"He will come this way," the shadowy figure said as it stared out of the window. Lightning flickered in the clouds as the storm raged across the land.
"I'll be waiting," a voice, sweet and sickly like deadly poison, replied.
"He's fast and strong," the shadow warned.
"It won't matter," the other voice laughed. "Men can't fight me."
The light was fading and the rain pouring down when Marcel saw the silhouette of the old keep rising out of the twisted trees. Whether it was god sent or devil sent could be ascertained later. Right now Marcel needed shelter. The downpour had soaked through his cloak and seeped under his armour. The track, already in poor repair, had been made treacherous by the torrential rain. Night was closing in and he didn't want to risk his horse, Abbie, losing her footing on the uneven ground.
He dismounted and led his horse down the side path that led to the building. The path was almost completely overgrown. Rain pattered heavily on the leaves above his head. It didn't look like anyone had been this way for a long time.
Marcel had hoped to be in Bresslaw by now, but the heavy rain had triggered a mudslide that had blocked the main pass. Although a local trapper had pointed him in the direction of an alternate road, it was so rarely used he'd been unable to make good progress in the rain.
He cursed himself for not taking up the trapper's offer of shelter for the night. The man had warned him he was unlikely to make it over into Bresslaw, but Marcel had pressed on anyway. He didn't want to waste any time. News had finally come from King Charleson of Ludlovia and it was not good. A blight had spread across the countryside, rotting the crops in the fields. Now there was talk of a strange-garbed preacher fomenting dissent amongst the peasants.
It was Japalance. Marcel was sure of it. He'd always suspected the demon had survived their battle in the tower and now he'd returned to spread his corruption in neighbouring Ludlovia.
Marcel was the King's Hawk, the highest ranked knight in the kingdom. He was the youngest man to ever hold that title. King Farrell had released him to go to Ludlovia, not because relations between the two kingdoms were good and Farrell wished to aid his counterpart, but because he knew he wouldn't be able to stop Marcel from going anyway.
The abandoned fort was a reminder that relations between Salopia and Ludlovia hadn't always been good. There were many like it studded at key points along the border. Most had fallen into disrepair through neglect and this was no exception. It hadn't been lived in for a long time. One of the heavy wooden gates had fallen in. The wood was already reclaiming the land as ivy ran up the crumbling brickwork.
Marcel tied Abbie up at a small stable attached to the side of the building. The wood was warped, but it would keep off most of the rain. Abbie was uncharacteristically skittish and neighed her disapproval.
"I don't like it much either, but at least it's shelter for the night," Marcel said, patting his horse reassuringly.
The light grew worse as the sun descended behind the hills and the sky was crowded with thick black rain clouds.
"Hello," Marcel said as he made his way to the entrance.
He climbed over the fallen gate and entered a small courtyard.
He ducked as a bird shot overhead in an explosion of black feathers. Other small animals rustled in secret nests. Dusty old cobwebs festooned the walls. Marcel found an old lamp and after some struggling with damp tinder was able to get it alight.
He climbed a small flight of wooden steps that creaked and groaned beneath his feet. The wooden banister was warped and pitted with holes left by burrowing insects.
At the top of the stairs was a small room that had once been a living room. Mice nested in faded old chairs. Rotted old books mouldered in a warped old bookcase. Everywhere was covered in the white sticky strands of spider webs.
This had been built as an outpost, but at some point had become someone's home. In the old days it was a frequent occurrence. Knights that had distinguished themselves during the war were rewarded with small freeholds. Now it was nothing more than a ruin. Some tragedy had befallen this household in the past. The residue of that evil still lay in this place. Marcel could sense it and wasn't surprised the building remained empty and abandoned.
Marcel gripped the Cross of Miura he wore round his neck. Marcel feared no man. Since turning eighteen Marcel had not been bested in combat by another man. He was the King's Hawk by virtue of being the best. However, he also knew there were occasions when mortal speed and strength were not enough.
He searched through the rooms. All were in a similar state of disrepair. Whatever human life had lived here had long since departed, leaving only memories to haunt the crumbling walls.
In one of the upper rooms Marcel found the master bedroom. The former occupants had once enjoyed a degree of luxury. A large, canopied bed stood in the centre of the room. The canopy was moth-eaten and hung with dusty old spider webs, but the bed as a whole was remarkably well preserved.
Lightning flashed outside and for a split second Marcel saw the room as it once might have been. Warm light filled the room with a soft intimate glow. The luxurious silken canopy was tied back against burnished wooden posts. Plush cushions were piled high on a silken bedspread.
