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Book 5

Chapter 1

"Offworlder"

 

The life of an inquisitor wasn't some grandiloquent station. The responsibilities such an encomium carried with it a weighty yoke. And while the troubadours of the land might have favored their idyllic compositions. Their saccharine sonnets failed to disclose the drudgery and despair coupled with such a profession. Tahira Quil'Kovesh was one such soul, an imitation birthed and honed for this singular purpose. And while her recent epiphany might have called into question a great deal. The consolation she ascertained from this line of labor more or less made up for such vexing meditations.

 

This mer never knew anything but the ambivalence of the road. The elf's days were invested in meandering from one battlefield to the next. And while the theatre might have varied, along with the vista, names, and faces. The certitude of turpitude prevailed unaltered. There vegetating within that lavished abode Tahira would receive her orders. The tomb that was her dwelling held little meaning. It persisted solely as an echo of the past. An unwavering reminder of the life she had lost and the falsehood she still wished to believe.

 

Carefully the agent opened the parchment, skimming through the scribblings as her curiosity had been piqued. A monster had been sighted. Its elusive nature demonstrated the sort of cunning that few creatures harbored. The accounts were far too whimsical. And while likely fabrications fueled by overactive imaginations. Her scientific lens wouldn't permit the snubbing of such an opportunity. The inquisitor understood that there lurked an iota of truth behind every myth.

 

Mutely the lampoon assembled her equipment. She was secretly relieved to be liberated from this necropolis. The lonesome hound of the state vamoosed from her manor and proceeded to the stables. Only to then mount her beetle as she shrank away into the distance, leaving Nirvana behind. The road verified itself as foreboding as ever. The remnants of the collapse were all but imperceptible. The horrors of such a downfall could be beheld on the peoples' countenance.

 

The deeper she traipsed into the badlands, the more profound such testimonials emerged. The burnt remains of farmland entered with her sights. Their property was ransacked, only for the butchered family to be found hanging in a nearby tree. This dire imagery Tahira with heartache. And while she might have detested such villainy, the inquisitor took solace in the fact such chaos was transient. With the dead buried, she'd camp there for the night, watching as the binary suns sulked behind the horizon. Come morning; she'd be gone, moving away from civilization and into the sea of dunes.

 

The radiation of the sols was beating down on the pale beauty. Her steed cumbersomely hulked along as they ascended and descended knoll after knoll. The stretches of hills appeared endless, as the faint shimmering of heat were all that initially graced her vision. The vultures orbiting overhead, their piggish calls were a mockery. Those winged carrions yearned for the mer to surrender to the elements, their beaks keen to peel the meat from her bones. Angrily the agent would flip them off, only to glimpse an oasis and what appeared to have been a ruin in the distance. Soughing from alleviation, the exterminator would push onward as the length between her and respite withered with each graceless step from her mount.

 

Initially, Tahira queried if it were some sort of mirage. The shattering of a blood-deprived mind mustering forth delusions of security. However, the closer they drew, the less likely such trepidations materialized. Upon waddling within such a sanctuary, the elf would fasten her beetle to an adjacent tree. She was giving it enough leeway so it might drink or chill itself off within those crystalline waters. Tentatively the agent withdrew herself, encroaching toward that gap gullet of that ruin. Those arcane-tinged lanterns tapered as she squatted to inspect the soil.

 

How curious. There were bizarre imprints upon the earth. Rummaging through her mind, the slayer grappled with identifying them from memory. Frustrated, the mer let out a hefty sigh, only to unsheathe her bladeless odachi as she peeked once more within that entryway. Guardedly she sashayed forward, her armored hands running those fingers across the stone walls as she bumbled across some ilk of ooze. The agent arched her groomed brows, rubbing those digits together as she reviewed its viscosity. What was this squalid solution?

 

While pertinent, this question would inspire the state's blade to sniff her fingers. Those eyes broadened as the pupils expanded in a desperate bid to gather more light from the dimly light tunnel. Moving deeper down the stone gullet, she'd pinpoint what it was she had sampled. Honey? Or something honey like? That tongue licked the substance as her acute sense of taste collaborated with her deductive aptitudes. The din of her boots wafted across the acoustics. They were ricocheting off the walls as she plodded from the tight corridor and into a tenebrosity of a spacious chamber.

 

The agent moved toward the center. She squatted once more as she tapped that empty hilt on her cheek while savoring that sweet nectar for a final time.

 

"Honey. Fresh prints. A source of water, a lair? No beast I know of could secrete so much. The rumors, could they be true? A giant insectoid within the desert? Perhaps a lost Drumvar? No, they don't produce such a delicacy. Unless they maybe dropped a jar?"

 

She thought to herself, remaining muted before gradually standing upright.

 

"It's too quiet. I hate the silence: the road, my home, and this damnable network of caves. Everywhere I go, this muteness always greets me. Even in town, I feel nothing. I'm as animate as these stones..."

 

Tahira, having culled enough information, the elf would besmear that sugary ichor onto her trousers before rasping. The investigator could strut further into the bowels of the planet, but for now, she'd rather dawdle and reflect.

The umbra underneath that canopy of earth aided the insect well. Tahira, for all of her braggadocios, could not detect the stranger's approach. Though the hairs rising on the back of her nape indicated something ominous prowled within this burrow. Her gloved fingers were still tacky from that substance she had gorged upon, only to pivot her boots so that the tenacious mer ogled the root of that bluster. Those teal and emerald eyes, ever-shifting in hue, dilated. Those feline foci frittered little time scouring this alien organism. The inquisitor's intrigue was ostensible, virtually plastered upon her modelesque visage.

