Griffin, tired of being smaller than his farm-brute brothers, stumbles backwards into a way to make himself more like what he wants to be: big and strong enough to catch the eye of a beautiful, bashful, broad-shouldered apprentice blacksmith named Wass.
Arsenal of Secrets, #1 10 parts Added Aug 2020 9,495 views 4.9 stars (11 votes) 26k words
To all appearances Scarfe was a bustling market town like any other in the windy northern reaches of Kossh, full of traders and smiths and travelers, farmers and warriors, scribes and priests and laborers. Though all the various Kinds of the realms were known in Scarfe and were often seen there—Stone Giants, Centaurs, Ogres, Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes, and all—it was a mundanely Human town, full of ordinary men and women doing ordinary things, with nothing to distinguish it from a hundred other market towns scattered all across the lands from the Ice Sea to the Southern Wastes. No one would guess that nestled near its well-kept and well-ordered heart it harbored a secret—much less all of them.
Certainly Griffin would never have suspected anything like the truth. A compact, square-shouldered, messy-haired cowherd of nineteen summers, handsome enough but shorter than all his brothers and outweighed in most cases by at least the heft of a newborn calf, Griffin reckoned Scarfe and its rolling, rustic farms and townlands the most benighted corner in all Kossh if not the whole of the Seven Realms. Even when he saw the hidden book-vaults, seemingly carved in some forgotten age from the living rock far below the everyday doings of the comparatively young town above, it was some time before Griffin was truly cognizant of the scale of the primeval magicks he was finding himself enmeshed in.
His introduction to the Arsenal of Secrets took place as follows. It happened that Griffin was better at numbers than his brothers, so despite his relative uselessness when it came to hauling feed or goods—since the sacks and animals were as likely to master him as the other way around—from an early age he was always part of the contingent sent to town with grain harvest, beasts, or stores to trade. Over time his shiftless father passed from allowing young Griffin to observe the barter to deputizing him to perform it himself, under his father’s watchful eye; before long the watchful eye was gone too, and it had been some years since his father had even accompanied the cart into town. Griffin appreciated the respite from the farm, though the petty concerns of most townsfolk made him shake his head in disbelief.
He made friends with some of the merchants and artisans with stalls or shops in the city center, wiling away the down time after the trading was done and before they were due back not as his brothers did, with ale and women, but by slyly letting the traders and craftsmen ply him with tales and confidences, or trolling the booksellers looking for tales and legends he hadn’t yet read. Lately he was paying special attention to a certain young, well-muscled apprentice smith, Wass, whose thick, sculpted arms, bright blue eyes, and wide, bashful grin had been starting to seep unbidden even into his thoughts and daydreams. He knew there was little hope of his interest becoming anything more. Wass didn’t seem to see him that way, and in any event his father and brothers would never allow him to leave the farm for a life in town, and certainly not with a man. But Griffin couldn’t stop thinking about him, and he smiled for days after seeing him.
Anyway, most of the time Wass was busy working, and it was hard to chat in a blacksmith’s shop, so Griffin spent most of his time in town near the main market square. He was passing an idle moment one afternoon with Madam Ren, the clothier, happily lapping up the story of exactly how and why the still-vivacious storekeeper had ensnared her third husband (a tale Madam Ren was not in the least reluctant to tell), when a pair of well-dressed Stone Giants knocked on the door-frame that looked out onto the busy square full of townsfolk, visitors, and the occasional guardsman in black-and-green livery.
One of the giants bent down low to peer into the shop and, seeing Madam Ren, lifted a hand in greeting. “Hold that thought, young Griffin,” she said, as she made her way through her repositories of textiles and finished garments to the entrance. “I will be right back.”
“Take your time,” Griffin said with a smile. Dealing with giants was always good business, especially when it came to clothes and food. Madam Ren was not quite accounted the best textile merchant and clothesmaker in Scarfe, but she was very nearly so; though his own garments were simple brown homespun Griffin had a fine blue blouse from Madam Ren’s for festivals—a hand-me-down from his brother Keff, of course, but only a little oversized, and one of his prized possessions.
He watched as Madam Ren stood in the doorway with the giants and discussed their order, and when she came back he sighed, watching the visitors lumber happily off through the human crowd.
“I wish I were a giant,” he said wistfully when Ren returned, his eyes still on the the two larger figures and the crowd that seemed to mill about them.
Madam Ren tsked as she went about marking down the new order in her books. “You do not,” she countered, writing rapidly in lines of thick, dark pencil. “Stone Giants come from the old magick and can only mate with their own kind. And then what would you do with your love for the young blacksmith’s mate?”
Griffin stared out at the crowd for another second before he realized what she’d said and whipped around to stare at her. She was watching him now, her eyes twinkling. “Who told you—?!” he objected, then corrected himself, shamefaced. “I mean, we’re just friends, and—” But at Madam Ren’s knowing smirk he dropped his head and let out a long breath. “Is it that obvious?”
“Only to those who pay attention to your talk,” Madam Ren said fondly, returning to her books.
Griffin scoffed. “That leaves out everyone in Scarfe, then,” he said, “and my family especially.” His heartbeat picked up a little as he thought of Wass. He looked back out toward the square, feeling that if he squinted hard enough he could maybe see the little smithy, though in fact it was a good half hour’s walk away on the far side of the Citadel.
“He seems to enjoy spending time talking with you, from what you say,” Madam Ren added, chin in hand. “Perhaps he fancies you too.”
“Unlikely,” Griffin said darkly. “He thinks of me a kid brother, I think, even though I’m his age at least. I doubt he even sees me as someone who could l—who could fuck him,” he amended. He looked quickly back at Madam Ren. “Do you know, last month the old tanner down the east road called me ‘Halfling’?”
Madam Ren stifled a laugh. “That old idiot,” she said, turning away and busying herself making a new list of the fabrics and lengths she’d need for the giants’ order. “He was having a go at you.”
“I know, but…” He sighed again. “I’m tired of being small. I have five brothers and they’re all bigger and stronger. Even my sister is bigger than I am. My only consolation is that when I say my brothers are all thicker than me, I don’t just mean how many stone they weigh.” Madam Ren snorted as she wrote, and he carried on. “I’m completely done with it all, you know. The farm, my brothers, everything,” he groused. His thoughts drifted back to the stone giants. “If the old magick were real, I would fix things. I would make myself—well, okay, not an actual giant, but taller, stronger. Better.” There were other things, too, besides height and strength—things that he wasn’t about to admit to Ren. Things that would make Wass notice him and want to be held by him and love him and, yes, maybe even fuck by him. Or the other way around.
But Madam Ren was shaking her head as she continued her list. “The old magick did not work like that,” she said dismissively. “If you grew yourself taller, you’d still be the same amount of Griffin, only with long thin bones that would snap the moment you tried to do anything…interesting. Either you make yourself an actual Stone Giant, or you content yourself with what you are.”
Griffin huffed a laugh. “And who sold you all that?”
“The Mage.” She said it matter-of-factly, as if she were referring to the silversmith, or the head of the Prince’s guard, or the old billy-goat that stood on the south wall over the main gate and bleated at everyone going through.
Griffin frowned at her. “What ‘Mage’?” he asked, a little derisively.
Madam Ren kept writing. “The Mage of Scarfe,” she said, bland as could be.
Griffin blinked a couple times. “Scarfe doesn’t have a Mage,” he objected. “Nobody has a Mage, because the old magick has been gone for a thousand years!”
She shrugged. “You can be Mage without practicing magick,” she said, consulting a small notebook and making a few seemingly random marks in it.
“So, what, you just read about it? Think about spells and thaumaturgy all day?”
Griffin stared at her doubtfully for a long second. “Scarfe has a Mage.”
“Of course. He lives under the Citadel. Although,” she added, and here she paused in her note-writing and frowned, staring off into nothing, “I have not encountered him in many years. Many, many years. He does not leave his demesne any more, probably.”
“Uh huh. And how did you ‘encounter’ him before?” Griffin asked, suspecting he knew the answer.
Madam Ren gave him a wicked smile. “That is a tale for another time,” she said. Glancing out the door she added, “Now, be off. As much as I enjoy your company, young Halfling, I have much to do today while the light lasts.”
She winked and returned to her work, and Griffin shook his head. “You’ll pay for that ‘Halfling’ jibe later,” he promised, but he smile as he said it. He backed away through her shop a few steps before turning and sauntering out into the busy square.
He wandered through the crowd a ways, eventually finding himself next to the tall black-marble spike that stood at the center of the square, the Stele of Scarfe. He looked up at it with a frown. His brother Jop had once told him that that was how tall a real man was supposed to be. Of course the Stele had a good foot on Jop and even on his eldest and tallest brother, Lew, but it still made him feel short. He turned his back on the Stele and considered what to do with the rest of his time in town, as a seemingly endless quantity of people, carts, and beasts of burden flowed around him.
The sun had indeed drifted a considerable ways toward the western walls, as Madam Ren had reminded him, but he still had a good hour or so before his brothers completed their whoring and returned with the cart to collect him. Long enough, perhaps, for a little side trip.
With a determined stride he set out for the ancient narrow Citadel that dominated the center of town, circling around a slow-moving ogre as he headed for the high path out of the square. I’ll see for myself, he thought, whether there really is such a thing as the Mage of Scarfe.
Though the market squares of Scarfe were routinely patrolled and the walls and outer gates were guarded, the Citadel was not, and Griffin cleared the last steps and entered the open, echoing main floor of the old structure without hindrance. It was a huge space, the cavernous ceiling supported only by the high, painted walls and a single line of tall, simple, stolid-looking pillars that ran down the center from the airy front, near where he stood, to the shadowed spaces to the rear. It was an inviting space, known to all of Scarfe—even bumpkins like himself.
Meant as a gathering-place and a last point of defense and refuge in time of war, there was little use for such a place in these days of enduring peace; Scarfe only fell back to its Citadel when days of heavy rains forced the relocation of open market-stalls to the slate-paved expanse where he now stood. Otherwise, the Citadel was mainly visited by travelers and by those seeking the view afforded by its mild elevation over the sprawling town—though such spectating was limited to the ground floor, as the upper stories were sealed for reasons no one seemed to remember. Griffin noticed a large family, who from their loose, colorful garments looked to be from Kossh’s southern coastal groves, gathered nearby on the forecourt that served as a sort of observatory balcony; they were pointing at such various landmarks as the mayor’s house, the nobles’ mews, the citizens’ hall, and even the pleasure district, all while oo-ing and ah-ing amongst themselves.
Griffin glanced out briefly from where he stood on the edge of the main floor, at the head of the broad steps leading up from the square. It was a clear day, though falling rapidly toward evening, and his eyes drifted past the walls toward the farms beyond. There, if he kept looking, he would see the cattle range and barley fields of his parents’ farm where the coins in his purse from the day’s trading were eagerly awaited, if not Griffin himself. He snorted and turned away, surveying the oblong structure before him.
The childhood lore of Scarfe and its lands held that the upper reaches were supposed to be filled with all kinds of hidden secrets, no doubt because access to them was forbidden. But Ren had said that the Mage lived under the Citadel, not above. Was there an “under”? And, if so, how would he find it? He stepped further into the space, paying no heed to the elegantly simple arches and buttresses of aged stone that formed the inner infrastructure, and considered what he knew about the Citadel’s layout.
He had only been up here once or twice, but that was enough to be sure that the only exits from the main hall where he now stood were five: two stairwells up, both bricked off for at least five hundred years; two open-air stairwells down to the square, one of which he had just come up, its twin descending on the other side of the small elevation on which the Citadel stood; and a third, little-used stairwell in back. Though he’d never gone that way, he had the impression it cut down through the stone a ways, then twisted around into open air and down toward the river districts.
Unless there was a trap door under one of these slate tiles, Griffin reasoned, the Mage’s lair had to be accessed via the back stairs.
His steps rang on the slate flooring as he passed swiftly through the long, open main hall space and out it towering rear arch. This put him in a dim antechamber flanked on either side by archways. Both filled with old brick: the two stairwells up. Before him was a spiral stairwell that seemed to plunge directly into the earth. Above it a wide window gave him a direct view of the reddening sun as it sank toward the western walls.
He had time enough to do this, though he would then have to rush back the square and meet his brothers as they arrived. That, or risk more verbal abuse than usual if they had to wait for him. But his curiosity had already committed him. With a shiver of excitement he hurried down the twisting stairs.
A moment later he rounded the stairs onto a landing facing a strange, dark level below the main hall, open only on this end, like a wide slot in the stone rise on which the Citadel sat.
Fascinated, Griffin peered into the gloomy space, though it seemed there was little to see. It was a long, low space with the same footprint as the main floor above, but with no doors or passages; it was just the space itself, bifurcated, as above, with a row of simple pillars down the center.
Still, he stepped forward, intrigued by a part of Scarfe he had never seen.
As the mouth of this under-hall lay open to the west, by chance Griffin had arrived at just the right moment to explore the place by the warm light of the lowering sun. He was perplexed by what he saw as he stepped deeper into the space. The walls were marked by archways in the same places as the open-air hall above, only here the stone continued within the archways as without them: the architecture was, it seemed, purely decorative. Even stranger, in the far left corner, hidden in the darkness on the side wall where it could not easily be seen from the spiral stairs as they passed this place on their journey to the docks, there was a feature that did not mimic the main hall above: here was placed a door, as if into a house—only it was not a door, but the outline of one, a doorjamb in stone like the decorative arches, the space within the same smooth stone as on either side.
Beside it, barely visible in the reddening light, was a cut circle no wider than the span of his hand, within which was carved the relief figure of a phlegmatic-looking frog.
He stared at the stone frog. The frog peered back at him, looking faintly peeved.
Then it spoke. “What do you seek, cowherd?” it said slowly, in a low, gravelly voice.
Griffin jumped back with am echoing yelp. His alarm, however, was swiftly overcome by annoyance. He stepped forward again and planted himself in front of the frog with a scowl, arms folded over his chest. “Don’t say ‘cowherd’ like it’s an insult,” he said fiercely, conveniently forgetting all the times he had himself derided the profession. Though, he considered, it was hard to see how the stone frog had meant it personally. Perhaps it called everyone ‘cowherd’.
The frog glowered at him impatiently. “What do you seek?” it intoned again.
He narrowed his eyes at the frog. “I seek the Mage of Scarfe,” he said.
The frog seemed to scrutinize him with even greater disdain than before. “Do you harbor ill intent?” it demanded sonorously.
“No, of course not!” Griffin replied, indignant.
The frog blinked, then said, “Very well.”
There followed three loud clunks, and the stone door, which had not been a door, separated from the wall and ground smoothly open until it stood a little more than halfway ajar. Griffin glanced at the frog, but it had lapsed into its prior immobility.
Shrugging mentally, Griffin passed through the stone doorway and into the darkness beyond.
