Astielle: Chapter Six

NSFW Content Warnings
Maledom ❤ Fighting as Foreplay ❤ Sadism/Masochism ❤ Biting with Fangy Teeth (no blood) ❤ Hair Pulling ❤ Physical Restraint ❤ Size Difference ❤ Bruising ❤ Cunnilingus ❤ Penetrative Sex ❤ Penis-in-Vagina Sex ❤ Rough Sex ❤ Finger-fucking ❤ Unprotected Sex ❤ Creampie (no impreg) ❤ Weird Monster Dicks ❤ Tentacles ❤ Dirty Talk

“Who was it?” Ari Karzarul asked. He was a Tauril again, and she didn’t know if she wanted him to be an Impyr. She did, but she didn’t. It was a lot.

“Who was what?” she asked.

A number of dicks,” he repeated. She scowled. “You don’t have to tell me,” he said. “I’m curious, is all.”

“I’m allowed,” she said. “There’s no rule about sex.”

“There isn’t,” he confirmed.

“Traveling merchants, mostly,” she said. “Adventurers. A pirate. A bard. I’d save them, or we’d go on an adventure together, or something.”

“Ah,” he said. “No… long-term companions, then.”

“No?” she said uncertainly. “I don’t think Leonas counts.”

“I should hope not,” Karzarul said. Birds chirped in the trees along the road. “Unless you mean—you don’t mean…?”

“He always calls it an experiment,” she said, “but it’s definitely sex.”

Ari stopped in his tracks.

“It’s okay,” she rushed to assure him, seeing the look on his face. She stopped walking. There was always a certain distance between them while they walked, because if they were too close she couldn’t see his face. “I know it’s sex, and he knows. He has problems, is all.”

“When he does experiments,” Karzarul began.

“Not always,” she interrupted. “He does regular experiments, with magic and frogs and teeth.”

“Teeth?”

“He doesn’t get out,” she said. “The King sends him people, but I don’t know that he likes them. It’s—it is educational. The experimenting.”

Karzarul rubbed at his face.

“Are you mad at me?” she asked. “I would have mentioned it sooner, but I didn’t think it would come up, because I didn’t know that you were planning to kill him or that we could have sex.”

“I’m not mad at you,” he said. “I don’t like that he touched you.”

I liked it,” she said. “He’s pretty.” Karzarul grumbled and growled and muttered, but it felt important that she be clear. She started walking again. “I know that you hate him, but threatening to kill him while he’s trying to sleep isn’t fair.”

“There were extenuating circumstances,” he said, following after her.

“Like what?”

“I wanted to kill him.”

Ari.”

“If I told you what he said, you’d understand.”

“No I wouldn’t,” Minnow said, tilting up her head. “He would say it to my face.”

“That’s worse.”

“We have an understanding,” she said. “I don’t expect you to be friends, or like him, or even talk to him. It’s better if you don’t, isn’t it?” Karzarul grunted, but said nothing, so she continued. “You should leave his dreams alone, if we’re going to keep a low profile.”

He keeps coming into my dreams,” he said. “Don’t complain to me about it.”

Minnow frowned. That didn’t seem right. Leonas’ panic at the thought of sleeping, of dreaming, had been very real. She thought of sleepwalkers, wandering through unlocked doors. “How does it work? Can I see your dreams?”

“Maybe,” he said. “The Starsword gives you a certain baseline amount of magic, even if you can’t draw on it deliberately. It might be enough.”

Minnow did not appreciate the reminder that she still couldn’t do any cool sword magic. “What would we have to do?” she asked. “If I wanted to try it.”

“Focus on each other while falling asleep,” he said. “As long as one person is willing to leave their own dreamscape, it gives permission for them to enter another.” He shrugged. “A traveler has no power in another person’s dreamscape. It’s why most don’t do it, even if they can.”

