Protection, Part 4 NSFW

Maritza's hunger is getting out of control. It's a really bad time, too - with Lethe still drugged on lamia venom, and Karya having possibly led their enemies straight to her lair, now would be an excellent time to have her head on straight.

But maybe things will work out in their favor. Maybe nobody noticed their teleport. Maybe Lethe's going to be okay. Maritza isn't optimistic...

Halfway down the path to the nearby town, I was relieved to find myself thinking clearly again. Just for a moment, I was sure, just until Karya and Lethe were close again... but it was enough.

I resolved to be quick about the trip, settling into a fast but sustainable pace. Though my lair was well-protected, Karya was not in the habit of making her spells efficient and well-concealed. The huge surge of energy she had likely produced when teleporting the three of us would serve as an enormous beacon directing anyone watching the forest to her new hideaway.

The only consolation was that tracing the destination of the teleport would require a personal visit from anyone interested, and the creatures of the forest would likely be sniffing around too, in case the caster was still around to be eaten. Though I severely doubted anyone with the skill to be monitoring energy flows and tracing teleports would end up a meal for a forest creature - even that lamia - it would at least distract them and slow their pursuit.

I steeled myself as I entered the town gate, softly muttering the incantation that would mask my eyes. Of course, being caught with slitted pupils wasn’t the real danger. There would be plenty of people about, and in my current state that meant plenty of little tests of my will. One little slip... Well, I wouldn’t exactly be welcome anymore.

I’d had a perfect grip on my hunger up until recently. It hadn’t been easy, but since deciding to take the side of humanity I’d transitioned to a steady diet of “normal” food. Normal for them, anyway. Yet something about the past few days had suddenly taken me back to my youth, to the days when it was a constant struggle to even talk to a human without devouring him or her.

I kept my head down and hurried through the streets. Perhaps if I did not even see them, I would not be tempted.

I could still smell them, though. My stomach growled irritably at being teased.

“Soon,” I muttered to myself. Soon what, though? Should I give in to my urges and eat again? It seemed like, if anything, doing that had just made things worse. Perhaps I could simply fill myself up with an especially large “normal” meal and hope my stomach didn’t know the difference?

That was silly, of course. It most certainly did.

A quick glance at the street signs told me I had reached my destination. Najiri was an old friend, one who had helped me recover after a few of my more difficult battles. I was certain that if anyone knew what to do in case of lamia venom, it would be her. I pushed open the door and stepped inside.

The strong, acrid scents of potions and medicines and other bizarre concoctions bothered my nose once I was through the door, but I was grateful for it. It meant my appetite would be suppressed.

I briefly wondered if there was a medicine that would do that for me without heinously offending my senses. Probably not.

The woman bent under the counter sounded annoyed as she heard me enter. “I’ve told you, I don’t make love potions, so you can just... Ah, Maritza!” Najiri straightened and peered at me over the counter, adjusting her large, thick glasses. They made her deep, violet eyes seem to be the size of saucers. “What did you do to yourself now?”

“Nothing,” I said. “A companion was bitten by a lamia. She’s acting somewhat...”

“Suicidal? Floppy?” Najiri pulled out a large leather-bound book and flipped through it. “I don’t get a lot of lamia venom cases in here, as you might expect. Most lamia victims don’t escape the beast’s stomach, and the ones that do generally try to crawl right back in.” She glanced at me over her glasses appraisingly. “You didn’t grant her wishes, did you?”


“Hm. Well, good.” Satisfied, Najiri shut the book. “All right. I can make a batch of antivenom for you, but it will take a few hours. Come back later.”

Najiri wasn’t ever much for small talk. One of the things I’d always liked about her. But it did make getting information from her difficult at times.

“I haven’t even requested it yet. You don’t even know if I have the money for it.”

Najiri folded her arms, her derisive snort of breath blowing a stray cream-colored hair aside. “I do not charge so much that a dragonling would have any trouble finding the coin for my treatments. You certainly haven’t in the past. And knowing how you treat your companions, I would expect you would not want to leave her on her own.”

