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Jennin sat on her throne, her beautiful features clouded by her bad mood. She drummed her long, tapering fingers impatiently on the arms of the throne.
"Where is that idiot?" she burst out angrily. "I sent for him an aeon ago. I don't know why we bother with Crincher and his kind, they're more trouble than they're worth."
"Patience my dear." soothed the bald, handsome man on the throne beside her, "They may not be the most intelligent or courageous of our servants, but they get the job done." At that point a bell sounded and the doors to the throne room were thrown open.
"Captain Crincher!" boomed the court announcer. A winged creature with a smooth, ebony hide, red eyes and pointed ears shuffled nervously into the room. It's arms and legs terminated in four digit claws.
"Your majesty," he addressed Jennin, bowing and wringing his hands and then turning to Linward, "your excellency. Apologies for the delay, you see I was....."
"Silence!" thundered the Queen. Crincher cowered and raised his hands as if to protect himself from a blow. "Listen carefully. I have word from our spies abroad that we have visitors. Take a unit of your gerrins, capture them and bring them with all speed to us." Bowing again Crincher turned and hurried out, he knew there was no speaking to the Queen when she was in such a mood.
Jennin turned to Linward,
"I do not have a good feeling about this brother." she said concernedly, "I feel that perhaps our time is drawing to an end."
"Nonsense." replied Linward, "These are mere children that the old fool is sending, their quest will be over before it has even begun."
"Perhaps you are right, brother. Nevertheless I feel a chill that bites deep into my marrow."
Des and Feils were sleeping. Diane had, at her own insistence, taken first watch. Hearing a noise Des half awoke to see Diane surrounded by four dark winged figures. Being only half-awake, it took him a moment or two to realise that they were under attack. Diane was putting up a brave fight, and in spite of their superior numbers, the figures held back cautiously. Des leapt up and grabbed his sword, shaking Feils awake he looked up to see one of the figures swoop down from the sky and pluck Diane's sword from her hand. The other four figures rushed forward and quickly overpowered her. Des was running to her aid when something hit him on the back of his head. The next thing he knew was oblivion.
As the room came into focus, the first thing Des noticed was the throbbing and dull ache in his head. He felt the back of his head and found a large bump. A dressing had been applied and blood was seeping through it. Groaning he sat up and took stock of his surroundings. He was in a four-poster bed in the middle of a large spacious room. The room was sparsely furnished with wall-to-wall carpeting. There was a dresser against one wall and a burning fireplace opposite. In front of the fire was a guard where his clothes had been hung, presumably to dry. It suddenly occurred to him that he was clean and naked. He derived a little amusement from speculating about who might have performed this service for him. While getting dressed he deduced, correctly, that they were now prisoners of Jennin and Linward. He thought suddenly of Diane and Feils and panicked momentarily. Then he realised that if he was being treated relatively well, then the chances of either of the others languishing in a dank, dark dungeon was pretty remote. Nonetheless he felt vaguely uneasy about this apparent good treatment. Sitting, fully clothed, on the edge of the bed, he considered his next move. Then there was a soft tap on the door.
"Come in." he said a little surprised. A woman in her early twenties walked in. Slightly shorter than him, she had long, silky, brown hair and large liquid, brown eyes like a cocker spaniel. Her skin was a rich light brown. Looking into her eyes Des saw a huge depth of suffering and figured that she must have been through a pretty rough time.
She was carrying a tray with a box and some food on it.
"Good morning," she said, "I trust you slept well?"
"As well as one can when one gets clobbered on the back of the head." he replied a little tartly.
"Ah yes, the gerrins are not most certainly not renowned for their bravery. You need a new dressing, I will attend to it while you eat."
"I'm not hungry, but I would like a few questions answered."
"Fine, I will leave the food here in case you change your mind, and ask anything you wish. Now, let me attend to your dressing." She removed his dressing and started to apply a new one using scissors and a bandage from the box on the tray.
"First off where am I and how did I get here?" he asked.
"You are a prisoner of her majesty Queen Jennin and the Lord Linward." This puzzled Des, and he asked why Linward was referred to as Lord rather than King.
"Queen Jennin is by far the more dominant of the two." Came the reply. "Although she values his advice and opinions very much, the final decision is always hers. He is also the kinder of the two, and sometimes I wonder if the Queen has any feelings at all." She fell silent as she finished applying the dressing.
"There that should do it." She said as she put the final touches to it.
"You still haven't answered the second part of my question," said Des, "and where are my friends?"
"Your friends are in other rooms, like this one, and you were brought here by the gerrins...." she replied.
"They are the creatures that caught you and brought you here. As I said earlier they are not very brave. They are suffered by virtue of their speed and efficiency once they bend themselves to a task. They are also very cunning."
"Sound like lovely creatures." said Des sardonically. "When can I see my friends?"
"Soon." was the reply, and Des could see no point in pursuing the question further. He lay back on the bed and looked at her critically. She was really quite attractive. If it hadn't been for Diane...
"Why are you so sad?" The question caught her by surprise. She lost her poise for a split second and averted her until then steady gaze.
"I.....I don't know what you mean." she stuttered, a little too quickly.
"Come off it!" said Des, There's enough sorrow in your eyes to fill the Bottomless Pit."
"Bottomless Pit?" she asked, her brow creasing in non-comprehension.
"Never mind, just tell me why you're so sad. But first tell me your name, I'm Des." She looked at him carefully for a moment, then sat down on the bed and started talking.
