The Twilight Hunt – Chapter 1 – Raison d’etre

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.

Max lived his life according to a simple set of principles, ones that he followed religiously. The first was that hard work was necessary for any kind of reward, and that the luckiest men made their own luck. The second was that the hardest-working man in the world wasn’t a billionaire… he was probably some poor sap digging ditches in sub-Saharan Africa or in a Chinese labor camp. That while hard work was rewarded, it was never enough by itself… Working smart was even more important than working hard. That no one ever got ahead by playing fair. The third, and most important principle, was that no one was untouchable. No one was unbeatable.

No one.

For proof of that, he only needed to look down the length of his body and peer at the nubile, precious slave girls that he had spent the last two months breaking in. Max relaxed on the bed, his hands behind his head as Rosa rode him, her tight cunt squeezing his dick in a rhythm that managed to match each thrust of her hips up and down on him. Every few seconds, the way that she moved allowed him to get a glimpse of black hair peeking out from behind her legs, but even when he couldn’t see her Max could feel Luciana’s tongue hard at work on his balls and whatever bits of his shaft weren’t impaled up her sister’s twat. It was open for debate which of them was doing the better job of pleasing him, but he was going to have to decide by the time he finished because whichever one had lost their little impromptu contest was going to be punished, and it wouldn’t be fair to lie to such good, honest, hard-working fucktoys as these.

Because of the life he lived, Max had never had a shortage of women in his bed, and he had found something to love about most of them… something beautiful about every plaything he had ever trained. Rosa and Luciana were no exception. Both had rich heads of dark black hair that poured down their caramel skin in luxurious waves, hair that they had selfishly kept tied up and hidden from the world most of the time in their previous lives. Max had corrected that quickly, of course – Now it reached to mid back on both girls, perfect for them whether their man was admiring them like a flawless doll on a shelf or tugging on their mane like reins as he was balls deep inside her from behind. They were nearly the exact same height, barely a whisper above five feet. The two women had lean, muscular bodies, builds that told of their athletic prowess and skill… and world-class flexibility that he had put to the test in a hundred different ways by now. Their breasts weren’t as large as he might usually have preferred but he couldn’t question the perfect shape of them, or the round curves of their strong, shapely asses that popped in any clothing the gymnasts wore, and no amount of unflattering clothes could hide how lovely the two were.

The two sisters, in fact, could have passed for twins at a glance. They weren’t, but only prolonged and intimate examination of them had shown him all the ways in which the two beautiful women were different. Rosa was far shyer than her older sister, and had larger breasts… a shame the gymnast had had her entire life, and humiliation to her. When Max had met her, she had been binding those lovely tits, but that had ended that day… never again would she be minimizing one of her best assets. Her eyes had flecks of gold in them that her sister lacked, and she was ticklish… a vulnerability that Luciana didn’t have. Rosa had spent her whole life looking up to her sister, practically worshiping the ground Luciana walked on. The way she looked at it, her sister was perfect and could do no wrong. Max didn’t know if the confession was true, but when he had tormented her for secrets she had admitted that she had only become a gymnast because her sister had, and that she was her inspiration. That didn’t sound right to him… one usually didn’t dedicate one’s life to reaching for perfection just because an idol did, not unless they had a burning passion of their own. Still, when she had sobbed out the words, Max felt sure that she believed she was telling the truth, and he wouldn’t punish someone so lovely for simply being wrong about herself. After all, he had dedicated so much time already to showing her everything else she was wrong about after kidnapping her. In the end, it didn’t matter if she was right or wrong about her motivation… it wasn’t true anymore. Now, the only person she worshiped was him.

Luciana, on the other hand, was a little bit taller than her sister. He didn’t think that was a sign of her being a year older, though… it seemed to him that both girls were long since finished growing. She was more outgoing, bolder, and far quicker – and sharper – with her tongue. Her first words to him had been to tell him to eat shit and die, words that he still made her apologize for every evening before he let her go to sleep. Unlike her sister, Luciana had known that she liked girls practically before she knew what sex was. Before Max she had been a gold star of the purest ore, having never so much as kissed a man. It was his pleasure to reduce her curses to moans, then to pleas, and finally to bargaining, begging questions like “why me?” and “please, can’t you fuck my pussy instead?” and “why are you doing this to me?”

Those shy and resistant beginnings had been months ago for the two Olympic gymnasts, and it had been weeks since he had managed to find a segment about their disappearance on the news to tape for them… he had liked to play those on the television as he fucked them in the evening. Those segments, the police interviews, the crying pleas of their mother for their safe return… those had made such wonderful attacks on their hope, and always made them fight back again. That was the key to training slaves, Max knew. It wasn’t enough to just break them, turn them into something limp and unresisting. That would only shave off the surface. In order to truly train them he needed to find all the depths of their willpower and ability to resist. He needed them to be inspired to fight again and again and again, bringing their resistance to the surface to be crushed down once again. It was important that by the time they were turned over to the man who had commissioned their capture they had nothing left but desperate obedience, and that they knew the only escape they could hope for was escaping from punishment.

And after a few months, he had done it. The two gorgeous women were perfect little sexdolls now. Rosa eagerly bounced her hips up and down on top of him, struggling to keep her balance without slowing down… a constant challenge that the gymnast was well suited for… and if her movements had a slight air of desperation to them rather than enthusiasm, well, the man who was buying them would like that. Max had her kneeling on either side of his hips with her wrists tied behind her back with a smooth white rope that set off her skin. Her breasts wobbled in a lovely way with each bounce, and even seeing that was a reward to his hard work – Max always enjoyed the sight of a plaything tits flopping around as she was fucked, but even the bustier of the sisters hadn’t had enough breast to really make it work so he had done Rosa a favor and wrapped the base of them tightly with more rope. Rosa had assured him, over and over, that she was very grateful that he would help her be more beautiful for him. Now she was riding on him, trying to toe a difficult line between speed and gentle care as she bobbed her waist up and down on him just the way Max had taught her. She had to rise on her knees, straightening herself and pulling back until just the head of his cock was still being squeezed by her heavenly cunt before sinking back down. Her pussy swallowed his thickness without any problem, and the tongue still lashing his cock and balls told him everything he needed to know about why.

Luciana’s tongue was soft, but it was as strong and dexterous as the rest of her. She still shuddered in disgust at the start of every time she had to service his cock, and Max had no desire to train that out of her… her new owner would like that from his fucktoy. Most of the men rich enough to hire Max and cruel enough to want to have a woman raped into subservient slavery enjoyed the little signs of a miserable, suffering girl so long as it didn’t get in the way of them being obedient, and after months of training with Max there could be little doubt left that she was that. Still, the little lesbian wasn’t there just to tease his cock… he had promised her that nothing would please him more about her efforts than if she could make her sister cum while she fucked him. From where she was laying hogtied on the bed behind them, the older sister couldn’t reach Rosa’s clit, so she made do with what she had… mostly licking loudly and sloppily up and down their joined sexual organs and taking the time to wedge her tongue up her sister’s asshole the rest of the time. It was working, too… Rose was quite wet, and he was pretty sure it wasn’t riding his cock that was doing it.