“What if I did?” I pressed. “I don’t know anything about lamiae. Maybe she’ll be fine in an hour and this will turn out to be a waste of time and money.”

“No, apparently you don’t.” Najiri sighed, taking off her glasses and cleaning them. “She will not be fine.”

“I figured as much,” I said. “So, what will happen to her? Or, what would happen to her?”

Najiri frowned, slipping her glasses back on. “Best case, she fights off the paralytic and forces herself down the throat of the nearest thing big and hungry enough to fit her.”

Me, most likely. Najiri seemed to have come to the same conclusion, given how she was staring at me.

I cleared my throat. “Worst case?”

“She stops breathing and suffocates to death.” Najiri picked up a small vial, swishing it around and peering at it. “Either way, it’s about a day.”

I remembered how easily she’d been affected by my stomach secretions. Maybe I didn’t have that much time. “Then make the antivenom, and quickly.”

Najiri nodded, dumping the vial’s contents into a bowl. “Already doing it. Or I would be, if there wasn’t someone hanging around distracting me with her incessant questions.”

I took the hint and stepped back out into the late-day bustle, debating how to spend the intervening hours. I could go back to the two I’d left in my lair, but I’d left them there in the first place to get away from the temptation they presented.

Instead, I decided to deal with my grumbling stomach in a safer manner. The sleepy little diner I chose was nearly empty at this time of day, the mouthwatering smells of the food in the kitchen far overpowering those of the few patrons present.

I ordered what might have been enough food for five people my size, and to the slight astonishment of the waiter, finished all of it over the course of an hour and a half. It was greasy and cheap and certainly not a live meal, but I wouldn’t be quite as hungry for a little while. I paid for the food and left, noting that I no longer felt the pull of hunger with every person passing me on the street.

Satisfied, I returned to Najiri’s to collect the antivenom, making a short detour to the alchemists’ guild to pick up a few new bags of stunning marbles. Given how useful they’d been when Vera attacked, I didn’t want to be without.

“One dose every three hours,” Najiri said, sliding five little vials across the counter to me. “Might be better if someone she can’t kill herself in gives it to her.”

Twelve hours just for the treatment itself, plus whatever time for it to kick in... I didn’t like that. We couldn’t exactly travel with her still poisoned. And after that display, staying in one place for over half a day was inviting trouble.

“Right. Thanks.”

I paid Najiri and set off for my lair, musing on the situation. Lethe wouldn’t be able to go on her own, and even if she could, we might have trouble keeping her safe from her own poisoned mind. I didn’t trust myself to carry her given our respective conditions. Karya was too weak to even restrain her. And using any sort of magic, we might as well leave a trail behind us in bright red paint. Maybe some kind of ward would help... but a skilled magic-user would trivially break it and catch us off guard anyway.

We were sitting ducks, and there didn’t seem to be any way to get around it.

When I arrived, I found Karya curled up on my bed with a book in hand. Beside her, Lethe lay still, although she was wrapped in so many blankets that it was hard to tell for sure. Even as I moved over to sit beside her, Karya appeared not to have noticed my entry at all, being completely absorbed in... a book on tactics I had been given as a gift and never read. At least it was being put to good use now.

“I suppose I should not be surprised that your attention has been utterly consumed by a book,” I said wryly. “What is impressive is that you somehow managed to unearth one of the three books hidden in my lair.”

“There’s a third one?” Karya said, looking up in shock and excitement. After a moment, she processed the rest of my comment and looked sheepish. “Er... Welcome back. Did you get the antivenom?”

“Yes. I need you to be the one to administer it to her.” I offered the vials, and seeing that she would need a hand free to accept them, Karya set down the book as reluctantly as if she were cutting off her own arm. “She needs to drink one of these every three hours.”