No sooner had he done so than the door quickly ground itself closed again, because of course it did. Griffin tamped down the fear that automatically welled up in him. He’d just get the Mage to open it again so he could leave. Either that, or he’d have words with that obstreperous frog.
It occurred to him that he was not, as he might have expected, standing utter darkness. The walls, floor, and ceiling were somehow dimly luminescent with a soft, pale light, as if they had at some point in their past soaked up an inexhaustible supply of faint, pallid moonlight and were now spending the rest of eternity slowly releasing it into the darkness. This was definitely a good thing, Griffin soon saw, as the short passage beyond the door quickly devolved into another spiral stairwell that seemed intent on drilling down, down, and even further down, into the stone depths of the Earth far below the Citadel.
There was no point in hesitating. Griffin started down the faintly glowing steps. He had counted nearly two hundred of them before the stairwell emptied out onto a vast, underground vault full of bank upon bank of huge, ancient-looking books.
Griffin stepped further into the space, staring in awe at the impossible sight before him. He shouldn’t be able to see anything this far down, he knew, but as with the stairwell the walls, ceiling, and floor were all softly aglow; and what the light showed him was a space that had to be at least a hundred times longer and wider than the Citadel, a space that stretched seemingly under all of Scarfe itself—if he was now even under Scarfe at all, he thought with a jolt. Perhaps this was some kind of not-place divorced from the world, of the sort legends said only dragons now remembered.
No sooner had he thought this than a blue-and-indigo-scaled dragon, no longer than the length of his arm, swooped down suddenly from atop one of the nearest twelve-foot-high banks of books and soared over the tables between directly toward him, croaking, “At last!!”
Griffin screamed and scrambled backward in horror. He turned, tripping on clumsy feet, and tried to make for the stairs, but the dragon flew past him and got there first, blocking the way with a fierce gaze and wide, flapping wings that pumped cold air onto Griffin in rhythmic, terrifying gusts. “Oh no, you don’t!” the dragon exclaimed triumphantly.
“What do you want?” Griffin demanded as he stepped back from the beast, his heart pounding deafeningly in his chest.
“What do you want?” the little blue dragon countered, fixing him with its beady eyes. “Why are you here?”
“I’m here to see the Mage!” Griffin shouted.
“And why is that?” the dragon shot back, advancing on him. “Why have you come?”
“I wanted to impress a boy!” Griffin nearly screamed. “I wanted to be bigger!”
“You can’t magickally change yourself, only your Kind,” the dragon said testily. “If you want to know the secrets, you’ll have to sign.”
“What??” Griffin said, confused and distressed. He backed up still further, until his upper thighs smacked against one of the broad tables positioned between the stairwell and the ranks of towering bookcases.
“Sign,” the dragon insisted. “You have to sign!” It seemed to nod toward something behind him.
Rattled, Griffin turned and saw there was a large book open to the middle on the table he’d backed up against, opposite the nearest of the six chairs lining the table on either side. The width and height of the book were impressive, and if there had been a surfeit of leaves it would have been a mighty tome indeed; but the stack of pages on either side was scarcely more than finger-height. Beside the book lay a metal-nibbed pen of the sort the costliest scribes used and a pot of dark blue ink.
The dragon was flapping closer. “Sign!” it demanded. “To know the secrets you must sign!”
His heart still pounding madly in his chest, Griffin shot a quick glance at the dragon before rounding the edge of the table to take a closer look. The leaf on the left was blank. The leaf on the right had a list of names running halfway down the page, all crossed through except the last; beside each was an inscrutable sequence of symbols and numbers.
Griffin frowned at it. Was it some kind of log that made an account of visitors? A waiting list to see the Mage, perhaps.
He glanced over at the dragon. It was still hovering close by, flapping slowly. “It is what you came here for, cowherd!” it croaked.
Griffin glared at the dragon. If it was trying to insinuate that he didn’t deserve to know any secrets because of his lowly berth in society, it needed to have another think. He picked up the pen, inked it from the inkpot, and carefully wrote under the last entry: Griffin Arvindson.
“Now cross out the name above!” the dragon instructed, its excitement obvious as its flapping increased.
Griffin turned his head to frown at the blue-scaled creature. “Why?” he asked.
“Because that is how it is done!” the dragon insisted.
Griffin eyed the creature dubiously, but it was the dragon who knew how things worked here, not him. He lifted his nib and, with a strange sense of foreboding, drew a long, blue line through the name above his own.
“Hooray! I’m free!” the dragon bellowed gleefully. It started flapping and diving in excited circles, while Griffin stared at it in confused astonishment.
“What are you talking about?” Griffin demanded.
“I don’t have to answer that but I will anyway!” the dragon cackled at it wheeled around him in maddening swoops. “I was bound to this place as the familiar of the previous apprentice, even though he died long ago! Now that he’s no longer the apprentice of record, I’m finally free! Oh, I’m going to go find a lady dragon and fuck her until she’s pregnant ten times over!”
“What??!” Griffin said.
But the dragon was done with Griffin. Casting a last, taunting “Bye bye, little apprentice!” over his wings at him, with a single majestic swoop he flew straight at the nearest wall and vanished through it. In a single heartbeat he was gone completely, leaving Griffin alone in the vast, silent neverworld.
Griffin stared after the disrespectful lizard, still disturbed but a but annoyed as well. What did he mean, “little apprentice”? It didn’t sound good.
That… wasn’t a waiting list he’d signed.
His stomach twisting, he turned back around to stare at the book, trying to stem the horror that was creeping over him. He went back a few pages. The leaves on the right were filled with names with long symbol-codes next to them, all crossed out, while the leaves on the left remained empty. None of the pages were headed, so he flipped to the front.
The first page read “Book of the Keepers of the Arsenal of Secrets”; below this at the bottom of the page were more of the symbols. He turned the page. On the following spread, the leaf on the left was headed “Keepers” in neat black letters; the one on the right, “Apprentices”. Here there were names under the “Keepers” heading as well as under “Apprentices”; the list on the right, he knew, carried through some forty leaves of crossed-out named until his own, the last name under “Apprentices” and, as of a moment ago, the only one not struck through. The names under “Keepers”, however, petered out after four leaves; and every name, even the last, was crossed through.
The implications were inescapable. There hadn’t been a Keeper of All Secrets in a very long time, only Apprentices. And according to this book and by his own hand, he, Griffin Arvindson, was the last of them.
Griffin flipped to the spread the book had been open to before. There on the page in stark blue letters his name stared back at him, strange and ominous. Then, even as he watched, next to his name there formed on the page a long sequence of symbols and numbers, just like the ones that marched up the page next to the other names and all the way back to the beginning.
He backed away from the table. “Okay, then,” he said aloud, “I, uh, gotta get back to the cart. My brothers are probably mad as snakes.” He kept backing away, toward the spiral stairwell. “It was, uh…” He realized he had been about to say “It was nice to meet you,” but the only being he’d met down here was an impertinent dragon-familiar who’d buggered off at the first opportunity, and even the most extreme forms of etiquette probably did not require taking your leave of a vast underground chamber of limited acquaintance. Giving up, he turned and bolted up the stairs.
As he clambered up to the head of the stairwell the stone door thankfully opened for him and he tore through it, across the full length of the underlevel, up the back stairs and out of the Citadel. Racing down the high stairs he pelted across the square, through the crowds and past the Stele, to the corner his family always parked the cart in. Bleesedly the cart was there now, along with his burly brothers, who were all laughing and jeering at each other. He leapt onto the driver’s bench in a trice, heart tripping madly, and turned with a grin to the brother already on the bench next to him—it was his eldest brother, Lew. “I know I don’t often say this,” Griffin said, panting a little from the exertion, “but I am so ready to go home.”
Lew stared back at him in utter annoyance for a long moment.
“Who the fuck are you?” he asked at last with a sneer. The other brothers, one in the half-empty bed and two up with the horses checking harnesses, all turned to gape at him.
“Ha ha,” Griffin said, still breathing raggedly. “I know I’m late, but I’m not that late.”
He looked around at the brothers, then back at Lew, who was very obviously about to throw him to the ground with a single heave. “Seriously,” Lew said, in a low, flat voice. “Who are you, and why are you on our cart?”
Griffin’s heart seemed to stutter to a stop, and his voice abandoned him. “Lew—” he whispered.
“Trouble here?” said a gruff voice. Griffin turned and saw that a short-bearded guardsman in the green and black of the town had approached the cart. Either he’d been drawn by the altercation, or one of the brothers had waved him over.
Griffin tried to speak but couldn’t. “This lad here,” Lew said loudly, gesturing at Griffin like he was a random street urchin. “He just climbed up on our cart like he owns it.”
“Know him?” the guard queried.
Lew shook his head. “Never laid eyes on him.”
“Wait, wait,” Griffin said shakily, finding his voice at last. He turned and gave Lew a pleading look—he might be brute but he was more soft-hearted than he liked to let on. “It’s me, Griffin! A joke’s a joke, but you got to stop, all right?” But Lew’s stare held no recognition, only contempt.
“He’s wearing the silver blouse and charcoal trousers of the Under-Citadel,” the guard remarked unexpectedly to Lew. “P’raps he’s the new Mage—long time since the old scholar passed.” Griffin looked down at himself and noticed for the first time that his old brown homespuns were gone, replaced by a finely made open-necked shirt of a pallid hue, like silvery moonlight, along with dark gray trousers and fine boots. Over his breast was a strange symbol, a circle with two offset half-circles nested within. Griffin realized with a start that this was one of the symbols he’d seen in the book.
Chills crawled up Griffin’s spine. Something had changed. Now that he was in the book, he was no longer Griffin, cowherd, brother and son. He was—what? Griffin, apprentice to no one, kin to no one, known to no one. He turned to look at the guard, feeling he might pass out. “Please—” he began, his voice starting to fail him again.
“Griffin, is it?” the guard said. “Now, I understand it gets lonely up at the Under-Citadel, but you can’t go around climbing up on other families’ carts, now can you?” From his expression it seemed the guard was trying very hard to be reasonable.
Griffin turned back to Lew. He saw nothing there. This was no joke, no prank. Lew was staring at a potentially dangerous or crazy stranger who’d clambered onto his cart for no reason. Griffin swallowed, his throat dry. “S-sorry,” he said weakly. “I… seem to have made a mistake.”
He climbed awkwardly down from the cart and stood next to the guard. The other brothers got up into the bed. With a last suspicious look at Griffin, Lew shook the reins and drove slowly away.
Griffen watched the cart leave the square and vanish into the throng of carts and people. Well… this was what he had wanted, right? Sort of? Not the gut-wrenching alone-in-the-universe part, but…
“You’d best be getting back to your books, then,” the guard said, his tone stern. Griffin blinked. He turned to ask the guard… something, he wasn’t sure what, but by the time he’d turned to him the guard was gone as well.
Griffin stood there for a moment as the sun finally started to set behind the walls and people rushed around him, eager to finish their day and be where they belonged. Where did he belong now? He was alone. “Your books,” the guard had said. Was that all he had?
A new and sudden need arose within him, a reaction to all the shock he had just experienced.
There was magick in that place, the Under-Citadel, beyond all doubt. There was magick those books. Magick that had changed his life already with a few strokes of his pen.
Magick. Magick he would learn the secrets of. Magick he would use to ensure that he wasn’t alone, even if it was just the cultivation of a cheeky familiar like his predecessor had. Or… what if…? The magick in what were now “his books”—what if that finally gave him a real chance at making Wass see him, even a chance at being together? That was one advantage to not having a father and brothers, at least, if there was no one to object to his leaving the farm and making a life with the man he loved. Maybe this was his chance after all.
Griffin almost smiled. He would make those secrets his own. He would learn what he needed to learn to become the man Wass could loved as much as Griffin loved him.
Understanding his path now, he thought, Griffin turned and made his way back through the crowd toward the high stairs and the Citadel.
The carved frog now merely gave him a smug “Welcome, apprentice” and opened the door for him without asking. Griffin paused and gave it a glance before entering, but as before it had subsided into ornamentation after performing its task, barely visible now in the rapidly failing light. Did it know? Griffin wondered. Was the grumpy doorwarden frog aware of how Griffin had been tricked into signing away his existence? Did it remember before, when even his brothers did not? Or was it just a dumb bit of stone, tasked by magick to recognize the station of anyone who approached, and judge their intent? Maybe he’d try to have a conversation with it someday. He’d feel ridiculous, he was sure, but on the plus side there’d be no one else to see.
The heavy slab of the door grinding swiftly shut behind him was, if anything, even more foreboding than before. Griffin took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and descended the stairs resolutely. Whatever else was true about his current state, he had a purpose from which he would not deviate. He was going to get laid if it killed him.
Griffin cocked a small smile at himself as he tromped down the softly glowing steps of the tightly wound descent into his new lair. It was funny he should put it that way to himself. Certainly, he hoped for more—he wanted a loving, coitus-filled and blissfully happy lifetime with his beautiful, adorably shy junior blacksmith. But like all of the Arvindson boys he had a large and eager cock, often awake and difficult to placate; and the sad truth was that in nineteen years the only caresses he had known were his own—despite the completely false and scurrilous rumors Keff liked to spread about Griffin, a flask of whisky, and a certain wayward sheep from the neighbor’s farm. The miscreant on that night had, in fact, been Keff himself, and he’d been the one drunkenly arguing (on being discovered by a laughing Griffin) that sheep were made for men’s pleasure; but in the days and weeks that followed Keff had successfully shifted the tale onto Griffin’s shoulders, so that even years later he still got the occasional “baa” from cheeky farmhands.
The stairs ended, and he found himself deposited once again where he’d been before. The nowhere vault—known, it seemed, as the Arsenal of Secrets, for reasons he was not sure he’d be happy to discover—was exactly as he left it, awash in its own gentle moonlit glow. Before him were three of the large, heavy wooden tables, carved simply, with six matching chairs each, all of them somehow feeling far older than it was possible for anything wooden to look. Beyond them loomed a battalion of twelve-foot-high left-facing bookcases made from some dark and unreflective material, smooth but light-eating, unlike the subtly luminescent floors, walls, and ceiling. There had to be thirty or forty of them across, and peering into the depths of the undergrund chamber Griffin guessed the files were as numerous as the ranks; and for all he knew there were more rooms beyond, maybe rooms uncounted.
In front of the two centermost cases were twin pedestals or lecterns, atop each of which sat a leather-clad tome: clearly these books were of special significance. The leftmose one was very thick, while the one on the right was nearly as slim as the book of Keepers and Apprentices that still lay open on the center table, the pen and ink beside it.
Griffin stared at the expanse a while, wondering what he’d gotten himself into. The Arsenal of Secrets, the sign-in book had said. Did these books all contain… secrets? What was in these books, anyway? Hidden treasures? Battle plans and courtly gossip? Keff’s clandestine encounter with a sheep?
