animal couldn’t look away from her. “I admire your strength, but you should know it won’t help you here.” He continued circling, passing out of her sight again. “I will break you, and you will be mine. It is only a matter of how long it takes you to accept the yoke, and how much of you is left when I finish, little spitfire.”

Alissandra just hung silently in her bonds, though she was fuming inside. Aion went to the wall in her plain view and came back with a pair of heavy silver cutting sheers, when she could no longer resist speaking. “I will die before I am yours, tiny man.” Her voice was weak from the pain wracking her body, but the erinyes put every shred of defiance she possessed into it never the less. The priest smiled at the display of spirit, but Alissandra knew her words were more true than he knew. One way or the other, she would die before submitting. Either she would escape and feed soon, or she would die.

Erinyes are immortal as long as they can continue to feed, but while she wore the shackles she could not use her powers, could not draw the sexual energy she needed to survive, and her strength would slowly wain, and her thousand year old existence would end.

When an erinyes feeds, it causes incredible pleasure or pain to her victim. Alissandra personally preferred pain, of course, especially since the anguish of her victims drew out their supply of energy must quicker that the alternative. The finding of new victims to feed upon was a constant concern then, because no one could survive her attentions for very long. And her easy supply of victims had vanished when Alassiel had slain her band of slavers several weeks ago.

She could maybe survive another week, she thought.

Aion, of course, could not possibly suspect the hidden double meaning behind Alissandra’s words. He walked back over to her, holding the scissors clearly in her view, and opened them up, holding them so that one sharp pointed edge stuck out. While she stared defiantly into his eyes he reached around and grabbed her hair, pulling her head back, forcefully.

He pressed the scissors’ edge against her throat and just held it there for a second as she tried unsuccessfully to look down at her neck, swallowing in frustration. She knew he wasn’t going to kill her, of course, but a millennium of survival instinct was a hard thing to fight.

He held the scissors there for a few seconds before he began to slide them down her body, pressing hard enough so he was sure she could feel the cold steel, but not hard enough to cut her. Down her chest he went, while still holding her hair with his left hand.

“Don’t worry, slave. I will not allow you to die until I give you permission.”

Alissandra actually laughed then, startling him. The shaking of her body hurt her stretched limbs terribly so it was a pained little laugh, but of genuine amusement regardless. She could sense his confusion from inside his mind. He had expected to the threat to frighten her, or at least to enrage her, but he didn’t know what to make of the erinyes’s amusement.

She could see in his mind when he decided to pretend she hadn’t done it and move on, so as not to broadcast his confusion and reduce his feeling of power over her. The scissors slid downward now, over her dress until he reached the very bottom and placed the blade against the silk, just above her crotch. The sharp edge cut upwards, slicing a neat line through the fiber finally cutting it open completely, and the fabric dangled off her spread legs, held in place only by her hips.

It was more of a birth obligation, he knew. A birthright is a privileged you are afforded, by the status of your birth. He had the privilege of being the glorious one, but he was also expected to be. He was counted on to be.

It was more of a birth obligation than a birthright, he knew, and he did not care.

When the storm struck there was no warning. It descended on the group as they tracked the elf across the frozen wastes, burying them in a snowfall so powerful that it robbed them of vision and clarity. Driven by fierce and frigid winds that had them leaning far forward just to prevent being blown over, the icy, stinging snow crashed against them more than it fell atop them. That driving wind shifted constantly among the alternating cliff faces, swirling and changing direction, denying them any chance of finding a shielding barricade, and always putting the snow into their faces no matter which way they turned.

Each knew it was madness to remain in such a storm. They each tried to formulate a plan, and had to shout out their suggestions at the top of their lungs, putting lips right against the ear of the person beside them. In the end, however, there was nothing to discuss. Lahk would hear of no retreat, and there was no hope to successfully making it back to Haven’s Ford, anyway. Their survival depended completely on finding shelter — a cave perhaps, or at least a deep overhang with walls shielding them from the most pressing winds.

