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The Tongue and Groove Strip Club, Southern Louisiana
A lap dance for the sexy demon?"
With a firm shake of his head, Rydstrom Woede turned down the half-clad female.
"With a lap like yours, I'll make myself at home," another told him. "For free." She cupped one of her breasts upward and dipped her tongue to her nipple.
That got him to raise an eyebrow, but still he said, "Not interested."
This was one of the low points of his life, surrounded by strippers in a neon-lit Lore club. He was on edge in this ridiculous place, feeling like the worst hypocrite. If his ne'er-do-well brother found out where he'd been, he would never hear the end of it.
But Rydstrom's contact had insisted on meeting here.
When a pretty nymph sidled up behind him to massage his shoulders, he picked up her hands and faced her. "I said no."
The females here left him cold, which confounded him since he needed a woman beneath him so badly. His eyes must have darkened, because the nymph quickly backed away. About to lose my temper with a nymph? Getting angered at one of her kind for touching him was like scolding a dog for tail wagging at the sight of a bone.
Lately, Rydstrom had been a constant hair trigger's turn from succumbing to rage. The fallen king known for his coolheaded reason, for his patience with others, felt like a bomb about to explode.
He'd been experiencing an inexplicable anticipation a sense of building, a sense that something big was going to happen soon.
But because this urgency had no discernible source or alleviation, frustration welled in him. He didn't eat, couldn't sleep a night through.
For the last couple of weeks, he'd awakened to find himself thrusting against the pillow or the mattress or even into his own fist, desperate for a soft female below him to ease the strangling frustration he felt. Gods, I need a woman.
Yet he had no time to woo a decent one. Just another conflict battling within him.
The kingdom's needs always come before the king's.
So much was at stake in the fight to reclaim his crown from Omort the Deathless, a foe who could never be killed.
Rydstrom had once faced him and knew from bitter experience that the sorcerer was undestroyable. Though he'd beheaded Omort, it was Rydstrom who'd barely escaped their confrontation nine hundred years before.
Now Rydstrom searched for a way to truly kill Omort forever. Backed by his brother Cadeon and Cadeon's gang of mercenaries, Rydstrom doggedly tracked down one lead after another.
The emissary he was to meet tonight a seven-foot-tall pus demon named Pogerth would be able to help them.
He'd been sent by a sorcerer named Groot the Metallurgist, Omort's half brother, a man who wanted Omort dead almost as much as Rydstrom did. Groot was little better than Omort, but an enemy of my enemy...
Just then, a demoness dressed in black leather with cheap makeup on her horns gave Rydstrom a measuring look as she passed, but he turned away.
He was... curious about wicked females, always had been, but they weren't his type no matter what Cadeon occasionally threw in his face when they fought.
No, Rydstrom wanted his queen, his own fated female, a virtuous demoness to stand by his side and grace his bed.
For a demon, sex with one's female was supposed to be mind-blowing compared to the random tup. After fifteen centuries, he'd waited bloody long enough to experience the difference.
He exhaled. But now was not the time for her. So much at stake. He knew that if he didn't defeat his enemy this time, his kingdom and his castle would be forever lost.
My home lost. His hands clenched, his short black claws digging into his palms. Omort and his followers had desecrated Castle Tornin. The sorcerer had set himself up as king and welcomed Rydstrom's enemies, granting them asylum. His guards were revenants, walking corpses, the dead raised to life, who could only be destroyed once their master died.
Tales of orgies, sacrifices, and incest in Tornin's once-hallowed halls were legion.
Rydstrom would die before he lost his ancestral castle to beings so depraved, so warped he considered them the most revolting beings ever to walk the earth.
Gods help anyone who crosses me this eve. A ticking bomb
At last, Pogerth arrived, teleporting inside the bar. The pus demon's skin looked like melted wax and smelled of decay. The gauze he wore under his clothes peeked out at the collar and cuffs of his shirt. He wore rubber boots that he would empty outside in regular intervals, as was polite.
