On any other day, in any other circumstance, Zizzy would have been overjoyed to be flying across the entirety of Stormbreak Isle. Chances for her to stretch her wings were few and far between, usually limited to training exercises with other teams of Wardens and her coveted free days that were, by the terms of the accord she struck with the city, afforded to her merely twice a year.
This was not one of those enjoyable days. Training exercises were varied in their purpose, but always satisfying and goal-oriented. Her free days were less structured, but still restricted in where she was allowed to fly. But today she had a mission. A mission sanctioned by the [Oracle] herself; this fact, hanging over her, made Zizzy as nervous as she was excited.
The [Oracle] rarely intervened in worldly affairs on her own initiative; usually, petitions on behalf of or bargains between nations were required to drag her into things. The fact that she had sent a missive in just such a way was a grim reminder of the potential disaster looming over the island. With such implications weighing on her like a funeral pall, and with explicit permission to top up her own reserves of power, Zizzy flitted southwards along the eastern coast of the island. She had an important stop to make before she could even attempt the two-day flight to Southpeak Village.
Roughly an hour by flight south of Stormbreak City, a massive block of grey and black stone jutted out of the sea just off the coast. Officially known as Stormbreak Prison, it was known to the locals by a name as mysterious as it was fitting: the Pillar. No bridge connected the facility to the rest of the island; instead, a broad platform butted up against the cliff facing the isolated tower of stone. The platform was ringed halfway around with one half of a levitation array, and its mate was inscribed on a balcony jutting from the side of the prison.
Zizzy swooped down towards the platform on the edge of the island cliffs, wary of the Pillar’s enchanted defenses. The passive wards made flight impossible, turning the ocean winds into vicious downdrafts that would smash any potentially flight-capable escapees straight down onto the jagged rocks that encircled the prison just above the water-line. What prevented escape also prevented entrance, and the only way in or out of the imposing structure was the floating platform.
With no small measure of satisfaction she banked sharply into a quick turn to halt her forward flight, a double beat of her wings in quick succession kicking up swirls of dust in front of the guard station next to the ferry platform. Not even the urgency of her mission could totally dampen her pleasure at being given a reason to fly. Her boots touched the ground with a soft crunch of gravel, and she took a moment to straighten her uniform while she waited for the dust to settle.
Even this far out, and isolated from the rumor mills present in more central cities, news of the [Mage-Eater] had managed to travel. A very tiny settlement had grown around the small clump of guard buildings and barracks. Normally it was lively, but today it lacked the normal hustle and bustle of the families brought in by Wardens serving their year long posting for guard duty. Zizzy’s demonic nature was completely unshackled after her exertion from the flight, and she could taste the nervous fear and wariness in the air all around her.
The ambient fear was not enough to abate her own arousal and hunger, however. A succubus had to feed to survive, and her feedings were always fatal to the unfortunate ones who became her meals. Word of her impending arrival, and the purpose thereof, must have been sent ahead by the Lord-Commander via expensive communication spells, because most of the men had cleared the area around the local Warden Captain’s office, save those who had enough mental resistances to endure the full expression of her own sensual aura.
“So it’s true then, Constable?” asked the young guardswoman standing outside the Captain’s door after a nervous salute, the slight quaver in her arm replicated in her voice. “We’ve heard all the rumors, but if they’re sending you here, then he must be as dangerous as the last supply caravan people were claiming…”
Even with wings I can’t outrun rumor! The thought was grim in the back of Zizzy’s mind. The ferry platform operators were charging up the the crystals to prepare for the unscheduled crossing, so she couldn’t avoid the necessity of speaking to the young woman.
“He is dangerous, of course. But we know how to deal with people of his class,” Zizzy replied soothingly. “Stay paired up with fighters or brawlers, don’t leave our mages alone for any reason whatsoever, and swap out your gear for stuns and riot suppression instead of mana-based focus items.”
“But why riot gear? Isn’t that for huge crowds?” asked the other woman as the door to the office opened to reveal the grizzled Captain.
