To Whom I Kneel: Nine Kings Episode 2

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Chorus 1

If you saw the world through my delusions

Numbed yourself to what I feel

Would you draw the same conclusions?

Drop your head to whom I kneel?

All kneel to someone


A.

Light from the lapping flames wrapped around the wall of the cavern. Larissa unfastened her jeans and slid them off. She did the same with her flowered shirt and stepped out beyond the reach of her fire. Her green eyes found the crescent moon, hanging on the far horizon. Below in the pastures, a bonfire burned. She got out of her underwear and bra and slung all her clothes over her left arm. The time’s drawing close again. She tiptoed down to the stream and sat them out in a neat pile beside her. One by one, she dunked and scrubbed her garments in the gurgling waters. There was something comfortable about being naked and alone in the woods. Something liberating. She stopped at the tree outside her cave and hung her clothes over a low branch.

Back inside the cave, she curled up next to her fire. “Soon.”

The fire flickered. Its orange tongues morphed into a dark blue, then lavender, and stopped on black. The dark one. It grew out of the unnatural ashes and formed a cloaked shadow at eye level. Larissa moved to her knees and bowed to the figure.

Time grows short.

Her head remained lowered. “I know, dark one.”

Souls. Its hollow voice reverberated around the cozy cavern.

“I can get more livestock tonight.”

Human souls.

“Master.” She shook her head. “They’re innocent. They haven’t done anything to deserve this.”

With innocence comes higher purity, greater power. Give me their souls, or I tear yours to shreds!

“As you command, dark one.”

A golden glow replace the eerie gray light. Outside, fireflies twinkled on a warm breeze. A wrenching pain in her abdomen doubled her over. Gurgles radiated from her gut. A burning sensation that felt like it emanated from the marrow of her bones pulled a scream from Larissa’s lips. The hair on her arms lengthened. A stabbing pain in her lower jaw. Incisors grew. The clear gel returned, oozing from her pores. Fluid matted her elongating ears to the side of her head. The nose flattened, her upper jaw cracked and extended. The part that was Larissa faded farther into the recesses of the shared psyche. It had control. Tendons in her legs stretched to match the new length of its bones. Gel dripped from her oversized fingers. Larissa climbed onto all fours. Brown fur poked out in patches all over her back. Breasts shrank. A muzzle replaced her once adorable features. The beast took one look at the lapping fire and darted into the darkness in search of its master’s source of power.

Back on the hunt. She stopped at the stream and sniffed the air. Smoke, animals, and something out of place. Her nose couldn’t place it, but there was a scent that didn’t belong. She took off across the forest floor and down the slope. Her senses, primed. Bats flittered from treetops in search of a bug or two. She leaped off a rocky outcropping over one of the stream’s tributaries and wove between younger saplings. The bonfire grew nearer. She bounded over a barbed-wire fence and darted across the familiar pasture. Most of the herd was gone tonight. After her previous brutal display, it was no wonder. Master wanted human souls, and tonight he would have them.

She crept to a grove a short distance from the snapping logs. Three men lounged around its ring of warmth. Burning spores streaked into the darkness above and vanished. Two of them had their heads slumped on their chests, snoring. The third man stared into the glowing coals. His eyelids grew heavier with each passing breath. This would be easy.

The wolf lowered herself as close the to the grass as possible. The third one nodded off. Easy pickings. She rushed the dying fire and pounced over its flames. The first one’s head came off clean in one swipe. Its body slumped in the metal chair as its neck pumped bright red blood. This startled the second man awake. The wolf reared on her hind legs and lifted him off the ground. She dug her muzzle into the man’s neck. Flesh ripped. Something hot and hard struck her across the back of the head. Golden sparks rained down into her eyes. She threw the wailing man onto the bonfire and spun to face her attacker.

The last of the men staggered before her, wielding a smoldering log in one hand. She lunged for his unprotected side, tearing his green slacks. His hot weapon singed some fur over her right ear. The wolf let loose an infuriated howl. Her prey backpedaled onto his rump. She stomped over him, straddling his legs. He swung his weapon at her leg, snapping it in two over her shin. The werewolf grabbed a handful of his shirt and tore it. A gunshot from next to the cottage. Its round stung her left arm. She jumped back away from the fire as she heard the rifle cock for another shot. The wolf lowered to all fours and sped off into the shadows as the next bullet sailed high and wide.

B.

Larissa awoke beside a pile of fading coals, cold and naked. Her left arm burned, but upon closer inspection, she found no wounds. She selected one of her apples and wandered outside in search of kindling for her fire. When she had a healthy fire and her apple had been spent, Larissa found a bush outside and relieved herself.

“Better.” She stood and went to the stream’s bank. Her heightened sense of hearing found no intruders nearby. “A bath before I go wouldn’t hurt.”

Larissa waded out into the stream. Soft earth and rounded stones. Once the cool water had reached her navel, she sank beneath the surface. The stream invigorated her, clearing her body and her mind.