Lahk bent low on the white trail, pushing himself steadily forward against natures wrath. Wished to blame the elements themselves for protecting their druidic masters. He cursed Caer for fate and the Xiri for its fickle nature, but he knew that it was disingenuous. Nature was beholden to no man, and to no god. The reaper was in that storm, and when it struck it would do so with no care for fate, rank, or birthright, ending lives that should have spanned future decade in a merciless instant.

He was brought up alongside his brother, every second of the day. They were taught together, fought together, ate together and struggled against one another for everything, every second of the day. His half brother, he was told, for they shared only a father, not the mother.

Aion’s mother was a common whore. But Lahk…

Lahk was something special.

With his victim suitably prepared, he began the next step in her torture. He stepped back away from her, grabbing a long pole from the wall before returning and screwing it into a hole directly beneath her.

When he had finished she looked down at the pole now embedded in the floor, sticking straight up at her pussy. It was topped by a head that brought horror to the demon, a phallus of hard rubber most of a foot long, and maybe a inch in diameter, but studded with tiny metal spikes that made the tool look more like a morning star than a cock.

Alissandra looked down in terror, her defiance momentarily vanishing as she started to babble. “You can’t be serious! That thing will kill me!” she screeched as Aion smiled. He wasn’t even listening to her futile pleas, and he slapped her. The blow was not hard, but it surprised her enough to shut her up.

“Now,” Aion began as we walked behind her, “Breaking a bitch like you takes small steps. Today we are going to learn something simple. I am your master,” he smiled at her, saccharin sweet, “and you will address me as such. Understand?”

Alissandra’s defiance returned in a blaze of fury. She practically exploded. Aion was behind her, but he could almost feel the heat radiating from her skin. The punishing dildo momentarily forgotten, she started to scream at him. “You stupid, arrogant, cockless fucking worm!” She roared. “You just wait until I get out of this. You’re going to look silly licking my boot with no fucking teeth!” Her muscles rippled and strained against the chains, her powerful muscles flexing uselessly beneath her supple, feminine skin.

Aion reached a hand around in front of her and felt for the tiny bulge of her left nipple through the silk, and pinched down hard until she let out a moan of pain. The instant she did, he crammed a wooden phallus into her mouth, prying it between her lips and teeth before securing it with a leather strap behind her head. He made sure to draw the straps under her hair, as much as possible, so her long brunette mane would still hang loosely.

Alissandra boiled with rage, screaming at the invasion of her mouth,but all that escaped was a muffled squeal.

Aion walked around back in front of the now sweat soaked slave, staring with acerbity at the priest. For a brief second, she senses discomfort in his mind, as he had a moment of doubt about the woman before him. Shaking his head he put his hands on her hips and dragged her more perfectly atop the shaft, her limbs straining against the effort helplessly. Trembling with rage and fear, the erinyes began a new set of struggles, even though she was sure she could not escape. The thought of that spiny nightmare entering her was too much to bear.

Aion raised the pole until the first spikes poked into the tender flesh of her crotch before looking his victim in her eyes again. “Are you ready to address me properly?”

She glared, and he slid a finger into her wet cunt, spreading the tight hole with his finger. Then he grabbed the pole and pulled upwards, extending it further and with her pussy now spread by his finger the demon had no protection as the spiked monstrosity burrowed it’s way into her, into the most sensitive part of her anatomy.

Her furious screams earlier had been nothing compared to the animalistic howls of agony she let loose now. The gag muffled the sound somewhat, but Aion was practically deafened and had to take a step away from the girl, resuming raising the pole from behind her . The spikes tearing into her cunt were very sharp, and just soft enough that they would bend rather than cut her… but the pain Alissandra felt certainly made her feel like they were slicing into her.