 

Her instinct kicked in, nudging the elf to keep a firm hold of that edgeless handle. That exoskeleton was comparable to the drumvar, yet different all the same. Such kempt brows arched, only for the revelation of a vernacular to disseminate a myriad of inquests. Once such outlandish locutions quelled, a stillness would pervade within this enclosure—the infrequent dripping of moisture triturated silence's unrelenting permeance. That academic mind hoped to probe and dissect. She was sifting through whatever information might have been gleaned for erudition. Gradually those tantalizing eyes acclimatized to the shade, endowing the researcher with much assuaged for details.

 

While fleetingly slaked, the mouthpiece of the house was far from adequately conciliated. No, to be genuinely placated, Tahira would mandate just a tad bit more data. Still, seeing how this thing retained the capacity to articulate. The prospect it was some malignant varmint had laudably been dusted into the habitat of improbability.

"I was sent to dispatch of you. That much is factual. Your footsteps, that honey you left behind, while a delightful treat did little to camouflage your presence." Tahira shrugged only to sheathe her weapon as a gesture of good faith. "However, you're no monster. And I'm no murderer."

 

That compliment regarding her exterior finally registered, as sheepishly, the killer broke character and stroked the back of her neck for support. Stubbornly, the elf grumbled before averting her gaze and once more attempting to scratch that sticky goo free from her digits. "Beauty? A quirky thing to say, given you just affronted me by saying I was disabled."

 

Those vibrant jewels returned to the bee only to settle both hands on her hips. The inquisitors' judgmental look was anything but obfuscated. Just as Tahira tilted her head, some stray locks of her short silver mane would partly keep her birthmark from this woman's line of sight. That tongue sketched her luscious lips, applying much-needed moisture to them. It was all a facade to grant this hound of the empire some time to postulate. Before grinning as the scholarly wanderer took notice of her thorax.

Alien? Perhaps, though, this alluded to a degree of exoticness. An attribute, while glamorous, might attract less than reputable sorts. Tahira wondered how many "slayers" would have just cut the insect asunder and been on their merry little way? And, if this bee had indeed somehow emerged within their world, did this indicate others might as well? To say that such potentialities tormented the inquisitor would manifest itself as an accurate deduction. The mer was frustrated. She hungered to know more, to categorize everything within the purview of her precious scientific method.

 

This frustration was anything be muddied, illustrated plainly and without mortification. The nonplused agent adjusted her scaled trouser, only to then assure the straps fastening her steel midriff guard were nice and snug. That sweet nectar still hung over her lapper, rousing a deep inhale as those snoopy habits were whisked away. Whatever this woman was, wherever she heralded from, wasn't intrinsically bellicose. This Ahn'Khali rated her undivided attention and basic manners. While an unusual meeting, it has thus far not negatively presented itself. Ergo why their interaction maintained a mite of civility.

 

Though, it dawned on the exterminator. Whether she meant it or not, she was a sort of emissary. Those breathtaking eyes of blue looked into those alien lanterns. That studious yearning to investigate scarcely kept back. "Maybe, I have seen many ugly things. You should see some of my choiced partners back in my university days. I assure you; they weren't all captivating."

 

Humor, could this insect relate to such a thing? Had the bee evolved a sense of joviality? Indeed, this interaction would be employed to glean some erudition. But in ways few might gather, given how natural and benign it might have appeared. Boldly the seven-foot elf stepped close, towering over the nonnative only to give her that persistent stoic expression. "Clever. No, I'm alone minus my steed. The life of an inquisitor is one of solitude on the road. We are cheered whenever we aid the people but quickly forgotten. Some might like to weave grandiose fiction and compose exaggerated songs. But our names are never recorded. Typically, at least."

 

Tahira shrugged. Those eyes unabashedly resumed their inspection of this foreigner. The need for light might have aided the "beast." However, Tahira's foci were well acclimated at making out details within sparsely illuminated chambers such as this cavern. The mer shrugged, following the creature's lead as they crept from the recesses of the earth, only to once more bask within those binary rays. All the while, she'd refrain from ogling lest some offense is interpreted. Keeping her distance, the agent averted her gaze with embarrassment as the alien proceeded to bathe. What was she doing? Couldn't the thing wait? Was this somehow acceptable back within the bugs homeland? Those eyes hesitantly returned as the woman demanded she draws close. The agent squatted by her. Those sandals were digging into the sands as she finally dared to inspect the flowers on that scalp.

 

The mentioning of honey beguiled her eyes to move to that thorax, only for the mer to give it a soft pat. Defiantly, she would look for any syrup left behind. If there were any, she'd steal it and taste it in the act of impish antics. "I can't in good faith leave you here alone as if you're some sort of animal. I know what it's like not to belong. Or at least feel you do. I can't promise you a happy ending, just the chance at a new beginning. If you are ok with this, we will leave come sunrise. It isn't wise to wander the sea of dunes at night. And, if your not, then I guess I will camp here till you are. Trust me, I'm stubborn."

 

Tahira saw herself as a shambling corpse. No, that term didn't seem acceptable. Could something born not from a womb ever represent itself as a body? A query, while glum, prevailed nevertheless as unendingly pertinent. Outwardly the killer donned a mask of confidence and conviction. Yet, 'neath that veneer was nothing but a tumultuous sea of doubt and inquisitions—the resolutions to which petrified the sojourner more so than any beast that stalked this desert. Making the bee's augury concerning unity all the more incontestable.

