I gripped the ruby amulet as we climbed the small hill revealed behind the massive illusion. At the top, something glinted. Something crystal. The Altar of Souls. My heart beat faster and faster. A hot thrill built and built in me, it grew with every step.
I could almost feel the soul of the Biomancer pulsing and quivering inside the ruby. Did he know that his phylactery's destruction neared? That as soon as we reached the summit, Ava would destroy the vessel and cast his soul back to the Astral Realm? There he would spend eternity in whatever punishment that he deserved for his crimes.
I was ready to be done with wearing this necklace.
The faceted angles of the gem bit into my hand. It felt so familiar. I hated that I had grown used to wearing it. To having this evil thing around my neck. It was almost over. The gem twitched again in my hand.
I smiled. “You're about to die,” I whispered. “For good.”
A tremble raced through my body. Despite the strength my new armor gave me, lead weighted my feet, my boots filled with it. My heart labored. I stared at the crystal altar at the summit of the hill. It was all about to end. My deal with Rithi was about to be completed.
I'd have to give up my sister soon.
My breath quickened. I was almost gulping air. I have to be ready for this. Hard for this. I couldn't be weak. I had to hurt my sister. I had to end our relationship to save her. To save all of my women. I needed to rip out my own heart.
I didn't want to.
My teeth ground together. What choice did I have? Rithi would undo her miracle that saved my wives. All my women but Ealaín, Ava, Greta, and Carsina would die. I trudged against the weight in my boots. My heart beat faster and faster. It ached. I wanted to clutch it.
Zanyia, padding beside me, looked up at me. Her ears twitched. Her tail swished and swayed, brushing my leg. How would she take it? She was the reason that Kora and I had taken that final step into our incestuous relationship. Would Zanyia hate me? Would Nathalie? Ava?
Would I lose them all by breaking Kora's heart?
I stared at her striding ahead. She stepped with such confidence up the hill in her pink robe. Her twin braids of blonde hair swayed down her back. She marched with such eagerness. She had no idea the pain that awaited us.
My steps slowed. I wanted to do anything to stop this. I wanted to find some excuse not to get up there. To be selfish. If we didn't destroy the Biomancer's soul, then we wouldn't have to be parted because of my deal with Rithi.
I rubbed at the back of my neck. It prickled. I shifted, slowed. Was I just being selfish now? Could I stop this? It would mean letting the evil bastard's soul survive. It would mean allowing him the chance of having a new body, of living again. He would continue his experiments. He would keep making more and more monstrosities. The Paragon would continue to hunt us.
Maybe we could just hunt her down and kill her...
No. Rithi would see this as a breaking of our deal. No choice. Better for Kora and my women to live hating me than to die today.
Kora and Ava reached the summit. They were at the altar. It was about to be over. It was all going to change. I couldn't believe it. I only had to walk up the last dozen or so feet and witness the end of my harem.
“Gods damn it all,” I muttered, rubbing at my neck.
“Master?” Zanyia asked as I stopped. “What's wrong?”
“I...” I turned around, looking down the slope of the hill, desperate for anything to stop this. My eyes slid out to the plain we crossed and...
Riders galloped towards the hill. Metal glinted off their armor. Twenty or more soldiers with a black-robed figure charged behind two figures running on foot. One was a massive thing, as big as the ogre we fought, its features indistinct, looking almost patchwork even at this distance. Beside the hulk was a leaner figure, skin looking gray and waxy, almost like an insect.
Price Meinard's soldiers and the monsters raced toward us.
My shadowy rapier formed.
I shuddered as I reached the altar. My imbuer senses responded to it. My soul quivered as I stared at the crystal altar resting on the top of the perfect cone of the hill. The Altar of Souls was more than this small part of thrusting out of the grass. It was the entire hill. It was all one machine, an arcane device created by the God Krab. I could feel the power it contained. It gathered energy, pulling it out of the air, building it up in vast batteries deep in the earth.
I trembled in awe at the potential for work it contained.