She mulled it over, kicking a rock down the road. Then she set the thought aside for later. Talking about the Heir irritated him, that much was clear. If this plan was going to work, she was going to have to keep them apart. Better not to tempt fate by putting them in murdering range. No point worrying about logistics now, when everything was still so new and she barely understood anything.

“This has never happened before, with the monsters, right?” she asked.

“I have lived and died for thousands of years,” he said. “I’ve never seen a monster made of anything but moonlight.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she said. “I thought monsters were made of meat, and blood.”

“Yes,” he said. “And the meat and blood is made of moonlight.”

She chewed on her thumbnail. “Humans aren’t made of sunlight, though.”

“They are,” Ari said. “Same as animals. You get it from plants.”

“That sounds fake.”

“What do schools teach now?” he wondered.

“I dunno,” she said. “I didn’t go to school.”

“Hm.”

“I have books, though.”

“Astian books,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “And other books sometimes, in old places. People leave them all over.” She started reciting the history, kicking the same stone. “The Sun Goddess, the Moon Goddess, and the Star Goddess are sisters. The Sun Goddess made the world, and gave it life. The Moon Goddess saw the world, and gave it death. And the Star Goddess saw all the things in the world, and she gave it hope to guide the way. When they fought, as sisters do, the world couldn’t take it. So they vested their power into three chosen heroes. The Sunlight Heir is born to shield a people with all that they inherit, and the Starlight Hero gives them hope. The Moonlight Monster seeks the death and destruction of all things.” She paused. “Is what they say. In books. Which may not be accurate.”

“It isn’t,” he said.

“Okay.”

They walked, and listened to the birds sing.

“She isn’t the Star Goddess,” he said finally.

“What?”

“She is the Void Goddess,” he said.

She looked down at the Starsword on her hip, which was not called the Voidsword. The dark hilt glinted with innumerable points of light, flecks of gold embedded in the fallen stars of its making. “That doesn’t sound right,” she said.

“The things called natural are the realm of the Sun Goddess,” he said. “She is life, thriving. The things called unnatural are the realm of the Moon Goddess. She is life, persisting. The Void Goddess is the nothing in which all things dwell, the home of possibility, all things which could and will not be. She is death, inevitable. Every star in the sky is a dead world, held close to her breast and remembered for all time, awaiting the day we join them. Every fallen star is a dead world’s wish, all its hopes and dreams still seeking out the living who might make them real. The Heir seeks growth, but his shield can only keep him safe; the Sun Goddess knew better than to arm ambition with a blade. The Monster seeks only to be, and so his bow is for hunting, for keeping his enemies at a distance; the Moon Goddess was merciful in her pity.

“The Hero… is the Hero. They do not seek; they are sought. They wield a weapon hammered from dead dreams and wasted wishes, and its price is wanting. Dreamers and their desires stick to the Hero like burrs, and only satisfaction will make them leave. The dreams they wield are so heavy, they cannot bear to carry more for long. They are a vessel for infinity, and if they gaze inward they can lose themselves in it. If they bring hope, it is not the hope of a guiding light or a brighter future. It is the hope of emptiness, of nothingness, of all that might be made to fill it.”

Minnow kicked her rock into a bush, causing a chipmunk to flee.

“That’s a lot,” she said.

“It is,” he agreed.

“How much do you remember?” she asked.

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“As much as anyone would remember, after thousands of years. Big things, important things. I don’t always remember what I had for breakfast.”

“Hmmm.” Minnow didn’t remember anything, or else the things she remembered weren’t things that counted as memories. Like being able to read Quedian. She was glad now not to remember more, not to remember killing him. That would make kissing him awkward.

“We could have sex, you know.”

Minnow choked on air. “That’s—I know that now.”

“In this form,” he said.

She was turning very red. “I have organs,” she said. “And bones. This isn’t an, an out-of-practice situation.”

“That’s not the kind I meant,” he said.

She risked looking back at him, and regretted it when he stuck out his tongue. Her heart skipped and her stomach flipped sideways. She let out an indignant squeal, covered her mouth, then tried to cover her entire face. She shook her head, dropping down to a flat-footed squat that was nearly sitting in the road, hiding her head between her knees. “Ng⟡vit◌!”

