Licking Flame – Chapter 1

Thank you for reading! Me and my coauthor Darinost are gradually combining forces and blogs, so the joint comment section for our stories is currently located on discord! Come on in and let us know what you thought, we don’t bite.

This is a commission from three of my readers, and it is a continuation of the alternate history that began with the story “Lost in the Mists.”

The music at the Mist of Avalon never seemed to stop. It thrummed in the air like the beat of a vast drum, shaking the air and stirring the bodies as the moved around the web of catwalks, balconies, and staircases. It was loud enough that the beat made the smoke churn, lights dancing amid the smoke and the fog machine output and the haze of many illicit substances. On a normal night, it could be comforting… a difference between her position now and her years of captivity where she had been too busy and too distracted, pained, and almost drugged out to even notice it and now. On a night like tonight, Maeve couldn’t help but feel it as ominous. It sounded like the club was alive, and the music was its heartbeat… demanding attention even as it thrummed through the air.

The blonde selkie, the only selkie in the club wearing anything at all, strode forward on the balcony with a confidence she didn’t exactly feel, making sure to sway her hips and shake her ass in just the right way – even now, with a possible disaster looming, the club had an image to maintain, and her master would not me entertained if she failed to live up to it. After a century and a half as a whore and a year as the Mistress of the Mists of Avalon, meeting those expectations were simply a survival trait by now.

A year. She had been running this club for Master Mordred for just over a year now… once year since Mordred had finally grown tired of the last woman to have her position and murdered her. Maeve’s thoughts on the woman who had taught her her trade and whom she had inherited this position for were complicated, but these days the pity was mostly covered by a vague sense of resentment. No matter how hard she tried she didn’t seem to live up to the expectations that his last Madaam and slave trainer had set. Yuki had been dead for a year and the damned fox was still getting her tortured. Maeve swallowed and forcibly turned her thoughts away from the dead and gone fox woman… Yuki’s problems were over now, and hers were just comming to a middle. Resentment, pity, blame, and jealousy… none of those really mattered right now. Survival was all that mattered.

Yuki had understood that… until she didn’t.

Maeve’s task here was more than making sure the correct clients were screwing the correct sluts and that everyone was doing their jobs properly… That was her job, but it was so much more. Maeve was responsible for making sure everything ran smoothly on a night by night basis here. Her vampiric master used her to make sure the club ran smoothly… that all the memberships got paid, that the slaves were purchased, brought in, and that they kept in line. On a good night she might not even see him. Tonight, though, she was walking towards his chambers with purpose in her steps. On a good night, her position here meant that she didn’t have to get raped at all, that she could do her job only feeling a little guilty before vanishing to her new bedroom and drinking herself to sleep. On a bad night – like tonight was shaping up to be – it meant she was the sole and focused subject of Master Mordred’s retribution when something went wrong.

Something was definitely wrong now, though.

Maeve ignored the sighs of dozens of women being fucked and tortured as she climbed the next staircases in line, horribly aware that anyone below her would be able to look up her too-short skirt as she did. It was funny… it actually humiliated her more to have people leering at her now than it had when she was naked. Being almost naked was actually worse, that way. The blonde selkie swallowed and kept going. The narrow starcase was more like a fire escape than it was a proper staircase, and while it was solidly constructed it was tiny. The way was far too narrow for people to pass without touching, and as she walked by a pair of men both of them undressed her with their eyes long before she reached them. She had to turn to squeeze past them, and had half a second to decide if she wanted to rub her ass against them or her tits. She choose her read, and it felt it grind against the hardness in her pants as he hungrily pushed past her, no doubt on his way to rape some other poor girl.

Priorities, Maeve… you have other problems.

From the next balcony she was finally able to walk through an exit door on the back of the balcony and step backstage… to the maze of corridors that served at the kitchen, training facilities, and barracks for the staff and slaves that worked the Mists of Avalon. The music still pounded, and the haze of smoke seemed to linger in the air but the effects of both were muted. She paid no more attention to anyone she saw back here than she had out in front… she hurried along. The elevator would be too slow, so she took the staircase, and when she emerged from it she was on a floor with only one door in the hallway… a big, ominous looking security double door into her Master’s chambers.

No way out of this. Swallowing, she raised her hand and knocked at the door.

The door didn’t open. She didn’t expect it to… Maeve waited, instead. The entire time she had been working directly under the vampire she had never once seen his door open… no one was permitted in his chamber. Instead, she felt it rather than saw it… a subtle change in the smoke in the air, a brush of a breeze on her bare skin. Then Mordred’s hands landed on her shoulders from behind. “It is my understanding,” Mordred said against her ear, so close that she could feel the brush of his fangs against her exposed skin with each word, “that my club is open for another six hours. What, then, is my supposed Madaam doing off of the floor?”

His words were mild, almost bored, but there was no mistaking the danger in them… Mordred didn’t need to erupt in rage to be dangerous… violence, from the ancient vampire, could come without warning, and she had gotten it from him for far less reason that this. Maeve bowed her head, tilting to the side to bear her neck in posture she hoped was sufficiently submissive. “I just came from there, Master. Security warns that there is a breach.”

Maeve had hoped that her direct approach, to put the information right in the front and justify her presence, was the correct way to approach this. His reaction was so slight that it was hard to tell if she had been correct… at least he didn’t immediately begin violence against her. “A breach?” he hissed, a hint of anger in his voice. “Who has escaped?”

