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Wyst went still, fear and desire seizing him, as the wolf's howl pierced the night. He had climbed some distance from Village, up a long trail into the hills, and very possibly, his were the only human ears hearing the beast's call. The wolf belonged to the Hex, and if the Hex had specific designs on him, then Wyst was doomed.
Yet, the cry of the wolf fading now, inflamed him nonetheless. Excitation rippled over his taut, youthful body. His cock swelled underneath the simple shift he wore. His callused fingertips grazed his navel, lips, and temple. It was a ritual warding, but he made the sign perfunctorily. Under his arm, he carried a bag of scarlet leaves that he had been sent up into these hills to gather from the shrubs growing there. Village cooks used such pungent leaves, or they were burned for their aphrodisiacal aromas. Wyst hoped they'd be used for the latter. It would mean that a Reproduction Gala was to be staged. It was at those orgiastic events, where he could truly let loose his carnal talents, he felt at his best, as a man, as a living being.
But as the warm, moist day waned, he had paused in his errand of gathering, had lain down in the grass, and had dozed. He'd only just woken and started back down the trail in the star-silvered darkness when the wolf's howl stopped him. No wolves inhabited this coastal terrain. The creature could only be an agent of the Hex.
The Hex, mysterious, powerful, dwelled alone in her secret Grotto, and she influenced Village. She might arrange for a bounty of fish to find the nets of the fisherfolk; she might heal a madness. Or she might take the lives of the old or the young. She had her purposes, and she had her spells torealize those purposes.
But tradition forbade direct contact with the Hex. An intimacy with her meant banishment from Village or death. The taboo had stood since the dawn of Wyst's people.
These thoughts receded. Actually, all clear thought fled rapidly now from his head. He peered into the surrounding brush, looking for the flick of a tail, the flash of a pink tongue. Some growing part of him wanted to see the wolf, and that urge--a mixture of potent desire and lurid fascination--held at bay the full realization that this must be the Hex's spell working on him. Yet, if her magic couldn't be resisted, what good would the knowing do?
His cock throbbed, jutting beneath his shift. His bare feet tingled on the ground. His flesh was vastly alive and needy. He longed for contact, for the succor of another body. He had entered a state beyond what he normally achieved during sex play or even during a Gala, when many dozens of bodies squirmed together haphazardly on the Village compound and every erotic possibility presented itself, every carnal whim ready to be sated. His head swam. His need was a swiftly mounting agony.
A low growl sounded nearby, much closer than the howl had been. The foliage abutting the trail rustled.
Wyst dropped the cloth bag of scarlet leaves. With his breath shortening, he peeled off his shift and stood naked and rampant in the tropical night. At twenty years of age, he knew his shape was splendid, young, vigorous. His wild and dark hair framed what he'd been assured by many past lovers were finely molded features.
The growl, when it came again, sounded sensuous in the lupine throat as the wolf stepped out onto the trail ahead of him. It was, truly, a beautiful beast. Its coat shone in the gossamer light of the stars and moon. Its eyes glowed greenly. Its lean and muscular form reminded Wyst much of his own physique. A tongue lolled from its mouth, surrounded by long, bright teeth. It made for an ominous smile. Yet, how luscious this creature appeared. Wyst's excitement surged. He found himself aching for the wolf.
This is the Hex, he reminded himself. His cock, however, would not deflate.
"Go away," he said, but the words didn't sound forceful.
The wolf regarded him. Intelligence seemed to dwell behind its green eyes.
"Why?" Wyst breathed tremulously. "Why me?" Indeed, why single him out, of all the people of Village and Greater Village, who all lived under the remote auspices of the Hex? He felt vaguely persecuted.
The wolf's long low seductive growl abruptly ceased, and the lithe creature turned and trotted away into the brush. Wyst told himself: Let it go, but it was useless. His arousal had grown torturous; his desire had become a raging fever. He wanted to mount the animal as an animal. The urge, insane and irrepressible, possessed him.
Wyst cried out, the sound pained and hungry, then set off desperately after the beast. He was suddenly on all fours, his legs and arms moving with an impossibly natural dexterity. Fingers and toes dug at the earth. His bare flesh was flushed, hot. He ran like the beast he followed. The wolf kept ahead but didn't lengthen its lead. Wyst drove himself faster. He would bring the creature down and have it. His teeth would find the furry nape, his fingers would grip the haunches, his achingly hard organ would penetrate and plunder.