The flash of lightning faded and the bed was once more moth-eaten and dusty.
Marcel's body ached from the hard day's ride. The bed might be old and worn, but it would do for the night. He removed his armour and peeled off his soaking wet clothes before gratefully collapsing on the aged mattress. Lulled by the drumming rain overhead, he quickly fell asleep.
"Help me Marcel!"
Marcel tossed in his sleep. The nightmare was familiar. It never changed.
Japalance stood before him, a monster dressed in the vestments of a holy man. Catriona, Marcel's little sister tugged hard, but couldn't escape the iron grip he had around her wrist.
Marcel hadn't wanted his suspicions proved right. This was kindly old Japalance, the man who had been like a father to most of the children, who put them on his knee and told them tales of far off lands filled with brave heroes and dastardly dragons. He hadn't wanted to believe, but had followed Catriona when she'd told him the holy man wanted to see her that night. Too many children had vanished from the streets of Shrewston.
"Unhand her monster!" Marcel cried before charging with his sword drawn.
Marcel couldn't have known how accurate his words would prove to be. Japalance was not the elderly man he appeared. That much became apparent when he sent Marcel flying back across the room with one dismissive backhand.
Marcel crashed against a pillar, his head rapping painfully against the stonework. He collapsed to the floor in a heap, flickering in and out of consciousness.
"Two treats for me tonight," Japalance said in a voice filled with rusty daggers.
Marcel struggled to clear his head as evil chuckles filled the room. His sister screamed piteously and was abruptly cut off.
Marcel fought back from the verge of unconsciousness only to see two pathetically small feet slide down Japalance's gullet.
"Noooooo!" he howled.
The monster turned and smiled at him with a mouth full of sharp white teeth.
Marcel screamed with incoherent rage, tears streaming down his cheeks as he lifted his sword unsteadily above his head.
Japalance was too fast. He was right in front of Marcel before he even had a chance to blink. A claw-tipped hand grabbed him round the throat and slammed him up against the pillar, lifting him up until his feet were kicking empty air.
"Seconds, yum," Japalance said.
Marcel shuddered with revulsion as a moist tongue ran up the side of his face. A burning smell filled the air and it took a while for both Marcel and the demon to realise it was coming from the demon's hand.
Japalance cried in pain and withdrew his hand. He ripped open Marcel's tunic to reveal the holy cross Marcel had worn since he'd been a small boy.
"A Cross of Miura!" Japalance said, his face twisted in both pain and bewilderment. "It can't be."
Marcel took the opportunity provided by the demon's confusion to run him through with his sword.
There was a commotion at the door as men burst in to see the abomination that was Japalance reeling backwards in the centre of the room.
"Gods Marcel, you were right," Prince Terr said.
Marcel ignored them. He pulled out his sword, but there was no blood, only a thin trickle of black ichor. It wasn't a mortal wound, not for this horror.
Japalance was in great agony, but he would recover. All he needed was a moment to smash this whelp.
He never got it.
Marcel squashed all his fear, hatred and despair down into a tight little ball. He became an automaton as he hacked, slashed and thrust, harrying the demon and driving him back across the room. The floor became slick with black ichor as Japalance was pushed back to the window. There Marcel impaled him right through the heart and watched as the horror tumbled out of the window and into the freezing Eigern river below.
Then he collapsed and wept uncontrollably over the loss of his sister.
He was just fifteen years old.
Marcel jerked awake. Always the same nightmare. Always he was too late to save her and always he would be, as it wasn't a dream but his own memory. Even back then he'd somehow known Japalance had survived both the fall and his injuries. There was a reckoning still to come between him and the demon.
Marcel placed his head back on the pillow. He thought he heard a feminine giggle, but it was probably his tired mind playing tricks on him. He closed his eyes.
This dream was different. He was still in the bedroom, but as it once was. The mattress beneath him was sumptuously soft and smelt of perfume rather than mildew and rot. Silks of many colours hung from the ceiling in a gauzy canopy. The bed around him was piled high with soft cushions. Scented candles illuminated the room with intimate light.
Marcel felt a little out of place. This was the chamber of a wealthy person. Marcel's own room was small and sparse with a hard narrow bed.
"Ah, there's my brave knight."
There was a beautiful girl standing in the doorway. A pink shift, light and airy, was wrapped around her waist. A creamy swathe of silk was twisted around her shapely breasts. Her flat stomach was completely exposed to Marcel. He saw her belly button was studded with a single glittering jewel. Her bright pink hair cascaded over her milky-white shoulders.
