|Bodyguard of Lightning
an extract from the novel
by Stan Nicholls
It would be untrue to say that peace reigned unopposed
in Maras-Dantia. In a land of manifold elder races, conflict
was inevitable. But in general there had always been a measure
That balance was shattered by the coming of a new race called
humans. A trickle at first, growing to a flood as the years passed,
the incomers had contempt for the cultures they encountered.
They dammed rivers, denuded forests, razed villages, tore precious
resources from the earth.
Worst of all, they ate Maras-Dantia's magic.
Their rape of the land bled it of essential energies, depleting
the magic elder races took for granted. This distorted the climate
and threw the seasons into disarray. Summers became autumnal.
Winters lengthened, swallowing Spring. An ice field began advancing
from the north.
Soon there was war between humans and the Maras-Dantians.
Old rivalries divided the elder races, complicated by the
actions of the notoriously opportunistic dwarf population, many
of whom sided with the humans and willingly undertook their dirty
work. But the interlopers were bitterly disunited themselves,
separated into two factions by a religious schism. The Followers
of the Manifold Path, commonly termed Manis, adhered to ancient
pagan ways. Their adversaries rallied to the banner of Unity.
Known as Unis, they were dedicated to the younger cult of monotheism.
By orc standards, Stryke was smart. He captained a thirty-strong
warband called the Wolverines. Below Stryke were two sergeants,
Haskeer and Jup. Haskeer was the most reckless and unpredictable
of the group; Jup was the only dwarf, indeed the only member who
wasn't an orc, and consequently the object of suspicion. Below
the sergeants were corporals Alfray and Coilla. Alfray was the
oldest member and a healer, specialising in combat wounds; Coilla
was the sole female in the Wolverines, and a brilliant strategist.
Below them were twenty-five grunts.
The Wolverines served Queen Jennesta, a wielder
of great magical powers who supported the Mani cause. A symbiote
resulting from a human and nyadd union, Jennesta's propensity
for cruelty, and her sexual voracity, were legendary.
Sent on a secret mission by Jennesta, the Wolverines stormed
a Uni settlement to recover a very old, sealed message cylinder.
They also gained a large quantity of an hallucinogenic drug.
The drug had many names among the elder races but was widely
referred to as pellucid.
Orcs knew it as the bringer of crystal lightning.
That balance was shattered by the coming of a new race called humans. A trickle at first, growing to a flood as the years passed, the incomers had contempt for the cultures they encountered. They dammed rivers, denuded forests, razed villages, tore precious resources from the earth.
Worst of all, they ate Maras-Dantia's magic.
Their rape of the land bled it of essential energies, depleting the magic elder races took for granted. This distorted the climate and threw the seasons into disarray. Summers became autumnal. Winters lengthened, swallowing Spring. An ice field began advancing from the north.
Soon there was war between humans and the Maras-Dantians.
Old rivalries divided the elder races, complicated by the actions of the notoriously opportunistic dwarf population, many of whom sided with the humans and willingly undertook their dirty work. But the interlopers were bitterly disunited themselves, separated into two factions by a religious schism. The Followers of the Manifold Path, commonly termed Manis, adhered to ancient pagan ways. Their adversaries rallied to the banner of Unity. Known as Unis, they were dedicated to the younger cult of monotheism.
By orc standards, Stryke was smart. He captained a thirty-strong warband called the Wolverines. Below Stryke were two sergeants, Haskeer and Jup. Haskeer was the most reckless and unpredictable of the group; Jup was the only dwarf, indeed the only member who wasn't an orc, and consequently the object of suspicion. Below the sergeants were corporals Alfray and Coilla. Alfray was the oldest member and a healer, specialising in combat wounds; Coilla was the sole female in the Wolverines, and a brilliant strategist. Below them were twenty-five grunts.
The Wolverines served Queen Jennesta, a wielder of great magical powers who supported the Mani cause. A symbiote resulting from a human and nyadd union, Jennesta's propensity for cruelty, and her sexual voracity, were legendary.