The Captain’s voice broke in suddenly. “Because riot gear is loud, and guaranteed to get everyone’s attention. The Constable has the right of it,” His voice was gruff, and somewhat strained from the proximity of Zizzy’s aura, but he spoke with the calm experience of a life-long professional about his trade. With a very rare specialization in physical combat, the [Steel-Whip Sentinel] was one of the few class types who had little to fear from an anti-mage. “Classes like the [Mage-Eater] can’t tank a straight fight, Lieutenant, not unless they live long enough to reach higher levels and more powerful specializations. Which is why he needs to be stopped now, before his Worldwalker traits let him out-pace us.”
Zizzy nodded at the young woman as the trio walked down the cobbled street to the ferry platform. “On the off chance that you do encounter him, get loud, get flashy, get as much attention as you can and try to get away from him.” She regarded the junior guardswoman soberly. “Flash grenades, bright-sticks, sticky-balls, shock-nets. Don’t hold back, but keep your magic skills on lockdown. Attack with a single spell of your own, and he’ll turn it right back at you, but even stronger.”
“Aye,” continued the Captain as they waited for the crystals to charge the platform enchantment. “We haven’t had to deal with one in...what...thirty years or so, Constable?”
“Twenty-nine years and some months, Captain, but there were three of them,” Zizzy replied meticulously. “Mercenary spies, though; not true anti-magic classes, merely trained in similar skills. They all three managed to suicide before I could take them. Likely a Deskren geas --” the succubus almost spat the phrase -- “although we couldn’t prove it at the time.”
The younger Guard tentatively made to back away as the low hum of the charging platform reached a steady keen, but the Captain stopped her with a gesture. “I know it’s your first posting here at the Pillar, Lieutenant, but you were going to have to make this trip soon anyway. You’ll be rotating weekly between the shore and the prison for your entire tour of duty here, and now is as good a time as any to give you the tour of your new part-time home. I’ll see to that while the Constable attends to her...business.”
Zizzy’s aura pulsed with an intensity that beggared even the veteran Captain’s composure, and the Lieutenant struggled and failed to keep a blush from coloring her cheeks before the succubus wrangled her inner self back under control. “You are new, Lieutenant. You’ll be seeing me every month when things are running normally. Though, usually I come here with the regular supply run, so my aura is not this pronounced. Today is by no means regular.”
“Lieutenant Kanessa here is a [Dreamsinger],” the Captain spoke up, saving the young woman from what would have been a stuttering attempt to respond. “Bardic types tend to be more sensitive than most to empathic auras like yours, and being around you is good training for what she needs to look out for to protect her mind on duty. Sometimes our tenants can get rowdy, so a strong bard or singer for calming a mob or riot comes in handy.”
The trio stepped onto the platform once the sigils lit up to indicate the levitation array was ready. As they came within range of a small, glowing crest set into a simple pedestal in the center of the ferry, the captain’s badge began to glow in concert. As the safety rail closed around the edges, Zizzy cleared her throat and spoke up once again to get the awkward part of the conversation over with.
“Any volunteers from the condemned to go early, Captain?”
Lieutenant Kanessa made a choking sound, the blood draining from her face.
“As a matter of fact, yes. A new arrival since your last visit has requested the Kiss of Mercy,” replied the older man with a solemn tone. He continued speaking, giving Kanessa a moment to compose herself while Zizzy’s attention was on the Captain. “The young woman who burned down her husband’s shop when she caught him cheating. Girl admitted to it after she found out the collapsing wall killed a child. She’s tried to hang herself twice already.”
Zizzy winced at the news. “The truly penitent ones are always the hardest, sir, even though they don’t try to fight it.”
The captain’s gaze slid to the side. “The other two we have on the list might be more to your liking, then; a thief who turned to cutting throats instead of just purses, and a verified pirate who had the misfortune of being recognized by some local tavern patrons who saw his wanted poster. He’s regretting his choice of drinking establishments now.”
“Southpeak is two days away by wing, and more killings will happen before I can get there,” the succubus stated flatly. “Were these any other circumstances, I would give the woman a few months to reconsider, but I’ll need all three if I’m to fly through the night without stopping to rest.”