When he sat at Rydstrom's table, it was to a squishing sound. "My lord and master seeks a prize so rare it's almost fabled," he began without preamble. "In return for it, he'll deliver something just as fantastical." Switching to the demon tongue, he asked, "What would you be willing to do for a weapon guaranteed to kill the Deathless One?"
The Kingdom of Rothkalina
When a severed head bounced wetly down the steps from Omort's throne dais onto the black runner, Sabine casually sidestepped, continuing past it.
The head belonged to Oracle Three Fifty-Six as in the number of soothsayers that had been in office since Sabine had come to Tornin.
The scent of blood cloyed as revenants mindlessly cleaned up the matching body.
And Omort, her half brother and king of the plane of Rothkalina, was wiping off his bloody hands which meant he'd torn the oracle's head from her neck in a fit of rage, piqued no doubt by whatever she'd foretold.
Standing tall and proud in front of his ornate gold throne, he wore a raised armor guard over his left shoulder and a dashing cape on the right. A sword scabbard flanked his hip. Atop his pale hair sat the intricate headwear that served as both a crown and an armor helmet.
He looked suave and sophisticated, and utterly incapable of yanking a woman's head off her body.
Omort had stolen so many powers pyrokinesis, levitation, teleporting all seized from his other half siblings before he killed them. Yet he couldn't see the future. The lack often enraged him. "Something to comment about this, Sabine? Growing soft?"
She was the only one who dared defy him in any way, and the creatures at court quieted. Lining the halls were members of many of the factions who allied with the Pravus, Omort's new army.
Among them were the centaurs, the Invidia female embodiments of discord ogres, rogue phantoms, fallen vampires, fire demons with their palms aglow... more beings than could be named.
Almost all of them would love to see her dead.
"So hard to find good help these days," she sighed. Sabine could scarcely be expected to feel sympathy for another. For far too many times she'd dragged herself up from a pool of her own blood. "Which is a shame, brother, because without her we are as good as blind."
"Worry not, I will find another seer directly."
"I wish you all the best with that." Soothsayers didn't grow on trees, and already they were wading deep into the recruiting pool. "Is this beheading why you summoned me?" Sabine's tone was bored as she gazed around her. She studiously avoided the mysterious Well of Souls in the center of the court, taking in other details of the opulent throne room.
Her brother had drastically changed it since the rule of the mighty Rydstrom. He'd replaced the demon's austere throne with one made of blazingly bright gold. Tonight, blood lay splattered over the gleaming metal from the oracle's squirting jugular.
On the walls, Omort had hung his colors and his banners emblazoned with his talisman animal: an ouroboros, a snake swallowing its own tail, to represent his deathlessness. Anything simple, he'd made lavish. And yet, this place still didn't suit the outwardly sophisticated Omort.
According to legend, the premedieval Castle Tornin had been created by a divine hand to protect the well, with six bold towers encircling it, and the central court. Though the stones that made up the fortress were rugged, they'd been placed flawlessly. Tornin was perfectly imperfect.
As rough-hewn as its former king was reputed to be.
Omort drew back his cape before sitting. "I summoned you half an hour ago."
"Ah, just so. I recall that now." She and Lanthe had been watching DVDs in Lanthe's solar-powered room. The sisters probably logged seven hours a day watching movies. Alas, cable wasn't forthcoming.
As she passed the Viceroy centaur, Sabine peeked down and asked him, "How's it hanging? Low and to the left, I see. Your left, my right." Though his fury was undisguised, he would never challenge her. She had far too much power here.
She gave him a wink to remind him of just that, then continued to Omort, "I was going to be here on time. But I had something very urgent to take care of."
"Did you really?"
"No." And that was all she'd say on the matter.
Omort stared at her in fascination, his yellow irises glowing. But when she removed her own cape, he seemed to shake himself, casting a disapproving look at her garments a scanty bandeau top of gold weave, a leather micro-skirt, claw-tipped gauntlets on her hands, and thigh-high boots.