The selkie gasped as his fangs brushed her neck, his tongue licking lightly as if seeking the perfect place to bite. “No one, Master! No one has escaped, I wouldn’t let that happen!” She swallowed, trying to slow her words, to seem more in control. “A woman… security found a woman up on your balcony. Just sitting there, drinking a bottle of your wine. No one saw her enter. She told them she was here to see you, and when they insisted she come with them she… she killed one of them when he grabbed her, Master. She said that she was going to wait for you.”

The vampire froze for a second, and Maeve braced for the worst. Then the vampire chuckled darkly. “Arrogant slut,” he said softly, amused. Then he let go of her. “Which of my blood are here, tonight?”

It was all Maeve could do not to fall down on her suddenly weak legs as the tension left her. “Rake,” she whispered. “And Malek.”

Mordred made a quiet, considerate noise. “Have someone collect them,” he said, voice confident. “Quietly. Have them upstairs if I call for them.” He turned his body down the hallways and began to walk. “I’m going to go and see what the bitch wants.”

The key to getting what you wanted was to make them think you were more arrogant than you actually were.

 Mai leaned back in a comfortable leather chair that could only be considered a throne, feeling the pounding thrum of the music as she sat there swirling a glass of extremely expensive red wine from the extremely well stocked liquor cabinet by the side of the balcony in her hand. This could only be Mordred’s throne, his wine, his view over the club that was the cornerstone of his empire. An empire that turned supernaturally beautiful woman and turned them into prize horses to be sold to billionaires. Women like her.

And she had stepped right into his domain and served herself up on a platter.

Put that way, this whole thing could be considered more than a little foolish, Mai had to admit. After all, there was always the second rule of getting what you want – don’t actually be as arrogant as you pretend to be.

The glass of wine served a double purpose then… it gave her hands something to do other than shake. She lifted it to her lips and took a deep drink, letting the rich, nutty taste of first-grapes pour across her tongue. This was the kind of wine that Syllana loved… the kind that a vineyard might make only a few dozen bottles of each year, who’s flavors were the strongest and the cleanest. This was the kind of wealth, power, and prestige that the true masters of this world had access to. The kind of wealth, power, and prestige she deserved.

Maybe this plan was foolish… but Syllana would never give her the power she wanted. It had taken her centuries to realize it, but the heights of power that Syllana had achieved couldn’t be taught… her skill was beyond compare, certainly, but her true strength came from her patron, and Syllana would never, ever share even if she could. Unfortunately, she would also never let Mai leave – her apprentice knew far too many of her secrets, knew where far too many of the bodies were buried. If Mai tried to run, then Syllana – or her pet killers as her proxies – would follow her to the ends of the Earth. If Mai wanted to get away from her, she had no choice but to take some extreme measures… and make sure that she could get out from the woman’s thumb once and for all.

Mai didn’t see it when Mordred step onto the balcony – she felt it. The first vampire’s presence was like a weight that pressed down on the fabric of magic around her, and Mai could feel that warping of the power around here even before he stepped casually into sight. She lifted the glass and sipped again, trying to make sure the first look at he got her was one of relaxed confidence and power. “Greetings, Lord Mordred,” she said, smiling at the looming, dark-haired vampire as he stepped slowly into view. “I would like t-”

Her eyes met his, and…

The next thing Mai knew, he was standing in front of her, his face just inches from hers. She fought down a flash of panic and tried to move away but found that she couldn’t… and besides, why would she want to look away from those eyes? The darkness in their centers seemed to flow out like it was a lake flooding the shore, showing her endless depth that she felt like she could fall into it. Distantly, she understood that she was being enchanted but doing something about it seemed incredible hard…

No. No, not like this. This was enchantment. This was what she did. Mai fought back, building a fortress in her mind brick by brick… clawing her way out of the hypnotic, maddening gaze of the elder vampire. Slowly, inch by struggling inch, she forced her mind back out, pouring witchfire into the crack in her metal walls to burn away the darkness swallowing her…

And then she sagged, breathing hard, but able to move.

Mordred chuckled, a dark, rich sound as the wine she had been drinking. “Fox slut,” he said confidently. That gave Mai a moment of startled caution… for a kitsune, their illusions were second nature, and a disguise they relied on every bit as thoroughly as a leopard did their spots. Having it be so easily seen through put her off balanced for a moment. Mordred, obviously, noticed… he laughed again, pleased and amused. “You can’t hide from me you furry mongrel,” the vampire purred as he snatched the wineglass from her lax fingers. Mai hadn’t realized that she had stood up when hypnotized, but Mordred displaced her around his throne as effortlessly as water poured into a glass displaced the air. “I couldn’t possibly fail to recognize another one of you.”

His eyes flicked back up to hers and she felt the intense pressure of his gaze once again falling on her mind. “So… given that you’ve walked in the lions den, I have to ask… Is there any particular reason,” he purred, just the hint of a growl sneaking into his voice, “that I shouldn’t just take you?” His lips twisted up into a smile that showed his fangs as he tossed down the whole glass in a single pull before tossing it away, the crystal shattering against the wall of his club. “Syllana won’t care what happens to one dumb slut stupid enough to get herself caught.”