That had been part of the plan to break them as well, after all… They weren’t supposed to feel any pleasure with him. It wasn’t that Max minded, far from it – the shame in a girl’s eyes as she came like a whore on her rapist’s cock was quite intoxicating for him. Their future owner, however, was quite specific – they weren’t to ever cum with a man. It wasn’t too often that his treatment of the two girls let them get close, but whenever it did a quick application of a pliers or some needles or a lighter’s flame was enough to handle it. The real masterstroke, though, had been a simple allowance – they were allowed to cum as often as they liked, as long as they did it to one another.

The first time, he had needed to edge them halfway to insanity first… keeping them on a sybian for hours while he whipped them, both their holes stuffed. He had always been putting them to bed bound tightly together in a sixty-nine position since their first night here, but even though he had told them on the second day that this would be the only pleasure they got, it had taken until the third week, after that night, before they had first touched one another with their tongues in the darkness. Of course, he had filmed the whole thing and forced them to watch it over and over again as he edged them again day after day, and while they hadn’t given in and done it again that night, their resistance hadn’t lasted through two more nights after that. Since then, he had amassed hours and hours of footage of the two sisters making each other shudder the whole night through. He often told them that their father was a particular fan of the videos… that he always, always opened the emails he sent to the man. That was a lie, of course. He would never risk sending anything to the victim’s father. It would violate one of his core principles… No one was untouchable, after all. The two sisters, however, didn’t need to know that, and after a few weeks of reduced sleep from munching each other’s carpets all night and their shattered self-esteem from weeks of repeated rape and humiliation and helplessness, they were ready to believe anything he told them.

So Rosa’s cunt was soaked, and her sister was trying her hardest to make her cum. Of course, Rose knew that Max’s cock was inside of her. That if she got close Max would have to put a stop to that orgasm… painfully. Her eyes kept flicking to the pliers on the nightstand next to him, painfully aware of what anguish it would bring if her sister pushed her too close to the edge. Luciana knew it too, which made her persistent efforts to make her sister cum as she raped herself on his cock all the more damning to the sister who had worshipped her, but that was the life they lived now… she just had to play the game and squeeze and serve and hope that her well-trained pussy could make him cum before Luciana’s tongue did its job too well.

Rosa’s tight cunt was up to the task, too. Rosa was far weaker and less steady now than the formerly confident gymnast had been when she arrived here, but she still kept her moves steady and perfect as she rode him, clenching her squeezing pussy around him and releasing it to pleasure him in the smooth, flawless way that could only come from hundreds of hours spent practicing. Neither sister was nearly as tight these days as they had been when he had kidnapped them and started fucking her multiple times a day, but that wasn’t an issue. Natural tightness could be ruined, or would fade with age. That kind of tightness was of limited value in a slave whose whole purpose was to be fucked hard and often, and who’s body could be mistreated or poorly maintained by a neglectful owner. Trained tightness, however – the knowledge of how to massage a cock with their clenching guts or their kegels – would last the rest of their lives. Both athletes’ bodies had already been tight and muscled and flexible before he had obtained her, and he had taught them with long, cruel lessons how to use it to squeeze down with her holes, how to turn them into the tightest, most fuckable socket they could be. Both girls were masters by now. In addition, he had put them through workouts every day that had nothing to do with their sexual prowess to make sure they stayed every bit as fit and lovely as they had been the day he captured them. Those workout routines probably would have been more effective if he gave them more to eat than cum and piss most days, but their earnest gratitude each time he offered them a crust of bread or a bit of dog food more than made it worth it.

With luck, he was being far harsher than their new owner would ever be. That was his goal. It would make their gratitude and worship of their owner entirely genuine because they knew how lucky they were to have him, how much worse it could be. After all, he hadn’t needed to nail Rosa’s tongue down to the table while Luciana rode him and answered questions, or put out a cigarette on her tongue each time he suspected her sister wasn’t telling the whole truth, but it had led to him learning how terrified Rosa was of drowning. And he hadn’t needed to push needles into Luciana’s breasts while Rosa did her best to milk his cock with her ass and tell him everything he wanted to know about her sister, but it had led to him learning how she had been shocked once as a child and her fear of tasers. But he had done it anyway, and every time he had assraped Rosa while holding her head beneath the tub or waterboarding her, she had known why and just how unfair life could be. He had welded together the metal frame right in front of Luciana and attached it to car batteries before tying her down to it, and each time he used rubber gloves and a condom to rape her while she thrashed and screamed as she was shocked, she had known why. He had caught the two of them giving no shortage of dirty looks to one another, and that had made them far easier to train… but when they reached their new master, they would treat even neglect as genuine kindness after the hell he had put them through.

All of that amounted to saying that the two women had been through a lot.

Rosa, he noticed, watched him closely as she rode him. Her face was locked into a fawning, lustful expression, doing her best bedroom eyes that didn’t quite manage to hide the terror inside them, the horror at what was being done to her. It was a hopeless expression, one that was transparently miserable, but that she was trained enough that she tried to make herself look eager instead. Just knowing that she was broken enough to even try to hide her true feelings always got his cock hard as steel. Her fear came from a million sources… most of them justified. That he might need to hurt her to stop her from cumming. That she wasn’t doing something right and he would need to hurt her to teach her a lesson. That her sister might be making him feel better than she was. In short, dozens of fears that she might not be doing a good enough job of being the worthless, cock-worshiping whore that Max kept telling her she was supposed to be.

And that was sad. She really was an excellent slave… both of them were. Both sisters were flawlessly obedient and skilled… it had been weeks since either of them had refused an order. Neither one of them had even begged for mercy this week… they had just cried and then made whatever horrible thing he had ordered happen to his satisfaction. They were both doing an excellent job of making his dick happy… but neither of them was worthless in the slightest. Picking which of the two to punish was going to be hard. He loved them both equally, though he would never let either of them know it. It would ruin them to know he saw them as anything more valuable than toilet paper to wipe his ass with and throw away.

The truth, though, was that an artist was only as good as his material. With lesser women, he would have needed to go easier… if he had put a poor, traumatized runaway through this kind of treatment, she wouldn’t have become an obedient cock-worshiper – the already-damaged thing would have become nothing but a catatonic fleshlight. That was fine for some people, but it wasn’t what his buyer wanted, and you didn’t need to pay someone like Max to do it. Creating something like this, though, was different. It was their strength and will that had let him create something so perfect, and in the end the finished product was just as much their accomplishment as it was his. He wished they could be proud of that, but letting them be proud of anything at all would ruin the point. They had think he considered them disposable pleasures waiting to be used up until their dying day.

Max let himself let out a small groan of pleasure, and he watched as Rosa fixated on it, changing the way she rode him now that she knew he was close to cumming. His climax, however, was going to be an ending in more than one way. It was always a bittersweet moment, signing his name on a piece of art when he was finished with it, but Max had delayed this as long as he could justify.

These two were ready for delivery.

His balls twitched, his cock swelled, and Rosa gasped as he, for the thousandth time, painted her insides white… giving her the primary reward she could expect to earn for her service until the day she died. And he smiled.

Four days later, Max climbed out of the black Escalade and smiled at the bellhop as they came forward to get his bags. “Be careful,” he warned them as they opened the trunk and got out the pair of large suitcases. “They are heavy.”