After raking his gaze over her body, Omort settled on her face. She'd drawn her bold scarlet eye paint in the shape of wings that spread out from her lashes up over her brows all the way to her hairline.
In ages past, Omort had wanted to make it law that females of value were to obscure their faces with a traditional silk Sorceri mask instead of mere paint mimicking one, and to cover their bodies entirely.
He'd swiftly learned how Sabine felt about that idea.
"Actually, Omort, I just came to drink my medicine."
"You'll get your dose later," Omort replied, waving a negligent hand.
How easy it was for him to dismiss. He wasn't the one who needed it to keep from dying a horrific death.
"For now, we have something more important to discuss "
Hettiah, Omort's half sister and Sabine's arch-nemesis, arrived then, hastening up the dais steps to stand beside Omort's throne her rightful place, since she was his concubine as well as his relation. She must have run here as soon as she'd heard Sabine was at court, frantic to make sure Sabine didn't steal Omort from her.
Hettiah was woefully confused on two points: Omort was Sabine's for the taking, and she would never be taking.
Omort ignored Hettiah utterly, keeping his eyes on Sabine.
"Important to discuss...?" she prompted.
"My spies have long been searching for Groot the Metallurgist and monitoring the activities of his most trusted followers."
Groot lived in hiding from Omort, and was one of only two half siblings outside Tornin who still survived.
"I've just learned that he sent an emissary to meet with none other than Rydstrom Woede."
At last, an intrigue! "Rydstrom and Groot, our two most dangerous enemies allying. This is bad news."
"Something must be done. One of the spies heard the emissary promising a sword forged to kill me."
Everyone at court stilled including Sabine.
Omort exhaled wearily. "It won't, though. It can't." He almost sounded regretful. "Do you know how many bombs, spells, spears, daggers, and poisons were supposed to have ended me?"
Indeed, Sabine had seen Omort stabbed through the heart, beheaded, and burned to cold ash. And always he rose from a dirty mist like a phoenix, stronger even than before. His very name meant without death.
"But Rydstrom must believe it will work," he said. "The infamously coolheaded demon was seen storming from the meeting, and heard calling his brother Cadeon as he got into his car to speed away toward New Orleans."
"Rydstrom must be on his way to meet him." Cadeon the Kingmaker, a ruthless mercenary. He was rumored to be able to put any king on a throne except his brother. For centuries, the two had worked together to reclaim Tornin.
Which was now her home. Get over it, demons. Not moving.
Hettiah cleared her throat. "My liege, if the sword can't kill you, then why worry about it?"
"Because the belief is nearly as dangerous," Sabine answered impatiently. "The sword could be seen as a rallying point, used as a propaganda tool." Already little rebellions erupted over the countryside, the demons continuing to clamor for their deposed king.
Clamoring still after nine centuries.
Sabine often wondered how he'd earned such fervent loyalty. "So it's clear I can't let the brothers meet," she said. "I'll intercept Rydstrom before he can reach the city."
"And then?" Omort said quietly. "What will you do with him?"
"And then I'll kill two birds with one stone," she answered. "This is the prophecy beginning." Just in time for the Accession.
Every five hundred years, that great immortal war took place, and they were on the cusp of it right now.
Her gaze flickered over the mysterious well in the center of the court, strewn with sacrifices bloody and unidentifiable body parts. Her future depended on unlocking its power. And the demon was the key.
When she faced Omort, his brows drew together, as if he'd thought she would balk at bedding a demon. In fact, she was eager to get this over with and then to seize the power that was there for the taking.
At last, something to want, to need.
Hettiah asked, "What if the demon resists you?"
Sabine's lips parted. "Have you looked at me lately, Hettiah?" She turned in a circle, a move that left Omort leaning forward on the edge of his throne, and Hettiah sending her murderous glances.
Hettiah wasn't without power. In fact, her ability was neutralizing others' powers. She could erase illusions as easily as Sabine could cast them. Lanthe had nicknamed her Hettiah the Buzz Kill and Aunty-Matter.
