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Loyalty & Love: A Tale of Steel and Silence

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Love and Loyalty:

A Tale of Steel and Silence

 

I. The Task

 

It had been several weeks since the Violet meteor had last tainted the skies above Kalkatesh. Some lived, some died, but the song that echoed through the firmament of creation rang true. Heroes had risen up against the threat of oblivion, and when peace settled they did as all heroes do: they went home, where further adventures waited.

And so it was that a peculiar band of six women had also stood at the last stand for hope. With their duty of death and debts completed, they were allowed to leave the world of steel and silence and set out into the world upon their own terms. Some took up the mantle of new duties. Some sought to lend their hand in healing Kalkatesh's wounds. Some turned tail and fled. Nevertheless, wherever they roamed chaos and fear, tears and blood, joy and love all followed.

It is here that we find one of the fabled Thirsty Ones, one who thirsted for power and revenge and beauty. So it was that Revlis knelt in an old hut, watched by a murder of crows. Before her, on a rickety chair that seemed to belie his dark aura, sat her patron: the god Babylon. His mismatched eyes studied a soul that flickered in the palm of his hand, and he scoffed disdainfully as he slowly squeezed it in his grip.

“You've done well, my most loyal pet,” he purred. “At every turn, at every request... you've risen to the occasion.”

“Your words flatter me, my lord,” Revlis smiled. She reverently placed a hand across the brand upon her chest as she knelt, still averting her gaze from her patron.

“Flatter?” Babylon asked. Revlis flinched as he stood from his chair, his footsteps echoing weightily upon the floor. “We are long past the point of mere flattery.”

Kneeling before his servant, Babylon pressed a single finger upon her chin, and raised her face to his. He gazed into her blue eyes, seeing his reflection in her pupils. Smiling darkly at the reverent expression that grew upon Revlis's face, Babylon continued, “I have no need to flatter my Arbiter. Your loyalty has been proven to me many times over. Even now, your heart beats within the palm of my hand, and your soul is ever at my beck and call. Should I want anything of you, dear Revlis... I am quite aware that all I need do is ask .”

Revlis's shoulders quivered as her breath caught in her throat. Like any time she found herself within the odd-eyed gaze of her master, Revlis felt exposed down to her soul.

“You are too kind, my master,” she whispered.

“Such humility, from one who so proudly wears my brand upon her breast,” Babylon purred. “Whatever did I do to earn such a loyal servant?”

What indeed. Revlis could still feel the cold stone of the Witchtown sewers she had traipsed when she and her companions had happened upon Babylon's shrine. She could still feel the flames of the abyss that raced through her veins as his loving hand gripped her heart. She could still feel the ecstasy that was his power infusing her body, ripping away her humiliation and pain. To Babylon, it was but a trifle. To Revlis, it was like being born anew.

As Revlis knelt, her gaze and face both held by her dark master, she knew that speaking of this was useless. Babylon was right: they were long past the point of flattery. He was her master; she, his loyal Arbiter. It was why she was in that decrepit hut, after all—Babylon had tasked her with hunting down a priest that had forsaken Babylon when the Herald's meteor flashed across the sky. Finding and killing him had been a trifle—he was an aged, brittle priest, and his cold body now lay naked against the far wall of the hut. The very sight of Revlis darkening his doorway snatched the life from his chest. His soul was positively worthless, hardly worth the effort. But it was still Babylon's soul, and she had dutifully collected it for him.

“A lucky twist of fate,” Revlis answered. She could scarcely feel the words leave her lips as Babylon's eyes bore down upon her.

“Lucky indeed,” Babylon purred. “Good help is so hard to find these days.”

He suddenly released Revlis's chin, and paced back to his chair. “Which is why I'm sending you off for another mission,” he continued. “There is another of my subjects whom owes me a great debt. A woman, Edith Quill. I had bestowed her with a little boon some years ago, and their debt with me has gone quite delinquent.”

“My master, I would have pursued them ages ago if you had but asked,” Revlis said.

Lazily, Babylon glanced at Revlis over his shoulder. “Delinquents are a dime a dozen, scarcely worth troubling you over. And who is to say, some part of me liked to think they might have mended their ways. At any rate, I had intended to wait until a more opportune moment to exact my payment.”

Revlis smiled. “A most-gracious boon for a truant, my lord,” she said.

Her master returned the dark smile. “Indeed,” he said. “Imagine my displeasure when this traitor not only neglects to repay my gifts, but pawns it off in the name of some false god.”

“Speak their name, my master,” Revlis purred. “I would have them see justice before the day's end.”

Babylon chuckled as he sat back down. “Your eagerness to serve never ceases to bring a smile to my face,” he said. “Sadly, the day will end before you find them—this traitor currently hides a good day's travel from here. And Edith is quite cunning. She has somehow masked herself beyond my detection. You'll need the help of a gentleman by the name of Ben Nihre, in the village of Twinchapel across the forest.”

“It is no challenge,” Revlis said. She stood before her master and spread her wings, holding her head high. “These wings you've granted me are--”

“The whisper of doom to all in my path”, is what she meant to say. But as Babylon sat before her, chin cradled thoughtfully in his delicate fingers, Revlis froze.

“My lord?” Revlis asked.

As her master studied her, Revlis felt chills claw their way up her back. Her wings faltered as his gaze seemed to dig into her soul.

“Revlis,” he asked. “I've been meaning to ask you.”

“Yes, master?”

“Whyever did you not ask me for a familiar?”

Revlis's throat ran dry as the question stabbed her. Her mind drifted to that day where she and her companions had left a troop of cultists of the Shattered Star to die at the hands of an army of will-o'-wisps. Even though she had almost fallen victim to them herself, Revlis nevertheless trapped one in a jar to marvel and coo over.

Ah, but it wasn't a mere wisp anymore. The wisp had fed well, and through Revlis's ritual of bonding it had grown into a Veld.

It was Revlis's precious Shiny.

“I... I hadn't... planned upon it, my lord,” Revlis stammered. She averted her gaze as her hands dropped to her sides, clenching. Memories of the glittering, green orb in a jar flashed through her head. She almost cursed the memory as she recalled those dancing verdant lights...

“When I had seen what will-o'-wisps could do, and the colorful lights that shone amidst their viciousness I became... quite taken with them, and I decided I wanted one.”

Babylon hummed. “Yes, I suppose their hunger for fear makes them quite useful,” he mused.

“I... I apologize for my impertinence,” Revlis gasped. She fell to her knees again, clutching at the brand upon her chest. “I had... I mean, I let my... My life was... The Laughing Mad--”

“What you call 'impertinence', I call 'resourcefulness',” Babylon interrupted. Revlis glanced up to see her master thoughtfully contemplating her. “The reason matters to me not. You saw the opportunity for a powerful ally. You seized it. I am merely amused that you should have chosen a mere wisp as your servant. I could have granted you a mighty servant if you had but asked.”

“My lord...” Revlis breathed. Her eyes itched as she contemplated her master. “You've granted me so much, I could never have asked you for--”

Babylon raised his hand, silencing Revlis. Slowly, his hand trailed to his chin, where he thoughtfully stroked his face.

“Of all my servants you, Revlis, truly intrigue me. Do you know why?”

Revlis swallowed. “Surely my loyalty isn't so rare as to be novel?” she tried.

“No, my pet,” Babylon purred. “It's your hunger.”

A pit opened in Revlis's stomach upon hearing the word. “Hunger, my lord?”

“Yes,” Babylon said thoughtfully. “You, like many others, came to me seeking power. You, like many others, seek revenge. You crave it. But for all your craving, you scarcely ask me to indulge you in them. And, your pending revenge notwithstanding, it intrigues me that above all else you desire ... what's the word you use... ah, yes— shinies .”

Again, Revlis froze. Her thoughts raced towards her servant. She had lovingly named him Shiny, after the way he glittered and shone as an orb. When he manifested his true form as a Veld, his skin still raced with the loveliest veins that shone from blue to purple to pink.

Ever since she was a child, swaddled in warm blankets by a fire and lullabied by her mother's stories of treasures, Revlis sought and loved 'shinies'. It wasn't just her servant's colors. It was the glint of gold coins in the sun, the glitter of jewels, the sparkles of sequins. It was the silver of mirrors and the bright colors of silks, the tempting hues of ripe fruits and the seductive shades of flowers.

It just so happened that Shiny was, well, the shiniest of her shinies.

But now, as she heard the word come from Babylon, Revlis cowed. Her great wings felt heavy, the flame betwixt her horns oppressively hot. Her tail curled tightly against her legs as Revlis bit her lip and averted her gaze.

“I... apologize for my unbecoming habits, my master,” she whimpered.

“Whyever for?” Babylon asked. The question stabbed Revlis through the heart. Forgetting herself, Revlis glanced back at Babylon. He still gazed at her with the same mild curiosity a cat would have towards a mouse. “If these... shinies do not distract you from your duty, what difference does it make? I simply wish to understand the appeal.”

Revlis shuffled her feet, like a scolded child. “It is... unimportant, my master,” she mumbled.

“Do you wish to imply my question is unimportant?” Babylon rumbled. The light from his red eye was like fire, while his blue eye flashed like ice.

“It is... an old habit, my lord,” Revlis tried. “A remnant of my time with the Laughing Mad. It matters not, my loyalty is to you , and--”

“As I said, the source of this habit matters not,” Babylon purred. “If you cannot explain your passion, then I will have you show me. Hear me true, my pet: as you seek Edith Quill and bring her to justice... find me a 'shiny'. If it makes it easier... consider it a gift for your master.”

Revlis instantly clapped her hand to her chest, mere moments from rummaging within her bosom for a stray trinket. “M-my lord, I could give you anything—gold--gems--”

“Oh, but we've been through this,” Babylon purred, freezing Revlis with his voice. “We both know that if I wanted anything from you , all I need do is ask . And what fun would there be in simply asking you for one of your 'shinies' when so many exist waiting to be found? Find me a 'shiny' for myself, so that I may admire it upon my throne.”

Cautiously, Revlis placed her hand back upon the brand on her chest, and bowed. “Your will be done, my most-gracious master,” she said. When she rose, Babylon stood before her. Before Revlis could react, he once again pressed a finger beneath her chin, and inched her face closer to his.

“Take heart, my pet,” he purred. “I would not task you with this if I did not have the utmost confidence in you.”

Revlis shuddered and shut her eyes as her master brushed the hair from her face, kissing her forehead. “Bring that misbegotten fool to justice, as only you can,” he whispered in her ear. “I am positively breathless in anticipation of the 'shiny' you bring me.”

Babylon's voice faded amidst the flapping of crow's wings. When she opened her eyes, Revlis was alone in the hut. The only other figure in the room was the corpse of a traitor, haphazardly thrown against a wall.

Revlis took a moment to collect herself. Babylon's words echoed in her head. Even now, your heart beats in the palm of my hand . While she was loathe to allow herself be controlled by anyone, Revlis could only swoon at how easily Babylon could silence her. The gentle caresses of his velvety voice, the subtle strength of his elegant fingers... Revlis quivered to think of how easily she, who had seduced others her whole life, was in turn seduced so effortlessly by him.

No—that wasn't the right word, was it? It wasn't seduction. It was no trick. Babylon dangled the sword above Revlis's head, clear as day. He wasn't just a devil, he was the Devil. He was the First Devil. Compared to him, the lies and tricks of mere men were so much foppery. Babylon had no need to disguise how effortlessly he could wipe Revlis from the face of the earth.

Which was why his gentleness was so intoxicating to Revlis. Of all the creatures alive, she was his choice. She had proven herself worthy, time and again.

In that light, Revlis could scarcely concern herself with the 'why's and 'how's of his bizarre request. What mattered was that she find a worthwhile object for Babylon during her pursuit of Edith Quill. And wasn't that the best part about shinies? They could appear just about anywhere.

Like in the fields of an abandoned farmhouse, shortly after sundown...

Taking one last deep breath, Revlis abandoned the hut, satisfied she would never have to set eyes upon such a shamble ever again. As she stepped out, she scarcely had to wonder where he was before he flitted before her eyes on little dragonfly wings. Impeccably dressed in a flawless buttoned apron and a wrinkle-less vest, with obsidian-like skin laced with glowing veins, the sight of his colors brought warmth to Revlis's chest.

Shiny .

“Mistress,” he said with a well-practiced bow. “I assume your audience with your master went well?”

“... Of course,” Revlis hesitated. She could scarcely bring herself to tell Shiny he had been part of the discussion. The very thought seemed to tie a knot within her belly. “The traitor's men—what did you do with them?”

“I scarcely had need to dispatch them,” Shiny said. “A simple illusion made them flee for their lives. I made sure to patrol the area, to make sure there were no other possible attackers.”

“How brave of you!” Revlis clapped, beaming at the tiny Veld. “Did they leave anything valuable behind?”

“Nothing, my mistress—not even a stray button,” Shiny shook his head. “None of them seemed the type to pierce their nipples, either.”

Revlis sighed. “We'll manage, I suppose,” she said. “Come Shiny, let us go back to the inn. My master has granted us another pair of tasks.”

“Pair?” Shiny asked. The Veld flit onto Revlis's shoulder as she took to the air, soaring upon her wings. “Are we to pursue two traitors?”

Revlis kept her eyes at the world rushing beneath her. Tiny as he was, Shiny's weight bore down upon her shoulder. She quietly wished he had hidden in her corset instead.

“... Not quite,” she began.

 

***

 

Loathe as she was to expend any of her money, Revlis would do anything she could to avoid paying for lodgings. Killing was her favored option, but not one she carried out as often as she liked—sometimes, it was simply too much work. Seducing the innkeeper was also an option, but to Revlis's displeasure most innkeepers were quite old and haggard. Charming them was thus the favored option, assuming she could escape before the glamour wore off.

At least, that was the theory; in practice, Revlis was usually able to earn herself a free room by virtue of being what her old traveling companion Terryn would call “a good wingman”. More likely than not, some sad lonely sod in a bar would be crying their heart out over a lover, and Revlis would manage to get them into the arms and bed of their intended. These favors usually earned her enough goodwill in town to let people rent a decent room for her.

It was annoying work, yes. But it was still easier than having to murder an entire town. Indiscriminate slaughter was just tedious when there were more than three victims, and Revlis wasn't up for losing sleep tracking down every last hidden villager even if Babylon did appreciate all the souls.

In this town, the lonely sod was a charming little milkmaid who had fallen for a local carpenter—whom was engaged. A single swift conversation about the merits of polyamory had earned Revlis a cozy room at a local bed and breakfast. It was perhaps smaller than Revlis would have liked, but then again Revlis's first and last choice for an abode would be a manor. Nevertheless, for now a simple bedroom with a window she couldn't even fly out of would have to do.

Having bathed at the well in the back of the inn, Revlis sat before a tarnished mirror in that simple bedroom, wrapped in a silken bathrobe as Shiny diligently brushed her hair. Ever since Shiny had first braided her hair on a whim, Revlis had grown to enjoy her tiny servant's efforts at caring for her tresses. Sometimes he would collect little flowers and braid them into her locks, where they mixed with the cherry blossoms that grew among her horns. Sometimes, he would tuck himself inside her hair when it got cold, keeping close to Revlis's ears to whisper secrets to her.

As he gently pulled the comb through Revlis's hair, sweeping through the ocean of black that shifted to red, Revlis felt utterly at peace in a way that only her mother could muster once, long ago before Revlis had been thrust into the world. There was no space for fears or discomfort here; there was only the soft light of a candle, the cool bathrobe, and Shiny's diligent care. As the tension melted from Revlis's shoulders, she spoke to her familiar of her encounter with her master. Where she had been nervous in Babylon's gaze, she now spoke as plainly as describing a trip to the market—albeit still without Babylon's inquiries towards Shiny.

“And he refused a gift from your own collection, mistress?” Shiny asked.

“He said it would have been too easy,” she said. “He wishes that I find him something to be his and his alone.”

“Spoken like a true prince,” Shiny decided. “Thankfully, there is no end of treasure that we could find for him.”

“Oh, but it can't be just anything,” Revlis said. “Babylon deserves something special, don't you think?”

“Indeed, mistress,” Shiny answered. He lighted upon Revlis's shoulder as he settled a loose ponytail at his feet. “But if I might be so bold, I do think we'd be best served allowing a trinket to come by us in its own time. Our first concern is Edith Quill.”

Revlis paused as she watched her reflection, admiring Shiny as he tucked a few stray strands of hair away. His tiny hands were ever gentle and caring in their work, lovingly smoothing her hair as he darted about her head. As she watched his hands, Revlis felt her heart swell. How long had those hands woven in and out of her hair? How many bows and ribbons had they sewn for her? Mistily, Revlis smiled, and bit her lip. Perhaps tonight...

“You could be a little bolder with your hands,” she idly said.

“With your hair, Mistress? I could never,” Shiny said.

Revlis's stomach fell a little at his answer, and she could only resolve to put it out of her mind. “Then... I suppose that'll do,” she said. She stood and leaned in towards the mirror, admiring and primping her hair. Her familiar flit about her, hovering near her shoulders. “Oh Shiny, I'll never know how I ever managed without you. I feel I must have had a regular rat's nest before you came along.”

“You do yourself a disservice, Mistress,” Shiny said with a bow. “Even the day we first met, your hair was immaculate. My stylings are but child's play for such a luxurious mane.”

Revlis turned her face to her tiny familiar, and with a smile she playfully booped at his head with her finger. “You're the only one I'd ever allow to play with my hair,” she said. “I'd be horribly jealous if you ever played with someone else's hair.”

“I wouldn't dream of serving anyone but you, Mistress,” Shiny bowed.

“Come, Shiny,” Revlis sang. “It's time for bed.”

As Revlis tucked herself into the tiny cot, Shiny flit over to the candle and blew it out. “Shall I sing you a lullaby, Mistress? Perhaps a nocturne?”

“Oh, tell me a story, Shiny!” Revlis said. “You must have remembered something of your past life by now.”

Shiny could only bow remorsefully as he flew over to Revlis's pillow. “I sadly remain ignorant of who I was before I was a wisp,” he said, kneeling next to Revlis's face. “I have an appreciation for tailoring, and my name was Viild. That is all that I have remembered since I have assumed my current form. I apologize if this is not satisfactory to you, Mistress.”

Revlis sighed, and gave Shiny one last smile. “Oh, that's alright,” she said. “I just... wish I could know more about you, Shiny. We've traveled for so long, and I feel like there's so much about you I could learn.”

“Would it disappoint you if your humble servant was a humbug in his former life?” Shiny asked. “Would you be sad if I was a teetotaler who would ignore the world in favor of his work?”

“That would still make me happy,” Revlis breathed. “That just means your life has been more fun since you started working for me.”

“Then rest assured, my mistress,” Shiny smiled. “I could not dream of a happier life than serving you. Will that be all for today?”

“Yes, Shiny,” Revlis whispered. “That will be all. Please, sleep well.”

As Revlis closed her eyes, Shiny bowed. “You as well, Mistress.”

 

The next morning Revlis was awoken by Shiny's hands stroking her eyebrows, as was his custom.

“Mistress?” he gently called. “It's morning. We do have to set off for Ben Nihre's village today...”

Revlis whined as she opened her eyes. Her sleep had been long and restful, but even her loyalty to her master couldn't quite convince her to be an early riser. She sighed as she looked back at Shiny; no doubt, he had once again woken up at the crack of dawn to get things ready for her. If he had, he didn't look the part: he was as immaculate as ever, dressed in his usual uniform, and not a hair out of place. But most importantly: the warm smile upon his dark face seemed as pleased as ever to see her.

“I've taken the liberty of preparing breakfast,” he said. “I was able to acquire some eggy bread and fresh milk, compliments of the milkmaid we met. I was also able to find some dried venison for the road.”

“Shiny, you're so sweet,” Revlis murmured. “Be a dear and let me sleep for just five more minutes?”

Sadly, Shiny shook his head. “I do think time is of the essence, Mistress—we seem to be due for a thunderstorm later this morning. If we're to take to the skies, we must hurry before the storm strikes.”

Revlis whined again, and rolled over onto her side. Her blankets, stiff and woolen as they might have been, were warm and cozy against her skin. Distantly, Revlis wondered how Shiny would feel if he were pulled into the blankets with her, enjoying the warm comfort with her... But, he was still quite small, and while he happily would sit within her corset Revlis still worried about hurting him.

“Mmm... I bet Babylon's attendants let him sleep an extra five minutes,” she whined.

“Indeed they do, and he would be most grateful of you for letting him. But we have been tasked...”

With much grumbling, Revlis sat up in her bed. Shiny wasted no time in settling a tray of eggy bread before her. Without asking, Revlis knew that he he had traded some of his woven craft work for the meal. As she ate, the Veld once again flit about her hair, primping and fussing the knots out.

As she sat there, a thought soured the meal in Revlis's mouth. Relaxing evenings, comfortable mornings, doting care all throughout the day... yes, no doubt Babylon had no end of servants that offered these to him. And Revlis was one of them. He was absolutely right: her heart beat within the palm of his hand. If he wanted her body, Revlis would submit to him in a heartbeat. The idea made her heart flutter. It wasn't even a matter of loyalty, Revlis would probably have offered herself to him even if she had never encountered him in those sewers beneath Witchtown.

But now... there was Shiny.

Shiny, who had outshone any jewel Revlis had ever seen even when he was still just a wisp in a jar.

Shiny, who would comb her hair and sew her bonnets without a second thought.

Shiny, who had stayed by her side long after the threat of the Violet had faded and the world had returned to peace.

Just as Revlis was loyal to Babylon, Shiny was loyal to her. And that loyalty, along with his beauty, gave her pause--because Revlis didn't know how to tell her loyal servant or her master that she had fallen in love.

The bread in Revlis's mouth turned into paper as the thought crossed her mind: how could she tell Babylon that she was in love with Shiny?

Revlis had spent the past few weeks hunting down Babylon's traitors, collecting their debts in blood and souls. Their sins were all the same: lack of faith in their lord, lack of faith in his power, a lack of respect for the oath they had sworn to him. Was falling in love a betrayal? Was loving another a betrayal to Babylon ?

The night Revlis had been reborn, she quietly vowed she would never cry again. Now, as she sat in a tiny cot, enjoying the doting service of a familiar she didn't know if she had the luxury of loving, Revlis bitterly bit her lip as tears began to stream down her face and into her lap.

“Mistress!”

Shiny had no sooner noticed a tear falling before he dropped the comb and rushed to Revlis's face with a washcloth in hand. Revlis quietly sobbed as she felt more tears urged by the ginger caresses against her cheeks. Knocking her plate over, Revlis clutched at her knees and sat in a miserable little ball, quietly weeping. Shiny quietly hovered beside her until she next raised her tear-stained face.

“My apologies, mistress,” he gently said as he once again wiped at her tears. “Perhaps I should have allowed you another five minutes.”

“It's alright, Shiny,” Revlis sniffed. “I just... had a bad dream.”

Shiny nodded sagely as he flew away, having dried the last of her tears. “I understand, Mistress,” he quietly said. “May I be so bold, then, as to suggest that we delay our departure until later this evening? Perhaps tomorrow?”

“No! No, we leave now,” Revlis sniffed. Setting her jaw, she stood from her bed. “I tire of this muddy village and this dusty room. The sooner I accomplish my master's tasks, the sooner we may retire to a true bedroom. Now, fetch me my dress and my staff! I want this town to be a distant memory within the hour.”

Shiny bowed as Revlis slid off her bathrobe, and through his efforts it was scarcely a minute before she was once again wearing her usual leafy corset. Shiny stood by holding her heart-shaped cane as Revlis gave herself one last look in the tarnished mirror.

“Well?” she asked her servant in the mirror. “How do I look?”

“You are the perdition of all sinful men and the envy of all whom pretend to be beautiful, my mistress,” Shiny said.

Revlis nodded, and puffed her chest out. She gave her bosom a gentle caress and squeeze as she admired her figure. “What about the girls?” she asked.

“They are luxury and perfection incarnate,” Shiny bowed.

Revlis smirked at her reflection. “That'll do... for now. Come, Shiny. This place bores me.”

Taking her staff from her servant, Revlis blew away the door to her room with but a wave of her hand. She shook her staff as she descended the stairs of the inn, summoning a swirl of pink petals about her. She stormed her way through the main room of the inn, her presence silencing the old drunkard in the corner and the innkeeper alike. As she reached the front door, she turned to the innkeeper and imperiously pointed at him.

“Do tell that simpering milkmaid that if that man ever betrays her, the Hand of Babylon will seek justice for her. And mix some salt into your laundry water, those sheets are far too itchy! I expect better comforts if I ever darken this doorway again!”

The innkeeper helplessly nodded as Revlis kicked the front door open. “Come, Shiny. Babylon awaits.”

“Right away, Mistress,” he smiled.

And the two took to the skies, leaving the tiny town behind them and soaring off towards the forest ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

Revlis flying

 

II. The Forest

 

 

Above all else, the boon that Revlis appreciated most from Babylon were her wings. The larger bosom was luxurious, the extra power was a necessity. But wings? Wings were liberating . She could give chase, escape, glide, or soar over anyone and anything.

Having Shiny darting about with her was a nice bonus.

Revlis's worries seemed to have lagged behind her as the roads swept beneath her. The air was clear and fresh as it tossed her hair about her face. A trail of petals and tiny hellfire sparks drifted in her wake as the winds battered her. Revlis could only wonder how she looked to others as she flew.

“Shiny, how do I look?” Revlis called to her servant.

“Stunning!” Shiny answered.

“Can you keep up, Shiny? I can carry you if you like,” Revlis said.

“I'm quite fine, Mistress!” Shiny said. “I do enjoy soaring on my own once in a while. And besides, it's easier this way to search for treasures on the ground.”

Revlis turned away, biting as finger as she flew. “... But I'd like to hold you for a bit,” she mumbled.

“What was that, Mistress?” Shiny asked. “I couldn't hear you.”

“Nothing!” Revlis lied. “I was just wondering... when that thunderstorm you mentioned would start!”

Shiny glanced at the skies above them, and frowned. The dark grey clouds were forming, and the skies behind them grew unusually dark for this time of day.

“We're making good time, I should think,” he said. “At this pace, we should reach a fairly thick part of the forest. Once the rain starts, we can land and take cover beneath a nice tree and have a fine lunch.”

Revlis nodded, and remained quiet as the two flew on, chased by thunderclouds. As the hours flew by, the air grew colder and the winds grew fiercer. All the while, the forest beneath them grew thicker and thicker, the canopies being supported by older and older trees.

The moment the first stroke of thunder boomed, the two flew into the canopy and lighted upon the ground. There was a moment for Revlis when she looked at the trees around her where she forgot herself; for a brief flash, the sight of the wide, ancient trees surrounding her, their massive roots poking and snaking through the soil, took her back to her younger days when her only wings were a pair she had made of sticks and leather, and laughter pumped in her veins instead of hellfire. If she stood still, she could almost hear the giggles and whispers echoing in her ears...

But then Shiny darted into her vision, and Revlis returned to the present.