Mai swallowed. “Don’t be so sure about that,” she said, trying to sound more confident than she felt. “She still hasn’t forgiven you for the last one.”

“That whore,” the vampire snarled. His eyes flicked over to the small table before his throne, and Mai took advantage of the momentary lapse in pressure to shore up her mental defenses again. She could hold against him. “We had some fun times, didn’t we?” he spat. “But in the end, she just just another worthless whore bleeding out of my floor. What was her name, again? Yanni? Yuri?”

“Yuki,” Mai said, the name provoking a momentary flash of jealous rage from the nogitsune. Seven centuries of service, work, devotion, and brilliance, and Syllana still would have replaced her in a heartbeat with that bitch. She was always the best, the precious, the most special. Well, how was the most dead, whore? “This is where she died?” Mai said, peering at the table. “Right here?”

“Why?” Mordred asked, lifting his lip over his fangs. “Was she a friend of yours?”

“Believe me,” Mai said as she stared right into his eyes, letting him feel the honest in her words. “My biggest regret is that I couldn’t look into her eyes when it happened.”

“Good to know,” Mordred said as he leaned back. “Gone now. Still, I have to admit the whore was useful. Her replacement hasn’t been measuring up. Maybe you’d do a better job.”

He delivered the threat well… casually, without weight. A simple statement without bravado… like stating a simple fact that would be no more difficult for him to manage than destroying the wine glass had been. Mai tried to pretend she hadn’t noticed. “Actually, I think I would.” The vampire barely reacted, he had an excellent poker face… but Mai could read people like a demon. He had been taken off guard by that… She had his attention. Now was the time to close, while he was off balance. “Thats why I’m here. This is a job interview.”

Mordred snorted. “I don’t think you’ll be as enthusiastic about my employee package after you’ve been here a while. Not that you’ll have a choice.” He laughed.

Mai didn’t. “You’ll make an exception for me,” she said confidently. “I’ll take over your club… train your slaves… run your businesses… manage your shadowy war against Paragon for you. I’ll do it better than that arrogant bitch Yuki ever did, too.”

“And what, pray tell,” Mordred asked as he leaned forward, “makes you think I would agree to give you anything when I could just take it?”

“Anastasia,” Mai said, and hoped her voice wasn’t shaking. If she appeared afraid – if she appeared to be prey – there would be an enormous part of Mordred that wouldn’t even want to listen to her offer. He would simply want to eat her. This was the crux of her gamble… she was wagering everything on this point. “She was a slave… but she proved herself useful. And you rewarded her for that. You put her in charge of your European estates and businesses. You reward loyalty and competence. I want the same offer she got.”

“Anastasia did something to show she was worth my time,” the vampire said. Both of his fangs were out now. “What can you off me to earn the same?”

Mai swallowed… This was the point of no return. The moment she had walked into this club she had passed a precipice where she wouldn’t be able to easily climb back up from. The vampire would have her for certain… but there were worse things than slavery. There were even worse things than death… and she was risking one of them with her next words. The things the vampire would do to her would be brutal, but they would at least have the benefit  of being impersonal. She couldn’t say the same for- “Syllana,” she said firmly. “I can give you Syllana.”

Mordred froze. He didn’t go still the way people did… he went still the way statue did. Without breathing, without swaying, without the slightest hint of life. Mai pressed onward. “You know your peace with her can’t last,” Mai said firmly, speaking with absolute confidence and the tone of someone who was agreeing with something her mark already knew like he knew his own hands. “You’re a threat she can’t tolerate in the long run. There is a reason she followed you to America when you came. One day, she is going to kill you out… unless you deal with her first.”

Mai looked up and met his eyes firmly again, and yielded completely to his gaze… letting him in. Making no effort to hide… what she was about to say was so insane that if he didn’t know she was being honest then there was no chance he believed her. “And I know her secrets… and how you can tame her.”

The vampire, as ever, showed almost no reaction… but it was enough. Mai had to hold back her smile. She had him. “Tell me everything,” he said firmly, sitting back into his chair. And Mai did.

Mordred didn’t have the helicopter try to find a landing spot in the middle of the dense forest on the side of the Alps. Instead, when they had reached the location that they had been flying towards, the vampire simply jumped out of the side. The cold air of high mountains rushed past him, making the leather of the heavy trench coat he wore flutter almost like wings as he felt rapidly down towards the ground. Just before impact he let his form dissolve into mist and his awareness become abruptly diffuse and vague, just knowing more than seeing or feeling. He just knew it when he had reached the ground, when he had stopped moving, and his body reformed into the small clearing.

Looking around, this place clearly used to be a crater. Trees had grown in thick and swallowed the area, and there wasn’t enough rain this high up to have turned this into a lake, but some had smashed down pretty hard here and driven even thing to the edges. If he hadn’t known better he would have assumed it was a meteor. Given what Mai had told him, however, he suspect it had been something altogether more sinister.

He wasn’t alone. Resting up against one of the trees was a small satellite phone, what had been broadcasting the transponder signal that the helicopter had followed to get here, and standing next to it was a pale, dark haired woman in an evening gown that seemed utterly inappropriate for standing in the woods. The helicopter stirred her hair, sending it blowing in the wind as the machine turn around and left Mordred in the woods, but she stood there as if she didn’t notice, barefoot and with her skin shining in the cloudless moon. “You’re late,” she said, her voice haughty.