Who was she?
Marcel sat up, but made no other move as the girl crossed the room with graceful strides. He didn't resist as she placed a delicate hand on his chest and pushed him back onto the bed.
"Mmm, you look delicious," the girl said, her voice husky with lust.
Marcel was at a loss as to what to do. He'd never encountered a girl like this before. The girls of the palace were polite and withdrawn, their faces always turned to the floor as he passed. This girl stared straight into his eyes as she climbed on top of him, her long hair tickling his bare chest.
"You're going to enjoy this lover," she whispered, the words dripping from luscious red lips.
Those lips descended and met his in a kiss.
Marcel liked this dream. He relished the feel of her soft lips against his as the kiss lingered. He enjoyed the feeling of her warm body lying on top of his.
The mood was spoilt by a buzzing sound in his ear, like the angry whine of a mosquito. Marcel broke off the kiss and shook his head in an attempt to dislodge the nuisance.
The girl sat on his taut stomach and slowly, teasingly, unwrapped the silk strips around her chest. Her ripe breasts fell unfettered before him. Marcel longed to reach up and cup them in his hands, to stretch his neck and flick her erect nipples with his tongue.
The buzzing sound continued in his ears, loud and persistent like an angry wasp. He flicked his hand back in an attempt to shoo the nuisance away, but the sound continued.
The girl wriggled on his stomach, getting back his attention. Marcel looked up at her. She was beautiful but her eyes seemed as cold and as hard as the glittering stone in her belly.
There was danger here.
"No!" Marcel cried. He threw her off and her body dissipated into pink mist.
Marcel woke with a start.
The room had changed. Lighted candles revealed it restored to its former glory, exactly as it had been in the dream.
Was this another dream?
No, this was something worse. Something unnatural.
The floor was covered in a billowing layer of thick pink mist. It glowed in the dim light with its own luminescence.
The girl from the dream stood by the door. She'd changed. She was no longer just a girl. Her eyes were empty, like two peep-holes looking into a black abyss. Her skin was blood red and long hair the colour of night swept down onto her shoulders. Two leathery wings, like those of a giant bat, were folded up behind her. A thin tail, tipped with a flat arrowhead point, writhed like a serpent between her legs.
"You didn't like my dream," she said, her voice low and sultry. "Never mind. You'll soon discover I'm so much more in the flesh."
Her wings expanded and she raised herself up off the floor. She glided effortlessly to the bed with languid flaps of her wings. The pink mist billowed and swirled beneath her.
Marcel couldn't look away from her as he reached blindly to where he'd left his sword propped up against a chair. His eyes drank in the seductive curves of her body. The naked female form was an infrequent sight for Marcel and never one as perfect as the girl he saw before him, even with the infernal skin colour. He was helpless, transfixed as his gaze lingered over the ripe curve of her breasts, slid across the flat expanse of her belly, and was drawn finally to the hidden cleft between her legs.
As he groped for his sword, unable to look away from the girl gliding towards him, the back of his hand collided with the pommel and knocked it away. He flailed for the grip, but was unable to catch it before the weapon toppled over and fell onto the floor. It didn't stop there. Instead there was a clatter as it found a large crack in the rotten floorboards and fell down into the room below.
No. His cross was gone as well. He'd hung it from the hilt of his sword before settling down to sleep. Marcel looked over in time to see both vanish into the mist and then hear the metallic clatter as they fell into the room below.
He looked back. The demon was upon him. She crouched lightly on the end of the bed, her wings folded behind her. Her empty black eyes burned with desire as she licked full red lips.
"What a handsome young morsel," she said.
She placed a hand on his chest and lightly pushed him down on the bed. Marcel offered no resistance. The bed was soft and her body was comely. He found it hard to think, his wits dulled by the mist shrouding both the room and his mind. He heard his heart thudding in his chest and felt his blood racing through his veins as her warm flesh approached his.
"So muscular," she purred.
Her hands lightly caressed the taut muscles of his abdomen and roamed up to the solid expanse of his chest. She bent down and placed light kisses on his stomach and slowly moved up his body. His skin shivered in anticipation of every gentle touch of her soft lips.
She crawled up on top of him. Her heat lay on top of him. He felt the points of her nipples brush his chest. Her lips continued their maddening ascent as she planted soft kisses in a trail up the side of his neck.
"I'm going to enjoy draining your life," she whispered softly in his ear.
Her words galvanised Marcel into action. He knew what she was. Succubus. A foul demon that seduced men with lustful thoughts and sucked out their life until only a withered shell remained.
