The Ebon Fortress
If you pursue Matthias on the battlefield, it will end in tragedy. As it turned out, death was not Aurianna’s fate, but something far, far worse.
Tragedy loomed ahead, in rising black walls guarding a massive, unnatural castle surrounded by a boiling moat of blood. The Ebon Fortress was a monstrous thing of basalt mortared with bone marrow, reinforced with human souls bound into eternal torment within the stones. It sat like a cancer in the Plains of Oriath, the most fertile lands on the continent. They were still fecund, but the crops raised by the mortal slaves writhed with unholy life.
Iron doors led into the throne room, illuminated by screaming, burning humans in blackened cages. Demons of all descriptions milled about, hooting and mocking and hurling abuse at the captured paladin. She couldn’t make out the specifics of their threats over the pounding of her own heart. A warty thing the size of a mule oozed over, then swelled up. “Matthias the Fallen,” it boomed, “seeks an audience with the Lord Baath-Me’el!”
“Let him approach the presence.” The voice was soft, almost gentle.
Matthias jerked the leash, and the court howled with laughter as Aurianna nearly fell. Each step was heavier than the last. Demons and human servants of the lord loudly commented on her appearance or made crude suggestions about what they could do with her. Their words and their eyes weighed upon her, and each thudding footstep brought her closer to that inevitability.
The throne rose before them now, a simple thing of carved dark wood incongruously perched on a dais of human bodies fused together. Upon it sat Baath-Me’el himself. He was deceptively human in appearance and handsome in a way that reminded Aurianna that devils were angels fallen from grace. Long blonde hair poured over his shoulders, and he wore an open-necked tunic of white silk and gold with his breeches of dark blue velvet. His six wings were skeletal, charred and fleshless.
“Kneel,” Matthias ordered. She refused, staring ahead, past Matthias and Baath-Me’el. This small act of defiance was met with unfounded cruelty. Thrown to the floor, she landed with a crash of metal on stone, catching herself on hands and knees.
“And what have you brought me, my pet?” Baath-Me’el asked, curious.
“A gift, my lord. Paladin Aurianna Kallekos.”
Amusement glittered in the devil’s inhuman, golden eyes. “The one you sought to protect, not long ago?”
“The very same, my lord.”
He stepped from his throne and approached her. “Stand,” he commanded in a voice that was silky, yet forceful. She stood, shaking long strands of black hair out of her face before meeting him eye to eye. While she wore her insolence in a tight-lipped expression, her stomach twisted in knots. Steady, measured breaths conveyed the illusion of control; they were the sole thing she could control in this moment. He stood taller than her, looking down on her. His touch was gentle, caressing her cheek, but still, she flinched. That was all the resistance she could muster.
“Such a lovely gift,” the elder demon mused, as he cupped her chin. “You shall be rewarded well, Matthias.” Aurianna’s disapproving glare was met with triumph. His fingers grazed her neck, his claws sharp against her skin. Threatening to tear into her flesh.
“Tell me, Aurianna,” he began, spitting out her name as though it tasted foul in his mouth. “Why are you here, before me?”
“I was captured,” she said, unsure of what he was expecting her to say. Baath walked around her, running his hands through her dark hair.
“Obviously,” he replied in a dry tone, one that elicited laughter from his court. Behind her, he brushed aside the long hair from her neck. His lips grazed her ear. “You could have run. All your fellow paladins did. Perhaps this is what you wanted, to be brought here. To serve me, as Matthias does.” One arm snaked around her hips, the other held her face towards him as the dark grin lit up his features. “A woman like you is rare indeed. Swear me fealty, and you will be mine alone.”
“Never!” She struggled against him. There wasn’t much she could do, bound as she was with arms tied behind her back, but she managed to twist away from his touch. Or, perhaps, he let her? His smile didn’t falter, and the court hooted in glee.
“Shame. I am still going to have you, however.” The words hummed in her ears as he turned his back on her. Rope burned her wrists as she made another futile attempt at escape. If only she weren’t bound! She could have struck him, could have fought! Could have forced the demons to kill her, and even taken some out with her. But he wouldn’t have exposed himself if she weren’t helpless. If her fate weren’t inescapable, now. Once he was seated, he looked to Matthias. “Strip her of her armor.”
The court howled and jeered in anticipation, then crowded closer as the former paladin drew a dagger. Closing in on her and making the massive great hall seem tight, compact. Twisting the rope around one fist, Matthias drew it tight. “A final lesson,” he murmured, pitching his voice for her ears alone. “You will be his. Defiance will only prolong your torment. Trust me on that, if nothing else.”
She glared at Matthias, focusing her fear and disgust into hatred. His last teaching, long after he had abandoned her as his pupil. It wasn’t angry or condescending or cruel. It was only empty.
With her jaw clenched so tight it hurt, she didn’t respond. There was no response to give. He had done this to her, brought her here, subjected her to this. There would be no absolving his conscience.