The deeper Aion buried the dildo into her, the erinyes’s screams began to transform into pitiful sobs, their volume only slightly lower than the cries of anguish. By the time it was halfway into her, she felt a tear roll down her cheek, the first tear she had shed in centuries. The shaft did its worst work on the first inch or so of her grasping cunt, as it was continuously scraped by fresh spikes as the faux phallus was pressured into her. It burned like the very fires of hell.

When the dildo was fully inserted up to it’s whole nine inches, Aion locked it in place and backed away. Alissandra continued to scream and sob for several more minutes as Aion walked around her slowly, drinking in her agony like water as she shook her head violently, crying hoarsely into the cruel gag.

Aion’s grinning face filled her sight. “Still hot, little whore?” he laughed. “If you beg me, I might let you cum.” She looked at him with contempt, her brown eyes almost glowing in their raw, puffy sockets. Satisfied that he had goaded her enough, Aion forced a hood over her head, robbing her of sight and covering her ears. Her hair he pulled into a tight ponytail, threading it through a hole in the back of the leather mask.

The soft leather fit firmly over her face, following every contour of her skin, and she raged at how casually the priest had robbed her of every sensation but the dildo burning up her cunt. Alissandra was now completely cut off. She could not see or speak and could barely hear and even her breathing was restricted by the gag and her sobbing.

With a jerk she felt him tug on her hair, and it was soon secured to something above her, holding her head rigid, and then he stomped from the room making as much noise as possible, allowing her to hear it even through the hood.

Aion was the eldest, but Lahk was the grander of the two. No one said it. No one needed to. Everyone knew it, and no one more than the two brothers themselves. The birthright was Lahk’s, they had always known. Not Aion’s. Not the half brother’s.

He must have suffered resentment, but that was good. That was the way of Sanguinar, for the Lord of Suffering wanted his followers to suffer as well as his enemies.

If suffering doesn’t break you, it makes you strong. It makes you savage. It makes you a monster.

The proximity of the group to one another alone prevented complete disaster when one great gust of wind roared up, knocking Lahk to his knees and blowing the frailer wizard entirely over backward. Helios tumbled and scrambled, trying to find his balance or at least find something to hold onto. Cormac, sturdy and steady against the wind, grabbed his lord and charge by his elbow and hoisted the high priest to his feet before charging after the sliding mage and reaching out his axe. Helios caught hold of the outstretched weapon a bare instant before he went tumbling off the high path, a spill that would have had him bouncing down hundreds of feet and likely dropped an avalanche atop his head after.

Shelter, and soon. Otherwise, Lahk’s quest for his birthright would end abruptly.

When Lahk was twelve he cut the throat of the high priest.

No one was surprised, least of all the old man. He looked upon his slayer with hate-filled eyes that had long ago accepted his fate, the birthright of the boy standing before him.

He was the one who would lead the church from the dark time of Sanguinar’s fall and into the shining future they were promised by their dark lord.

His birthright was fulfilled.

Demons, and especially erinyes, have a capacity for rage far greater than most mortals could even comprehend. Alissandra could control hers better than most of her kind, and that was a large part of the reason she had lived so long inside the Veil. A thousand year lifespan in the mortal word was extreme, even for a demon, because while they where timeless they could still be killed or at least banished. Alissandra had lived to such a great age because the erinyes kept her anger tempered by control.

It was the foolish demons who let their rage get the better of them, she knew. It revealed them, allowed mortals to band together against them and they would be destroyed or exorcised beyond the Veil. Alissandra had always had more control than that.

But she still felt the fury.

Hanging now in the dungeons of Sanguinar, her control was being pushed to her limits, further than she had ever been taken before. The erinyes did not care about subtlety anymore. She just wanted to burn this mortal to cinders, unleashing her hatred and power on him in a blast of vengeance that her queen would smile upon… but she did not. She could not, bound as she was, so instead she struggled to regain her precious hold on her anger… and she received help from an unexpected source.

The fallen celestial was feeling an emotion she hadn’t felt for hundreds of years. True fear.

