This is a fiction I am currently working on. I'm using Yu-Gi-Oh! monsters as placeholders while I bang out the story. I intend for this to be something of a critique of the fantasy fiction by Tolkein, Lewis, Jordan (Rest in Peace), and the tie-in fiction published by the gaming industry. That said, I'm writing this as if it were a simple sword-n-sorcery meets science fantasy. By critique, I mean that I want to look at alternatives to situations from the writers I have previously mentioned. Alternatives which could make for a more entertaining story. So here we go!

Chapter 1: Infiltration

A lattice iron fence surrounded the rooftop garden of the Endymion’s Alchemist Tower; the thick growth of magically-augmented trellis and creepers blocked the fires that ran rampant through the city’s streets. A pair of fountains at either end of the garden, carved to resemble the magicians’ archetypes—the Dark Magician and the Dark Magician Girl—emitted streams of enchanted water from the ends of their magical staffs whose roar drowned out the high-pitched shrieks, the laughter and explosions that ripped through the dwellings, stores, and research facilities of Endymion. Red roses, white lilies and purple lilacs grew to enormous sizes and entwined to create a floral tent that shook and rustled with activity.

The bronze-skinned man rolled off of the green-haired woman and plucked a white feather from the black hair that framed his lean, wolfish face. The man looked up and, through a tiny crevice in the ceiling of green and brown, saw a large brown and white winged beast with a steel mask and curved horns sweeping from the sky. The man, eager to see the roc’s contribution to the lusty horde ravishing the streets, began to rise. A sharp pain in his calf drew half a curse and a long hiss.

“Kiliastor?” the green-haired woman pushed herself up with a taloned hand and stretched. Through his pain, the man, Kiliastor Sturmkrieg, found his eyes drawn to her bare breasts.

Kiliastor inspected the long slash across the back of his calf. Grinning, he ran the white feather through the blood and tried to rise, only to feel another sharp twinge. He blew a raspberry and tossed the feather aside. “There’s nothing magical about you, my queen.”

Kurasu got to her knees, crawled behind Kiliastor and settled her lithe body against his own, a shapely leg wrapped over his injured one. “For a man who claims to call dragons,” Kurasu whispered in his ear, “you’re terribly inadequate.” Kiliastor glanced at her with a frown that threatened to break into a smile. Kurasu met his expression with a vicious grin and dug the tip of her talon into the wound she’d given him during their romp. Kiliastor grimaced with pain as Kurasu wiggled her foot. “Maybe there’s something in one of the laboratories you promised to show me?”

“My clothing and staff, if it pleases the queen.” Kiliastor said.

Kurasu rose to a crouch and retrieved the dark, skin-hugging undershirt, dragon-skull cuirass as well as the dragon’s head staff wrapped in Kiliastor’s cloak. She knelt beside Kiliastor, jerked his arms up and began pulling the undershirt over his sweat-beaded body.

“It seems,” Kiliastor said with a smirk, “that my red-hot firecracker has a fetish for slave wor—” A scaly hand smacked Kiliastor’s cheek, nearly knocking him over. Before Kiliastor could reply, the harpie queen jerked him upright and finished pulling on his undershirt. Kurasu grabbed a taloned handful of Kiliastor’s hair and jerked him to the ground.

“Hold your tongue, darling.” Kurasu said as she began pulling Kiliastor’s pants over his legs. “I’d hate for my fingers to slip while I’m down here.”

“Certainly; forgive me my petulance, qu—” An angry glare silenced Kiliastor.

“I have a name, you know.” Kurasu dropped her gaze and finished her work. “I never expected the magician’s apprentices to care who I was. Raiza didn’t give a damn who I was so long as I danced on her strings.”

“Ah,” Kiliastor blinked. After the bloodshed and the passion, where’s this coming from? “Kurasu?” She looked at Kiliastor and wiped her red eyes dry. “I…I’m sorry.” Another explosion sounded, followed by what sounded like an avalanche of boulders; the spellcaster and harpie queen jumped at the sound and moved toward a gap in the wall of stems. Both beheld a black-scaled dragon rearing high over the Alchemy Tower; sunlight glinted off the armor plating its head and chest. “My staff and cloak, Kurasu!”