This was not his fate.
Marcel twisted his body and threw her off. He rolled off the other side of side of the bed and hit the floor in a crouch. He was back on his feet and ready to fight in the space between two heartbeats.
"Stay back demon!" he warned.
The succubus lounged casually on the bed. Her head was propped up on her elbow while her other hand covered her naked sex. Outwardly she looked about as threatening as a pretty young serving wench.
"Good," she smiled. "For a moment I thought it was going to be too easy."
Her finger slipped between the folds of her flesh and worked up and down. Her breathing grew heavier. Marcel's attention was captivated by the motions of her finger. Her hips rocked against it and she gave a sultry moan.
Marcel didn't even realise he'd taken a step towards the bed.
He shook his head, trying to shake off the tendrils of lust strangling his thoughts. There were no claws, no fangs, nothing to outwardly seem dangerous, just a pretty girl lying on a bed and pleasuring herself.
He couldn't fight her like this.
Unlike the bedroom, the rest of the house still looked as abandoned and decrepit as it was when Marcel had first entered. A thick layer of roiling pink mist carpeted the floor and illuminated the staircase with an ethereal glow. As Marcel stumbled down the steps he still found it hard to accept this wasn't a dream. The mist softened both his vision and concentration.
"The thrill of the chase gets me so wet." Marcel heard the husky voice of the succubus behind him.
He turned and saw her perched on the banister like a night bird. She spread her wings and swooped forward into the stairwell.
Marcel turned back. It was hard to move fast down the uneven stairs, especially with the mist spilling over them. He managed to stumble down the remaining steps, but before he could make it through the door into the next room, the demon collided with him and pushed him against the wall. Lithe arms encircled his chest. Her thighs parted around his and he felt moisture on his leg as she ground her sex against him. The warmth of her body was all around him.
"I'll show you pleasures no mortal has ever experienced," she whispered in his ear. Her soft lips pressed against his cheek in a kiss.
It would be so easy to give in, to go limp and surrender to her soft embrace.
Easy, and fatal.
Marcel shoved her off him, spinning her away and into the far wall.
"I like getting all sweaty," the demon said with a smile. Strands of her wavy black hair fell down in front of her face.
Marcel planted a kick in her midriff and the succubus yelped in surprise as she toppled over backwards and out through a window. Marcel allowed himself the barest glimmers of a smile as the succubus fell down out of sight. It wouldn't be enough, but it would give him time.
He stumbled into the living room, surprised to find himself out of breath. He felt like he'd been running for miles rather than the small flight of steps he'd descended. It was this damnable mist. Every breath he took filled his lungs with a cloying perfume that sapped his strength and filled his mind with unwholesome images.
At least his wits still possessed some sharpness. He saw movement by the exit and quickly ducked behind an old armchair as the succubus strode into the room. Her eyes blazed with fire.
"That was very unknightly," she said.
She strode haughtily across the room, kicking up the mist around her perfectly sculpted legs.
"I should give you a spanking for being a very naughty boy," she said.
Marcel scooted up closer behind the chair.
"You might like it," she whispered lasciviously.
Marcel tried to recover his breath, but every time he breathed in more of the perfumed mist entered his body. His limbs felt heavy. It had been a long ride. He had a strong urge to lie down in the mist and go to sleep.
"The saintly types always do," the succubus continued. "It salves their conscience. Let me be your temptress and we'll do things together that would shame even the Great Beast himself."
Marcel snapped his eyes open. He had to stay alert. This wasn't a dream. His skin tingled where her lips had brushed against it, eager to feel her kisses again. Marcel tried to put it out of his mind.
"Or I can be your sweetest love," the succubus said, "all innocence and light."
The voice came from above him.
"There you are," the succubus said as she smiled down on him.
Marcel tried to jump out of the way, but she was already above him. Her legs tangled around his, stopping him from rising. Her arms encircled his waist and he felt the softness of her breasts against his chest as she fell on top of him.
"I can be your tenderest lover," she whispered. She kissed him lightly on his chest and his skin shivered in pleasure at the contact. "As soft as angel's hair," she continued before dipping her head down again to kiss his nipple. The kiss lingered and his skin tingled for some time afterwards.
She was so desirable and Marcel felt so tired. The mist beneath him seemed to solidify into the softest down bedding. He jolted in surprise and pleasure as a warm hand encircled his manhood.
"My silken pussy will feel exquisite even as it sucks out your soul," the demon whispered in his ear.