“Every three hours... okay. Does that mean we’re staying here tonight?” Karya examined the vials, then glanced up at me.

“Unfortunately, yes.” I decided to keep my fears about being followed to myself; a nervous Karya was likely to be a sleepless Karya, and she would already be occupied with giving the antivenom to Lethe. And especially in this case, I needed her to be rested. “Is that alright?”

Karya nodded, a pleased smile on her face. “I like it here. It feels really safe.”

I decided not to argue this.

As night fell, I stationed myself at the entrance, both to catch potential intruders and to stay away from Lethe. After administering the first dose, Karya returned to her reading, nibbling at a sandwich and eventually dozing off with the book laying on her chest.

It seemed like it might actually be a quiet night. Maybe nobody had noticed the spell, or perhaps the forest creatures had scared any would-be trackers off. As Karya woke Lethe for the second dose, the most excitement we saw was when Lethe - eyes still unfocused but now partly in control of her body again - tried to get out of the blanket cocoon and go to me. Thankfully, Karya stopped her, murmuring soothing things to her until she calmed down again.

I was rather surprised. I’d had my doubts about leaving Lethe in the odd sorceress’s care, but she was doing just fine. Hell, she seemed almost normal.

Karya patted Lethe’s head reassuringly, holding the vial toward her. “Don’t worry, Maritza will eat you once you finish all your medicine.”

… I suppose I was inviting that.

I shook my head, looking on warmly as the other two slipped off into sleep together. The scene brought me an odd sort of contentment, and I felt some of the tension slowly leave my shoulders. It was for the best that I not be strung too tightly; the unnecessary anxiety would simply cloud my mind if there truly was a threat.

A small smile crossed my lips. Karya seemed happy for the company, but Lethe less so. Even in her sleep, she had a little frown on, and I imagined that if she were not trapped in the blanket cocoon, she might try to find herself another place. As it was, she was stuck, and Karya had taken full advantage, snuggling right up against her. They were practically close enough together that I could fit both of them into my mouth at once. Actually, could they both fit? No, probably not... Still, it would be well worth trying, just for the sensation of their two tastes intertwining on my tongue-

I stood up quickly, shaking my head firmly to clear it. So much for the big meal keeping me from getting distracted. Where had all my willpower gone?

Frustrated with myself, I slipped out of my chambers, heading down the tunnel to my hoard. I watched appreciatively as I lit the lamp and the small flicker of light was instantly reflected in a thousand shiny surfaces. Though hoarding is not normally considered one of our more admirable traits, I must admit that there’s something deeply and instinctively calming about just being among glittering things. And while I don’t have a lot compared to some dragonlings, I have enough for me to lay in.

Not being the size of my full-dragon ancestors has its drawbacks from time to time, but it does mean you can make a bed of gold with a lot less.

I flopped down across my hoard and reached down into the pile below me, lifting out a ruby-tipped gold-plated rod. The light from the lamp caught in the gemstone, making it seem to be burning itself.

Unfortunately for him, the wizard who used to own this didn’t quite have the skill to match his extravagant accessories. He had been an easy catch. I brushed my fingers over the gem, watching it sparkle as I turned the rod in my hand. I had been worried when I accepted the job, knowing his reputation. But, as I’d toiled away in his manor disguised as a maid, it had become clear that the fame really should have gone to the girl who was his “pupil”. I think she’d come off pretty well when I finally got him, although I didn’t learn her name. I owed her for my success, though - it had been with her unintentional assistance that I’d ultimately cornered him in his room. Memories of his panic as I revealed myself for what I really was made a smile form. Chasing him down in his final desperate attempt to flee had been almost as delicious as finally getting to eat.

I lay the rod down in my lap. I had changed a lot since those days, although I suppose I would still enjoy it if I got to chase my prey. I hadn’t been opposed to going after Lethe, after all. There’s something to it, something deep, though oddly not something draconic. The ancient dragons did not hunt; if they wanted food, they demanded it, and if it wasn’t given, they simply took it. And more often than not, it was given to them before they even needed to ask.