“They’ll come hunting for revenge.” She dunked one last time before side-stroking for shore. Larissa stopped on the bank and wrung some of the water from her long braid of hair. She selected another apple while she warmed her clammy skin by her fire. After getting her clothes from the tree and dressing, Larissa grabbed an apple for the road and headed out over the next hilltop.

By midday, she had made it to the next town. Citizens came and went on their usual routines. Some made their way to work while others ran errands around its busy one-road downtown area. Larissa passed a coffee shop, a surplus store, and stopped in front of the bus terminal. Time to get far away. She slipped her hands into her barren pockets. Shit.

She took hesitant paces toward an elderly couple checking the arrival and departure board. “Excuse me, sir,” she nodded to the woman wearing a head scarf, “madam. Would you be able to spare any change toward a bus ticket?”

The woman dug around in her purse for some money, but her husband stopped her. “I’m sorry, young lady. We don’t make a habit of giving handouts to harlots and druggies.”

Larissa’s jaw hit the street. “I am not a whore nor a drug addict!” She stormed off to a corner on the other side of the terminal’s entrance.

The sands were running out, and Larissa was also running low on options. The honest route didn’t work. She followed a young mother and her four unruly children as they approached the ticket counter.

“Yes,” the mother said. “Five for Gomel, please.” She chased two of her boys around the baby’s stroller. “If you two don’t---”

Larissa inched closer as the clerk processed the order. They hadn’t seen or suspected anything. The clerk set out each ticket as he processed them. Larissa stood back, examining the departures board.

“One child,” the clerk said. He sat the next ticket out. “One adult.”

“Thank you,” the mother said. Her baby flung her pink binkie onto the floor. “Ugh!” She stooped to retrieve it.

Larissa seized the moment and snagged the adult ticket from the counter. She folded it and slipped it into her pocket as the clerk passed out the next two tickets. Later, as she boarded her bus for Belarus, she overheard the mother arguing with the clerk over being shorted a ticket. Larissa slumped in her seat near the back of the bus and avoided eye contact. The four hour ride into Gomel passed in boredom. They made a brief stop in Chernihiv before crossing the border into Belarus, but that was the extent of their excitement. That was, until they pulled up to the border guard post. The uniformed men climbed onto her bus and gave the group a stern once-over. A younger soldier made his way closer to Larissa, eyeballing more women than men, she noted.

Shit! They’ve been tipped off.

She made out the nametag on his uniform as he stopped beside a teenage girl: Borshenko. She answered his questions about her business in Gomel and he moved on.

I’m dead.

Borshenko hadn’t noticed her yet. Larissa put her head against the window and closed her eyes. Boots clopped down the aisle, stopping at the seat in front of hers. A couple of breaths, then Borshenko’s boots clopped off in the other direction.

Thank you, Jesus.

The bus hissed as its driver released the brake and rolled across the line into new territory. Forty minutes later, her bus pulled into the Gomel terminal. A handful of cars dotted the Avtovokzal Terminal lot, but it didn’t appear busy otherwise. Larissa disembarked and pitched her ticket into a trash can.

The front of the terminal held as much life as its parking lot. A guy stood near the smoking area, nursing his cigarette. Black unkempt hair. Leather jacket. Tats on his neck. Demon rings on the fingers.

She put on a smile and walked up to him. “Mind if I bum a smoke?” She batted her eyes.

He held up a new pack of smokes. “Go for it.”

Larissa plucked one from the pack and put it in her mouth.

“Name’s Alex.” He handed her his lighter. “Just roll into town?”

She nodded as she struck her cig. “Came in from Kharkiv.”

Alex raised a brow. “Bit of a haul, wasn’t it?”

She blew a white plume into the afternoon sun. “About four hours.” Larissa’s nose searched the air. Pheromones were all over this one. He was into her. She smiled and inched closer. “Live around here, Alex?”

He tapped some spent ashes on the pavement. “Yeah, about five kilometers away.”

She leaned into his arm. “So, what brings you to a bus terminal on such a fine afternoon?”

Alex gave her a smile back. “Was supposed to pick up a buddy that agreed to go to a metal show with me tomorrow.” He grimaced and spat out into the parking lot. “Fucker stood me up.”

Larissa sucked another drag off her tobacco. “Maybe he just missed the first bus.”

He scoffed. “Been here since nine. Doubt he missed all five buses.”

“What kind of metal show?” Her eyes found his brown puppy dog ones.

“A heavy metal festival up in Minsk.” He glanced at her ample chest and flowered shirt. “I’m not so sure it’s your cup of tea.”

Larissa crossed her arms over her shirt. “Oh, this.” A laugh. “It’s the last thing I had clean this morning.”

Alex had doubt written all over him. “Who ya runnin’ from?” He held up his hand with the cig in it.

“Larissa,” she said. “And, I’m not running.”

“Mmm.” Alex exhaled another line of smoke out of the corner of his mouth. “Let’s see. No luggage. No makeup. One change of clothes. One-way bus ride. Am I missing anything?”

Her chest deflated. “Nope.”

A tense silence.

“Got a place to sleep tonight?”

Larissa glanced up to him, shaking her head. “Got anybody using that other festival ticket?”