Karzarul started to laugh. “Aekhite?” he asked. “You speak Aekhite, still?”

“No,” she said through her hands, still curled up near the ground.

“You just did,” he said.

“That doesn’t count,” she said. “That just happens, sometimes.”

Ari was large enough that when he knelt down she could hear it, and he poked her in the shoulder. “Are you going to do this every time?” he asked. “Should I ask for advice from pirates, and bards?”

“Not! Every time!” She did not, however, look up.

“Twice now,” he said, “you have been made aware that we have options if you would like to pursue them. And both times, you have responded in the manner of an angry hedgehog.”

“No!”

“If this isn’t how you respond to everyone’s advances,” he continued, “I might start to get my feelings hurt.”

“Have you ever been to a meal,” she said, “and someone there sees the meal, and they say ‘oh no get this away from me’, but they don’t mean that they don’t like the meal, they mean that they’ll eat the whole thing and no one else will get any and they’ll make themselves sick?”

She was still muffled by her hands.

“… I’m a meal?”

“I guess,” she said, peering out between her fingers.

Ari had, at some point, become a Rootboar. She screamed. His edges softened, but she grabbed at him. “No!” she said before he could change, suddenly hugging him to her chest, falling backward to sit on the ground. He was very small, and very round, with tiny little branches growing out of his head like antlers. There was a dark crescent in the middle of his forehead. And he had, most importantly of all, a snoot.

“I should have anticipated this,” he sighed. The fact that his voice hadn’t changed was as funny as it was unsettling.

She gasped with realization. “I should take you home!”

“Okay.”

“I didn’t think I could before,” she said, “because my neighbors would notice if I came home with a Tauril and I don’t think they’d be very happy about it. They won’t be happy about a Rootboar, either, but.” She touched her nose to his, and giggled. “I don’t care. I wanna—I wanna go places.”


Minnow was still holding Ari against her chest when she came out through the Rainbow Door behind her house. Instead of stopping to get her bearings, she kept walking with full momentum downhill.

Minona?” a woman called, but Minnow didn’t slow down. “Is that a pig? You can’t bring another pig here. The Village Council had a vote after last time, remember?”

“It’s not a pig, Suzan!” Minnow snapped, walking faster. Ari didn’t have much of a neck in this form, but he tried to look around Minnow’s arm to see who was talking.

“When are you coming to a Council meeting?” the woman asked, voice sounding closer. “We need to talk about your hedges, the official height limit—”

“I’m a little busy, Suzan!” Minnow interrupted, opening the large wooden gate into the hedged-in garden and immediately shutting it behind her. “I’ll show you the garden later,” she muttered, “if we stay out here she’ll start peeking through the slats in the door.”

Since he didn’t want her nosy neighbor noticing the talking Rootboar, he wiggled all his legs so that Minnow would put him down. He still followed after her, his trotters tapping on the cobblestones, but it was easier to look around this way. There was a large fountain, and flowers from all around Astielle were growing in careful arrangements. Miniature chickens were wandering in a flock, scratching at the grass and pecking at neatly trimmed berry bushes. Tiny orbs of quail stayed underneath the shrubs, where they could find the illusion of safety. There was a log covered in shelf mushrooms, some of which were glowing despite it being daytime.

She had what may have been a memorial statue for a pig, which raised a lot of questions despite the ones it answered.

He bit the head off a dandelion, and chewed it as he followed her into the house.

“You have a lovely garden,” he said, carefully wiping his trotters clean on her welcome mat.

“I got really into gardening for a while,” she said, shutting the door behind him. “They had a gardening competition and I wanted to get first place. I don’t know why, it isn’t like it mattered.” She kicked off her boots to leave them by the door. “They stopped having it after that because they didn’t want to ask me not to enter. I ignore them about the property regulations because I don’t care and there’s not really anything they can do about it. Do you want to see my rock collection? Or we can look for books about monsters. I tried to turn some of my rooms into a library but I didn’t organize it well.”