No, perhaps this was something from my human ancestry. Something inside knows that the prey will tire long before I have given up the chase, that their panic at being caught will only make them too weak to resist when at last they fall into my waiting jaws. And I admit there are times when I enjoy the feeling of flying on adrenaline, my senses shutting out all else to better hear every shallow breath and frantic heartbeat of my soon-to-be meal.

This alters the taste, of course. I have not generally had offerings - another downside of being so much smaller than a true dragon. And, of course, even when they did not try to run or fight, they were certainly never willing...

… My curiosity wandered. What would a fully willing meal be like? Might it be difficult to savor her as well as I liked, if she was trying to push her way into my stomach? Though, that was a problem I had with unwilling meals as well, perhaps even more - it is difficult to savor something that is trying to escape for its life. And most things did.

But I got the feeling that Karya wouldn’t be trying to escape like that. She did seem so concerned with her own flavor earlier. She wouldn’t stop me from tasting her... she might even encourage it. The most regard any of my previous meals had given to my enjoyment of them was wishing that I choke on them. Even Lethe, poisoned as she was, would likely be too impatient in her quest for warmth to let me draw out the full flavor of her.

My mind went back to what Najiri had said about the lamia venom. Had something like that affected Karya? Was she one of the cases who had managed to shake off the physical effects of the poison, but still had it in control of her mind? Maybe that was what made her act so strangely... Maybe she wanted me to eat her. To enjoy her.

I shut my eyes tightly. Stupidity. It had been bad enough that I had been fantasizing about eating her. Now I had gotten all the way to believing she was willing to - no, wanted to be eaten? That she somehow had a goal in life of being delicious? Maybe I was the one suffering from venom-induced delusions. She was eccentric, yes, but not suicidal. Every other threat of death reduced her to useless tears. Yes, like when Vera had threatened her with that very thing. If she wanted to be eaten, she would have pried herself off my back and dove eagerly down the other dragonling’s throat. Instead, she broke down and begged me to keep her safe.

Abruptly I imagined what it would be like if the ruby-tipped rod’s owner had been Karya instead. Her panic did not feel nearly as good as his did, especially not directed at me. I let the pain of the image wash through me. That was what I would have to face if I ever gave in.

But... The tiny voice of temptation refused to be silenced.

If she was willing... Even if I could only taste her, and had to let her go afterward...

I didn’t get a chance to finish the thought, as a sudden chill ran through me. I had been too lost in thought to consciously notice at first, but something told me there was an intruder nearby.

I focused my attention on my senses, trying to see what the clue had been that had startled my inner systems. I didn’t smell anything, but the scent of gold all around me masked anything I might have otherwise picked up. Naturally, the intruder wasn’t visible from down here, but...

My ears perked up immediately as the soft sound of Karya’s voice echoed faintly down the tunnel. By the time it reached me, it had become so muddled with itself that I couldn’t make out a word.

It sounded frightened, though.

Rising as quietly as I could manage, I began to creep back up the tunnel. I strained my ears, but couldn’t hear anything else. Had she just been talking in her sleep, or perhaps lulling Lethe back to rest? I couldn’t tell how long it had been. Still, why would she sound scared?

My question was answered shortly. Another voice joined, so soft I could barely hear it. The voice from earlier - the one that had directed Vera - low and dangerous, calm and condescending. “This is why you use caution and cover your tracks, little girl. There are people who want to kill you. And if you tell them where you are, they will go there, and they will kill you. It’s a pity you had to learn this lesson too late to put it to use.”

From closer up, I could hear a note of defiance buried in among the fear in Karya’s voice. I let a smirk of pride cross my face. “A-Archmage Reid knows... He knows all about you and your plans. If I die, he’ll know it was you who killed me!”