It was completely dark for Alissandra beneath the hood Aion had forced her into. It was so tight and so stifling that she thought she would suffocate. The intoxicating smell of leather overwhelmed her. Leather had been a symbol of power for thousands of years, because it showed that you had killed. An animal’s life had ended for your comfort, and you had either hunted one down, showing strength, or could sacrifice one of your own, showing wealth. Alissandra normally loved that smell. Now, it was not so pleasant, because it showed her only her own helplessness — A condition which she did not like at all.

Her entire body ached in pain such as she had never felt. She could not tear her mind away from the anguish between her legs, no matter how hard she tried. Her breathing was ragged and raspy and she knew she must calm down or she would pass out, breathing restricted by the wooden cock in her mouth. As much as the thought of losing consciousness appealed to her, she knew she could not allow that because if her head were allowed to fall her bonds would yank her hair and wake her almost immediately. Her body ached all over from her suspended position, mostly her arms and shoulders and ribs from where her whole body’s weight was supported.

She could barely feel the spiked dildo buried deep inside her now, but the wounds from its earlier assault still burned — her inner walls were raw and sore from it’s horrific intrusion, and the slightest movement of her body caused those wickedly sharp spikes to jab again into her ultra-sensitive membranes.

Beneath her hood, her face was covered in sweat, and her own tears dried against her hot, flushed, face. It felt like her head was burning up. Alissandra silently cursed her bonds. Were she free, even for a second, she could easily overpower the human who had captured her. She couldn’t believe her stupidity in being captured in the first place, but she had been angry and hungry and had not thought.

It all came down to that struggle between rage and control. Had she been in control tonight, she would never have come here, or at the very least she would have fed first and come at full strength. But since she was angry and distracted, she was now paying the price.

The human priest didn’t know of her power, so there was still hope. If he released her, just for a second when he thought she was too weak to fight, her powers would come to her call, but it had to be soon. She had not fed in so long, and each moment she could feel herself grow weaker.

Time dragged on, and she suffered. She was so tired. Sleep would help to conserve her energies, but the bastard had denied her even that much. Her long silky brunette hair was tied above her head in one big pony tail, so she had to keep her head upright or suffer more pain.

How much time had passed so far? An hour? A day? Or only a few minutes? Alissandra had tormented many victims in her thousand year lifetime, and appreciated the irony. Very often, they seemed to prefer being tortured to being left alone. For the first time now, she could see why. Being left alone with only your own thoughts and pain was a whole new kind of torture in itself, and without the drain of events time played cruel tricks on the mind.

She had kept her body relaxed all this time, because she knew any movement at all would only hurt her more. Especially with her hair tied, and that monster dildo still impaling her. But now, the aching was too much, and a shudder went through her, and as it did, she squirmed and moaned in pain.
She could not remember ever being so frustrated in her entire life.

Another thing she could not ever remember doing in her life was crying. She had cried tonight, She could not remember ever giving a victim of her own so much pain except maybe a handful of times, and she remembered the pain they had felt, because she drank it in like water. The thought of her weakness shamed her. ‘Kardas forgive me,’ she thought.

His birthright was fulfilled, so why did he feel so unsatisfied?

A hunger filled the high priest, a hunger he could not understand, and could not share. No matter how much the ranks of his church swelled, no matter how many women he took to his bed, he felt incomplete. He hungered for more.

And not just for more, but for more.

Then one day, a man appeared within his chamber with a gift, and everything became clear.

At last, through the swirling white of the deadly storm, Lahk spotted a fair-sized crack at the base of the stone wall. There was no time for consideration, for hesitation. Trusting in Sanguinar to provide he drove the group forward towards the crevasse in the wall, and taking heart when his eyes revealed that there was indeed a large area within, a cave or passage, sheltered from the fury of the skies. Hardly slowing he squeezed into the opening, his two companions following shortly thereafter.

They were in a cave, large and filled with many rocky shelves and boulders. The floor was mostly clay. He tensed. This place was truly an enormous cavern, and given the tremendous storm, it was unlikely that such shelter was unoccupied.