Kora pulled the amulet off her neck. The flash of ruby light playing across its faceted surface almost broke my senses from the machine. From what it could do. It left me dizzy what I could do with it. My hands clenched on the diamond hammer. It was a key to activating it.
Kora set the amulet on the altar. She let out a gasp and stepped back. “I haven't taken that off—”
“Ava, destroy the amulet. Now!” roared Sven.
His shout jerked my attention from the crystal altar and the blood red amulet. I looked down the hill and gasped. Armored men had reached the base. Two monsters were at the lead. A jolt of fear shot through me as my husband's black armor grew shadowy. His rapier clutched in his hand, almost bleeding umbral vapor.
“Destroy it, Ava, we'll hold them off,” Sven growled.
I blinked as Sven moved down the hill. Greta, Nathalie, and Ealaín surged with him, Zanyia stalking after while Aingeal winged into the air, her pink wings fluttering. I swallowed. My family wore the armor they gained from the vault. An aura of wavering heat rippled around Nathalie as her flaming sword appeared. Light burst from Ealaín's armor, her duel weapons radiating in her hands. My own bedmaid, my busty Greta, held out her gauntleted hand. Her watery blade appeared in a splash of mist, the vapor blown away from the shiny blade.
“That has to be the paragon,” Kora said beside me, her voice tight.
The soldiers spread out, Shevoin, my father's master mage, riding in the center. I didn't see him, but his captain Gunther leading the soldiers. At the lead, the hulking monster and the gray, insect thing now worked up the hill, moving fast towards us. My eyes fell on the man-bug. It was... There was something familiar about the shape of the figure, the way it moved. I pushed past the waxy look of its segmented skin to...
“Father?” I gasped.
A wave of fear shot through me. I trembled, staring at the figure. I didn't know how I could know it was my father, but it was. He marched beside the mismatch hulk, the Paragon of the Biomancer. My father was transformed. He had become a monster himself, molting away his human exterior.
A nauseated wave washed through me. My stomach clenched as I remembered the lust the spell generated in me for him. I no longer felt it, but just the things I did with my father, letting him debase my body, made me feel so dirty. So soiled. In my mind, I saw him now as this insectoid thing. On me. Pumping away at me.
I whimpered. My hands tightened on the crystal hammer.
Carsina placed a hand on my shoulder, squeezed. “Mistress, you have to work the Altar. Do you feel it? Does your soul want to sink into it?”
I glanced over at her. She stared at me with those ruby eyes. She gave me a comforting smile, nodding her head. She was right. I had to destroy it. I had to ignore my family's plight and focus my thoughts on the altar.
On activating the power and destroying the amulet.
A great, almost feminine roar, echoed up the hill.
As we descended the hill, we spread out from each other. My tail swished as the Paragon and the bug-thing moved up the hill faster. The soldiers formed up at the base, gripping reins, their armor flashing. The robed man at the center lifted something to his mouth, tilting his head back like he was drinking something.
Aingeal, flying above us, asked “What is that bug thing?”
I shuddered and formed my twin katars out of the leather straps of my armor wrapped around my body. “It's ugly.”
“It's Prince Meinard,” Sven growled. I could hear the hatred in his words.
I hissed, staring down at the man who had tried to turn his daughter into his whore, to breed her. He put that spell on her, inflamed her lusts until she couldn't resist surrendering her body to him and fucking him.
“I will take the Paragon, Sven,” Ealaín said.
Master nodded, his eyes focused on the transformed prince scurrying up the hill. I could feel his eagerness to fight the thing. To kill it. This was the man who murdered his parents, his sister, who turned his betrothed into a whore.
“Gut him, Master,” I said. “So I'll take on all the soldiers. It seems fair.” I grinned, my tail swishing faster. With Silence, I felt so strong. So swift. I had reflexes as keen as—
The ground beneath my feet became liquid. I sank into it. Gasping in shock, I leaped immediately, ripping out of the muck as Sven, Ealaín, Nathalie, and Greta gasped. My jump soared me out over the cliff. I looked behind me to see them sunk to their ankles, their balance disrupted as the ground gripped them, holding them in place.
The Paragon and Prince Meinard charged closer.