“Is something wrong, Mistress?” Shiny asked.

“Other than the thought that these filthy trees must be lousy with spiders, I'm quite alright,” Revlis huffed.

Quickly, Shiny set about dusting some leaves away from a particularly thick root, thick enough to serve as a stool. He magicked a blanket over it and bowed to Revlis. “Mistress, if it pleases you, you may sit here while I prepare a fire. This large tree should cover us from the rain, spiders notwithstanding.”

“Um... go on ahead and start the fire,” Revlis said. “I... need a moment!”

Shiny nodded, and set about gathering sticks and twigs for tinder. He didn't give a second thought to Revlis as he continued his work. As he worked, Revlis quietly snuck deeper into the woods and leaned against a tree. Cupping her hands over her face, she sighed.

The thought of being bolder with Shiny crossed her mind—which worried her, as Revlis had scarcely dealt with men. Of course, she had seduced scores of men, it was no challenge at all. With her natural assets, it was easy enough to be a game for her. After Babylon had changed her, it was but a trifle; men, as Revlis had learned, were quite quick to indulge in things that could kill them. Like the drink... or a woman with a venomous tail.

But Revlis wasn't interested in seducing Shiny, as if he were some mark. In fact, she wasn't even sure he could be seduced—he had never been anything less than professional with her. Kind, yes. Doting, indubitably. Warm, unendingly. But open to seduction? It seemed impossible. After all these months, Revlis still found herself surprised at how Shiny was the only man she had ever met that didn't seem to react to her breasts. He never seemed to get a rise whenever he saw Revlis naked, and he could ride in her corset for hours without even blinking. Was it just a quirk of familiars?

Revlis bit her thumb. No, that was impossible. It had to be. Sure, he never copped a feel or pitched a tent, but Shiny was a gentleman . Like Babylon! Why, Babylon, dark and ruthless as he was, never laid a finger upon Revlis that wasn't untoward. Revlis's heart skipped a beat as she thought to the gentle kiss upon her forehead he had given her as she and her companions battled the Aphotic Indefatigable. How he could silence her with but a single finger upon her chin. Revlis had brought countless men to the brink of ecstasy and despair when she was just a girl flitting with the Laughing Mad. She could have any man eating out of the palm of her hand within minutes—but Babylon... Babylon could subjugate anything with but a word.

But perhaps subjugation was far too strong of an approach for Shiny. Of the many things Revlis loved about him, his loyalty was definitely near the top of the list. And so, Revlis remained at a loss. How could she tell him ? What did you say to someone when you loved them?

Taking a deep breath, Revlis brought her arms to her side, and closed her eyes. She imagined Shiny hovering before her, his many lovely colors running through his dark skin. Slowly, she shaped her mouth into the first words...

“I... lo... lo-o-o....”

Immediately, Revlis clicked her tongue and went back to biting her thumb. Her wings drooped over her shoulders as she shrank against the tree behind her. She couldn't bring herself to say those words. They were too...

Too what?

Stupid?

True?

Revlis clicked her tongue again, and scowled. No. None of that was it.

The stupid truth was, she felt too vulnerable saying them.

Revlis had never told a man she loved him. In fact, she had never even told her companions she loved them. Even Umi, whom Revlis allowed to sleep with her head in her lap, fishy smell be damned. And after her experiences, Revlis didn't feel very keen on opening her heart like that.

And yet.

As Revlis leaned against that ancient tree, she knew that she wanted to—for Shiny. Her eyes welled up again at the thought of it. Those loyal hands, his selfless gifts... what woman could resist such a servant?

Servant ...

That's right. Revlis was a servant, too. She was Babylon's Arbiter. A woman of her rank had little time for fretting like a debutante. She had faced the Violet, she had brought pride to her master's name. If there was anything to be done, then... why not do it in her usual manner?

Surely, that was the best course of action, right?

And, Shiny would appreciate the honesty, wouldn't he?

Drying her eyes (just in case), Revlis took a deep breath, and summoned a mist. It was a simple enough trick for her—and one of her favorites to use when hunting. That she could finally use it in a forest made it even more fun than usual. Memories of her youth in Dolten flashed in her mind, echoes of countless nights and men she had lured into the depths of the wilderness. With hope in her heart and a devilish grin on her face, Revlis carefully walked back to where Shiny had made camp. He wasn't hard to locate; the fire he had stoked was easy enough to see in the fog. Revlis could just barely make out his glittery body in the haze. He was sitting upon the blanketed root, letting a terrycloth steam over a boiling pot. For a moment, Revlis smiled. Ever the thoughtful servant, Shiny never let a moment pass without thinking of something to aid in Revlis's comfort.

But she shook her head; this was no time for swooning. Preparing the most reliable tricks in her book, Revlis magicked her voice and sweetly giggled through the fog.

Instantly, Shiny stood up on the root and peered into the mist. “Mistress?” he called. He was facing the wrong direction as he scanned the horizon. Revlis took the moment to glide to another spot, letting her foot snap a branch loudly as she landed. Again, Shiny whirled about, trying to see into the fog.

“Mistress?” he called again.

Revlis swallowed down the urge to answer him, to call his name and rush to his side and praise him for his patience while she played with mists around him. Steeling herself, she adjusted the leaves on her corset to primp up her chest some, and snuck back around Shiny one last time.

“Mistress?” he called into the mist. “I do hope that's you, I'd be so embarrassed if we stumbled into a dryad's territory...”

Revlis steeled herself with a deep breath once more. She fought to remind herself, for just a moment, that she wasn't trying to talk to Shiny. She was trying to talk to a man.

With quiet footsteps, Revlis approached Shiny. He had his back to her as he tried peering through the trees, quietly humming in frustration.

“Is something wrong?” Revlis purred.

Instantly, Shiny span to face Revlis and smiled—and Revlis knew she had failed. She loomed over him, her chest almost overflowing from her corset mere inches from his face, and he was simply smiling back up at her like he always did.

“Mistress, you've returned!” he said. “I had a feeling these mists were your doing. It was a stunning trick. I was almost scared it wasn't you.”

Revlis swallowed down her fear. Not an ounce of disappointment showed upon her face. She was a predator , she had been raised in the wilds for years and reddened her fangs and nails with the lifeblood of others long before Babylon perfected her body. Shiny's bright smile wasn't about to change that.

“Who else could it have been?” Revlis growled. “What would you have done if it was someone else?”

“I would have grown concerned,” Shiny said. “Only you could ever make a mist this confounding, and only you could steal your way around someone completely undetected. Anything as quiet or as adept at occlusion could only survive in your vicinity if they had somehow... incapacitated you. Frankly, my first instinct would have been to try to escape. I would want to find you and make sure you were alright.”

Revlis's tail slapped against the ground a few times as she fought the urge to praise Shiny. Of course his first instinct would have been to help her, Shiny was ever so blessedly loyal. But he was still a man...

“That is so intelligent of you, Shiny,” Revlis breathed. “But as you can see, I'm perfectly fine. Unless you'd like to take a closer look? We wouldn't want any blemishes on my skin...”

“That reminds me, my Mistress,” Shiny began. He flew over to the terrycloth over the pot, and hefted it over to Revlis. “I did you the favor of steaming a cloth for you, on the chance that you wanted to refresh yourself after the flight. I could also prepare the venison for you. I didn't have the chance to dry it before we set out.”

Revlis's shoulders drooped as she took the towel from Shiny. Sitting on the root, she quietly wiped her face and chest. She could have made a show of it, sensually tracing the lines of her neck and the swells of her chest—but she knew there wasn't any point in it. Shiny wouldn't react.

Because Shiny was loyal .

Revlis buried her face in the terrycloth as she fought back tears. The chill of shame and embarrassment twinged between her shoulders as she wondered how foolish she looked in front of her servant. Shiny's voice dragged Revlis out of her thoughts.

“Mistress? Is something the matter?” he asked.

“No, Shiny,” Revlis said. She sat up and delicately folded the cloth in her lap. “This forest is... stagnant ,” she added, looking for the first word that popped into her mind.

“It is quite troublesome, I agree,” Shiny nodded. He was throwing several strips of venison into the pot with a few diced potatoes. “I can see why you would have tried frightening me with your mists.”

Revlis jumped in her seat as Shiny spoke. As an afterthought, she dispelled the mists around them. “Why—I--what made you think that was what I was doing?”

Shiny turned to Revlis, dangling one last strip of venison over the pot. “We are alone together, Mistress, and you haven't had the opportunity to play any of your beloved pranks upon anyone. I do not mind if you decide to toy with me, especially if it grants you an opportunity to practice your illusions. You did scare me, after all.”

A knot grew in Revlis's throat, and she turned her gaze from Shiny. The accursed fool was so close to seeing the truth, and yet...!

“Sometimes... men and women... do things when they're alone together. Especially in the woods,” Revlis mumbled.

“I daresay, you must have plenty of stories about that, my Mistress,” Shiny smiled. He fluttered to Revlis's shoulders, and gingerly stroked a lock of her hair. “I do so lament that we must traverse these woods. I shudder to think of the painful memories they stir within you, Mistress.”

At that moment, Revlis could have cried. She could have once again hid her face as she sobbed painfully and loudly. She could have grabbed Shiny and held him close and screamed at him over how foolish he was until she grew hoarse. But with the smell of the cooking venison, Shiny's gentle caresses in her hair, and his kind voice in her ears, Revlis could only smile wistfully.

Shiny's blasted loyalty made him such a fool it looped around into kindness. But that just made him like his master, didn't it?

Wordlessly, Revlis nuzzled against Shiny's tiny hands. Her stomach still felt hollow, and her heart still felt heavy—but it wasn't Shiny's fault his mistress was such a fool...

“Er. Mistress?” Shiny asked. Swallowing the twinge in her throat that his voice seemed to summon, Revlis turned to face her familiar.

“Yes?” she answered.

“You're overflowing from your corset. Shall I fix your clothing?”

Revlis sighed. “Leave it. I think I look quite ravishing, don't you think?”

“Indeed, Mistress,” Shiny said. “No sculpture could ever do your physique justice. Now, let me finish cooking lunch so that we may sooner cross this forest.”

Revlis was quiet as she watched Shiny finish their lunch. She was soon presented with a bowl of venison stew with potatoes, which she tried to enjoy as she continued to watch Shiny clear up camp. Before they could set off, however, the thunder above them boomed, and rain began strike the earth. Shiny wasted no time in setting up a tarp over Revlis to keep her dry, and as he finished he lighted upon her shoulder. The rush of rain surrounded them as they waited for the storm to end.

“Such an inconvenience,” he said. “Mistress, do we risk the rain?”

The root she sat on was uncomfortable, and the tree at her back didn't do much to cover her from the chilly storm winds, but Revlis nevertheless shook her head. “I've had... a long morning,” she said. “Let us wait until it lets up a little.”

“Might I comb your hair, Mistress?” Shiny asked. “Or perhaps you'd prefer I craft you a shawl?”

“Tell me a story, Shiny,” Revlis answered. “Perhaps these woods mean something to you?”

“I struggle to think of anything,” Shiny said. “One forest is as good as another to me.”

“Hackie said that you became a fae after I caught you as a wisp,” Revlis said. “Don't these woods feel like home to you?”

“I cannot say,” Shiny said. “I do not think I was particularly involved with the fae in my prior life. Even now, these woods are just... another place I'm visiting with my mistress.”

For a moment, Revlis's heart gave a subtle leap, and she glanced away biting her lip. She laid a hand across her lap—to cover the tattoo across her navel. Shiny had such a way with making her tattoo glow with nothing but his words...

“What about you, Mistress?”

Revlis blinked as she turned back to Shiny. “What about me?” she asked.

“Do you feel comfortable in these woods?” Shiny asked. “Does the wild call to you?”

Revlis frowned. She scarcely thought of her time with the Laughing Mad, outside of whenever she held her Bloodseed in her hands. Revlis could spend hours staring at it, relishing the thought of it feeding on Lassader Brone's corpse and the eternal youth its fruit could grant her. But beyond that—little else. The most she could feel was that particular frustration whenever Terryn brought up--

“I can't say I miss it,” Revlis stiffly answered. “That was a different time in my life. I was a different person then. I was younger. Naive. Weaker. All I have from my time with the Laughing Mad is these flowers, this dress, and a seed. Leaving them was for the best.”

Shiny was quiet for a moment, then shuffled upon Revlis's shoulder. “Mistress, might I be so bold as to ask a question?”

Revlis turned to face Shiny, his expression downcast.

“I had always found it... curious, that you were a part of the Fae chord, when the Song of Creation was being forged,” he said. “I was curious if it... brought up any uncomfortable memories.”

Revlis's breath slowed as she thought back to that day. The Song of Creation... such a curious ritual. Vaeri had helped create the Chord of Dragons. Madeline had constructed the Chord of Fate. And she had helped with the Chord of the Wild. Somewhere, deep within her, the song of the fae still echoed within her. She could still see those shimmering chords as they spun in perfect harmony, perfecting the prism for the Seven Eyes.

“I... don't know,” Revlis said. Her thoughts turned back to her previous meeting with Babylon. No doubt, even he could tell that somewhere within her abyss-touched body, there still grew a seed the Laughing Mad planted.

No wonder he asked for a shiny. He was testing her loyalty, no doubt.

“I apologize, Mistress,” Shiny said. “I do think I was quite impudent. I am in no position to question your past, especially when I don't have one.”

Revlis didn't recall reaching over with a finger to gingerly stroke Shiny's face, but she found herself doing so anyway. “It's quite alright, Shiny,” she said. “It would be terribly lonely in these woods without your questions and stories.”

The pit in Revlis's stomach grew as her words echoed in her mind. Yes, it was lonely without Shiny. Even among her companions, Revlis felt terribly lonely. When they first met, they seldom understood her fae humor. Could they have understood the pain and humiliation that burned within her after she met that horrible man? Could they have made the same decision to cut away their old lives in the name of power?

Or did they think her a traitor?

Amid the chill of the storm, a chill clawed up Revlis's spine. She hadn't met another fae after her pact with Babylon; in fact, she hadn't even thought of the fae until she had helped create the Chord. Would they too think her a traitor? Would the woods reject her? Would the cherry blossoms in her horns and hair attack her? Would they grow briars and choke the breath out of her lungs if she stayed for too long in the woods?

“Mistress...”

Revlis remembered herself, and glanced over at Shiny. Her hand had tightened against him, pressing him against her neck. The little servant squirmed as he gently tapped her fingers.

“Shiny!” Revlis jumped. She gently lifted the fairy off of her shoulders and let him sit in her palm. “Oh, forgive me, I... I was... cold! It's such a bitter rain.”

“I should have noticed,” Shiny said. “Shall I stoke the fire? Or perhaps I should fashion a blanket for you?”

“There's no time,” Revlis said. “Let us—let us brave the rain and move on!”

“Are you sure, Mistress?” Shiny asked.

Revlis swallowed. The thought of a pair of eyes watching her from behind one of the trees and stalking her on padded feet rushed through her mind.

“We'll have to risk it. Babylon has tasked us,” she said. “We can afford no delays in our duties.”

Shiny had barely doused the campfire when Revlis had set off, stomping through the woods. The rain, crashing its way through the canopy of the forest, splattered and dripped all over her, sticking her hair to her face and drenching her to the bone. She could only wonder if the orb of hellfire between her horns sputtered as it was smacked by the rain. Shiny rushed to her side and held a parasol above her head, but Revlis waved him off.

“That's fine, Shiny,” she muttered.

“Mistress, I am growing concerned,” Shiny said. “I worry this mission bears heavily upon you. Is it the forest? Is it the rain?”

“It's the knowledge that a traitor breathes freely,” Revlis lied.

Of course it was the forest. It felt as though the very trees mocked her. Every leaf, every blade of grass was a reminder of a distant time, a time when the world was much smaller for Revlis—a time where it was simply easier to laugh at pain.

“I do so regret not letting you doze those extra five minutes, Mistress” Shiny said. “We might have missed this wretched storm.”

Revlis swallowed, and her jaw quivered. “I will not have any more of that talk from you, Shiny,” she said. “An early start is just what we needed. Any moment now, we will find ourselves on the other edge of this miserable thicket and—and we'll set up a quaint little camp under the stars--”

And laugh .

“--and this will all be a bad memory. We'll simply have to wait until tomorrow for those five minutes.”

“Of course, Mistress,” Shiny said. “I apologize.”

Revlis was silent as she fought her way through the trees and rain. Rain splashed at her face and chest, and mud splashed at her legs. Eventually Shiny gave up trying to dry her face and simply landed upon her shoulder, making great effort to not cow from the rain. Wordlessly, Revlis picked him up and settled him within her corset, and continued on her way, pretending not to hear his thanks.

The rain eventually did stop, but the water continued to leak from the trees above. The clouds never parted, and so the forest was a miserable, damp, gloomy mess. The smell of bitter mud was everywhere. Revlis couldn't tell what time it was, or how long she had been wandering. She didn't even know if she was on the right path.

Exhausted, Revlis collapsed against a gnarled oak tree, and found she was struggling to catch her breath.

“Is there anything I can do to help, Mistress?” Shiny asked. Loyal as ever, kindly as ever.

“Fetch me a warm towel,” Revlis sighed. “And a nice plate of sushi. Some decadent red wine, I don't care if it doesn't go with fish. A slice of angel cake. Oh, and a big, lovely diamond to play with. And then we'll end the evening with a nice, warm bubble bath.”

Shiny smiled as he climbed out from Revlis's corset and materialized a handkerchief. “Then you'll have them, Mistress,” he said as he wiped the raindrops from Revlis's face. “All in due time. I will personally see to it.”

“How do I look?” Revlis asked Shiny. She already knew the answer; her hair was bedraggled, and she was soaked in mud up to her knees. If her makeup wasn't running, it certainly felt like it was.

“Lovely,” Shiny answered. There wasn't a hint of hesitation in his voice. “Why, I do think the cherry blossoms in your horns are blooming a little stronger now.”

In spite of herself, Revlis giggled, and covered her face with her hands. “Oh Shiny, you flatterer,” she said. She gingerly booped her tiny servant on the nose as he continued wiping at her face.

“I do think I remember something I was once told,” Shiny said.

Revlis instantly perked up and beamed at Shiny. “Tell me!” she said.

“I do not remember where I learned this,” Shiny said. “But I remember having heard that the most beautiful cherry trees are those that are buried over graves. The blood from the corpse nourishes the trees, and gives the blossoms a richer, lovelier color.”

“I like this story,” Revlis smiled. “I do think corpses make me lovelier. I can think of one whose blood I'd especially like to use as nourishment.”

“You'll certainly be all the lovelier once his blood is claimed,” Shiny said.

“Every step puts us closer to him,” Revlis said. “I can't wait to show him how beautiful and powerful I've become since we last met. He'll still be a miserable little nobleman, primped up like a would-be dandy... But me? I'll be Babylon's most loyal subject. His right hand. His Arbiter. Soon enough it'll be my poison running through that man's veins. And you'll be there, Shiny. You alone will bear witness to my revenge. You'll get to see me at my finest.”

“You humble me with your graciousness, Mistress,” Shiny bowed. “I cannot wait for the moment where your revenge is enacted. My heart swells with pride at the thought. I imagine the only one who would be prouder would be Babylon.”

Revlis smiled at the thought. She was about to thank Shiny when something glittery in the distance caught her attention. Instantly, Revlis sat up straight and focused on the distant lights.

It was a small cluster of them, almost like a swarm of fireflies. But fireflies didn't glow in blues or greens or reds. They didn't trail along lazily, as if to form a path. They didn't swirl and bob so fetchingly in the air.

Her feet ached. Her legs were tired. Her back ached. And yet, Revlis found herself climbing to her feet and bursting into a wondrous smile at the dancing lights.

“Shiny, look!” she cooed dreamily. “So pretty!”

“They don't look like wisps,” Shiny said. “I wonder what they could— Mistress!

Revlis had once raced off to chase those lights. Her eyes had hungered for their colors. Her hands tingled in anticipation of their warmth. She was much smaller then, innocent of the evils of the world. Now, she found herself chasing off after them again, with the same flowers in her horns that those lights had once led her to. Perhaps she recognized them. Perhaps her greedy nature had overtaken her thinking. Or perhaps she was just desperate to run away from all the unsaid things within her heart.

Nevertheless. Revlis chased the lights. They danced just out of reach of her fingers, teasing her as they weaved through the air. Her legs burned as she ran. The cold air was like knives in her throat. Revlis still ran, a delighted smile spreading on her face.

When she had first chased those lights, Revlis didn't have wings. All she had was the dress she had worn when she had run away from her empty house, tattered and mud-splattered from her sudden escape into the woods. But now, Revlis spread her infernal wings—her beloved gifts from her generous master—and pounced upon the lights. As a child, her arms were too short to seize them. Now, her dark wings helped Revlis clasp her hands around one of them. She giggled in joy as she brought her hands in, just in time for her head to crash against a low-hanging branch from some accursed oak tree. As Revlis dropped to the ground, she put her hands before her and released—nothing. There was no light hiding in the palm of her hand. It was as if there had never been a light in the first place.

As she recoiled on the floor and groaned in pain, Revlis could feel the humor of the situation. Because it was a joke. It had always been, hadn't it? That's how the world worked: everything was a joke, you were the punchline. Falling into a well was a tragedy, breaking your leg when you landed was comedy. A mother dying on an adventure, far from where her daughter could ever see her, was a tragedy. The child being left all alone in a world, that was hilarious.

Revlis rubbed at her forehead, where she had been struck by the branch. Her fingers were dry when she pulled them away. Good—no cuts meant no chances for nasty scars on her pretty face. Now she only had to hope that there wasn't an ugly bruise on her forehead.

“Shiny...?” Revlis murmured.

As she flinched and blinked the stars out of her eyes, a gentle hand lifted Revlis by the shoulder and hoisted her to her feet. When Revlis's vision cleared, she found herself staring into the face of three old crones. They seemed to wear bark and twigs, and red swirls were painted all over their bodies.

The old women laughed when they noticed the same swirls on Revlis's face. They laughed when they saw her dress was made of leaves. They laughed at the staff she carried, wreathed as it was with the same cherry blossoms that were entwined in her hair. They laughed and laughed and laughed. And they kept laughing as they wandered deeper into the woods, followed by more of those little balls of light.

“Shiny?” Revlis called again. As she scanned the woods around her, she only saw scattered individuals walking through the woods, all of them followed by the lights. There were people of all ages: an old man hobbled along on an ancient cane that seemed more like a portable tree, a young woman danced along naked but for the vines wrapped around her body, a middle-aged person skipping along amid the lights.

Revlis was terrified and excited in equal measure. She knew what she had walked into. Many times before, she had walked among people just like this, reveling in the colored lights. She had come upon this procession long ago, when she was just a lonely little girl in a tattered dress.

It was the Wild Hunt.

The middle-aged person pulled a lute from his back and strummed a few notes. The tones sent chills up Revlis's spine. A part of her felt compelled to run away. That part of her knew what that song meant. But Revlis's aching legs refused to budge from the spot. Her heart leapt at the sounds of those notes. Because there was solace in that song, wasn't there? There was comfort in being able to dance and laugh your troubles away.

If you laughed enough and were mad enough, nothing in the world could hurt you.

Not even losing the only person you had left in the world.

Revlis sighed as the lute-player began his song in earnest. A cheer rose up from the stragglers in the woods, and more and more laughs began to join in the tune. She was tired and ached all over, but Revlis closed her eyes and enjoyed the cacophony. Shortly, she felt her shoulders heave as quiet giggles escaped her chest. As the smile on her face grew wider, her laughter grew deeper and stronger.

When she opened her eyes, Revlis's laugh was high and proud. Her blue eyes glittered, like a river swollen from a rainstorm. She kicked her feet and twirled in tune with the music, her laughter mingling with the rest. The crowd laughed and danced as it marched deeper into the woods, and Revlis laughed and danced with them.

The deeper they went, the more colored lights popped up in their wake. The hellfire between Revlis's horns called to many of them, and before Revlis knew it she was surrounded in the swirl of colors. The few orbs that drifted too close to Revlis's hellfire vanished in a tiny puff of smoke; the rest seemed content with dancing around Revlis, inviting her to dance with them. Their colors pulsed and glittered, their hues shifted at a moment's notice. Revlis giggled as she drunkenly reached out at them, grabbing nothing. The crowd laughed at her hopeless attempts—and Revlis laughed too as she realized that the lights reminded her of--

Shiny~!

Revlis excitedly shouted her servant's name as the lights danced around her. Even now, the idea of his tiny figure flitting about her and fussing with her hair brought her nothing but joy. She sighed as she wrapped her arms around herself, imagining his patient smile as she twirled and swayed with the lights. Could Shiny dance, Revlis wondered. Could he twirl about with her in the cool night air, his warm hand holding hers? Could he hold her as she laughed, stroking her hair as she giggled and cooed at the lights inlaid in his skin? Could he kiss her and warm her hellfire-touched body?

The music and laughter lifted Revlis higher, and she spread her wings to sway with the music. As the hunt's song echoed through Revlis, she heard voices amidst the laughter.

“Who's that?”

“Oh, why it's Revlis!”

“Revlis? That little girl? She's all grown up!”

“Where'd she get those wings?”

“See how she dances with the hunt! Is she still one of us?”

“Can she still hear the laughter? Can she still hear the laughter?”

Revlis laughed in response. Her voice mingled with the din, echoing and harmonizing with the other voices. The other members of the hunt approached her, all of them laughing. A skinny man covered in blue swirls grabbed at Revlis's wings; as she slapped him away with a flap, he recoiled drunkenly and giggled, gesturing his arms madly as if he had wings of his own. An old woman hobbled over to Revlis and thrust her hands under her chest. The old woman laughed and smiled knowingly, as if remembering days long past and beauty long-since faded. A trio of girls seized branches and held them to their heads, as if they were horns. They glanced at Revlis and danced away, laughing harder.

“Can she hear the laughter?”

“She grew away from us, the little girl.”

“She belongs to the Man in Black now...”

“She laughs, but is she mad?”

“Can she hear the laughter?”

Revlis stumbled for a moment, and grabbed a tree to steady herself. The laughter around her continued as she caught her breath. The heat from the hellish flame between her horns couldn't keep the chill from running up her spine.

The voices were right. She did belong to Babylon. And she was not ashamed of it. She bore his mark upon her chest proudly.

But...

Could Babylon dance? Would Babylon laugh and twirl with her amidst the colored lights? Would Babylon stop to pick pretty flowers or glittery stones?

Would he let Revlis be with someone who did?

“She stopped laughing!”

“Did she forget how?”

“Can she hear the laughter?”

Revlis pushed herself away from the tree. The ground beneath her seemed alive. The trees around her seemed to reach for her, to grab at her horns and snatch her treasured cherry blossoms. She readied her hands, fully prepared to blast any branches that dared touch her. A rock rolled under her heel, sending her to the floor as the hunt around her continued to laugh.

Can she hear the laughter?

Can she hear the laughter?