 

The warmth of the suns barreled itself against that pastel skin. Those eyes were gawking into the azure as if pursuing direction from above. Yet, no matter how hard Tahira might implore, no solution to her quandary ever surfaced. Damn the elders, curse her mother and this resentful earth. A part of her dreamt of turning back time, entering that facility where she unearthed the truth, and terminating herself within those walls. She could have, ergo why didn't she? Simple, notwithstanding her pomposities, the agent was weak-willed and too chickenhearted.

 

The avoidance of addressing the Ahn'Khali words alone unveiled the breadth of her despair. Thankfully, that outlandish remark about matrimony roused Tahira from such a ruminative stupor. Those teal eyes tapered as the elf leaned forward, lifting her legs and drawing them inward so that the knees pushed against her breast. That head tilted, further exemplifying the degree of befuddlement riming itself on an otherwise analytical mind. As if Tahira merited such devotion. No, the hollow reproduction deserved nothing but the collar of her captivity. And while her mark might have been mistaken as a monster, Tahira was the true abomination. "You can do better than settling for me. No, I'd never force my burdens onto another. I'm damaged goods and a spoiled product."

 

The manner in how such mentions were provided ventilated belief. Its monotonous articulation and deadpan facial expression did little to leave much in the way of confusion. That entire bit about pointlessly wilting on a hill wouldn't be addressed. Tahira detested martyrs: she found such altruism to be the domain of imbeciles. The monster hunting wouldn't debate the significance of placing the group's needs ahead of your own. Nor would the elf denigrate the concept of immortalization. The ashen hound just felt accepting one's end or its premise to be a sign of feebleness. And in this line of work, even the illusion of frailty can render ill consequences. "I choose not to die. It has worked beautifully so far."

 

Tahira rose while strutting close to the alien, only to roost her read next to the insect. "My people? A bold assumption. They are assholes. There are a few good ones here or there, but most are forgettable or pricks. If I could, I would start my group. Show them the blunders in their ways via leading by example. But I'm just one bitch with a sword. A freak doing her bit to scrape off some of the shit encrusting this wasteland. If you expected some profound exposition, you need to look elsewhere. If I was a scholar or a historian, I don't think we would have met."

 

Tahira turned her head, staring intensely into the bug's own as she leaned ever so close. Her breath nearly brushed against that exoskeleton while she exhaled. "I understand the world through a different lens. And I kill freaks. Which is funny, given I'm one myself. I suppose to hunt your prey effectively; you must become it on some level. It's why I stayed my hand. You might not look like me. But I wager you are better than me in the moral department. And, at worse, equivalent."

 

A deficient attempt at a quip. It was obscured by that ever-present dry tone and unshifting profile. "The best way to learn about something, at least in my eyes. Is to experience it. Hold it, dissect it with your mind. It's why I tasted your honey, why I touched your thorax and why we are chatting. There is an atmosphere of temptation when it comes to the unexplored. And while most might shrink away out of fear from the unknown. I, however, find myself encouraged by it. I wish to know more about you, explore it in every sense possible. So, how about it? Do you mind if we continue to cross-pollinate? You can be my bee, and I can be your cactus flower."

The muffled shuffling of the insect pulled her focus as she studied how the organism moved. Tahira questioned if having such a bulbous rear made life more demanding. Of course, given their stark dissimilarities. The monster slayer would suppose the bee might feel the same toward her body. How fortunate for the outlander to have emerged within this slice of paradise. The inquisitor pondered if stumbling across such a place first might taint the offworlder's view once she meandered beyond these crystalline pools.

 

This serene patch betrayed the reality of their world. There was little solace to be discovered across the wastelands. And the inhabitants, while having more honorable attributes, were far too beset by avarice for their well-being. Those teal eyes shunted their gaze, glancing upon the reflective waters as the nonnative submitted her rejoinder. The elf disagreed vehemently with her thoughts. And even if she somehow were miraculously convalesced, it wouldn't be without scarring. Tahira appreciated the gesture and cordiality but wouldn't swallow such didactic filth.

 

"I..." That pause manifested as their eyes locked. Were they always so dazzling? How come the agent hadn't noticed this before. This discovery was further made nerve-racking by how Anzhela peered back. Clearing her throat, the bungling exterminator once more aspired to respond, hopefully, without such an interlude in her poise. "I suppose we will see. I am not pedantic enough to debate over the small details. The truth, whatever that may be, time will expose."

 

Tahira beamed those sharp canines displaying themselves along with their matching pearly fangs. This was bizarre; she had trekked this far into the desert to end the alleged varmint. Yet, here she was, chitchatting with something different and ravishing. No, she shouldn't ramble down this path. The investigator had attempted this before with Chatana and was only met with disappointment and a shattered heart. And even if this started well enough, it could only fester with time. Why was she fretting so much over this? If anything, she was looking too much into it. There was no way such a doozy individual could discover any lure in a killer like herself.

 

Those eyes dilated as a faint luster contrasted wondrously with Tahira's muted complexion. What was Anzhela on about? There must have been a communication breakdown. The mer was frazzled while her mind strumbled with how to decline such a proposal.

 

"Well..." After another break in speech, Tahira let out a "tsk" sound as she averted her lanterns. Only to discover herself being mounted by this temptress. The mer froze, gulping as her hands instinctively reached for her waist. This bee's warmth and her place on that lap felt right. Scintillating wants long asphyxiated and suppressed. It had been years, and maybe she could use this wanton courting ritual...for science, of course! Tahira sniggered, massaging her hand in a circular motion around that bulbous rear, only to force her fingers to grab some honey to razz the alien. How she wanted to see the insect recoil from mortification once more.