Thorns scratched his calves and forearms as he crashed through the greenery. He panted, the blood rushing in his limbs, his heart pounding. He had left the trail and his clothing far behind. He raced crazily across the hills.
He traveled some distance. Finally, he realized that he had lost the wolf. Panicked need tore through him. Wyst halted, rose to his feet. He listened above the hammering in his ears, but the surrounding bramble, which had thinned, didn't stir. The ground here was rockier.
His cock still stood fantastically hard. Lust was a living misery within him, straining for release. Through the sultry haze of his passion, he noticed nearby stony formations. He climbed a rock, squinting, searching for the wolf. He wondered how far he'd come. He wanted to weep with his need. When he stepped down from the rock, the entrance to a cave sprang suddenly from the night's shadows.
That part of him that would have warned him away was entirely absent now. All this felt strangely inevitable. It was as if he had been relieved of all responsibilities. His sexual hunger propelled him into the arching portal of the cave.
Where was this? The people of Village knew of the Grotto, just as they knew of the Hex, but the specifics remained vague. Wyst was still somewhere up in the hills. He and the wolf must have covered a lot of ground. He wondered, though this didn't seem important at the moment, if the entry to this Grotto would have been so easily found had he gone explicitly searching for it. Certainly he wouldn't have noticed it in the darkness if he hadn't stepped down right in front of it, but he also had the suspicion that even a thorough daytime exploration would yield nothing. This place didn't want to be found; or, more accurately, its inhabitant wanted to preserve her seclusion.
Solitude, after all, was the way of the Hex.
Total darkness fell around Wyst as he went deeper into the stony hole. The cave floor sloped, and he was careful of his footing. The rock on either side of him was chilly. Downward he crept. Some instinct informed him that relief of his fierce desire awaited at the end of this twisting passage. He continued blindly. Moisture trickled from the walls, making footing even more precarious. He wouldn't want to slip; he might break a leg, and that would be disastrous.
A grim, almost inaudible chuckle murmured in his throat. This was already catastrophic, he told himself, and it could only become more dire. Direct contact with the Hex was forbidden, absolutely taboo. He would be damned for this.
Yet, somehow, that bleak thought wouldn't take root in his mind. The subterranean passageway continued, winding deeper into the earth. He didn't need to make any decisions about which way to go. This tunnel had no branches.
He became aware of the light when it was bright enough to see his outstretched hand. He heard music. Then he was at his journey's end. The passage widened and opened. The chill vanished.
Weavings cloaked the walls, their patterns wild, contentious. Lush fabric overlaid the floor. Furnishings were thick--shelves, chairs, tables crowded with kaleidoscopic glassware and smothered underneath sheaves of manuscript. Wyst wondered what was in those vessels and on those pages. A furnace, more sophisticated than the kiln in Village's metalworking shanty, glowed a dull orange. Swatches of cloth and curious metal parts were strewn about. This was not a tidy home. The space was large. He smelled spices on the air. Music played--impossible, disembodied music. The Grotto's inhabitant was not in evidence.
Here, spells were cast. Here, secret, magical designs were hatched. The enormity of it all was incredible, but Wyst wanted only for the Hex to bring him the relief he'd been promised. Promised? No one had promised him anything.
He stood, dizzy with the warmth of the place. There was a bed of furs nearby. It looked inviting. Perhaps he could lie down for a moment. Before he completed that thought, he was climbing onto the soft pile, still afire with the heat of his desire.
He was unsure, lying nude among the soft furs, if any interval passed. His sense of time was askew. He was shivering but wasn't cold. He heard a mewling sound, injured and mournful, and found it was spilling from his own lips.
It was his need. It was more ferocious than ever.
The music still played, but there were no troubadours here, no instruments in sight. It was very strange music, Wyst realized. It didn't contain recognizable melodies, but was, instead, an almost random chirping and whirring. He blinked at the ambient light and was unable to find its source. This place just seemed to glow of its own accord. Fantastic.
He should rise from this bed, should explore this furnished Grotto. Certainly this was an opportunity that didn't present itself every day. Here was the home of the Hex. Here, her secrets lay, waiting to be discovered and studied.
Only, Wyst didn't want to be here. He had been lured to this site; there could be no doubt. The Hex had led him here by his cock, as surely as if she'd had his hard meat in her hand the whole time.
That thought, of course, only worsened his sexual craving. He made more pitiful sounds.
