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Black Pearl 16


The Black Pearl of Pharazionby Cobalt Jade ( 16: The Crystal ShardsWhen we woke I truly wondered if it had all been a dream. Soft blue light, a precursor to dawn, glowed in the window, and there were the distant sounds of the city rising for work, birdsong, the clink of metal in the forge. Shadow still slept, the soft hairs on his chest looking dusted with mica in the lamplight. We'd been so passionate the night before I'd forgotten to ask him how he had fared in the days we'd been apart. It had been rough, for I saw some bruises and scrapes I hadn't noticed the night before.Marnessa lay in deep slumber on her cot, one lovely arm flung over her eyes as if surfeited with passion. She'd had a good workout. Hopefully, she would sleep until noon. Not that I hadn't enjoyed her, but I really wanted to spend time alone with Shadow.I slipped out of bed. Clad in a silk robe, I picked up the food basket the Templewards had left on the villa doorstep. They would feed us as long as we stayed here. I set the meatrolls and pastries on the table, on a colorful plaid cloth, as if I was village wife preparing for the day. Silly, I told myself. Yet I was looking forward to Shadow's company for the day. I heard a noise in the bathroom and went to check. Shadow was showering in a slow trickle from the cistern, rinsing a thin film of soap off his body. The wolf tattoo was a blazing cinnamon against his pale skin. I couldn't help shedding my robe and sneaking behind him--making noise to announce myself, as not to spook his skittish reflexes--and folded my arms around that hard, hard flesh. Did I mention I was half a head taller than him? "Move over, wolf-man.""You are well-rested," he observed, letting my arms close around him. "Do you know that you snore at night?""It was Marnessa," I said."A little iced-cake like that? No, it was you." He handed me some soap with a cheerful flourish. "At least she sleeps now. I thought she never would.""Don't say you didn't enjoy it," I said."It brought back pleasant memories," he said, with a half-smile.I was still unsure about him, so framed my invitation as a tease rather than a request. "Would you like to create some more? Marnessa still sleeps.""Please, I am wet," he mock-protested."So am I," I said, straddling his hip, so he could feel the warm juices coming from inside me.We lay on a marble bench, both of us wet and glistening. The seat was scooped in the middle so it cupped me with comfort. I spread my legs wide, folding them up, so he could see the purplish gash of my sex. "Come here wolf-man," I purred, stroking my now-moist lips with one finger. "All night I've wanted you alone, come and play with this sleek black panther." Panther--I might add--is slang for a women's organs in Pharazion and Zaar. He lay on top of me then, and the hard friction of his body between my thighs, and the stiff cocked that poked and pried, and finally entered, were enough to render me ecstatic, as he covered my neck and mouth with rough, urgent kisses. I imagined him as a wolf covered with shaggy black fur, soft and yielding in the mass but scratchy singly. When he thrust I only grunted, wanting to keep things quiet in case Marnessa should hear and badger us to join in again.As far as sex goes, it was short, violent, and utterly delicious. I opened my eyes to see him withdraw, a glistening strand of semen still attached to me, which broke with a delicate snap. I felt a little reckless then, and I said, "We should make a habit of this. Perhaps after this adventure we can embark on another."He looked down, cleaning himself, but I could tell he was agitated. Were there other obligations for him? A wife, a lover, a cause he was not free to leave? Or was he just taking what he would, as many men do, without thinking of tomorrow?I was immediately sorry I'd said it. Several nights of sex, even wild sex, between adventurers was no different than shared time in a bawdy-house. It meant little, next to the obligations of normal life. "Perhaps," he said. "Who knows what the gods have in store in for us?"A note of sadness, of wistfullness, in his voice told me he did not know what lay in his future, and couldn't make any plans because of it. I didn't want to push and cause him to withdraw, so I spoke no more of it. "Come," I said. "Breakfast is on the table."We dressed, then ate. Shadow told me that over the past few days he had been rallying the commoners outside the city, preparing them for when Deneir's--the rightful king's--forces would come. He didn't say what he did during the nights. I filled him in on my activities, leaving out, of course, the orgy with the Duke. By then the other rebels had begun to arrive, and the rest of our day was given over to strategizing. The temple representatives spoke of Lassimla's vision and the eight beasts of