And an enormous cavern could contain an enormous beast. Lahk heard a growl in the darkness.

Lahk could not be sure there was anything to man other than shadow, so perfectly was he swallowed by the light. For the only time in the high priest’s life he knew fear as he look upon the dark man, cold blue eyes glowing out of the black.

When he spoke his voice was like razorblades being dragged across sensitive flesh, and he winced away. This man was a monster, Lahk knew, on a scale unlike anything he had ever imagined. This man was the purest, most complete darkness the high priest had ever witnessed, and the flawless perfection of that evil could almost obliterate Lahk’s mind with its mere existence.

Grace strained against the shadows as it attempted to shield him from the greatest monster to have ever stepped foot within the Veil, and for the first time Lahk doubted the might of Sanguinar could protect from what stood before him.

“High priest Lahk,” were the words he spoke, but Lahk could barely understand the sound of his own name.

Alissandra’s thoughts began to drift, and soon she was not thinking at all, only suffering… until an odd thought began to form. Something was happening to her body. She guessed that perhaps a few hours had passed, and she had grown almost accustomed to the pain. She knew of this phenomenon, from her own torments. Even the worst possible torture grew useless after a certain amount of time, the victim simply becoming numb…

But something else was happening, too. She realized to her disgust that she was growing aroused.

The dildo inside her was large once the spikes were considered, and it had been firmly implanted in her, almost immobile, for a long time. Finally, her body had begun to respond to it the only way it knew how. Her pussy was getting wet, cunt preparing itself for sex.

More time passed, and the pleasure washing over her grew more intense. Alissandra could see nothing, but she could feel as she grew more and more wet, the walls of her cunt lubricating, and the cool air against her head slightly soothed the burning.

She again found herself breathing heavily. The more time passed, the more she was getting turned on. She was angry with her body for betraying her like this, but she couldn’t seem to stop it. An erinyes thrives on power, and so she had never been helpless before — but the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. Power and powerlessness were just two sides of the same coin. She had long known that the most powerful men and women were the ones who made the greatest feast when they were under her power and at her mercy.

She tried thinking of something else, dragging her mind away from the subject of sex… but she couldn’t. An erinyes’s life was based almost entirely on the subject, and there was practically no experience in her long life that was not at least tangentially connected to it. She ate, breathed, and lived sex. Women, men, whoever and whatever. It was

Minute by minute, her excitement grew. When she felt a cool droplet of her juices actually start to roll down her leg, she let out a moan and twisted sharply in her bonds, panicking… and the true genius of the torment struck her then. The twist caused the spikes to dig sharply into her pussy, her feeling of excitement vanishing in an instant as she screamed and thrashed a bit more, then furiously forced herself still. It was quite a while before she could bring herself to stop screaming, and keep herself still…

…and when she finally calmed down, she found herself slowly growing aroused again. The only way to stop herself from getting excited, was to cause herself intolerable pain.

As a demon she consumed the pain of others, but feeling pain herself, especially that intensely, was a sensation she wanted to avoid. Alissandra decided she would much rather have the pleasure over its alternative, so she hung limp once again. And inevitably, as she remained still, her body began react again to her penetration, driving her higher and higher.

In a little while, Alissandra was groaning and gasping through her nose continuously. She tried to slow her breathing, but it was hopeless. Her pussy was soaking wet, and her juices practically flowed down her legs mixing with the sweat that covered her head to toe. Her face felt so hot she thought she would burst into flames, and the smell of leather threatened to make her gag. She hung helpless for hours like this, before she discovered the final brilliance of the torture.

She couldn’t cum.

Alissandra was so turned on now that she was all but screaming. She wanted to thrash in her bonds, but she knew that would not get her what she wanted, but instead bring her pain. In order to cum, she needed to move, even just a tiny bit. The slightest breeze across her clit would do it, but there was nothing. For the second time today she cried, the tear vanishing into the leather of her hood.