Can she hear the laughter?

“Shiny...”

Revlis's voice was barely a croak as she stumbled to her feet. The hunt around her marched on as more and more of the participants stomped and marched and danced to the music. How many were prior participants? How many had been snatched from their homes? How many little girls had lost what little was left to them and found themselves in this congregation?

As Revlis drunkenly stepped forward, a sharp laughter in the crowd distracted her. It echoed in her head, scattering her thoughts. Her vision swam as she pushed onward, walking towards... what ? Was she looking for something? Why was she in these woods?

“Shiny...”

A hand settled upon Revlis's shoulder. Revlis wheeled about to face the person touching her—it was a man who didn't even seem to be aware she was standing next to him. His eyes were glassy as he glanced at Revlis, drunk on the ecstasy of the hunt and the magic of the music. He laughed throatily as the gears turned in his horned head.

Slowly, Revlis began to laugh as she realized she was once again before the Laughing Mad. And as the realization grew upon her, she laughed in response.

After all this time, he hadn't changed a bit. He was still the handsome man of the forest, his mahogany skin and long horns. The shadows of his face hid a darker, more dangerous laughter, but he was as handsome as the last time Revlis had seen him—though far less mysterious. What mysteries could the forest's shadows hold after you'd seen the darkness in the hearts of men?

Revlis laughed at the thought. And she laughed at how much she had changed since he had last seen her. Her horns used to be smaller and untouched by flame, her chest was... well, “smaller” was a relative thing, and wasn't that hilarious too? Somehow that lovely creature, the apple of the Laughing Mad's eyes, left the forest and returned even lovelier and darker and dangerous than the Laughing Mad could have ever imagined.

And wasn't it even funnier how it all happened because Revlis had met the very man the Laughing Mad had warned her of? Why, when he had given her the Bloodseed he had warned her of Babylon—but it was Babylon who gave Revlis those dark, beautiful wings.

Funnier still was how the Laughing Mad had given Revlis the Bloodseed. Had he known Revlis would have need of revenge in the world of men? Had he known the pain and humiliation she was destined to feel at the hands of that accursed nobleman?

Oh, but that was the punchline to the joke, wasn't it? The Laughing Mad couldn't have known. “Regrets are for those who believe in the future”, wasn't that one of his teachings?

Revlis laughed even harder as the thought crossed her mind. The Laughing Mad joined her, keeping up with her volume. Revlis's vision clouded over as she began laughing her way to tears. The Laughing Mad began to stumble over as he clutched his stomach.

A skinny man stumbled up to Revlis—it was the man who had tried grabbing at his wings. He was still drunk from the elation of the hunt, and tried to grab at Revlis's chest as she laughed. Revlis shrieked, and in a panic she swung her tail out. In a flash, the man jerked as the bladed tip of Revlis's tail stabbed through his back and poked out through his chest. Revlis gasped and pulled her tail out, tittering as if she had accidentally spilled a drink on a friend. The man also laughed as his lifeblood poured out his chest, his voice lost amidst sickening gurgles in his throat. He fell to the ground, squirming and clutching helplessly at the flowing wound over his heart, never ceasing his laughter even as the light faded from his eyes. Eventually, what little blood that hadn't seeped from his chest filled his mouth, and his laughter stopped.

And the hunt laughed on.

The Wild Hunt laughed at the dead man, and even Revlis found herself tittering at the sight of his cooling corpse. She laughed at the silly face he had made when her tail pierced his heart, the sound of his breath drowning in blood that should have stayed in his veins, at the waste of a soul that wasn't even worth giving to Babylon.

What a silly thing it was, to kill a man. Revlis could kill so easily. It was but a game to her. How many men had she lured to an untimely death in the woods? How many times had she taken someone to the highest of delights, only to watch them fall into their graves? Oh sure, some of them were too nice to bother killing. Revlis had no qualm letting them live. But what of the noblemen hoping to sow wild oats behind their wives' backs? What of the would-be adventurers only seeking to impress the small-town maidens with shiny swords that had only ever cut down rats? What of all the men who fancied themselves wolves, but found themselves beset by the woman raised by one?

Even with all of those men having met their doom in Revlis's arms, the one man who she wanted to kill most she couldn't even get her hands on.

Had Revlis stayed among the Laughing Mad, she would never have had to kill Lassader Brone.

But had Revlis stayed among the Laughing Mad, they would never have given her the strength to carry out her revenge upon Lassader Brone.

Between guffaws, Revlis froze when she turned to her side to say something—to someone that wasn't there. And Revlis suddenly realized that Shiny hadn't been at her side for quite a bit. The thought brought a chill to her shoulders, and Revlis paused to glance about. She hoped that one of the colored lights in the Wild Hunt would bear his purple colors and bound up to her, fretting over her messy hair. But there were no purples—and there was no Shiny. The paraders among the Wild Hunt danced and frolicked and tore at their hair, and some couples stole away among the trees to make love in the madness of it all. The only thing next to Revlis was the Laughing Mad.

Once again, Revlis's vision clouded in tears—but this time, her laughter shifted into sobs. As the Wild Hunt around her reveled and cried, the chill of the night began to seep into Revlis's bones as she realized, she felt terrifyingly alone.

The paraders laughed all those years ago, ignorant of her pain. They laughed now, not knowing what Revlis had gone through in her time away. And how could they know? How could they care ? All they knew was the madness and pain of the Faewild. The sins of man were utterly beyond them.

Sobbing, Revlis fell to her knees and clutched her shoulders. The grass before her was sticky and stained with the blood of the dead man before her. Her tears quickly puddled on the bloodstained grass.

How much more did she have to lose? What else could this despicable world take from her? As a child, she lost her mother. As a young woman, she had lost her dignity. Would she also be denied her revenge? Would she spend the rest of her days hunting faceless traitors and turncoats? Would the revenge her heart burned for be forever denied her, dangled just out of reach?

Would the love her heart ached for be denied to her as well?

“Shiny...” Revlis sobbed. There was no answer. There was only the drunken laughter of the Wild Hunt.

As she sobbed, Revlis's hands trailed to the brand upon her chest—a crown, wreathed in chains. The mark of her loyalty to her master, where his hand had gripped her beating heart within her chest. How she longed to feel those hellish flames again, to feel her fears burnt away. To feel those fingers pressed against her chin, raising her face away from the filthy ground. To feel the weight of chains binding her, reminding her of her place in the world.

A chuckle rang in Revlis's ears. As she looked up, she saw the Laughing Mad contemplating her. He patiently studied her crying, stroking his chin as her tears flowed. For a moment, Revlis burned with anger, and wished to thrust her tail deep within his black heart. But then the Laughing Mad raised a hand, and beckoned at the tree above him. The tree suddenly burst into bloom—and the night was filled with cherry blossoms.

Revlis froze as the scent of the blossoms surrounded her. The Wild Hunt froze as well, and everyone from the dancers parading madly to the wildmen with their instruments to the lovers hidden within the shadows stopped to admire the lovely blossoms that bloomed around them.

As Revlis shakily took to her feet, the Laughing Mad chuckled again, and pointed up. The tree above him and Revlis—above the corpse—carried blossoms of a richer, brighter pink than any other tree in the forest. As Revlis admired the flowers, the Laughing Mad reached out to her, and ran his fingers through her hair. As he pulled them away, Revlis saw the blossoms woven into her horns and hair—and saw that they were richer and brighter still than the blossoms above her.

Slowly, Revlis raised her fingers to her head and felt her tresses slide against her fingers. Hadn't Shiny said something about the cherry blossoms? Yes—he had. The blood of corpses nourished the blossoms, lending them even lovelier colors...

“Shiny,” Revlis breathed. As the words left her mouth, a warmth spread through her body. Her breathing deepened, her shoulders relaxed, and the tattoo over her womb glowed. She thought of Shiny's smile, his polite smile. And as she did, the thought of her distant revenge didn't seem so painful anymore. Even if it took her centuries to find and kill Lassader Brone, being able to do so with him by her side made up for it.

And even if Shiny wouldn't love Revlis, even if she would never be allowed to feel his touch upon her body or to feel his heat filling her, serving Babylon with Shiny at her side was still a more-satisfying life than frolicking in dirty forests and hoping to find a heartsick rube to prey upon.

Even if it meant that, for once, Revlis was the heartsick rube in the woods.

The Laughing Mad had raised Revlis to be a predator. He had honed her claws and fangs and taught her the ways of the Wild, fae or otherwise. And that was what she was doing. Her sustenance was the heart and blood of traitors, of cowards, of those who preyed on women. She might be in the service of a different master, but her claws were still set to prey upon a treacherous coward—and soon enough, they would rend the flesh of Lassader Brone as well.

Revlis smiled at the thought, and the sight of her smile brought new guffaws to the Laughing Mad. He waved his hands, calling attention to the Wild Hunt around them, and he set off for the depths of the forest. Revlis watched as the parade moved on, to a place where the light of the world of man could never reach. After a bit, the Laughing Mad turned around, and glanced at Revlis knowingly. He waited, raising an eyebrow as the Hunt around him marched deeper into the woods to continue their revelry.

But Revlis didn't move. She set her face and shook her head. She knew where the path into the forest led. She had seen the secrets within the woods. She knew there was a quiet den in those woods where an old wolf slept, where she could live in peace surrounded by lovely trinkets and warm furs.

But such was not a place Revlis could return to.

Because Revlis was the Hand of Babylon. She was his Arbiter. She had outgrown that old den. She had no need of those old trinkets. These woods were too small for a winged creature like her, its prey too meager. Revlis was no longer the little girl who had wandered into those woods. She had grown into a woman with her own path to follow.

The Laughing Mad smiled, and nodded. He turned to follow his procession. Before he walked off, a little girl walked up to him. She wore a bedraggled dress covered in mud and sticks. Her blond, curly hair was matted. Revlis's heart leaped as she saw the girl, who stood still before the Laughing Mad as he studied her. Then, the Laughing Mad held his hand out to the little girl.

And Revlis knew the choice set before the girl. It would be years before the girl would understand, but Revlis remembered when she was that little girl in a torn dress.

If she forsook that hand, she was sure to die in the forest.

If she took it, she would be reborn as a creature of madness.

For a moment, Revlis felt a fire in her chest, and felt the urge to charge down the Laughing Mad. Her tail ached to feel his lifeblood coating it, her fingers twitched as if anticipation of clutching at a heart she knew her master would be thrilled to receive.

But then, the girl took the Laughing Mad's hand. And the moment passed. The Laughing Mad turned to face Revlis again. Staring deep into her eyes, he shrugged, and glanced at the forest around them. Then, he pointed at his lips, and made a smiling motion towards his ears. As he turned away and continued his path into the depths of the forest, a new charge hold his hand and started the path to maddening joys and crushing sorrows. And what should come bounding out of the bushes after the little girl but an old white wolf. He quickly matched the pace of the girl and walked by her side, where Revlis knew he would stay.

As the darkness of the forest swallowed the last remnants of the Laughing Mad, the sounds of the birds and crickets and night-beasts replaced the ecstatic music. The laughter and music of the wild hunt was just a memory. No voices whispered in Revlis's ears. There was only the glowering of embers within her heart—and the dull glow of the tattoo above her navel.

In the stillness of the forest where there was nothing to hear her, Revlis laughed.

***

Revlis didn't know how long she had walked that night. Her feet dragged against the dirt, and her arms hung limp at her sides. He had kept laughing as she trekked through the woods. Eventually, her laughter quieted to a hoarse chuckle, and finally to silent heaves. She was just about to slump against a tree when a voice rang out through the woods and tickled her ears.

Mistress!

Turning to the source of the voice, Revlis saw Shiny's glittering form darting towards her. Exhausted as she was, Revlis beamed at him and sighed dreamily.

“Shiny!” she breathed. “There you are! I missed you so much!”

“Oh, I could say the same,” Shiny said. “Dear me, Mistress, whatever happened? You took off into the woods and before I knew it I had lost you!”

Revlis frowned and swept Shiny into her arms, gently hugging him as she leaned against the tree. “Oh, poor Shiny,” she drunkenly whined. The ground seemed to swim underneath her feet, and she held Shiny even tighter against herself in a futile attempt at gaining balance. “I didn't get to dance with you...! There were so many pretty lights, but you weren't there...!”

“Pretty lights, Mistress?” Shiny asked. He carefully shifted his arms as he was pressed against Revlis's endowments.

“Yes! And there was music and people fucking in the bushes, and-- and ! I killed a man! He was gross, he kept trying to touch me...”

“Will you be giving his soul to Babylon?” Shiny gasped. He fought quite bravely to keep his head out from Revlis's cleavage.

“No, he was worthless,” Revlis pouted. Her eyes swam as her head began to feel heavier and heavier. “There aren't any good men in the forest.”

“I'm sorry to hear that, Mistress,” Shiny said. “Mistress, you feel a bit warm, are you alright?”

“I'm fiiine ,” Revlis slurred. “I missed you so much, Shiny! I wanted to dance with you...”

Her grip on Shiny weakening, the Veld managed to escape his hold and flutter up to Revlis's face. He placed his tiny hands upon her forehead, and frowned. “Goodness; you're burning up, Mistress,” he muttered. “Damn it all, I should have taken greater care to keep you dry in the rain,”

Revlis weakly slumped to the ground. “It's okay if I get wet,” she snickered. “It just makes me hotter.”

As Shiny darted around her, fussing with her hair, Revlis noted a little branch tied to his back. “What's that, Shiny?” she asked.

“Oh, this? I came across an old man while I was looking for you. He seemed a bit touched, talking about how I needed to learn the way of the forest. It appears to be a branch from a cherry tree, though I daresay your blossoms are prettier,”

“An old man?” Revlis slurred.

“He was quite kind, all things considered,” Shiny said. “He said his name was Daiyo.”

Revlis shook as quiet giggles popped in her chest. “I kept telling that bitch Terryn,” she said. “I told her! He's still alive, Shiny!”

“Yes, yes, that Terryn sure was a troublemaker if I do say so,” Shiny muttered. “Please, hold still for a moment, Mistresss...”

With a deep breath and a wave of his hands, Shiny magicked a blanket around Revlis and made sure she was wrapped tight. “There, how does that feel?” he asked.

“Mmm, cozy ,” Revlis mumbled. Her head lolled on her shoulders as she slumped against the tree. “Is it bedtime, Shiny?”

“I should say so,” Shiny said. “I don't know how much of the forest remains to be crossed, but I do think you'd best take a rest and try to get that fever down.”

Revlis hummed a response as she snuggled into her blanket as comfortably as she could. “Shiny-y-y,” she mumbled. “I wuv you-u-u...”

“You spoil this humble servant with your kindness, Mistress. I am ever pleased to serve you.”

Squeezing her eyes shut, Revlis hummed again. She wanted to say something else, but words failed to form in her mouth. Wondering if she should ask Shiny how he felt, Revlis fell into a deep sleep...

 

III. The Library

 

Coins.

A large pile of coins had been dumped onto the floor. Revlis watched the guards upend sack after sack of gold coins, until the bags were emptied and the pile of gold coins was almost as tall as she was. Satisfied, Revlis snapped her fingers. The guards hesitated for a moment, then dropped to their knees as they thrust their swords onto the ground.

“All hail Babylon,” they chanted before sawing their necks against their blades. Some wept as their blades bit through their skin. Some shrieked in horror as they found they could not stop. But eventually they all fell silent. Their swords cut through and their heads dropped onto the floor, their bodies emptying their blood among the coins. A murder of crows descended upon them, pecking and scratching at the corpses of the guards.

Revlis sat upon her throne as she watched the display. On one side, Shiny fluttered. In her opposite hand she held the severed head of Lassader Brone. His dull eyes reflected the wealth and strength that was formerly his.

“You are fortunate, Lord Brone,” Revlis smiled. “Your wealth and fortune shall be well-cared-for in your absence. The blood, sweat and tears of your loyal servants shall nurture the wilderness and all that live in it. How blessed you are to leave this mortal coil knowing just what will come of your death.”

The nobleman's head was still cooling in Revlis's palms. Occasionally, the eyes would twitch uselessly, his lips spasming. It was as if the cowardly skull was still begging Revlis for mercy, long after the time for mercy had passed.

“My final gift to you, Lord Brone,” Revlis sneered as she held up the head. “For teaching me the ways of this world. For your ever -so-generous gift that you bestowed upon me, I shall do you one last act of mercy. Your soul is to be consumed by my gracious master. Die now, knowing that you die freed from having to return to this world.”

The eyes in Lassader's head twitched as the brand on Revlis's chest ignited with black flames. The flames reached out to Lassader's head, where they wrapped around him—and squeezed. The tiny fragments of Lassader Brone's soul—uncharacteristically glittery for such a wretched heart—desperately flashed against the Babylon's flames before faltering and vanishing from the world altogether.

When the flames dispersed, Lassader Brone was no more.

Only Revlis remained.

“Excellently done, my mistress,” Shiny said.

As Revlis turned to face Shiny, she paused and shrieked. Shiny stood placidly, wrapped in coils of the black flames.

Revlis leapt from her chair and beat her hands upon the flames, but they did not disperse—and Shiny did not so much as blink.

“I am proud to serve you, Mistress,” Shiny said.

As Revlis beat the flames, she saw that they did not scorch her—but the licks of flame burnt through Shiny's tidy clothes and charred his obsidian skin until his lovely glitters were no more.

The ground beneath Revlis's feet shook, and before Revlis knew it she found herself within Babylon's palm. The First Demon towered over her, lifting her to his face as he studied her with dark affection.

“My loyal pet,” he purred. “Even now, your heart beats within the palm of my hand...”

Revlis fell to her knees, clutching at the brand at her chest. “Master, I beg you!” she shrieked. “Save Shiny! I'll never ask you for anything ever again, please— save Shiny !”

“Oh, but I am...” Babylon smiled. “I have my own precious shiny...”

Revlis glanced past the giant hand she knelt in; Shiny's burning form was now so far away... Quickly, Relvis leapt from Babylon's hand and darted towards him. The wind rushed past her ears as she tucked her wings close as she fell...

Flames shot out from Shiny's form as Revlis flew to him, striking her beautiful wings. They did not hurt her. They did not bite. All the same, the skin turned to ash upon her very bones, and Revlis felt herself tumbling amidst a cloud of ash and smoke. She fell, deeper and deeper into the smoke, the tattered remnants of her wings tearing off in the wind. Babylon's giant face studied her curiously as Shiny patiently awaited the end of his immolation.

Screaming hysterically, Revlis thrashed about. She was trapped in the molten remnants of her wings. They wrapped around her body, they were suffocating her, they--

 

Revlis's foot struck something hard, and something heavy and flat flopped onto her face. She gasped and sat up, and she found herself in an unfamiliar room. Not just any room—a library , it seemed...

The blanket that Shiny had conjured for Revlis was still wrapped around her, now messy from her thrashing. Revlis lay in a large, soft couch that sat before a bookcase. A book—evidently, one that she had knocked from the bookcase—lay spread open in her lap. Upon close examination, it appeared to have been titled ' Lusty Kobold Maids'.

As Revlis studied the book, she noticed her hands didn't bear her markings. A quick glance at her chest revealed Babylon's brand was also missing. A frigid chill drilled between Revlis's shoulders as she remembered flashes from her dream—the black flames ruining her precious wings...

Standing up from the couch, Revlis looked around her. The “library” seemed to be a modified office. Bookshelves lined the walls. A table with a smoking teapot and teacups sat in the center of the room. A large wooden desk was at the far corner of the room, before a window revealing tree branches. Next to the window was a grandfather clock.

Revlis ignored the rest of the room and examined herself in the reflection of the clock's glass. To her horror, Revlis saw that she didn't quite look herself. She looked... human. Her hair was solid red, and her horns, wings and tail were gone. There were none of the swirls she had lovingly drawn on her skin, no trace of Babylon's brand. Not even a single petal from the flowers in her horns. Only her green dress made of leaves.

Shakily, Revlis raised a hand to her head—and felt a vine brush against her fingers. Feeling around, Revlis's fingers wrapped around her horns. And yet, they were not in her reflection... Reaching over her shoulders and her lower back revealed that Revlis could still feel her wings and tail too.

“Glamoured,” Revlis whispered in relief. “Shiny?” she called, looking around her. It must have been a disguise he cast over her, but where was the little servant? Flashes of his tiny body wreathed in black flames flashed in Revlis's mind, and her shoulders trembled.

Revlis noticed a voice coming from behind a wooden door in the wall. Someone appeared to be speaking passionately. Readying her now-invisible tail, Revlis clutched Shiny's magicked blanket to her—despite her clothing being intact and visible. Carefully, she tip-toed towards the door, and the voice became clearer.

A man was speaking on the other side of the door—and the voice wasn't Shiny's. “'Clutching his hammer'... huh, how do I describe it... 'proud Dwarven artifact'... no, how about... 'the very symbol of Dwarven pride'... there we go, 'clutching his hammer, the symbol of Dwarven pride, and striking it upon the Earth, Astaroth rumbled'... Now, what did Staten say he said?”

Slowly, Revlis grabbed the doorknob and twisted it open, cracking the door open. Through the slit, she saw a brown-skinned man in a white shirt and denim pants pacing an office as he held a ream of papers. The window was open, and a murder of crows had scattered around the room as he paced around. The man tucked a quill behind his ear, scratching at his curly hair as he scanned over his papers. Adjusting his glasses, he cleared his throat and continued to he recite to the crows.

Do you understand how many goddesses there are and how many of them have thin, flat asses?! It is the most frustrating thing I have ever had to deal with! ” the man bellowed. “ Every time I go to the Eclipse, I say, 'Hello, Silloway!'--who is the closest—and she always looks at me and says, 'Oh,look at me, I'm the Goddess of Summer and wheat!' And then I tell her, 'Well, let me tell you one thing, wheat is used to make ale and I can drink a lot!'

'Oh, look at me, I'm too prim and proper for that, you kill people for no reason !'

'Of course I kill them for a reason! They are weak , therefore they deserve to die! You're a goddess of nature, doesn't that fucking track ?!'”

The man fluidly shifted between both roles, stomping and bellowing for one role before exaggeratedly flapping his wrists for the other. In spite of his enthused ranting the crows simply continued to watch his display, not so much as blinking at him. To Revlis, it seemed the man was having a very good time indeed with whatever he was reading. It also seemed that his right hand was covered in bandages. He winced every so often as he moved it.

'I digress', ” he continued. “ 'The Green Pantheon is very confusing... Alright, well, bye!'

Revlis pressed a fist to her lips as she struggled to keep herself from laughing, the man's display as he recited from the pages making her forget her nightmare. Then the man frowned and rubbed his throat.

“Oh man, that Astaroth voice really does scratch after a bit,” he muttered. He nodded at a crow that stood on his desk. “Aleister Crowley, what do you think? Good enough for Astaroth?” The crow shifted its feet and flew out the window.

“Pleading the Fifth, I see,” the man nodded. He turned to a crow that stood atop a bookcase. “Russel Crow! Thoughts on our most recent passage?”

The crow issued a single caw, and tilted its head at the man. “Oh, you always say that,” the man said, waving the crow away. He returned to the papers in his hand, and gently reached for his quill with his wrapped hand. He grunted and winced as his fingers gripped the quill, and shakily scratched a few words onto the page.

The man eventually dropped his quill and papers as he gasped and clutched at his bandaged arm. “Damn it all,” he hissed. He glared at his hand as it shook before him, and clicked his tongue. “Anyway,” he muttered, patiently picking his papers up from the floor. Letting his wounded hand drop by his side, the man continued reading from his page.

“' Revlis scarcely noticed the Dark Sun's full-throated lament... as she clutched at the coins that fell to the ground as they scattered from his beard' ...”

Revlis jumped to her feet and smiled. “Oh—that's me !”

The man jumped, almost dropping his papers again. As his head snapped all around him, he saw Revlis's face peeking through the crack in the door. “Oh! It's the girl—the lady ! It's you. You're awake,” he droned. He adjusted his glasses with his free hand as he stood there, conspicuously keeping his distance from the door. “I wasn't too loud, was I? I sometimes forget myself when I'm reviewing drafts.”

Revlis threw the door open, not even bothering to hide her smirk. She had met many men like this one before, and they were all the same—easy prey.
“I'm more surprised you didn't notice me screaming,” she said.

The man frowned, and tilted his head. “ That was you ?” he gasped. He turned to one of the crows. “Crowdie Foster, you sat there this whole time letting me think it was Danielle next door screaming at her husband again! You didn't hurt yourself, did you?”

“Oh, it was... just a bad dream!” Revlis smirked. She sauntered into the room, still clutching the blanket to herself. “I'm much better now—of course, you could inspect me yourself?”

The man waved her off as he stepped backwards towards a bookcase in a drastically unsubtle manner. “I don't think your little friend would like that. He was pretty watchful over you all morning. The guy barely wanted me within a foot of you, but it's not like he could carry you up the stairs.”

“Stairs?” Revlis asked. “You carried me?”

The man shrugged, and waved his finger over the face of another attentive crow. The bird followed it steadily. “I was out walking and I saw you guys on the outskirts of town,” the man said. “Your friend was worried about you, but he also kinda didn't want me getting too close? Anyway, he eased up when I introduced myself.”

“But you haven't introduced yourself to me ...” Revlis smirked. She took a long step towards the man, who could only step backwards until his back struck the bookcase. “What is your name, good sir? I'd like to know the name of the man that helped us...”

“Ben,” the man said, clearly beginning to lose a battle against his nerves. “Ben Nihre. I'm the town librarian. Y-you're not here because of the stories, are you?”

Revlis playfully frowned. “Benny?” she asked. “Have we met before?”

“No, no— Ben ,” he corrected. “ Benjamín .” He pronounced it with Aquan flair.

Revlis hummed at the name. “Say something else,” she said.

The man's eyes darted around the room as he drew his arms close to his belly. “Um... 'bird feeder'?”

“No, no—in Aquan.”

“You know Aquan?” Ben asked.

“I don't, but an acquaintance of mine did. Are you part-Triton, Ben-ha-meen ?” Revlis smiled.

“Pretty sure I'm not, at least not on Dad's side of the family. On Mom's side, it's tough to say. But I'm from the Sickened Sea?”

“Dolten is quite a long way from the sea,” Revlis said, licking her teeth. “What's an ocean boy like you doing in a place like this?”

Ben's expression grew increasingly darker as he raised a hand to his collar, impulsively scratching at himself with his bandaged hand. For a moment, Revlis wondered if she didn't push him too far.

“I... I'm Twinchapel's librarian,” he droned, looking off into the distance as his expression clouded over. “Been here a few years.”

“And the crows?” Revlis smiled.

Ben was stuck in the grip of his dark thoughts for a moment, before he realized Revlis had asked him a question. “Crows? You mean these guys? Oh, it's a long story... I, ah, write stories about adventurers I hear about. One day one of these guys sits in my tree near my window. And I think, 'cool, a crow, maybe we can be buddies', but then I notice he has a blue eye and a red eye. And I don't even get to think, 'huh, that's weird', before he turns to me and—God's honest—he says, 'Your tribute to Babylon's favored servant has been duly noticed. Speak your heart's desire, and you will be rewarded.'”