stone that guarded the city."Ridiculous," Aylinn scoffed. "How can stone become living flesh? I've seen those statues, they are deader than the pebble currently vexing my sandal.""You question the words of the High Priestess?" one of the temple advisors said severely."Ah, no," Aylinn stammered under that steely gaze. "I just find it hard to believe, that's all. In Hharang we got along just fine without gods, and they got along fine without us.""The legend is true," a member of the Yasch, one of the rebel noble families, said. "So we've been taught, anyway. I remember walking by the statue of Zu many times as a boy, and shuddering when I thought of it coming to life. Imagine a fire-breathing bull twenty feet high with a man's face in its chest. My father said the face would babble incessantly in battle and spit curses, and when it shouted soldiers would deafen and buildings collapse.""They all have names?" I said."Yes. Zu, Quorveh, Vengla, Rhonde," he said, ticking them off on his fingers. "Keeya the peacock. Amangarauta, Hachu'kai. The scorpion goddess Artelus. Each has a different power. Rhonde, the deer-headed snake, strangles its enemies in its coils and swallows them whole, while Keeya creates a whirlwind with its wings.""A tremendous advantage for our side, *if* the legend is true," Shadow said. "So this girl is living with my brother's followers now? We should send for her. Are they any ancient texts that can tell us more?"We talked for a while about that, then came round again to the Queen. "J'Wabra and were discussing the Queen's weaknesses," I said. "We came to the conclusion she may have an amulet or another object as the magical source of her power. Does anyone know about this?""She is secretive," Lady Marakassa said, shaking her head. "She is notoriously unpredictable and moody. She may disappear for days, then turn up as if she had not gone missing at all.""She plans her rituals carefully," said another noble."She has many magic items," said a third. "Who's to know where the font of her power lies?"But then a very ancient, bent-backed old Duchess spoke up. "When I go to court, I hear many things," she explained. "While the others give themselves over to carnal pleasures I pretend to drool and nap, and no one stays their tongue, for no one thinks an old lady such as I has a mind. This morning I heard the Queen speaking to her lover of the moment and I heard something very interesting. She asked him to join her at Psalmrune Tower at midnight, for what she called 'The Milking.' I gathered it was a ritual of some sort. He nodded eagerly. 'Shall I bring the shard?' he said." 'Yes,' replied the Queen. 'But tell no one where you going. This is our secret.' Then she kissed her lover, fully but secretively, on the lips, and they hurried off.""Hmm," I said."Psalmrune Tower lies at the northeast corner of the palace," Lady Marakassa said. "It's the tallest of the palace towers, and very steep--impossible to climb. And you have to get past the palace guards.""I will find a way," I said. "Whatever she's doing, I will catch her at it.""I will go with you," Shadow said.I was surprised to hear him put himself in danger when he was the king's blood-brother. "It's dangerous to sneak into the palace," I said. "There are those walls of thorns--""I know," he said. "I have abilities of my own, as you know," he added obliquely.Our meeting broke up in time for dinner. It had taken all day and evening now lay in a purple shroud over the city. J'Wabra took us aside. "It may not be the wisest thing for you to break into the palace," he said. "The Queen and her nobles all know you by sight.""That's why we're doing it at night," I said. He lowered his voice. "There will be much danger for you. Wait a few days, and we can help you get in by other means.""But then this ritual, whatever it is, will be over."Shadow clapped him on the shoulder. "I know you mean well," he said cheerfully. "But I can handle any dyspeptic Queen. As can the Amazon.""Still, you should be careful," J'Wabra warned. "Shezrine has many tricks up her sleeve."I looked at Shadow. "The sooner we prepare for her, the better," I said.#We set out at midnight dressed in dark clothes, carrying ropes, hooks, and a few other items I had brought with me. We were well armed with knives, which would be easier to use in close quarters. Shadow darkened his skin to blend in with the night, but I needed no enhancement. Silently we slipped through the streets of the city, avoiding the raucous nightlife that Obn Dhregni was famed for. Soon we came to the clashing wall of thorns.I expected Shadow to be surprised, but he'd seen it before. There were no guards here or any other sign of human life, which only made the metallic scrapes and clangs more eerie. No guards were needed, really. The wall was protection enough.Shadow studied it silently. We were in a dark section of the city, surrounded by warehouses, and no one came to investigate us. "You said you knew of a way through this," I whispered."I do," Shadow said, and continued to study the thorns. "Observe that they move in a particular pattern, almost like singing. Da dee, da dum, da, da, da," he sang, with motions of his hand. "Then a space opens up large enough for one to jump through. Ah--see it? *There.