She would go insane, if left this way too long. Kept right on the edge, continuously, for who knows how long. As her body climbed back up the ladder toward orgasm, she thought furiously. She wanted to thrash instinctively, but she knew she couldn’t — yet, every muscle in her body tensed to do so. Alissandra screamed at herself not to panic — panic would cause her to do something stupid, but she was so scared, she didn’t know what else to do.

She had to escape, somehow. She couldn’t stay here in this position any longer or her mind would shatter into a million pieces and freedom would no longer matter.

The priest of Sanguinar knew his trade, and for the first time Alissandra began to seriously contemplate the end of her existence. The end of a thousand year life, at the hands of a pitiful mortal rapist.

And once again, she cried.

“High priest Lahk,” he said, the voice breaking sanity with the weight of its existence. “I bring a gift, a token from your father.”

The shadows flowed again from a small second of the floor and revealed something wrapped in black cloth. With trembling hands, Lahk knelt and touched it, his eyes unable to leave the golden fires burning in the darkness.

It was a sword. A black steel sword, the legendary Blackwand.

The personal sword of Lord Sanguinar.

“Make him proud,” the voice hissed, the sound hanging in the air like a snake’s threat as the shadows vanished, evanescent like the morning mist, leaving no evidence of their existence save for the trembling in Lahk’s soul.

Fire answered the call of Helios and the cavern filled with light as the thing rushed at him like an advancing wall of matted fur. Lahk managed to get his hand on Blackwand’s pommel but couldn’t draw it more than halfway from its scabbard before the beast rolled over him, the massive weight of the charge knocking from from his feet. The high priest tried to tuck his body to protect his belly from the monster’s trampling claws, but he didn’t have the time. The creature stomped on him, tripped on him, and rolled on him, crushing him into the ground and moving him savagely across the clay floor. All Lahk could do was keep his eyes pressed closed and grunt.

It was heavy, and when it first struck him into the ground Lahk was certain he’d felt a rib snap under its weight. When at last the beast had passed him Lahk rolled off to the side. Snow packed into the spaces between his armor’s plates and chilled his neck and hands. The creature had stopped its charge, whirling and coming to face the invaders again. Cormac had been trampled much the same way he had been, Lahk saw, while Helios pressed himself flat against the cavern wall, having barely avoided the devastating charge.

The enormous northern bear stopped, putting its feet firmly back beneath it as it turned to again face the two men regaining their own feet. It roared, the pounding sound filling the cave a thousandfold and echoing into just a flood of bass that Lahk could feel on his skin better than he could hear. The lumbering animal turned to face directly at him. Steam puffed from its snout as it coughed out a series of loud grunts. It scratched at the snow with one of its front paws, and Lahk saw black claws the size of hunting knives resting at the end of his paws.

And on the ground between his massive paws, Blackwand lay where it had tumbled from his cold numb fingers.

“Wizard, kill it!” Lahk roared as he drew his other blade and passed it to his right hand, and the bear charged with another vast bellow, clay flying from the ground as the cavern shook. The beast charged, and Lahk rushed forward, refusing to allow the beast to gain its full momentum. When it reared up at the end of its charge, the animal was nearly three times the priest’s height and scraped at the ceiling of the cavern.

The high priest brought his sword in fast at shoulder height in a hard slash meant to open the animal’s gut and end the fight, but the bear was far faster than it appeared. With grace that belied its size it allowed itself to fall backward, rolling entirely back to its feet behind the the flash of Lahk’s swing. He had little choice but to follow through with the swing, but he at least managed to turn his own inertia into a rolling dodge to the left as the hind paw of the bear flew at him, dodging the eviscerating blow from its claws.

Lahk spun to a halt, regaining his feet and holding blade high while the animal came back into readiness and blew steam into the frigid air. Out of the corner of his eye the high priest saw Cormac shake off the impact to his hard head and unbuckle his axe and shield.