“And you asked for... more crows?” Revlis asked.

“I didn't ask for anything !” Ben said. Revlis noticed that he continued to scratch at his collar with his free hand. The bandages were sloppily wrapped around his arm, revealing a mess of scars between the strips of gauze. “I think these guys are still waiting for me to ask for something, because they won't leave!”

“Babylon has sent you his crow to grant you a reward, and you refuse his generosity?” Revlis purred. “Why would you refuse such a thing?”

“I'm not saying 'no' to the guy,” Ben shrugged. He turned back to the crow on the shelf next to him, and gingerly stroked its head as the bird stretched. “I've heard the stories about mister-tall-dark-and-heterochromatic—trust me, I'm not about to waste his time. But, like... what do you ask a guy like Babylon for?”

“Power,” Revlis answered without missing a beat.

“Power to do what? I'm a librarian, I write. Any power Babylon could give me would be wasted when I use my twenty-inch pythons to write a story.”

“Then ask for wealth,” Revlis replied.

Ben shrugged. “Eh, I thought about it, but I'm kinda good? Like, after the crows showed up a bunch of Babylon's followers started coming by asking for stories, and then other Black Pantheon followers started coming, and then the rest of the Pantheon's followers started coming by. Name a god, and I've got three people who serve them on a waiting list. I have enough spare money to send back home. Of course, I leave ten percent out for the crows. I figure Babylon appreciates the offering.”

“No wealth or power?” Revlis ask. “Then you could always ask him for pleasure.”

Ben chuckled. “Heh. 'Hey Babylon? You know that favor you owe me? Send me a succubus girlfriend and I'll call it even!' Yeah, I couldn't do that. Figure Babylon's groupies have better things to be doing than getting lashed to a guy like me. Also, Babylon doesn't seem the 'sharing'-type.”

“To serve Babylon is to carry out your oath. Any subject of his would be proud to carry out his commands,” Revlis said.

“Yeah, but... eh, I couldn't do that to someone,” Ben shrugged. “It's the difference between... someone baking you a cake for no reason, and someone baking you a cake because they were told to do it.”

“Would you deny a warlock their familiar?” Revlis asked. “Would you deny a god their worshippers?”

Ben puffed out his cheek as he brought a finger to his mouth and considered his next words. “It's not that,” he said. “More like... I think it's special when people are brought together, instead of forced together. Like, you're going out and you bump into someone. It's as random as stepping on a copper. But then this person turns out to be way more than just a copper. Their presence suddenly reveals all these places in your life that used to be empty and you didn't even know they were until they showed up. And as time goes on, you start to wonder how it took you so long to realize that this person is so... shiny.”

Revlis's body twitched at hearing Shiny's name. But this time, a comforting warmth spread between her shoulders as she thought of him. Covered up as she was in the blanket Shiny had magicked for her, Revlis could tell the tattoo over her womb was glowing softly...

“Still,” Ben continued, “the devil takes care of his own. There have to be a lot of happy people under his care. He, um... oh boy, here we go... Do you know of Babylon's followers?”

“... Not many,” Revlis said. It wasn't a lie—even now, the only ones she had met were the truants that Babylon had tasked her with punishing.

“I've met more of them now that they're coming to me to write about them, but there's this one follower of his I'm kinda obsessed with. Revlis. She used to be with the fae, but some cretin did her dirty and she pledged her name to Babylon in a bid for revenge.”

Revlis smiled at the librarian. “Revlis? I've never heard of her. She sounds quite bold.”

“Oh, she's the best ,” Ben said. “I've tracked the adventures of a bunch of heroes, like the Warriors of Broken Bonds. But Revlis and her friends were where I got started, and Revlis is the best.”

Revlis nodded as a crow fluttered onto her shoulder. She set out a finger before the crow, and it hopped onto her hand. In the morning light, the slightest hint of red and blue could be seen in those dark eyes...

“She must be devastatingly beautiful if you like her so,” Revlis said. “Have you met her?”

Ben scoffed. “Naw. Ever since the Violet meteor blew up in the sky, folks have been telling me she's Babylon's Arbiter now. The Big Guy wouldn't send his right-hand woman to see me. Evidently, he sends his crows. Hey, they do seem to like you a lot...”

As Revlis glanced around the room, she noticed that the crows had formed around her. They all patiently watched her, standing still as she pet the one in her hand. Stealthily, Revlis winked at them.

“You say you write stories, Ben,” Revlis said. “Have you written any for Revlis?”

“Oh,” Ben started. He began to scratch at his collar again as he shrank against the bookcase behind him. “Oh, I... think that's the one I wrote that made Babylon send the crows...”

Revlis stalked closer to Ben. “A lonely librarian, writing a story about Babylon's beautiful and powerful Arbiter? That feels quite scandalous...”

Ben averted his gaze from Revlis's blue eyes as she approached him. “I guess,” he mumbled. His hand continued to furiously scratch at his collar.

“I wonder, what would you say to Revlis if you met her?” Revlis asked. She licked her teeth at the sight of the withering librarian. To her surprise, his expression darkened again as his hand gripped at his collar where he had been scratching.

“I'd tell her it's nice to see someone finally get everything they've ever wanted.”

Before Revlis could respond, a voice rang out from the other room.

“Mister Nihre? I've returned. Is my mistress awake?”

Ben collapsed against the bookcase and slapped at where he had been scratching, his jaw dropping in relief. “ Oh, thank God! ” he sighed, and he rushed his way past Revlis, taking great care to walk around her on his way to the door. “We're right here, mister Shiny! Your friend is awake!”

“Oh! Shiny!”

Revlis clutched at her blanket and pattered over to the door, knocking Ben out of the way with a slap of her glamoured tail. Ben tumbled against another bookcase next to the door, wondering what had struck him.

The Veld fluttered up to Revlis and instantly began fussing with her hair. “Mistress! You're awake! What a relief. You wouldn't wake up when the Sun rose. I was at quite a loss, your fever hadn't quite broken. It was most fortunate Mister Nihre came upon us.”

Revlis smiled, and gently tapped Shiny on his chest with a finger. It was all she could do to fight back the urge to sweep him into her arms. “Where were you? I was so scared without you!”

“Mister Nihre had suggested I run off to the town inn for some breakfast,” Shiny said as he motioned behind him. A magic hand carried a bundle of food over the teapot in the center of the room. “Normally, I would be loathe to leave you alone with a stranger, but I doubt Babylon would have asked us to seek help from someone we could not trust. Indeed, he even offered a few gold for decent lodgings!”

“Babylon?” Revlis asked. “Ben's not a follower of Babylon...”

“Do you not remember, Mistress?” Shiny asked. “Babylon told us to seek Ben Nihre. It seems you managed to cross the entire forest in one night, for this morning we were on the outskirts of Twinchapel.”

Relvis clapped her hands, and patted Shiny on the head. “Oh, what would I do without you, Shiny? I had forgotten all about Ben Nihre!”

Ben shakily stepped up to Revlis and Shiny, holding his hands up cautiously. “Whoa whoa whoa, hang on here—Shiny, you never said you guys were here from Babylon...

“Shiny,” Revlis giggled. “ He doesn't know.

“Has he not asked you for your name?” Shiny asked.

“He was so flustered at being alone with a woman, it was all he could do to to introduce himself,” Revlis said, eyeing Ben hungrily. “You did such a good job with your magic, he hasn't got a clue...”

“Shall I assist you with your introduction , my Mistress?”

Please do, dear Shiny.”

Turning to face Ben, Revlis threw the magicked blanket off from her shoulders—and it instantly turned into a storm of cherry blossoms. Ben shielded his eyes from the shower of flowers until the wind died down, revealing Revlis—her arms and wings spread, her regal horns and lethal tail alight, and Babylon's mark upon her glorious chest.

Before either Revlis or Shiny could say anything, Ben jumped a clear foot into the air flapping his hands in front of his face shouting “ Jesus, Mary and Joseph-H- CHRIST !” His papers scattered everywhere as he doubled over, clutching at a stitch in his chest. Revlis watched him curiously as he stumbled against the doorframe to balance himself. Then, shakily, he pushed himself off of the wall and glided over to his desk on the far side of the room. He opened the window behind his desk and glanced outside. Frowning when he didn't see any crows, he called, “I see you, Jason Crowmoa! Hyuck it up while you can!”. Then, he shut the window, and dropped himself into his chair. He set his elbows against his desk and steepled his fingers, wincing as he flexed his right arm. Taking a series of deep breaths, Ben finally raised his head to face Revlis and Shiny, and sighed. His breaths were loud and shaky, as if he were on the verge of tears.

“Well,” he coughed out. “I was wondering if the gods of the Black Pantheon had a sense of humor, and it turns out I was right.” He glanced up at Revlis's face, and she drank in the mixture of fear and excitement in his expression. “So, is the big guy downstairs fed up with me not answering his offer?”

“He didn't mention anything like that when he tasked me with finding you,” Revlis smirked. She leaned over Ben's desk, appreciating his indecision over keeping eye contact or looking away. “I'm looking for someone, Benjamín . My master has told me you know where she is.”

Right away, Ben snapped back into his chair and clutched at his collar... but then he softened, and uneasily choked out, “ 'She' ?”

“Edith Quill,” Shiny offered. “Lord Babylon has sent us to punish her for her treachery.”

Ben's expression darkened upon hearing her name. His eyes clouded over as he gripped his bandaged hand tightly. “I dunno whether I'm relieved or not to hear she's why you're here,” he mumbled. “But I'm glad Babylon got the message. She's a sick puppy and she needs to be put down.”

Revlis watched as Ben's fingers gripped his bandaged hand even tighter. The wrappings, loose as they were, shifted and revealed more skin blackened with burns.

“I'm coming home from getting mutton at the inn one night when someone pulls me into an alleyway. Edith Quill wanted the world to know she had her sights set on Babylon, and she wanted me to be the one to tell everyone,” he softly muttered. His wounded arm began to shake as his breath shuddered under the weight of a memory. “... I told her to buzz off. She took offense to that.”

“So she tried to kill you...” Revlis sighed. But Ben shook his head.

“She would have if she wanted to,” he said as his voice cracked.

As he spoke, Ben sank into himself and shut his eyes. He sobbed quietly as he gripped his injured hand.

“It was just a finger at first. But I refused to scream for her amusement. And the more I kept from screaming... the more she burnt away. For a minute, I wanted to die,” he cracked. “I just wanted the burning to stop. I just wanted to—to go home and hide and never look at another book again.”

“But you didn't run, did you?” Revlis softly asked. “You stood your ground.”

Ben sniffed. “I... I fucking hate people bossing me around. So even if it killed me... I told her to go fuck herself. And—and--and she kept burning away...

Revlis leaned back from Ben's desk as he quietly broke down in tears. Her jaw was set as she imperiously glanced down at Ben—but she offered a knowing glance to Shiny, who nodded in response.

“Some—some barbarian who worshipped Lorita saved me,” Ben sobbed. “Tried converting me on the spot. Said I had been baptized by Darkfire. Bastard didn't even help my burns... had to wrap my arm up on my own like an--an idiot...”

“Ben,” Revlis said softly. “Let me see your hand.”

The librarian recoiled from Revlis, gripping his hand even tighter. But when she held out her hand, he shakily placed his in her palm. Revlis cut away the loose bandages with her tail, revealing a scorched, withered arm.

“Horrible,” Revlis whispered. “How could anyone write with such a wound?”

“Badly,” Ben sniffed.

“Shiny,” Revlis called. The Veld fluttered over to Ben, with a potion and magicked cloth at the ready. His nimble hands made short work of soaking the gauze in a potion and wrapping it around the blackened burns. Soon enough, Ben's arm was properly dressed, and Revlis let it go with an encouraging squeeze.

“You told the crows of Edith Quill,” she said. “And in doing so, informed Babylon. I commend you, Ben. You've shown true bravery and loyalty towards my master. You would make a fine servant to Babylon.”

“With this arm?” Ben asked. “With this body? I'm no servant, I'm just a guy too stupid to tell when he's around his betters.”

“Did you write the stories of my mistress?” Shiny asked. “Did you not know her origins? So too was she humiliated and scarred by the greed of a foolish mortal! And now, my proud mistress is the very Hand of Babylon! Who is it who claims wounds and scars make one weak? The lack of will to pursue one's goals is true weakness! So as my mistress's anger fueled her rebirth at the hands of Babylon, so too did your resistance towards Edith Quill's machinations denote your value! To deny that traitor your bent knee speaks of a stout heart.”

Revlis's heart fluttered as Shiny spoke. From anyone else, these words would be empty flattery. From him, they felt like the truest of adulation.

“She won, though,” Ben croaked. He bitterly sniffed as he gripped his arm. “I can't even hold my own pen. What good am I to anyone if I can't even do the one thing I'm good at?”

“Healing... takes time,” Revlis tried. “I did not become my master's Arbiter overnight. My rebirth was but the first step. It takes... it takes time for the pain to dull. And... sometimes it takes the right circumstances...”

Ben choked at Revlis's words, averting his gaze from her. But Revlis could see the weight lifting from his shoulders. For a moment, she recoiled—a fine sight she was, Babylon's arbiter offering life advice to a weepy writer. But if it meant fulfilling her master's word...

“It might be a while before you can write again, but Babylon needs you right now,” Revlis said. “ I need you. So. Does the humble author of so many of my tales have any leads on the whereabouts of Edith Quill?”

Ben's mouth pulled into a tight line, and he shut his eyes as he fought back tears. “I need a—just give me—there's something in the office--” he muttered as he leaped from his seat and shut himself in the adjoining room.

“Well done, Mistress,” Shiny said. “I had tried asking him what had happened to his arm when he found us on the edge of town. He kept changing the subject.”

“I should be thanking you ,” Revlis said. “Ben told me you were quite attentive while I was asleep.”

“Your safety and well-being are my greatest priority, my mistress,” Shiny bowed. “... Also, Ben did seem quite obsessed with you. I glamoured you so that none of the villagers would be frightened, so he never recognized you... but he is quite taken with you. It seems he tracked our adventures quite diligently, although he didn't know I was your servant.”

To Revlis, it seemed as though Shiny was bristling at the thought. “Why Shiny,” she smirked. “Could it be you were jealous?”

“Perish the thought, Mistress,” Shiny replied. “Although I cannot help but hope he chooses to include me the next time he transcribes your adventures...”

Revlis smiled, and playfully booped her servant's belly. “Yes!” she said. “I'll see to it that he does! And if he doesn't... perhaps I'll find some entertaining way to punish him? I am a package deal—I cannot bear to be without my precious servant.”

“I do hope you can forgive me for not being with you when you woke up,” Shiny said.

“It's alright, Shiny,” Revlis said. “And I do hope you can, um... forgive me for yesterday.”

“Do you mean your race through the woods?” Shiny asked. “It's quite alright. Some foul fae must have managed to trick you while your fever was starting.”

“No, I mean earlier,” Revlis said. “With the fog.”

“Oh, do you mean your prank, Mistress?” Shiny asked. “That's hardly a thing to apologize for. It was good fun, I think!”

“No, no,” Revlis shook her head. “I was... I was trying to--”

The door crashed open, making Revlis recoil. Ben walked out, puffy-faced and wiping at his eyes with the back of his sleeve.

“Okay!” he shouted. “So. Edith Quill. You guys needed info. I have it. Ready to talk?”

As Revlis glowered at Ben, Shiny fluttered up to him. “Are you sure you're ready?” he asked. “We can talk later this evening.”

“No! This is important Babylon-type business,” Ben said. “Tall-dark-and-heterochromatic won't be happy if I don't give you guys what you're here for, and I have a lot of stuff.”

“So, do you know where Edith Quill is hiding?” Revlis asked.

“I know more than that,” Ben said as he took a seat at his desk. He rummaged in one of the drawers and pulled out a messy-looking notepad covered in notes. “I know her entire bag of tricks.”

“Most helpful!” Shiny said. “If this gives us an edge against Edith Quill, it will be that much easier to carry out her punishment.”

“You need every edge you can get,” Ben started, flipping open the book. “I asked around with the other Babylon followers that come by here. Edith has been around for a bit, but she's not particularly big. She hasn't done much in Babylon's name.”

“My master had said that he had bestowed a boon upon her, and that she never repaid it,” Revlis said.

“And what a boon it was,” Ben continued. He flipped to a certain page of his notepad, and flipped the page to a crude sketch of a magic rod. It was topped with a ram's skull.

“So, a long time ago, there was this necromancer. He made the mistake of thinking he could kill Babylon and take his place as a God of the Black Pantheon. So of course, he gets obliterated. His name has been forgotten to time. But Babylon kept his staff as a trophy. And it was a powerful magical artifact. What little I can find on the necromancer says that this was called the Havoc Staff.”

“And Babylon saw it fit to grant this to Edith Quill?” Shiny asked.

“She earned Babylon's favor by destroying one of Crowley's shrines and claiming it in Babylon's name, so he was feeling generous,” Ben said.

“What can this Havoc Staff do?” Revlis asked.

“Besides burn things with Darkfire?” Ben asked. “A lot. It was the source of the necromancer's power. Just by holding it, a spellcaster's magic is increased immensely.”

“Such a gift, wasted on such a treacherous wretch,” Revlis sneered.

“That's not the half of it,” Ben said, flipping a few pages. He stopped and pointed at a page with a large castle. Its facade was in the form of a massive, sharp-toothed skull.

“Apparently, Edith made her way to an ancient castle that hid all kinds of secrets. It's there that she learned of the Havoc Staff's original owner—and the way to bring him back. She's currently working on finishing a ritual to restore his body. And with her as a worshipper, he'll be on track for obtaining godhood for real.”

“However did you find this information?” Shiny asked.

“The Havoc Staff, I could find bits and pieces here and there,” Ben said. His temples twitched as he stared at the open book on the table. “The rest, she told me herself.”

“When is she going to try to resurrect this necromancer?” Revlis asked, trying to change the subject.

“She's still trying to cast a resurrection spell,” Ben said. “So she needs a diamond. She said she was on the verge of obtaining one a week ago, but she also thought Babylon would never find out so who knows?” Ben glanced up at Revlis and winked. “The three of us are the only people who know for sure that these crows are Babylon's. They just know I'm not quite a full-on worshipper of his.”

“We'll need to fix that later,” Revlis said.

“But first, Edith,” Ben replied.

Revlis dramatically sighed, but nodded. “Very well. But this is amazing, Ben! I can only imagine how much time it took you to gather all this information!”

Ben bashfully averted his gaze. “... I mean... it hurt a lot when she burned me...” he mumbled. “I cried. A lot. But I also got mad. Really mad. I didn't think Babylon would listen to me if I told his crows what she was doing, but I figured I ought to do what I could to make sure whoever went after her had all the information they needed.” He sniffed again, and blushed as he faced Revlis and Shiny.

“I'm... honestly kinda amazed that he sent you , of all people, to see me,” he said.

Revlis smiled, and puffed out her chest. “Is it not as you said, Benjamín ?” she asked playfully. “The devil takes care of his own.”

Ben's blush deepened as he once again averted his gaze, shuffling his feet as he squirmed in place. “Aw, I'm not--”

The window behind Ben crashed open as something wrapped around his neck. The last thing Revlis saw was a gnarled purple hand gripping the librarian as he held onto the windowsill for dear life, staring at Revlis in a desperate panic. Then, a woman cackled from outside, and Ben was pulled through the window. As Revlis leaped through, the branches from the nearby tree began to thicken and wrap themselves before the window. Revlis crashed against the wall of branches and crumpled to the floor, rubbing her head.

“That must be Edith!” Shiny shouted. “Mistress, are you alright?”

Revlis answered with an indignant huff as she climbed to her feet and frowned at the branches. With a wave of her hands, she fired an eldritch blast at the knot of branches. The magical blossoms burst against the wood, but left no markings on them.

“To the front door!” Revlis barked. “We need that man alive— his soul is Babylon's .”

Tucking Shiny into her corset, Revlis raced out the room and flew down the stairs. She waved her hands at the front door to the library, flinging them open. In the street outside, she saw Ben kicking his feet as he dangled just above the ground. He gripped against the magical fingers squeezing his throat as he stood before a tall woman with white hair. She wore a purple cloak as she gripped a terrible staff tipped with a ram's skull.

“I don't want your excuses, scribe—where is my story?” she snarled.

Revlis wasn't surprised to see Ben crying as he was lifted by his neck. But she was surprised to see the look upon his face wasn't fear—his face was livid and furious. His fingers were clawing at the hand gripping him. His legs weren't kicking for purchase, they were trying to strike his attacker.

“You burnt my fucking arm!” Ben roared. “You never fucking paid me! You're not on the fucking waiting list! Pick your fucking poison!”

Revlis blinked. Perhaps there was more to this librarian?

The woman clicked her tongue as she poked Ben's forehead with a long, sharp fingernail. Ben's body went rigid as he grimaced against the chilled touch—but though he choked and strained against it, he did not scream.

“I let you keep the other arm. I allowed you one week. I told you all you needed,” Edith counted off. “Surely that was payment enough for a simple story? For a man like you, who spends so much time writing about would-be adventurers destined to be forgotten by history, I would have imagined you would be ecstatic to write of a true heroine—one whose loyalty would resurrect a true god...”

Revlis pursed her lips; Edith was good . For a moment, she admired the woman's poise and control. In another time, she would have admired Edith's figure as she towered over the helpless librarian.

But. She was a traitor to Babylon.

Revlis took a step towards Edith—but felt something gripping her feet. Looking down, she saw more skeletal hands holding her feet to the ground. Shiny silently glanced up at Revlis from within her corset, but she answered with a wink.

“Don't think I didn't see you, child,” Edith called from the street. “I knew Babylon would send his wenches after me.”

The witch lazily glanced over at Revlis, and wrinkled her nose at the sight of her. “And what a wench indeed,” she sneered. “Not even a full-blooded darkling, the would-be Dark Prince sends but a slip of a girl who thinks herself a fae.”

Revlis smiled darkly. “Fae indeed,” she replied. “My master's boon is his very power flowing through my veins. Your boon is—what did you say it was, Ben? Ah, yes—a dirty old stick.”

“And yet with all that power, you stand there rooted to the spot like the trees you dress as,” Edith said. She dug her nail deeper into Ben's forehead, as if to underline her point. Ben's knuckles turned white as he tightened his fists, choking against the screams that fought to escape his throat. Drops of blood began to flow from his forehead.

“All that pageantry,” she continued, “wearing your master's brand upon your breast when you still carry some silly little stick covered in flowers. Tell me, child—what led you to your master ? Was it a dead lover? A wicked step-mother?”

Ben drew in ragged breaths, and chuckled through his pain. “Don't you know... who you're sassing?” he grimaced. “That's Revlis, the Hand of Babylon!”

I've never heard of her,” Edith rolled her eyes. “Is she the person you've been writing about, instead of me ? You're an even bigger fool than I thought—and she's fool enough to match you! She didn't even reap your miserable, worthless soul!”

Ben gasped as Edith finally removed her finger from his face. “Rejoice, Ben Nihre. You'll be allowed to write your epitaph before a very special audience—the very object of your obsession! Your last fleeting moments, written upon the air to echo meaninglessly in the ears of a doomed wench. Speak clearly, scribe! Give the world your final, most-magnificent magnum opus!”

Taking in ragged breaths as he reached around his pants, Ben snarled. “ Mámame el bicho... ¡y vete pa'l carajo!

Wrapping his fingers around something in his pockets, Ben pulled a tiny vial out and crushed it against Edith's forehead. Instantly, she shrieked, and Ben fell to the ground. Her focus broken, Revlis felt the hands at her feet crumble away into dust—and before her eyes, Edith Quill's glamour faded. Her back twisted into a hunch, her silver hair mottled into a dirty grey, and her face aged into that of a withered crone. Blood and water dripped from her eyes as she clawed at the glass stuck in her skin, shrieking.

“Now, Shiny!” Revlis called.

Darting from her corset, Shiny charged Edith with Revlis right behind him. Waving his hands, Shiny magicked an illusion of Revlis around himself, and the two flew in formation. They darted and weaved around Edith as Revlis prepared another eldritch blast.

Edith snarled as she wiped at her bloodied face, squinting through her ruined eyes. Holding up her staff to her forehead, the skull glowed—and a jet of blackened flames roared towards Revlis. She tumbled to the ground, narrowly avoiding the wild spray of fire. When Revlis climbed to her knees, she saw the staff slam into the ground before her—and Edith Quill's bloodied gaze studying her. Shiny, dispelling his illusion, darted towards Revlis—but once again, Revlis waved him off, and winked at him. As she glanced back up at Edith, she could see her struggling to see her through the streams of blood and shards of glass covering her eyes.

“Looks like that bastard's boons have failed you,” Edith snarled.

Revlis wrinkled her nose at the witch as she tucked her tail up underneath her body. “So you say as you carry the staff Babylon gave you,” she said.

“Once my true master is reborn, it shall once again be his ,” Edith smiled. “You can die on your knees for Babylon, or stand proudly besides my master.”

“I choose death,” Revlis hissed. “But not for me!”

Like a bolt, Revlis's bladed tail shot up at Edith's face. The witch could barely see it until it was too late. Her cries pierced through the town as she tore away from the blade, clawing and spitting at the burning pain from her ruptured eyes. Before Revlis could leap at the witch, Edith clutched at her staff—and vanished, her screams dying mid-note.

“Mistress!” Shiny shouted, darting towards Revlis. He diligently patted the dust from her shoulders as he cheered her. “A terrific blow!”

“I can't believe I missed,” Revlis spat. “I'd hoped to end her on the spot.”

“Did we get her?”

Revlis looked off into the distance and saw Ben shakily standing to his feet. He was pale, his arms wrapped around his chest as he trembled upon the spot. He nodded at a spot before him on the ground. “Her eyes. There,” he stated.

Sure enough, upon the ground were a pair of burst, bloodied eyeballs. The morning light still reflected in the tiny bits of glass embedded in them. Revlis lazily waved her hands at them, bursting what was left of the ruined eyes in a shower of eldritch blossoms.

“Oops,” Ben distantly muttered.

Ben recoiled slightly as Revlis and Shiny approached him. “Sir Nihre,” Shiny tried. “I never would have thought you could stand up to Edith like that. I should have known a smart man like you would have kept holy water handy for a time like this.”

“Holy water?” Ben shivered. “That was ocean water—from the Sickened Sea. I keep it on me. Feels nice to have around.”

The librarian shivered as Revlis and Shiny both tilted their eyebrows at him. “What? Salt water hurts if it gets in your eyes... doesn't it?” he asked. “I'm not gonna keep holy water around when Black Pantheon folks visit me all the time, I don't wanna hurt anyone...”

Revlis smiled. “Of course you don't,” she said. “But you did help us plenty today. I think there's more fire to you than you think, Ben Nihre.”