Kurasu thrust the bundle into Kiliastor’s arms and helped him to his feet. “What can you do against that?”

“Not much, I’m afraid.” Kiliastor said, draping an arm over Kurasu’s shoulder. “Hopefully we get something else’s attention and let the two murder each other.” The spellcaster forced a grin. “If we should die here, well, why do we care—you’ll be free of Raiza and I—”

Kiliastor watched the shaman leave the holding cell and dashed for the unlocked door. The cold iron flew inward, throwing Kiliastor to the floor of the cell. He caught a flash of dangling privates as the robed masses of prisoners flooded the cell. He rolled over and scampered after the frenzied prisoners. He shrieked as the first of them grabbed his wife, Karasu, by the scruff of her clothes. She thrust a clenched fist into the man’s Adam’s apple; he dropped, gurgling. She met the others with kicks to their crotches, grinning with vicious glee at the occasional wet snap.

“Gods, Karasu,” Kiliastor said in a low voice as he watched the repressed, ravenous prisoners throwing themselves at the partially nude woman, “Your technique is beautiful as it ever was.” He cut his eyes from the fight to the entrance to the prison-pit, high above the tiers of holding cells. “I hope you’re watching this, Atum.”

Kiliastor snapped a hand at a robed form rushing past, jerked the prisoner into an embrace. A look of relish was upon Kiliastor’s face as he spun the man to face him, and raked a shank across is throat. Blood painted Kiliastor’s face. Another died, spewing blood and squealing like a stuck pig. Kiliastor licked a bit of the red stuff from his lips.

A general from the Third Reich. Kiliastor felt something heavy sink into the small of his back and flew forward. His teeth clacked together and his ears ringed with pain. He scissored his legs around those of his attacker and rolled, throwing the prisoner off to the side. In a fluid motion, he rolled, sprang to a crouch and took a handful of the prisoner’s hair. The crack of the prisoner’s head echoed like thunder in the holding cell.

Curious, Kiliastor lifted the man’s head and ran a finger through the mess of blood and bone that had once been a face. He tasted the blood. A figure head for the Grand British Empire; you’ll have a better fate in Pandemonium, my friend. At least they believe in a more straightforward game of politics!

Saena screamed. Kiliastor glanced up, and loped from his kill with a guttural growl. He threw himself upon their filthy naked forms, clawing with his long nails, gouging with the shank. As the bodies peeled away, Kiliastor’s nostrils flared at the scent of blood and he saw a pool of it around the ragged stumps at Karasu’s shoulders.

Light flared in the darkened cell; Kiliastor threw an arm over his eyes and charged the source of it. His ears filled with the sound of the prisoners he had killed. I freed them, Kiliastor told himself, from the bonds of Atum. Do you shreds of memory hear me? The viscera-the conscience essence--of the prisoners—bound to Kiliastor’s shank—answered with a moan. Your murderer is before us. Kill the shiny golden fucker!

Kiliastor lashed out the Hieratic Dragon King of Atum as the entity finished its manifestation. He felt the Dragon King’s form stumble back and leapt forward, squinting against the gleam of the King’s armor. The shrieking of the viscera ceased; a force sunk into Kiliastor’s chest and threw him back. His head smacked the edge of the stone slab where Karasu lay.

Kiliastor felt a splitting pain throughout his head, touched the back of his head and felt his hair matted with blood. This is different, he realized. I feel free; unbound. He craned his head around and saw nothing but the flesh tone ceiling of the cell. No, I’m not the Dragon King’s Hell anymore. I’m free—free, I’m soaring to free—Kiliastor’s head drooped and he saw his legs splayed against the floor. He reached to touch them, groaning in concert with the grinding of the bones in his arm. He didn’t feel anything. A sandal entered the edge of his vision.

Kiliastor looked up and saw a man in the brown robes of the prisoners…

“They are my monks, you idiot child.” The Hieratic Dragon King of Atum stood over Kiliastor. “I’ve got half a mind to throw you into Pandemonium. You’ll fight my war against them far better if you’re allied with them.” The Dragon King’s tone grew playful. “You’re the only champion I’ve ever known to relish the blood of his charges.

“You’re a champion for monks who prey on the people who look up to them.” Kiliastor glared at the Dragon King’s rumbling chuckle. “For the gods’ sake, why did you drag Karasu into your temporal war games?”