“The pilot was not accustomed to flying without a destination,” Mordred said, eyes narrow as he looked at his oldest childe and, in most ways, his second. “It matters not. I am here. Is the prison?”

“When you told me what you were looking for and where to find it,” Anastasia said, “And who you were listening to in order to look for it… I thought you might have finally gone mad. But not yet, I suppose. There is a ritual circle in the center of the crater, right where your new captive said it would be.”

Mordred hesitated a moment, then nodded, satisfied. Mai wasn’t going anywhere until he was satisfied with her story, of course… the nogitsune currently hung in his dungeon, with Malek guarding over her to make sure she didn’t try anything. He would need to have the vampire set her free shortly because if didn’t get back to Syllana soon the elder sorceress would get tipped off, but that could wait. “Was it guarded?”

“Three of the furry mongrels,” Anastasia said idly. “One of them is dead. The two were pretty… I have them entertaining my men. They’re hypnotized enough that they don’t have a clue where they are… and they won’t until they wake up into captivity and their new nightmare.”

“Excellent,” Mordred agreed. “Show me the circle.”

Mordred followed after the second oldest vampire on the planet, his coat swaying almost like a cape behind him as he walked his way through the trees and passed the moans and grunts and wet sounds coming from nearby. He followed Anastasia until she stopped before a small patch of stones in the ground. Honestly there was very little impressive about it… it reflected a bit of the moonlight with a silver sheen, but there was nothing exceptional to mark the ancient dark god’s prison. The stones probably would never have caught his notice if he wasn’t specifically looking for them… but any chance he could have decided this was nothing went away when some of Syllana’s nogitsune guarded the site. Mai had been telling him the truth…

Which meant that this was the source of her power. The source of the strange blue foxfire they used to charm and enchant, to hide and to conquer… To destroy. This was the secret Syllana kept from the world, even from her own people… but Mai, that serpent, knew the truth. And now, thanks to her, Mordred did as well.

The vampire put his hand flat against the center of the circle, reaching out and feeling. Mordred’s grasp of magic was… admittedly weak, but after two thousand years he was good at at least sensing it. He could feel the surge, the ebb, and the flow of magical energy, even if he couldn’t really manipulate it the way he had seen others do and resolved again to learn better. Perhaps his new asset among the foxes could assist with that… but now was not the time to think on it. Instead, he focused on that feel of magic, looking for where it was strongest. Syllana was getting power from the being in this prison… which meant that the seal wasn’t perfect. If there was a way for his power to get out, then there was a way in as well, and he would need to-


Mordred felt the point… the place where the ambient energy was strongest. Where it was leaking out through the tiny hole. He had found it… and now it was time to make a decision. Nothing he had done so far was undo-able… he hadn’t needed to put any faith in anything yet. If Mai had been lying about any of this, he would have plenty of time to bail out, nothing ventured. Now, however… he was relying on what she told him. That this prison was meant to hold something far, far larger than him, and it wouldn’t hold him. That the being inside would listen to him, and that he had something to offer it. That doing so wouldn’t destroy him. It was a risk, and one he had no way to verify.

Mordred hadn’t survived 2000 years by taking this kind of risk… so why was he even here? Once it would have been inconceivable for him to think about it, but… things had changed. The last few years had been… boring. Increasingly so. He was faced with a fact… he had made no progress on vengeance, and no real change in his own life in centuries. That black-furred cunt had kept him entertained for half a millennium… but now she was gone.

He hadn’t lived this long by taking risks… but if he never took a risk what was he living for, anyway?

Mordred raised his wrist to his mouth and ripped his veins open with his fangs, sending vampiric vitae dropping down his hand before he pressed it against the gap in the prison, letting his lifeblood drip down freely, questing through cracks in the earth even as the curse in his blood crept through the crack in the magic and then…


The voice was silent. It never made a sound, speaking only the depths of his mind… and it almost rattled his sanity apart anyway. It echoed in his head, a voice like celestial bodies crashing together. His sanity reeled back, swaying like he was mist being blown in the wind and nearly separated entirely. A mortal mind was not meant to contain this power… and yet, Mordred’s mind did. His consciousness held together, shaking with unknowable power but remaining together.


The voice came again, hammering at his mind like it meant to obliterate him… but it did not. It was as Mai had said… the pressure was the vast size of his power, his soul, pressing against Mordred. It sought to displace him, to break him apart… and it found nothing to work with.


Mordred send his thoughts through the blood. Your vessel has failed you, he told the dark god. A thousand years, and still you are imprisoned. Your servant will betray you. She had already betrayed you. You know that this is true.


You will be trapped here, Mordred insisted. You will be trapped here until she is ready to handle you. She will use you against the other Gods, let you destroy one another, and finish what you started. Why would she free you otherwise?

Anger. Anger. Anger… the anger of someone who knew that it was true. The anger of thousands of years aware of the lie and being unable to do anything about it, being unable to escape in any way. Syllana had been the only one to ever breach his prison, to allow him to interact with the outside world.

Until now.