The Lieutenant finally worked up the nerve to speak, blurting out a question that had been on her mind since the Constable arrived. “How will you fight the [Mage-Eater], Constable Zizzy? Can’t he turn your magics against you too?”
Zizzy’s response was a throaty chuckle, laced with such lethal promise that the junior officer unconsciously retreated a pace. “I hope he does, Lieutenant. Truly. All of my succubus magics are fueled by lust and demonic hunger.” The Constable shivered for a moment, struggling with her predatory nature. “He may be able to match me in direct combat; there’s no way to know unless someone manages to live to tell about it. But all he will accomplish if he throws my magics back is to make me even stronger, and his own hungers will feed mine as well.”
The Lieutenant stared at the succubus for a long moment, deep in thought. “Everyone knows about the Good Succubus of Stormbreak, Ma’am. You’re very... “ The woman struggled to find words. “Different than I thought you would be. Nicer in some ways than I thought...not as nice in others.”
“Good is not always nice,” said the Captain with a gravelly chuckle. “Zizzy has done good work for decades, but she needs to eat just like the rest of us. She’s not once fed upon the innocent since she arrived in Stormbreak, so allowing her to act as executioner solves two problems at the same time. She gets to feed, and nobody else has to burden their conscience.”
As the platform passed the halfway point between the Island and the Pillar, it carried its passengers into the aegis of the Pillar’s protective wards. The security enchantments began audibly humming, filling the space with sound. The captain’s badge and the pedestal glowed brighter still; then, both glow and noise died as the wards accepted the arrivals. Once they were through, the air was calm enough to resume their previous discussion.
“So it’s true then, the stories about how you were summoned?”
The Captain and the Constable chuckled, sharing a glance before Zizzy responded. “Absolutely true, though incomplete. I was summoned by an unusually young student at the old Stormbreak Academy, but instead of taking me to bed or selling me amongst his friends, he merely asked me hundreds of questions about demonium runes. The boy never even looked at me, naked and kneeling in his room. I never even got his name before he cast me out with orders to stay out of his sight.”
“Might as well tell her the rest of it, Constable,” gruffed the Captain as he turned to look at Kanessa. “Her other orders were simple and had no loopholes for a young demoness to exploit. Merely to never feed on the innocent, and to be useful to the city.”
The succubus nodded as the Captain spoke, then continued herself. “I nearly starved the first few years. I didn’t know what to do. A summoned familiar literally cannot disobey their summoner. I didn't even have enough leeway to go back and beg for an explanation. They caught me after I had chased down a murderer I witnessed committing his crime.”
“The reports from the Wardens of the time were quite detailed,” said the Captain. “They’d been tracking him for weeks, but he was always two steps ahead and could hide his mana traces. Zizzy, however,” he said with a nod at the Constable, “did not know how to do that back then. So they followed her demonic energy trail from the last victim, and found her in the middle of feeding.”
The younger guardswoman goggled at the story, more detailed than the publicly known tales and rumors, albeit less fanciful. “And you never found out who summoned you? Even after more than eighty years?”
“No clues whatsoever,” admitted Zizzy. “And the Wardens tried. By the time they caught me there was no trace of anyone matching his description at any of magic academies, and no-one has come forward to admit performing a restricted ritual in the middle of the city. I know he’s still alive through the link we share, but that’s all I know.”
“You know the rest,” said the grizzled [Sentinel]. “The city petitioned the [Oracle] to find out who the summoner was, but the request was denied and a suggestion sent back to the Wardens that they might benefit from recruiting someone like Zizzy.” The emphasis he placed on the word implied it was more than mere advice. “And now she’s the longest serving Warden in the history of Stormbreak.”
By the time the Captain finished speaking, the floating platform had crossed the distance to the Pillar. It came to a stop with a smooth whisper as it slid into its berth on the stone ledge that led into the side of the imposing prison structure. They did not immediately step off the platform, however, as the entrance was guarded by three massive [Obsidian Gatekeeper] golems.
All three golems had turned to face the platform as it approached, and the Captain and Constable Zizzy approached the central golem, badges held ahead of them. Like its brothers, it stood nearly two meters tall, imposing and blocky, rough-hewn from the same rock from which it took its class name. Its head was a smooth plate, vaguely reminiscent of a person’s, and its entire surface was occupied by a smooth crystal oculus. Zizzy stepped down first, holding her badge out as she waited a few heartbeats for the red stone eye of the golems to shift to blue.