Ben smiled weakly, and nodded as best he could through his shivering. “If it's all the same to you guys, I'll leave the fighting to the experts,” he shivered. “Can we go inside? I think I've had too much excitement for one day.”

Glancing at each other, Revlis and Shiny nodded, and followed Ben as he—slowly--walked back to his room. He never stopped shivering.

 

An hour later, Ben was still shivering. As Shiny cleaned up the plates Revlis had used for breakfast, Ben sat at his desk with his head in his hands, his feet tapping away on the floor. He had not budged from that seat since sitting down.

“I do think he is quite shellshocked from the encounter with Edith, Mistress,” Shiny whispered to Revlis. “Should we leave him?”

“We still don't know where she's hiding!” Revlis said. “What are we supposed to do, wait for him to overcome his trauma? I can't spend the rest of the month babysitting a traumatized librarian!”

As if to prove her point, Revlis called to Ben. “Ben. Ben!” she said. “The crows are on fire!”

“Oh no,” he muttered, rocking in his seat. “Babylon won't like that. He'll come for my head, just like Edith did. He might send Revlis—oh no, what'll I do if he sends Revlis ? Mmm, nope, if he sends her I don't stand a chance...”

“The little twerp,” Revlis fumed. “I thought he liked me!”

“He's a small-town lad, I do think you overwhelm him just a little,” Shiny smiled.

Revlis snapped her fingers for her unseen servant, and made several of Ben's books spin around his head. Ben never even lifted his head. Motioning to the wall, her servant flung the books against it where they clattered and fell to the ground. Ben merely shook his head and continued muttering.

“Now the books are falling. Everything's slipping from you, Ben,” he muttered, clutching at his collar once again. “Why, if Revlis saw you like this, she'd laugh I bet. Oh man what a day, what a fucked-up day...”

“I'm right here ,” Revlis fumed. Shiny pat her head as she pouted and crossed her arms. “And this man wrote stories about me?”

“Mistress,” Shiny said. “I do think I have an idea.” Plucking a flower from Revlis's horns, he gently drifted down to Revlis's face.

“Might I borrow this, Mistress?” he asked. Revlis nodded. “And might I have a kiss?” he added. Revlis froze for a moment before she realized Shiny was holding the blossom before her. “Just a tiny hint of your magic should do,” he said. “I wonder if we cannot try just a little of your charm—just enough to take the edge off of the poor lad.”

Feeling slightly disappointed, Revlis gently kissed the blossom. It seemed to grow at her touch, and when Revlis leaned back she could already feel a calming scent coming from it. Thanking her with a bow, Shiny fluttered off to the shell-shocked librarian.

“Master Nihre?” he gently asked. “Might I bother you a moment?”

“Oh, it's the little guy,” Ben distantly muttered. “Hey. Hi. I'm, um. Kinda not having a really good day. Um. Let Revlis know I'm not. Y'know. Taking visitors.”

Revlis pursed her lips and crossed her arms, feeling slighted. Meanwhile, Shiny held out the blossom. “As a matter of fact, my Mistress wishes to send you her best regards. She was quite pleased with your services earlier this morning, and wished to give you this gift.”

Ben hummed as he finally stopped scratching his collar and glanced at the blossom. Shakily, he took it from Shiny and studied the flower in his hand.

“Hm. Cherry blossom,” he said tersely.

“Quite,” Shiny answered. “She was most insistent it be delivered you with the utmost urgence and care.”

As Ben held the blossom, its magic seeped through him. His shoulders relaxed, his legs ceased their fidgeting, and his breathing slowed.

“It's very pretty,” Ben said. “We don't get crows or cherry blossoms back home. Just grackles and poincianas.”

“Oh, I'm sure they're lovely,” Shiny said.

“They are. I miss them,” Ben slurred. His eyes never left the blossom in his hands. “I haven't been home since I escaped.”

“Escaped?” Shiny asked. “Escaped what?”

“It doesn't matter,” Ben said. “I just ran away. It's all I can do. Only way I can stay alive. I'd make a rotten follower to Babylon, he'd probably foist me off onto some other poor shlub the first chance he got.”

“I beg to differ, Mister Nihre,” Shiny said. “You offered your help to my mistress and I without even knowing who we were. And you went so far as to ensure our safe lodgings. Any fool can show loyalty to his superiors, but you showed great heart in helping a pair of strangers by the road. Even the First Devil could find use in a good heart.”

“Can't imagine Babylon cares much for bleeding hearts like me,” Ben mumbled. “See, Revlis, she's the tough one. She gets stuff done. That's why she's got the mark on her.”

“Indeed,” Shiny said. For a moment, in the glint of that morning light, it seemed as though he shot Revlis a quick glance. There seemed to be a flash in those dark eyes that sent a bolt through Revlis's heart... “My Mistress has risen to every challenge that comes before her. I am proud to stand beside her indomitable spirit. But you, too, show great spirit.”

“Too stupid to roll over and die, is what I am,” he muttered. “Look at me, all burnt up like the world's sloppiest toast.”

“You denied Edith Quill the pleasure of your submission,” Shiny shook his head. “When she terrorized you, you stood your ground. You even retaliated!”

“I still wanted to die,” Ben said. Silent streams of tears began to flow from his brown eyes as he contemplated the flower in his hands.

“Bravery is not the absence of fear,” Shiny said. “And power does not mean being invulnerable. Do you not think my mistress felt fear as she faced the forces of the Violet?”

“She still fought,” Ben breathed.

“And what did you do?” Shiny asked.

The librarian shut his eyes as his weakening body sank into his chair. “... I fought, too,” he said.

Shiny gently pat Ben on his shoulder as he smiled. “And valiantly did you fight,” he said. “Ben. I need that valiant heart just once more. You've told us everything we need to know about Edith Quill. But we must know where hides.”

Ben's eyes closed. Revlis clicked her tongue; in a way, it was amazing for a simple librarian to have stayed awake through her sleeping charm long enough to have had the conversation with Shiny, but waking him up would most definitely prove--

“Twinchapel is so named because it once had two churches,” Ben mumbled. Revlis arched her eyebrows as the librarian spoke. Perhaps Shiny was right, there was some spirit to him. “One of them burnt down in a fire a hundred and sixty years ago. The town was too scared to approach it, so they let the ruins be taken by the forest. The town's borders moved north-westward. You'll find Edith Quill in the ruined church in the south-east.”

Lazily opening his eyes, Ben turned to Shiny. “No better place to revive a dead god than a dead church,” he said.

“Indeed,” Shiny nodded, turning to face Revlis. “A dead church. How droll of her. I thank you, Mister Nihre. You've been of tremendous help to our cause.”

“Yeah, no sweat man,” Ben mumbled, smiling.

“You look about ready for a nap, Mister Nihre,” Shiny said. “Here, let me help you to your couch...”

In spite of himself, Ben dragged himself to his feet and shuffled around his desk. His eyes swam as he lazily glanced ahead, not noticing Revlis silently beaming and clapping for Shiny. The librarian threw himself onto the couch, still holding the cherry blossom.

“Might I get you a blanket, Mister Nihre?” Shiny asked.

“Naw man, I'm cool,” Ben said. “Hey, Shiny? I'm glad Revlis has you around. I never knew she had friends. Good to know she isn't lonely.”

Shiny glanced back and Revlis and nodded. “I try my best,” he said.

“Heh. She asked me what I'd tell her if I met her. I said I'd be happy she got everything she ever wanted. She's powerful, she's beautiful, she's scary... and she has a good friend like you.”

“That's quite the lovely sentiment,” Shiny said. “Small wonder you're a writer. I'll be sure to let Revlis know you said that.”

“Would you? It's tough out there for people who've been hurt,” Ben continued. “Revlis is cool. She didn't run away. I bet she'd kill Lassader on the spot if she got her hands on him.”

“Indeed, she would,” Shiny said. Revlis had turned to leave the library, but Shiny gave her pause as he worked to tuck Ben's arms across his chest. The librarian squirmed as the Veld fretted over him.

“Hey Shiny,” Ben mumbled. “Keep this between us guys, but... when you kill Edith? Try and find an excuse to bring Revlis back here.”

“Are you that taken with my Mistress?” Shiny asked. There seemed a hint of jealousy in his voice...

“No man, she's out of my league,” Ben mumbled as his hand slid to his collar. “Nice boobs, though.”

“I'll... try and make up an excuse,” Shiny frowned.

“Good,” Ben said. “I've got another story I'm working on... I think Revlis might like the ending...”

“And how does the story end?” Shiny asked.

Ben's fingers lazily gripped the collar of his shirt and pulled to reveal what he had scratched at all day—indeed, for years, by the looks of it. As his eyes shut, he answered, “Lassader Brone dies screaming as Revlis kills him in his own summer home at the Sickened Sea.”

And Revlis froze as she brought a hand to her face. For burnt into Ben's skin, badly-healed after many years, was a slave's brand bearing the crest of the Brone family.

“It'll be nice to visit the Sickened Sea when he's finally gone,” Ben smiled. Then, the grip of his fingers slipped, and Ben's breathing slowed as he drifted off to sleep.

Revlis bit her lip and tapped her feet on the floor. “ He knows ?!” she hissed. “The little pissant bookworm knows where he is and he didn't even say!”

“I daresay he's had quite a lot on his mind, Mistress,” Shiny said.

“'Out of his league', indeed,” Revlis huffed. She knelt over Ben as he slept on the couch, wrinkling her nose. “He didn't even know I was here towards the end. What a fool. Should I kill him, Shiny?” Revlis dangled her bladed tail over the librarian's throat, wiggling it meaningfully.

“I do think he has information that may serve useful to your cause, Mistress,” Shiny tried.

“How true,” Revlis sniffed. Nevertheless, she pouted at Ben. “He never even showed me the stories he wrote about me. I do think I hate him, Shiny. In fact, I'm so mad I'll be making sure we come back after we kill Edith Quill so I can tell him how angry he makes me.”

“But first, Edith Quill,” Shiny said.

Revlis nodded. “Yes. I want much more than just her eyes.”

Before leaving, Revlis knelt closer to Ben and whispered into his ear. “ Your tribute to Babylon's favored servant has been duly noted, ” she hissed. “ Speak your heart's desire, and you shall be rewarded.

Ben twitched in his sleep. His eyes seemed to dart underneath his eyelids, and a hand strayed its way to the brand at his collar. Revlis reached out and gripped his hand, while laying the other hand holding the cherry blossom over it. The magicked scent of the blossom seemed to calm Ben in his sleep, and his body relaxed once more.

Satisfied, Revlis stood and turned to face Shiny. “Come,” she said. “To the Dead Chapel.”

Without saying anything, Shiny flew over to Revlis and tucked himself into her corset. He avoided looking up at her as he hid.

“Thank you, Shiny,” she said. “I do think I'd be quite lost without you.”

“You flatter me, Mistress,” he answered. “I'm simply happy you didn't have to deal with that librarian on your own. If you don't mind me saying, he's quite the humbug.”

And Revlis smiled, allowing Shiny his pride as she left the library. As she closed the door behind her and took off into the sky towards the Dead Chapel, she steeled herself for the fight ahead. As she flew, part of her wished that Shiny's hands would be a little more adventurous as he hid in her clothes...

 

 

III. The Chapel

 

 

The town of Twinchapel quickly turned from homesteads and cobbled roads to beaten paths and farmland. As the town rushed beneath Revlis, there came a time where the signs of life simply stopped. There were no people entering or exiting the houses, the roofs became increasingly ruined, and the trees grew thicker and thicker. Eventually, the forest reclaimed the village, and Revlis could see the dilapidated skeleton of a chapel's tower poking through the canopy of trees.

“Do you have a plan, Mistress?” Shiny asked.

“I think the usual should suffice,” she said. “I'll render myself invisible and enter the chapel. You stay outside and frighten off any of her lackeys as needed.”

“If you don't mind me saying,” Shiny replied, “I am a bit worried about the plan working this time. If that Havoc Staff is as powerful as Ben claimed, then Edith may surprise us yet.”

“Let her try!” Revlis snarled.

Nevertheless, Revlis made a small chant and summoned her misty veil, cloaking herself with the sky. Edith Quill was just an old woman—Revlis was Babylon's right hand. It was going to take more than a few tricks for Edith to be able to get a leg up on Revlis. But it didn't hurt to be careful. The flames that had left those horrible burns on Ben's arm reminded Revlis of the flaming cage that took Shiny from her in her dream. For Revlis, it was one thing for her to be attacked. She could remember the burn from Druckman's radiant censers when he fought her companions in the Witchtown sewers all those months ago. In the name of doing Babylon's will, Revlis would gladly endure it again—but the thought of any harm coming to Shiny threatened to freeze her heart.

“Shiny...” she said. “I must ask that you be careful this time.”

“Indubitably, I will,” Shiny answered.

“I don't feel safe letting you go off on your own,” Revlis added. “I'd rather... I'd feel safer if you stayed close to me.”

There was a pause. Revlis could feel Shiny shift slightly inside her corset. “If it means that much to you, I will,” he said.

Revlis flew closer to the Dead Chapel before lighting amidst the trees. Motioning to Shiny to keep silent, she stole her way to the building on foot. It was quite obvious that whatever fell magicks empowered the Havoc Staff were powerful indeed. The trees surrounding the chapel seemed to rot before her very eyes, the moss hanging off of them like sloughed skin. Their branches were quickly turning barren, and what few leaves remained were blackened as if they were turning to ash upon the very boughs. There were no birds, not even the buzzing of flies to enjoy the putrefaction. This was a dead forest.

And in this dead forest, the dead stirred.

In the clearing before the skeletal ruins of the Dead Chapel were two figures. They lumbered clumsily in an attempt at patrolling the grounds. Their armor was faded and worn from countless years spent in the grave. One seemed to have a trap-like jaw made of metal welded to his skull, and a long axe replacing one arm. The other shambling skeleton seemed more beast than man as it dragged its knuckles along the ground with its long, long arms.

Revlis hid behind a tree and bit her finger. Of course, Edith would raise a few corpses. Hadn't Ben said the Havoc Staff had belonged to a necromancer?

Shiny glittered from within her corset, and glanced up at Revlis as he awaited her command. Revlis paused; a few hired swords were no challenge to Shiny. A pair of monstrous zombies were a significantly taller order—and there was no telling if Edith hadn't granted them some sort of magic boon. And again, that nightmare lingered in the back of her head...

The sound of a twig snapping made Revlis jerk in place; as she scanned around in a panic, she saw the two gruesome wraiths had stepped on a branch and sent themselves into high alert. Revlis sighed; if there was a moment to strike, it was now—and if there was something that Shiny excelled at, it was flying circles around stupid sentries. Revlis nodded at Shiny, who nodded back at her. The tiny Veld flew out from Relvis's corset, gave her a silent bow in mid-air, and zipped off into the brush.

And in the silence of that dead forest, Revlis was left alone.

Gently placing her hand across the brand on her chest, Revlis bit her lip as she reminded herself of her master. Babylon had entrusted her with this—he wouldn't have done so if she lacked the will to see it through.

Your eagerness to serve never ceases to bring a smile to my face, ” he had told her when he had given her this mission. The memory made Revlis smile, the echo of his finger upon her chin stoking a warmth within her chest. The abyssal flame that glowered between her horns also flowed through her heart and veins—and it would be those flames that burned through Edith Quill's treachery.

And once she was gone, only Revlis and Shiny would remain.

As she tried swallowing down the twinge in her chest from thinking of Shiny, Revlis turned to the Dead Chapel—and immediately stumbled backwards. Another of Edith's revenants stood before her. This one had apparently been a woman in life, clad in a purple sorceress's gown. The faded remnants of white hair dangled from that gaunt skull as it clutched an ancient staff. Staring at Revlis with empty eye sockets, the wretched revenant clutched its staff and drew in breath. It hissed out a croaking whisper that slowly grew into an echoing howl.

The revenant lunged at Revlis, its staff glowing with fell magics of its own. Revlis stood her ground and swatted the undead witch away with her wings, smiling as the witch's body struck a tree and split in half.

“Beauty before age,” Revlis scoffed as the witch's torso scrambled to gather her hips and legs.

The tree behind Revlis shook as the bestial zombie leaped onto the branches. Revlis scarcely had time to look up at the creature before an arrow knocked its skull off of its neck. Off in the clearing, the metal-clad zombie had replaced the axe on its shoulder with a large crossbow—and Shiny stood over it, yanking its arm in the wrong direction with a magical hand.

From this distance, Revlis could see Shiny bow towards her. A different heat filled Revlis's chest—but she did not linger on this one. She simply nodded, and flew her way to the chapel, blasting the rotted doors out of her way. Daylight streamed into the scorched, withered remains of the chapel from the ancient ruins of the ceiling. The walls around her creaked as the wind blew. Edith herself knelt at the far end of the chapel, praying at a makeshift pedestal.

“Edith Quill!” she shouted. “Babylon calls your name! His hand has come to claim his debt!”

The witch gripped her Havoc Staff as she turned to face Revlis. Even at this distance, Revlis could see the gaping holes where her eyes had once been. Bloodied tears had stained her face. Deliriously, the woman laughed.

“So, it is you,” she sneered. “The whore of Babylon, come to claim my soul...”

“I claim nothing,” Revlis said. “Your soul was Babylon's the moment you swore your oath to him.”

“'Oath'!” Edith shouted, rising to her feet. “ Oath ! What do you know of oaths, you foolish girl! You gallivant about in your mother's pearls, pretending to be a grown woman! What do you know of oaths and duties?! My true master has given me the truest of sight! I see now how weak and feeble your pathetic Babylon is! And you--! Clutching at his feet like a beggar! Desperately hounding for his affection! Oh, Babylon grants power, he grants boons—and at what cost?!”

“You are the last one who should speak of cost, when you reneged on paying your debt for so long,” Revlis said.

Edith sneered, the blood flowing from her eyes staining her teeth. “And you? Chained to an uncaring devil? You never told me who drove you into the arms of the Black Prince. What did Babylon take from you to give you those lovely wings?”

Revlis did not answer. Her fists tightly clenched, nails digging into her palms, she stepped closer to Edith.

“My master's vision is absolute,” Edith said. “I see a little girl, crying all alone. I see an ache withing your body that your master's touch cannot soothe. I see a hunger that your master cannot satiate. And yet, you speak to me as though I were a traitor...”

“Curse my rotten luck,” Revlis said. “I should have cut that tongue out of your face and not your eyes.”

Edith cackled, and struck the ground with her staff. “It is just as well, child. You are too late! Look! See for yourself the gift I offer my master!”

Shuffling out of the way, Revlis saw a large diamond sitting upon the pedestal.

“You simply must tell me where you found such a thing,” Revlis said.

“You don't think I only went to that pathetic librarian for a story, did you?” Edith laughed. “While he ate his mutton, I perused his library for clues on where to find such a treasure!” The witch stroked the ram's head upon her staff lovingly as her empty eyes studied Revlis. “I came across some of the tales he had written of you, serving the Lord of Blades and corrupting the Order of the Silent Knights. Such an obsessed simpleton, he was...”

“And yet, still a more-loyal servant to Babylon than you,” Revlis said. She raised a hand to her face as she collected her eldritch energies. “I tire of your voice, witch. In Babylon's name, I claim your life.”

“Yes! Come and kill me if you can!” Edith struck the ground before her with her staff, cackling madly. “Let this battle mark the dawn of my master's reign! And once your soul is snuffed out, I shall have a new body with which to stand at his side!”

“I am definitely not letting you get your hands on my body , ” Revlis snarled. Beating her wings, Revlis took to the air and conjured a swarm of illusions. Edith cackled as the ram's eyes upon her staff glowed, their light seeming to glare back at Revlis tauntingly. Speaking in a low voice, Edith tapped the ground, and her shadow shifted and molded as it stretched out towards Revlis. Like a cloud, it flowed towards her, ignoring her many copies. The closer it flew, the louder it seemed to buzz...

Revlis's copies vanished as she weaved out of the path of the cloud. She fired a pair of eldritch bolts at it, clicking her tongue as the mass reshaped itself around them. Only a few tiny dots dropped from the swarm...

“Flies?” she called. “Is this what your great lord granted you? Bugs?”

The cloud of flies rushed over Revlis, surrounding her in a despicable buzz. She covered her face as the swarm buzzed and bit at her. Amidst the itchy mass, Revlis tumbled from the air and crashed against the floor. Even with the wind knocked out of her, Revlis pressed her hands against her face even tighter, flapping her wings against the swarm as best she can. Edith's laughter rang out above the buzzing horde.

“Show me, girl,” she cackled. “ Show me why you turned to him .”

The buzzing stopped. Revlis peeked out from between her fingers; there was only the earthen floor of the dead chapel, its walls eroded from time, its ceiling just barely holding together. She winced as she rose to her knees, clutching at her side from her bad landing. The flies were gone. Edith herself appeared to have vanished. Searching the chapel around her, the only thing that seemed to remain was the diamond resting on the pedestal.

Without a second thought, Revlis stood up and made for the diamond—if not to ensure it couldn't be used in the ritual, then at least to keep it for herself. But as she took a step, Revlis realized her back twinged. It wasn't the dull throb of a bad landing, it was a sharp pain of overexerted muscle. As she cringed in pain, she noticed that the hair that fell before her eyes was gray, far from the vibrant red it normally was. Revlis grabbed at her hair, and noticed her hands were wrinkled and cold. Looking down, Revlis saw her body sagged and covered in wrinkles. Even her green clothes, normally verdant, withered like autumn leaves.

“I'm old ?” Revlis thought. For a moment, fear shot through her heart. Revlis snatched at her chest and felt around within her bosom, discovering the bloodseed still hidden in her corset. It was still there, waiting for the day it could drink that foul nobleman's blood...

“Just an illusion,” Revlis decided. “Really? Making me look old ? I admit, it's a tragedy to see my breasts look this haggard, but you'll have to do better than this pathetic attempt if you want to frighten me with an illusion.”

Revlis fought the dull pain in her back as she minded her surroundings. She couldn't see or hear Edith, but she knew the witch was still around. She carefully sidestepped her way to the pedestal with the diamond, noting the magic circle drawn on the floor. Feeling rebellious, she kicked at the circle. A piercing shriek instantly tore through the chapel, and Revlis covered her ears as she anticipated some kind of magic burst. Instead, all she felt was a cane striking her in the back, sending her reeling.

“How dare you interfere with my ritual!” Edith howled.

Revlis smirked through the pain. The witch was still invisible, but she would have to reveal herself sooner or later at this rate.

“It's not even your stupid ritual I care about,” Revlis smirked. She quickly whirled around, as if she expected to see Edith sneaking behind her. All the while, she carefully stepped back towards the pedestal. “All I'm here for is your head. I'm afraid you and your dead god can both rot in hell, for all I care.”

Another swift blow to the back of her head sent Revlis careening into a rotten pew. Bitterly thanking her fortune that Edith wasn't striking her face, Revlis finally noticed a curious trail of dust clouds approaching her. Waiting until they stopped, Revlis pantomimed reeling in pain until she could hear the sound of the staff rushing through the air. Darting from her spot, Revlis heard the cane strike the ancient wood beside her as she took to the air. A low buzz began to grow again from the corners of the chapel. Preparing herself for another swarm of flies, Revlis dove towards the pedestal and snatched the diamond away.

“While I'm here, I think I might take this for my trouble!” Revlis smiled. She held the diamond to her face and appreciated the glint of the noon light in its facets. The diamond was slightly larger than a fist—perhaps as large as a beating heart. It had been expertly cut into the refined shape of all luxurious diamonds. The more Revlis stared into its many glitters and sparkles, the wider her girlish grin grew...

Give that back!

Edith's shriek brought Revlis back to reality. All too late, she noticed the black cloud of flies about to strike her. Revlis darted upwards to dodge them—and struck her head on a rotten beam from the ceiling. Again, she felt herself tumbling to the floor, this time clutching the priceless gemstone. Revlis braced herself for the rough embrace of the floor—but it never came. Instead, Revlis fell through and found herself in shadow.

“Another illusion,” she hissed, rubbing at the sore spot on her head. “All that power from your so-called god, and not a drop of imagination...”

You disappoint me .”

Revlis span around in the gloom until she saw Babylon's figure stepping towards her. He frowned as he placed his hands in his pockets. “I gave you a simple mission and yet here you are, incapable of killing but a miserable old woman.”

Revlis scoffed as she stared down the illusion. It looked like Babylon, but it definitely wasn't him. His eyes were neither cold enough nor warm enough. His clothes were nowhere near fine enough. His voice was far too weak. And within her heart, Revlis knew that Babylon would never be disappointed in her—after all, he had come when she called for him as she battled a Violet servant. He had been so proud as he kissed her forehead. Was it then that he had decided upon making her his Arbiter? Or was it later, after the battle at Camp Last Stand?

“Your delays are inexcusable!” the illusion said. “Come, kneel so that I may punish you.”

Blinking indifferently, Revlis fired an eldritch blast at the illusion. As it vanished in a puff of smoke, Revlis clicked her tongue. “He doesn't even sound like that,” she mumbled. “And if he wanted to punish me, he'd just do it.”

The darkness around her rippled as more and more Babylons stepped forth. They stood silently, leering at Revlis with disdain. Revlis smiled as she summoned more eldritch energy to her hands. She fired into the horde of illusions, smiling as each one vanished limply. Their expressions didn't change, their bodies didn't react—they simply poofed out of existence.

“If your betrayal didn't anger Babylon, these poor copies definitely will!” Revlis said. “You'd better come up with a better plan, I'll shoot you sooner or later!”

More and more, the illusions fell. And yet, there was no end to them. There were endless Babylons staring down at Revlis in a poor attempt at his dark features. Revlis almost grew bored with shooting them all down...

Mistress, behind you !”

Revlis jumped, and fired a blast behind her. A shriek pierced through the shadows; the darkness and all of the Babylon copies disappeared, revealing Edith standing behind Revlis. She clutched a nasty burn on her neck, a foul-looking knife having dropped to her feet.

“Who... Who said that?!” Edith howled.

Revlis smiled. “Babylon didn't give me all of my tricks. I managed to improvise some on my own.”

A skull cracking at Edith's feet punctuated Revlis's answer; amid the pieces of bone were bent remnants of metal.

“Ah; it seems yet another part of your plan has failed,” Revlis smirked. “Where your god gave you three revenants to help you, I was able to defeat you with nothing but my own wits—and, of course, those of my own beloved servant. Shiny?”

“Right here, Mistress!”

The tiny Veld fluttered down next to Revlis, and bowed gracefully. “Pardon my delay, those revenants were quite stubborn.”

Revlis smiled and gently booped her servant in his belly. “Oh, you came just in time, Shiny. Now, if you would be so kind...?”

Shiny nodded, and summoned a magic hand at Edith's feet. It clutched the fallen knife, and carried it to Shiny.

“How?” Edith grunted. “ How ?! How did Babylon ever allow you to have such a... such a...”

“Such a loyal, dutiful, handsome servant?” Revlis asked. “Just a bit of his generosity at work. You'd understand if you weren't a traitor.”