Sent on a secret mission by Jennesta, the Wolverines stormed a Uni settlement to recover a very old, sealed message cylinder. They also gained a large quantity of an hallucinogenic drug. The drug had many names among the elder races but was widely referred to as pellucid.
Orcs knew it as the bringer of crystal lightning.
Some endure the frustration of their will with grace and forbearance. Others see obstacles to their gratification as intolerable burdens. The former embody admirable stoicism. The latter are dangerous.
Queen Jennesta belonged firmly in the second category. And she was growing impatient.
The warband she entrusted with the sacred mission, the Wolverines, had yet to return. She knew the battle was over, and that it went in her favour, but they had not brought their monarch what she craved.
When they came she would have them skinned alive. If they had failed in their task she would inflict a much worse fate.
An entertainment had been arranged for her while she waited. It was necessary and practical as well as promising a certain pleasure. As usual, it would take place here in her sanctum sanctorum, the innermost of her private quarters.
The chamber, deep below her palace at Cairnbarrow, was constructed of stone.
A dozen pillars supported the distant vaulted ceiling. Just enough light was provided by a scattering of candelabra and guttering brands, for Jennesta favoured shadows.
Wall hangings depicted complex cabalistic symbols. The floor's time-worn granite blocks were covered by woven rugs bearing equally arcane designs. A high-backed wooden chair, ornately carved but not quite a throne, stood next to an iron brazier of glowing coals.
Two features dominated the apartment. One was a solid chunk of black marble that served as an altar. The other was set in front and below it, of the same material but white, and shaped like a long, low table or couch.
A silver chalice stood on the altar. By it lay a curved dagger, its hilt inlaid with gold, runic devices etched into the blade. Alongside was a small hammer with a weighty, rounded head. It was decorated and inscribed in a similar way.
The white slab had a pair of shackles at each end. She ran her fingertips, slowly and lightly, along its surface. The smooth coolness of the marble felt sensuous to her touch.
A rap at the studded oak door broke her reverie.
Two Imperial Guards herded in a human prisoner at spear point. Chained hand and foot, the man wore only a loincloth. Around thirty seasons old, he was typical of his race in standing head and shoulders taller than the orcs prodding him forward. Bruises discoloured his face. Dried blood encrusted his blond hair and beard. He walked stiffly, partly due to the manacles but mostly because of a flogging he had been given after his capture during the battle. Vivid red weals criss-crossed his back.
'Ah, my guest has arrived. Greetings.' The Queen's syrupy tone held pure mockery.
He said nothing.
As she languorously approached, one of the guards jerked the trailing chain at the captive's wrists. The man winced. Jennesta studied his robust, muscular frame, and decided he was suitable for her purpose.
In turn, he inspected her, and it was obvious from his expression that what he saw confounded him.
There was something wrong about the shape of her face. It was a little too flat, a mite wider than it should have been across the temples, and it tapered to a chin more pointed than seemed reasonable. Ebony hair tumbled to her waist, its sheen so pronounced it looked wet. Her dark fathomless eyes had an obliqueness that extraordinarily long lashes only served to stress. The nose was faintly aquiline and the mouth appeared overly broad.
None of this was exactly displeasing. It was rather as if her features had deviated from Nature's norm and pursued their own unique evolution. The result was startling.
Her skin, too, was not quite right. The impression, in the flickering candleglow, was of an emerald hue one moment and a silvery lustre the next, as though she were covered in minute fish scales. She wore a long crimson gown that left her shoulders exposed and clung tightly to the outlines of her voluptuous body. Her feet were bare.
Without doubt she was comely. But her beauty had a distinctly alarming quality. Its effect on her prisoner was to both quicken his blood and to excite vague feelings of disgust. In a world teeming with racial diversity she was totally outside his experience.
'You do not show proper deference,' she said. Her remarkable eyes were mesmeric. They made him feel that nothing could be kept concealed.
The captive dragged himself out of the depths of that devouring gaze. Despite his pain, he smiled, albeit cynically. He glanced down at the chains binding him, and for the first time spoke. 'Even if I were so inclined, I could not.'