A picture suddenly came into focus for Mordred of a man and two women, trapped in agonizing embrace within the prison. A brown furred fox and a blonde girl suffered side by side at the hands and teeth and cock of a vast monster made of sheer shadow and flame like a sun kindling to life in a dust cloud. He shone so bright and yet his light was something that shone with its absence. This was a creature not of life but of its absence, something that took its strength from being not. It was a kindred spirit, in a way… death and destruction made manifest, a blight upon existence… just as the Gods had made him.

To destroy the Gods, Mordred answered. To may them pay. To kill them all. And as he thought it, Mordred extended the power in his blood further down into the crypt… and felt it as the power of the monster’s soul resonated with it. Sought to fill it. The monster recoiled in shock, and Mordred allowed himself a small, pleased smile. Mai had been right.


Their biggest mistake, Mordred answered. Vengeance will be yours. I will make your enemies mine. We will destroy those who imprisoned you, who would seek to destroy you. You will be free to destroy once more…

A pause that seemed to last an eternity.


Pain pain pain pain pain PAIN!

Mordred never felt anything like it… not even that first horrible day, trapped in sunlight as it filtered through the leaves of the tree, nor anything that had come any night thereafter. The vampire was soulless… he knew that. He felt the loss without really knowing what it was, could feel its horrible, hollow absence in him. It hurt, an old, aching pain… but it meant there was a void in him where that soul was supposed to go.

He felt it the moment soul flooded into the gap where his should have been. He had felt it before, many times… absorbing power thrown at him, conquering foxfire and its like. It was, in a way, a familiar sensation but this was so, so, so much more. It strained him to bursting as the soulless vampire was given a souls again… not his own, but a Gods…

Mordred cried out, and backed away. Anastasia stared at him, eyes wide as he recoiled from the circle in the ground. Smoke was rising from his body and burns spread across his body, following his veins. Everything hurt, incredibly much… but the pain only grew. He felt full, too full… bursting at the seems. Moving more like a feral animal than a man, Mordred flashed across the clearing, shoving two of soldiers off of one of the black furred foxes. She barely had a second to scream before his mouth closed over her throat, ripping it open and letting the blood pour into his sucking mouth, intensifying his bodies healing as he burned from the inside, sustaining himself as he emptied the dying nogitsune into his mouth like a wineskin.

He wasn’t sure how long he was there… but eventually the pain receded to something normal. It never went away entirely… but as it faded he realized another feeling behind it – he felt strong. Powerful. Vital. Alive in ways he hadn’t for two thousand years. Next to that ecstasy, the pain could barely be noticed.

Mai had been right. He could hold the God’s soul inside him… or at least, enough of it. He could carry it out of the prison that wasn’t meant to hold a mortal, carrying Narghai’s power in his blood. He could have everything he ever wanted. Power enough to slaughter gods, to punish them for what had been done to him. Power enough to no longer fear Merlin. Power enough to destroy the world if he wished. He turned his gaze on Anastasia and noticed that she, and all the other soldiers here, had sunk into a very, very low bow. As the flames faded from behind his eyes, he could understand why. Fear of one such as him was proper. The remaining nogitsune looked at him in naked horror as he casually wiped the blood off his chin with the back of one hand, uncaring that his clothing was bathed in scarlet.

“Gather everyone,” he instructed Anastasia. “It’s time to pay that Witch a visit…”

With a heave of effort, Syllana braced all nine of her tails against the concrete pillar, pushing with them and her legs to shove her sword forward. It was, just barely, enough. Vampires were monstrously strong when they were burning their blood, far stronger than she could be by strength of limb alone, but they were used to being an irresistible force. With intelligent application of strength… Syllana cried out in triumph as she slipped his guard, the sword sliding slow as she rushed past him, opening his belly thoroughly enough that his intestines spilled out. He wobbled on his feet before tripping on them, and as she flashed past him she grabbed out with several of her tails at his ankles, pulling him along and sending him toppling as she summoned witchfire. She longed to turn him… oh, how she longed to burn him… but throwing witchfire directly at a vampire was a fools exercise. Instead, she turned the destructive force of her magic on the stone column that she had just been pushing against, and that her rush had taken her out of the shadow of. It smashed it into splinters, and with a roar of cracking stone the roof fell down onto the prone vampire who never even had time to cry out before he was buried beneath tons of rock.

Syllana had no way of knowing if that killed him. She figured it was a coinflip. There never had been many vampires… that parasite Mordred didn’t like spreading his seed widely. At least, not in that way. They were few in number, blessedly, but they were very tough… nothing but sunlight and fire would reliably kill one. She wanted nothing more than to douse the pile of rock in lighter fluid and set him ablaze to make sure, but she didn’t have time for that. Instead she wiped her sword clean on her ripped kimono before sheathing it again, wiping the blood off her face, and stalking off into the night.

The attack had come without warning. Sometime after sundown – Syllana didn’t know quite when – Vampires had turned to mist and flowed their way past the compound security and into Mizuki. Her wards should have warned her but they didn’t… they had been neutralized somehow, or failed. Then they had proceeded to start picking off nogitsune as quickly as they could. Syllana had no way of knowing how long they had been picking people off before the alarm was raised, but it was a few minutes before midnight when bells started to ring. Then the vampire’s mortal soldiers and security had joined the fray, and the sound of automatic weapons engulfed the compound whole.