He stood up, stretching into his limbs and assuming a form less spherical. He appreciated that her ceilings were high enough to accommodate his horns.

“Oh,” she gasped, turning around rather than look at him.

Again.

“Minnow,” he warned.

“I know,” she said, and she did sound a touch upset about it. But it was still… irritating. Not in an obnoxious way. More in the manner of a poorly-fitted shirt. “A minute, give me a minute.” She wrung her hands in front of her. “You got your bow back,” she noted. “I wondered, when you were little.”

“It’s a part of me,” he said. “No point having it when I can’t use it.” He stepped closer to her, and his hooves were loud in the quiet room. She froze, but didn’t retreat. He slid his hands onto her waist, and her oh this time was small and high-pitched and wound all through with a yearning he could feel. He bent down until his cheek brushed her hair, and nuzzled until his chin rested on her shoulder. He took a deep breath.

She smelled like dirt, and blood, and sweat. Like moss on a rotting log. Meat, and bone, and dying flowers. His grip on her waist tightened. He wanted to sink his fingers into her skin, he wanted to taste her. She was sweet, and soft, and had earned every kindness he could give her. He was a monster with moonlight skin, a thing that made his home where he was not wanted.

She didn’t remember him. She never remembered him. Not really, not down to his bones, not the sound of his heart. Minnow didn’t remember Elias remembered Tomas didn’t remember Laurela who’d remembered so much she’d remembered—

So many Starlight Heroes. Always the same Moonlight Monster.

One little Minnow, and maybe for a time that was enough.

“Can you use a sword?” she asked breathlessly, as he pressed his lips against the fabric at her shoulder.

“If I need to,” he said.

“Could we spar?” she asked.

“Now?” he asked. He wanted to pull her closer, wrap his arm around her neck.

“I know that might be bad for you,” she said, “since you remember. We don’t have to.”

“Would it help?” he asked.

“It might,” she said. “I have practice swords, it wouldn’t—I wouldn’t hurt you.”

She always hurt him, he always hurt her. That was how it worked.

“I’ll do it,” he said, “if it means you’ll look at me.”


She certainly was looking at him.

He was a monster, was the problem. He was so handsome it hurt. He made her instincts go haywire, and she didn’t know whose instincts. She wanted to kill him, she wanted him, she craved a catharsis that a kiss wouldn’t give her. She didn’t know what she wanted, only that she wanted and it was building up under her skin like a scream.

This was helping.

She was terrible at sparring. She was used to open fields and forests, room to run and give herself breathing room. He gave her none. They’d taken off their true weapons to be sure they wouldn’t hurt each other, not in any way that mattered. His tunic was almost-but-not-quite the one he’d worn as a Tauril, his white gloves still hiding his mark. His skirt fell in long panels down to his calves, open on either side and leaving his legs free; his hooves were silver, and so were his horseshoes. His hair fell in a thick braid down his back, bells in his hair and in the trim of his skirt. His tail was tied with ribbons. Every time he moved, it was a song, graceful and precise.

He was even trying to go easy on her. It wasn’t working. The dull wooden blade hit her forearm, and she cried out. He retreated.

“Again?” he asked.

She laughed in that way that no one ever liked, shaking out her arms and bouncing on her toes. “Again,” she urged, “again, again.”

He moved, and she dodged to block, the both of them spinning in circles around the room. She waited for a tell that never came, a break between movement, couldn’t think about anything but where to move and where he was moving. Couldn’t think, couldn’t think, didn’t want to think.

This, finally, felt right.

Her wooden sword finally snapped, and she let the force of it knock her aside, a shrieking laugh of glee as she hit the ground long enough to catch his tail and yank. He hissed and wrapped it around her arms, turning to grab her by the hair. She groaned, throwing her arms around his neck once they were free and pulling herself close enough to claim his mouth.