Jennesta smiled too. It was genuinely disquieting. 'My guards will be happy to assist,' she replied brightly.
The soldiers forced him roughly to his knees.
'That's better.' Her voice dripped synthetic sweetness.
Gasping from the added discomfort, he noticed her hands. The length of the slender fingers, extended by keen nails half as long again, bordered abnormal. She moved to his side, reaching to touch the welts covering his back. It was done softly, but he still flinched. She traced the angry red lines with the tips of her nails, releasing trickles of fresh blood. He groaned. She made no attempt to hide her relish.
'Damn you, you heathen bitch,' he hissed weakly.
She laughed. 'A typical Uni. Any rejecting your ways must be a heathen. Yet you're the upstarts, with your fantasies of a lone deity.'
'While you follow the old, dead gods worshipped by the likes of these,' he countered, glaring at the orc guards.
'How little you know. The Mani faith reveres gods even more ancient. Living gods, unlike the fiction you cleave to.'
He coughed, misery racking his frame. 'You call yourself a Mani?'
'What of it?'
'The Manis are wrong, but at least they're human.'
'Whereas I'm not, and therefore cannot embrace the cause? Your ignorance would fill this palace's moat, farmer. The Manifold path is for all. Even so, I am human in part.'
He raised his eyebrows.
'You've never seen a hybrid before?' She didn't wait for an answer. 'Obviously not. I'm of mixed nyadd and human parentage, and carry the best of both.'
'The best? Such a union is ... an abomination!'
The Queen found that even more amusing, throwing back her head to laugh again. 'Enough of this. You're not here to engage in a debate.' She nodded at the soldiers. 'Make him ready.'
He was yanked upright, then goaded to the marble slab, where they lifted him bodily by his arms and legs. The agony of being dumped unceremoniously on its surface made him cry out. He lay panting, his eyes watery. They removed the chains and fastened his wrists and ankles with the shackles.
Jennesta curtly dismissed the guards. They bowed and lumbered out.
She went to the brazier and sprinkled powdered incense on the coals. Heady perfume filled the air. Crossing to the altar she took up the ceremonial dagger and the chalice.
With an effort, the man turned his head her way. 'At least allow me the mercy of a quick death,' he pleaded.
Now she loomed over him, the knife in her hand. He drew an audible breath and started to recite some prayer or incantation, his panic making the words an incomprehensible babble.
'You're spouting gibberish,' she chided. 'Still your tongue.' Blade in hand, she stooped.
And cut through the loincloth.
She sliced away the material and tossed it aside. Placing the knife on the edge of the slab, she contemplated his nudity.
Slack jawed, he stammered, 'What - ?' His face reddened with embarrassment. He gulped and squirmed.
'You Unis have a very unnatural attitude to your bodies,' she told him, matter of factly. 'You feel shame where none should exist.'
She lifted his head with one hand and put the chalice to his lips with the other. 'Drink,' she commanded, sharply tilting the vessel.
Enough of the potion poured down his throat before he gagged and clamped his teeth on the rim. She removed the cup, leaving him coughing and spluttering. Some of the urine coloured liquid dribbled from the sides of his mouth.
It was quick acting but short lived, so she wasted no time. Untying the straps of her gown, she let it fall to the floor.
He stared at her, wide-eyed with disbelief. His gaze took in her generous, jutting breasts. It moved down past her taut midriff to the pleasing camber of her hips, the long, curvaceous sweep of her legs and the luxuriant downy mound at her crotch.
Jennesta had a physical perfection which combined the sumptuous charms of a human woman with the alien heritage of her crossbred origins. He had never seen the like.
For her part, she recognised in him a struggle between the prudery of his Uni upbringing and the innate hunger of male lust. The aphrodisiac would help tilt the balance in the right direction, and deaden the pain of his ill-treatment. If need be she could add the persuasive powers of her sorcery. But she knew the best inducement required no magic.
She slid on to the side of the slab and brought her face close to his. The strange sweet muskiness of her breath made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. She blew gently in his ear, whispered shockingly explicit endearments. He blushed again, though this time perhaps not entirely because of abashment.