That gravitation amplified as their bodies emerged incapable of pulling free from one another. The slayer privately rejoiced in this perilous game. It had been too long since she larked within such titillating splendors. To most, this insect might appear an abomination. But to Tahira, she stood as a symbol of the two things she enjoyed. The incentive of discovery only magnified her attraction—the infrequent opportunity to probe an alien specimen without fear of outside forces interfering. This oasis would serve as their laboratory, the findings of which the mer had fully intended to document.

 

The operative squandered little time, employing her freehand to explore that carapace almost as if bewitched. Those fingers delineated the gaps within that shielding as her reverence was anything but unclear. Her exploration desisted, at least for a moment, as those knife ears hearkened to Anzhela's opening remarks. Instinctively the elf grinned, those brows fanning to the welkins as a look of puzzlement materialized on that often-stern countenance. That analytical mind worked overtime in a pitiable exertion to try and uncover the substance of that peculiar statement. Was this some joke? A foreign custom of her species?

 

The mer wasn't good at social cues, and while she might have deduced something was amiss. Tahira would chalk it up to her own ineptitude over insidious aims originating from the insectoid. Those cerulean and malachite orbs once more took in her form, zipping to that thorax as she resumed her exploring. The way her bulbous rear reacted to that spank brought a devilish smirk, encouraging the elf to repeat it. Only this time, she'd squeeze it firmly as she sailed her gaze to the bee's eyes. That electrical charge of sexual tension alleviated any residual suspicion. This woman, she panged for the inquisitor. A sensation that Tahira would voluntarily concede was reciprocal without a semblance of mortification.

 

The forewarning Anzhela transmitted caused the exterminator to blink thrice. Those honey-coated digits hovered close to the mouth as the mer cleared her throat. That oral muscle sketched her lips, moisturizing them as she prepared to demand answers. "I doubt you could handle me, let alone wed me. I am glad you're willing to present me with an example of your capabilities. Though you needn't worry, the sight of your abilities is unlikely to harm me. Though it might take some time to set up a trap, procure you a specimen to work your magic on. I suppose I cou-"

 

Her speech was cut short, muffled sounds of protest escaping her gullet as those fingers were forced deep into her mouth. That warm tongue rubbed against the nectar, taking in its saccharine ecstasy as she shivered. This batch was sublimely providing a sweetness she had never sampled before. Tahira's feline pupil dilated; her lithe body jolted as it felt a sudden sting. Quickly her lanterns raced to the source, only to witness that stinger spiking her thigh. A groan escaped while the elf fidgeted her hourglass sculpture in a gamble to break free. A cascade of warmness overtook her body. The hand slipped free from the mouth as she felt her vessel becoming unresponsive.

 

The monster feller breathed sharply in quick succession as she helplessly slumped against the rocks. Somehow, she could still savor that sugary tribute she had haughtily snagged. And no matter how much willpower she mustered; Tahira could not regain command over her body. Horrified yet stimulated, she'd look upon Anzhela's face as the woman had complete control over the situation. Was that venom an aphrodisiac? Or was the vampire secretly enticed to a woman who could at times subjugate her? Either way, she'd mull on those words before the lips trembled.

 

"Damn! Listen, the road was very tiring. Maybe we can overlook this misunderstanding. Once I regain control over my vessel, we can find you something else. Something worthy?" Her words declared one thing, yet the body communicated volumes. Goosebumps were flashing across her pasty skin. Her rosebuds hardened and were visible, while Tahira's southernly garden was doused in the dew of lust. The elf wanted this, and deep down inside, the slayer knew this. Which only made her feel somewhat lecherous. Those brilliant eyes surveyed the bee's body, having a better view as she found herself craving for more.

That look, Tahira was well acquainted with it. It was the gaze of a predator who had finally laid eyes on their mark. And judging by the glint in those lanterns, the mer could tell this beast was rather famished. That toxin paralyzed her extremities while the decadent morsel was entangled within the bee's trap. A crimson glow crept across her modelesque features. The inquisitor found herself humbled by such adoration. Tahira wondered what had enticed this creature so readily. What was it that so profoundly drew the insectoid within her gravity?

 

And while the operative might wish to deny the appeal was communicable, she'd find herself powerless to do so. For too long had she mourned in silence. Even if unconventional, at least this night the reproduction would feel the warmness of another. A subtle reminder that she was by all accounts alive. Tahira flinched while the ravenous maiden disrobed her form. Those words were still circulating within that skull as she anticipated Anzehela to shunt herself from revulsion. Instead, she discovered herself groaning and shivering from a string of delicate kisses. The wanton appetites couldn't be camouflaged as the nonnative would behold the fleshes gameness to serve. "I...I don't deser-"

 

Her words were stolen, those cerulean and malachite eyes dilating as their lips were locked. Fervidly, the inquisitor surrendered herself, matching that lust as she dared to wrestle her tongue with the invader. Once their seal was broken, an audible pop reverberated athwart the oasis. Strands of honey and saliva tethering them as the exterminator panted. "What's a night..."

 

She purred, oblivious of the fact she wouldn't know freedom for some time. No, the vampire would become the perfect receptacle. And this union, while abhorrent to some, would present itself as the catalyst that might yet salvage this bitter world. What ensued were years of melding and birthing, as the elf remained plastered to the walls of the ruin living off of blood, honey, and the rapture of motherhood.

Book 5

Chapter 2

"The Sultan"

 

That letter had been dispatched via the courier, bearing the royal seal. And while perhaps overdue, it had reached the vampire's hands. Its contents digested as the exterminator journeyed from her manor to the eternal expanse. She beheld the dismal expressions lingering on the peoples' faces along the way. And while such forlorn stares might move some, Tahira remained inert. Their despondency was brought to fruition via their actions. And the populace now wallowed within an age of darkness of their design.