"My name is Kirria. I have lived here in the palace for as long as I can remember. I have been a servant here all my life, and known neither mother nor father. I had a very lonely childhood and was never permitted to leave the palace. The only knowledge I have of the outside world is that which I get from those who were captured or sold to the palace as slaves. I dream constantly of one day being able to see the green grass and the blue sky, of being able to hear the birds singing and... an..." a single tear rolled down her cheek as she started crying silently. He sat up and put an arm around round her pulling her toward him. She did not resist and sobbed, gratefully, on his shoulder. After a minute or so she lifted her head and started to wipe away her tears with her hand. Thankful for clean handkerchiefs, Des handed his to her. She delicately dabbed her eyes and continued.
"I rose through the ranks of the servants until I reached my present position. The exalted post of personal assistant to the Queen herself, the most prestigious position afforded a servant. Yet, as you correctly observed, I am not happy. I want to see the beauty of the outside world. I want to breath the outside air and feel the cool breeze on my face. But I know that this can never be.... I have said enough. We must go now, the Queen wishes to see you in her chambers." With that she led Des from the room turning a deaf ear on his torrent of questions, and her face resumed its mask of composure.
As Des stepped into the corridor a wave of nausea hit him. Covering the walls were what appeared to be pictures of naked people. They wore expressions of painful ecstasy as they indulged in the most obscene and perverse sexual activities. On closer inspection Des realised that the figures were moving! As he watched them squirming, he fought back the urge to vomit, thanking his lucky stars that he hadn't eaten anything. With a great effort of will he wrenched his eyes away from the disgusting but compelling sight and fixed them on Kirria.
A short while later, they reached a large wooden double door that Des thought could be oak. Kirria tugged once on a golden cord that hung by it. Des heard the clear tinkle of a small bell, and the doors swung silently inwards. Kirria looked at Des sadly for a moment then turned and made her way down the corridor. Des was about to follow when a voice from the room stopped him.
"Come in Desmond, I have been expecting you for a long time." The voice was sweet, sultry and seductive. Yet it sent a stream of cold water down Des's spine. Gathering his courage, he stepped forward.
The doors closed silently behind him and he looked around the room he had just entered. It was larger than his and more lavishly furnished. There were none of the figures that he had seen in the corridor on the walls. He surmised, correctly, that the disgusting sight was in the corridors only. On these walls were various works of erotic art. A fire was burning in the elaborate fireplace. Curled comfortably in front of the fire was a large python. Des did not like snakes at the best of times and this was definitely not the best of times. Moving away from the snake, he caught sight of a divan on the far side of the room. Seated upon it was one of the most beautiful women that Des had ever seen. On reflection, he thought, the descriptions he had heard had not done her justice. Her looks were breathtaking, beauty beyond measure. She was perfection embodied. Her sensuous full, blood red lips promised untold delights. The pale translucence of her flawless skin contrasted sharply with her long jet-black hair cascading down her back. She was femme fatale and then some. Rising she advanced towards him.
She wore a dark purple, body-hugging gown that left very little to the imagination. A plunging cleavage revealed large, round, heaving breasts. The gown was split to the waist and as she walked he caught an occasional glimpse of milky white thigh. Des was hard pressed to keep from getting aroused, but thinking of Diane was almost as effective as a cold shower in cooling his ardour. On reaching him she took hold of his chin with an ice-cold, vice-like grip. She was a good two or three inches taller than him and forced his face up so he was looking directly into her almond shaped eyes. The last vestiges of Des's carnal desires disappeared as fast as if he had taken that cold shower. He understood then, with terrifying clarity, exactly what Feils had meant about those eyes. He was experiencing evil in its purest form. Uncompromising, unrelenting and totally ruthless; the force of this realisation was so strong that it nearly knocked him senseless. He knew then that he would never forget those eyes. Long afterwards he would wake up in cold sweats from nightmares about those eyes and everything they represented. Letting go of his head, she turned and walked to the bed where she sat down.
"Come," she said, "sit down...here, we have much to discuss." Shivering and shaken from the harrowing experience of having looked evil in the eye he stood rooted to the spot. Jennin rose walked to him and took him by the hand. Des, in his dazed state, allowed himself to be led to the bed. She began stroking his face.
"There'll be time enough for talking later." she murmured leaning forward to kiss him. Des jumped away from her as if he'd been stung.
"What's wrong?" she asked mockingly, "Bit of a cold fish are we?"
"No," Des replied coldly, his head a lot clearer now, "but I can think of more enjoyable things than what you have in mind."
"Being skinned alive, walking on hot coals, paying poll-tax, listening to Max Bygraves..."
"Max Bygraves? Poll Tax?" said Jennin with a puzzled frown.
"You don't get it do you lady?" he continued, "You are very beautiful, but I don't like you. Even if you were the last woman on earth, I wouldn't even think about it." Her eyes hardened but she remained cool and calm. Forcing a smile she spoke in the same sweet tone she had been using.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Apart from the fact that you are an extremely fine specimen, I find a certain novelty in that you are of a skin colour I have never experienced. However if you feel that you cannot reciprocate my desire, then I am sure you won't mind your female friend taking your place. One can be quite creative with a python and several gerrins!" Des stared at her in horror.
"No..no..if you do anything to her..."
"If you comply, I'm sure nothing will happen to her." It was Hobson's Choice. He walked across to the bed. She smiled triumphantly and slipped off her gown. He looked at her with distaste and as his lips met hers, he comforted himself with the thought that at least she was not an old hag. She was experienced and creative, but the act held no pleasure for Des. It was like screwing a block of ice.
"There are many worlds other than one we inhabit. Some are like ours others are very different. Nonetheless there is one universal constant, the need for cosmic balance" - Blain Olturan, 1392SDA (Second Dark Age)