"Don't underestimate the demon," Omort finally said. "He's one of the most iron-willed beings I've ever encountered. Don't forget that I faced him and yet he lives."
Sabine exhaled, trying to keep a rein on her notorious temper. "Yes, but I have unique attributes that make this demon's seduction in the bag."
"You also have a detriment," Hettiah sneered. "You're a freak among the Lore."
It was true she was unique a virgin seductress. Sabine chuckled at Hettiah's statement, then her expression instantly turned cold when she faced her brother. "Omort, put a muzzle on your pet, or I'll make her one from her intestines." She rapped her silver-tipped claws together, and the sound rang out in the chamber.
Hettiah lifted her chin, but she'd paled. Sabine had in fact plucked an organ from her. On several occasions. She kept them in jars on her bedside table.
But Sabine refrained from this as much as possible, because whenever she fought Hettiah, it seemed to overly excite Omort.
"Besides, if the demon somehow resists this" Sabine waved her hands over her figure "I'll have a backup plan." She always had a plan B.
"You'll need it." Hettiah smirked.
Sabine blew her a kiss, the ultimate insult among the Sorceri, who stored poisons in their rings to be mixed into drinks or blown into the eyes of an enemy.
"Capture him tonight, and then... begin." Omort sounded sickened. Not only was Rydstrom a demon, which most Sorceri viewed as little better than an animal, the fallen king was Omort's blood enemy.
And the time had finally come for Sabine to surrender her virginal hymenally speaking body and her womb to the creature. No wonder Omort had gone into a fury with the oracle.
Part of him lusted for the power Sabine could garner. And part of him lusted for her or for women who resembled her, like the red-haired Hettiah.
He rose then, descending the steps to stand before Sabine. Ignoring Hettiah's huff of dismay and the warning in Sabine's eyes he slowly raised his hand to her face.
His bloodstained nails were long, cloudy, and thick. When he pinched her chin, she said in a seething tone, "Now brother, you know I dislike it when men touch my face."
When angered like now Sabine's surroundings appeared to rock and explode as though from an earthquake, while winds seemed to gust in tempests. Omort hesitantly released her as the court attendees nervously stamped about.
"I have the coordinates for the road Rydstrom will be traveling," Omort said. "Lanthe can open a portal from the dungeon directly to that location, and you can stop him there. It will be a perfect trap. Unless she's already lost her thresholds power."
Lanthe could still create portals. But her ability was temporarily weakened each time, so she could only manage it once every six days or so. Sabine only hoped she hadn't burned one recently.
"Why don't you call Lanthe in here and ask her yourself?" Sabine said, making him scowl. For some reason, Omort had always loathed being near Lanthe and had decreed that the two sisters would never be together in his presence.
"Exactly how long do I have to set this snare?" she asked.
"You must intercept him within the next two hours."
"I go at once." She had little time to hatch a plot, which irritated her. She adored plotting devising plans and subplans and contingencies and half the fun was the anticipation of a trap about to be sprung. She would dream up scenarios for months, and yet now she had only mere hours.
Before she could leave, Omort leaned down and murmured at her ear, "If there were any way around your sleeping with this beast, I would have found it for you."
"I know, brother."
She did believe him in this. Omort would never willingly give her up, because he wanted Sabine all for himself and had since the first time he'd seen her. He'd said there was something in her eyes he'd never seen before the dark knowledge of what it was like to die. Something he could never know.
He covered her bare shoulder with a clammy hand, sounding as if he'd just stifled a groan at the contact.
"Do not touch, Omort." She gritted out the words, making her plaits appear to be striking vipers until he removed his hand. Sometimes she had to remind him that she was as treacherous as the serpents he worshipped.
She turned immediately, giving him her back instead of taking three steps away before turning to exit the chamber. When she passed the well, she darted her gaze to it.
"You won't fail me?" he called after her. "Rydstrom must not reach his brother."
"Consider it done," she called back with utter surety. How hard could it be to capture a demon?
Copyright © 2009 by Kresley Cole