“Please. You’re so fragile a stiff wind could kill you. Anything could have ended your miserable little life, and unlike you, I won’t leave a trail that can be used to identify me.” The woman snorted. “Besides, what would he do with that knowledge even if he had it? He is and has always been utterly powerless, just like you are right now.”

I silently cursed myself for having left the room. If I had been there... No, no use worrying about what could have been. What were my options now? Lethe was useless except as a mid-combat snack at the moment. Karya likely would have defended herself by now, and the woman surely knew that Karya wasn’t powerless, so it was likely that Karya was incapacitated in some way. I was too far away to make a run for it, and would need a moment to size up the situation on arrival anyway.

A moment the woman would likely use to kill Karya.

The woman laughed. “You seem to be realizing the hopelessness of the situation. I’m glad to see that. Perhaps you aren’t as stupid as you look.”

“No! I’m just... thinking about... how I-I feel bad for you.”

I raised my eyebrows, as I imagined the woman probably had as well. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Well... you’re going to kill me...”

“Mm. It’s good that you recognize that now.”

“But you won’t be able to get out in time for it to do you any good,” Karya said, her voice quivering slightly. “Maritza is already on her way.”

I was taken aback by this. Was I making enough noise to be detected? Had the other woman noticed me, too?

Or... was she just blustering?

Karya continued speaking, adding a somewhat convincing layer of threat to her voice. I used the opportunity to speed up my movements, letting her voice cover for any sounds I might make. “You know what she is now, right? And what she’ll do to you when she finds you breaking into her lair? Her favorite things to eat are magic-users. She only lets me live because she says I’m too pathetic to be worth the half a bite I would take to eat. But you, you’d probably fill her up good. And she... she makes her food suffer. She made me watch her digest someone once, and I had nightmares for a week. I didn’t know someone could scream so much.”

A fascinating story, if somewhat completely and totally false. The fear in Karya’s voice worked with her now, making it seem as though it were me she were scared of.

“You are a poor liar, child.” Despite her dismissal, the woman seemed slightly shaken.

“I-I could never lie to you, Archmage Cyndra,” Karya said. “You’d know. You always knew. And, what does it matter to me what happens to you? I’ll... be dead either way.”

Her voice faltered at the last moment. My heart seized, but I ignored it. This was only another part of the fantasy she was weaving to distract Cyndra while I came to the rescue, and if I was to make sure it didn’t come true, I needed to remain focused.

I hovered outside the door, peering in. I couldn’t see much. Karya was kneeling on the bed, facing toward me, with some sort of collar around her neck. The candle that lit her face was positioned so she couldn’t see me in the darkness, thankfully. Her hair was a dim gray, the light having gone completely out of it.

I frowned. Was the collar some kind of magic inhibitor? I had heard about them, used to escort prisoners capable of using magic. They were strictly regulated, but it would be no trouble for an archmage to get her hands on one.

“That you will.” Cyndra’s voice had not quite recovered from the sudden case of nerves Karya’s tale had instilled in her, but it was dangerous again all the same. “If I have to worry about this Maritza ruining my fun, we should get started on that.”

“Wait!” Karya tried to scoot away, and I could see tears starting to form in her eyes. Still she tried to stall. “Archmage Reid told me something else... something secret. I wasn’t supposed to tell you, but, if I do, will you let me live?”

Cyndra entered my field of view, and I shrunk out of sight for a moment before confirming she was facing away. I took a moment to size her up. She was tall, perhaps just a bit shorter than me, and her loose crimson robes made it difficult to tell much else about her body. It wasn’t as if it mattered. I doubted she would be terribly threatening, physically; it would be her magic I’d have to worry about. One does not get to the rank of archmage without learning a combat spell or two.

“You’ll be quite helpful enough as it is. I’ll get it from the source,” Cyndra said, raising a hand. Power started to swirl around it, and I was certain this was how she meant to kill Karya. “No more stalling.”

“Wait! Maritza! MARITZA!”