“Yes sir!” the smart-dressed assistant said, grabbing onto one of the suitcases and, despite his warning, seemed surprised when it was as heavy as Max had said. “You’re not kidding. Traveling with bricks, sir?”

“Exercise equipment,” Max corrected easily, slipping the man a hundred-dollar bill. “The penthouse on thirty-four, please.”

The man brightened immediately. “Yes sir, right away sir!” He heaved, waving over a second man to help him lift the suitcases out of the trunk. Max tossed his keys to one of the valets, collecting a parking ticket before he walked in towards the elevator, letting the bellhops follow after with his suitcase as he got in. He let the bellhop press the button as both suitcases rested on the dolly. “Will you be staying for long, sir?”

Max laughed. “No, I’m afraid not. Just dropping off some things for a client.” People got on and off the elevator as it headed up and up until, minutes later, the doors opened and he and his bags walked out into the hallway, heading for the ornate door at the end of the hall. Max sent a text message as he walked, and the door at the end of the hall opened before he got there, a bodyguard in a suit and sunglasses waiting for him. He took the suitcases off the baggage cart one at a time before pressing another bill into the bellhop’s hands and nodding to him.

“Thank you sirs!” the man said, smiling with very white teeth, before he turned and walked away, whistling, the sound cutting off as the door closed.

Max met the guard’s gaze. “I presume Mr. Hansen is here?” he said expectantly.

“I am indeed!” a voice said from the other room, and a moment later an older, grey-haired white man limped into the door. Mr Hansen looked to have been a large man once upon a time, but age and injury had not been kind to him… he walked with a cane now, and while his shoulders were still undeniably broad his hunch masked his height, and his limbs looked more fragile than strong. To look at him, Max didn’t think he actually looked that old… more like someone who had gotten sick and wasted away before his time. Still, his clear blue eyes looked intense, focused, and intelligent, and they barely greeted Max before they focused on the suitcases. “I presume in turn that those are my… commission?” he asked. When Max nodded, the older man smiled. “Come, sit with me… have a drink.” Then he turned around and walked back into the other room.

Max followed, dragging one of the suitcases after him while the silent bodyguard did the other and entered a well-appointed penthouse with red carpets and luxurious chairs and coaches. If the place had contained a raging fireplace Max would have hardly been surprised… it just looked like that kind of place. Mr Hansen lowered himself down into one of the comfortable chairs and gestured for Max to do the same, but instead, the slave trainer bent down, pulled a key from his pocket, and undid the simple padlock of one of the suitcases. Unzipping it, he peeled away the wrapping to reveal one of his masterpieces.

Not every girl he’d ever kidnapped and trained would have been able to fit, but Luciana wasn’t the average girl… both smaller and more flexible than most. He had bound the gymnast up into a tight fetal position, her knees pressed tight enough against her chest that it squashed her already modest breasts flat against them… not that it hid the clamps he had put on them before leaving. Her hands were bound behind her back just as tightly, practically twisting her up into a bow. She could barely move, and only the shallow rise and fall of her chest betrayed her life. Her beautiful face was covered almost completely, with layers of soft cloth completely blacking out her vision and covering her mouth and ears, leaving just her nose uncovered. That was important because, beneath that cloth, there was a thick plastic cock wedged down her throat. The portable oxygen tank he had stuffed into the suitcase with her and plugged into her nostril was the only thing letting her breathe enough now. Likewise, though her ears were covered, Max could see the cords of the headphones going into them… playing a compilation of her own best hits. The first time she’d been assraped, and the promises and offers she had made to him if only he would fuck her in another hole instead when he came back for the second time. The ways she had sold her sister out, the secrets she had told. Slutty confessions about her own sexual exploits and fantasies, and the lies he forced her to come up with to satisfy him, playing over and over again until he felt sure she wouldn’t even remember which were the lies and which were true. Certainly, the setup combined to make her utterly unable to see, hear, move, or make a sound, even as the vibrators stuffed up her cunt and ass buzzed away.

Even blind and deaf, the girl was starting to stir slightly now, realizing that something had changed when she felt the air on her skin. It didn’t matter… she had nowhere to go, and though her body vibrated through what was probably a moan or a plea, Max couldn’t hear the faintest whisper of it from just inches away.

“Exquisite,” Mr. Hansen said, letting out a slow breath. “She’s just as beautiful as she looked on the television.”

“More so, I assure you,” Max said. “I trust you have reviewed the video files I sent you and found everything satisfactory? Their training meets your standard?”

“Far exceeds it, I’d say,” the silver-haired man said affably. “They seem very well-behaved, and from your reputation I have little doubt that their skills will be any less remarkable. I am ready to conclude our contract… so long as you can answer a single question for me.” Max looked up, tilting his head quizzically, but he made a gesture indicating that his client go on. “Bjorn, pay the man… but Mr. Max, I wonder if you would be so kind as to sit with me for a minute.”

Max gave a small nod as he felt the vibration in his pants, his phone notifying him of the wire transfer. He had no doubts that the amount would be right… six million dollars, three for each girl. He sat down into one of the chairs, settling into the luxurious thing and waiting expectantly. “What would you like to drink?” Mr. Hansen asked.

Max shrugged. “Dalmore. ’62, if you have it.”

His client’s eyebrows went up. “Expensive tastes, especially for such a young man.” He gestured, and the bodyguard walked behind the bar, searching the shelves of a very, very expensive liquor cabinet before selecting a bottle and pouring two shots. Before he was finished, Mr. Hansen was already speaking. “I have wondered something, young man. You have quite an excellent reputation in the business… when I started to make discrete inquisitions about who could provide me the service I needed, your name came up again and again.” The bodyguard arrived with the whiskey and put one of the tumblers into Max’s hand before delivering the second to his employer. The older man drank, and Max did the same… feeling sweet liquid fire pour down his throat. “That is excellent,” Mr Hansen said genially. “You know I’ve had that bottle for… a decade, I think. Never took a shot.”

“Your loss,” Max said as he relaxed into his chair.

“Clearly,” his client agreed. “But that is what I am wondering. You spend so much time hunting and training and working, yet you take no victims of your own… you only hunt those you are paid to take. You charge exorbitant fees, yet you save nothing… and while I paid you plenty, it isn’t enough for you to be casually drinking something that is 20,000 a shot.”

“I wasn’t buying,” he said.

“That you weren’t. But the way I hear it,” Mr. Hansen countered, “You drink the same way when you are.” Max shrugged in acknowledgment of the point as his client reached over to where Luciana was still bound up in the open suitcase. He reached in and stroked her face, enjoying the way she flinched weakly away from him in her bonds as he continued. “You don’t seem to get anywhere. You don’t seem to want to… you spend almost all of what you earn as quickly as you make it, like you’re content to do this forever. I’m forced to conclude from this that you are right where you want to be, but I don’t get it. So, what I want to know is… why do you do this?”

Max laughed. “Everyone has to do something to pay the rent,” he said, still laughing. “Though I have to admit, I’m more used to getting that question from my… houseguests… than my clients.”

“For the pay, then?” the old man pressed. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, Mr. Max. If you were in this for the money, I suspect you would keep more of it than you do.” Max shrugged, letting the silence stretch as he felt the whiskey burning pleasantly in his stomach until Mr. Hansen felt the pressure to continue. “There are lots of theories about you, you know.”