Grining at the thought, Griffin passed the center table to one side and approached the two lectern-mounted tomes. Their position gave them obvious preeminence over the mob of books uncounted demurely shelved beyond them, and Griffin was naturally curious as to why. He flipped open the cover of the larger volume and read “The Book of All Kinds of Unsentient Creatures”, inscribed on the page in a neat, uniform hand much like the heading in the Keepers’ Book. Griffin huffed. All of them, huh? No wonder it was so thick.
He heaved the book open to a page a third of a way or so through. The top of the left page was headed “Ring-Necked Fox”; underneath, in the same hand, a prototype of the wily creature was described, here in fine detail, there with reference to other creatures already described (“tail: as with Common Fox”), followed by potential variations and ranges thereof, behavioral attributes, vulnerabilities (“deathly allergic to apples”—there was a rare bit of knowledge), and so on. These continued onto the second page, at the bottom of which was blank space, as if the accommodate more notations; at the bottom was the word “index:” followed by a now-familiar style of code made of symbols and numbers. Griffin suspected these codes located related books or sections in the cases before him, but he was willing to wager it would take some doing sorting the system out.
He turned the page. This spread was devoted to a different Kind of creature, and to his surprise he saw it was the Scrying Weasel—a beast Griffin was sure did not actually exist in the real world, as it was only told of in ancient legends where wizards of the old magick used them to ferret out, as it were, miscreant magick-users in their hidden lairs. Sure enough, after the long description of their physical attributes, quirks, and their methods of magic-sniffing, all in black ink and in the usual hand, an addendum in blue ink had been added into the remaining blank space by someone else: “This creature is mythical and does not trouble the world of Humans.” Griffin thought the inscription sounded annoyed, as though some distant predecessor of his had been pestered by one too many Scrying Weasels. Then, under the first note and in yet another hand, was a second annotation, also in blue: “Except that a single Scrying Weasel may be summoned by an Apprentice Keeper using the command ‘I summon a Scrying Weasel’, and banished using the command ‘I banish you, Scrying Weasel!’.”
Griffin blinked at the evocation spell. He had to test it. He just had to.
Clearing his throat, he lifted his head and cried into the echoing chamber: “I summon a Scrying Weasel!”
Nothing seemed to happen for a moment. Griffin suddenly felt very silly. Maybe this whole Apprentice thing was a joke after all? Was Lew about to jump out from behind a bookcase and shout, “Ha ha, got you good!”
Then he heard a faint scratch behind him, as of a small claw across wood.
He turned slowly. There, crouched on the middle table directly before him, was a long-bodied, silvery-furred, white-bellied stoat. It was watching him closely with red-black eyes like a rat’s, and Griffin could not help but notice that it had slightly prominent nostrils for a weasel.
Griffin was decidedly unnerved. That, he thought, was not there a minute ago. That thing is a mythical creature and it was not real in the world until—
The Scrying Weasel stood up on its hind legs and sniffed at him, seeking, perhaps, the magick that was its nourishment. Griffin, slightly freaked out, forgot everything he’d just read and just started shouting, “Okay, that’s it. Begone! Shoo! Get out! You’re fired! Uh… uh… damn it!” The weasel leaned toward him, foreclaws poised, and Griffin shuddered. “You’re gone! Banished! Uh, I…” Abruptly the words came back to him, and he cried out to the little rodent, “I banish you! I banish you, Scrying Weasel!”
With a soft, almost-inaudible pop Griffin wasn’t sure he hadn’t imagined, the creature disappeared, and Griffin was alone again, his clamoring heart seemingly filling the empty expanse.
Griffin stared hard at the empty space where the weasel had been standing for a long moment, then… slowly turned back to the book. “We’re going to pretend that didn’t happen,” he said aloud, as his pulse clambered back down toward something more closely approaching normal. He started flipping pages in the massive tome more or less randomly, not really seeing what he was reading as the implications of what had just happened washed over him.
First, the old magick was real. He’d somehow already gotten past that and accepted it, for all he’d scoffed at the very idea not an hour before. Conjuring a weasel pretty much put it past any doubt. The old magick was real; but it was forgotten in the mundane world, perhaps because there were had not been fully trained and qualified Keepers in… ages, maybe. There were now, and long had been, only untutored Apprentices like himself. And it seemed the previous Apprentices had diligently kept up the fiction and pretended only to be scholars of the old magick rather than practitioners—even if, he thought wryly, they coyly adopted titles like “The Mage of Scarfe” to impress buxom young clothier-ladies.
There had a be a reason for the masquerade, though. Whose attention would be drawn were it to get out that magick was still around, but its only wielders were inexperienced tyros who barely knew a spell from a steer’s end? That was a sobering thought.
But as he paged in clumps through the tome before him, the clandestine nature of the Apprenticeship was crowded out in Griffin’s mind by the truth of the books themselves. His recent encounter with the weasel confirmed what he had, in retrospect, already experienced with the Keepers’ Book: that writing in these books changed things. Except it was more than that.
These books were not simple accumulations of knowledge. They did not describe the world. They determined them. The birds and beasts he was paging past were not reflected in these books—rather the opposite: these books shaped the creatures of the world.
And what about people? Did these books shape people, too? Could they shape him?
The thought excited him even as it made him shiver. He had been sure that, with the vast amount of information in this room, secreted and coded within its countless books, finding a way to achieve his very personal goals would take ages; yet he had already found his first clue.
Abruptly Griffin realized he was looking at blank pages; he’d reached near the end of the tome, though there was still an inch at least of pages remaining after these. Blank pages—Griffin found this concept very suggestive, given what he’d seen so far.
He flipped back until he found the last pages of writing. The sight of the final two-page spread made his skin tingle.
It was all in blue. Some past practitioner had devised an entirely new creature and added it to the Book of All Kinds—and, thereby, to the world itself.
Griffin read with avid interest. The title, to his surprise, was “Crimson Broadwing Butterfly”. Griffin knew the Crimson Broadwing well. It was common in his fields and in Kossh in general, often seen in summer but sometimes spotted even in the snows of winter; local superstition said a flock of them was good luck, but one was a harbinger, possibly of ill fortune. The description, in this case, was almost all made up of references to other butterflies, apart from the distinctive crimson and black coloring and a few more minor deviations. Then followed an annotation that was now about physiognomy or behavior. “An Apprentice Keeper,” the blue ink read, “may see through the eyes of a Crimson Broadwing Butterfly by uttering—”
Griffin grabbed the back of the tome and closed it with a heavy thud. Okay, then. That particular secret, he had not wanted to know.
He glanced over at the other, thinner tome given matching pride of place at the head of the ranks of shelves. Apprehensive but curious, he moved over to it and opened the leather-bound cover. The title page, perhaps unsurprisingly, read: “The Book of All Kinds of Sentient Creatures.” He turned the page. The first Kind, he saw with satisfaction, was “Human”. Two pages of closely written black text was written beneath; there was, he saw with some relief, no sign of blue ink. At the bottom of the second page there was, as in the other book, the word “index:” followed by a code.
Finding himself not quite prepared to see the traits and weaknesses of his own race reduced to a few lines on a page, he continued on. The next spread was given to Dragons, intriguingly; in fact there were three Kinds provided for here, each with its own two-page descriptor. First were the large Red Dragons, hotheads known for terrorizing whole cities; Griffin noted with interest that a blue annotation had consigned them, like the Scrying Weasel, to the status being mythical (and with no provision for conjuring one, thankfully). Next came the comparatively minuscule Indigo Dragon, an obnoxious specimen of which he had already encountered that very afternoon, though it already seemed like days ago. After that came the Rock Dragon, vast, gray, lethargic creatures that rarely left their mountain-cave lairs; but apparently, like the Indigo, they were real and still out there in the world somewhere.
Griffin kept paging forward. There were two-page sections for every race he had ever heard of—Stone Giants, Centaurs, Ogres, Elves, Dwarves, and Gnomes, some with multiple Kinds that were each, like the Dragons, given separate treatment in the tome. There were also a few that were completely new to him. There was apparently something called a Grom, a tough-hided creature that seemed prone to vicious and methodical warfare, though perhaps fortunately they mated seldom and unprolificly. Also listed was a race called the Ji, small, winged creatures who were magick-adept and conditioned to stay far away from humans and other sentient races that might misuse their gifts. There were no entries entirely in blue, but there were, provocatively, several spreads of blank pages.
He closed the book thoughtfully and moved back the center table. Pulling himself up he sat on its end, feet dangling below (he took care not to sit exactly where the weasel had been standing, though he wasn’t sure why), and considered the two Books of All Kinds. Here were the threads of the secrets he had come to find.
What had the annoying blue dragon told him? You can’t magickally change yourself, only your Kind. Madam Ren had said something similar. The words had lodged in him as important both times, though he hadn’t quite understood them. Now, he thought he did. He looked off into the endless banks of books before him, considering what he knew.
He was currently Human. If that word “index” at the bottom of his Kind’s descriptor page meant what he thought it did, that code probably pointed to a book—or, rather, many books—that listed all of the Humans by name. For all time? Probably. Somewhere, in the tightly packed index of Humans, there was a line that read Griffin Arvindson. And maybe that was cross-referenced to a page in another tome where his descriptor was written, new facts and secrets arising as they happened, perhaps. In fact he was sure there was such a page: that had to be what was referenced by the code next his name that had surfaced automatically in the Keepers’ Book after he’d signed himself in. If he was right, then that page, his page, now read “Apprentice Keeper” as its most recent line, preempting everything else by means of the magick imbued the the title itself or in the Keepers’ Book, he wasn’t sure. And at the top of that page, he was willing to bet, under his name it read something like “Kind: Human.”
You can’t magickally change yourself, only your Kind. What if he took his blue ink and crossed out that word “Human” and wrote… something else?
What, though. Madam Ren was right: he didn’t truly want to be a Stone Giant, or an Elf; and he definitely didn’t want to be a Dwarf. The blank pages, though. The blank pages! He could craft for himself a new Kind! Just like Humans, only taller (not too tall!), not to mention muscular and handsome, with strong arms to hold his man and a mighty cock to please him. It was possible. He could do it! He could ditch this undersized kid-brother form at last and become a new Griffin, one that would surely draw his blacksmith’s stare and kindle those bright blue eyes with ardor, passion, and love.
The thought made him giddy and warm with arousal, his heavy cock thickening with interest in the confines of his snug gray Apprentice trousers. He was half-tempted to jump down right then, rush over to the Sentients’ Tome and start scribbling away; but he wasn’t quite that impetuous. It was a heady thing, he knew, creating a new Kind, and he needed to know more about how it worked first before he was ready to take that step. It was only his first day, after all, he thought with a grin.
His gaze shifted over to the other, much thicker tome, the Book of Unsentient Kinds. Perhaps… perhaps, like the predecessor who’d created a red spying butterfly, he’d make a new creature for himself first, as a trial run. That seemed like a reasonable first step.
Griffin nodded. A new creature, grab some dinner at one of the taverns, and then get a good night’s sleep. Stage one of his plan was set—or it would be, he thought with a smirk, once he took care of the erection currently trying to rip it way through his fancy new pants.
Going by Madam Ren’s remark that the previous “Mage” of days long past had seldom left the Citadel, Griffin guessed the Arsenal of Secrets must contain living quarters of some kind and began investigating, his cock straining uncomfortably at his trousers as if trying to lead the way. As it turned out, the archway to the left of the narrow open area between the stairs and the reading tables opened onto a small vestibule; here he discovered a further set of stairs that wound gently around to a lower floor beneath the main chamber. On this level he found a suite that must have been the main quarters, presumably the Keeper’s, and half a dozen smaller bedchambers, each with a firm but comfortable mattress and cushions on a raised frame but little else; in these rooms there was no glow from the walls, floors, or ceiling as there was in the rest of the complex. Though the rooms were smaller here, and there were, of course, no windows, the air was as unaccountably fresh and sweet as it was up above in the main area; Griffin resolved not to think about how or why that might be.
Unexpectedly there was a large and serious-looking door on this level, at the end of a long hallway leading back from the stairs, with a great iron ring for a handle that showed not the slightest sign of rust. When he turned this ring and hauled the door open with a heave, he was shocked to see he was facing a landing on the back Citadel stairs, one that was clearly well down the Citadel hill from the one that opened on the slot with the hidden door. Unlike the hidden door he’d found on his first visit, this entrance was an obvious door from the outside as well, though certainly a forbidding one; and Griffin realized that, while the hidden door above lead directly to the secret books and so was closed to all but Apprentices and Keepers, this door might be used for invited guests, so long as they were kept from mounting the inner stairs; and for all he knew there was some kind of safeguard to prevent that contingency as well.
As he stepped out into the cool night air, trying to get a sense of where he was through the tall trees that shrouded the back of the hill, he happened to glance to the side and found himself staring into the unimpressed and phlegmatic gaze of the carved, encircled froggy doorwarden.
“Apprentice,” it greeted him.
Griffin have it a narrow look. “Frog,” he replied.
Griffin went in and closed the door, its loud clang and the crack of its automatic bolts ringing through the complex. He returned to his explorations, wondering what kinds of secrets were hidden here that weren’t inscribed in books.
It was easy enough to broach the basic unknowns, at least, starting with the layout of this domestic level underneath the all-too-serious Arsenal of Destiny. Here was a mix of the magickal and mundane. There was a privy near the sleeping quarters, with its own water supply, and a room with a large bath big enough for three next to it, though suspiciously with no sign of how the water for it might be hauled or heated. Down another corridor there was a meeting or entertaining room, or so Griffin guessed its function, with long, sturdy couches and low tables; beyond that what looked like a private study with a wide, empty desk and a wall of deep, mysterious-looking drawers. There was even, around a corner behind the bedchambers, a proper kitchen with a hearth and another water tap. Its cupboards, however, contained only pots and crockery: there was not a speck of food to be found.
As he now had nothing to his name and nowhere but here to go, Griffin wondered if he would come across either a trove of splendid treasure or, alternatively, some kind of a magickal cornucopia like Oleta had at the Battle of a Thousand Years. These hopes were satisfied in the former category, at least, when he discovered a considerable hoard of gold and silver coin in a welter of strong-boxes stowed in an otherwise empty room off it s own, narrow hallway. The coins were in mint condition, too, and yet of very ancient-looking design, with lurid images of slavering dragon’s heads on one side and a double profile of a king and prince he did not recognize on the other. The lettering was crisp and legible and utterly unintelligible, which told Griffin these were some very ancient coins indeed—or, perhaps more likely in this place, that they were part of a self-replenishing supply based on coins that had been minted long, long ago. Before Kossh, he fancied, and before the Seven Realms; perhaps before even the storybook legends that had been Griffin’s first path to knowledge.
Griffin tossed one of the gold dragon crowns in the air and caught it with a smile. Whatever their provenance, these coins were good news: reassurance that he could eat, something he needed to do soon, in fact. But first… his stubborn cock had not quite subsided while he’d been wandering the lower level, and with the mystery of not-starving settled it was demanding his attention, now if not sooner.