“More,” she gasped as soon as she was able. Her feet weren’t touching the ground, his arm around her back, so she wrapped her legs around his waist.

“This was what you needed?” he asked, holding her tighter, his fingers in her hair. She nodded helplessly. “You want a monster?”

“I want you,” she said, so he kissed her again. He started to move, then stopped.

“Where the fuck is your bed,” he said, looking at all the doors visible from where he stood, and she laughed. She pointed to the ladder on the far wall, the one that skipped the second floor entirely and went straight into the turret that jutted from her roof. “You’re kidding.”

“It doesn’t usually matter,” she apologized. “There’s never anyone else.”

He made a guttural sound at that, and abruptly lifted her to throw over his shoulder. She shrieked and kicked her feet, though not at all in protest, watching the floor get further away as he climbed up toward her room.

She hoped she hadn’t left anything embarrassing out.

“Of course this is your room,” he said, letting her fall into her pillows. She’d covered the floor in futons and comforters and as many souvenir throw pillows as she could find, soft toys and animal furs and anything else that seemed nice for sleeping.

“What’s wrong with it?” she asked.

“Absolutely nothing,” he said, dropping to his knees with his hands on either side of her head. “Maybe this,” he corrected, picking up a small stuffed toy of a Bruteling and tossing it to where it wouldn’t be watching. She tried to unfasten the clasps on his tunic, getting stuck almost immediately because her hands were shaking. He pulled off his gloves, and as soon as he touched her face she nipped at his thumb. “There’s my girl,” he said, his voice rough.

She took off her belt while he took off his tunic, pulling her own tunic up over her head. Unwinding her chest wrap was more of an ordeal, made her wish she’d brought a knife.

“Perfect,” he said as he shrugged out of his shirt. He descended on her, kissed a trail from her lips to her collarbones. His fingers were long enough to span her breast, dragging a thumb over one of her nipples. She slid a hand down his chest, down his stomach, toward his skirt. He caught her, laced his fingers through hers and pinned her hand above her head instead. “Not yet,” he said. Her sound of protest mingled with her groan, making a token attempt to pull her hand away just so he’d pin it again.

He bent his head, squeezed one breast and licked the other, traced the curve with his tongue before pressing his fangs into her skin. One of his horns grazed her cheek. She arched her back, rocking her hips against nothing. Her muscles all ached, wrung out and weak, and she could feel her pulse in her mouth and all her bruises. His fingertips found a long bruise he’d left on her ribs, and she cried out in more than pain. He kissed her again.

“Did I do that to you?” he asked against her mouth.

“Yeah,” she sighed.

“Did you like it?”

“Mm-hmm,” she hummed, running her leg along his thigh.

“Say my name.”

“Ari,” she said, and he pressed at her bruise so she’d cry out again.

“The other one.”

“Karzarul,” she said, and he let her go to kneel upright. Her worked her leggings off her hips and down her legs, pushing her knees up toward her chest in the process. Then he let them fall onto his shoulders, his hands under her hips. “Karzarul.” He pressed his teeth into her inner thigh enough to leave a mark, and her hips rocked again.

She didn’t mean to grab him by the horns, but once his tongue was inside her she wasn’t sure what else to do. Her heels dug into his back as he thrust his tongue in and out of her, the point of it curling deeper than any tongue had a right to go. Whenever his head moved, she could hear the bells in his hair. His fingers pressed a bruise on her thigh, and she gasped, clenching around his tongue. He nipped at her other thigh as she pulled harder at his horns, tried to grind against his face. Then he dipped his tongue into her again, slid it higher before sucking at her clit.

It was a marvel that she didn’t pull his horns off, all the stars in the void lighting up behind her eyes.

His kiss still tasted like her, and he slid a finger inside of her to replace his tongue. “Good?” he asked, sounding like he knew perfectly well the answer.

More,” she said, and a second finger joined the first. His hands were large enough that this was already a stretch.

