Content and Trigger Warnings
Rough sex with willing participants (R.A.C.K. Kink)
Reference to tickling as coercion
Discussion of depression
Suicidal ideation and past attempt
On page panic attack
Ableist language as self-reference
Allusion to rape
Blood-letting, consumption, and exchange
Reference to self-harm
Disrespect of Asexuality
Warning: This book contains sexually explicit content, which may only be suitable for mature readers, rough sex with willing participants and R.A.C.K (Risk Aware Consensual Kink) BDSM.
No one wants to open the door to confront me or one of my brethren on their threshold.
Part and parcel of the whole God’s Messenger gig.
I grimaced something resembling a smile at the terrified otherkin who’d opened the door. It didn’t help. If anything, I panicked her even more; she trembled like a leaf in a gale. I cleared my throat and passed her my burden. A child wrapped up in my shadowfur lined cloak and sound asleep. The moment her gaze fell on the four-year-old, she gasped and her face radiated joy.
A young male otherkin came up behind her, rested his arm around her waist, looked at me with a petrified distortion meant to be a smile, then turned his attention to their child. The only youngling I’d been able to bring home.
I nodded my head and stepped back off their steps. When the silent couple went to unwrap the tyke, I lifted my uninjured arm. “Keep it, please. They’ve had a rough time of it. Tell them they were very brave, and that one of Lord Arawn’s messengers said so. If nothing else, it’ll be worth enough for a good start in life. Let them keep it.”
I backed several strides away and turned. Messengers, our job title was Messenger, but we were assassins. All of us. Usually, the only message Arawn bade us deliver came courtesy of a bladed edge. Written in sanguine ink.
Night had fallen long ago, and the air smelled of wood-smoke, animal scat, and something sweet cooking in the cabin. I cast a last glance behind me; the small family sat cuddling on the doorstep. Joy tried to balance the heaviness in my heart, but it couldn’t.
A black and gold furred cat stood next to the man’s hip. They had their eerie golden gaze pinned to me and when I looked at them, they hissed. Lifting their fur and lashing their tail, warning me off.
I turned away and slid my foot into the stirrup. Hauling my achy body up one armed was a pain in the ass, or the arm, if you want me to be specific, but I managed it. My leather armour squeaked as I settled into the saddle. I gathered Cimmerian’s braided reins and checked to make sure her burden was tied well to the back of the saddle. I reached back and adjusted my sword to a more comfortable angle.
Cim stomped a dinner-plate sized hoof ringed with black feathers of hair and tossed her dual-horned head. Impatient for home. I reached down and patted her powerful neck. “Soon, love. Soon.” Then I pressed her side with my knee and laid the reins along her neck to turn her. I clicked my tongue, and she stepped out.
The mud from the evening rainstorm had yet to dry, and it squelched under each hoof fall. A bitter little laugh escaped me. “I should be happy for the mud, Cim. I really should be. I owe my life to that mud.”
Cim snorted. Unamused by my attempt at conversation.
Huddling in the saddle with my arm held close to my ribs, I sighed heavily. My breath fogged the air, and I shivered, cold without my cloak in my wet gear. I clicked again and Cim broke into a trot, then a canter. One last thing to do before I could go home. One, last, hard thing.
It took us some time to wind through the eldritch forest to where the spirit hounds dwelled. I took deep breaths of the misty air laden with the scent of ozone and green growing things. The full inhalations helped me control my pain levels. Arm, thigh, waist, ankle, and a nasty scratch across my cheekbone close to my left eye. Leagues away from their den, a pale shape emerged from the brume. The first of the gleaming, white, hound-like beasts known as cwn annwvyn. Bigger than the biggest Irish Wolfhound ever dreamed, gleaming in silky smooth, graceful lines. As shiny as fine silk. Their blood-red ears and topaz eyes tracked me and my burden as I rode closer.
I discreetly touched the daggers on my thighs and shifted my shoulders to reassure myself that my sword was still where it should be, cross sheathed on my back for a fast over-shoulder draw. I turned my attention inward to check my magical status. My energy was low after the earlier battle, but I’d still have enough oomph to survive a fight if I needed to.
I kept my gaze ahead of me, between Cim’s ears. At first, only rarely did a hound show themselves. Then, the closer I got, the more packed they sat until I rode through a double, gleaming channel of cwn annwvyn. Their eyes fixed on me, and I kept mine trained ahead. We all knew why I was here.
My arm ached, burning, but I gritted my teeth and bore it. It wasn’t my first injury in the line of duty, and I doubted it would be my last.
I pulled Cim to a halt in front of the cavern mouth of their home. A single hound sat in front of the entrance to the earth. She wore the cuffs of rule on her front paws. Exact visual duplicates, but lacking the powerful spells of the originals. At least she’d get those back now. I breathed out a soft breath and closed my eyes for just a moment.
Finish it, Risk.
I nodded and swung a leg over Cim’s neck to slide off my saddle. I ignored the heightening, searing pain in my forearm when I landed. Then I turned to Cim’s haunches and the cord I’d used to wrap her burden. I swallowed a hard gulp of sorrow as I eased Halley’s form over my shoulder. The ichor had defiled the silk grave cloth I’d wrapped around her. The cold tackiness of blood-soaked fabric brushed the side of my face, but it’d be a dark day when I flinched away from the ink of my trade.
I winced and struggled to hold my work-face as I slung the body into my arms. The weight against my torn vambrace made my wounds smoulder like coals held to bare skin, all the way to the bone. But even that, I didn’t allow to show.
I turned carefully, balancing my burden, then walked to the hound. My snuggly laced boots squelched a little in the mud. She said nothing, simply watched me with heartbroken eyes. I kept my face still, cold. I was just the instrument. This message came from a God.
Slowly, I went to a knee, and refusing to shed any tears, I laid the body of one of my oldest friends at the feet of the new hound-queen.
I bowed my head to her and held my position for a moment. My hand on the body’s head. I’d already said my apologies, and truly, I was just the God’s weapon.
That didn’t help my heartbreak.
Standing, I nodded brusquely to the Queen of the Cwn Annwvyn and turned away so she could mourn her mother in peace. Silence accompanied Cim and I on the long ride out of their territory. The sky held the soft, dark grey weight of pre-dawn on the horizon. Still, they lined the path, so I rode between two gleaming white lines.
I’d brought Halley home. Now it was time for me to do the same. Go Home.
Little did I know exactly how true that would turn out to be.