The dagger sliced through the leather buckles of her breastplate, sending it crashing to the floor. He kicked it aside, then gripped the underlying chain mail at the throat with both hands. There was a moment’s hesitation, and then a shriek of rending metal as he tore the mail-like cloth and threw it aside as well. The quilted leather jerkin beneath was also discarded, leaving her naked before the court.
Her powerful, proud, warrior’s physique didn’t feel so proud now that her defenses were ripped away. Despite her height and long lean legs, she felt small as Matthias stood over her. Though firm musculature rippled in her arms and back, she felt meek, trying in vain to cover herself for just a moment longer. The glint of the knife caught her eye, and for a moment, she considered going for it. She’d never make it out alive, not with a measly dagger, but dying in the process would be preferable to the torture Baath-Me’el had planned. Preferable to ending up a soulless demon, like Matthias.
Baath-Me’el rose from his throne once more, allowing his silk robe to spill down his body and pool at his feet. His nude form could have been chiseled from the finest marble, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip, without any hair to disguise the play of his muscles. He walked towards her, golden eyes exploring the rounded contours of her body, and he smiled. There was no warmth in that smile. Only lust, and a pitiless hunger.
“Submit,” Matthias whispered, standing behind her now. His dagger cut through the rope binding her hands. “Your defiance will change nothing.”
Her defiance was all she had left; he had stripped her of anything else. Her defiance was all that stood between her and Matthias’ fate. Her defiance would cost her life but would spare her soul.
She grabbed the dagger out of Matthias’ hands, swinging wide to slice open the demon lord’s throat. Baath-Me’el caught her wrist just before his face. Her other hand joined his on her wrist, pushing forward, fighting his grip, and the tip found his face. Blood rolled down his cheek, a thin black line against his alabaster skin. His smile deepened.
His free hand pummeled her gut, doubling her over. Air burst from her lungs, taking most of her fight out of her. No… no… It can’t end like this! Again, she tried to wrest away from his grasp, but his velvet touch was as strong as steel. His grip on her wrist twisted, threatening to snap the small bones. Numb fingers released the dagger. Knuckles smacked across her cheeks, sending her twisting away. The court was blurry now, indistinct, crowding even closer to her. A fist tightened in her hair, and his foot kicked in the back of her knee. Baath-Me’el followed her as she crashed into the ground.
Now, there was nothing but the cold, stone floor and Baath-Me’el’s heat and weight on her. Weight that held her down, prone, one strong, silken hand on the back of her head, pressing her cheek into the hard floor. Cheers erupted now, jubilant at her failure to change or escape her fate. The cacophony of demonic enthusiasm pounded her eardrums, overwhelming even her thoughts.
Still, Baath Me’el’s words cut through the noise, hot and moist on her ear, “You should have listened to Matthias.” Across the throne room, within her eyeline, restrained as she was by the elder demon, stood Matthias. His full helm masked his expression, and he just stared ahead with steel indifference. Aurianna couldn’t tell if he was looking at her, but still she stared, not averting her gaze. Not blinking, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“No,” Baath-Me’el growled, rolling her over to her back. His steel grip held her chin fast. “No, you look at me when I am inside you.” His wings lashed out, trapping her wrist above her head. Razor juts on the bone cut into her skin with each movement.
His hands cupped her breasts and traced the plains of her stomach in a mockery of a lover’s caress his breath hot on her face as he leaned over her. “Perhaps, once, you dreamt of having Matthias like this?” he purred, forcing his lips against hers. “Well, he will have you as well.” His tongue thrust into her mouth, fingers tangling in her hair. “When he gets his turn.”
Rising up over her once more, Baath held her hips steady with inhuman strength. With a single motion, he drove himself into her body. “Mine!” he roared in triumph, “Before my court, and before the Goddess that failed you, you are mine!”
She shrieked when he impaled her. Tears slid from her eyes, as her back arched. Pained cries drowned out by the cheers from his court. Time stretched out as her assault continued. Breaking her down, as it was intended to do. It could only end in two ways. Like the broken, lifeless paladin corpses who had been dumped before the Seraphim Wall, raped to death. Or like Matthias, selling her soul to make the torment stop.
His lips caressed her cheek, a tenderness that stood in contrast to her debasement, and his breath was hot and moist on her ear. “You will always remember,” he murmured, tracing her earlobe with his tongue, “that as you were raped your body will betray you. That no matter what you may claim, your body hungered for the seed of your rapist.”
Despite how she resisted, straining against his movement, his words were prophetic. Even as her mind revolted at his touch, her body responded, opening and welcoming and accepting her. Her body convulsed and she released a defeated whimper. Baath had won.
His thrusts became relentless, bruising in their force as he ravaged her body. Fingers dug cruelly into her hips as he filled her with his seed, to cheers and applause from the court. Without warning he pulled out, letting the last spurts of his orgasm splatter over her stomach. Where his seed met her skin it raised welts, branding her with a scar of her violation.
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