“Indeed,” Shiny said, moving to grab the knife. “Although I must say, you fla--”

No sooner had Shiny's tiny hands gripped the knife did the handle burst open into a tangle of spindly legs. An eye opened upon the pommel of the knife, and before anyone could do anything the legs wrapped themselves around Shiny. Like a hideous insect, the knife scampered back to Edith and crawled up her leg into her waiting hand.

“Such a foolish girl,” Edith grinned as she wrapped her fingers around Shiny. “Ah, I feel him now—such a tiny servant! What a fool you are, Revlis. Instead of asking your master for a powerful servant, you went and asked him for a pet . I could crush him between my fingers...”

“You'll release him right now ,” Revlis hissed, “or else--”

“Or else what?” Edith cackled. “You'll kill me where I stand? Do so! The moment my blood touches this staff, my ritual is complete! My soul and that diamond will be consumed—and your pathetic pet along with me!”

Shiny winced in Edith's grip, but as he glanced at Revlis he maintained his composure. Even so, Revlis's heart sank at the sight of his attempt at a hopeful smirk. He struggled against the witch's fingers, his tiny hands snaking out from between them. Revlis's lips trembled as Shiny's hands seemed to reach out at her.

“Such a loyal servant,” Edith giggled. “See how he reaches for you! I do think this is breaking my heart!”

“Pardon me—Mistress...” Shiny gasped. A magic hand then materialized before shiny and flew out to Revlis, burying itself within her cleavage. “I'll have you know, lady Quill: you've signed your death warrant.”

“Oh? And how is that, little pet?” Edith growled. “Is your mistress going to strike me down in anger?”

“Hardly,” Shiny gasped. “While you gloat, I've seized hold of the very thing that'll destroy you.”

“You're such a tiny little troublemaker,” Edith said. “Wherever did you hide such a weapon?”

With as much pride as he could muster, Shiny answered, “The only place such a grand tool deserves: within my mistress's bosom.”

Edith nearly dropped her staff as she bent over in laughter.

“What a cad!” Edith cried. “His last living moments, and he uses them to grope his mistress! Is this the extent of your beloved pet's loyalty? You truly are a fool for not asking Babylon for a better servant!”

As she laughed, Revlis felt the magical fingers rummage through her corset. They passed over the coin purse, blood seed, nipple bag, and other assorted trinkets she had collected—until Revlis felt the fingers seize hold of what felt like a tiny piece of wood.

“With all due respect,” Shiny breathed, “I'd like to prove my worth before all present parties. To my gracious mistress, to Lord Babylon, to your ever-watchful god—and to your sightless eyes.”

“Do hurry, then, tiny servant,” Edith smirked. “Before I snuff you out!”

Turning to Revlis and offering her a final wink, Shiny said, “Watch carefully...”. The magic hand flew out from Revlis's corset, bearing a tiny branch. It was the cherry blossom Shiny had been given in the woods. Revlis barely had time to appreciate it before Shiny's magic hand plunged the branch into the bloodied eyesockets in Edith's face.

With a bloodcurdling shriek, Edith dropped both Shiny and her staff, and clawed at her eyes. Freed by the witch, Shiny stuck close and kept his magical hand wrapped around the branch. “Mistress! Now! Kill the witch!”

The witch thrashed mindlessly as she screamed her worst. Flecks of her blood stained the buds on the twig embedded in her face. Edith dropped her staff as she clutched at it, gasping madly.

Siezing her chance, Revlis darted forward and held up her hand to the witch's face. “A pity you couldn't foresee this when you betrayed Babylon,” she said. Eldritch energy flew from her fingers and struck Edith in the face. Her scream caught in her throat, the branch burrowed itself into Edith's skull, and the witch crumpled to the ground. Revlis watched as the witch's last breath escaped from her body.

“I'd forgotten all about that dirty little stick,” Revlis said. “Shiny, you're every bit as resourceful as you are precious.”

Shiny fluttered back up to Revlis and settled upon her shoulder. She could see his clothes, normally immaculate, were torn and covered in grime. He winced gently as he caught his breath. “I must apologize, Mistress,” he said. “Not only did I almost come back to you late, I'm afraid I put you in quite the bind. Even I had forgotten about that branch.”

With a pained smile, Shiny turned to face Revlis. “What luck that you keep everything in your corset, Mistress,” he said.

Revlis sighed, and gently booped Shiny in the chest. “What made you remember the stick?” she asked.

“The cherry blossoms in your hair,” Shiny said. “I remembered how much lovelier cherry blossoms are when their tree is nurtured by a corpse.”

“I'm quickly beginning to love that story,” Revlis said. “Tell it to me again when we get back to the village? I am in dreadful need of a bath.”

“Do remember to take the Havoc Staff,” Shiny said. “I should think Babylon willl be quite pleased to have it back after these long years.”

“Indeed! And we even have this lovely diamond to go with it!” Revlis smiled, bouncing in place. She doubled over as she reached for the staff. “I couldn't have asked for a better endi--”

As Revlis's fingers grazed the staff, the world around her vanished. Cold shadows surrounded her, plunging her into darkness. Even the light of the hellfire between her horns was swallowed by the endless shadows.

“Shiny?” Revlis called. “Shiny, where are you?”

“Nothing shines here, girl.”

The voice that spoke was high and cold. Revlis felt her flames die down in its wake.

“Tell me, girl,” the voice called. “How did you find my Havoc Staff? What have you done with my servant?”

“I-I have reclaimed it for my master,” Revlis said. It felt as though her voice was muffled by the shadows that surrounded her. “Edith Quill is dead, and this staff will now rightfully be returned to Babylon.”

“Babylon?” the voice asked. “That fop? That pencil-necked, primped-up boob? Tell me, how is that poser in the cheap suit?

“He is powerful,” Revlis said. “He rules Hell, and I am proud to serve him.”

The voice cast out a high, neighing laugh. “So the odd-eyed freak sent you to do his dirty work.”

“Babylon has me to serve him,” Revlis scoffed. “You're just a dead, forgotten god. And now you don't even have a servant.”

“Ah, that's what you think,” the voice said. “You grabbed my Havoc Staff, didn't you? Surely, you must have seen its power.”

“It's not that impressive,” Revlis said. “I've seen bigger.”

The voice cackled joylessly. “Let me show you something, girl,” it sneered. Revlis felt herself lurch forward, and when she next looked she stood atop a barren cliff. An old rope bridge led to an ancient castle, seemingly carved from grey bones. The gate bore the image of a fanged skull. A single figure stood before the castle, raising the Havoc Staff to the sky. The castle shook, until the gate crumbled—and the figure walked through.

“So your staff is a key?” Revlis scoffed.

“The likes of which you can't even imagine!” the voice thundered. “That castle bore secrets even gods fear! Babylon could hammer his manicured little fingers on those gates for ages, and they wouldn't budge! I alone know the secrets that castle held!”

The lurching sensation came back, and Revlis found herself standing in a dark alleyway. Before her stood Edith, conjuring a black tentacle from a circle on the ground. Ben was hanging by his torso, a black flame crawling up his arm at a torturously-slow pace.

“Ah, another memory from my servant,” the voice said. “See how easily she bends this weak fool to her will.”

“Opening old castles and torturing spineless librarians is hardly anything I would trouble myself over,” Revlis said. “What I want is vengeance and fear. What I want is every man alive to desire me as much as they dread me. And I want the blood of Lassader Brone to drip into the flames of hell.”

“Ah, a woman with a purpose!” the voice smiled. “And you lashed yourself to Babylon? Ha! That rube wouldn't know what to do with a woman like you! What did he say? Did he kiss your forehead? Did he call you his pet? He has a whole mansion of hopeless succubus servants with his tattoo slapped on them! What makes you so special?”

The world span around Revlis again until she found herself in a library. She was crumpled on the floor, wearing a green dress. She felt a heat between her ears, and humiliation beyond words. The tears and sobs flowed freely from her before she could do anything to control herself.

“Where was Babylon when it counted? Where was anyone , for that matter?” the voice cackled.

The world span again. The stench of the sewers assaulted Revlis. She felt hellish fire flowing coursing through her veins, visions of the abyss flashing through her mind. She recognized the shrine before her, but there was no sign of Babylon. When the heat subsisded, Revlis tried to stand herself up—and found that her arms couldn't lift her. Her legs were numb, her wings leaden. Revlis struggled to her knees and found that her body ached. As she looked at her hands, she gasped—her skin hung from her bones, her body swollen and misshapen and covered in sores.

“Not a pretty sight, is it?” the voice jeered. “You didn't stop to think you got lucky, did you? Not everyone who gets touched by hellfire walks away looking pretty. Tell me, do you think Babylon would still kiss your forehead if you looked like this?”

Revlis tried to speak, but her crooked teeth and swollen tongue fought against her. She wept as her hands darted to her bloated face, desperately trying to push back at the illusion she was trapped inside of.

Because it was an illusion. It had to be. That library was long-gone. She wasn't this horrid beast in the sewers. That was all a memory, a distant memory. Babylon would never have left her there, Babylon would never have left her as a hideous wretch...

“I know what you're thinking,” the voice said. “'Babylon would never abandon me', 'Babylon has been kind to me', 'Babylon would never let this happen'. Tell me, girl—where is Babylon? Where is his help?”

Locking her knees as best she could, Revlis fought her way to her feet. She bit her tongue as she fought back against that crippling weakness in her knobby legs. Yes, this was an illusion—because Babylon never did stop helping her. Desperately, Revlis thought back to her battle against the Violet Servant. When her allies stood against the Aphotic Indefatigable, it was Babylon who gave her his favor and armor.

“I am...” Revlis coughed. “I am Babylon's hand. I am his arbiter. I am his favored servant.”

“What kind of master leaves his favored servant struggling?” the voice answered.

“I am never alone,” Revlis said. “My master would never give me a task I could not complete.”

“And yet, here you are—alone. Just as you were before Babylon wooed you, just as you are now with his ridiculous symbol on your chest.”

Revlis shut her eyes and forced the illusion out of her mind. She thought of the gentle touch of hellfire in her veins, the taste of power that Babylon had bestowed upon her. She thought of his mismatched eyes, endlessly impressed at her loyalty. She thought of the feeling of his lips on her forehead when she stood against the Violet's servant. She thought of...

“You think you can hide in your memories?” the voice sneered. “You're in my neck of the woods now, little girl! Even Babylon's best couldn't kill me! What hope do you have?”

Pressing her hands against her ears, Revlis winced. But the voice still echoed in her head, cutting her like a knife.

“Did you ever stop to think he sent you here to fail on purpose? Men like Babylon don't become powerful off of generosity . What good is a servant who is stronger than you?”

She bit her tongue until she could taste blood in her mouth. In her desperation, Revlis's nails began to dig into her scalp.

“Strong enough to carry out his will—but weak enough to fail .”

Fail . The word pounded within Revlis's head as she shrank from the voice. She sobbed quietly as she recoiled, utterly at a loss.

“Do you think Babylon will ever forgive you for failing him? Do you think he'll be kind to you? I think you of all people know what Babylon does to failures. And you know that as powerful and beautiful as you are... he can just as easily find someone better.”

Revlis collapsed at those words. She cried wretchedly as the voice sneered at her. Surrounded in the darkness, unable to escape the illusions, she felt utterly alone.

“You shouldn't take it so hard,” the voice said. “After all, Babylon failed too. He failed to kill me. Wouldn't that be better, a master who cannot die? After all, you--”

The voice stopped suddenly and howled in pain. Revlis cringed against the echoing shrieks before she opened her eyes. The illusions were gone. Her body was back to normal. There were only the echoes of the voice's pain.

“Ah. Drat it all, I had hoped that would do it.”

“Shiny!”

Revlis almost burst into tears again at the sound of her familiar's voice. Standing up, she found him fluttering behind her. In both arms he clutched Edith's diamond. Beside him, a magic hand held aloft the Havoc Staff.

“I am just hopelessly late today, Mistress,” he said. “I should have known that dead god's power would have infused his staff so.”

“Are you real...?” Revlis breathed. “Or are you just another trick?”

“I should hope that I'm truly myself,” Shiny frowned.

This time, Revlis did cry again as she threw her arms out and seized Shiny, clutching him to her neck and smiling amid the tears. “We can talk about your lateness another time,” she choked through her tears.

“Even if I was an illusion, I'd be terribly sorry to have left you alone for that long,” Shiny said.

“What?! What is this miserably tiny creature?” the voice shrieked. “What did you do to my Havoc Staff?!”

Gently slipping out from Revlis's arms, Shiny bowed to the darkness. “My name is Shiny, and I am my mistress's most loyal servant. When I saw her drop your staff in a fit, I had determined breaking it would be the most expedient solution. And as I lack the means to crack it on my own, I decided to use that diamond. How fortunate that diamonds are so durable.”

“You rat!” the voice screamed. “You tiny flea-bitten bug! You eyesore of a servant! You'd dare to use my own offering against me?!”

“I'd dare to do a lot more than that for my mistress's sake,” Shiny scoffed. “And so too would she for Lord Babylon. Your tricks will not avail you here.”

“Mock me, will you?!” the voice roared. “But it's I who will have the last laugh! Don't you know what happens when you break a sorcerer's staff?! Neither of you will live to enjoy your victory!”

“Should I die and awake in Hell, I will find myself in good company. The grey lands of death do not frighten me, specter,” Shiny said. “I pity you, so terrified of death that you render yourself a ghost in an attempt to hide from it.”

“Well said, Shiny,” Revlis smiled.

“W-wait!” the voice said. “Revlis! If you die, your vengeance goes unfulfilled! Your beauty is wasted!”

“You're right. And the idea infuriates me,” she answered. She sighed, and squeezed her breasts longingly. “I worked hard to look as good as I do, you know. So many nights fretting if I'd fill out like the other girls, so many long hours moisturizing or finding that perfect shade of rouge. When I first saw what Babylon turned me into, I felt... oh, it was indescribable . I was already pretty , but... I never knew how beautiful I could be. And the idea that I was beautiful enough to kill.... that I also had these wings and this tail and just so many other surprises, it was like being given a whole new life. And I was so excited for all of it. Dragging men into the alley, seeing their faces twist in fear as the life fades from their eyes... It's one thing to have been raised alongside predators. But becoming one? I never knew how much I loved it until I became one.”

Giving herself one last squeeze, Revlis set her jaw and stared out into the darkness. “And so if I die, I die a predator. I die a loyal wolf, serving my gracious lord. If he forgets my name, so be it. But none who know of Revlis will ever be able to say that I wasn't beautiful or powerful, or that I brought shame to Babylon's name. I die, and I take you down with me.”

“Well said, Mistress,” Shiny beamed.

“And if I die,” Revlis smiled, “I also die in good company. I could never have asked for a better servant than you, Shiny.”

Revlis took hold of the Havoc Staff as it floated beside him. “Shiny, if you would be so kind?”

Shiny hefted the diamond as he fluttered over the staff. “If I may be so bold... I hope we both turn into wisps together. You surely will be the loveliest wisp anyone would live to see.”

“But also the most dangerous?” Revlis asked.

“Without a doubt,” Shiny answered.

“You can't do this!” the voice shrieked. “You both can't be so stupid! Why would you willingly risk your own lives like this?!”

“Shiny, I tire of this withered husk of a god,” Revlis said. “Let us be done with him so we may go home?”

“I asked the innkeeper to draw a bath at sunset, we should have plenty of hot water once we fly back,” Shiny replied. “On your mark, Mistress.”

“Thank you, Shiny,” Revlis said. “I...”

As Revlis struggled to speak, Shiny smiled painedly. “Yes, I must admit I am a little scared as well. But as you said: I can think of no better end than one I can share with you, Mistress.” He offered the diamond to Revlis. Sighing deeply, she took the gem in her hand. She could feel Shiny's tiny arm underneath her palm, trembling slightly as he gripped the diamond. “ Thank you, Babylon ,” Revlis said under her breath. “ I hope you can forgive me...

“Now hold on, you two!” the voice shrieked. Revlis and Shiny paid him no mind as they both placed their hands upon the diamond and raised it over the staff. “Don't do this! You wouldn't like being dead! We—we can talk about this! It doesn't have to end this way!...”

Firmly grasping the diamond, Revlis and Shiny smashed it upon the ram skull atop the Havoc Staff. The purple skull cracked, and the last thing Revlis could remember was the piercing cry of a dead god fading from the world.

Nyeeaaaaaaagh --!”

 

The first thing Revlis felt was intense jolts of pain crawling up her back. Wincing hurt. Taking a breath hurt. Clenching her fingers hurt. Reaching for her forehead hurt. Opening her eyes hurt. Even the afternoon light hitting her eyes hurt. As her vision focused, she found herself staring up into the branches of a tree. And curiously, the boughs were heavy with pink cherry blossoms.

For a moment, Revlis's mind wandered as she admired their color. But the twinge from one of her wings being awkwardly folded underneath her brought her back to wakefulness, and she realized that she was caught in the branches of a tree. As she studied her surroundings, Revlis saw nothing but the dead field around her. Where there used to be a dilapidated chapel, there was only rubble and piles of scorched wood.

“Oh,” Revlis said flatly. She remembered striking the Havoc Staff with a diamond, she remembered the staff shattering, she remembered the dead god's death throes... but something seemed to be missing.

“Shiny,” Revlis croaked. “Shiny, am I forgetting something?”

Revlis heard no answer. The field was still.

“Shiny?” Revlis called again. “Shiny, answer me.”

Gasping as she tensed her body, Revlis slipped off of the branch and clumsily fell on her side. She hissed as the impact echoed through her body, but shook the stars out of her vision as she tried to climb to her feet.

“Shiny,” she called. “Shiny, where are you? I don't feel well. Come glitter for me so I have something pretty to look at. My hair's a mess, come brush it for me.”

Revlis gasped again as she tried standing up straight. Nothing seemed to be broken, but her muscles ached all the same. Her legs shook as she surveyed the field. Shiny didn't seem to be anywhere.

“Shiny, please answer me,” Revlis whispered. “It's not like you to play jokes on me... I'm starting to worry...”

Totally at a loss, Revlis bit her lip. Shiny was never more than a beck and call away, and the field was very large. “Shiny,” Revlis whispered. “Please don't let that dream come true...”

With nothing better to try, Revlis limped over to the first pile of rubble. Dropping to her knees, Babylon's favored servant dug through the pile with her nails. Soot and ash coated her as she burrowed looking for Shiny. There was nothing.

“He can't have gone far,” Revlis told her self as she picked herself up and limped to the next pile. “He was right next to me. For all I know... he's still in the tree...”

Dropping next to the second pile, Revlis flung away rotted bits of wood as she searched for Shiny. “He's either here or... somewhere else,” she said. “He's off... picking mint to make a salve, or picking berries...”

Limping to a third pile, Revlis weakly dug into the wood. For a moment, she worried she wouldn't find anything there—until she brushed aside a piece of wood revealing Shiny, tightly gripping a blackened stone. On the verge of tears, Revlis took the Veld into her hands.

“Shiny! There you are! You...”

As she held her servant, Revlis froze. Shiny rolled over in the palm of her hand, still. His tiny body felt heavy as she held him, his colors and lights utterly gone.

“Shiny,” Revlis quietly said. “Shiny, you can't do this... come now, open your eyes.”

Gently, Revlis stroked his chest. She gingerly patted his hair, normally neat but now in a frazzled mess.

“Shiny, dear, this is a cruel prank,” Revlis choked. Her eyes welled over with tears as she held him. “Is this for what happened in the forest? I'm sorry. I... I wanted to try seducing you, I was worried you didn't look at me like other men do. But... it's alright! You don't have to touch me! I'll never try it again! Please, just wake up now... glitter for me, like you always do...”

Shiny didn't move. Shutting her crying eyes, Revlis held him to her heart.

“You're horrible, Shiny,” Revlis sobbed. “How could you do this to me? How could you die and leave me alone!? What am I supposed to do? Who's going to brush my hair? Who's going to help me? How—how dare you leave me all alone! How dare you die ! How am I supposed to ask Babylon for another servant? I don't want a servant from him, I want you ! Do you... have any idea how much I've had to sacrifice? Do you have any idea how much people have taken away from me? This ugly world took my mommy, it took my home, it took my heart—you changed all that! How dare you die now that... that I fell in love with you!”

Desperately, Revlis raised Shiny to her face. “There, I said it! I'm a fool, a babe in the woods, and also a traitor to Babylon! I claimed loyalty to him when my heart was yours all along! I'm sorry, Shiny! Please, don't leave me all alone! Not in this ugly world! Shine for me just one last time!”

His tiny body cradled in her hands, Revlis sniffled as she held Shiny. “I promise I'll never ask you to love me. Just stay with me...”

Slowly, Revlis brought Shiny to her lips, and kissed his chest. She hoped to feel his heartbeat against her lips, to feel his hands reach up and caress her cheeks, to hear his voice make some polite apology for having worried her so. But Revlis wasted no time in breaking the kiss and nuzzling her servant for what she knew would be the last time. There would be no more hands caressing her hair, no more gentle voices to wake her in the morning, no more warm blankets wrapped around her at night. Revlis would leave the dead woods as lonely as she was when she first entered the forests of Dolten.

“I suppose... a woman can't have everything she wants, after all,” Revlis sobbed. “Now I'll have to go and kill that fool of a librarian for saying that to me. And you won't even be able to help me scare him...”

Revlis's fingers stroked Shiny's body, caressing the tiny line down the middle of his chest and the delicate shapes of his arms. “Let me leave you with something to keep you warm, love,” she whispered. “You so kindly cared for me for so many nights. Let me tuck you into your sleep, for a change.”

As she reached for the shawl draped around her shoulders, it seemed a glimmer of light caught in Revlis's tears. For a moment, it seemed like Shiny's body was glowing again, and the thought renewed Revlis's tears.

“Fool of a girl,” she sobbed. “I've killed so many men, and here I am weeping over one...”

But as she wiped at her eyes, Revlis could see that it wasn't a trick of the light—the delicate lines that traced Shiny's body were flickering, as if his heart struggled to restart. Revlis's breath caught in her chest, and she could only gasp as she hunched over Shiny and gently rubbed her thumbs on his chest. Yes—there was a spot of warmth within him still. Revlis whimpered helplessly as she gently caressed Shiny's face, utterly at a loss. Surely one of her old companions would have known how to bring someone back from the verge of death—but not her.

Revlis cried in frustration as she held Shiny, utterly at a loss. A stray tear fell from her cheek and splashed onto Shiny's face—and quite suddenly, gagging quite horribly, Shiny flickered back into life, coughing and wincing as he clutched at his chest.

Revlis froze as Shiny looked up at her, bleary-eyed and confused. Bringing a hand to his face and rubbing his temples, Shiny groaned.

“What a cruel joke,” he rumbled. “The angel of death that comes to lead me to my fate appears before me in such a guise. It's not enough that I'm denied a proper farewell from my mistress, I must be reminded of it on my way to oblivion. I'd rather be turned back into a starved, mindless wisp...”

Struggling to hold back another wave of tears, Revlis smiled. “An angel of death, am I?” she choked. “That sounds like something that pathetic librarian would have thought up.”

Shiny smiled, his colors slowly easing back into their lovely hues of purples and pinks against his obsidian skin. “Dear mistress, I don't think I've ever been so happy to look upon your face. I do hope you'll forgive me for--”

No !” Revlis shouted. She gripped Shiny and held him to her heart as her tears fell anew. “I won't forgive you! You almost died and left me alone! I had to sit here crying and—and—and think about what I'd do without you!”

“I apologize, Mistress,” Shiny said. “I would never want to do anything to break your heart.”

“Then don't ever leave me!” Revlis sobbed. “You're not allowed to leave me alone ever again! And if you do, I'll... I'll...”

Revlis never did manage to say what she would do. She broke down in tears, holding her servant until she had nothing left to cry. All the while, Shiny patiently rested against her heart. Once her tears subsided into gentle hiccups, Shiny looked up at her. “I do believe it's time for us to go home.”

Revlis sniffled in response. “I think I hurt my wing on that stupid tree,” she whimpered. “We have to walk.”

“Might I perhaps make a splint for you, Mistress?” Shiny offered.

“No. I don't want you to go anywhere. Just stay here.” Revlis whined.

“Very well. And what of the diamond?”

Revlis frowned at Shiny, then noticed the pile of rubble she had unearthed him from. Sifting through it with the tip of her tail, Revlis found the diamond she had cracked the staff with. It had apparently turned a curious shade of black in the explosion. The afternoon light made its edges twinkle.

“I don't want it,” Revlis whined. “Even a hundred diamonds aren't as pretty as you, Shiny.”

“Then I suppose we should make for the inn,” Shiny said. “It's a long walk.”

Weakly, Revlis answered, “Okay.”

Picking herself up from the ground, Revlis turned to the woods to return to town. The tree she had landed in was before her. The boughs were still heavy with bright pink cherry blossoms—and the sudden horror that was Edith Quill's body trapped in the trunk.

“Goodness,” Shiny said. “Did the explosion... throw her into the tree?”

It appeared in fact that the tree had grown out of Edith, particularly the branch that Shiny had stuck through her eye socket. What little of Edith's body that could be seen in the wood seemed to be gently held in place by the tree's implacable bark.

“It's too good for her,” Revlis said. “We'll come back later to burn her. I want to go home.”

Revlis felt Shiny relax against her chest. “Yes, Mistress,” he said. “Let's go home.”

 

V. The Inn

 

 

The forest was silent as Revlis walked back to Twinchapel. There were no birds singing, no creatures rustling in the undergrowth, no flies buzzing about in the heat. Even once the traces of the dead chapel were well behind them, the forest was silent. There was only Revlis, quietly clutching her servant to her heart as she walked along. Occasionally she would sniffle and cough. If Shiny noticed, he didn't make mention of it. Revlis never loosened her grip upon him as he lay over her heart. The whole trip, Shiny felt the beating of Revlis's heart as she walked.

The sun had set long before they exited the woods and saw Twinchapel in the distance. The distant flicker of candles in windows seemed like fireflies in the night. Eventually, walking past houses and shops with darkened windows, Revlis made it to the town inn. The door magically burst open before her as she walked to the innkeeper. She was covered in soot and dust, and her hair was still disheveled from the explosion. A dark look was upon her face, even though her gaze was distant.

“Lady Revlis,” the innkeeper said. “We were expecting you! Your room is ready, shall we draw you a bath?”

“Prepare that for her, yes,” Shiny offered. “We are on business from lord Babylon, and my mistress requires comfort and rest.”

The innkeeper hurriedly bowed at Babylon's name and led the two servants to their room. It was clearly the finest room they could offer: an expansive attic with a large window pointing to the town outside. A somewhat-luxurious four-post bed was pushed against the back, while a tub sat opposite it in the room. Already, one of the maids was standing up from the tub and pouring the last kettle of steaming hot water into the tub. As the innkeeper left Revlis and Shiny in the room, the maid bowed and followed her out.