The bear charged again and Lahk was ready for it to either trample him or rear up again, but instead it flung itself forward, reaching out for him with both hands and trying to grapple him by the shoulders or head. Lahk slid toward it at the end of his run, stabbing up with his blade as he passed beneath the animal’s chin. He intended to impale it or perhaps even remove its head, but to his dismay the blade barely pierced the thick hide of fur, and he could not even see any blood.

The high priest continued his slide, lunging for Blackwand only to catch a savage kick from the bear that pushed him into an uncontrolled tumble, impacting hard against a boulder. Light flashed and the smell of ozone and singed fur filled the air as Helios entered the fight, provoking a bellow of surprise and anguish from the enormous creature. Cormac cried out as he flung himself into the fray, axe coming down in an overhead swing, but the animal rushed forward and checked the dwarf’s advance, blowing him again from his feet and stealing the power from the devastating swing, causing it to do naught but open a small cut along its back.

Lahk slowly put his feet back under him and faced the beast again, knuckles white on the sword. The priest had never considered how the confined area would magnify the beast’s strength. In the cavern, there was no real hope of flanking the bear, and nowhere to dodge its crushing might. The cave turned the battle into a pure contest of strength.

Off to the side Helios mumbled his way though some kind of chant as the animal leaped at the high priest. The priest’s sword opened a cut upon the beast’s shoulder but then he was forced to drop to the ground and roll to avoid the the wide jaws that lunged for him, fangs flashing in the dim light. It swiped at Lahk with one set of claws as he rolled, and the priest desperately tumbled away from the knife-like claws before they could open him up.

An eye-searing flash of blinding light arced from the wizard’s outstretched finger to the tip of the predator’s nose, and everything in the cavern was momentarily sightless. Lahk opened his eyes and had to blink away an afterimage of the graceful blue spark that Helios had conjured, a tendril of smoke rising from the bear’s burned nose, and the stench of singed hair burned stronger.

The beast shook its shaggy head to clear it, and Lahk took advantage of the delay to close his fingers around Blackwand’s hilt, feeling the familiar power thrum through his arm. The animal looked fiercer, more dangerous, and angrier than ever as it glared at the men ahead of it and roared once more. Lahk smiled and ran at the thing head on, Cormac charging beside him. The creature reared up again as Lahk came in, and the priest slipped Blackwand in low in front of him, slicing a deep furrow in the beast’s exposed underbelly. Blood oozed from the wound as the blade turned a vibrant blue, and even before the plasma had soaked the matted fur the embers of blue flames started licking from the wound.

Unsure of how long it would take for the cold flames to kill the beast and unwilling to wait, Lahk lashed out with his offhand as Cormac came in, delivering a powerful blow to the flank of the vast animal. The beast swung its paw savagely at Lahk, but the blow was sluggish and he easily dropped beneath it. He spun his black sword back around and pointed it forward, driving it in a final, impaling thrust. The tip of the sword bit into the animal’s throat, and blood poured down the blade. The animal grunted, opening its mouth a quarter of an inch-and allowing the blade to slip that much farther in. Hot red blood exploded from the wound, then pumped out of the monstrosity’s neck in rhythm to its speeding heart. With a savage twist of his wrist, Lahk caused Blackwand to open the creature’s throat, bringing more blood and sending a shiver rippling through the creature’s fur.

Then it collapsed into a dead sprawl on the surface of the cave, blue fire beginning to consume its form.

9 months into captivity, Maithum Falls

The throne was the key.

Now Lahk knew his birthright. He was more than the heir of the church, more than a leader that would bring them the promises of their dead god.

He was to be that god, he was sure. He was stronger than other men, faster, more savage. The blood of the lord of suffering ran through his veins and with Blackwand at his side none could stand before his power. All he needed was a nexus of divine power, not currently entrusted into a vessel. Something like the unclaimed throne of a goddess.

The earth of Silas would quake beneath the might of his boot. This land would be his, inherited from its rightful lord, his father.

He would sit upon Sirae’s throne.

The War of Ascension was not over. It had only begun.

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