“Oh?” he said, leaning forward. “And what do they say about me?”

“That you do this because you hate women. That you’re punishing them. That you do this for revenge against someone, or the world in general.”

Max snorted. “Not likely.”

“Some even say,” he continued, “that you’re not human at all, but a revenant. A demon, placed on this world as a scourge against women. Something apocalyptic.”

Max couldn’t help it… he laughed. “Sure!” he said, chuckling. “Let’s go with that one. A monster from hell here to ruin the world.” He got up and went to the other suitcase, unlocking it in turn and opening Rosa up to Mr. Hansen’s eyes. The welt marks from her last punishment were invisible now but he could still remember where they had been, purple against her mocha skin. He had whipped her until she didn’t have the strength to stand… just because she had pleased him one iota less than her sister had. “Demons aren’t real, Mr. Hansen,” he said as he stroked one hand over the beautiful gymnast’s cheek, feeling her tremble under the invisible touch. Even without the rest of her senses, Max was pretty sure she would recognize his hand anywhere by now, the way he traced his fingers through her hair. “At least, not ones from hell. The devil doesn’t rule hell, my friend… people do. We do.”

He looked up and found that Mr. Hansen had looked away. “Are you satisfied?” he asked.

His client cleared his throat. “I’m satisfied.”

“Excellent.” Max stood up fully, straightening his suit. “Then I will leave you to enjoy your new playthings. If they give you any trouble, I would advise telling them you could always send them back to me for attitude correction. In my experience that usually solves the problem.”

“Yes…” Mr. Hansen said, coughing. “Oh, I’ve, uh, taken the liberty of giving you a referral. My understanding from my own research is that all of your business comes through previous clients, and I can vouch for this gentleman who would like to purchase your services and could use a man who is… in it for the money, as you say. Someone with mercenary sensibilities.” He nodded to the bodyguard that Max had almost forgotten was there and the silent statue of a man detached himself from the wall, lifting a black duffel back and holding it out for Max to take.

It was surprisingly heavy, but he put it over one shoulder, letting the bag hang behind him. “A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Hansen,” he said. Then Max turned and walked for the door. The bodyguard escorted him out, opening the trio of locks securing the penthouse, and as he did Max looked back at where his client was beginning to pull Lucina out of the suitcase he had stuffed her into. He suspected that the man would have her on her back with her legs spread within five minutes.

The real tragedy of this was that the priceless works of art he created had to think that he hated them. That he detested the ground they walked on and the air they breathed, and that he felt their very life was a waste of space… that he could throw them out a window or bury them in a dumpster and think nothing of it… or that he enjoyed their misery. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, he genuinely admired their hard-earned abilities in their chosen fields of excellence just as much as he did their skills in the carnal arts he had instilled in them. It would harm the work of art for them to ever realize it, but Max truly hoped that the two sisters could manage to find some happiness in their new life, using what he’d taught them.

But that was going to be their problem. Not his.

Resolutely, Max put the pair of sisters out of his mind forever and stepped out the door.

The first thing Max did after leaving the penthouse was to open the bag.

It wasn’t that strange, really. Mercenaries, and that was exactly what Max was, always needed to beware for a betrayal of some kind. The usual time for it would be before payment, not after, though. Max didn’t think it likely that some kind of double cross was coming but he wasn’t an idiot either, and if someone was packing a bomb into his bag then it wasn’t going to go off right next to the men who had given it to him. In case of something dramatic like that, he wasn’t going to go anywhere with it before opening.

While the bag contained nothing so dangerous as a bomb, that didn’t mean it didn’t have anything dramatic. The heaviness, as it turned out, was from two bars of solid gold.

Max lifted it up, certain at first that they were fake… but each was stamped with an official mint seal and everything… they certainly appeared legitimate. The weight also suggested its veracity as he ran his fingers over it, surprised as he tried to do some quick mental math… how much was gold worth right now? About $800,000 US a brick? Max was used to being paid with numbered accounts and wireless transfers… he had never actually held any of the vast sums of money that had been exchanged into his hands before now. Somehow this felt far, far more real.

Max didn’t care too much about money itself, and still he was almost hypnotized by the gold… it took a second to get himself to set them aside and see what else was in the bag. The next thing was a box that seemed to be made of some kind of worked, engraved metal. It wasn’t all that big, small enough to be easily held between his hands, but as he spun it around he could find no hinges or lid, no obvious way to open it. Shrugging, he put it to the side and dug deeper into the bag, looking for what else was there. He found a small leather pouch, and to his surprise there was more gold inside… the bag was full of coins. Some of the coins were golden and others appeared to be wrought of something like iron, both worked into some kind of ancient, triangular coin he had never seen before. It was included along with a hard case containing a pair of clear, wire-rim glasses and a tiny felt box with a ring inside of it. Neither seemed exceptional to his eyes. Finally, there was a wig of golden blonde hair… one that was surprising and seemed to catch all the light as he turned it over and over in his hands, setting it to shimmer in the glow of the lamps. Max stared at it. In another context, he might not have recognized what he was looking at, but coming in this bag, with the other items, it was impossible not to recognize what the wig was. Gold. It was also made out of gold, impossibly fine strands of gold cascading as freely as hair.

Most important of all, there was a sealed envelope with his name written on it in elegant script.

Max pulled out a folding knife and cut the envelope open, pulling out a crisply creased piece of paper. He opened it up, straightened it, and leaned against the wall as he began to read.

Mr. Max,

It is a pleasure to meet you at last, even if only by proxy. I have been looking forward to this for many years while I prepared for this day. You may call me Mr. Root, and you can consider me a fan of your work. Who I am is not especially important, but I, of course, know much more about you and who you are. I know your customers are very, very satisfied with your services. I know that the last time you turned down a mandate was more than five years ago… and no matter how difficult, you accept any mission. Most importantly, I know that you are expensive… probably because you run through money so, so quickly. Really, Max? Those gymnast sisters should be enough for you to retire but how long is it going to take you to burn through the money… two months? You should never need to work again but here you are, already considering a new commission.

Well then, you are in luck! I would love to hire you. I am prepared to pay well… but I should warn you. This task may prove a little bit more complicated than even you are used to… my needs are significantly more specific than you have been asked before. Are you up for a challenge, Max?

Firstly, you will find a payment with this letter. Think of this gold as a deposit on my order… earnest money. If you should decide to not accept my request, then simply leave the bars behind in the hotel when you leave, and I shall consider myself disappointed but us even… we shall not meet again. Should you leave the hotel with the gold, however, I shall consider our bargain sealed.

Now, as to the targets.

These will be considerably unusual, I warn you. I need you to acquire four women for me, and I assure you that as much as you might think I am joking, I am not… there is a reason I have included gold with this offer, lest you consider this an elaborate prank.

None of the four women are human.

The first of the four women is named Brynhild, and she’s a valkyrie. Yes, those valkyries… the ones that once escorted the souls of dead warriors to their resting place, Valhalla or otherwise. It has been a very long time since she last served as one of the Choosers of the Slain, however, so she has largely been using her skills elsewhere. Brynhild will be tall and strong and courageous, but I think you will find that no one has really challenged one in many years, and that should give you a decent chance to capture her.