“I gave her the choice, Kiliastor.” The Dragon King’s eyes narrowed and he knelt before Kiliastor. “The same choice I gave you the choice years ago when the three of us met in the French Quarter.”

“Choice.” Kiliastor sneered and spat a glob of phlegm and blood.“You’re no better than the despots Karasu and I went to war against!”

The Dragon King raised his head and broke eye contact with Kiliastor. “Do you hear this man’s babbling, dear child?” A hint of concern entered the Dragon King’s voice. “Oh, of course you don’t. He was too busy sating his bloodthirst to save you or my monks.”

“You’re a fucking liar!” Kiliastor grasped his shank and thrust himself forward with his elbows. The blade sunk into the ethereal purple flesh bound within the plates of the Hieratic Dragon King of Atum’s armor. The Dragon King took a step back; Kiliastor fell face-forward onto the slashed, bloodied back of a dead monk.

“He let the monks give in to Pandemonium’s urging to act on their sensual desires…” Kiliastor rolled himself over to see the Dragon King scoop Karasu into his arms. Cradling her, the Dragon King nuzzled her short black hair and said: “Yet my champion demonstrates his wisdom. He knows what lays ahead for you, dear. My champion was forged in the fires of politics; close your eyes, child.”

Kiliastor glanced down at his shank. Karasu can’t see me like this. He placed it at his throat, only to have it kicked away by the Dragon King. “Do ye the dragon’s work, Kiliastor. That was your vow. Your work is far from over.” The Dragon King said. “Ah, here’s my man!”

Kiliastor looked and saw a pudgy middle-aged man with gray hair and a wrinkled face standing in the cell’s doorway. “Wh—who?”

“This is embarrassing.” The Dragon King laid his bundle aside, knelt and laid a hand over Kiliastor’s forehead. A chilly tingle spread throughout Kiliastor’s body. Bones re-knit themselves and feeling returned to his legs. The Dragon King jerked Kiliastor to his feet and gestured to the middle-age man.

“Kiliastor, this is Casey Logatti. He’ll be taking care of Saena.”

Kiliastor looked at the figure on the slab. “Saena?” The fighting style—that was Karasu’s style.

“Come, Saena.” The Dragon King motioned with a claw. The girl rose and stepped toward the Dragon King. Kiliastor noted the heart-shaped face, the auburn hair cut short and boyish just like her mother’s. There was an air of youth about her; she was too young to be his Saena. You have no idea what Saena looks like; Karasu and you left her in New Orleans to do the Dragon’s work.

“Saena.” Kiliastor’s hand shot out and grabbed the girl by the wrist. He glared at Casey and saw the man’s weak, watery eyes were tracing the curves of Saena’s hips, admiring her breasts.

“Kiliastor.” The girl replied.

Kiliastor looked her in the eyes and saw disgust. “Saena, your mother and I, we had to get to Austria. I’m sorry we weren’t there for your sixth grade graduation—”

“Ah, but Allard will always be there for Saena!” the Dragon King said. “As will her other customers.”

“What about the science fair?” Saena said. Her eyes began to shine with tears. “I found the journals mother and you wrote about the essence of the elements as alternative energy. I understood them. Did you even get the message I sent about being offered a place at Tulane?”

A weary smile crept onto Kiliastor’s face. “I did! We did! We’re so proud of you—”

“Your decisions said otherwise, father. I’m not an idiot; if the Dragon has work for me, it is important.”

“No! Don’t you say that, Saena! You don’t know—”

“Oh, I know plenty!” Saena walked past Kiliastor to stand before the Dragon King. “I am ready, King.”

“Very good, child.” The Dragon King turned to Logatti. “She is all yours. Give my regards to the Madame, please.”

Allard Logatti, simpering and with Saena on his arm, bowed to the Dragon King and walked from the cell.

“You’re sending her to a brothel.” Kiliastor said, glaring at the Dragon King.

“I am! There’s a very nice one in Bangkok that caters to the, ah, “love shy” nice guys.”

Kiliastor nodded. “There’s nothing left for me, then.” His shoulders sagged and he felt aches throughout his body. “Send me on.”