“Tell me what you want,” he said, his forehead touching hers. It was a question with a right answer, which she resented when she couldn’t think. She pressed her head a little harder against his, the ghost of the idea of a headbutt.

You,” she said. “More. You have to tell me what to say, I don’t know what to say.”

He kissed her, kissed her neck and brought his lips close to her ear. He worked a third finger inside of her, stretching her open as she tried to spread her legs further. His thumb brushed her oversensitive clit, just enough to make her whimper. “I want the Starlight Hero,” he breathed, “to tell me how badly she wants my filthy monster cock.”

“I don’t think you’re filthy,” she protested instead of saying the right thing. “I—I do want to be full of monster cock, though.” She tried to adjust her position enough to look down between them, but then his hand was on her jaw and he was pushing her head back into the pillows. It left her unable to see him at all, looking at a spot above her head while he touched her.

“Don’t,” he warned, his fingers sliding out of her.

“Why not?” she said, though her complaint died when something that could only have been the head of his cock slid over her clit. It felt… different. “I want to see,” she said.

“If I let you see,” he said, with a sound of buckles and shifting fabric, “you’re going to change your mind.”

His cock started to push inside of her, agonizingly slow as he split her open. He let her move enough to see his face, the furrow of his brow and the flare of his nostrils. He pressed his forehead to hers again to keep her there, his eyes locked onto hers. She was trying to interpret what she was feeling, but it was difficult when she was feeling so much. Big, like the rest of him. A shaft that seemed to get thicker, spreading her wider the deeper he drove. Something else, something that wasn’t inside her and wasn’t his fingers. She bucked and cried out when it touched her clit again.

“Karzarul,” she said, reaching up to pull him close, her teeth touching the point of one ear. “Please? I want to see what it looks like when you fuck me.” He thrust hard, too much too fast, forcing all the air out of her lungs. His breathing was ragged, now.

“Okay,” he said hoarsely. He kissed her eyelids as she grabbed at pillows, sliding them underneath her to raise her head to a better angle. He held himself still while she adjusted herself, still impaled on him as far as she could tell. She braced her hands on his shoulders, spreading her knees, and he didn’t stop her from looking down this time as he pulled out of her.

“Oh!” Some of what she’d intuited had been correct. It did get wider at the base, for one thing. It did have more texture to it than was usual for skin, ridges that were almost scales. She hadn’t expected the silvery moonlight pulsing down the length of it, lines in a pattern that reminded her of certain rare flower petals. She had also not expected the tentacles flaring around the base of it. Her nails dug into the skin on his back. “Fuck me,” she said, excited. “I want to see you inside me.”

He thrust all at once, more than looked like could fit though he still couldn’t hilt it inside of her. She bit her lip so that she wouldn’t scream in his face, voice ragged against her teeth, arching up to meet the tentacles grabbing at her body. She fell back against the pillows, satisfied now that she could imagine what was happening.

“You’re beautiful when you fuck me,” she said dreamily, cut off with a gasp when he thrust again. “It’s so good,” she said, “when you do that—that thing, where you fill me up and then keep going and then I bounce. I like bouncing.” She laughed, though it came out sounding choked and strange, because he’d started pounding into her while she spoke. What a delight to be able to do that to him with nothing else but words, when the right words were the thing she had least often.

“You can bounce on my cock as much as you’d like,” he said, a growl though his teeth.

“Oh,” she sighed. “You promise?”

Harder and faster and he’d certainly taken it to heart, making her bounce, but he was still being careful and she could tell that he was. It was good that he was, because he was already deep enough to feel dangerous, the good kind of dangerous but the dangerous kind of dangerous. She didn’t know if he could actually rearrange her organs, but she didn’t want to find out.

“Ari?” she said, which felt like breaking character but she didn’t want to distract him with the sound of his true name. “If you flip me over you could go harder, if that’s, if you don’t mind.” She was worried she’d given him a complex about not looking at his face.