At last he found his voice. 'Why do you torment me this way?'
'You torment yourself,' she responded huskily, 'by denying the joys of the flesh.'
Giggling, she leaned nearer, the tips of her swaying breasts tickling his chest. She made as if to kiss him, but drew back at the last. Wetting her fingers, she slowly trailed them around his nipples until they became erect. His breathing grew heavier. The potion was beginning to work.
Swallowing loudly, he summoned enough resolution to utter, 'The thought of congress with you is repulsive to me.'
'Really?' She eased on to him, straddling his body, her pubic hair pressed against his abdomen. He strained at the shackles, but feebly.
Jennesta was enjoying his humiliation, the destruction of his resolve. It heightened her own excitement. She parted her lips and disgorged a tongue that seemed overlong for the cavity of her mouth. It proved coarse textured when she started licking his throat and shoulders.
Despite himself, he was becoming aroused. She squeezed her legs more firmly against the sides of his sweat filmed body and caressed him with renewed ardour.
A succession of emotions passed rapidly across his face: expectancy, repellence, fascination, eagerness. Fear.
He half cried, half sobbed, 'No!'
'But you want this,' she soothed. 'Why else make yourself ready for me?' She lifted slightly. Reaching down, she took hold of his manhood and guided it.
Gradually she moved against him, her lithe form rising and falling in a deliberate, unhurried rhythm. His head rolled from side to side, eyes glazed, mouth gaping. Her tempo increased. He writhed and began moaning. The motion grew faster. He started to respond, tenuously at first, then thrusting deeper and harder. Jennesta tossed back her hair. The cloud of raven locks caught pinpoints of light that wreathed her in a nimbus of fire.
Aware he was on the verge of gushing his seed, she rode him mercilessly, building to a frenzy of wanton rapture. He twisted, flailed, shuddered his way to culmination.
Suddenly she had the dagger in both hands, lifting it high.
Orgasm and terror came simultaneously.
The blade plunged into his chest, again, again and again. He shrieked hideously, tearing the skin from his wrists as he fought the shackles. Unheeding, she stabbed and hacked, cleaving at flesh.
His screams gave way to a moist gurgle. Then his head fell back with a meaty thump and he was still.
She cast away the knife and scrabbled with her hands, delving into the gory hollow. Once the ribs were exposed she took up the hammer and pounded at them. They cracked, white shards flying. This obstruction removed, she dropped the hammer and clawed through viscera, arms blood-drenched, to grasp his still faintly beating heart. With an effort she ripped it free.
She lifted the dripping organ to her widening mouth and sank her teeth into its warm tenderness.
Great as her sexual gratification had been, it was as nothing compared to the fulfillment she now experienced. With each bite her victim's life force reinvigorated her own. She felt the flow replenishing her physically and feeding the spring from which she drew her vital magical energies.
Sitting cross-legged on the steaming corpse's chest, her face, breasts and hands smeared with blood, she happily feasted.
At length she was replete. For the time being.
As she sucked the last of the juices from her fingers, a young black and white cat slinked from a dark corner of the chamber. It mewed.
'Here, Sapphire,' Jennesta crooned, patting her thigh.
The she-cat leapt effortlessly and joined her mistress to be petted. Then she sniffed at the mutilated body and began lapping at its open wound.
Smiling indulgently, the Queen got down from the slab and padded to a velvet bellcord.
The orc guards wasted no time in obeying her summons. If they had any feelings about the scene that greeted them, or her appearance, they gave no hint.
'Remove the carcass,' she ordered.
The cat darted for the shadows on their approach. They set to work on the shackles.
'What news of the Wolverines?' Jennesta asked.
'None, my lady,' one of the guards replied, avoiding her gaze.
It wasn't what she wanted to hear. The benefits of the refreshment were already fading. Regal displeasure returned.
She made a silent vow that the warband's deaths would surpass their worst nightmares.
Two Wolverine footsoldiers lay stretched out with their backs against a tree, enraptured by a swarm of tiny fairies fluttering and gamboling above their heads. Soft multi-coloured light shimmered on the fairies' wings and their gentle singing tinkled melodiously in the late evening air.