The second will be a faerie woman named Skuld, and a more dangerous and devious trickster you won’t find in this world or any other. I doubt you know it, but it is all but impossible to capture one of the elder fae – they are simply far too slippery, far too experienced, and far too difficult to find, and you can’t force one to manifest against her will. Skuld is nearly untouchable… but her daughters will be much less so. I believe your best route will be to trade their freedom for hers.

The third victim will be perhaps the most exotic one… Audumbla. She is an ancient being, one of what were once called Huldra in northern Europe, and Satyrs in Southern. Her kind has a well-earned reputation for danger… even if you can find her, capturing and taming her will be a task more than worthy of you.

Finally, I require a woman named Selkolla. I suspect that once you start looking she will be by far the easiest of the four to find because, unlike the others, she isn’t even trying to hide. Once you know what you are looking for, locating her will not be the issue… but she’s been preying on men like you longer than your family name has existed. Your kind has a thousand names for ones such as her, but in the modern day a monster like her is most often called a Succubus. She can read your mind if you aren’t careful, and tricking humans to their death is what she does. Have a care Max… I do not wish to lose my investment.

Now, I have no interest in these creatures, although stripping a Valkyrie against her will or forcefully extracting the milk of a huldra’s breasts would make for very, very rare and exclusive pleasures. I do not need them delivered to me. What I need is for you to do what you do best… break them. Bind them, hurt them, torture them until they weep and scream and beg. What I am ultimately paying you for, Mr. Max, is for you to break these creatures enough that they read the text below. Some will prefer to die than to say it out loud, but will need you to convince them that speaking the words is a more merciful fate than your continued persuasions. I warn you again, that will be difficult… None of these women will be easy to break.

You will know you have won when one by one, the women will willingly say the following sentence:

“I forsake my binding, and free you from your prison.”

I know none of this will be easy, but the rewards will be worth it… the price will be ten bars of gold for each victim – payable after delivery of all four women. The payment from me, however, is only half the prize.

Mr. Max, this is very important: before the last creature has spoken the words, you need to have the box I have given you with you. This is very important, for you will not be safe otherwise. When the last words are spoken, another woman will walk through, and then things will change very quickly. Then your final payment will be made and we can discuss a new commission if you are interested. As you have surely gathered by now, my interest lies in She who will walk through the gate, and once She is here your job is finished.

You are invited free to keep any of the victims or all of them as extra payment. The four women will be yours at the end of the contract. I know you have never captured a woman for yourself, but no one has ever hired you to, either… It is my wish that after you have sufficiently tamed them for my needs that you may do as you wish with them. Keep them for your own. Sell them. Set them free, or kill them. I care not… the choice is yours.

If you do decide to take up the order, you will find also included some items that will help you. Various… rules… prevent me from telling you too much about the items, but they will help you see a different perspective on the world. I would start with the glasses if I were you. The coins and the wig are not for you. Their monetary value is considerable but I think you will find them far more valuable to give them away… they belong to someone who might be able to assist you. They are quite old and very bitter, but they know a lot more than you do about the targets and the world they move in… and their tongue is far freer of bondage than mine. You can most often find them drinking alone in Slippbarinn, a bar in Reykjavík, although I am not sure they realize that it is not what it used to be anymore. Their word is reliable… strike a bargain with them and they’ll not betray it.

This is a lot to take in, Mr. Max, I know, and a dangerous assignment, but I promise you that should you be successful, the gold riches you earn will keep you for a long time… not to mention the other prizes. Having a valkyrie’s unwilling body beneath yours to ravage and torture at will, or a slave succubus to fulfill every fantasy your wandering mind can conjure is a rare privilege for one such as you… you would be the first man in history to have these things, but I have faith in you.

We probably will not communicate again until the words are spoken, but if you absolutely need to reach me, leave a message at the attached number… although I may or may not be able to respond to it.

I wish you well, Mr. Max, and I look forward to your success.

-Mr. Root

The moment Max finished the letter, he started reading it again from the beginning… and then again. And then a fourth time. This was… insane. The letter was right… if it hadn’t come with serious money, he would have considered it a joke. But even by the standards of people who hired him this would be a strange, out-of-place joke. The writer, this… Mr. Root… seemed sincere, if thoroughly mad.

Max looked down at the bar of gold in his hand again.

He wasn’t actually considering this, was he?

These creatures… the women he’d asked him to hunt down. They weren’t real. Myths, legends, and stories were not real people. He couldn’t successfully hunt someone who didn’t really exist. Unless, of course, they did. Targets that no one had ever claimed… people who thought themselves invincible, superior, untouchable.

After all… why did he do this?

He read the letter again.

Then, before he could reconsider, he stuffed the golden bars back into the duffel bag along with the rest of the odds and ends, folded the letter up, and put it in his pocket. Then, as he walked into the elevator, he pulled out his cellphone and made a call. “I need a ticket on the next flight to Iceland. When does it take off?”

Max had never been to Reykjavík before, but the city was beautiful and he found that he was able to get by with English without any difficulty. He got a room for himself at an airport hotel, but by the time the sun was going down he was already looking for the “Slippbarinn” mentioned in the letter. It turned out not to be very difficult… The place was a famous pub that had existed for centuries in some form or another, and he had barely needed to look the place up in order to find it. Reykjavík just wasn’t that big… It was less than a twenty-minute drive from his hotel by taxi.

The pub was packed, even on a weekday evening… completely crowded with people as he made his way up to the bar, looking around. There were dozens and dozens of people here… how was he supposed to find a man who wasn’t even named in the letter in this mess? It took him more than five minutes for one of the bartenders to get around to asking him what he wanted… a lovely, redheaded woman with a dazzling smile that made him imagine how beautiful she would look sobbing on her knees with welts all over her tits. “What can I get you, stranger?”

He smiled back. “I’m here to ask a regular a few questions. I’ll take a tumble of whatever whiskey you have on the top shelf, your name, and for you to point me at the man who has a permanent indentation of his ass on one of these barstools.”

“Margret,” she said with a chuckle as she reached over, her body stretching languidly in a way that made her tits show up wonderfully against her shirt as she took down the bottle he’d asked for. “As for regulars, though… Hell, half the people here are here every night. You want to ask questions, just pick a random face in the crowd.” She poured the whiskey, took his money, and skipped off to help someone else, leaving Max without a lead once again and annoyed. He turned to move his gaze through the room, looking for anyone suspicious and finding nothing.

How the hell did this Mr. Root expect him to find a mystery man in an unfamiliar city without even knowing his name? The letter said that he was old, but no one here looked that old to Max’s eyes. Simply calling out the pseudonym of his client would be unprofessional and unlikely to work, revealing the sack of gold would bring far too much attention – and of the wrong kind, as well – and trying to go up to everyone one by one would just be an exercise in futility. None of it was going to work.

Max had only one idea, and he felt like a fool for even considering it. It made no sense, but…

He reached into his pocket and found the hard case of the glasses, right where he had put them. They will help you see a different perspective on the world. I would start with the glasses, if I were you. That was what the letter had said. It felt ridiculous, but he pulled out the case, opened it, and pulled out a pair of clear, wire-framed glasses.