 

There was no resentment nor empathy residing over her unwavering profile. In truth, the agent felt nothing. This callousness was sparked by the fact they infrequently admitted culpability. They were instead striving to push the onus on anything else. Their greatest sin, within her eyes, was their refusal for heartfelt introspections. If the denizens indeed wished to unveil the root of their blight, they need only gawk into a mirror. A feat on paper wasn't strenuous, but their hubris wouldn't foster such pensiveness. And within those eyes, if one couldn't help themselves, how could she redeem their damned souls?

 

The centipede continued its scurrying across the rolling dunes of sand, only for the hamlet specified to worm over the horizon. Their stone architecture and moisture columns were a welcome sight to many a weary traveler. Yet to Tahira, they held no such leverage. The slayer of vermin understood that security was a lie, a misconception that often goaded one into a condition of lethargy. It was here within the expanse that the bitter reality of their world was omnipresent. A constant reminder that while royals might fancy nature under their heel, the truth was quite the opposite. The ruins of a prior epoch spread throughout the desert were the only evidence and affidavit the inquisitor required to bolster such conclusions.

 

Each of those graveyards was inspiring feats of engineering and architecture in their right. But now, they subsisted as a mere echo of their former glory. A harrowing cry that society crumbles, yet the world kept spinning without a second thought. To some, this might evoke fear, a sense of hopelessness. But to Tahira, this spurred on humility and a sense of place within the cosmos. Well, as much of a standing one of artificial genesis could assert. The cart of her itinerant quarters kept turning. They were kicking up a thin trail from the dusty road as the space between her and that colony lessened.

 

Ultimately, she rolled into town, only to plow such brooding into the back of her mind. The inquisitor pulled on the reins while the insectoid loyally desisted its movements. There, standing by the stable, she dismounted. The agent awarded the dependable beast of burden a pat of endorsement before renting some safe quarters for her centipede to reside while she tended to business. But before she could stroll off, the mer would enter her cart only to disrobe from her combat attire. Quickly she rummaged through her trunk, pulling out that inquisitorial garb as she donned its blackened fabrics and steel plating. That flowing skirt bore the symbol of the Eternal house. Visibly it was marked from behind.

 

The netting on the abdomen exposed her muscular physique while supplying much-needed airflow from this dry heat. Calmly she stared into a mirror, making adjustments to guarantee her visible appearance was faultless and met all standards. Once the elf was confident, she'd move over and grab her Nodachi, securing it to the hip before exiting and locking her transport behind her. The locals were vamoosing across the colony, franticly going about their mundane affairs. This bustle attracted her teal eyes as the towering mer kept sashaying amidst the traffic. She wondered why the sultan desired to see her. Could it be the Eternal House had unearthed her secret? Doubtful, if so, she reckoned armed sentries would be escorting her.

 

After cutting through the marketplace and fending off those peddlers, the agent would cut through an alley and follow the road to the statesman chateau. Upon reaching the main gate, the guards would inquire into her business. Without delay, she'd show the letter before being present access. Strutting beyond the threshold and foyer, the inquisitor would circle that waiting room. Tahira examined the many trinkets and artistry lining that lavished chamber. Other nobles came and went, each having appointments with various government members. Even if such deeds weren't reciprocated, the vampire would refrain from snooping.

 

For now, she abided through it all: the gawking, the ladies who considered her improper, the idle whispers. It didn't matter; they'd soon be dead. And within the inquisitor's mind, money alone wasn't enough to keep death at bay. There, standing by a window, she'd stare out across the desert. The reproduction once more returned to those initial meditations. Such distractions did marvels to hush the oinks of those gelatinous swine around her.

Such reservations would be disturbed by the din of an encroacher's stride. The faint clattering of his armor additionally betrayed any effort at subterfuge. Imperturbably the operative about-faced, her deportment unaltered as those arcane-tinged lanterns looked upon the supposed king. His stature didn't intimidate Tahira; she had disposed of his ilk before. And while some might suffer a twinge of fear, her body language communicated a dearth of alarm. That Damascus steel publicized his earthly attainments. Nonetheless, Chuluun's expensive shielding would verify itself inadequate if pitted against her mastery over death.

 

The saurian's evaluation was anything but subtle. And given its bluntness, Tahira saw little worth in concealing her own. And whatever appraisement the reptile might have met would illustrate itself as meaningless. His refined tongue, coupled with that abrasive remark, struck the reproduction with stupefaction. Was it conceivable that someone within the house had a mite of sagaciousness for once? Or was this mere bravado masquerading itself as perspicuity to cajole the mer into a state of compliance? Not that the king could glean this inner reflection, given Tahira had always been plagued with a resting bitch face.

 

Protocol dictated a salaam, and so for appearance's sake, she squandered her time with such gestures. This pleasantry would be short-lived, appearing out of place given the elf's demeanor. There, standing by the window, she'd feel compelled to address the sultan's opening statement. "Your excellency, it is hard to think with all that squealing. I've learned not to cast pearls before swine."

 

That riposte concerning her fellow nobility might have ruffled some feathers. But Tahira was confident that this saurian would get a chuckle from that slight. Her eyes skirted from one armament to the next while she brooded over why he came festooned for war. While she might have appreciated caution, the quantity of weaponry seemed excessive. And so, she'd appropriate this observation to test the waters."Nice dagger."