The Dragon King draped an arm over Kiliastor’s shoulders and walked him to the cell door. He gestured to the sporadic outcroppings of rock running up sides of the pit walls. “You know the way out. Now go. Do the Dragon’s work.”

“Piss on it,” Kiliastor said. “Just get us to the stairwell!”

Kurasu dashed from the cover of flowers; Kiliastor craned his head around to take in the majesty of the Armed Dragon. Kiliastor followed the dragon’s line of sight and saw crackling streaks of white lightning speeding toward the garden.

“Quickly, Kurasu! We’ll soon have the most unpleasant company.”

Kurasu looked in the direction Kiliastor pointed, flared her wings and sent them flying forward with a mighty flap. The stones paving the garden exploded behind Kiliastor and Kurasu as they made the stairwell entrance; another flap of Kurasu’s wings propelled them into the darkness of the stairwell. The bolts of lightning were gathering into vaguely humanoid shapes around silvery blue armored bodies; the grounded elementals lashed their lightning arms toward the stairwell. Kiliastor let out a cry of pain as Kurasu leaped to the lower landing, dodging the lightning bolts and the rain of rubble they tore from the surrounding walls.

“The laboratory is on the nineteenth floor?” Kurasu glanced over her shoulder, saw the wall of brick and steel separating them from the elementals and let her wings fall to rest. Kiliastor felt the tension leaving her muscles and nodded.

“I believe I can stand on my own, Kurasu.” Kiliastor unrolled his cloak, revealing a cane whose tip was carved in the shape of a dragon with its jaws open wide in a roar. A number of wires crisscrossed along the length of the cane; from within the darkness of the dragon’s maw Kurasu thought she heard muffled screams. “I might need some assistance with my cloak.”

“Sure.” Kurasu helped Kiliastor don his fin-collared cloak and glanced down the hallway. No one in sight; the gaseous light tubes running along the groove between wall and ceiling still cast purple light throughout the hall. Kiliastor, leaning on the cane, hobbled down the hallway passing a number of doors whose windows were either curtained or grime-covered.

“One room for every element on the periodic table,” Kiliastor said when he saw Kurasu grasp a handle, tug twice, and pull back a scaled palm covered with dust. “As you can imagine, some of these laboratories haven’t been used in a while. Here we are.” Kiliastor stopped at a door marked 919 and tried the handle. “I’ll need your support.”

Kurasu took the dragon-head cane, laid Kiliastor’s arm over her shoulders and passed the cane to Kiliastor’s free hand. Kiliastor made a waving gesture; Kurasu stepped back as far as she could without letting the spellcaster collapse on his wounded leg. She saw Kiliastor pull a spike-disguised-as-a-trigger on the iguana-like wattle on the underside of the dragon’s head. One loud whuff and a sonic burst of wind later, the door was blown to pieces by a dragon’s wingbeat of a gale. She smiled at the thought of turning the dragon staff’s wingbeat gale on the academic tyrants who’d rubbed her profession in her face before taking their pleasure...

“We must be quick, Kurasu,” Kiliastor said, hobbling into the disused laboratory and heading for a supply closet. He creaked open the door and found a light switch. The beakers, burets, funnels incubators were caked with dust and cob webs. At the bottom of an incubator on the opposite wall, Kiliastor found a specimen jar with a stasis-bound winged serpent with a blunt, triangular head. “Would you, please?” He held out the jar to Kurasu.

Kurasu sneered and held a hand over her nose as she unscrewed the lid. The preserved specimen, a petite dragon, suddenly came alive as the stasis spell was broken. It mewled, hissed, snapped at Kurasu and Kiliastor.

“Go on, then,” Kiliastor waved a hand at the struggling petite dragon. “You know how the magic works.”

Kurasu nodded and dropped her eyes to the grisly bundle resting in her palm. The little dragon ceased its struggling and stared at Kurasu; she saw a distorted reflection of herself in their glassy black surface. The look of trust in those beady eyes reminded her of the children’s.

Kurasu looked from within the shadow created by the rocky overhang toward the valley-side village, with its storehouses and dwellings carved from the boulders and outcroppings of the mountainsides and rope bridges connecting one side of the village to the other. She inadvertently touched the bloody, twisted wreck of her right wing, rubbing it in contemplation.