He’d half expected to find one of the bedchambers adorned with his late predecessor’s dirty laundry, if not actual skeletonized remains. But there was sign of neither occupant nor possessions in any of the rooms. He took the one closest to the stairs—which happened to be the one next to the disused Keeper’s suite—and stepped into the darkened room. Quickly, he undid his trousers and dropped them to his booted feet, releasing his cock to full and instant hardness, then dropped his butt onto the mattress, his cock already filling his smoothly callused left hand.
He glowered down at it in mock irritation, languidly pulling the foreskin over the head with practiced ease. “What am I going to do with you?” he groused at it, half playfully, half serious. “You must be as tired of my hand as it is of you, and yet here you are standing up and begging for it three times a day at least.” He watched intently as a pearl of precum formed along the slit and sighed. “If I were a bit more limber you’d have your first cocksucking, but as it is…”
Griffin froze suddenly, his large, rigid erection gripped close in hand as a slow smile spread across his face. Perhaps there were two crows that could be hit here with a single stone cast…
Griffin tried to ignore the hard, throbbing erection pulsing in his still untied trousers as he sat at the center table and pondered what to write on the first blank spread of the Unsentients’ Tome. Finally, mimicking the title style of the rest of the book, he headed the top left leaf in careful, uniform capitals with the words “Cocksucking Fleshsock.”
He considered the blue words he’d just written, suppressed a giggle, and continued, his muse and inspiration twitching eagerly beneath the table.
“The Cocksucking Fleshsock,” he wrote, “is a tough-hided, heat-loving tube of muscle and flexible bone generally between eight and twelve inches long and three to four inches across. Its strong inner musculature is slightly slick with its own lubricating secretions and is open at one end so that a human cock may be inserted, and its nature is such that, while content merely to exist, it derives great pleasure from sucking a human cock to orgasm and ecstasy from the absorption of human cum, which is the only nourishment it needs. It likes larger cocks, of course” (Griffin smirked as he wrote, and his big cock jumped in pride at being so alluded to) “but its goal and instinctive skill is the satisfaction of the Human whose cock its is enjoying. It provides the best possible cocksucking every time, never harming the cock it services but helping it to find release and fulfillment, so that the cock is only better off for encountering the Cocksucking Fleshsock. It can provide a human with perfect cocksucking and blissful orgasm many times a day” (Griffin snickered at this but kept writing) “but can go a week without feeding. After an encounter it pulls itself off the cock it has brought to orgasm and curls up in happy, sated sleep, waking when need arises and seeking to fulfill that need.”
Grinning at his tomfoolery, Griffin looked over what he’d written, wondering if he’d missed anything. A thought occurred to him and he hastily added, “The Cocksucking Fleshsock only acts when the Human does not have a sexual partner with him.” Whew! Potentially embarrassing situation avoided. If—when!—he finally found his first intimate moments with Wass, he didn’t need there to be a Cocksucking Fleshsock trying to get its own game going between them.
Deciding that he’d now covered all the necessary points, he started a new line and wrote, “The Cocksucking Fleshsock is mythical and does not trouble mankind. Except that a single Cocksucking Fleshsock may be summoned by an Apprentice Keeper using the command ‘I summon a Cocksucking Fleshsock’, and banished using the command ‘I banish you, Cocksucking Fleshsock!’.
He set down his pen and admired what he’d written. He hoped he had the workings of this place figured out correctly, because he really wanted to try this out. Suddenly the blue ink settled and dried as if it had been written hours before, and a moment later the word “index:” and a new code of symbols and numbers appeared at the bottom of the right-hand leaf. Griffin almost laughed. Somewhere in this vault a new page, maybe even a new book, had appeared, indexing all of the Cocksucking Fleshsocks in creation. Of which there were none, though that count was, however, about to rise by one.
Griffin gathered the unsecure waist of his trousers in one hand and made for the stairs, his cock urging him to hurry.
This time Griffin decided to get completely naked, so he pulled off the new boots—they were very well made, he couldn’t help but notice, but he’d admire the workmanship later—then, tossing these aside, he shucked the silvery blouse and the charcoal trousers, hurling both over the broad, cozy-looking chair that was the only other furniture in his chosen bedroom apart from the bed and a tall wardrobe in the far corner. Then he dropped into the bed with a slight bounce, piled the cushions behind him, and—refraining with some effort from grasping his mighty tool—he instead placed his palms on the mattress and called out the universe, “I summon a Cocksucking Fleshsock!”
In the blink of an eye there appeared, lying across Griffin’s firm but not very meaty thighs, a creature almost exactly like what he imagined. It was a tube of flesh, ten inches long and three or so wide, with a brown, leathery hide like a cow’s and one open end; the only thing he hadn’t really expected, so far, was that the analogy of cowhide was close enough that the exterior surface was not only sturdy but covered in short, brown hair. Griffin shook his head, grinning. “Harder to get away from the farm than it might seem,” he mused.
He was about to reach for the thing, but it seemed in that moment to sense the nearby erection aching with need and went into immediate action. Retracting onto his right leg, it turned itself and started swiftly crawling like an inchworm, open end first, moving up Griffin’s thigh and onto his torso and shifting toward his center as it did so. Once it reached the top of Griffin’s flat stomach, Griffin watched in fascination as the open end peeled back from Griffin’s middle and craned backwards, aligning itself effortlessly over the head of Griffin’s dick before theatrically dropping onto it in a single, swift attack.
Pleasure flooded through Griffin and he let out an involuntary moan. The Fleshsock stayed in this bent-back position, milking the head a little, and Griffin let his eyes roll back in his head and even more pleasure hit him. “Okay, you were a good decision,” he babbled. “You were definitely—oh, gods!!” he cried out, as the Fleshsock chose that moment to jump the rest of the way off his torso dive down past his cockhead, sucking him down inch by inch, until the entire hefty tool was swallowed hole by a creature that knew cocksucking and nothing else. Griffin shivered, overcome with wave after wave of carnal sensation. “This is… better than I dreamed…” he panted. “Forget about… Wass, I’m… never leaving this bed!”
The Fleshsock sucked him for a few moments, the squeezing rippling unevenly up and down his long shaft. Then it pulled itself up from the base, contracting its middle to shorten its length, before glomping swiftly down to the base again. Griffin groaned loudly. Some part of his brain was wondering if the Fleshsock was picking up on exactly what it was doing to him—it had to, right, to provide the perfect cocksucking and orgasm?—but he was rapidly losing all capacity for rational thought, especially when it did the contracting and glomping thing again. Then he felt something around the head. Something ministering to the foreskin and the sensitive ridges of the—oh, god, it was a little tongue. Or—no, tongues. Three or four tongues at the farthest part of the Fleshsock interior where his cockhead was, lapping around the quivering glans and even sliding under the foreskin to pleasure the sensitive flesh beneath.
Totally awash in ecstatic stimulation, Griffin could hear nothing but his thundering heart, his blood seemingly on fire as it raced through his heated flesh. He splayed his hands on the mattress beside him, needing nothing but the Fleshsock and and what it was doing to him in that very moment. It was a master at its craft, just as it it had been designed to be, but Griffin hadn’t anticipated how that mastery would manifest itself. Every time it floored him with pleasure it found a way to escalate it. Even now, as he marveled at the tongues frying his brain around the cockhead, more tongues appeared licking and lapping all along his hot, thick shaft, and Griffin realized he was galloping close to the edge. “Oh, buddy, I’m gonna cum in you,” he gasped, looking down at the thing as it contracted again almost halfway, then augmented the full-swallow glomp with a twist that almost made him scream. “Yes! Yes!” he cried. “I’m going to blow! I’m going to cum in you so hard!” The Fleshsock was squeezing and sucking rapidly now, combining all its tricks as it twisted and licked and sucked him with both relentless fervor and mid-blowing skill. In seconds Griffin was exploding in the biggest orgasm he could ever remember having, cumming in great jets into the Fleshsock as it clamped itself around his mighty, spunk-shooting cock, determined no doubt to swallow and absorb every drop of the hot, spermy nutrient Griffin was dousing its insides with.
Griffin collapsed, sliding bonelessly down a little on the cushions, and the Fleshsock stayed on him while he came, his spurts slowly lessening. His euphoria was so all-encompassing that he barely noticed as the Fleshsock calmly drew itself off his spent but still swollen cock; when he awoke from his doze some time later it was curled up on his left thigh not far from his crotch, snoozing contentedly like his grandfather after devouring half the table at the harvest festival feast. He patted it affectionately, then let himself drift away again in matching slumber.
With a bit of gold in his purse Griffin could afford for once to go someplace nice, so he decided to take his sup at the finest tavern in the merchants’ quarter, the Key and Pheasant, a brisk half hour’s walk from the Citadel. Though it wasn’t merely the gold that made dining her an actual option, as in his old homespuns he wouldn’t have made it through the doors; in the silver and gray of the “Under-Citadel”, however, he received only a raised eyebrow from the fat, mutton-chopped landlord followed by a grin and an escort to a nice corner table away from the louder parties. Perhaps his long-dead predecessor was still remembered as a generous tipper, Griffin thought wryly as he took his seat on the bench.
“And what shall we be getting you, young sir?” the landlord said, his eyes drifting down to the nested-circles symbol on his blouse before popping back up to Griffin’s.
Griffin smiled genially, wanting to be remembered as a friendly guest worth welcoming back. “I would love a pint,” he said, “and a hearty meal, if I may.”
The landlord hesitated for the briefest of moments, and Griffin suddenly realized that while he might now look the part of a middle class scion (or better), there was a very good chance his accent retained more than a hint of his rustic origins; but even as he resolved to work on that problem, the landlord glanced again at his fine clothes and plowed confidently on. “You may indeed, young sir,” the landlord said. “There’s a beef stew tonight I’d rate as excellent.”
Still smiling, Griffin nodded. “That, then, and thank you—?”
“My name’s Tuppos, young sir,” the landlord said with a bob of his head. “I’ll send the lad out with your pint straightaway!” And then he was gone, passing by the bar to hand off the orders on the way to greet more new guests at the door.
His stomach rumbled at the prospect of beef stew. The irony of his former life as a cowherd, of course, was that meat for him was a rarity; perhaps that was now about to change.
He looked around the tavern contentedly. It was now after sundown, and the place was starting to fill up with regulars who came here for food, drink, and company; in the opposite corner some new arrivals were greeting a party of young lands ready to enjoy their evening, and there were several groups of mixed gender talking animatedly throughout the place. Soon there might be entertainment of some kind, a singer or a fiddler perhaps, though with this crowd song might erupt spontaneously without professional help. It was warm and cozy here and altogether inviting, and Griffin found himself wondering if urban camaraderie such as was on display all around him might be yet another novelty that was now within his reach.
“Your pint, sir, and your stew,” said a voice, accompanied by a pair of thunks as the goods were set before him. Griffin looked up… to see the second most arrestingly handsome man he had ever seen. His innocent, inquisitive eyes were clear and dark, his cheekbones high, his jawline sharp, his wine-dark lips full, his skin a sun-kissed amber. Lush dark hair fell in loose waves on broad shoulders, his shockingly bared arms were thick and strong and faintly sheened with sweat, and the open vee of his collar exposed a firm, hairy chest that positively invited touch. The ‘lad’—for this must be the one Tuppos had meant, though he was hardly younger than Griffin—met his gaze and smiled wide, and the beauty of it was so breathtaking that Griffin’s cock awoke with a start and rapidly started to inflate, almost as though the best orgasm of Griffin’s life a half hour before hadn’t happened. He shifted slightly and it squeezed itself free of its usual curl over his balls to lie flat along the crease of his hip—which, at least, was more comfortable than the alternative.
“Thanks,” Griffin said faintly, though he wasn’t sure he knew what he was thanking him for, or why this intoxicating specimen of masculinity was even standing before him. “I’m Griffin,” he blurted out, and when the beautiful man smiled even more broadly his cock surged in his pants like he hadn’t cum in weeks.
“Pike,” the man said, offering his hand. It was strong and long-fingered, the knuckles dusted with just a bit of dark hair, and Griffin took it in a daze. As soon as their hands grasped in their firm embrace Griffin’s cock was suddenly, rigidly hard. What was with this guy? Either Griffin was hornier than he had ever been, or Pike here had something in his blood that was making him pant after him like a besotted teenager.
“I have to ask,” Pike began, still smiling incandescently, “what does the symbol on your shirt mean? Are you a special kind a priest? Or—a foreign dignitary?” His tone suggested he would find either of these possibilities fascinating.
They were still holding each other’s hands, but Griffin wasn’t going to mention it if Pike didn’t. “I, uh,” Griffin said, trying to focus on the question. “No, I’m, uh, just a scholar.”
Something shifted in his lap—something that wasn’t his hard-on. He tried to ignore it. It couldn’t be what it felt like it was.
“A scholar?” Pike repeated excitedly, actually squeezing the hand he was still grasping. Griffin’s eyes traveled up the long, hairy forearms to rock-solid biceps and round, hard shoulders, the uneven light casting shadows that made them look even more stroking. Griffin’s cock throbbed violently and tried to get even harder against his hip. “What do you study?”
Griffin gulped. “Old magick,” he admitted.
Pike’s eyes widened. “Truly?” he said. Behind him on the other side of the tavern somebody called Pike’s name, but he didn’t seem to notice. The curiosity in his eyes seemed to sink into Griffin like a lure. “That’s amazing! So, is any of it real?”
Just at that moment, Griffin felt the open end of his newly created friend squeeze past his none-too-taut waistband and pounce on his mighty erection, swallowing the top half in one go before inching down the remaining length.
Griffin gasped loudly, and Pike let go of his hand, leaning forward in concern. Fuck, he even smelled nice. “Griffin? Are you okay?”
Griffin managed a smile. “Just… a Cocksucking Fleshsock,” he said as though making a joke, even as the creature in question took his whole hard cock into its warm, slick, and very strong insides and began sucking with remorseless abandon.
Pike straightened up, laughing. “I think those are definitely mythical,” he said. Then he added, “Though sometimes I wish they weren’t, you know?” Then he winked, and Griffin’s heart actually stuttered.
“PIKE!!” the landlord yelled from the bar, cupping his hands around his mouth to get the server’s attention.
Pike smiled his soul-melting smile again. “Enjoy your meal, ‘Lord Mage’,” he teased, and with another wink he turned and headed back to the bar. And the spectacle this gave him, of Pike’s tapered back under his snug, sleeveless shirt and, most of all, his round, perfect butt, combined with the shock of being gotten off in the most public and wrongest place Griffin could imagine, pushed him straight over the edge and had him cumming hard into his delighted Cocksucking Fleshsock for the second time that night.