 

She had disregarded his recognition of her punctuality. Believing it to be hogwash given the mer was technically late by her estimations. In contrast to everyone else he likely suffered through; she must have arisen as impeccable. Mutely, the agent gaited forward, that skirt swaying with her stride as Tahira accepted the sultan's invitation. Of course, they both understood she didn't have a choice in the matter. However, the illusion she supposed would have sufficed for most. Now standing by his side, the exterminator kept her gaze forward as she matched this reptile's pace.

 

That silence was anything but ideal. But given one wasn't often invited to dine with royalty. Tahira imagined the purpose behind this summoning wasn't to have a few drinks and compare their escapades. Chuluun likely had an ulterior motive. Whether or not that would materialize itself as good or ill had yet to be determined. "Beginning to grow tired? My king, You must have some patience." She quipped.

 

Not once would she make eye contact, but if Chuluun were observant, he'd notice how she had quite the mastership over the use of her peripherals. Intuitively her hand rested on that Nodachi's handle while her broad hips swaggered. The vampire's rigid walk wasn't that of some genteel lady. It was less provocative and more broadcasting with it a warning. For now, she'd remain hushed, given the king time to reply however he might deem fit.

The two ranged past the fatty aristocrats. And while they might have fancied themselves of high importance, the slayers glower broadcasted a differing tale. Within those teal eyes, they were the source of the contamination—the rot whittling away the desert. However, the inquisitor mulled if maybe they were a necessary evil. A byproduct that notwithstanding her exertions to disavow, their mere permeance was an essential component to maintaining a healthy society. The people of this wasteland were anything but efficient. Their want to be lorded over and alacrity to capitulate foreshadowed a problematic anecdote.

 

Was autonomy a myth? And, if not, could it be that only a select few were capable of achieving such primes? Perhaps that disconnect forced the replica to dig inward to draw forth the crucial willpower to solicit after new pasturages of thought? Such a morsel would be tucked away, stashed for later deliberation. The mer maintained her equilibrium, not once yielding even as the saurian appeared inclined to his deconstructions. Tahira was used to such prodding. Her time within that facility under the scalpel and syringe had such an effect.

 

Inquisitiveness for all its alleged benefits could guide one down a malignant path. Nevertheless, it wasn't inherent misaligned and could produce beneficial outcomes. The sound of their steps reached her keen ears, keeping the operative free from the clutches of introspection. For the first time since their little stroll, Chuluun spoke. His statement had earned him the scantiest of peeks before those dynamic lanterns returned ahead. "Perhaps. But shouldn't such a standard go both ways? To them, you are a Ysstmar, and to you, they are useless. A rose by any name smells the same."

 

Those digits drummed on that hilt rhythmically, accompanying her drab tone. Tahira risked sparking the sultan's ire. However, the agent had thus far gleaned that the reptile wasn't one for typical customs. No, he was a warrior first and a king second. Who knows, maybe with adequate time, the lizard might flourish into the perfect hybrid. But for now, he walked between both roles resisting the calls of either side. Such conclusions may have been inaccurate, but they were Tahira's to make, given the available data. And the imitation was more than willing to die or stand on that hill should such a need emerge.

 

The more they transited, the trickier the banter of the nobles became to make out. Their once boisterous waves of laughter were but a whisper. This afforded Tahira the opportunity to better evaluate the sovereign. And, without pause, the ysstmar was more than happy to comply. She hearkened to his regaling with no visible avidity. The mer queried if Chuluun was straining to impart a lesson with such a recounting? Of course, the concluding question took preeminence. Providentially for him, Tahira had paid at least some attention. "My weapon?"

 

The elf paused, only to brandish the hilt of the nodachi, without much in the way of care. She'd twisted her wrist so that its empty socket greeted the eyes of the reptile. Her cerulean and malachite lanterns veered to inspect his reaction as she playfully wiggled it about. "Behold, the fabled cutter that had felled many a ysstmar. The very same sword that gutted and butchered the enemies of the realm. Be them terrestrial or not. Don't worry, those I have bested are never forgotten. Out of respect, I have torched them onto my mind. My enemies are often such due to happenstance. And should the current of fate have thrashed differently, they might have been my brothers."

 

That edgeless implement of death sheathed once more. That hand refused to relinquish its grip as her sights returned forth. "I'm no Devante. Not anymore. I'm not an inquisitor, nor am I the Heiress of the Quil'Kovesh line. One can't be all these things unless they meld into one. How many fusions must occur before what remains stands as its own?"

 

Tahira had played her hand, left little in the way of puzzlement. She wanted this sultan to know she wouldn't bow under any such moniker. And whatever title he might select to fling her way would stick, not because she imbued it with power or endorsement. But because he had. And at the end of the day, titles were just that, words we sponsored with purpose or influence. Thankfully, the two had reached their destination as the reptile demonstrated an odd show of courtesy. Tahira hesitated, shaking her head in defiance as the man held the door open.

 

Rather than quarrel or waste her time with dialogue. The elf instead opened the other door and slipped beyond the threshold of her own accord. She wasn't below him, now was he above her. In the end, their position within the hierarchy hadn't been affirmed. She roosted down on the chair across the desk. Her eyes stared at the refreshment while she waited for Chuulun to sit across from her. And, somewhat belatedly, would address his final exchange. Even if she theorized it was rhetorical.

 

"I bowed due to other eyes. We are alone; there is no need for such performances any longer. And yes, they are swine. But even a pig has a place within the pen. I have dubbed them the useful idiots. Fatten them up, and then come the slaughter there is more meat. So, let's cut through the fat and get to the bone, shall we? What is it you need? What is it I have done that has caught your attention? And lastly, I don't drink. Unless its water or blood."