“Nah. You can stay with me if you like.” He stumbled to add, “I’ve got a flat with a foldout bed.” He held out a calloused hand. “Deal?”

She shook it. “Deal.” Larissa rubbed his palm.

“Day job’s a mechanic in a repair shop here in the area.” Alex snuffed out his butt under a leather boot. “Feel like grabbing something to eat before we head back to my place?”

Larissa crushed her cig against the building’s bricks. “I’m starved.” Her embarrassed expression lowered. “I don’t have any money left after the bus, though.”

Alex led them to his boxy green car in the lot. “No worries. I’ve got it covered.”

Larissa got in. “You’re so nice to me. Why?”

He put his right foot into his car. “Let’s just call it a favor from one runaway to another.”

C.

Their dinner of pizza and some sodas made Larissa feel closer to human. In fact, Alex had to buy a second pepperoni for her to get her fill. After their meal, they headed back on the road farther across town.

He parked his car in the basement lot of the apartment building and led her to the staircase. “Been a while since you’ve had a real meal?”

She rubbed his back. “About a week, yeah.” She followed him up the stairs and into the main lobby. “Thanks for that. It was great.”

“My pleasure,” he said. “I remember what it was like living on the streets. Eating out of dumpsters. Sleeping under a slab of cardboard in the dead of winter.”

No use hiding it. She stopped next to him and waited on their elevator. “I ran from an orphanage.”

His brown eyes narrowed.

“I was about to age out anyway.” She waited for the doors and stepped inside.

Alex tapped the number for his floor with a car key. “I’ve heard from friends that the stipend they give you is a joke. Can’t even make rent with it.”

The elevator ascended its shaft. Larissa eased back against a wall. “How did you get yourself off the streets? The body shop?”

“No.” Alex chuckled. “Did some time in the local jail first.” The elevator stopped, and he led them out. “After that, I bummed around the shop until they gave me a job.” He took a right and walked to the end of the dark hallway. “I had to learn on the job, but I’m a quick study, I guess.”

He unlocked the door and flipped on the lamp. Larissa took another look down the hall, then sauntered inside.

She went to his eighth-story window. A dull orange disc sank below the city skyline. She poked her head inside the flat’s cramped bathroom. One toilet, one shower, and a sink. Larissa turned to him. “Mind if I go ahead and wash up?”

Alex flopped onto his futon. “Nope. Make yourself at home.”

She turned on the water and stripped down. Its hot streams melted the knots in her muscles. Rivulets of mud and grime swirled around the drain and disappeared. She grinned. Washing away the old and beginning a new chapter of my life. Larissa dried off and slinked out into the living room in nothing but her birthday suit.

She leaned against the doorway. “I don’t have anything clean to wear.”

Alex’s tongue wagged as she took confident steps toward him. Droplets on her breasts and stomach glinted in the fading daylight. A stream of them dripped past her navel and into her small patch of curls.

Larissa stopped right in front of him and set a hand on her hip. “I was hoping you might help me find something to slip into.”

He bobbed his head as she bent over and kissed him. Her hands made fast work of his fastener and fly, tugging his jeans and boxers to the floor in a flash. She knelt before him and took him into her mouth. Larissa had done it all before with other guys. She was in full control. When he was about to burst, she stopped, gave it a kiss, and stood.

The moon ascended into the deepening sky. Her devious gaze shifted back to her prey. Sorry, love. Larissa climbed onto his lap, straddling him. “About ready for the real fun to begin?”

Alex peeled off his shirt and threw it across the room. “Whatever you say.”

She grabbed him in her right hand and lowered herself onto his attentive member. Bliss coursed up and down her body as her cheeks made contact with his thighs. She pulled his mouth onto a nipple and let his hands wander over her. Larissa ran her fingers through his hair as she rode him. His excitement pushed her close to the edge. Hungry moans that originated from somewhere beyond her mortal shell.

She reached back and massaged his scrotum. “Oh, god.”

Alex’s boyish good looks wrenched up. The light freckles on his cheeks crunched together. His eyelids clamped down like vices. He picked up their tempo, pumping her faster and harder. Larissa leaned back, placing a hand on either kneecap. She bucked against him, absorbing each blow.

“Holy fuck.” He was getting close.

She could feel him throbbing inside her. Larissa leaned over him and kissed him hard. She grabbed the back of his futon in both hands and got up on her feet. His hands spread her wide as she thrust her body onto him.

This pushed him closer to the edge. “Jesus!”

She switched back onto her knees and slowed the pace. Beads of sweat rolled down her stomach. The wrenching pain of the beast pushed its way forward. Tufts of hair sprouted on her breast as her lover explored it. Patches of fur emerged on her legs and back. Its time had returned.

Alex’s awestruck face dropped back on the cushion. “What the hell?”

Larissa rode him harder. Her ears pulsed and lengthened. Her mouth cracked and deformed into a dripping snout.

“What the fuck are you?”

She smacked her fur-covered rump up and down, forcing her victim to orgasm against his mental wishes. She raised a set of oozing elongated fingers and tore his neck to a pulp. Her mouth dove in for the feast while she plunged both fists into his chest and yanked the boy’s ribcage apart.

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