Fortunately his bench had a back to it and he slumped against it, feeling sweaty, sated, and spent. A moment or ten later he found the landlord, Tuppos, standing by his table with a concerned expression. “Is everything all right, young sir?” he asked solicitously. Even as he did so Griffin felt the contented beast was removing itself from his cock. Once free it curled up in his lap and immediately went to sleep.
Griffin wanted to join it. Instead he pushed a smile onto his face and said, “Everything is great. The stew is just… so good.”
Tuppos glanced at the bowl in front of him, and Griffin remembered he hadn’t had any of the stew yet. “The smell, I mean,” he amended, forcing his smile wider. “Pure intoxication to a hungry man.”
“You… don’t say,” Tuppos said. He, too, forced a smile, and with a brisk, “Well, enjoy your meal, young sir,” he departed, seeking out more normal customers. They would not be hard to find.
I can never come back here, he thought. As nonchalantly as he could he brought his hands under the table and slid the sleeping Fleshsock into his trousers, as the only alternative was to carry it around in his hand. How it had gotten here he did not know; all he knew for sure was that the ability to sense the “arising need” of its favorite hard-on evidently reached across entire cities.
He finished his stew quickly—it truly was excellent, and he was loath not to savor it as it deserved—and downed as much of the pint as he could before leaving a silver crown on the table, about twenty times what the meal was worth, and bolting from the place before either Pike or the landlord saw him again. Only he was not so good at escaping as he though, seeing as he was hardly twenty paces down the darkened street before he heard a deep, honeyed voice calling out, “Hey! Griffin! Wait!”
He turned reluctantly to see Pike trotting up to him, even more handsome somehow in the near-darkness under the stars, his bared arms making him look like a sculpted hero of a bygone age. “I was hoping to ask you,” he said, his voice becoming more intimate as he closed the distance between them, “when I might see you again?”
Griffin stared up at him. He wanted to run his fingers through that hair, his hands across that chest. Pike’s eyes glinted and his lips curved, and, amazingly, impossibly, he felt his cock wanting to harden again, despite being as tuckered as he was after two phenomenal work-outs in one night. He wanted to laugh, and almost did. Pike lifted his brows, and Griffin did let out a chuckle. “Why?” he asked, amused and perplexed at the strange things fate was throwing at him. “Why are you so fucking beautiful?”
“Why are you?” Pike replied easily, his voice even deeper, and Griffin’s dick actually stiffened a little at that. The Fleshsock stuffed in his crotch woke a little too, attending alertly for any sign it might be needed.
Griffin groaned, not because of the Fleshsock but because Pike’s come-on meant that the had world shifted into a slightly more familiar configuration. He gave Pike a genuine smile. “You… just want another big tip,” he said.
Pike shrugged slightly, more with his head than his perfect shoulders. “I like a big tip,” he said agreeably. “The bigger the better,” he added with a slow, rakish smile.
“Ugggh,” Griffin said. Unable to help himself he grabbed the back of Pike’s strong neck and pulled him into a kiss. Pike acceded willingly, opening for Griffin and letting him plunder his hot mouth for a moment, while Griffin’s cock tried valiantly to reach a full state of erection.
Abruptly Griffin broke the kiss and stepped back. “The next time my will-power bottoms out, I’ll come find you,” he said, taking a few more steps backward, as if to remove himself from further temptation.
“See you soon, then,” Pike said, still smiling saucily.
“Fuck you. Have a good night, Beautiful.”
“Sleep well… ‘Lord Mage’,” was Pike’s reply. He turned and sauntered back to the tavern, both of them acutely aware as he did so of Griffin’s eyes on Pike’s perfect ass.
The next morning Griffin woke in his bedchamber with a strangled gasp as unstoppable gratification pounded through his body in hard, relentless waves. Griffin looked down in shock to see his morning erection being once again expertly serviced by a ten-inch Cocksucking Fleshsock. Only… it was a little hard to tell in the darkened room, but if Griffin’s bleary, orgasm-verging morning eyes were right the dark mass of the tube-like creature looked a little larger now than it had before. Was he feeding it that well?
The Fleshsock suddenly executed a simultaneous squeeze, twist, and suck maneuver, causing Griffin to yelp as he was hit with shocked, shuddering pleasure. “Look, Squeezy,” he told it, still fumbling with cognizance, “you’re really good at that, but… it’s creepy waking up this way.” He grasped at the creature with his left hand, finding its familiar fuzzy cowhide oddly comforting, and tried to pull it off of his cock. “At least… buy me… dinner first?” he grunted as he yanked at the thing with increasing effort. It didn’t budge.
Now a little alarmed and fully awake, Griffin tried grasping it with both hands and pulling as hard as he could. He didn’t move it even by a fraction of an inch. The creature was clamped around his unwavering erection, determined to fulfill its mission and give him the best cocksucking and the most thrilling release it could possibly give him. Nothing, it seemed, could divert it from its existential purpose.
Griffin slumped back against his cushions and stared at the creature, not unimpressed by its determination. The creature rewarded him with a series of licks from all directions that cascaded from base to tip and back, once rapidly, then slow and sensual, then again all at once in sudden glissando. Griffin cried out, shivering with heated stimulation; but his brain was stuck on getting the thing off him. “Right,” he said unevenly, “I hate to do this to you, Squeezy, but: ‘I banish you, Cocksucking Fleshsock!’”
The creature stilled for a moment. A heartbeat passed, then another. Then all at once the creature resumed its cocksucking with gleeful fervor. Griffin’s astonishment melted into raw ecstasy as the creature redoubled its efforts, contracting, sucking, squeezing, twisting, and licking in varying speeds and in unpredictable combinations, and Griffin found himself racing toward the edge and then straight over it. He orgasmed spectacularly, shooting what felt like massive amounts of cum into his cocksucking companion as pleasure racked him from head to toe. Spent and panting, head falling back as his eyes rolled into his skull, he sank into the mattress awash in mindless glory, still cumming in abortive spurts as the Fleshsock hungrily and happily consumed his seed. The comforting sleep of post-release took him, and it was some considerable time become self-awareness returned.
Griffin reread the addendum he’d just added to the Unsentients’ Tome. “The Cocksucking Fleshsock,” it said, “is also respectful enough of the Humans it interacts with that, before engaging in its efforts to bring the Human pleasure, it always checks first to make certain the Human is conscious, and that he consents.”
He nodded. That, at least, would take care of the last two sorts of encounters, though he had no doubt Squeezy would find new ways to make trouble. He watched as the ink settled and became instantly dry. His words were now a part of the fabric of the universe—at least where it came to Cocksucking Fleshsocks.
He leaned his naked back against the cool wood of the ancient chair, the middle seat on the side of the center table where lay the Keepers’ Book, and considered his companion where it lay curled up on the table beside the tome that had brought about its creation. He’d marched straight up here on regaining consciousness with the thing in hand, not even taking a moment to wash or dress, so determined was he to revise the creature’s parameters. Now, though, he had time to be perplexed.
Why had it not been banished? He folded his arms over his bare, defined chest and stared at the thing, considering. He’d copied the spells of summoning and banishing exactly from the Scrying Weasel descriptor—and he knew, with harrowing certainty, that those had worked perfectly. For that matter, the summoning spell had worked just fine for his new friend here. So why hadn’t the spell designed to get rid of the thing?
He knew from reading all the old tales that, like mathematics, magick had rules; there must, therefore, be a specific reason why a spell or conjuring failed. He thought about the Keepers’ Book, which had overridden the facts of his own existence, or at least others’ memories of them. “Something overrode the banishing spell,” he mused aloud.
There was something else peculiar about this that seemed related. It wasn’t lost on him that for all it loved dick, the Fleshsock seemed stubbornly devoted to one dick in particular. After all, the night before it had left the Citadel in search of his erection, even though the market town must have been rife with all kinds of juicy hard-ons from the docks to the mews to gorge itself on. Out of all the erections in all the houses and taverns in Scarfe, Griffin thought, it had come looking for his. Even now, this very moment, there must be hundreds of hard cocks all over the market town, but Squeezy was content with Griffin’s cock alone.
It was obvious, he knew, and he almost saw it. What was he trying to tell himself? “It’s like you’re fixated on me,” he told the sleeping creature fondly. “Stuck on me—” Even as he said the words, a chill struck him as a memory resurfaced: the last creature he had met down here. A blue and indigo dragon, jubilant at recovering its freedom after the gods knew how many years of being bound to a long-lost Apprentice…
“Ugh, may the storm dog shit on me,” he cursed suddenly, glowering at Squeezy where it lay curled and content on the table. “Are you my fucking familiar?”
He gaped at the thing. A snort broke free from Griffin, and another, and then he was laughing uncontrollably. At last he mastered himself, leaning forward to stroke his new friend as it slept. “Well, I did it to myself,” he said, still smiling at his own foolishness. “I did all this to myself.”
As he thumb-caressed his familiar he took the opportunity to examine it more closely, the eerie ambient pseudo-moonlight of the main chamber offering almost the brightness of day compared to his nonluminescent chamber below. “You do look a bit bigger,” he said thoughtfully, confirming his earlier bleary impression. He wondered how big it would get.
That word, though. Bigger. He bit his lip. That word had crossed his mind once before that morning, and not in connection with his new familiar. After he’d regained consciousness, as he’d reached down to grab Squeezy prefatory to a determined march upstairs to find the Unsentients’ Tome and do some very pointed editing of a certain descriptor, his eyes had fallen across his own torpid equipment; and the same word had occurred to him. Bigger.
Griffin’s hand stilled. With an edge of trepidation he looked down at his crotch as he sat naked in the old wooden chair, stomach fluttering. There it was, his cock, and the same word struck him. Bigger. Only a little—it was barely noticeable, in fact. But he knew his already impressive tackle intimately. Stone dead as it was now, it had been without doubt a whittler’s shave smaller than the cock he was presently looking at.
He looked back at Squeezy, his hand still cupped around its sturdy, supple hide. His pulse quickened as several thoughts collided in his mind. He had jokingly given the Cocksucking Fleshsock, and therefore his familiar, Squeezy, a love of big cock. Was it possible—? Could it be using its own suction, or maybe something peculiar or even semimagickal in its secretions, or both, to… progressively and subtly enlarge the big, rigid cocks its was devoted to pleasuring? His big, rigid cock, specifically?
The thought was… arresting. His languid cock twitched, deeply intrigued even as it slept, and on the table the Fleshsock likewise stirred in its slumber—always ready, Griffin thought with a wry smile, to spring to action whenever it was needed.
Once he had cleaned himself up with water and a cloth from the privy—though he intended to plumb the mysteries of the (probably magickal) bath before long—Griffin went to dress and found to his bemusement that the clothes he had been wearing the day before were cleaned and renewed, the shirt even bearing a faint scent of daffodils. The boots, too, were as new, and Griffin found himself wondering just how much magick was going on all around him in his new home that he wasn’t even noticing, let alone understanding.
After a trip down to the town for fresh bread and butter, a pot of jam, and—a real luxury, this, for a farmer’s boy in these parts—a cask of strong black tea, Griffin returned to the Under-Citadel and breakfasted, plotting his next moves as he ate while Squeezy dozed on the center reading table beside him.
His ultimate aim of changing his own Kind required two separate alterations to the books: creating a new Kind in the Sentients’ Tome, and assigning himself to it on his own, personal descriptor page. The first was straightforward; he had already done something similar, though he reckoned he’d need to be much more careful about exactly what he wrote than he had been with his new companion. For the second, though, he find his descriptor page before he could alter it, and it seemed to him that this entailed acquiring at least a basic mastery of the codes and their corresponding locations in the endless banks of secrets before him before he could go any further.
“So, there it is. I’ll find my page today,” he said resolutely. “That’s the plan.” He patted Squeezy and set to work touring the sprawling Tomb and trying to discern its structure, his last bit of bread in hand. How hard could it be?
As it turned out, finding his page was a more ambitious a goal than he’d surmised, and it was only after hours of confusion that he finally thought he had grasped the codes themselves.
Part of he trouble was that the space itself was vaster than he had realized. His initial guess that there were more rooms was proved correct when he found an archway beyond the furthest bank that led into yet another chamber; all told there were nine of these enormous repositories, he discovered, each entered through an archway in on one wall and exited to the next through an archway on another, with the room he had entered first via the Citadel stairs at the center of the grid. And all of these rooms were filled with rank upon rank of towering cases full of books.
It was quickly evident that the mighty codices were uniformly marked on their spines with a strange symbol code much like the ones he’d seen in the Keepers’ Book and the Books of All Kinds. The banks themselves were not marked, however, nor were the shelves, and because the symbols were unfamiliar to him the patterns kept eluding him. Finally he decided to catalog the symbols themselves, looking over all the spines and looking only at which symbols he saw. It was when he became increasingly certain that there were nine of these symbols, and nine only, that it finally started to come together. The first character in the code had to be the room, and a quick run through the rooms confirmed this; he could even posit an order, based on the symbol for the starting room—the circle with nested semicircles he wore on his breast—being followed by the symbols for each room reached using the only path possible through the rooms, which was up from the center and then around to the right.
Actually counting the banks of bookcases in a single room revealed there were thirty-six ranks of thirty-six banks; sure enough, the second symbol divided the room into nine sections, each with nine ranks of nine, and the next symbol into subsections of three ranks of three; and the next symbol gave him the bank itself. A bank was made up of three cases joined together, each with nine shelves, so the next symbol focused him onto a set of just three shelves. Each shelf, in turn, had two thin dividers, so this was another matrix of nine; and thus the sixth and final symbol in the code, counting as always up and around, gave him the cubby where the book must be. From there the index codes devolved into normal numbers—two blocs, separated by a dash; from looking at the shelves it was easy to see that these numbers ran in order across the spines in each cubby, starting over in the next, so the first numbers must give him the book number within the cubby. The last set of numbers, he guessed excitedly, must be the page number.
That was it. That was the solution to the codes—it had to be!
His growling stomach told him it was long past his dinner-time, but there was no way in the Nine Realms—or wherever it was they were now—that Griffin would not immediately test the system he had puzzled out. Racing back to the center room he grabbed the Keepers’ Book from the reading desk where it had lain all this time and, finding the code that had appeared by his name, eagerly began tracking the location it referenced symbol by symbol like a hound on a scent—room, then section, then subsection, then bank, case, and cubby. The one the code led him to was at waist height, of which he was glad: each bank had a rolling ladder affixed to it, but he was just as happy not to use them if he didn’t have to.
His chase close to an end, Griffin trailed his finger across the spines, seeking the correct book number—and behold, a spine that matched the exact code from the Keepers’ Book, apart from the last block of numbers. With a trembling hand he drew the heavy codex out and, crouching, set it on the glowing floor below him. Checking the final set of numbers in the Keepers’ Book, he opened the tome and found the foliation with the page numbers, then began flipping through as quickly as he dared while still respecting the book itself.