As soon as the vampire went hushed, the atmosphere within this space became charged. Its very ionization causing the hair on the back of Tahira's nape to rise. While Chuluun rummaged away within that pensive stupor, the operative would let out a sigh. She was a busy woman and had a particular bee back home longing for affection. And while she appreciated the saurian's concern, she deliberated over the point of this summon? The butcherer wasn't accustomed to being examined so intently. And while she could surmise much concerning this reptile, the vampire wouldn't refute he had a knack for building up anticipation. That response reached her ears; Tahira was dissatisfied by it. However, she'd abstain from expressing such in any manner.

 

Initially, the inquisitor remained muted. Her mind was trolling through such information in an endeavor to cull something of merit. Those unnatural lanterns pursued his advancement as the saurian cruised about the room. His waddle was that of someone perhaps engrossed in thought. Could it be he was aware of her rearing? Was there some piece of evidence she foolishly omitted from destroying? No, Tahira was nothing if not thorough. Whatever inspired these meditations couldn't have originated from that whole sordid ordeal. And rather than keep him needlessly waiting, she'd deem fit to reply.

 

"That is your right."

 

A straightforward enough retort. Its construction and monotonous nature are as neutral as ever. If the sultan had anticipated some verbose comeback, then he hadn't been paying attention. Tahira favored a few choice words over a deluge of compositions. Nonchalantly she'd raise her muscular leg, overlapping it over the other as she got herself comfy. A sign that the mer wouldn't be strong-armed by his presence. She had witnessed far worse to be so readily wobbled by some overgrown lizard. Her eyes fixated on his scaley face as the king took his sweet time perching across from her.

 

Those inviting orbs reflected the ambient light as she aimed to meet his without any trepidation. Tahira understood what this was, at least partially. The ysstmar was sizing her up, verifying rumors in some hollow effort to classify the agent. And try as he may, he'd in due time uncover that his initial deductions were inadequate at best. Chuluun's words were as well-spoken as ever. This led the vampire to consider if he was part ophidian as well? He had quite the vernacular for a tribal and soldier, almost noble. Could it be he derived this diction through his time within the tribunal? That seemed far-fetched, given from what she had been told, his position was newly appointed.

 

Throughout the totality of that address, the mer subsisted as unruffled. Tahira's body language, facial expression, and even aura never flinched. The conclusion regarding her bodily ailment was well known, which only verified he had to be green. That, or Chuluun treasured to state the obvious as if it somehow bolstered his intellect. It wasn't till he babbled off regarding the state of the land and the need for procuring partners did he boost himself within her eyes. Indeed, politics was a dangerous game ripe with a myriad of perils. And given he had gleaned the true antagonist of the sands; Tahira would concede that his vision wasn't as blurry as most.

 

The king's request to be addressed as if they were buddies, was a clever maneuver. It presented the illusion of choice and an inkling of camaraderie. Though if this saurian truly desired to build a lasting rapport with the reproduction of life, he'd have to try much harder than vomiting out mere words. Talk, after all, was cheap. And unlike himself, Tahira had the laurels to back up her worth. Whether or not he'd accept it was a different matter altogether.

 

Indifferently she'd raise her hand, only to settle it on that wooden desk. Her armored digits rapping away as the exterminator frittered little time leaning forward. This closure of space was a way of testing the man's grit. If his words were more than just vapid noise, then he wouldn't shy away or be enraged by such a motion. Those blue and green eyes narrowed, sizing up his words before she pushed herself back and returned to reposing. "A name is but a name. However, it is others that bestow it with power. What erodes at the house is evident and reveals nothing pertaining to my abilities." 

 

She paused, giving his shiny tin outfit another gander. "And yet your armor remains unmarred by battle—the perfect little allegory. Many before you have flexed their muscles. They brandished their finest tools in some travail to bring the desert under their heel. Their dead now and forgotten. Tell me, how do you plan to uproot this disease? Will you send in your armies flogging their armaments? Do you believe your numbers will present you with any safety? Open a history book and read for once. Do you wish to have my support? You do, by virtue of your wife. Now, if you want for me to see you as an equivalent, well, let's just say I need some evidence."

 

Tahira sighed, retiring her hand to that hilt as she veered her eyes to a nearby window. "That storm will come. And for all of our sakes, I hope by then you're ready." Those eyes shifted back to the Saurian, maintaining that legendary resting bitch face.

 

"Who knows, maybe you will be the antidote? A word of caution. The court is full of vipers—parasites who will whisper sweet lies into your ears—leading you to cling to their toxic advice. Do you wish to break the cycle? To shatter the chains that have weighed down so many other sovereigns. Then give me access to the houses coin and factories. In turn, I will place some faith in you—a tit for tat arrangement. Trust me, by the end; your confidence will be well rewarded. And if you demand proof, please, feel free to open my file and dig about it. I think my actions will speak volumes." Such confidence. Tahira had no qualms letting Chuluun know she planned to appropriate this meeting for her benefit. And by proxy, he too might reap his just desserts.

Even now, after her many proactive maneuvers, Chuluun kept on studying her. Tahira was unsure if this boded well or ill but figured she'd glean a satisfactory enough resolution with enough time. The bounty of markings etched onto his visage evoked no response. Some might be impressed by such scars. The vampire, however, wasn't so readily influenced. Even the sultan's approval chuckle and expressions did little to soft-soap the feller of vermin.