As he examined them now in the light of the bar he could see that they looked… odd. At first glance the wire rims just felt rough to the touch, but a closer look showed that wasn’t the case at all. Strangely ornate for an old pair of glasses, the copper rims were engraved with very intricate, tiny filigree that covered most of the surface… tiny engravings forming hundreds of small shapes almost too fine for his eyes to make out. He was going to need a magnifying class to make out the work, so fine was it. Feeling silly, he put them on. “A different perspective,” Max muttered to himself as he looked around. Nothing was different… what had he expected? He was just looking through glasses, after all. What was possibly going to ch-

Max almost looked past the woman sitting alone at a round table before he processed what he was seeing. The person sitting there, nursing her drink was… was not the same person who had been sitting there a moment ago. A moment ago a tall brunette businesswoman had been sitting at that table alone, the obvious ice in her posture enough to frighten away anyone who might want to sit with her. That woman was gone now. Slim and lanky, the woman who sat there now was proportioned ever so slightly wrong, her arms a bit too long, her neck a bit too long, her fingers too long. She looked almost… stretched, in a way people just didn’t. The woman was perfectly bald, the hair gone now and her skin wasn’t just dark like it had appeared… It was the same color as coal. Max took off the glasses, eyes widening, and found a perfectly normal-looking businesswoman back sitting at the table, slowly nursing a glass of some kind of amber liquid. Putting them back on caused the strange, hidden black-skinned woman to reappear.

He felt slightly like screaming as a lifetime of understanding about how the world really worked crumbled all at once, his hands trembling a little as he looked across the room. His heart raced in what was almost the beginning of a panic attack, his finger squeezing the tumbler hard enough that he began to worry it might crack. Then he tossed back the shot and swallowed hard before he walked over and, before he had an opportunity to second guess himself, sat down across from the strange woman.

“I think you’re mistaken, friend,” she said firmly, and without the slightest hesitation. “I don’t know you. Keep walking.”

“You don’t know me, but I hope you will soon,” Max said as he pushed the chair in, sliding into position. “I was sent here to find you and talk.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” the stranger said, a hint of a growl in her voice. “Now step off, American. I don’t have… time for… y…” Her voice trailed off as she looked at Max’s face with growing confusion, and then anger. “Those are my glasses!” she said, indignant as her hands slapped down on the table. “Where did you get them!”

“Then I think these are yours, too,” Max said as he pulled out the pouch of coins, and let them fall to the table with a satisfying, heavy thump. “So let’s talk.”

If he had thought the inhuman woman’s eyes were wide before, they became like oceans. “Wha…” Her gaze flicked back and forth between Max’s face and the coin, over and over again in rapid succession. “This is Muspelheim ore! I made this! Where did you…” Then her gaze narrowed. “No. The answer is no.”

Max laughed. “No, what? I haven’t asked anything.”

“I don’t care. No matter what you’re asking… I won’t do it. You could only have gotten this one place. If he’s back, and making his move, I don’t want anything to do with it. Is it him? Is he back?”

Max trusted his instincts… and he knew when someone was lying. Either to him, or herself. Her eyes kept flicking back to the bag of coins, like she couldn’t keep her eyes off of it. She was more interested than she pretended. “If by “he” you mean Mr. Root, then yes,” Max said. “He’s hired me to find some people for him.”

“So that’s what he’s going by these days, is it?” the dark-skinned woman said, her face twisting somewhere between a sneer and a grimace. “Appropriate, I suppose. I didn’t think he’d ever come back, and now that he has I’m not sure if I’m grateful or worried.”

“Don’t really know what you’re talking about,” Max said cheerfully as he turned over the flag on the table meant to call over a server for more drinks. “Next round is on me. What are you drinking?”

“Mead,” she said flatly, her eyes appraising Max. “Not in the know, are you? He always did like to find agents that were out of the game.”

“I take it that’s what you’re for,” he said, smiling. “Shall we start with your name?”

The woman looked at Max appraisingly. Then she sighed, and drank deeply before speaking further. “Astrid,” she said, a hint of a growl in her voice. “They called me Astrid.”

“So then Astrid…” He jingled the bag of coins. “What are these?”

“My ticket off this Odin-cursed realm,” the dark-skinned woman said, “and a way I can get elsewhere.” She looked at them with open lust in her eyes, a sense of desperate need that she couldn’t hide. “So… what’s it going to take for you to give these to me?”

“What’s to stop you from just taking it?” Max said as he leaned down in his chair, eying the woman appraisingly. He felt off balance and confused, tossed into a world that he suddenly realized he didn’t understand as well as he thought… but Max was used to trusting his instincts, now and forever. Those instincts were telling him that he was in no danger, that this creature, whoever she was, wanted to negotiate and not to fight.

“Svartalfs don’t do things that way,” she said, her eyes narrowing as Astrid put as much condescension into the words as possible. “You really don’t know anything, do you?”

“That’s why I have the coins,” Max agreed. “I have coins, and I don’t know shit. You know things, and need coins. Seems like an easy trade to me.”

Astrid drank again, deeply, before slamming the empty glass down. “Fine,” she snapped, her accent thickening a little bit. “I’ll teach kindergarten then. What does “Mr. Root” want you to do for him?”

Max stopped leaning back on his chair, sliding in and coming forward on his elbows instead. “I need to capture and hold four women for him.”

“Then I’d recommend picking four of them off the street,” the svartalf said flippantly. “Raiders have been doing that for centuries, and the world has changed but it hasn’t changed that much. You don’t need me for that.”

“Four specific women,” Max corrected. “Captured, enslaved, and broken. Their names are Brynhild, Skuld, Audumbla, and Selkolla,” he said, reciting the letter from memory.

Astrid laughed riotously. “Then you’re an idiot who’s out of luck,” the dark-skinned creature said. “He’s not just making a move, he’s going for gold. Tell me… did you make an actual agreement to do this?” She peered at Max’s face, then laughed again. “You did, didn’t you? Then you’re a dead man, human. Nothing I tell you is going to make a difference.”

“Humor me,” Max said flatly. “No one is untouchable.”

“Oh, sure, sure,” Astrid said agreeably, still chuckling. She paused as Margret stopped by finally to deliver another drink to them both and flipped the flag back over, smiling at them both before the beautiful redhead walked away. Astrid watched her go, happily watching her ass sway in her tight jeans as she worked her way through the crowd before leaving sight. “Oh, the things I could do with her between my legs. Anyway,” she said at last, once the bartender was gone. “Sure, it’s possible a human is going to bring them down. Just like it’s possible that when I walk out of here I’m going to trip over a mountain of ore from Muspelheim that doesn’t belong to anyone, but it’s not going to happen. Fucking Loki tried for years and he couldn’t trick Brynhild into his bed. Skuld conned the Allfather himself, and Selkolla has made a habit of seducing and destroying every descendant of the gods she can find, but sure, you’re going to be the one to bring them low.”

Max ignored her dismissal. It wasn’t the first time someone had doubted he could complete a commission, after all. “What would I need in order to do it?” he asked instead. “Actually need. Not your opinion of whether or not it’s possible.”