His excitement mounted as he saw that this book was indeed made up of two-page descriptors of individual people, though he did not recognize any names—wait, wait, he thought, pausing suddenly in his paging: he did know that name. Keel Parco! He knew Keel. He was Griffin’s age and lived a half day’s ride further out from town in the flats, in one of the knots of pig farms out that way. He’d stayed over at Keel’s for a month one time after three of his brothers got sick for a while, to keep him from getting sick too. A little obnoxious, but Griffin had liked fishing with him, mostly as it didn’t involve much room for talk. According to this Keel was married now, which was a bit of a surprise: a wife was listed, someone Griffin didn’t know, and beside that was a code, presumably for the wife’s descriptor page.
Griffin considered. If Keel was Griffin’s age—and he was almost exactly Griffin’s age, if his mother’s talk of their births having been mere hours apart was anything to go by—that must mean that these books were ordered at least partly chronologically. Filing that away for later, he kept flipping.
And then… there it was, on the exact page the code in the Keepers’ Book said it would be. “Griffin Arvindson” read the title, in the same, uniform hand and the same black ink as all the rest of the magickally inscribed knowledge in the countless volumes surrounding him in all directions. His heart thumping in his chest, Griffin realized he had achieved what no other person who was not apprenticed as he was could ever do: he had found his very own descriptor page.
And directly below his name, just as he had surmised, Griffin read what was to him the most important line of all.
Before proceeding any further Griffin decided to settle his nerves with a bit of ale and sup, so, taking up the Keepers’ Book and his own special volume, he brought the books back to the center reading table and left them there with his familiar while he continued out, up the stairs and out of the Citadel. When he got to the square his giddy steps almost turned him in the direction of the Key and Pheasant; but discretion prevailed for once, and Griffin sought out a more run-of-the-mill pub in the heart of the merchants’ district to dine in. A too-arousing bar lad was probably something he could do without tonight; though the temptation didn’t quite subside until he got to the Dancing Pig and let himself submerge in its loud and happy crowd.
Once at his table, a tall tankard of fine red ale before him and with meat, bread, and cheese all on the way, Griffin told himself to relax, loosen up, and try not to think about the all-important final step that now lay before him. He was… mostly successful, though he was sure some hidden nook of his brain—his own inner Under-Citadel, perhaps—was obsessing on his coming transformation. The ale helped, though. He was halfway through his tankard and smiling to himself for no particular reason when a well-dressed woman paused unexpectedly beside his table and softly gasped. “I’m sorry to disturb, but are you, perchance, the new Mage of Scarfe?” she asked.
Griffin looked up and smiled wide. “Madam Ren!” he greeted her happily. He was almost surprised to see that she looked just as she had before, given how much else had changed for him. Her gown was simple yet exquisite, her perfume was gentle, her dark hair held just the hint of silver, and her eyes were warm but shrewd. “Please, sit a moment,” he added, gesturing to the bench opposite.
“Thank you,” she said, taking a seat and eyeing him curiously. “Do you know me, young Mage?”
Griffin’s heart sank a little, but he kept up his smile and said, “Your wares are justly famous. And please, call me Griffin.”
“Griffin?” Ren said, seeming slightly surprised. “An interesting name. I feel as though I might have known another boy named Griffin, once…” She trailed off, frowning.
Not wanting to upset her, Griffin redirected the conversation. “I take it you recognize my attire?” he asked.
She offered him a telling smile. “I knew a Mage of Scarfe once,” she affirmed airily, in a way that did not hide the many meanings of the word. “It was long, long ago.”
“It could not have have been long ago at all,” Griffin protested cheerfully. She nodded wryly in thanks for the flattery. Realizing he knew nothing about his predecessor—embarrassingly, he could not even remember the name he had so cavalierly crossed out—Griffin asked, “Can you tell me about him?”
“A little,” she said, seeming to think back. “He was an ardent scholar when I met him, full of excitement for his studies in the old magick. How go your studies, by the way?”
Griffin couldn’t help but smile. “Our library is… extensive, and I am only just learning its ways,” he said. “But I discovered a book today I was glad to find.”
“Fortunate,” Ren said. “Uris was like that too, looking ahead to what he might learn.” She sighed. “He thought the knowledge he accumulated up there could benefit all the Kinds somehow,” she went on, shaking her head at memories of someone she seemed to consider an impetuous youth. “He tried to tell everyone, you know. Things. Secrets of old knowledge and old magick. But when he tried—” She shrugged.
“He couldn’t actually say them?” Griffin guessed.
Ren nodded. “Perhaps he was too afraid,” she said indifferently. “Or perhaps those kinds of secrets keep themselves.”
“That would mean there was still magick in the world,” Griffin said judiciously, “even if only in protecting itself.”
Ren scoffed. “There was never magick,” she said. “That is what I am starting to think in my old age. Not as it is in the legends—though you would know better than I,” she added with a glance at Griffin’s distinctive attire. “But, Uris was not content to merely study and protect those books you speak of. When he realized he could not bring whatever secrets lie under our Citadel out into the world, I think he despaired. He lost his zeal for life, and retreated from society. At least,” she added with a curve to her lips, “that was when we stopped… encountering each other.”
Griffin grinned. Just then his food came, and Ren rose. Griffin offered to share his meal with her, but she declined with thanks. “Well, good luck, young Mage,” she said. She assessed him with a glint in her eye. “You are still a boy, but perhaps you will learn the true purpose of your role where others have not.” With a final smile and a hand on his shoulder she departed into the crowd.
Griffin watched her go, then dug into his meal with some relish. The true Purpose of his apprenticeship? Well, he was indeed still young, and there was plenty of time for that. Right now he had a more immediate purpose, and he couldn’t wait much longer to make his plans a reality.
The page was in front of him now. This was it. This was the moment. The pen was in his hand, dark blue ink glistening on the nib. He was doing this.
The pale expanse stared back at him.
Shit, he thought. What do I write? What in the name of the nut-slitting vengeance monkeys of Avokka do I write?
I shouldn’t be doing this after two whole tankards of red, he thought.
Doesn’t matter, came the answer. Can’t wait any longer. Want this so bad.
Wass, he thought. Gods, you’re beautiful. I’m coming for you, babe.
He made himself focus on one thing at a time. So: the title. Obediently, he concentrated his not totally steady vision on the area where the title went. Empty space, top of the left leaf.
He just had to write the title.
Okay, this is a new Kind, he coached himself patiently. It just needs a name. So, what do I call something that’s a Human, but with a few improvements over my particular version? Human something. Human… ish? No, that sounds like a degred–degreded–like a demotion. Human…ificent! No. That’s stupid.
He thought about the models he’d seen in the other book, the Unsentients’ Tome. Scrying Weasel. Crimson Broadwing. Cocksucking Fleshsock. (He snickered.) So, maybe descriptive adjectives were the way to go. Human… Plus? Enhanced Human? Human That’s Not So Runty?
No. No. He didn’t want to be some new and superior race that would have everyone thinking he was looking down on them and everything. No, what he wanted… What did he want?
He wanted to be Human, just with some extra Human–nan–ness. Human and a bit more. Like… like… Huuman.
He giggled and immediately started writing in the header space, making his letters very, very carefully as he spelled aloud for himself. “H… u… u…” He snickered again, but forced himself to stop and be serious. He kept writing with just a smirk. “… m… a……” He blinked, checking to see what he was missing, then: “…n.”
He sat back, admiring his handiwork. Huuman. He was such a fucking genius. This was going to be amazing.
So, now. The descriptor. He’d been thinking about this a lot. That had been before the two tankards of red ale, but… no, he was sure he’d remember. The trick was… the trick was… He squeezed his eyes closed for a second and tried to think like a more sober Griffin. The trick was to reference the Human descriptor and change as little as possible. He already knew what he had to write first, then. He reinked his pen and, very carefully, starting adding the first line of his new descriptor under the title. “The Huuman,” he wrote, muttering along as he went (pronouncing it “hu-oo-man”, because that was what it looked like), “is exactly like the Human. Except for the following.”
He paused. He had a list in his head. He’d been thinking about this a lot. The list. Not short. Not short like Griffin. Height! That was first. He tried to remember how he’d put it to himself. He started writing, not quite aware of how he was still saying the words aloud as well. “The normal Huuman is…” How had he put it? Right. “…the height of the Stele of Scarfe.” That would be good. The monument stood a head taller than his brother Lew, and two heads taller than Griffin. That would be a good height, and a good—what was it?—objective measure.
Wait, was that a permanent comparison, though? He’d be the same height as the Stele forever? What if the Stele got knocked down, or, or… struck by lightning or something? Hastily he turned the period into a comma and added, “as it stands right now as these words are being written, by me, Griffin.” That would work. Whew. He really hoped it hadn’t been struck by lightning since he’d come home from the tavern. He didn’t think so. Okay.
What else? Not… skinny, right, right. Not skinny like Griffin. Starting to feel a little upset at all the things he didn’t like about his stupid body, Griffin began a new line and wrote more words in his blue ink, murmuring them also at the same time. “A Huuman is strong and well muscled,” he wrote. He’d seen some guys with muscles that were big but kind of ugly, like they were made of giant butt. His mood swung again and he sniggered. “In a way that looks nice,” he amended, “in clothes and out of clothes.” Then he wrote “extra” over the word “nice”. Maybe some specifics. “With nice muscley shoulders, and strong-looking arms that are nice like the arms on those statues of heroes, and a thick, square chest that all kind of gives you a hard-on.” He squinted at that, but, no, a sexy chest was definitely important. “And a long flat belly with those bumps that look nice, rows and rows. Extra of those because they look nice. And long, strong, beautifully shaped legs that look like you could run forever, and good, extra-nice-sized feet…” He was saying ‘nice’ too much. What else? What was he missing? Oh yeah! How had he forgotten? “…and a nice round sexy butt like that guy Pike last night at the tavern in that place.” He stopped, frowning. He should fix that. But, fuck, the universe knew where he went last night, and it knew exactly whose butt had almost given him a hard-on after two straight orgasms. It was fine.
He stared at what he’d written, sure he wasn’t done. He read through it, looking for any omissions. Then it sank in just what was missing, and he giggled. He really had forgotten something important. “And,” he said aloud very firmly as he wrote, “a big, big cock. Big soft, big hard, just big. Big and ready. Big balls and a big, pleasure-giving, lots of seed spitting cock.”
Fuck, he was getting hard. He needed to finish this before Squeezy started distracting him. Especially since in this state he knew he’d conk out afterwards.
What else was on his list? He couldn’t remember. He should make sure he’s good-looking, though, he realized. “And a Huuman is very extra handsome, with eyes you want to stare into and that lush chestnut-brown hair you want to run your hands through and a sexy deep voice, and a smile that…” He realized he was about to write “turns you on,” but, no, that wasn’t fair, was it? That Pike had been able to get him going just by standing there, and that had been good for Pike but not so good for Griffin, maybe. And he should be respectful to the people who’d be seeing him, right? He wasn’t all superior, after all, just… Human with a little more.
He had to finish the sentence, though, so instead he wrote, “makes you feel good.” There, not as bad as making you all horny for no reason.
There was something nagging him about the stuff about the chest he’d already written, in that case. Something that he should revise, maybe. Fuck it, though, he had to finish. He was mostly hard, and Squeezy was already in his lap, nuzzling him for permission to make him very, very happy.
Keep going. Write first, then orgasm.
He closed his eyes and tried to picture himself in this new form, alone with Wass. Wass, tall, muscled, and shirtless, standing before him. Griffin, the new Griffin, reaching for him, raking him into his arms. Holding him tight. He wanted to hold him and hug him more than even a hot guy like Wass or new Griffin. How could he hold him even more? Griffin opened his eyes and impulsively wrote, “Huumans also have more arms than Humans. As many as they want. Because hugging is awesome.”
Griffin nodded. Hugging was awesome. He kind of wished that he was already a Huuman so he could go and hug Wass with lots of arms. He couldn’t go now, though. He wasn’t a Huuman yet, and anyway Wass didn’t even know him…
That was the other thing on the list. He needed a reason to go see Wass, a lot. He started a new line. “Huumans are master swordsmen and are known for being excellent fighters and amazingly good with all kinds of good and well-made blades. So they need to spend time with blacksmiths, to make sure they get good swords and blades, and everything.”
He looked at what he’d just written. Now that he thought about it… sword-fighting, that was really dangerous. If he was a swordmaster, he’d have, like, people running at him with swords all the time. Then he’d be dead and he wouldn’t get to be with Wass anyway. Kind of hard to build a life with your guy if you’re cut down with a sword.
So. He started another line and wrote, “Huumans are difficult to cut with a sword, and live a long time and don’t die.” He stopped and frowned again. That seemed like something he shouldn’t write. His cock was so hard, though, and Squeezy was nuzzling him, wanting in his pants almost as bad as Griffin wanted him to get in his pants. Could he fix stuff like that later? He could probably fix it later.
He tried to think if there was something else he was supposed to write, but he was way off the list, now. No, he was done. Just one more thing, then. He pushed the Sentients’ Tome firmly away, not even waiting to see the ink dry all suddenly and become part of the secrets of time or whatever, even though he loved watching that. Instead he grabbed the book with his descriptor in it and pulled it in front of him. It was already open to his page.
The word “Human” stared out at him. It seemed to grow, filling his vision, and Griffin felt his pulse start to race. What was he doing? What was he doing?
Making his life better, that was what he was doing. And he wasn’t chickening out now.
“Human”. The word was so simple, so pure, so stark… so everything.
Should he just add another “u”? No, that would be messy.
He reached up with his pen and was just about to draw a line through the word “Human” when he stopped himself in a panic. No, stupid! he told himself. Then you’ll be nothing! Do it the other way around first.
So, remembering belatedly to write carefully (though his big, hard, and apparently growing cock was telling him to hurry), he wrote in clean, blue, uniform letters the word “Huuman” first. Then, feeling a sudden sense that all was hushed around him, he slowly, deliberately, started drawing a blue line through the word “Human”…
And ran out of ink. Fucking pen! He inked his nib from the pot and, drawing a breath, tried again. The line went through the “H”, then the “u”, then the “m”, then the “a”, then… he hesitated, then with a last jerk he crossed through the “n”.
It was done. In a second the ink would dry, and…
Holy shit. Holy shit, it was happening. No, no—it had already happened.