Once the attic's trapdoor was shut, Revlis wasted no time in stripping off her outfit with a wave of her hand. Still clutching Shiny to her heart, Revlis stepped into the tub and sank into the steaming water. The heat immediately gripped at her joints and bruises. She bit her lips as her exhaustion was chipped away by the warmth. Her wings still dangled out of the tub, and Shiny glanced at how one of them fell awkwardly.

“Now that we have a moment, might I check your wings Mistress?”

“No,” Revlis gently barked. “You are not to let go of me until I say so.”

“I am worried about your poor wing, Mistress,” Shiny said. “I don't think you'll be able to fly if I don't at least examine it.”

“I don't care about my stupid wings,” Revlis spat. “They're big and they're heavy and they make it hard to fit through doors. I'm not letting go of you.”

Shiny placed his hand on Revlis's chest. “Here,” he offered. “I'll keep my hand upon you. If you let go of me, Mistress, I promise you that I won't let go of you. And once I'm done with your wing, I'll hurry back into your arms and you can hold me again.”

Revlis whined quietly, but nevertheless released Shiny. Trailing his delicate hand up Revlis's chest and along her shoulder, he hovered around her back as he examined her wing. Revlis shut her eyes as she felt his little fingers sliding along her wing, giving a testy squeeze every so often. Eventually, she grunted as his hand found a sore spot.

“Just as I thought,” Shiny said. “Thankfully, it's but a mere sprain. A few days rest, and you should be well.”

A handkerchief was magicked before Revlis's face; she saw as Shiny fluttered over and dipped it in the warm bath before returning to her wing and laying the steaming cloth over her bruise. “There,” he said. “That should do it for now.”

“You let go of me,” Revlis mumbled.

Shiny bashfully flew back into Revlis's chest and laid against her collar. “Apologies, Mistress,” he said.

Revlis didn't grasp him again. Whining quietly, Revlis sank into the tub until she was chin-deep in the water. Shiny barely escaped getting his legs wet and settled himself on Revlis's knees as they poked out. Revlis stared at Shiny as he patiently sat on her knees. Her hair floated around her face as the heat from the bath sank into her bones.

“We've had... quite the day,” Shiny said. “Once you're done with your soak, I'll tend to your hair so that we may rest.”

Shiny patiently waited for Revlis to answer. But she never did. She would only stare at him from behind her bedraggled hair.

“Is... that alright, Mistress?” he asked. Still, Revlis did not answer. “What's wrong, Mistress? We carried out Babylon's task. Surely he will be proud of us. Edith Quill is dead. Her master is no more. We won.”

“I was scared,” Revlis said.

Shiny's shoulders sank as he smiled hopefully at Revlis. “I was, too,” he said. “When you had gripped that staff and went still, I--”

“That's not what I meant,” Revlis said. “I was scared because I thought you died.”

“You honor me with your concern,” Shiny said.

“This isn't about honor,” Revlis growled. “I was... I wasn't ready to be alone like that. I don't want to live in a world where you're not in it. And that scares me because... because you mean more to me than my duty to Babylon.”

Shiny tucked his knees to his chin as he sat on Revlis's knees, quietly watching her as she spoke. Revlis's tears mixed in with the water on her face.

“I didn't expect any of this,” Revlis sobbed. “I had only wanted a cute, glowy pet, but you became so much more to me. Every time you're so sweet to me, I don't know what to do. I was raised wild, and Babylon made me a predator. Kindness was either a sign of weakness or a mask for treachery. But you've never asked me for anything, Shiny. You've been beautiful to me. Your hands brushing my hair are the first thing I feel when I wake up and the last thing I feel when I go to sleep. I don't know what to do. I was ready to do nothing but prey on men for the rest of my life. And I can barely bring myself to seduce you when all I want is to feel your hands upon my skin.”

Revlis wrapped her arms around herself as she quietly sobbed. Shiny, watching his mistress intently, sighed as he hid his face behind his knees.

“For my part, I owe you an apology, Mistress. I've caused you no end of grief. Especially since I've worked so hard to ignore your advances.”

“You what ?”

Revlis snapped up in the bath, splashing water everywhere. Shiny climbed his way out of the tub and sat on the rim as Revlis glared at him with tear-filled eyes. “You knew ?” she whispered.

“The affection you've shown me isn't the affection you've ever shown anyone else. I know it,” Shiny said. “When did you ever hold Umi so close to your heart? When did you ever caress Vaeri's chest so? There isn't a jewel or crystal in the world that has held your gaze like I have. I'd be a fool to not notice it. But it was my duty to not answer—or so I thought.”

Strained whimpers were all Revlis could respond with as Shiny looked up with her, dripping with shame. “What else could I do, Mistress? The same way you had given me new life, a new and beautiful body, a purpose ... Babylon had done the same for you. And look at all he's granted you. Power. Title. The cowardly shrink before you, for he made you fearsome. The weak-willed fall before you, for he made you charming. In your darkest moments, he has granted you his favor. And you, ever the loyal servant, have always drank deeply from his cup. What miserable sort of servant would I be... if I denied you your loyalty to your master?”

Through her tears, Revlis could see that even as Shiny hid his eyes behind his hand, he too was gently crying. “Your happiness is all I want, Mistress,” he muttered. “As your servant, as someone so deeply indebted to you, I could never ask you for your consideration. That you cared so much for me elated my heart just as it broke it, for it was all I could do to remind myself that you belonged to another.”

A wave of steaming water sent Shiny tumbling from the tub. Revlis wiped at her face as she kept splashing in Shiny's general direction until she realized he was long gone.

“You idiot !” she shrieked. “You imbecile ! I hate you, Shiny! I dug through rubble with my bare hands for you! I cried for you! After all you've done for me, how dare you think I'd ever turn my back on you! How dare you think I didn't love you!”

For a moment, it was all Revlis could do to bury her face in her hands and sob. She couldn't tell how long she cried, she couldn't even feel the water around her at this point. When she pulled her hands from her face to rub at her itchy eyes, she saw Shiny fluttering before her. He was dripping wet, and his colors seemed a bit darker, but he nevertheless sheepishly held out another handkerchief to her. Revlis sniffled as she took it and wiped at her face.

“That's the second time I said it,” she croaked. “I can only be honest to you when I'm a complete fucking mess. There's the truth behind Babylon's fearsome Arbiter. I've slain dead gods, I stood with the armies at Camp Last Stand, and I cry like a little girl over my little shiny servant.”

“I would keep that girl safe,” Shiny said. “I would keep your tears a precious secret and tend to them where no-one else could see.”

“I know,” Revlis sniffled. “And that's why I could never ask Babylon for another servant. No matter what happened, he could never give me someone like you. You came into my life and lit up all these places I didn't even know where there.”

“Now you sound like that librarian,” Shiny smiled. He drew closer as he placed his hands on Revlis's.

Feeling a white-hot heat between her ears, Revlis swallowed and said, “I want to kiss you but I'm scared of hurting you because you're so small.”

“Oh,” Shiny said. And before Revlis could do anything, the tub water splashed again, and Shiny was kneeling over her—now as tall as a grown man. Revlis immediately pressed her arms to her bare chest, blushing vividly. Soaked as he was, the pink hues from the inside of his hair and the blue lines running through his skin were as striking as ever.

“Oh,” she squeaked. “Shiny, I didn't know you could do that.”

“You never asked,” Shiny rumbled. It seemed his face was closer than before...

“I... suppose I ought to keep track of your skills more often,” Revlis mumbled. She couldn't bring herself to tear her eyes away from his lips.

“I ought to do a better job of talking about myself,” Shiny answered. He was definitely leaning closer.

“Um. You know I haven't... kissed anyone since... you know, when Babylon... in the sewers...”

“I would imagine so.”

“He changed me into... you know. Um. I think kissing might be risky...”

Shiny's face was close enough for his nose to bump against Revlis's. She froze for a moment, before feeling something snap within her, and leaned forward. She meant to simply peck at Shiny's lips, but found herself pressing against him far more than she expected. Her shoulders melted as she felt his warm taste flow through her. Just as she was about to pull back, she felt Shiny press forward until she was almost laying in the tub. One of his hands was pressed to her back as Shiny hungrily kissed Revlis. Feeling surrounded by him, Revlis's body gently trembled as she felt a warm ache in her belly.

When Shiny finally pulled back, Revlis was astonished to find he was licking his lips. “For you, I'd risk just about anything, Mistress,” he said.

Trembling against the tub, Revlis almost expected Shiny to start foaming at the mouth and fall over. But instead, he loomed over her as the purples and blues running through his skin seemed to glow hotter.

“Um... you're soaked through,” Revlis whimpered. She couldn't think of anything else to say.

“You splashed me,” Shiny answered.

“Let me, um. Get that for you...” Revlis breathed. Still trying to keep her breasts covered with her elbows, Revlis reached around Shiny's waist and pulled up on his shirt. Shiny loosened his grip on the sides of the tub as his clothes reached his arms. Shrinking back into the tub, Revlis admired how the muscles on Shiny's arms and torso flexed as he pulled his clothes over his head. It had been a long time since Revlis had seen Shiny emerging naked from the jar that held him as a wisp, and in the time since he had grown healthier and stronger. His shoulders seemed a bit broader, and his slender form was trim and smooth. Utterly at a loss, Revlis covered her face again and kicked her legs, sending water splashing everywhere.

It's not fair !” she squealed. “I don't know how to seduce you , why are you so hot ?!”

“But I haven't done anything,” Shiny mumbled.

I know !”

When Revlis pulled her hands away, she found herself once again staring deep into Shiny's face. “You know that kissing isn't the only thing I haven't done since I met Babylon, right...?” she mumbled.

“Yes, Mistress.”

“So... I'd like to get out of the tub,” Revlis said. “And I want you to take care of me. And then I want you to... keep taking care of me,” she blushed.

“Are you sure?” Shiny asked.

“No,” Revlis said. “But... all the bad decisions I've made have led to me being in a tub with you. And that doesn't seem like such a bad deal. So... I think I'll trust you, Shiny...”

“Then let me assure you that your trust is well-placed,” Shiny said. Gently snaking his hand between Revlis's, he lovingly stroked the brand of Babylon upon Revlis's chest.

“In the name of my Mistress's happiness, I hereby pledge my heart and soul to her. Her joys will be my joys. Her sorrows will be my sorrows. Her fears and tears will be secrets I will carry to my grave. Her pains shall be my duty to soothe and mend. Her secrets, I will keep on pain of death. Her love, I will treasure until my last breath. Her heart, I shall treasure above all else. I will know no greater joy than to serve my mistress and know her loving touch. Should I ever fail in my duty, may Babylon cast my living soul into oblivion, for I can think of no greater hell than failing my Mistress. I, Viild—Shiny, to my Mistress—do so pledge this oath upon my very life and soul.”

And as tears welled up in Revlis's eyes, Shiny leaned in and kissed above her brand, lovingly trailing his way up her throat, along her neck and to her ear. “My life is meaningless if I ever cause you harm, Mistress,” he breathed in her ear. “In the name of love, and my oath, I promise to take care of you.”

Revlis threw her arms around Shiny's neck as she sobbed. “It's not fair,” she whimpered. “The one man who makes me melt, and I can't even figure out how to seduce him.”

“You do plenty, Mistress,” Shiny purred in her ear. “Or did you think me insensitive to being carried in your bosom?”

The warm ache in Revlis's belly shot a twinge through her body as Shiny spoke. “Um... maybe you'd like to show me how much that does to you?” she whispered.

“As you wish,” Shiny smiled. “But first—you said you wanted me to dry you off...”

The water sloshed as Shiny stepped out of the tub. Revlis blushed as she saw him magic himself dry; for just a moment, the droplets of water twinkled on his skin like so many stars. With another wave of his hand, he summoned a plush towel as he reached for Revlis.

Revlis hesitated as Shiny held his hand out to her. Instinctively, she pressed her arm against her chest and crossed her legs underneath the water. But as she looked up, she saw herself looking into Shiny's face. The purple lines tracing his face glowed warmly, and she could feel his eyes warmly radiating at her from underneath his bangs. And Revlis remembered that the man holding his hand out to her had sat in her hands so many times before now, and stood on her shoulders... and ridden within her corset. And if there were ever any hands that she could trust, it were his. So Revlis reached out for her servant's hand, and delicately stepped out of the tub where she was instantly greeted with that warm, magicked towel wrapping around her body. Any other time, Revlis could have also magicked the water off of her own skin, but she knew this time would be different.

And indeed, Shiny's hands had already set to work. Gently, Shiny worked the towel around Revlis's neck. She could feel the pressure from his fingers through the terrycloth tracing the lines of her neck, following the slope of her shoulders, gingerly sliding up her throat. Just as Revlis's shoulders began to quiver, Shiny's fingers massaged their way down her back. Revlis swallowed a giggle and bit her lip as she realized her servant was exploring her body. And it was exactly what she wanted; more than just seducing him like she had tried in the forest, she had wanted this exploration. She wanted him to learn of her contours. More than that, she wanted him to commit them to memory. She wanted his fingers to remember how to curve around her waist. She wanted his palms to master wrapping around her arms. She wanted him to...

“Please... dry up front,” Revlis mumbled.

Revlis almost kicked herself. She wanted so much more than that. As Shiny loomed behind her, she urged herself to say something else, to ask him do do more than just dry her. She wanted him to--

“By all means,” Shiny rumbled. Revlis froze; she hadn't quite realized that Shiny was now tall enough to have to speak directly into her ear. She marveled at how his voice felt. It wasn't just in her ear, his voice carried all throughout his chest and echoed deep within her head. Revlis was still reacting to how his voice felt when Shiny's arms slid forward and began to work the terrycloth against her breasts.

“Mmm...”

Revlis could scarcely care that she couldn't contain a moan. Her whole body tingled as Shiny's fingers massaged her through the towel. As large as his hands were now, Shiny would never be able to fully wrap even both of them around just one of her breasts. But as his hands squeezed and caressed the curve of her chest, Revlis knew that this would never be a problem. Her tongue ran dry as she fought to keep her breathing slow. Shiny's touch was making her mind race and her heart swell.

Feeling a low chuckle in her ear, Revlis gasped as she felt Shiny plant a kiss on her shoulder. “Does this please you, mistress?” he smirked.

O-o-oh, yes ,” Revlis breathed.

“Then I hope it also pleases you that I've dreamt of caring for you like this for a very long time...”

Mmmph !” Revlis bit her lip as she failed to swallow a moan. One of Shiny's hands began to slide the towel between her breasts, forcing the cloth to tickle at her nipples. “You're horrible, Shiny,” she breathed. “I'd wanted you to touch me like this for so long...”

“Am I not doing enough to make up for lost time?” Shiny breathed. His voice tickled Revlis's ear as he brushed his lips against them.

“It's... it's a start,” Revlis said. She enjoyed the feeling of her heart beating within her chest, knowing that it was Shiny's touch that was exciting her. Revlis drooped her wings as she pressed her back against him, nuzzling her head against his.

Shiny let go of Revlis's chest, stepping to her front. Revlis expected him to look her in the face again, but to her surprise he pulled the towel down from her shoulders and knelt before her. Before she could say anything, Shiny was caressing her belly, smoothing the towel around her hips.

“I was curious, at first,” Shiny said. “I never knew why you had that tattoo over your navel. As I saw it glow when we first met, I assumed that was what it did. But as time went on, I realized: it only glowed when I served you.”

Revlis looked down to see Shiny's face looking up at her. His purple eyes twinkled behind his hair.

“It was then that I realized... you cared for me much more than a servant,” he said.

“You are still cruel for keeping it hidden from me for so long,” Revlis teased. “I'm debating whether I can forgive you.”

Shiny rubbed his cheek against Revlis's belly. Revlis didn't need to see her navel to know her tattoo was likely glowing like a brand. Her breath caught in her chest as Shiny rubbed the towel away from her skin with his face. Then, trailing his nose down the contour of her belly, Shiny gingerly kissed Revlis's tattoo.

It was a gentle kiss, sweet and light. But it echoed through Revlis's body like a thunderbolt. A quick moment and Shiny was lovingly nuzzling against Revlis's navel, ignorant of the heat he had stoked just beneath her skin and the hunger that he was teasing.

“I'll do anything in the name of your forgiveness,” he whispered.

Revlis swallowed. Her thoughts were a jumbled, cloudy mess. She could scarcely organize the words in her mouth, but somehow managed to voice, “Then carry me to bed.”

Quite suddenly, Revlis found her feet swept off the ground as she curled up in Shiny's arms. Her towel was still wrapped around her as Shiny carried her—like a princess. Revlis's tail wiggled and danced as she enjoyed the warmth from Shiny's chest. Stepping over to the old four-post bed on the other side of the room, Revlis was lovingly placed upon the bed. Shiny loomed over her, his face right above hers.

“Shiny, you have me at a disadvantage,” Revlis smiled. “You're up there and I'm trapped down here under this heavy towel. You could do whatever you wanted to me and I'd never be able to stop you.”

The bed creaked as Shiny straddled Revlis's legs, leaning over her. “Do you trust me?” he asked.

Revlis froze. Once again, she thought back to that horrible night at that hateful library. But—this was different. And Revlis knew that the man above her was not like any other man she would ever meet.

“Yes,” she whispered. “I trust you, because I love you.”

Shiny cupped Revlis's cheek in his hand, stroking her face with his thumb. “Tell me,” he breathed. “How can I serve you, Mistress?”

“Not 'mistress',” Revlis said. “That's first. Right now, I don't want to be your mistress. When we're alone like this... I want to be your little Revvy.”

Shiny chuckled, and touched his forehead to Revlis's. “Revvy,” he said.

“Yes?” Revlis smiled as she answered him. Hearing the word from his lips made her heart flutter helplessly.

“What else can I do to serve you?”

“Don't hold back,” she said. “I will not hide anything from you anymore. So show me all of how you feel. I will be very sad if you don't.”

“And what else?” Shiny breathed.

Revlis took a deep breath as she leaned her face against Shiny's hand. His skin was so warm against hers. How long had it been since there was a gentle hand upon her cheek? How long had it been since she had listened to such a warm voice?

How long would it be until the next time she felt them?

“... Don't ever leave me,” Revlis breathed.

As she pleadingly looked into Shiny's eyes, Revlis saw the understanding flashing within them. His other hand snaked its way to her neck as he kissed her cheek, his breath tickling her face. “I will not,” he whispered.

“Then hurry up and make love to me, Shiny,” Revlis smiled.

“Can't I take my time enjoying your body?” Shiny asked.

“It won't be the last time you touch me,” Revlis breathed. “And it won't be the last time I touch you. I want to know every inch of you. Your arms, your hands, your chest, your shoulders...”

As if to underline this, Revlis slid her hands up Shiny's arms. She felt the sinew of his muscle underneath his skin, the firmness of his shoulders, the lines of his back. Shiny's chest tapered so elegantly down to his hips, drawing her eyes and fingers. She smiled as she stared up into Shiny's face as she slid her hands lower, tracing down Shiny's spine until her fingers brushed against his apron...

“You said not to hold back, though,” Shiny smirked. “And I don't think I can anymore.”

Revlis scarcely noticed Shiny's hands releasing her face and grabbing her towel. She had just enough time to feel the cool night air tickle her bared breasts and gasp before she felt Shiny dive into her flesh. His lips kissed and kissed and kissed as he squeezed and massaged her flesh. His face buried within Revlis's chest, Shiny growled hungrily as his lips sought new flesh to love.

Revlis giggled and kicked her feet playfully as Shiny indulged himself. She had wanted the feeling of Shiny's lips kissing her breasts, the vibrations of his starved voice echoing through her flesh, for so long. For a moment, she had no words. She couldn't even moan as his fingers found her nipples and gently rolled them. She could only quietly gasp for breath as Shiny pleasured her.

Eventually, Shiny's lips kissed their way to Revlis's waiting nipple. His lips snugly wrapped around her, his tongue gently rolled over her. Here, Revlis did moan as Shiny lovingly devoured her, gently switching from pressing his face into her and pulling away with every suckle. Never once did his hands cease massaging her. His fingers rhythmically squeezed as his palms kneaded through her. With each breath, Revlis could feel her body loosening.

With a lewd smack, Shiny's lips finally released Revlis's nipple. “I'd spent so many nights dreaming of the day I could taste you,” he growled.

“I'd spent so many days dreaming of the night you'd dare to wrap your hands around my chest,” Revlis answered. “You spent so much time in my corset, you could have played with my nipples whenever you wanted.”

“Oh, I know,” Shiny whispered. He slid a thumb over Revlis's nipple, playfully rolling it. “How I longed to kiss your flesh... it was all I could do to restrain myself.”

“You poor thing,” Revlis smiled. “No wonder you were so hungry.”

Shiny smiled in return. “You know,” he rumbled, “I would touch myself thinking of you after you would go to sleep.”

Revlis gasped and grinned. “So naughty !” she squealed. “Where would you do it?”

“I would always leave the room,” Shiny said. “I'd pleasure myself to the thought of your warm breasts and how heavenly it would feel to have them wrapped around me.”

“You disappoint me,” Revlis smiled. Her hand still wrapped around his apron, Revlis slipped her fingers within his clothes. “All this time, and you were wasting yourself when you could have shared your pleasure with me. From now on, I'll have to ask you to refrain from pleasuring yourself on your own.”

“You would care for me?” Shiny asked.

“It's only natural,” Revlis whispered. “What person wouldn't want to share the pleasure of the one they love? Now... stop delaying. I wish to see more of how much you hunger for me.”

Revlis slid her fingers around Shiny's apron until she found the buttons that fastened them. Biting her lip, Revlis slowly undid them. She stared deeply into Shiny's eyes as she did, enjoying the deep purple glow of his eyes as his hands caressed her chest. Eventually, the last button popped free, and Revlis's fingers slid further until they struck warmth.

The sensation sent a shiver throughout her whole body. She had forgotten how warm a man's body could be, how firm he could become in the throes of lust. She searched Shiny's face for permission, and with a smile he granted it to her. And so Revlis lovingly pulled Shiny's luster free from his clothes until his length was pressed against her body. It laid over her mound, as if to tease her with a hint of how deeply he would delve within her. Revlis blushed as she looked down and saw that it was as dark as the rest of Shiny's body, with the same pulsating lines of blue and purple running through it.

Revlis reached down to touch Shiny's arousal. His skin was smooth, and great heat radiated from within. As her fingers gently stroked his length, Shiny shuddered and groaned.

“I didn't hurt you, did I?” Revlis asked.

“Quite the opposite, Revvy,” Shiny smiled.

“You used my name!” Revlis giggled and rewarded Shiny with a gentle stroke. Revlis gasped as Shiny set his arms next to her neck. His whole body looming over her, he reached down and angled himself. Revlis's heart raced as she felt his warm tip settle itself against her lips. She felt her wetness soak him as her body's emptiness began to ache demandingly. Her heart pounded harder than ever at the warm sensation pressing against her.

Then, taking a deep breath, Shiny pressed his hips—and Revlis was filled.

Revlis instantly curled her fingers around Shiny's waist and shuddered as his length filled her. Tiny bursts of pleasure rocked her body, causing the very air to tingle upon her skin. When she looked down, Shiny had settled himself within her completely. Her tattoo glowed a deep red like never before, as if Shiny's heat glowed through her. Eventually, the tiny bursts subsided, and Revlis noticed she could feel Shiny's heartbeat echoing through her navel all the way to her womb.

“You're... so deep,” she breathed.

Shiny buried his face into Revlis's neck and struggled for breath as he lay within her. Her body automatically shifted her arms around his shoulders. She moaned contentedly as Shiny struggled to control himself.

“Don't hold back,” she whispered. Revlis kissed along Shiny's neck, her lips following the line of his firm muscles up to his jaw. “Cum for me, my darling,” she breathed.

Settling his arms once more, Revlis felt the muscles in Shiny's back tense as his body began to thrust. Instantly, she gasped and uttered a low, shuddering moan as Shiny's length set about within her. His contours and firmness pressed against places she had long forgotten, places she had never known were there, places she loved. With every pull back, her body tightened against him as if to beg him not to leave. With each thrust, her body welcomed him, urging him deeper.

“You're... so... tight,” Shiny gasped.

Revlis brought her hands to Shiny's face and held him up to her gaze. As he sought her warmth, his face had seeminly twisted into worry. The traces of purple in his skin had run a cold pink as his eyes flashed with desperation. With a smile, Revlis pulled him close and kissed his lips. She allowed herself to moan into his mouth as she was surrounded by his pleasure: his firmness and heat filling her, his strong body framing hers, his taste flooding her. Her heart soaring, Revlis sang her pleasure. Her hands clutched at his back, embracing their strength. Her lips left a trail of kisses along his neck.

Shiny answered with a deep groan of his own, and the sound of his voice send another storm of tiny busts through Revlis's body. She squealed as her hands tightened their grip on his back. With rising growls, Shiny's hips quickened their pace. Throwing her head back, Revlis sighed as she drank in his hungry thrusts, the gentle creaking of the bed around her, and the rhythmic waves rippling through her body. She giggled as her breasts bounced upon her chest, and flashed Shiny a knowing smirk.

“You're almost there,” she breathed. “You're doing so good!”

Shiny grunted an answer, and buried his face once again in Revlis's chest as his thrusts hastened yet again. As his lips embraced Revlis's waiting nipple, his length tensed deep within her. Revlis shuddered as she awaited his release. Her arms tightened against Shiny's back, and she moaned encouragements to him. She couldn't notice herself biting her lip as Shiny's lust echoed through her. She couldn't stop her fingers from trembling. She couldn't stop the warm wave building and building within her.

The last thing Revlis could remember was that she wanted this moment to last forever.

Then, Shiny grunted deeply, and hilting himself within Revlis he loosened his lust...

Revlis squealed and trembled underneath Shiny. When she regained control of her body, she felt a radiant heat pooling within her. It was different from hellfire; this was much deeper and gentler, seeking every last inch of her body to fill and warm. Her muscles felt like they were melting from Shiny's heat. Revlis slowly realized she had at some point wrapped her legs around Shiny's hips, and felt her tail coiled about his stomach. As she gasped for breath, she noticed Shiny kissing her face. It was her tears; Shiny kissed them as he placed his forehead against hers and fought for his own breath.

Revlis could feel her womb almost radiate from Shiny's heat filling her. But what made her happiest was that she could still feel him pressed deep inside of her, unyielding even now.

“You're still so hard,” Revlis breathed.

“You're so good,” Shiny answered. “I was worried, you seemed to fade for a moment.”

“Mmm, you just know exactly what I like,” Revlis purred. “I'd never dreamed you'd love me so deeply.”

Shiny kissed Revlis's forehead, his hands wandering to her back. “I do love you, Revvy,” he whispered.

“You said my name again!” Revlis giggled as she stroked Shiny's back. “What other surprises do you have for me?”

Revlis yelped as Shiny's hands tightened against the small of her back. Suddenly, the world span, and Revlis found herself on top of Shiny.

“Now, you get to do things your way,” Shiny smiled.