The attack had been going on and Syllana had spent hours waiting, sitting around like a lamb waiting to be lead into its slaughter-paddock. It was frustrating… but not half as frustrating as how reduced her magic seemed to be. Syllana was used to a nearly bottomless well of power, but even her first actions in defense of the compound showed her that was no longer the case. Normally, new witchfire would flow into her as quickly as she could spend it… no longer. She had needed to strip the life from a mortal squad, drive away one vampire, and kill enough before the lack began to become clear, but slowly it was. Somehow, Mordred and his foul ilk had some a way to cut her off, something that shouldn’t have been possible from that dilettante moron. Still, there was no point in staring at reality and denying it – she had been cut off, and only had the dregs to work with… forced to compensate with what power she could from her soul to further fuel her destructive fury.

All around her the battle was raging. Mizuki was burning. Mordred and his ilk, by luck or by planning, had chosen their timing well… several of her aions were away from the compound on their own missions… Hinata, Kurama, and Kuu, all of them were gone, and they were more vulnerable than they should be. All around, building burns, explosions of power went off as the mortal used what Syllana felt sure must be explosives against her kind, and the battle raged on, vampires letting their servants do the tying for them to draw the nogitsune into the open to be picked off. Vampires had incredible senses… anyone trying to sneak out of here under an illusion was likely to be caught, and there was no help coming. Syllana herself was running almost nothing compared to what she was used to. Someone out there was throwing some serious destructive magic or technology based on the sheer level of wanton destruction, and all of that death was coming for her. She would just have to explain to them all, in detail, that it mattered not. She was not some paltry hedge-witch or amateur sorceress… she was Syllana, she was one of the new deities of this abandoned world, and she would not fall to blood-sucking scum. She would get as many of her followers out of this ambush as possible, and then she would make a point to hunt down and every single one of these disease-ridden mosquitoes and wipe them off the face of the Earth.

Syllana raised one hand to the sky, took a moment to shape the magic in her mind, and then unleashed witchfire into an illusion that shot across the sky, a bright, widely visible broadcast that no one fighting in the night could help but see… a call to her followers to regroup around her, to follow the diagram and reorganize. The vampires would see it as well, of course, but in one of one confrontations and isolated ambushes they had the advantage… grouped up around Syllana, the nogitsune would. In the space of a few heartbeats, Syllana had taken the first steps from turning disorganized chaos and dozens of individual life-and-death struggles into an orderly battle plan. Then, as the pitch of the battle around her changed, Syllana stalked into the night.

The nogitsune goddess needed to cast lances of flame at another pair of vampires to help a few other disengage from their fights, sending them scurrying away with their metaphorical tails between their legs. One by one, though, her followers gathered around her. A few of the inner circle, like Ari, and the few of the newer recruits like Ayako and Tsukiko, followed her tightly. They were having much the same trouble she was, Syllana noted… running short on fire, as cut off as Syllana herself was. Most of them, however, didn’t have the experience to pull from the fire in their souls, so it was a relief when several black-furred foxes the side of sedans showed up out of the night, making her smile… her remaining aions were here to fight.

“We’re with you, Mistress,” Mai said, her apprentice in one of the fox forms that she had helped design. These shadow-fox forms that her pupils wore were strong an locomotives and tough as iron, and they formed up around her like an escort… fangs and claws already scarlet with the blood of their enemies. “What are your orders?”

“We go through the woods,” Syllana ordered. “To the North. The vampires can keep pace with us, but the mortal cannot without their vehicles… and once we get free of their bloodbag support – and hopefully whatever magic they are using to suppress our witchfire – we can stall until the sun comes up.” Multiple of the nogitsune nodded along enthusiastically as Syllana began to transform herself, activating the marble within her and tapping into it’s strength, her shape dissolving into one of the vast charcoal-black foxes herself. “To the North. Me and the aions will plow a path… everyone else, stay on the inside and lend support, and keep moving. If someone goes down, leave them.”

6 black foxes, with Syllana at their point, prowled forward with two dozen of her other disciples behind and within their perimeter… and then, with an unearthly howl that her aions echoed Syllana broke into a sprint, out of the burning buildings and towards the woods. An absolute hailstorm of bullets lead by brilliant blue tracer rounds met them, raking across their force. Syllana was hit to many times that she actually felt them pushing her back a little, almost tripping her up… but her fur, hard as solid steel, did held against the onslaught. A bullet caught the nogitsune queen in her right eyes, and it stung horribly… but the bullet spun away, having flattened itself and shattered against her eyeball, and with an exultant roar Syllana rushed forward. Then she was among the human soldiers and began to rip, tear, and batter her way through them.

Syllana had never been a fan of this kind of elemental combat, one focused on ferocity and savage agility rather than precious and technique. She had always preferred the blade and her magic, but she was old enough that she had accumulated plenty of experience even in techniques she did not enjoy… and right here, among bullets which fell like rail and foolish, unarmored humans with their pitiful mortal forms her fox-form was like a threshing machine, precisely what was called for. All around her blood flew through the air like wine at a bacchanal and her aions and the nogitsune they protected threw magical destruction as they went, blasting their way through. The woods were right there, and once they broke line of sight with the mortal they would be far harder to track through the night. They were going to ma-

Right beside her, blood fountained from Kurata’s throat. The aion staggered, wobbling on his feet for several long seconds as a bright streak of silver shone through his neck. Then, with a second savage cut, the fox’s head flew from his body entirely, sending him toppling to the floor.