He looked down at himself in awe. Even sitting down he could tell: he was taller, stronger, more awesome than he’d even dared to dream he’d be. Long legs stretched under the table, the charcoal trousers clinging to them like they’d been made to showcase Huuman legs and, he was absolutely certain, Huuman butts. His torso was so long, luxuriously long. Partly because he had, like, five or six rows of abdominal muscles that were faintly visible even through the suddenly extra-long and kinda snug silvery blouse, and partly because he had two sets of heavy, cock-hardening pectorals, stacked right up against each other… and each with their own pair of carved, strong-looking, and altogether very nice arms. He let his arms brush together on each side and got totally hard, and—
Holy rabid cats of Luria, that cock. When he wrote “big”, the universe had totally gone with it. His hard, throbbing cock had erupted right out of trousers like being contained was a joke, and it was dripping copious amounts of clear pre-cum on his nice, Huuman-sized (and, he just realized, completely sleeveless) silvery shirt. He watched it drip, impressed by the thickness and quantity of the clear liquid. Would all of that come out in the magick laundry? Who cared?
His eyes drifted across his hot, huge slab of a cock, as wide as his wrist and was easily a palm’s width longer it was previous considerable size. Not only was it “big”, it was sensitive, too. Just looking at it felt like he was stroking himself. He knew that cumming with this cock would be worlds beyond even the extreme orgasms he’d been having with Squeezy.
Speaking of which! He’d just been about to wrap all four of his new, powerful hands around it, but—no, he had a much better idea. Yeah, there he was, still in his lap, though he was looking… unhappy? That didn’t make any sense. Squeezy loved big cock, the bigger the better. “Hey, buddy, what’s wrong? Go ahead, you have permission. Go for it!” Squeezy, though, if anything, seemed to be shrinking away from the enormous, throbbing erection. “What’s wrong, buddy? Is it too big? Should I make it smaller?” He frowned at his familiar. It seemed almost scared. “Hey, no, it’s okay. It’s still all yours, buddy, okay? Just because I’m not Human anymore doesn’t mean—”
And then it hit him like a lightning bolt. The image of the descriptor for the Cocksucking Fleshsock flashed in his mind… filled, over and over again, with the word “Human”…
“Oh, shit!” he shouted, suddenly agitated. Carefully he lifted the wilting familiar out of his lap and set him gently on the table, murmuring, “I’m so sorry, buddy! I’m so sorry! I’ll fix it, I promise!” Once Squeezy was safe he erupted out of his chair and ran for the Unsentients’ Tome where it sat back on its special lectern. He almost tangled up his bigger feet in the short dash from table to lectern, but he managed to keep from crumpling to the ground and retrieved the Tome, barely registering how his increased strength suddenly made light of its immense weight. He dropped it down right on top of his personal descriptor book and flipped madly to the last inscribed pages.
There it was—Cocksucking Fleshsock. Fuck, the descriptor was riddled with the word “Human”. And Squeezy was bound to him alone as his familiar, which meant the poor thing would starve and it was all his fault if he didn’t fix this.
“I’m so sorry, buddy,” he repeated frantically. He grabbed up the pen and, at a loss to fix all the “Human”s and afraid he’d miss one, he just added a new line at the end: “As the Cocksucking Fleshsock is with Humans, so also with Huumans—or more so.” There, he thought, setting down the pen, Squeezy would be even happier now that…
Squeezy was “big”, now, too.
“Oh, so you’re ready for my giant cock now, are you,” he said with a grin. Forgetting all about tomes and descriptors and the secrets of the universe generally, Griffin dropped his gray trousers and plopped his awesome Huuman butt right back in the chair he’d been in when it all changed. He watched Squeezy, now half again as big as before, tense in eager readiness from its position directly in front of him on the table.
He let it wait, but only a second. Then he said, “Please.”
Squeezy pounced, and Griffin screamed, “Oh… yes!!”
“Sorry,” Wass said, looking up at him with wide eyes from his bench near the wide smithy doors. “Are you—?”
“Call me Griffin,” the Huuman said, with a wide, friendly smile. Wass smiled too, his tanned cheeks warming just a little.
Griffin had awoken that morning to two mild annoyances. One was an aching head—though, he reckoned, not as much of one as he deserved—and the other a size-escalated familiar nosing repeatedly at his very hefty balls, hoping to wake its master and get some consensual morning wood action. After Griffin had acceded to this and received, in due course, his second heart-smashing orgasm in his new body, he decided that now was the time to finally try out the bath and see whether it was magickal or mundane. It was, not to his surprise, magickal. The bathing room contained a round, seemingly wooden tub easily as wide as his family cart was long and deep enough for a grown man to submerge in; behind it on the stone wall was the simple outline of a right hand. All Griffin had to do was place his own hand on the outline, and over the space of no more than two minutes the tub filled with fragrant, sudsy warm water.
It was heaven. The warm, fragrant vapors and languid soaking swept away Griffin’s hangover while he slowly started getting used to his new Huuman body. As much as he might cringe at the name, and was fairly certain he did not want to ever read the drunken ramblings he’d inscribed in the Book of All Kinds the night before (and therefore into the woof of reality itself!), he truly and deeply loved what he had done to himself, at least so far. Okay, the stacked-up arms were a little strange and not part of the plan, but he had to admit that if he did have sometime to hold and cherish, it would be even better with four strong arms instead of two. Plus, they looked incontrovertibly sexy. He just couldn’t stop looking at his own thick, bulging, artisan-crafted arms and his double-banked, protruding and perfectly shaped pectorals as he sat in the steaming water, all while his fingers trailed along the ridges of his crazily lengthened abdomen… and it wasn’t long before his uncanny, extra-huge cock was swelling to full hardness again, and Squeezy was appearing suddenly at his well-muscled shoulder hopefully exploring the prospect of another round.
Turns out, a familiar that doesn’t need to breathe can do all sorts of things underwater.
He decided to spend the day out of the Citadel, walking among the people of Scarfe and seeing how they reacted to him while enjoying a bit of early-autumn sun away from his eerie neverworld cave. Anyway, the best way to accustom himself to his new form, he told himself, was for the town to acclimate to the Huuman among them while Griffin did likewise. So he dressed himself in his newly extra-long charcoal trousers (with extra-roomy crotch), his newly embiggened boots, and his newly extended body-hugging silvery blouse with built-in stacked, sleeveless arm-holes; and, so attired, he left the Citadel and descended the outer stairs into the midmorning crowds below.
The chief reaction among the townsfolk, at least at first, was stares. Stares, and whispers. Mostly the latter werevariations on “Is that a Huuman? I thought they didn’t exist!”, though there were more than a few remarks from women and men in equal measure along the lines of “See how gracefully he walks” and “Where can I get a man with arms like that” and “Gods, will you look at that butt!” Griffin was smiling and, perhaps, blushing a bit as he walked through the crowd. He felt even more visible than he might have because of how tall he was compared to literally everyone but the Stone Giants moving through the crowd on the other side of the square—the same pair he’d encountered his first day in town, as it happened, in Scarfe on business and obviously amused at the fuss being made over Griffin’s rangy altitude. Back when he’d been planning all this out he’d figured being taller than his brothers would eliminate his previous height problem, but as his brothers were actually rather tall themselves compared to the Kosshian average he’d actually managed to tip it the other way. Oh, well.
His extra arms, curiously, turned out to be more of a novelty of his Kind, the same way River Elves had double-pointed ears and Centaurs most of a horse under them; the quantity of them didn’t seem to garner as much comment as their distinctive aesthetic allure. He could hardly blame folks for noticing; he was not immune to their mystique himself, as the morning’s bathtime activities had proved.
He was almost to his favorite bakery on the far side of the square when he found a boy of maybe eight or nine standing across his path, staring up at him in wonder. “Excuse me!” the boy called up to him, as if yelling to someone at the top of a hill.
Smiling, Griffin bent to one knee. Even kneeling he was twice as tall as the boy, which the lad himself was quick to see, to his delight. “Hello,” Griffin said amiably.
“Are you a hoo-oo-man?” the boy asked.
Griffin sensed some of the passers-by pause around them, perhaps wanting confirmation on this point for themselves. He kept his focus on the boy. “I am,” he said, aware he would remember this as his first time embracing his new Kind in public. He cleared his throat and added, “I’m Griffin. What’s your name?”
“I’m Bim,” the boy said proudly. “When I grow up, can I be a hoo-oo-man too?”
Griffin smiled, and the boy grinned. “Not a hoo-oo-man,” Griffin admitted, “but if you’re a good boy and work hard and eat all your vegetables, you can come close!”
“Wow! I can’t wait to grow four arms and be just like you! Thanks Mr. Hoo-oo-man!” Then the boy turned and darted away, calling out, “Mama! Mama! I just spoke to a hoo-oo-man and he told me to work hard and eat all my vegetables!”
Griffin grinned as he stood, especially when he heard the mother respond, “Don’t be silly, pickle. There’s no such thing as Huumans.”
The pastries seemed particularly good that morning, and after leaving the shop Griffin felt ready to brave the smithy and see what Wass made of him. He decided to head in the general direction of Wass’s forge near the north wall, exploring any interesting shops he might pass along the way; once he got there he would inquire about commissioning a sword, and see where things went from there. He would not, he told himself firmly, make the mistake of assuming that Wass would fall for him just because he was now a Huuman—not instantly, anyway. Yes, that had been the driving motivation of this transformation, but Wass was still a man of his own mind and his own heart, after all. That was the brilliance of the sword commission: repeated exposure would show Wass the obvious truth that Griffin was his future.
He dallied in a china shop, a bookseller’s, and even a perfumerie—he told himself he might find a gift for Madam Ren, though he hardly bothered trying to believe his own excuse—before he could screw up his courage to complete the journey. As he wandered the stalls, somewhat to his surprise, he discovered he was tending to collect small entourages everywhere he went. Most obvious were the children, small knots of stray sons and daughters of craftsmen and traders, perhaps, who dispersed in a flurry of giggles whenever he gave them even a glance; but even idle townsfolk sometimes failed to master their curiosity and drifted after him, then pretended to be looking at goods in the neighboring stall if he happened to look their way.
“They’ll get used to you,” said the woman beside him at a linen-seller’s stand, after he’d cast a quick glance at his current coterie of surreptitious idlers and scattering moppets. Griffin turned to note with surprise that the woman admiring the lacery next to him was in fact a tall, pretty River Elf with long cinnamon hair, large violet eyes, and double-pointed ears. He’d seen her many times before, he realized: her name was Wu’a and she co-owned a clothier’s shop near the nobles’ mews. Wu’a was a friendly rival of Madam Ren’s and drank with her on occasion—not uncompetitively, from what he’d heard from Ren.
Griffin’s smile felt rueful. “You think so?” he asked. If he could become part of the regular mosaic of Scarfe like Wu’a, it might make him feel a little less self-conscious. Self-conscious, after all, was what he had been trying to get away from in the first place, though… it was decidedly different on this side of the looking glass.
By way of answer, Wu’a deliberately drew her gaze up Griffin’s towering new body, taking in the long, powerful, yet exquisitely shaped legs; the very large and compact bulge his gray trousers did nothing to hide; his extended abdomen with its inviting brick road leading from breast to crotch; his thick, tightly stacked chest and bared, muscular arms; and finally up to what he knew was a more than attractive face framed in longish, luscious-looking chestnut locks. Griffin was already smirking at her antics when she finally met his eyes again—which were well above her own.
“Perhaps,” she drawled at last.
After five shops, two mini meat pastries, and an offer of marriage from an overenthusiastic and swarthily handsome boot-cobbler, Griffin finally get sick of his own dithering and forced his feet to take him directly and without further delay to the north-end district of town where his quarry lay. Soon enough his purposeful stride found him lurking in the small courtyard in front of the busiest and best-known smithy in Scarfe. He’d lost most of his spectator squad in stages along his march, thankfully, and a full turn and a pointed look dispelled the rest, leaving him alone at last with the object of his affection.
Wass was there, working at a station near the broad entrance to the shop as he often did, and for some time Griffin simply stood and watched avidly as he flattened something with a red-hot end, admiring more than ever the strength and beauty of his shifting, powerful muscles as he worked. Then the pounding stopped abruptly, and Griffin looked up to see the handsome young blacksmith was now staring out at him in open fascination.
Heart fluttering, Griffin stepped forward. “Hello,” he said. Strangely, he found himself suddenly conflicted. He wanted to bring into this moment all the idle conversation and confidences Wass had ever shared with a mousy young cowherd harboring a secret infatuation, and he wanted it jettisoned too, with this moment their beginning. It was strange to him that the memories would be there for him, and the new beginning for Wass.
“Hello,” Wass said, still staring. “I—sorry. Are you—?”
He smiled. “Call me Griffin.”
Wass smiled warmly back at him, and Griffin felt a wash of gratitude and hope. “Griffin,” the young smith repeated. “I’m Wass, sir, the chief apprentice. Is there something we can… do? For you?”
So many things, Griffin thought. “I wanted to see about commissioning a sword,” he said aloud, hoping nonetheless it somehow came through that his interest in coming here did not solely have to do with weaponry.
Wass beamed. “You are a Huuman, then,” he said. He glanced at Griffin’s hip, then back up to meet his eyes. “I’m surprised you don’t have one already.”
“I’m new in Scarfe,” he said. New in more ways than one, he realized. “I thought I might have a sword made in my new home.”
“You came to the right forge, then, Master Griffin,” Wass said. “Master Arge is indeed accounted a ranking bladesmith of the Seven Realms. Shall I fetch him for you?”
“Certainly. But Wass,” he added, before the boy could move away. At his inquisitive gaze he stepped closer and asked, pitching his voice slightly deeper, “Will you be assisting the master in crafting my sword?”
Wass blushed and ducked his head. With a bashful smile he muttered, “I will, sir,” before vanishing into the building behind the forge calling out for his master.
The conversation with Master Arge was surreal. A garrulous, bull-shouldered man of middle years with a toothy smile and a cauliflower ear, Arge buried his obvious pride at having the business of a Huuman swordmaster by quizzing Griffin relentlessly on exactly what kind of blade he needed, the uses to which he intended to put it, and Griffin’s opinions on the merits of various styles of blade, on which Arge then felt free to amplify and exposit—always following any such pronouncement with a confident and respectful “as well you know”; it wasn’t clear whether this last was a tic Arge manifested with all his clients, or was Arge’s way of treating with a Huuman in his very own smithy.
Unnervingly, Griffin, who had never so much as seen an unsheathed sword in his entire life, now found himself able to effortlessly discuss such matters at great length and in knowledgeable detail. Being innately a master swordsman by virtue of his new Kind evidently meant that he was an expert not only at handling a blade (though this yet to be tested) but on the lore, making, types, and care of the blades themselves. Griffin found all this to be as strange as anything that had happened to him so far, and the more he impressed the master blacksmith with his shrewd understanding of the man’s craft, the more he wondered if this all might be a dream after all.
His composure was not helped by the background presence of the chief apprentice, Wass, who busied himself stoking the forge and putting away tools and scraps from the morning’s tasks while he waited to resume his labors—all while very clearly trying not to sneak glances at their Huuman customer. For his part, Griffin found the sight of the handsome, thick-thewed junior smith, gilded in the orange light from the forge and misted with a faint layer of sweat, to be intensely distracting, and it was only with an effort that he tore his eyes away. “Apologies, Master Arge,” he said with chagrin. “Could you repeat your question?”