She grunted as he pulled out of her, leaving her feeling both emptier and squishier than would have been ideal. She rolled over, grabbing a pillow to prop under her stomach while pulling herself up onto shaky knees. She kept her head low, resting on her arms. His hands were on her hips, and she tried to look over her shoulder at him. “Good?” she asked, because it seemed like he was waiting for something.

“Good,” he said, kneeling upright where before he’d been leaning back. His hands squeezed her ass and spread her apart, and she realized he was looking at her. She hugged a pillow close to bury her face in it. “Very good,” he said, and then his cock was pushing into her again. She moaned low and raw, louder as she felt tentacles sliding in all directions. Along her ass, up to her clit, spreading her open. She could feel her own arousal dripping down her thighs.

“Your hands,” she managed, struggling to articulate her thought. “My back, I want—push me down, please, Karzarul.” She felt his palm along her spine, his fingers spread wide around her shoulderblades and the pressure of his weight pushing her down into the pillows. “Yes,” she gasped, and he started to thrust, “like that, like that, I like that, I want that.” She trailed off into muffled screams as she bit down onto her pillow, wished it was his arm, wished he had a form like this one with more hands to hold her and fill her and tear her apart.

“Say my name,” he growled as his body pounded into hers, and she thought of his voice in her ear and the words he wanted.

“I w—ah—nt, King Karzarul, t—oh—fill me with his monster cock, I want you, Karzarul—”

He bent to hook his chin over her shoulder, his chest against her back and his whole body pressing her down. His hips slammed into her ass, tentacles rubbing at her, one of them bearing down on her clit until she screamed into her pillow. Her body tried to arch and buck and writhe, but there was too much of him holding her still, holding her open.

He stilled, and she felt his cock twitching inside her, her own inner muscles still spasming around him as he moved. Heat was dripping down her thighs, sweat in her hair and on her back and she didn’t know whose any of it was.

“Thank you,” she breathed, sing-song, and he growled and thrust one last time before pulling out of her. She pressed her legs together before she tipped over, as if they would in any way minimize the mess. He picked up her hand, and started kissing the knuckles of her fingers.

“Pretty little Hero,” he murmured against her skin.

She hummed. “I think if I try to get to the bathroom myself I’m going to fall down the ladder and sprain my ankle.”


“This still seems like an omelet.” Ari was sitting with Minnow at her kitchen table, eating the meal she’d made with the eggs and mushrooms he’d managed to round up from her garden. He thrown his tunic back on, but hadn’t fastened it, leaving the center of his chest still exposed. His skirt was hanging off one hip with the front panel falling between his legs, leaving most of his thighs bare. None of his hair had fallen out of his braid, which offended her.

“Perivo scrambled eggs aren’t an omelet,” she said, taking another bite. Her hair was still wet from the bath, and she’d thrown on a loose dress with nothing underneath it. She had a vague notion that she might be getting naked again soon enough to make dirtying more clothes wasteful.

“I’ve had omelets like this,” he said.

Maloran omelets, maybe,” she said, scoffing at the very idea. “Maloran omelets are mostly buttered ground mushrooms. Perivo scrambled eggs are eggs, with some tree mushrooms.”

“That sound like something Perivos made up,” he said.

They paused as the back door to the garden opened.

“Did you not lock your door?” he asked quietly, frowning.

“Why would I lock my door?” she asked as she stood. “Everyone knows it’s my house.”

“Your house full of treasure.”

“My house full of me, and my swords.” She froze in the doorway to the kitchen.

Leonas froze in the middle of her sitting room.

She stared at him. He wasn’t wearing his circlet, but he was still dressed like a prince. She thought wearing purple instead of blue might be his idea of a disguise. She could not process the sight of him here, out of his element, out of his room.

He stared at her. He stared, also, at what was clearly Moonlight Monster King Karzarul, King of All Monsters, standing over her right shoulder. He stared at her wet hair. He stared at Karzarul’s gratuitously open shirt.

“Right,” Leonas said, nodding. “Right, okay. Great. Bye.”

He bolted back out the door.