Kurasu saw the wingless apes rushing to and fro along the bridges; the sharp edges of their armor and ceremonial robes would mark the spellcasters as easy targets for the more feral inhabitants of the mountains. She chuckled at the thought of a wyvern swooping in and raking out their innards.

It was the least they deserved—a high pitched shriek ripped through the afternoon, causing Kurasu to clamp her hands to her ears. She felt a warm trickle of blood from her ears due to the Sacred Phoenix’s cry, and looked at the spellcasters’ obscenity: a massive jag of flesh-tone rock raised from the valley floor, pulsing and throbbing with magical vitality imbued by spellcraft stones studding its length. Chained to it was a magnificent winged beast with a body that seemed to be made of gold, whose wings, neck and powerful legs were made of elemental fire: the Sacred Phoenix of Nephthys. Streams of fire from its appendages constantly flowed toward the sky, slicing through the planes of existence and the gulf spanning them.

The Phoenix’s cry died. Kurasu retreated deeper into the cavern and entered a circular chamber whose center was dominated by an a statue of the Phoenix with Her wings flared wide throughout the gulf representing the Dark World and the sphere representing the prime material plane of existence. A soft green glow emanated from the lichen growing on the statue. Kurasu knelt at the statue and touched the lichen; it gave off a soft glow and smelled of ozone.

Kurasu felt the first of the contractions; the offspring were coming. A low rustling of sound drew Kurasu’s attention to an arch-shaped hole in the wall beyond the statue. Through the layers of phosphorescent fungi stepped a slim, attractive woman in ceremonial armor that mimicked the Phoenix’s wings and beak.

“Kurasu,” The Hand of Nephthys said, “You have made your decision, then.”

“I have, Lady.” Kurasu dropped her head in a gesture of reverence, wincing against another sharp contraction. “The Spellcasters would do horrible things to my children.” She touched the bulge in her stomach and felt one of the offspring kick. “These children deserve a retribution that I can’t give them.” Kurasu met the Hand’s steely gaze. “Your wind magic and the Phoenix’s forging flames…” Sate my bloodlust; stoke my rage against the despot Raiza, Kurasu thought. In her mind’s eye, she saw lynched the Mountain dwellers who’d resisted Raiza swinging in the wind that blew through the valley and cliff-side villages. Their killers rejoiced in the spoils of their uprising even as Raiza’s force of Spellcasters assassinated herdsmen, miners and farmers. Their killers toasted Raiza with wine and beer brewed from vineyards and grapes grown by the Spellcasters the Wind Monarch had installed as farmers, vintners and brewers.

Kurasu remembered that night when the wooden door of her family’s home creak open as the Blast Magicians entered. The bandits her father had been meeting with—the Black Scorpion gang—had been quick to draw swords and charge. Kurasu and her baby brother were pulled toward the back of the house by her grandmother. She watched her mother and father join the fight, entranced by way they wove their use of talons and feathers into a series of fluid blocks and strikes. Blood painted the walls where their talons connected with exposed flesh.

Kurasu remembered going to the window and drawing aside a curtain; a sea of torch lights illuminated the filthy, familiar faces of old friends and acquaintances. She remembered rushing to help her grandmother barricade the windows, only to hear a shrill shout and wet crunch. She remembered turning to see her grandmother’s decapitated body at the feet of her old flight instructor, who wielded a bloodied pick-axe. She remembered grabbing her baby brother and backing toward the hall, imploring the brainwashed masses to spare them.

Kurasu remembered the sudden roar of wind and the groaning that preceded windstorm. Their home was ripped apart by the howling gale. She remembered her mother and father’s warm hands digging her from the rubble, looking back and seeing a jagged piece of wood pinning her baby brother to the ground through the sternum. Her brother’s eyes trained on his mother and big sister. His chest had begun to fall slower and slower; a chubby arm twitched, the fingers on the hand splaying. That arm lifted slowly, shaking and fell. Her brother began to wail, weakly and coughing blood.

Kurasu remembered dashing toward her baby brother and crying as she bludgeoned her brother’s head with a pewter figure of the Sacred Phoenix. She remembered wondering why her mother had been hesitant to pull her off the child.