No-o-o ,” Revlis pouted. “I want you to feel good!” Gripping his hips with her legs, Revlis flipped onto her back and settled Shiny back atop her. She shuddered for a moment as she felt him shift slightly inside of her, poking at a most delightful spot...

With Revlis distracted, Shiny once again flipped onto his back, and left Revlis straddling his hips. “I must insist,” he chuckled. “Are you not the power top?”

As Revlis settled into Shiny's lap, she shuddered as his tip once again pressed into that precious spot. She whined as her body trembled, her womb suddenly feeling terribly empty again in spite of the heat filling her.

“I want you to feel good,” she repeated.

Shiny chuckled weakly, and leaned in to kiss at Revlis's breasts. “To touch your body and indulge in your pleasure is all I could ask for,” he said. “Please, I wish to see your face as I pleasure you.”

Revlis wrapped her arms around Shiny, holding his face to her heart. He buried his face deeper within her chest, hungrily kissing at her breasts.

“I might not let you go,” she said. “I might start riding you and never ever stop.”

“I wouldn't expect any less from you,” Shiny said from within her chest.

Revlis giggled, and kissed the top of Shiny's head. Her fingers ran through her hair as her hips began to dance atop Shiny's. “Then I'll ride you, my little Shiny,” she breathed. “I'll ride you like I wanted in the forest. I'll hold you close to my heart and never let you go. I'll claim every drop of your lust...”

Shiny's hands settled upon Revlis's hips as they rode him. “It's all yours,” Shiny said. “You're so much better than I ever dreamed...”

Revlis leaned forward, pressing Shiny into a pile of pillows. His length seemed to reach deeper than before, kissing at more and more places that ached for his love. The contours of his manhood stroked her, coaxing more of her delicate moans.

Pushing Shiny down, Revlis grinned as she undulated her hips above him. Her wings spread behind her, Revlis began thrusting down against Shiny hungrily. She fed from his lust, drinking him in as he was caught in her embrace. Shiny's voice was low and dreamy as he moaned. The lines in his skin pulsed in waves of pink and blue and purple throughout his body as he struggled to thrust back into her depths. As Revlis rode him, his tip stroked and loved her, urging her to moan in response.

Revlis took one of Shiny's hands and guided it to her breasts, where she squeezed it against her curves. She dragged his hand to her face, kissing his palm and playfully nibbling at his thumb.

“You're all mine,” she whispered. “I've wanted someone for so long... to love and hold and be mine forever and ever... I—I love you, Shiny...”

“I love you, Revvy,” Shiny answered. His thumb caressed her lips as she rode him.

“I love you,” Revlis repeated. “ I love you !”

Revlis's hips crashed against Shiny's again and again, harder and harder. Her tiny gasps for breath seemed to beg him, to coax him into reaching further within her. Revlis gnawed on Shiny's thumb lovingly as he answered her moans with thrusts of his own. Again, the bed creaked, this time mixing with the sounds of their hips crashing together and Revlis's pleasured gasps.

Another wave of pleasure began to crest deep within Revlis. She knew this would also be a big one. Her fingers and toes tickled in expectation of the crash Shiny's hardness would bring her. Throwing her head back, Revlis cried out. Her ecstatic squeals rose as the wave grew stronger and stronger still within her. The bed beneath them didn't rock so much as it swayed from the force of their joining, the sounds of creaking wood swallowed by Revlis's squeals.

A brush of Shiny's fingers sent sparks through Revlis's body; looking down, she noticed that he was stroking the tattoo over her womb as she rode him. It glowed brightly, its colors mixing with the waves of pink that flowed through Shiny's body. A deep twinge within her belly reminded Revlis of the hunger she knew Shiny could sate, and of the impending pleasure that he would grant her.

“In...side...” Revlis gasped. “Please cum inside!”

Shiny's hands gripped Revlis's hips as he renewed his thrusts. Revlis squealed her approval as the wave within her grew and grew. She ran her own hands up her body, feeling the trail of tingles her fingers left upon her skin. Her hands reached her hair, laden with pink blossoms and crowned by her regal horns, and she tilted her head up once more as she felt the wave within her crest.

Then, it crashed.

Revlis's voice caught in her throat as the pleasure exploded. Her body shook as the sensation rippled through her, sending her legs into a fit of trembles. No sooner did she think it was about to end did Shiny grunt, sending another wave of his lust deep into Revlis's womb. Here, Revlis did yelp as wave after wave of Shiny's warmth struck her from within. Her chest heaved as she fought to draw breath, whimpering as the pleasure echoed within her.

Revlis toppled onto Shiny as she reeled from the pleasure, helplessly whimpering as her body trembled. As she gasped for breath, Shiny kissed away at her face, answering her whimpers with gentle shushing. Slowly, her trembles subsided and her breath steadied. Revlis's hands lazily drifted along Shiny's shoulders as her body draped over his. A haze clouded her mind as her skin tingled at Shiny's touch. And the warmth, Shiny's lovely warmth radiating from within her belly... just thinking of it threatened to send Revlis over the edge once more.

As Revlis settled herself in Shiny's lap, she felt her lips grip against Shiny—and to her surprise, he was still firm and proud within her. Revlis hummed and giggled as her body twitched. Her navel thrummed with the gentle pulse of his heartbeat.

Shiny drew in a shaky breath as his hips gently bucked underneath Revlis. His hands gripped at her hips with a loving hunger, pressing her atop himself as his hips slowly rocked. Shiny once again buried his face in Revlis's breasts, growling lowly as his body flexed and released. His movements within her were slow and subtle. To Revlis's delight, he had already learned where her body wished to be loved, lingering where her need ached most. As his lips marked her breasts with love, Revlis drew her arms around him and held him to her heart. Her fingers ran through his silky hair, her nails gingerly raking his scalp as she sighed and gasped from his thrusts. Colors raced through his hair in the wake of her caresses.

As Revlis cooed over him, Shiny's breath raced. His hands indulged in the softness of her skin. His lips tirelessly kissed and suckled at her breasts. His tongue lavished in the taste of her nipples. He hungered for her body, and the mere thought made Revlis's heart race. The desperation lingering in his grip and the passion within his kisses were not the maddened lust of a glamoured victim. This wasn't mindless servitude. His fingers danced with the same affection as they did when they braided Revlis's hair. His lips were as honest as the loving words he would whisper to her.

For a moment, Revlis's heart froze. The memory of Shiny's limp body resting in her hand was still fresh in her memory. Her dream of Shiny immolated in black flames reappered in her memory.

But—just as quickly, the moment passed, and Shiny's kisses brought Revlis back to the pleasure of the moment. His gentle rocking coaxed pleasure back into her body. His lips kissed up until they reached the brand on her chest, that same brand over which he pledged his love. And Revlis realized, maybe Shiny was also scared? Maybe he too dreaded the day where his hands couldn't feel the warmth of her skin, or the softness of her hair?

As if to answer his caresses, Revlis kissed his forehead and offered a soothing moan. She held her lover and surrendered to his own embrace. She smiled and gasped at his quiet moans and hungry thrusts. She squeezed at the luster deep within her. She answered his starved moans with wordless coos and shushes.

The pounding of Shiny's heart began to quicken. His tip began to press inside of her with renewed fervor, pulsing in anticipation. The kiss against her womb threatened to send Revlis into another fit of trembles. She hungered for his final release. Revlis coaxed Shiny with her hips, caressing his firm body as he reached his brink. His pace quickened, and for a moment both lovers moaned in time with each other as their bodies crashed again and again. Their voices rose in want as they fed off of each other's pleasure. The lines in Shiny's body flashed and flickered as his voice began to struggle.

Then, they both cried out, and Revlis saw stars as Shiny pressed firmly against her, unleashing the last of his lust. Each pulse of heat was answered by her cries, until the bursts subsided. Shiny's fingers gripped her tightly until his body gave out the last of his thrusts. Then, he collapsed. His grip weakened, and Shiny fell back against his pillows.

 

Revlis and Shiny

 

Revlis brushed the matted hair from his face, gazing into his eyes. Starved for breath as she was, she kissed his lips as she stroked his cheeks. When she pulled away, she noticed her eyes tearing up as the echoes of her pleasure tickled their last through her body. Shiny smiled, his hand trailing up her back. The warm hues of his eyes spoke volumes.

As Revlis nuzzled Shiny, she felt his lust finally shrink within her. Quite suddenly, Shiny slipped free from her lips. The warm seed he had lovingly filled Revlis with began to drip from her, spreading its warmth along her lips and tickling her. Revlis moaned, picturing the small torrent of Shiny's cum that her womb couldn't contain. Her walls squeezed, struggling without Shiny's length to fill them. It only served to push out what she wished to hold within her.

“Mmm,” she whined. “Don't go...”

Shiny shushed Revlis, pressing her face to his chest. “I'm here,” he murmured. “I won't let go.”

Revlis giggled, her body still trembling from pleasure. Her throat was dry as she gasped for breath and her legs ached from having tucked them against her hips for so long, but as she gazed into Shiny's face, it didn't matter.

She was just about to say something to Shiny when he flinched—and suddenly, Revlis collapsed onto the bed. As she scrambled against the pile of pillows, Shiny's tiny body flashed into her view. He grimaced as he lifted himself upright.

“Ow,” he grunted lamely. Revlis giggled—and caught herself, as her laughter caused more of his seed to dribble out of her. “I think I may have overdone it with shapeshifting.”

“Oh no,” Revlis whined. She gently grasped Shiny in her hands and brought him closer to her face as she curled up on her side. “Are you hurt?”

“Only sore,” Shiny said. “... But it's a good sore. Happy.”

Revlis giggled again, sleepily. “You're greedy,” she teased. “I didn't know you wanted me that badly.”

Shiny kissed Revlis's fingers and fluttered his way out of her palm, resting closer to her eyes. “You asked that I not hold back,” he said. “I hope I satisfied your wishes.”

“Mmm,” Revlis said. “For now. But I don't want you holding it in anymore. I think... I want you to love me every day.”

“Every day?” Shiny repeated.

“Yes! Three—no, four times a day!”

Shiny stroked Revlis's cheek and smiled at her. “I do think that sounds quite lovely, Revvy.”

Giggling at the sound of her name, Revlis hummed as she rest against the pillow. “It'll be great,” she sleepily whined. “Once in the morning, so I can wake up to your kisses... once before bed, for sweet dreams... and once for lunch, so I can feel you filling me.”

“And the fourth time?” Shiny asked.

“Whenever the fancy takes us,” Revlis smiled. “So neither of us goes too long without a nice reminder of how much I love you.”

Shiny kissed Revlis's cheek, coaxing another gentle moan from her. “A trifle of a request from my beloved mistress,” he smiled. “And one I'll be more than glad to satisfy.”

Revlis yawned as Shiny caressed her face. “Is it bedtime, Shiny?” she whined.

“It seems like it,” Shiny said. “Shall I tell you a bedtime story?”

“Mmm, I already have a happy ending,” Revlis whispered. “Just promise me... you'll stay close to me... so I don't lose you...”

As her eyes slowly drifted shut and her breathing slowed, Shiny once again kissed Revlis's cheek. He curled up against her neck, and he too fell asleep in the embrace of his beloved.

 

 

The sun hadn't quite risen when Revlis stirred into wakefulness. Her body still felt a blissful sort of numbness. The sheets in her bed weren't quite silk, but they nevertheless pleasantly tickled her skin. She didn't remember having fallen asleep under the sheets, but she could have imagined Shiny had tucked her in at some point.

Speaking of, Shiny was nowhere to be found. Revlis grumbled and clenched her hands as she tossed in bed. It was then she noticed voices coming from somewhere. How rude—neighbors talking loudly. And somehow, their voices carried into the attic suite.

“Mmm, Shiny ,” Revlis grumbled. “ Shiny-y-y ... make it stop, I want to sleep more...”

Shiny answered from the other side of the room. “Er, Mistress, I'm afraid it's out of my hands. I think you may need to wake up...”

“Shiny, we discussed this last night... you promised, remember?” Revlis groaned. “Once when we wake up, once before lunch, once before bed, and once whenever the time is right during the day. If you're going to wake me up, do it properly...”

“Mistress, we have extenuating circumstances this morning. We have a guest--”

“Mmm, hurry and send them away,” Revlis groaned. “And come back to bed, it's too early for you to be up. I don't want to sleep another moment without you near me.”

“Indeed, what a difficult morning. Perhaps I should have come by at a later time?”

Revlis's eyes shot open as she heard Babylon's voice. She scrambled upright—and realized that she was naked under her sheets. Blushing violently and pulling her blanket to her chest, Revlis looked and saw Babylon standing across the room. Shiny was at his shoulder, wincing apologetically as he carried measuring tape in his arms.

“I'm uncharacteristically disappointed with you, my pet,” Babylon said. Revlis felt cold knives prickling her spine as he spoke. “I'd asked you about your familiar, and you neglected to tell me he was such a gifted tailor. You know I spare no expense in the name of luxury. And never once did you mention having such finery at your beck and call.”

Revlis's tongue turned to leather in her mouth as Babylon contemplated her with his mismatched eyes. Shiny coughed as he measured Babylon's shoulders. “Lord Babylon, you can hardly blame her. A woman is entitled to her secrets.”

Babylon sighed dramatically as Shiny settled on his shoulder. “Oh, I suppose you're right, Vild,” he said.

“Please, lord Babylon—it would please me if you called me Shiny, as my Mistress does.”

“Ah, of course,” Babylon said. “ Shiny . Truly a loving name for a doting servant.”

As Shiny continued taking Babylon's measurements, Revlis felt her heart climb its way into her throat. Once again, the image of Shiny devoured by black flames flashed in her mind as she struggled to budge from her spot.

“You don't seem to be quite yourself this morning, my pet,” Babylon said. “What troubles you?”

Sand shifted in Revlis's throat as she swallowed and coughed out, “Y-yesterday.”

“Ah,” Babylon smiled. “Yes, you carried out my orders quite exceptionally yesterday—as I knew you would. Edith Quill is dead. Her body is now a monument to any that would cross me. The Havoc Staff is no more, destroyed as it should have been ages ago. My enemies have been lain low, by your hand.”

Revlis blinked as Babylon continued to smile darkly at her. “You have carried out my orders, dearest pet. Moreover, you've exceeded my wildest expectations. That bit with the tree was most creative. I admit, I know little of the ways of the Fae and care even less to learn them, but it seems a fitting end to the woman by your hand. My only regret was that Edith was already dead when the tree consumed her, but you do love your flowers so. And you even satisfied my other request!”

Reaching into his coat, Babylon pulled out a dark stone—the black diamond that had shattered the Havoc Staff. Revlis frowned as she noticed it. Glancing at Shiny, she noticed his purple eyes behind his hair winking at her...

“You found me a 'shiny' of my own,” Babylon said. “Indeed, it isn't quite as nice as a soul or a punished traitor, but... somehow, staring into this lucid gem satisfies me. I doubt I'll go out of my way for such baubles hereon out, and yet... this stone pleases me.”

Pocketing the stone, Babylon smiled once again at Revlis. “Once again, you've proven your absolute loyalty. Once you drank deeply from my cup, and you've paid me back tenfold. No less would I expect of my valued arbiter.”

Her jaw trembling, Revlis bowed her head. “... I cannot take credit for either the tree or the diamond,” she said. “It was Shiny. He had been granted a stick by the Laughing Mad. It was because of him that it was thrust into her eye, becoming the tree that would devour her. And using the diamond to shatter the staff was his idea.”

“Is that so?” Babylon asked. “Dearest pet, more and more do I wish you had introduced us sooner. Even I struggle to think of creatures under my employ with such creativity.”

Babylon turned to face Shiny, and nodded his head. “You serve your mistress well. I can see why she treasures you so.”

“Her loyalty to you, Lord Babylon, is an example to us all,” Shiny bowed. “If I may, your coat has a few seams I must repair...”

“Please, do,” Babylon said. “What luxury—my arbiter, who so diligently carries out my word, and her servant the tailor! I pity other deities that cannot know such service.”

Revlis shifted uneasily underneath her blanket. Her hand trailed to the brand on her chest as she averted her gaze from Babylon.

“And still you seem uneasy,” Babylon said. “Really now, you've shown me deference and humility before but this bout of bashfulness has me worried.”

A touch on her chin made Revlis jolt in place; she felt Babylon lift her face as he deeply contemplated her. “I haven't overworked my dear pet too hard, have I? I am quite aware I have a reputation for being impossible to satisfy...”

And Revlis couldn't answer. The gentle touch of Babylon's fingers on her face were like chains to her jaw. Her voice died in her throat, and her lungs struggled to draw in breath. The blue-and-red eyes of her master seemed to glow with both icy disdain and fiery contempt all at once...

“My Lord,” Shiny tried, “I believe my mistress still feels at odds over our oath.”

Revlis barely had time to feel the prickle of shame in her back before she saw Babylon's face stretch into a knowing grin. “Ah,” he purred. “It does seem to be as you said, little Shiny,”

Her throat feeling too dry to even cough, Revlis struggled to speak her master's name. She stopped when his thumb slid over her lips, silencing her. His thumb, soft against her lips, was deceptively strong.

“There's no need for explanation,” he purred. “I already know everything . Oaths are my domain, after all. There is no promise that I do not become a knowing witness to... especially those sworn by my loyal servants.”

Babylon's face inched closer to Revlis's. She could feel the air chill as he drew in. “A woman with an insatiable appetite for luxury and lust in all its forms, and her tiny servant who dutifully carries out her every wish. This was the natural course of events. A servant that loyal comes once in a lifetime. I should know...”

Babylon's thumb seemed to toy with Revlis's lips as his gaze peered into her eyes. “Tell me, my pet,” he quietly urged her. “Do you regret your oath?”

Lifting his thumb from her lips, Revlis suddenly felt like a great weight was lifted from her shoulders. Air rushed into her lungs, and yet her voice faltered slightly as she breathed, “ N-no.

Babylon's mouth cracked into a dark grin as he whirled in place to face Shiny. “It is as I told you, tiny darkling!” he said.

Revlis snapped her head between the two as she struggled to cough out words. Seating himself upon the chair at the table and crossing his legs, Babylon stroked his chin as he contemplated her.

“Your servant summoned me as you slept,” he said. “He wished to give the full report of your victory himself, presented me with the black diamond, and spoke to me of his worries. He was ever so concerned that in a moment of decadent passion, he might have affected your standing with me. I've never seen such an amusing display from my servants. As if my worshippers have never lain with each other!”

Even Shiny seemed to hang his head low as Babylon spoke. Revlis once again averted her gaze.

“My only desire was to serve you well, my lord,” she droned.

“And mine was to serve my Mistress, Lord Babylon,” Shiny answered.

Babylon shook his head and shrugged. “You see? Playwrights spend their lives trying to capture such comedy. They barter their souls with me just to try and capture moments like these. Such loyal servants! Such dedicated deeds! Such innocent grasping at straws! I've not felt mirth like this in eons.”

As Babylon darkly smiled at his servants, Revlis too felt her face easing into a smirk. Indeed, what else could she do but laugh? Her last meeting with the Laughing Mad flashed in her mind, but as Revlis drew breath she also remembered the words of Ben Nihre.

Babylon doesn't seem the 'sharing'-type ”...

Coughing gently, Revlis pulled the sheet from her bed and wrapped it around herself. Kneeling before her master, she said, “My lord?”

“Oh?” he asked. “Has my servant some new spore of comedy to share with me?”

“No, my lord,” Revlis said. “I wish to confess.”

“Confess away, my most-penitent pet,” Babylon smiled.

Revlis swallowed, fighting down the chill at her back.

“Now, as ever, my loyalty to you stands true. I seek vengeance against those who've harmed me. I hunger for the blood of those who've strayed from your path. When I set forth in my allegiance to you, I was content to walk alone. I hadn't counted on finding Shiny.”

“And what a find he was,” Babylon smirked.

“Truly,” Revlis smiled. She turned to face Shiny, who sat on the table as he tended to Babylon's jacket. “Now, I couldn't imagine not having him with me. Which is why I...”

“Speak no more,” Babylon said, waving a hand. “A fine comedy is well and good, but I haven't the patience for these saccharine romances. And if I hear any more of this dreadful simpering, I'll have no choice but to punish you, dear pet.”

Revlis felt her heart skip a beat at the idea of a punishment from Babylon. “I—ah—well...”

Once again, Babylon reached down to Revlis and gently lifted her face. “Your insatiable nature is one of my favorite things about you, dear pet,” Babylon purred. “You set out in this miserable world of liars and fools and somehow manage to find trinkets to amuse yourself with—pearls hidden amongst the chaff and offal. And in this world, you found a most loyal servant of your own... And now you too know the pleasure of having someone's heart beating within your palm. The difference is, you got to feel a good deal more than just their heart...”

“Does that upset you, master?” Revlis asked.

“Upset me?” Babylon smirked. “Does it upset me that such a ferocious, loyal, powerful and beautiful servant set her heart upon her own servant? Please. Men of my caliber are far beyond such trifling jealousies.”

As Babylon released her face and leaned back in his chair, Revlis smiled... until she noticed Babylon's pale hand gripping the armrest.

I am beyond such jealousies,” Babylon repeated darkly. It was as if he were attempting to convince himself of the fact. “Hm. It is a very curious thing, having a treasure dangled out of your grasp. I can see how it would lead lesser men to their ruination.”

Babylon's voice was as smooth as ever. But Revlis could feel the air trembling around the First Devil as he sat before her. His blue eye was frigid. His red eye was blazing. And the smirk on his lips seemed to delight in counting endless unspoken sins.

“Truly, you sparkle in your own way, my pet,” Babylon purred. “As I said, I know little of the ways of the fae. I'd imagined them quite beneath me. But you... you've awoken something in me. It seems the flame I stoked within you hasn't quite burnt out your sylvan ways... and perhaps it's for the best. It excites me in ways so few of my other followers could ever manage. As you flit about, you stirr such curious emotions within me. So long have I sought loyalty in the fires of hell, when the forests where what gave me... you .”

Resting his chin in his palm, Babylon smiled icily. “A woman like you only comes along once in a great while. I feel it'll be a long, long time before another waylaid child of the forest comes before me... but I'd gladly wait eons for such an opportunity. And I never thought I'd ever say such a thing You never cease to surprise me, dearest pet...”

Babylon's fangs flashed in the morning light. As always, Revlis felt herself totally bare before him—the sheet wrapped around her was but a formality in this case. But she also felt a tether grounding her—Shiny, glittering plainly in view. Even with Babylon looming before her, Shiny's light reached her, and Revlis could feel the tattoo on her navel glitter along with him...

“Your jacket, lord Babylon,” Shiny said. Babylon stood from his seat as Shiny gingerly helped the god into his coat. Babylon walked to a mirror on the far side of the room as he examined himself.

“Well,” he mused as he admired himself. “If your darning is anything to go by, my servant is in the best of care. I daresay, this jacket is as finely detailed as I could ever have asked for.”

“Only the best for you, lord Babylon,” Shiny bowed.

“Indeed,” Babylon smiled. “I'm feeling quite naughty this fine morning. I just may go and brag of my victories to Crowley. I daresay he'll never know the pleasures of a good servant like I have.”

Revlis bowed her head as she rose to her feet. “Haven't you any other duties for me, master?” she asked.

Babylon clicked his tongue as he caressed the stitching of his jacket. “Oh, I can't be bothered with that right now. Go forth and seek your own amusement. With any luck, you'll spend time hunting down a few fools emblazoned with the bloodied knife in the near future. But all good huntresses need a rest. I trust you'll await my next orders with baited breath.”

“Thank you, master,” Revlis sighed.

Babylon smiled, and stepped through the mirror. “Don't forget, my dear pet,” he said as he walked off into the reflection. “I am the god of all oaths—even yours. Beware your wandering eye, lest I find myself forced to punish you. Then again, who knows? Perhaps you'll enjoy it. Your friend Terryn certainly did...”

Babylon's echoing laughter was the last Revlis heard of her master as his shadowy form vanished within the mirror. The room seemed a bit brighter in his absence.

“Well,” Shiny breathed, flitting to Revlis's side. “I can see why you preferred to speak to Babylon alone. He truly is a most imposing presence. I do hope you'll forgive me for summoning him unannounced, Mistress? Mistress?”

Shiny bit his lip as he realized Revlis stood trembling in place, gripping her blanket to her chest until her knuckles shone white.

“I... cannot... believe...” she breathed.

“Mistress, I do apologi--”

“...that he'd bring up Terryn like that!” Revlis hissed.

“... Mistress?” Shiny tried.

“That little hussy ! She never did anything for Babylon, and he punished her because she asked for it! The thought that that brat got to feel the firmness of Babylon's hands... oooh, if I ever see that purple-haired sneak again, I'll wring her neck and devour her soul myself!”

“Mistress...?” Shiny called.

“And he knows it!” Revlis continued, pacing before her bed. “It's as though he's asking me to ask him to punish me! And I'd do it, oh God would I do it in a heartbeat, but I can't just ask ! I can't seem desperate , I'm his arbiter ! Oh, but I do love when he holds my chin so... I know I shouldn't, but I want to...”

Revvy.

Revlis froze as she heard her name called. She felt herself pushed onto the bed—and staring up at Shiny, once again grown to match her height. Her sheet had slipped off, but Revlis couldn't care less as she found herself staring into the pinks and purples running through Shiny's skin.

“'Beware your wandering eye', indeed,” he purred. “I see now what awaits me if I don't give you your proper waking up.”

“Why, Shiny,” Revlis smirked. Her hands reached up and around Shiny's neck. “You're not jealous, are you?”

“I'm too busy waking my beloved mistress up from her beauty sleep to be jealous,” Shiny murmured. His face leaned in until his lips just barely brushed against Revlis's. “She's so needy... and I wouldn't want her any other way...”

As Shiny kissed Revlis's cheek, she giggled and kicked her feet beneath him. “O-o-oh, Shiny ~!” she squealed...

 

 

Very few visitors to Twinchapel's inn took residence in the upper rooms close to the attic for the following week; they all complained that there was too much noise. Just before the innkeepers decided to work up the courage to say something to Revlis, she and Shiny burst out from the attic and flew off into the horizon, evidently to fulfill a new task from Babylon.

In time, the forest surrounding what used to be the dead chapel grew back. The villagers avoided the new wood, and many would whisper in hushed voices that devils lurked in them. Indeed, the town librarian took great care to impress upon any who would listen that those woods were to be undisturbed. Fools would wander in to find the Traitor's Tree, said to bloom year-round with blossoms fed by a dead woman's blood. Only some of them would return home to confirm the tree was there.

For many years after, the residents of Twinchapel would hear stories from Ben about Revlis and her hunts for greedy and treacherous men. In short order, Twinchapel became known as a favored location to the Black Prince, and while adventurers of all walks would still go visit the library to get stories written, even the hardiest of adventurers stayed away when they knew that Babylon's arbiter was roosting in the town. While few would see her or the dark fae that served her, many girls in town would hunt for stray cherry blossoms that appeared overnight, believing they could attract lovers.

In the meantime, Revlis and her beloved Shiny lived happily ever after indeed.