Mordred stood over him.

Syllana had seen the vampire many times over the centuries and yet she barely recognized him… his pale skin had burned, curling patterns covering his skin and scarlet mist surrounded him as if his blood was boiling out of his pores. Magic boiled around him, far, far more than she had ever sensed before, and he carried a sword in his hand that seemed less like steel than it did a solid length of moonlight. The dead aion’s blood didn’t even stain the shining blade, and it thrummed with power. “Oh, Witch…” the vampire purred, and while his voice was quiet and the staccato rhythm of gunfire still hammered at the night air she could hear him perfectly. “There you are…”

Syllana stared in shock. She could see the power boiling inside him, turning his blood to steam, and she recognized it… witchfire. It was witchfire burning up his insides… she could feel it from over here! She knew the vampire could absorb it, and had guessed that with training he might be able to use it, but this much… where had he gotten it?

It didn’t matter. If the only way out was going to be through him… then that was the way she was going. “You’ve made the last mistake of your brief life,” the ancient nogitsune snarled, her paws digging into the ground, graining traction. Then, silent as the mist, she rushed forward.

The shadow-fox barreled towards him, moving as quick as a speeding car, but the entire time she stormed forwards her eyes never left that shining sword… and for good reason – Syllana was pretty sure she knew what it was. She had seen what that stolen blade had done one of her aions and she wasn’t about to test her own skin against it, so as she approached she stopped suddenly short, digging her tails into the ground with all the strength her marble gave her and driving the tails downward. The Earth ripped open as she stopped herself, and not a moment too soon as Mordred flashed forward, his body moving with all the speed of a striking mongoose.

She couldn’t use Witchfire… even if she wasn’t running dangerously low and could get into a shooting duel with him, a vampire could just absorb it. Instead she used her tails to pivot, pulling herself to the side as he lunged and her form twisted and distorted. The moment her hand came clear she drew the sword from her back, bringing it down into the path of the swing that follow. The shining silver sword washed against her katana and she felt the pressure of that blade as it glanced off, the power cold as ice. Her hand shook where it held the sword, numbed not only from the strength needed to hold the parry but also the freezing energy radiating off that frigid light. If she traded too many blows with the vampire, he wouldn’t need to be better than her with the blade to take her out.

Instead, as he came around for another swing she used his own momentum against him, turning into his pivot and driving her foot down into a stomping kick against his knee. He didn’t buckle, and she didn’t expect him too… his vampiric muscles alone would be enough to force the joint rigid even if she could break it. It did, however, force his turn to be wide, and the sword to slice by over her head, cutting cleanly through a handful of her trailing hairs. It meant that his sword was out of her way for a few precious seconds. She grabbed onto his ankle with two tails, using that as a fulcrum to reverse herself as she yanked, and she brought her katana up in a lateral slash across his belly that should have disemboweled the vampire.

He was fast. There was no chance Mordred could get out of the way but he was able to turn aside, turning what could have been a crippling strike even against one of his kind into a long, painful, messy, but undamaging flesh wound up his right side, the sharp Japanese steel effortlessly cutting through the leather of his flak coat. He retreated a quick handful of steps, his sword raised in a guard gesture, and opened his mouth in a snarl that bared his fangs at her. Syllana bared hers right now. “How much blood can you lose?” she mocked playfully as crimson dripped from the cuts… vampires were able to control the flow of their blood to some degree but she had opened enough veins that he was losing some anyway. He was burning through that blood with every second he spent moving faster, being stronger, or healing. Bleed him enough and he would die eventually.

Mordred ran his fingers through the blood, bringing them up to his eyes. The red mist… of boiling blood, she was pretty sure… made it hard to see, but she thought there was a glow in his eyes. “I have more than enough to handle one furry cumdump,” he snarled, shaking his hand at her as he flung drops of his blood at Syllana and-

And they erupted into blasts of fire.

Syllana stunned and taken off guard, still reacted almost instantly… which was almost quick enough. The magic ward she wove around herself dispersed most of the magical energies but it still tossed her twenty feet, sending her sprawling on the ground, her sword flung away to gods knew where. Her eyes widened. What the hell had that been?

The nogitsune pushed herself to her feet, barely noticing that she was topless… much of her clothing burned away in the flame. She slapped out one small patch still ablaze and ignored the burns as she scrambled rapidly up, noticing even as she did that she had landed by one of Mordred’s goons and he was raising his assault rifle to point at her. With a flick of her hand she tried to rip the soul from his body but nothing happened, and no fire came with the effort. Snarling, she moved to the side as he opened fire at an illusion of herself she had projected to the left as she went right, casually plucking the rifle from his hand as she drove her elbow into his throat hard enough she felt something crunch. Then she turned, took aim, and opened fire on full automatic into the approaching vampire.

Mordred didn’t even try to dodge. He just kept moving through the hailstorm as bullets ripped through his body, hitting nothing important enough to stop him. Seconds later, the wounds would be healed as if there was nothing there. “More than enough,” he said over the rapid-fire crack of the rounds, “to put your in your place.”