Kurasu remembered the Blast Magicians dragging the three of them toward a flatbed carriage drawn by one of their laboratory-bred cerberuses. Kurasu remembered looking at her mother and feeling a surge of pride at fierce, predator glare the Harpie turned on the villagers who had started trailing the carriage, pelting it with the contents of their chamber pots. She remembered entering the Phoenix’s Aerie, perched high over the village, where a Spellcaster wearing food and wine-stained robes of the Phoenix’s Wing delivered their death sentence.

The trial ended with her father chained to vein-laced flesh-tone outcroppings of rock. Her father, the proud revolutionary, vomited. The crowd of villagers jeered; some scooped up handfuls and hurled it back at him. Then the crowd parted as the Blast Magicians stepped forward. Kurasu saw them extend their hands, staffs pointed at their prisoners. Her father’s eyes found hers; they locked for a moment. Then came the rush of heat from the Magicians’ spell-crafting; Kurasu threw her head back into her mother’s stomach and heard a roar of flames. She remembered looking back at the mess of gore on the rock where her father had been.

Kurasu remembered the Sacred Phoenix’s cry that echoed like a peal of thunder in the silent night. She had dropped to her knees at the sound; after it was done she opened her eyes and saw blood streaming from her nose, felt it running from her eyes and ears. She had looked up to see her mother being dragged away by a pair of Blast Magicians. Her mother never looked away from her, even as she raked, kicked, and bit at her captors. It took three strikes by one of the Blast Magicians to render the proud Harpie Lady unconscious. Kurasu remembered no more from that early morning, for she’d felt her limbs go numb and woke up far from the Phoenix’s Aerie in a brothel in Barogok Village, where the Spellcasters lived and carried out research and development for Raiza.

Kurasu’s thoughts turned to the present: the deep cave, the forgotten shrine, the first step toward freeing the Mountain-folk.

“You remember everything that brought you here, Kurasu?” the Hand of Nephthys said,

Kurasu nodded and took the crucible of herbal extract from the Hand. As she threw it back and drank the bitter, delicious brew, a smile quirked at the edge of her lips at the thought of the flames that would engulf the fools who thought they could “civilize” the Mountains. Kurasu handed the crucible to the Hand of Nephthys and fell into a dream where the Spellcasters screamed and died on the fangs, talons and blades of the underground army she would raise from the ashes created by the Monarchy’s pretense of civilization.

The dream ended with high-pitched cries that echoed in the cavern. Kurasu looked upon the two screaming things with soft pink skin covered by down feathers and stumpy wings jutting from their shoulder blades. Kurasu licked her lips as she looked at the prone offspring lying before the statue of the Phoenix.

“Shhh, hush now, little ones.” Kurasu leaned forward wrapped an arm around the squalling newborns. They quieted and turned their heads toward her voice. Her other hand brushed the scaly fenghuang’s foot the Hand had left behind; her fingers found the foot’s serrated talons.

“You’ll see your father very soon.” Kurasu nicked each newborn with the fenghuang foot’s talon. She rose, ignoring their mewling, and stood before the statue of the Sacred Phoenix. She pierced the flesh of her palm with the talon and set it in a bowl held by a small carving of the Silpheed. Then she placed the preserved form of a petite dragon—taken from a client at the Barogok Brothel—in the bowl. Green fire engulfed the offering, flared, and died.

Hovering over the bowl was the Silpheed, a purple-skinned man-shaped fairy in white. It said nothing, only stared at Kurasu. “Silpheed, I offer them to you for a boon from the Chaos Courts.” Kurasu gestured to the newborns, who were squalling and shaking their tiny fists. “A means to reignite the fires of revolution is what I ask of you.”

The Silpheed fluttered over to the newborns; Kurasu watched as the fairy knelt over the newborns and place a thin white wing over their eyes. They don’t know what’s going on, Kurasu thought. She scowled and shook her head. Ignorance killed the first revolution; if a free innocent couldn’t be allowed to live, these have already forfeited their right to life. She joined the Silpheed and touched it on the shoulder.

The Silpheed glanced back at Kurasu. “Whatever you conjure from this offering…I want it to fill their father’s mind with his offsprings’ execution.” Kurasu narrowed her eyes as her thoughts rushed back to the trial at the Phoenix’s Aerie. “Impalement and immolation in as many ways as your fae mind can impress upon the beast you conjure.” She flashed a wolf’s grin.