In the end, his discomposure and Arge’s vigorous engagement led him to commissioning two swords, one heavier and made for battle, the other more elegant and ceremonial fit for duels and demonstrations, plus a fat-bladed, finely edged dagger for close combat. “Not every enemy stays at sword’s length,” Arge intoned as though it were a maxim. “As well you know.”
As the shop was busy, the master said suggestively, such a commission might easily take two months. Griffin took the bait and offered to pay double, and up front, to put his work ahead of the backlog, to which Arge happily agreed. “As long as I might stop by on occasion to see the work in progress,” Griffin stipulated.
Arge was not excited by this prospect, but he retained his smile. “Of course,” he said. “Perhaps I can send a message when we’re at a stage you might enjoy watching.”
Fair enough; they would not be working on his commission the whole time. Griffin smiled, and Arge did as well. Then Griffin laid down the dragon’s head gold crowns required to complete the trade, and Arge smiled wider.
“These are fine work,” he said, picking up one of the coins and admiring it. “I’ve not seen these designs before, but the coins themselves look new from the mint!” He looked curiously up at Griffin, who shrugged.
“They are old but unused, as you say,” Griffin said. “They have been in my… household for a very long time.”
“I do not doubt it,” Arge said, turning the coin over and over. “With payment like this,” he vowed, “you’ll see your battle blade first and in eight days’ time, or I’m no bladesmith!”
Griffin bowed his head in acknowledgement. “Then I will leave you to your work and return to the Citadel. Good day to you, Master Arge. Apprentice Wass!” he called out, and Wass looked quickly up at him, startled. He smiled wide and said, “We will see each other again soon.”
Wass stared at Griffin, cheeks blooming. Then he lost his grip on the large pincers he was holding and they tumbled to shop floor in a clatter. Arge rounded on him and started shouting about how there was no room for butterfingers in ironsmithing, and Griffin had to turn away to hide his grin. He left the smithy courtyard sure he was happier than he had ever been.
Griffin was enjoying a pre-dinner interlude with his familiar when the grumpy doorwarden frog appeared, incised circle and all, on the wall of his bedchamber. “Someone is at the back door,” it announced loudly, making Griffin jump.
“What?” Griffin exclaimed, alarmed and annoyed. “What do you mean there’s… unh… someone at the back door?”
Just then, Griffin realized he could hear it: a rhythmic banging at the iron door that led out the back of the hill. Three loud whams echoed through the underlevel; there was a long pause; then the whams recurred. Something made him think this had been going on a bit.
“Someone is at the back door,” the frog repeated. Then it was gone.
Squeezy had paused in its efforts, waiting to regain his full attention, but now it went from trot to gallop. “Okay, buddy,” he panted, “I get you want to help me out here, but please don’t make—oh gods—please don’t make my heart explode—yes, oh yes—oh—oh—oh gods of sex and indolence—oh FUCK!”
A few moments later, having left Squeezy sated and slumbering on his bed, he was trotting down the back hall with the methodical banging still echoing around him. At least that own din had probably drowned out the screaming blasphemies he’d just been blistering the air with a moment before, so he didn’t need to worry about being too embarrassed before his guests, whoever they might be. He got to the door, rapidly checked himself over—shirt okay, boots okay, bulge a little big thanks to his recent activities but that could hardly be helped—and opened it wide with a snap of both left arms.
A burly officer of the guard stood in front of him with his meaty fist raised, arresting himself in mid-blow. Instinctively Griffin, reacting to a large stranger poised to strike, stepped into a fighting stance he did not know he knew. He and the guard blinked at each other, Griffin rapidly trying to figure out if being a swordmaster meant he was trained in unarmed combat as well, his visitor probably wondering the same thing. Beyond, the sunset blazed, bathing both their forms in warm, orange light.
The officer stepped back and cleared his throat self-consciously. He then assumed a polite stance that signified deference to civilian rank. Griffin, for his part, relaxed as well and looked his visitor over. He was in the prince’s cerulean livery, rather than the mayor’s ivy-green and black, so he must be attached to the Prince of Kossh’s representative in Scarfe.
The officer quickly confirmed his assumption. Assuming a detached and somber expression, he proclaimed, “The Prince’s Seneschal wishes to meet with you, Master Huuman, if you are willing.”
“Griffin,” he replied automatically.
“Master Griffin,” the officer repeated formally. He was actually rather good-looking, Griffin mused as he let his mind whirl unattended, though his nose appeared to have been broken once, and his stubble was so thick Griffin thought he might actually be able to watch it growing if he looked hard enough. His shoulders were a bit distracting, too, though not as distracting as Wass’s.
The Senescal wanted to meet him. There was a phrase that he would never have dreamed could be associated with his life. Even now it was surprising, two days ago unthinkable. He thought of asking the man why exactly the Seneschal wanted such a thing; but of course an officer of the guard sent with such a summons either would not know, or would not be able to discuss. Instead he nodded sagely, trying to appear like a man who received such invitations all the time… rather than a former cowherd who had only read about such men, and dreamed the impossibility of being one.
The guard waited placidly. “Er, are you to… take back a message, or—?”
“The Seneschal, as it happens,” the officer replied, “is enjoying the sunset in the Citadel above, Master Griffin. He asks me to tell you that you are welcome to join him.”
“Am I now.” Griffin eyed him consideringly. “What’s your name?” he asked.
The officer blinked in surprise. “I’m Ogan, Master Griffin,” he said, actually meeting his gaze. “Head of the Third Elite.” He was very tall, tall enough that Griffin for once did feel quite so tall himself.
Griffin nodded. “So, Ogan,” he said conversationally, “which do you prefer: cracking heads, or bearing polite little messages across all of Scarfe?”
Ogan smiled slyly, and cheekily stole a quick perusal of Griffin’s form. “Today, sir? Bearing polite messages.”
The Seneschal, whom he had seen only once before and at a distance, was a polite, silver-haired ex-general, thin but hale with a beaky nose and a ready smile. It turned out the Mayor, a jolly, thick-waisted spirits merchant, was with him as well; and she and the Prince’s agent in Scarfe, as advertised, just happened to be gathered in the vast main hall of the Citadel near the western end and idly enjoying the sunset with their attendants when Griffin and Ogan joined them. Ogan withdrew to a respectful distance, and Griffin greeted the dignitaries with nervous curiosity, trying to remember how important people acted on such occasions in all the stories he’d read while the night breeze wound playfully around them.
The Seneschal got straight to the point. In the mountains to the north, beyond the frontiers of Kossh and the Seven Realms, dwelt a ruthless band of raiders who over the past several years had been causing increasing trouble for merchant caravans and other travelers along the Northern roads, lately to the point of mounting death and interruption of essential goods. Their favorite weapon was the scimitar, it seemed, and their method hand-to-hand combat with any force they came up against. Embarrassingly, the Prince’s troops, sent twice to roust the bandits from their mountain strongholds, had been worsted both times; and part of the blame, he believed, lay in the decline of swordwork as an art valued by the military forces in these days of lasting, comfortable peace where presence and occasional pike-work was usually effective enough. The Seneschal, worrying at this problem, had been heartened by the sudden appearance in Scarfe of a Huuman, a member of a Kind legendary for their mastery of the sword: the Seneschal did not believe in signs, not exactly, but Griffin’s presence at this moment seemed to him more than fortuitous. The Seneschal, with the Prince’s blessing, was already in the process of forming a new Squadron Elite, one that would be dedicated to mysteries of the sword; what they needed was a swordmaster to train them and mold them into a force the raiders would quail to see. Would Master Griffin be willing to consider turning his gifts to the good of Scarfe, of Kossh, and of all the northern lands?
Griffin stared down at the man, slightly dazed by this speech. He sensed the significance of this encounter. In every legend of heroes and warriors he had ever read there had been this moment, the call to adventure—and it was always, without fail, the signifier that the boy of the story was about to become a man. Did they all feel this way, that they hadn’t even realized they were in a hero story until it was too late? Maybe. One thing he did know, though, was that everyone in those stories who had strength, or power, or even just determination, found some kind of crazy gratification from using those abilities to protect those who didn’t and to save what was worth saving.
He smiled crookedly, not quite believing he was going to agree to this. The Mayor grinned, while the Seneschal watched him in hopeful dignity. Shit. Was he really going to make himself grow up? Sure, he was ready, but…
He glanced away from the little delegation, trying to sort out what he wanted to say, when his eyes fell on a handsome, muscular figure lingering a little ways away by one of the central columns. It was Wass, he realized, and he looked—crestfallen, to see him meeting with Mayors and Seneschals and the like. His tender thoughts of maybe connecting with his Huuman admirer must have suddenly seemed absurd on being forcibly presented with the rarified ranks to which Griffin belonged.
Catching Griffin’s gaze he instantly turned and vanished behind the column. The line of pillars itself was in the way, preventing him from seeing the further part of the hall beyond it, and the light was failing fast.
Griffin turned hastily to the Mayor and Seneschal. “My lords,” he said, rapidly assembling the fancy words in his head, “I am grateful you should think of me. Your words inspire me, and I willingly offer my services to the Prince of Kossh. May I do you the discourtesy of delaying further discussion of our plans until tomorrow? Just now there is—” His fine words failed him, and he blurted out, “—something I really need to do.”
The Seneschal, unflappable, nodded in somber acknowledgement of Griffin’s sudden urgency. “Of course,” he said. “Please call upon me on the morrow at your convenience.”
“I would be honored,” Griffin said quickly. “Lord Seneschal… Lord Mayor…” Nodding to each, he broke from the group and started after Wass at a run.
The blacksmith had a good head start on him and seemed to be actively fleeing the Citadel and Griffin’s vicinity, so that when he caught sight of Wass from the top of the high stairs, he was pushing through the red-dappled crowd in the square and was almost through to the maze of side streets that were often a faster means of crossing the city than the cart-choked main thoroughfares. Fuck! Griffin cursed, and tore down the stairs as fast as he could.
He got through the square and followed Wass through street after street, finally catching up with him in a grimy, narrow alley that shot straight through the older insulae on a direct route to the north wall and Wass’s smithy.
He reached out and grabbed Wass’s strong shoulder. “Hey!” he called out.
Wass whipped around, eyes wide with alarm. When he saw who it was his gaze tracked all the way up to Griffin’s, and he saw hunger, affection, and desperation all at once in those bright blue eyes before Wass cast them down.
“Lord Griffin,” he mumbled.
“Ugh,” Griffin groaned. “By the puke-bugs of Birga! Will you look at me?”
The unexpected oath surprised a laugh out of Wass, and he looked up at him with a slight smile. “You don’t talk like a noble,” he said, “not always, anyway.”
Griffin was relishing the grip he had on Wass’s shoulder. He was keeping that hand there as long as Wass let him. Forever, if possible. “Listen to me, okay?” he begged. “Yesterday… yesterday I was a bratty kid who thought nothing was more important than blowing my wad in the most awesome way possible.” Wass blushed at this, but he smiled a little, and didn’t look away. “And you know what?” He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “I still am that kid.” Then he added with a sigh, “Even if I have to do other stuff too.”
Wass was still smiling slightly, but he shook his head. “You’re so—” he started to say.
“I’m so stuck on this very handsome, very sexy apprentice blacksmith I just met,” Griffin broke in. “I’m so,” he went on, when Wass showed signs of trying to speak again, “unable to get his sweet smile and his fantastic shoulders—” Griffin gave the one he was holding a little squeeze, and Wass bit his lip. “—and his sexy body and his kind face out of my head. I—”
“You’re a Huuman!” Wass blurted out abruptly. “You’re… I mean… look at you! Gods, I’ve already gotten off three times thinking about you, and we just met! You’re… beyond…” He foundered, then gestured wildly at his fantasy physique and repeated, “Look at you!”
“Well?” Griffin said seriously, moving closer. “Look at me, then. I want you to look at me. I want you to see me. Do you know why I have four arms, Wass?” Wass looked up at him, shaking his head mutely. “I literally have four arms because I want to hold you. Because I want to wrap you up in my arms and make you happy in all kinds of ways. You know,” he added, “I’m an apprentice too.”
Wass blinked up at him in confusion. They were standing close now, and Wass, though above average height for a Human, was looking almost straight up at him. “You’re… an apprentice? I thought you were a master.”
“Not with swords,” Griffin said, speaking softly. “I’m an apprentice scholar.” He tapped the symbol on his chest. “It’s why I live at the Citadel. There’s a treasury of knowledge there, and I’m spending my life trying to see what can be done with it. Though I admit that so far,” he added with a wince, “it’s mainly been what I said, about finding ways to make blowing my wad more awesome.”
Wass barked a laugh. “You’re joking.”
“I swear to the conjoined serpent-dicks of Egk,” Griffin said, holding up his other right hand, and Wass laughed again.
“You must be getting pretty good at it,” he said, sounding both amused and intrigued.
“You can’t even imagine,” Griffin teased.
“Yeah?” Wass said. Interest and arousal were getting the better of him, though he was trying to keep his feelings from showing too obviously.
“If you’re nice to me,” Griffin said, “I might even let you share my Cocksucking Fleshsock.”
Wass’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, sure.”
Griffin just held his gaze and smiled, and Wass’s steady skepticism faltered. “Seriously?”
Griffin knelt, bringing himself eye to eye with the other man. “I’m just a guy, Wass,” he said plainly. “I like sex. I like swords, and books, and red ale and pork pastry, and I like you.”
Wass conked his forehead against Griffin’s with a thunk, and they both smiled. “I like you too, Griffin,” Wass said unhappily. “But—”
“No buts,” Griffin said gently. Then he added, “No, I take that back. Yes, butts. Yes to butts very much. Especially your amazing, very nice butt.”
Wass snickered. “Yours is better.”
“Let’s agree that we both have nice butts.” He cupped Wass’s cheek from both sides and gently lifted his head so they were looking at each other, their faces inches apart. “In fact,” he went on, “let’s agree that we are both sexy guys, and that we’re both attracted to each other. And that we both feel like maybe there’s something—”
Wass kissed him.
At first, Griffin could only register shock at the gentle, unexpected attack. But he recovered at lightning speed, and as he returned the kiss, both of them naturally letting it deepen, Griffin forgot about tomes and secrets and seneschals and blue-inked pens and everything that was not Wass, here, now. Wass’s warm tongue sliding along his, Wass’s powerful body wrapped in all of Griffin’s strong, loving arms, Wass’s wide, impressive cock hardening quickly against his long, unusual torso. This, Griffin thought, as he held his man close and kissed him deep and savored his answering touch along his wonderful new body… this, he thought, was his why. This was his reason, his hope, and his proof that all was good. He didn’t know quite how he’d gotten here, and strange days still lay ahead, but there was nowhere else and no-why else he could ever imagine being.
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