It seemed so familiar. Karya, on the brink of death, and me, forced to stand by and watch.

But this time I didn’t have to stand by.

With a scream of fury, I launched myself from the shadows. A small personal force shield around Cyndra threw me off course and prevented me from striking her, but I didn’t have to; the scream had been enough. The spell she had been preparing fizzled.

“Maritza!” Karya half-sobbed with relief.

“So, we meet,” Cyndra said coldly, turning to face me as I got my bearings again. “I wondered if you might make an appearance, or simply let her die.”

I ignored her. “Karya, get down. I don’t want you getting hurt in the crossfire.”

Karya immediately slipped under the bed, reappearing briefly to try to drag Lethe’s cocoon down after her.

Satisfied that Karya was safely out of the way, I turned my attention back on Cyndra. “Leave or die.”

Cyndra laughed. “Arrogance. Pure arrogance. I am an archmage, dragonling. There are no recorded battles where a dragonling defeated an archmage in single combat. Yet there are many such battles where a lone archmage vaporized a dragonling or even several. Why do you think that is?”

I gritted my teeth. “It’s hard to write records when you’re being digested, and we dragonlings have never been much for keeping track of our diets.”

Cyndra’s expression went dark. She probably didn’t appreciate the reminder of Karya’s story. “Is that so?”

“Shall I demonstrate?” I allowed myself a vicious grin.

“Yes.” Her coffee-colored eyes had become a deep black. I felt my grin falter. “You shall.”

The spell slammed into me before I fully realized she had been casting one. She might not have Karya’s power, but she had far more skill. I had never fought with someone on this level... I had no idea what to expect.

I crumpled to the floor, breathless and in pain. It felt as if my body was being crushed in on itself. I wanted to cry out in pain, but refused to give her the satisfaction.

I sensed that she was drawing close, and tried to haul myself upright. But attempts at movement only intensified the pain; my muscles seemed to be refusing my commands.

Something wrapped around me. Warm and slightly soft, but textured.

A hand?

As the pain began to fade, my mind slowly processed the situation. The spell she’d used on me was some kind of shrinking spell. I had become perhaps half the size of her thumb. She had picked me up from the floor and was holding me now.

Her voice seemed louder than ever at this size. “What was it about screaming that the little girl had said? I would like to hear that for myself.”

I tried to leap off her palm, but she closed her fingers around me.

“I wonder, dragonling, how long you will last. I imagine it is not long.” She shifted her grip, pinching me between two fingers. “Normally I would welcome the chance for a long and drawn-out battle, but I have more important tasks to attend to. So a quick meal it shall be.”

Her mouth opened below me. Thin, pink lips parted, revealing the yawning chasm of her throat. Her wet tongue waited impatiently, prepared to send me down once I was close enough. Deadly white teeth warned me not to try to escape, lest I be crushed between them.

Remembering my earlier thoughts, I growled, “I hope you choke on me.” It seemed to be traditional for one in my situation.

She did not respond, dropping me into her mouth and snapping it shut around me. I was trapped in stifling, wet darkness, warm and humid. Below me, her tongue wriggled slightly, tossing me about and keeping me from finding a stable grip.

I didn’t understand at first, not having been on this side of things before. It seemed a pointless torture, only serving to disorient me and causing little if any pain. Gradually, it dawned on me: she wasn’t trying to torture me. She was tasting me. Savoring me.

I wanted to stop her, wanted to deny her that pleasure, but there was little I could do. At this size, I was even less able to resist than my own meals had always been, barely even a mouthful for her.

I tried to grab on to something. Being tossed around made it difficult to focus on escape. But with her teeth locked all around, it seemed that there was little hope of that anyway. Even if I managed to slip out between them, she would notice and crush me.

I did not want to be chewed to death.

Her mouth closed tightly around me, pressing me against her soft, slimy tongue. I felt the pressure as she lightly suckled on me. Clearly she was enjoying my taste. I tried to push her mouth open, but the tongue was far too soft and yielding to provide a useful base for leverage.