Astrid rolled her eyes. “None of them are going to break easily.” The way she said it, it was clear she didn’t think any of them would be breaking at all, but she continued anyway, like she was just doing it to humor the man. “They’ll need to be kept captive for an extended period of time for you to…” she looked down at Max’s crotch through the table theatrically, “work your magic.” She sneered a bit. “You’d need chains that are capable of holding them. Collars of iron fit to bind… semi-divine…” she trailed off, looking at the coins again.

“Muspelheim iron, you said?” Max said, a hint of a smile on his face. “I assume there’s enough for both your needs and mine?”

“Someone would still need to make them for you,” she said stubbornly.

He took off the glasses and peered again at the fine filigree work on the frame, the impossible level of detail. “Yours, you said? I think I know someone who could make those collars.”

“You’re insane if you think I’m doing it. Not even for the rest of the coin. I don’t do that anymore… and anyway, when you fail – and you will fail, mortal – I am not going to be the one with the maker’s mark on chains that tried to bind those bitches.”

Without a word, Max reached into his bag and dropped the heavy, golden wig onto the table. Astrid shut up, her mouth hanging open in shock. “I’m not going to fail,” Max said easily, no hint of argument in his tone. “No one is untouchable,” he repeated.

The svartalf’s mouth opened and closed several times. Her hands reached for the wig several times before aborting the motion as if thinking better of it. “It still exists?” she whispered, voice stunned.

“A gift from my customer, to sweeten the deal,” Max said, nodding. “What is it?”

“Belonging…” she whispered, her voice seeming far away. “The finest thing I ever made, before it was stolen from me long ago. A key that can open doors long shut to me. A way to go home.” She looked up, and there was something feral and angry in her eyes. “What you aim for cannot be done, mortal. You can’t do it.”

“I think you’re probably right,” Max said, his hands flat on the table. ”But I think we can.”

She swallowed. Then her hand reached out and stroked softly over the wig. “Prove me wrong, then,” Astrid said quietly. “What makes you think you can do this?”

Max shrugged. “He hired me, didn’t he? I’ve never failed before.”

Then Max leaned forward and told him how he’d been referred to Mr. Root and the last job he had done, and by the time he was finished Astrid was laughing and showed no signs of stopping. “Oh! Oh, gods! It’s you!” she forced out through her cheer. “So you’re the man they talked about on the television!” she slapped her knees as she spoke, struggling to breathe. “The so-called ‘ghost,’ because you walk through walls and no one can find you! What a riot!” Max just remained silent while the svartalf kept laughing. “You’re a crazy one, Mr. Ghost,” Astrid admitted, “but I don’t think you’ll be the one to succeed where thousands have failed. Those women are like gods, and you’re just a man.”

“If the gods were so high and mighty,” Max asked, “then why am I learning about them now for the first time? Why are all of them hiding?”

Astrid snorted. “Fair enough, I suppose. Alright… then I w-” She paused as Margret came back over and refilled her mead again, waiting until she was gone before continuing. She stared after her for a long minute again as she walked away, and when she spoke again she wasn’t looking at him. “Why?”

Max tilted his head. “Why?” he repeated. “Why what?”

“Why all of this?” she asked, waving her hand. “They say things about you on the news, you know. Sex trafficking. Slavery. High-end sale of trained playthings. Any of that true?” When Max shrugged in agreement, the svartalf continued. “Then, for example, let’s talk about lovely Margret over there. She’s beautiful, isn’t she?”

Max nodded in agreement. “Extremely,” he said, nodding his approval.

“I’ve been staring at that piece of ass and those great big titties of hers for more than a year now,” Astrid said. “She’s lovely, every bit the equal of any of those stuck-up bitches from the TV. Don’t you think so?”

He shrugged easily. “Yeah, I’d say so. Absolutely gorgeous.” He didn’t see the need to argue that it was rare for him to find a woman that he didn’t think was pretty enough to enjoy. Everyone had something beautiful in them just waiting to be let out.

“And she’s in my territory, parading herself in front of me day in and day out.” She sighed theatrically. “Are you going to grab her?” Astrid asked. “Turn her into one of your tamed slaves?”

“No,” Max said simply.

“And how about me?” she said, her grin predatory. “Do I meet your standards, human? Do you think that I am… pretty… enough to be worth your time?”

Max rolled his eyes. “Fishing for compliments or asking for assurances?” he asked. “You’re gorgeous, but you’re in no danger from me.”

“And why not?” she said, leaning forward. “The last disappearances credited to you were a pair of gymnasts, I believe. Did you enjoy what you did to them?”

“I did,” Max agreed. “A great deal. They were lovely.”

“And would you not take just as much pleasure from holding down that bartender and forcing your way between her legs?”

“Probably,” he said with a shrug. “She seems worth the effort.”

“Then why don’t you?” Astrid asked.

“Why would I?” Max asked. “She’s done nothing to me. Given me no reason. No one has asked me to hurt her. What cause do I have?”

“It’s what you do, isn’t it?” the svartalf asked.

“Not even close,” Max said, shaking his head. “You don’t get it at all.”

“So why, then?” Astrid asked. “Explain it to me, foolish mortal idiot. Why do you do this?”

Max sighed. “Can you think of a better, more fulfilling job in the whole world?” he asked. “A job that is endlessly challenging, endlessly rewarding, and comes with the kind of perks that this one does? Access to the most beautiful women in the world, high society… new places, new things to do?”

“So you can do this without blinking? You don’t feel bad?” the dark-skinned creature pressed him. “You don’t feel doubt?”

“What’s to doubt?” he asked with a shrug. “It wasn’t my idea to abduct any of those women. If I didn’t take the job, they would have hired someone else. I’m not sparing the women by refusing, I’d just be choosing poverty… and cruelty.”

One of Astrid’s eyebrows raised. “Cruelty?”

“I’m not the one who’d decided that those sisters’ lives as gymnasts should be destroyed and that they become sex slaves instead,” he clarified. “And I certainly wasn’t the one paying millions to make it happen. I’m just the person making sure it was done competently. If some lazy, slack-jawed idiot of a butcher did it instead, he would have just ruined them. Anyone else, I think they would probably kill themselves before the year is out. Or the customer would have the moment they stopped being tight and enjoyable, the moment they became more trouble than they were worth. The way I did it, they’ll have a long life ahead of them. The way I did it, at least they might be able to find some enjoyment in their new lives. ”

Astrid snorted again. “You think so, do you?” she asked.

Max shrugged. “That’ll be up to them, I say.”

The svartalf shook her head in disbelief. “Alright, mortal,” she said, still chuckling softly. “Alright.”

“So you’ll do it?” Despite himself, Max was starting to get excited. Now that he knew this job was real… his mind was spinning. This was… this hunt was going to be something spectacular. “You’ll work with me?”

“I’ll accept, mortal. I’ll craft you your chains. I’ll tell you about the women. You’ll give me the rest of the coins, and the wig, and I’ll leave Midgar behind forever… but first-”

“You’ll make the chains,” he corrected. “You’ll tell me about the women. You’ll get the rest of the coins and the wig after I’m successful.”

“Unacceptable,” Astrid said with a growl. “You won’t be.”

“You can have the wig now. You’ll get the rest of the coins after I’m successful or I’ve died trying,” Max corrected. He stuck out a hand for the svartalf.