One of the orcs abruptly shot out a hand and snatched a fistful of the creatures. They squeaked pitifully. He stuffed their wriggling bodies into his mouth and crunched noisily.
'Irritating little bastards,' his companion muttered.
The first trooper nodded sagely. 'Yeah. But good to eat.'
'And stupid,' the second soldier added as the swarm formed again overhead.
He watched them for a while then decided to grab a handful for himself.
They sat chewing, staring dumbly at the smoking embers of the farmhouse on the other side of the compound. The fairies finally got the message and flittered away.
A moment passed and the first orc said, 'Did that really just happen?'
'Fairies? Irritating little bastards.'
'Yeah. But good to - ' A light kick from a boot against his shin interrupted the discourse.
They hadn't noticed the approach of another trooper standing beside them. He stooped, grunted 'Here,' and handed over a clay pipe. Swaying slightly, he stumbled off again.
The first soldier raised the pipe and inhaled deeply.
His comrade smacked his lips and pulled a face. He dug a grubby fingernail between his front teeth and picked out something that looked like a minute shiny wing. Shrugging, he flicked it into the grass. The other orc passed him the cob of pellucid.
Nearer the remains of the house, Stryke, Coilla, Jup and Alfray sat around a small campfire sharing their own pipe. Haskeer was using a stick to stir the contents of a black cooking pot hanging over the crackling flames.
'I'll say it one last time,' Stryke told them, mildly exasperated. He pointed to the cylinder in his lap. 'This thing was taken from a heavily armed caravan by Unis who killed the guards. That's the story.' His voice was growing slurred. 'Jennesta wants it back.'
'But why?' Jup wondered, drawing from the pipe. 'After all, it's only a cessage marrier ... I mean, it's only a message carrier.' Blinking, he handed the pipe to Coilla.
'We know that,' Stryke replied. He waved a dismissive, lazy hand. 'Must be an important message. Not our concern.'
Dishing out steaming, milky white liquid from the pot and into tin cups, Haskeer commented, 'I wager this pellucid was part of the caravan's cargo too.'
Alfray, displaying characteristic correctness even in his present state, again tried reminding Stryke of his responsibilities. 'We mustn't linger here too long, Captain. If the Queen - '
'Can't you chirrup a different song?' Stryke interrupted testily. 'Mark me; our mistress will welcome us with open arms. You worry overmuch, sawbones.'
Alfray lapsed into moody silence. Haskeer offered him a cup of the infused drug. He shook his head. Stryke accepted the brew and downed an ample draft.
Coilla had been vacant-eyed and half drowsing under the pellucid's influence. Now she spoke. 'Alfray has a point. Incurring Jennesta's wrath is never a good scheme.'
'Must you nag me too?' retorted Stryke, raising the cup once more. 'We'll be on our way soon, never fear. Or would you deny them a little leisure?' He looked in the direction of the orchard, where most of the Wolverines were taking their ease.
The band's troopers sprawled before a larger fire. There was rude laughter, rough horseplay and raucous singing. A pair engaged in arm-wrestling. Several were slumped in ungainly postures.
Stryke turned back to Coilla. But the scene had changed completely.
She was curled on the ground with her eyes closed. All the others were also prone, one or two of them snoring. The fire was long dead. He returned his gaze to the main band. They too were sleeping, their fire also reduced to ashes.
It was the depth of night. A full panoply of stars dusted the sky.
What seemed to him no more than an instant of time had proved an illusion.
He should rouse everyone, organise them, issue orders for the march to Cairnbarrow. And he would. Certainly he would. But he needed to rest his leaden limbs and clear the muzziness from his brain. Only a minute or two was all it would take. Just a minute.
His nodding head drooped, chin meeting neck.
A warm stupor crept into every fibre of his being. It was so hard to keep his eyes open.
He surrendered to the dark.
© Stan Nicholls 1999
Bodyguard of Lightning, was published in the UK by Orion/Millennium,
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