Her tongue shifted beneath me again. I had only a moment to realize what she was about to do before it happened, and even if I had seen it coming I might not have been able to escape.

My legs slid down into her throat, and her tongue shifted, forcing the rest of me in along with them. Tight flesh pressed in all around me as her throat grabbed on to me, dragging me downward with agonizing slowness.

Not that I was in any sort of rush. I was fairly certain I would not be able to escape once I reached my final destination.

Her stomach was tiny - much smaller than I expected. Humans don’t need a lot of room for their food, I suppose. Of course, at my small size, there was plenty of room for me.

Acids were already beginning to pool, and as I emerged from the throat I landed on my side in the thick liquid. It burned, and I scrambled upright and pushed myself away from it, trying to shake it off.

It wouldn’t help for long. The human digestive cycle is much shorter than my own, and has little regard for the meal, being uninterested in withdrawing energy any other way than... digestion.

The walls of the stomach deformed, nearly knocking me off my temporary safe perch. I got the impression that she was stroking her stomach. “Are you comfortable in there, dragonling? When will the screaming begin?”

“I have suffered worse,” I said. My voice was tiny against the thunder of her heartbeat. I wasn’t sure if she could hear me.

Talking back to her didn’t seem to be a great idea, anyway. The lack of air inside was already beginning to make me feel a little bit dizzy, and once I used it, I wouldn’t be able to get it back. It didn’t help that it was even hotter in her stomach than it was in her mouth, or at least it seemed to be.

She patted her stomach, and I tried to keep my balance. “You made a wonderfully tasty snack. Perhaps your kind has something here... this is an excellent execution method.”

I tried to focus on her words, but my attention was drawn to the rising acid levels, and I tried to shift to a higher point. The mucus-coated walls were too slick to hold on to, and already there was barely enough room for me to stand. Soon I would have to touch the acid and be burned.

And, eventually, digested.

“Keep moving around,” Cyndra taunted. “I’m quite enjoying it. Plus, it will let me know when you’ve finally succumbed.”

The haze was getting stronger. As her stomach shifted and acids sloshed toward where I was standing, I stumbled, splashing into the acid. Though I jerked back from it, it was clear I wouldn’t be escaping its stinging touch much longer. And standing was difficult. I just wanted to sit down and ease my spinning head.

Cyndra moved again, and I fell over. I couldn’t coordinate my arms to push myself back up. My legs burned.

I turned myself over, shifting to a sitting position. The acid hurt, but I still had my legs. They weren’t going anywhere yet. I was going to feel it the whole way, assuming I was still conscious.

I decided that I should have eaten Karya earlier. Then I would have had a delicious meal, and Cyndra would not have killed her. Now we were both going to die.

Oh well.

Maybe there was still a chance. Maybe Cyndra would swallow Karya too, and I would eat her up while she was in here. Better she die drunk on pleasure than burning or drowning, right? The acid was already up to my waist, she’d probably dissolve right away.

On the other hand, maybe there wouldn’t be time. If Karya was dropped in here right now, would I be able to catch her? If she fell in the acid, she probably wouldn’t taste very good.

I’d think about that later. I just needed to close my eyes for a minute. The air didn’t seem to work. That was a problem. Karya needed air.

Maybe she could make some air. Magic does things like that, right?

Magic does lots of cool things. Maybe she could shrink herself and put herself in my mouth and let me suck on her until all the flavor was gone.

As the burning sensation reached my chest, my mind finally slipped completely away.

Author's note: The original description for this story on Eka's Portal contained the following note at the end:

Whew! About time I finished something. I've had trouble getting time to write. So if this meanders (it does), it's probably because the first half was written in bite-size chunks. I'm much happier with the second half, which I wrote all at once.

The narrator is unconscious at the end of this part. I guess we'll need a substitute for the next part. (No, she's not dead.)