There was movement. He sat up in the bed, feeling vulnerable in his naked state, fearful of whatever was to come. From a far niche glided a feminine outline wrapped in a diaphanous gown that dragged on the floor and over scattered metal objects that he couldn't name. Her steps were slow and stately. He could not see her face; it was behind a veil, or perhaps he was just somehow unable to focus on it.
The Hex approached. Wyst squealed like a tiny animal, wishing he could be silent, imagining--ridiculously--that she wouldn't know he was there if he made no sound. She moved at that same steady pace. He could perceive no further details of her form within the filmy gown. Her features remained a mystery.
She knelt at the bedside. Wyst at last managed to silence himself. Awe seemed to paralyze his vocal chords. Sensations poured off this being, unearthly tingles that felt like ... What? Waves of time, age, power? He couldn't name the effects. She was beyond his ability to describe her.
What did she want of him? He was without any particular talents. In Village, he was allotted work details that virtually any person could satisfy. He dug latrines and shelled mussels and gathered herbs like those scarlet leaves, but he wasn't a metalworker, a fisherman, a weaver. Not a craftsman of any kind.
His only skills were carnal in nature. He had an enthusiasm for and appreciation of sex play that was well beyond what was common. Orgasmic fulfillment drove him. The touch and tenderness of another body was, for him, the supreme expression of beauty.
Fear and desire, the combination impossibly intense now, kept him paralyzed on the bed of furs as the Hex hovered above. She appeared to be studying him. After a time, during which Wyst scarcely breathed, she lifted a long-fingered, womanly hand. Those fingers smelled of timeless potions, the inks of runes; they were fingers chilled with a reality that went far beyond the walls of this Grotto, that reached into the infinite of divinity. Did she smile behind that impenetrable veil? Did she laugh? Where was her face? Why couldn't he look into the goddess's eyes?
"Why me?" Somehow, he squeezed the question through a numb throat, over a deadened tongue. It was a helpless sounding question, for he was helpless.
The hand hovered. Then words--they were a music of their own, a dripping of song and potency--washed over him where he lay: Plague is coming to Village from City. It will be borne on the breath.
What did that mean? Wyst's mind worked in a frenzy, but clear thought was still subordinate to his sexual distress. Even so, the Hex's words struck him as profoundly intriguing. A plague? From City? City was Village's cultural opposite. It was some distance inland, up the Road of the Gleam. Visitors from there came to Greater Village on occasion. Wanderers and troubadours, sometimes pilgrims. They were, Wyst had found, often a silly people, despite how advanced and sophisticated they declared themselves to be.
The long fingers lingered above him. The Hex spoke again. You will impart the cure to Village. It will be borne in the blood.
It was just as absolutely baffling. Blood? A cure? How was he supposed to impart a cure? Then again, why would anything the Hex might do or say be comprehensible to him?
The hand reached for him, closing toward his chest. Fear sharpened to a demented intensity as the fingers touched him precisely where his heart was pounding hard enough to shake his torso. A great crackle of nameless energy seemed to rise up from the contact. His heart gave an alarming lurch, then beat with a vigor and surety he'd never felt before. It was as though some new element had been added to him through the mechanism of his heart, and it was now streaming all through him. The strange vitality coursed in his limbs, prickling his extremities.
Wyst cried out. But his need--his awful, wondrous need--was on him, relentless. His cock continued to pulse, his flesh to simmer. He raised beseeching eyes toward the Hex's illegible face.
For a moment, the veil flickered, he thought, and a tiny glimpse of the feminine features behind the obscuration came into view. It was a handsome face, though tired and wise and...
And then gone once again, distorted and unseen. A first, sob wracked Wyst. He'd had direct contact with the Hex. His fate was decided. His life among Village--a simple life, to be sure, but one he'd cherished these past twenty years--was done. And, more than that, he was to be left unfulfilled by the spell of desire that had been cast over him in order to lure him to this Grotto.
A voice murmured above him. Wyst looked up through streaks of burgeoning tears. It wasn't that same voice of potent music, yet it was shaped by the same being, he was sure. Unlike before, however, these words were soft, pitying.
Using a very human tone, the Hex said, "Oh, my poor boy. Look at your state. Here, let me..."
Her hand closed toward him again, long fingers curling sympathetically around his cock, and Wyst's being washed over, fire-bright and mystical, as the orgasm struck him to his core.