The rifle barrage wasn’t to hurt him… she knew that wouldn’t work, but the stopping power would still keep him in place for a moment… give her a second to think. What had that been? She had never seen any vampire use magic like that, destructive magic… let alone so crushingly powerful. It felt like witchfire… but where had he learned to use it? How much more could he use? Syllana began to get a sinking feeling that she knew the sources of the explosions earlier. Mordred was far more capable than she had ever suspected, and slowly Syllana began to worry that something was far more wrong here than she could have guessed.

The assault rifle clicked empty and Mordred rushed forward, quick as a flash… but Syllana had had time to think now, and no matter how quick he was he needed to cross thirty feet of open field to reach her. She needed to move her hand about three inches and think. He wasn’t that fast.

His body was quick as lightning, but that was always the trouble with the fast ones… they were used to speed and strength being enough. They didn’t think any faster just because they could move faster, and the speed and reflexes to react to something didn’t mean that they were going to react intelligently. Syllana called up fire and directed it at Mordred as he moved towards her in a dash, and he reacted exactly how she figured he would. The ancient vampire had long since gotten good at absorbing witchfire… he had spent centuries with some of it to play with from Yuki, and he opened himself up to him, looking to draw it in. When the fire contacted him the void inside him where his soul should be would pull on her power and try to yank it out of her, taking it serve as a facsimile of what he was lacking. The problem was that he did it so quickly and with such reflex-level certainty that he didn’t realize she wasn’t aiming the fire at him.

The blast of witchfire smashed into the ground at his feet, right where he stopped, and while he could have absorbed the force of her magic the purely physical force of the exploded Earth and stones proved far more of a problem. He was cast up in the air, tumbling, the magical sword thrown from his hands. “Kill him!” Syllana snarled to any of her followers that would listen as she rushed forward, eager to finish off the vampire while he was disoriented and injured. Take off his head and all the power in the world wasn’t going to matter… then she would leave him out for the sun just in case. Two other aions were obeying her commands, moving forward toward the fallen vampire as he pushed himself up.

Syllana didn’t hesitate as she approached at a run, a blade of solid witchfire forming in her hand as she did. The vampire pulled up with tattered clothing, snarling in fury as blood ran from his face and lips, and they closed on the wounded vampire. Kill him and they could flee to into the woods. Kill him and-

Something abruptly hit her in the back where her bare skin had no protection anymore and all the sudden every wound on her body, every scrape and bruise, every exhausting strain and strained muscle hurt like a fire. It was no mere pain… it was a wall of pain, and she crashed against it, staggering, tripping over herself. Her tails tried to catch her, to regain her balance as she’d been able to do since she was a little girl and drunkenly they got in each other’s way, sending her crashing to the ground.

Reflexively she reached up, grabbing at her back, trying to tear away what had hit her, and her hand stuck fast to her back. Her eyes widened as some part of her drugged brain belatedly realized what had happened. Jorogumo silk… fresh silk too, at its most sticky. The drugs woven into the silk by that accursed spider moved through her skin with rapidity… for centuries,  Reimi had been working on her poison to make it just like this, faster acting, more narcotic, until it was nearly as intense as what her mother had been able to make, and Syllana was, momentarily, completely incapable of handling it.

Discipline. Focus. Syllana knew thousands of ways of control her mind, to think and not feel. She forced the sensations down, trying her best to put them into a little box and focused on the here and now… not perfectly, but enough that she could open her eye… just in time for Mai to kick her in the face. The already tenuous block she had on her overloaded nerves shattered under the ringing of her skull and the fresh wash of pain, and the treacherous bitch didn’t let up either… she summoned witchfire next, sending a blast of energy directly into Syllana’s core. This time, her ward was pathetic. She barely deflected it at all, and only the sheer speed and sloppiness with which her apprentice had attacked kept it from drilling right through her. She had attacked in a wide spread, meant to catch her if she tried to evade rather than deliver the magic with lethal effect, and Syllana went tumbling again.

Kill them. Kill them both.

Syllana snarled in fury, rising up on one hand, ignoring the way her drugged body wobbled as she called up witchfire herself, enough to wipe Mai off the face of the planet… but the cowardly bitch wasn’t there anymore. She had vanished behind an illusion somewhere on the chaotic battlefield while Syllana was tumbling, and she had lost track of her. In a few seconds she would find her and burn her to cinders, but from the high pitched yelp that ended suddenly from the other aion she didn’t have a few seconds. She spun and watched Mordred rose from the other bloody fox, the burn-scar tattoos on his arms blazing with light as fire blossomed in that mist around him, and Syllana knew that she was out of time.

She had no other choice but to try. She threw everything she had at him… using every trick of magic and training she had to supercharge the spell. It lanced towards Mordred not as a wave or a beam but as a narrow needle of blue-white energy that wrapped around him like a rope, burning, his skin searing and smoking even as he tried to absorb it. She screamed as he pulled on her magic and she pulled back, trying to hold onto it long enough to kill him even as she felt something… something vast… move inside him, lending its power to his pull…

Her eyes went wide. Narghai?

Then her power shattered against him and he rushed forward, too quick to be stopped. She tried anyway, rising on wobbling feet, dodging out of the way… only for the mighty vampire to catch the fleeing fox by her tail. With a heave, he pulled her up into the air by them, whirling her around, and Syllana saw the ground approaching like an oncoming train for her face. Then she hit, and darkness swallowed the nogitsune queen.

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