*"And as he had said a space did open up, wide enough to admit a human body--albeit a swiftly moving human body--then closed with the cold clash of a pair of shears. "It'll come round again, in twenty beats," he said. "Then we jump through."I tried to see the pattern he said was obvious, but could not. The movement looked as random as ever to me. But Shadow saw it; he was even grinning a little, as if he couldn't wait for the challenge. His confidence made me feel all the more foolish. "Here it comes, again" Shadow said, and crouched. In another heartbeat he dove through the sudden hole, did a graceful tumble in the dirt, and came up on his feet. He brushed the dirt from himself as the opening closed. "There. Easy enough, for one who knows the rhythm. When the next opening comes around again, it's your turn."My heart raced as I looked at the thorns. The slave-statues and hanging criminals hadn't phased me, but the thought of being sliced to death by sharpened razors spooked me badly. "Shadow--I can't," I stammered. "The thorns--there's no pattern there. If there is, I can't see it.""Walk five steps to the right," he said patiently. "That's it. Stay there, and in another eight seconds the hole will appear three feet above the ground."The thorns continued to claw and clash, like butcher's cleavers, like scythes. I tried to set my body in a crouch but my limbs felt frozen. I am not afraid of many things in this world, but dismemberment was one of them. "I can't," I said miserably. "Close your eyes, then," Shadow said. "Shut them tight, and jump when I tell you.""I can't--" I moaned."You must trust me!" he ordered. "Or you will never get in."I closed my eyes, ashamed at my weakness. Each hammer of my heart seemed to take forever. As if through a fog, I heard Shadow shout, "Now!" and I jumped, pulling my body into the shape of a springing panther, to pass through the void that my trust told me was there. No metal thorns tore my flash though I felt the air move as they twined around me, and I opened my eyes to see the ground rise to kiss me. I hit it with an awkward thump. "Well done," Shadow whispered, helping me up. "Graceless, but brave."I looked back at the wall. The hole was gone and the thorns clashed on, unperturbed. "How are you able to gauge the pattern, and I cannot?" I said. "Is it your wolf-senses?""Partly," he said. He must have been using them doubletime, for he turned his head this way and that as if listening, and I actually heard him sniff the air. When I turned to look at him his eyes glittered faintly. "Let's go through the gardens. There's group of palace guards headed this way."The palace loomed before us as we crept through the trees. Fountains tinkled, night-blooming flowers released their perfume. Nude statues stood on plinths here and there, their marble perfection more arousing than those of the flesh-and-blood slaves who serviced the nobles beneath them. We skirted this banquet, coming to a deserted side of the palace near a tool shed where we paused to strap the cat's claws to our hands and feet. These were curved, metal crampons Turufanxian thieves used to scale buildings and we looked like two beasts when we were through. "I've never heard of these before," Shadow said in wonder, flexing his fingers. The metal claws at the tips curved like an eagle's. "They grip stone, you say?""As surely as flesh. Not many know of them in the Uplands.""A good thing too, for many rare and beautiful things would go missing from their owners." We began to climb, I in the lead, Shadow following; soon we reached the roof and a ledge that ran by a series of small windows. I looked down and whistled softly. By chance we were above the concupiscerium. Below us the slave statues stood in silent vigilance, indifferent to our progress. Perhaps some might have noticed the dark, shadowy figures we made, but they were forbidden to speak, and who would note them if they did?"By the gods," Shadow muttered, looking down with me. "Are those statues? Or people?""People," I said, and motioned him down the ledge. From above I saw how thoroughly each hall had been decorated with these captives, even the small ones no more than five paces long. They might have been mere arabesques in the cornices which were there to add to the overall richness but whose individual presence was never picked out. The thought made me sad. They were on display for no one, really.When we reached a convenient corner we went over the glass-vaulted roof, making