The Silpheed nodded and thrust out a hand. Wind howled through the passage and gathered around the Silpheed’s hand. The particles of dust and rock gathered, shaping itself into the form of a blade. The Silpheed flipped its hand and drove it downward; the elemental blade thrust itself into the first of the offspring. Blood and tiny viscera drained from the body, swirling and coalescing throughout the elemental blade. The Silpheed drove the blade into the last of the offspring—Offerings, Kurasu told herself—and collected drew forth its blood and viscera.

The Silpheed took a handful of the glowing lichen from the statue of the Sacred Phoenix and crushed it. In the Silpheed’s palm were tiny orbs of flame that burned green and red. The Silpheed placed the elemental blade over the corpses and sent them ablaze with the fiery orbs. Green lightning began to dance over the charnel fire; an explosion of color lit the cavern.

Kurasu’s vision returned; she felt a rush of excitement at the entity hovering before her. The Lightning Chidori was composed entirely of lightning in alternating shades of blue and white. “You know where to find the pig; stick him and bleed him.”

The Chidori flew from the cavern with Kurasu following in its wake; her mind was ablaze with strategies to gather her army and spark the uprising. Kurasu watched the Chidori wing its way skyward; she returned to the brothel. Throughout the night, Kurasu imagined that the grunts and sounds of pleasure from her clients were cries for mercy in vain attempts to escape their fates: hanging, immolation, fuel for Kurasu’s experiments in elder spell craft.

Kurasu smiled.

“I…” Kurasu felt a lump in her throat. “I know.” In a quiet voice, she said: “They do, too. Those who are left.”

“What?” A low rumble shook the room, rattling the laboratory equipment. Kiliastor glanced over his shoulder and reached into a pouch at his belt. His fingertips brushed the conjuration stones and he palmed a couple of them. “Give me the damn thing if the sacrifice bothers you!”

“Fuck you!” Kurasu said. “I’ve done this before.”

Kurasu rolled the petite dragon over to expose its lightly colored belly. The dragon shrieked and snapped its tail at Kurasu’s face. Kurasu scowled and tightened her hold on the dragon, moving her talon-tipped fingers to its throat and applying pressure. In a single motion Kurasu jabbed her talon into the dragon’s jugular and flicked her wrist so that the blood spray hit a sigil carved into the wall.

Throughout the sacrifice Kiliastor watched the slight twitches in Kurasu’s face and noted the distant look in Kurasu’s eyes. She’s a killer—she’s done this before. A grin crossed Kiliastor’s face. She’s a dangerous one; all in all a very tasty lover.

The blood crackled with black bolts and ignited into green flames that raced along the glyphs set into the sigil. The flames broke free of the glyphs, tracing a door-shape in what was otherwise a dead-end. A faint roaring like the crash of waves came from beyond the door outlined in green flames.

Kiliastor and Kurasu stepped up to the door and studied flames; the stuff seemed a bit amorphous and vaguely gaseous. Kiliastor dropped an old piece of litmus paper into the green stuff; rather than igniting it was shredded into a flurry of scraps. “It’s the essence of Elemental Wind.” He stood back, bowed to Kurasu and gestured to the door. “I believe this is your area of expertise, Kurasu.”

Kurasu managed a tentative smile, nicked her arm, and touched a droplet of her blood to the central glyph. A gale howled through the room, blowing over bookshelves, stirring up dust devils and rattling the laboratory glassware. Kiliastor squinted through the storm of dust, saw Kurasu flare her wings and splay her talons.

Kiliastor’s hand shot into his belt pouch and closed around a conjuration stone as he spun into a lunge punch. He heard the crunch of the bones in his nose breaking and felt the fiery hot pain. Kiliastor stumbled back into Kurasu even as he slung a conjuration stone at the bipedal bird-beast standing before him. Kiliastor heard Karasu snarl and push him to the side as the red-carapaced dragon perced on the bird-beast's shoulder rocketed from its perch with a flap of its wings. Kiliastor climbed to his feet and was halfway to the bird-beast when he heard the clang of iron on steel; he spun to in tim to see Kurasu lock her hands around the child-sized red dragon that flailed, thrashed and drilled its bladelike silver horn deeper into Kurasu's abdomen.