 

The reptile's continuous staring made Tahira wonder how his eyes hadn't exuded yet from that intense focus? Could the shortage of competence be that barren that the presence of someone moderately efficacious within their craft liquefied Chuluun's mind? The king's gurgling tautened her attention; each syllable was indiscriminately dissected. How interesting. So, the ysstmar felt the only recourse was a culling? A bold gamble, given he jeopardized much with such a salt the earth tactic. Tahira didn't consider it ludicrous, more or less a strategy mandating quite the degree of prudence to pull off. "I look forward to seeing how you define those nebulous terms. Strength, adaptability, and will are buzzwords by themselves. I'm sure they look nice on parchment, but it's their application that will hamper or aid your little crusade."

 

She added, hoping to move past this talking point. There was no point in delving deeper into the matter. Ultimately, she'd ascertain the truth by the end of that imminent butchery. Her time strolling across the badlands presented her with a distinctive stance. And while she was undoubtedly invested within the Eternal House. The bloodsucker saw little wisdom in containing all of her eggs within a single basket. If there was one lesson she extracted from her mother's execution, she needed to be adaptable and ahead of the curve.

 

If Chuluun succeeded, then their little relationship would continue unabated. Nevertheless, should he verify himself just another brute swinging a stick. Then Tahira was more than prepared to reposition herself accordingly. After all, notwithstanding his bombasts and confidence, the reptile was still an unknown. And some lights flare up quick and vanish just as swiftly. "Men love to disgorge such bravado. If I die, I don't deserve my life. Do you know how many don't shit themselves when death does invariably come booting down the door? None. All that flaunted valiance somehow disperse whenever one comes face to face with their mortality."

 

She added candidly, only to scoff before addressing the inevitable inquiry. Her ultimatum would ring hollow if the saurian didn't question it. Providentially for the lizard, Tahira had no interest in muddying the waters. While a helpful tool, deception can only exemplify as catastrophic if misapplied. And given the sultan's reluctance to desist his ogling or refusing to back down when she invaded her personal space ever so nonchalantly. The operative long since concluded an abrasive truth suited him better than a charming fib.

 

"I intend to save your failing state. The jungle to the north, we stand no chance if they should invade anytime soon. What use are you as a king if you can't even defend your borders? What manner of ysstmar would you be if you didn't meet that hurdle head-on? Indeed, this very same plight keeps me awake at night. I may not be a king, a lizard, or have a cock. But I am a proud soldier all the same. I will keep it short and straightforward, as I doubt you'd understand the intricacies within my aspirations. I will devise new weaponry; relight the fire of industry barely fed the necessary oxygen. The sands will reach new heights, and we will gain enough of an edge to keep the spider at bay through science. And while I could do it alone, I feel the time wasted might present itself as disastrous. Please make no mistake Chuluun; we're at war. And the true enemy dons no sigil. Adapt or be conquered. I am offering the former."

 

She stated with that dry tone, yet her body conveyed conviction in those statements. "I will usher a new stratagem, a new epoch. I will do the one thing my mother couldn't in life. Succeed with the fundamental reconstruction of the sands. Her most remarkable lapse was that she lacked the insight that such an enterprise is cooperative."

Tahira knew what needed to be done and understood the road forward. The sultan could bootlick all he wanted; it wouldn't budge the vampire an inch. Even if somehow Chuluun should fail and become swallowed by the ensuing madness. The slayer would escape the mandibles of oblivion. The Eternal Houses continued survival was beneficial, although not critical. Their forces and resources would speed up the process and assist with developing her machinations. If somehow this purging should backfire, she would reposition herself and prevail long after the final brick of the house was torn down. Naturally, this didn't imply that the vampire yearned for such an outcome. After all, the bird in your hand is often better than the two in the bush.

 

Tahira looked upon the scarred lizard as he prattled off about her zealotry. It appeared the saurian had misconstrued her connotation. It didn't matter. In the end, Tahira was devoted to one thing, her hive. And as long as he facilitated that or didn't emerge as a detriment, then she'd abide by his tenure. Though the operative had a sneaking suspicion she needn't fret, he had thus far mostly handled himself well. With the new deal brokered, she could finally set both her and her spouse's plans into fruition. And whether the sands were ready or not, sweeping change will soon rend through the desert.

 

With the matter concluded, Tahira saw little reason to jeopardize overstaying her welcome. Calmly the mer arose, the feet of that chair dragging against the floor as she towered over the still perched lizard. She'd linger for a second, giving him time to rise as well or remain seated. Either way, the inquisitor would address the sultan. 

 

"I have the staff. I will send you a letter once the payment and factory have been settled. Though, might I make a suggestion. Institution thirteen is a fortified structure. It's tucked from prying eyes and has the necessary space and equipment to expedite my research. Don't worry if the name doesn't ring a bell; it is on a need-to-know basis. Queen Samara will enlighten you. One final thing. I will only deal with you or your wife. I respect you two and know any concerns you might raise, even if erogenous, are not grown from stupidity. If you send me some messenger, expect him to be killed on sight. I can't risk our shot at preparation getting out and somehow reaching our enemies' ears."

 

She paused, ensuring he kept her eye contact the entire time. "Queen Samara is an accountant and great at policies. Her strength has never lied militarily. This is likely why she was drawn to you. Heed her counsel, but she isn't some perfect being despite what some might lead you to believe.

 

I look forward to our next meeting. Try not to die; good help is hard to find." Tahira pivoted before she marched to the door. She'd grasp the handle and open it before giving the king one last look.

 

"Next time, I will come outfitted in my ysstmar scales. Maybe over a real drink? Good day, my king." A subtle admission that she did indeed drink. But denied that offered swill because it was too weak for her. Slipping through, she'd close the door behind her, leaving the sultan to his thoughts.

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