for the turrets and gables that marked the Queen's private apartments at the wing's further end. I heard Shadow swear again. We were on a level to look right down on the slave chandeliers, and they, if they were suspended on their backs, could look up at us. "They can't see us," I said. "They can't see anything beyond the light of the lamp.""The oil will burn them," Shadow said with amazement. I shook my head. "As long as they remain still, they are safe. Come on, Shadow. We can't free them all, much less get them out safely."Reluctantly he turned away to follow me. "Shezrine is a monster," he muttered.We came to the tower. It was even taller when seen from its base, a smooth, featureless cylinder of stone. That height and smoothness was its defense. But the Queen hadn't counted on Turufanxian cat's claws. We began to climb, a pair of determined insects in the night. The stone we gripped was dark, and the moon was thin; we were not seen. Higher and higher we went. If we looked down, we might have been petrified, if of a different bent than we were, but luckily neither of us was prone to fear of heights. We passed ten dark, empty windows, winding our way around the tower, before we saw the glow of lamplight in the topmost chamber. With it came a series of faint cries, staccato, measured, and feminine. They were the cries of a woman in sexual ecstasy, and they belonged to the Queen.We picked up our pace, reaching the stone ledge of the window at the same time. Balanced on the steel claws at my feet, I looked in.What I saw was so surprising I had to look away, then quickly look back to make sure I saw what I thought I did. A very naked Shezrine sat tied to a high-backed chair with cords of black silk, her thighs spread wide. She was gasping and writhing as a bearded man hungrily mouthed her breasts. I had seen him before; he was Euarez, one of the courtiers I had been introduced to on my visit to the palace. He bit and tweaked her nipples as if nursing, and the Queen's shrill cries echoed off the stone walls of the chamber. I simply stared in shock, or a state that seemed like it, even though I'd been well aware of Shezrine's proclivities. Shadow swore again, but that was all he did.Euarez directed his attentions lower, to the fork of the Queen's white-furred sex. He buried his face between her legs and she shrieked in pleasure, her hips thumping rhythmically on the velvet cushion. I saw her white thighs strain against the cords. It was clear she was highly excited. Her breasts bounced back and forth, nipple-rings dancing, as the cords in her neck grew taut. Suddenly her eyes closed, her mouth opened wide, and all further cries were silenced as she shook in the throes of a powerful orgasm. Then she sank back into the chair, skin shining from her exertions. "Quickly," she gasped. "The shard."Euarez reached into a wooden box inlaid with strange symbols. He withdraw a crystal shard and a long instrument almost like a siphon which he inserted where his tongue had just been. Shezrine gave a little groan of protest or pain as it collected whatever fluids had accumulated inside her. She sighed in relief as Euarez withdrew it and emptied the contents into the shard."Perfect," he said, holding it before her, and they both laughed. As I watched the clear crystal turned a pale blue in color, glowing of its own accord, and he capped it with a metal plug. With great care, he then fastened it to Shezrine's girdle, to join the dozens of other crystal shards which already hung there.Shezrine cocked her head at him. "Aren't you going to untie me?" she said pettishly."I think not, your Majesty," Euarez said, and buried his face again in the sticky mass of curls between her thighs. The Queen laughed."Sex magic," Shadow whispered. "Notice that he didn't come inside her, for that would dilute the pure sexual secretions of a powerful witch. So that's the source of her power!" The dozens of shards Shezrine wore were testaments to her total strength, as well as her active sex life. "If we could unstop them somehow, smash them..." I mused.But a hoarse cry from the chamber distracted me before I could finish. The courtier was reaching his own climax, both hands engaged at his organ. Shezrine slipped her hands free and tenderly stroked her lover's hair and the smooth arch of his neck. I saw her take up the black cord that had bound her, her eyes slits of darkness. She passed the length under her lover's neck, crossed her wrists, and pulled.The poor dupe never had a chance. His head jerked up as he was garroted. Shezrine looked down on him with her cold black eyes as his hands clawed for life. His face blackened and his eyes protruded. But his panic brought him no mercy. Shezrine smiled, and her dark laughter chased us down the tower. The secret of the shards would stay a secret.


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