“You’re walking to your grave, human,” she warned.

“You have to die of something,” Max said evenly. “Everyone dies someday. Deal?”

Astrid stared for a long moment. “Alright then. Perhaps a sweetening of the pot.” She lifted her mead and drank deeply. “I’m willing, against my better instincts, to consider this madness,” she said, raising a finger. “If you just wanted information and me to be gone, that would be one thing… but you want me to craft for you. I laughed in Thor’s face the last time he came to me asking for that, and he robbed me instead. But I wasn’t as desperate then as I am now. I want to be gone from this place… so I’ll take your deal, human. But if you want me to have faith you won’t get me killed in your fool quest? Then I am going to need more than this bag of metal.”

Max leaned back. “And what more do you want?” he said, softly emphasizing the last syllable. She didn’t need. She wanted. He was not a servant here… he was willing to negotiate, not to serve.

“A demonstration,” she said simply. Slowly she raised one hand and pointed across the bar… at where Margret was currently serving another pair of drinks. “I want her.”

Both of Max’s eyes perked up. “Really?” he asked.

“You said you wouldn’t have a problem with it,” she said, both hands slapping against the table. “That the only reason you wouldn’t is that no one has asked. Well, I’m asking.” Astrid pointed at him accusingly. “I propose a test, human. You will take her, with no one the wiser. You will have her willing to kneel between my legs and worship me as a goddess… and you will have it done by morning.”

Max scoffed. “Not possible.”

“It had best be, mortal,” Astrid shot back, “because if you can’t even tame a mortal college girl in one night, it won’t matter if I help you capture these four women or not; you’ll be dead of old age before a single one of the tarts will do more than spit in your face.” She smiled broadly. “Before the first light of dawn touches this city, I want her to be mine.” The svartalf woman held out a hand. “Unless you can’t do it, of course.”

Max sighed… then he took her hand. “Deal.”

By the time Margret got off work, every muscle in her legs ached from hours and hours spent walking around, and she had to resist the urge to throw her shoes across the alley as she stepped out of the bar and out into the city. It was night by now, and leaving through the back of the bar was never a ton of fun… it stank back here from the garbage, but at least it was out of the way. It had been crazy tonight, and the redhead was just glad that she didn’t need to close. Instead, her tips safely in her pocket, she started to walk to her car.

And before she made it five steps the hair on the back of her neck started to rise.

Within a second or two she heard a footstep behind her, and she felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Margret tried to tell herself she was being paranoid, that she walked here all the time… that it was probably just one of the cooks or another patron having a smoke and she should just keep walking… but her heart was racing. Trying to calm her frenzied pulse, she risked a glance behind her…

Just as a man in a heavy sweatshirt rammed a stun gun into her stomach.

Electricity coursed through her and her mouth opened in a silent scream as she collapsed twitching to the ground, looking up in shock as she tried, uselessly, to call out for help. Her lungs wouldn’t work… none of her muscles would work as she looked up and saw one of her customers, the American man, standing over her.

“For what it’s worth,” he said, “I am sorry about this. I usually do this a lot less painfully and with a lot more subtlety, but I’m on a bit of a short schedule.” He drove the stun gun into her stomach again as she twitched on the ground.



Next Chapter ->

4 thoughts on “The Twilight Hunt – Chapter 1 – Raison d’etre

  1. Okay, time for me to put on my speculating glasses!

    So, first up, our victims. Their names match figures in Norse and Germanic mythology, so they’re easy to figure out:

    > Brynhild is Brunhild. She’s a valkyrie from Scandinavian and Germanic mythology, although she is commonly said to have killed herself in Nordic mythology, so we’ll see what that’s about.
    > Skuld matches the Skuld of the Norns. There’s no real concrete evidence, but the meaning of her name (‘fate’) and the easy-to-see associations between faeries and the Norns make her my primary suspect. Norna-Gests þáttr, for example, makes reference to similar situations to Sleeping Beauty, wherein faeries bless and curse newborn children:
    > > Norna-Gest is the son of a Danish man named Thord Thingbiter, who once dwelt on the estate of Grøning in Denmark. As he relates in the tale, when he was born, three Norns arrived and foretold the child’s destiny. Two of them gave him good gifts. However Skuld, the youngest of the Norns, deeming that the two others made rather light of her, determined to render void their promises of good fortune for the child. So she prophesied that his life was to last no longer than that of a candle standing lit beside the cradle. The eldest Norn (Urðr) instantly extinguished the flame and asked his mother to hide it well.
    > Audumbla is harder, although, as with the rest, she has clear potential in being her namesake, Auðumbla. There is specific mention to her being ancient, which fits well with her having been there to free Búri and feed Ymir. Hulder are also commonly portrayed with cow tails.
    > Selkolla is, similarly, harder Selkolla is specifically said to have not hid herself from public eye in walking through the mid-day streets. There are also mentions in the Guðmundar saga of:
    > > What follows is an account of the assaults of this being at a farm which is never localised in any more detail. First, in the guise of the farmer’s wife, she tries to entice him into having sex. When he realises what is actually going on, he tries to turn for home, but Selkolla bars his way, such that he gets home to the farm “tired and exhausted”, and lies in bed “on account of that sickness, which the deceitful trick of the Devil had afflicted upon his virility. He could not have any thereafter, because the same unclean spirit seeks him day and night with enthusiasm”. No-one wants to be near the farmer to provide him with any solace, “except for one diligent kinsman of his, who lies beside him until Selkolla overcomes him in the night and bursts out his eyes”.

    Astrid is far harder, as there’s no mention to female svartálfar in Norse mythology. My only real guess is that she is either an original character, or she’s Sif disguised or transformed into a svartálfar. She’s bald, seems rather keen to get Sif’s wig back, wants Margaret to worship her cunt as a Goddess, constantly refers to Max as mortal, and the root of Astrid stems from Ássfriðr, meaning ‘a god’ and ‘beautiful, fair.’

    I’m unsure about the rings and coin, although my best guess is that it’s draupnir and coins inscribed with the symbol of the valknut.. which, well, I’ve got no idea, but could either be used for seiðr or for travel.

    Mr. Root is, uh, well, this is pure speculation, because we don’t really have anything to build on, but I’m presuming he’s Níðhöggr.

    It’s really debatable where he’s imprisoned down there, but it seems rather fitting that the dragon gnawing at the root of the world tree would name himself Mr. Root. He’s similarly, y’know, the dragon eating the guilty of Náströnd, which are those judged for murder, adultery, and oath-breaking, which feels fitting with how he seems to be aiming to be free of his prison.

    There’s also a pretty good reason for why they might think death is a preferable alternative to releasing him, because Níðhöggr is commonly viewed as the herald of Ragnarök.


    1. Thank you this was an absolute joy to read. I can’t comment too much on speculation but you are at least picking up what I’m putting for sure, most of those are associations I wanted made. It is definitely Sif’s wig, but Sif wasn’t anything like her and it’s mentioned Thor stole from her, so we’ll see on that one.

      For now, since Selkolla will be covered much more in the next chapter, I’ll just saying you will learn more of where the legend you looked up ties into mythology closer next chapter.

      Hope you enjoyed!


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