“Right, Lieutenant, we can get this out of the way as well,” said the Captain as he presented his own badge, gesturing for the now very nervous guardswoman to approach. Turning back to the golem, his tone became terse and clipped.
“Command authorization: Danram Krev, Captain. Register new Warden identification.”
The central golem’s blue eye flickered, and a moment of silence hung in the air as it processed its new command.
“Command authorization confirmed. Ready to register new Stormbreak Prison warden. Present badge and state name and rank.” Its voice held a distinctly mechanical edge, and was as slow and ponderous as its owner.
The rookie Warden help up her badge, emulating the Constable and the Captain carefully.
“Kanessa Merron, Lieutenant.” she stated clearly and with a touch of pride.
“Identification registered. Life essence and Mana Signature recorded. You are now known to Stormbreak Prison, Lieutenant. Do not lose your identification. Loss of identification will result in detention until a superior arrives.”
With all the visitors now accounted for and identified, the golems retreated to the wall farthest away from the ferry platform and backed into their carved nooks in the stone to clear the way. The Captain assumed a kindly teacher-like tone as he continued explaining things to the Lieutenant.
“Postings here at the Pillar are for one year, Lieutenant Kanessa, as you already know. We have three shifts that rotate in and out of the prison itself, staggered so a third of the guards swap out every week. The ferry platform is only active one day a week barring situations like today when the Lord-Commander overrides protocol for emergencies.”
The younger woman paid rapt attention while the trio walked. “Will I be allowed to sing without causing trouble, sir?” she asked cautiously, as timid as any rookie and not yet sure of herself. “I’ve levelled some from combat training, but my Songs give me the most benefit to levels.”
“It’s encouraged, actually,” Zizzy broke in. “There’s very little entertainment here, for guards and inmates both. Don’t think you have to wait for a riot to break out to sing calming songs.”
Danram gave a nod in the affirmative. “As long as you don’t have other duties, there are several places along the Walk where you can sing. The Walk circles above the central yard that’s hollowed out a few floors deep in the top of the facility. Don’t be surprised if the inmates sing along with you sometimes.”
As they made their way deeper into the prison, more people began to appear in various uniforms noting their role or station. A pair of scribes stepped to the side of the passageway after recognizing the Captain and the Constable, nodding respectfully as the three Wardens passed by.
“There’s a hospital wing, and a chapel for any staff that are so inclined. You’ll get your own room here, and the kitchens serve three times a day. You won’t be in the same room every rotation, though,” the man said with a knowing grin. “Once the storm season passes there’ll be a lot more pirates working the local island waters, and a lot more bounties getting claimed because of that. If the Pillar receives more guests, we post more guards.”
“That makes sense,” Kanessa replied. “What about you, Constable? How does it normally- um, work for you here when things go according to schedule?”
“Once a month feeding visits,” Zizzy replied in a matter of fact kind of tone. “That keeps me strong enough to perform my duties. The condemned inmates usually make peace with it all before I even meet them. My Kiss is preferable to the noose, by far.” The succubus’s expression turned thoughtful before she resumed speaking. “I am not cruel, Lieutenant. My demonic nature requires me to feed to survive, and the pleasure and satisfaction is undeniable, but I show them all due respect for the Ending of their Stories.”
“And the woman the Captain mentioned?”
Zizzy’s expression was solemn once more. “Cases like her are rare, and more difficult for me. The feeding itself is always as easy as a simple reflex, but I feel their emotions in the act. Her request is a sign she is truly repentant, as if the priests could not determine that with their divinations and spiritual delving.” She shook her head sadly, then continued. “I wish we had more time to try to talk her out of her decision, but The Defiler may be working his horrors upon another victim as we speak here. I need all the power I can get to be sure I’m able to take him down.”
As the three of them came to a junction in the corridor they were faced with two doors on either side. The one to the right was heavy black stone with an enchanted locking mechanism, and Zizzy touched her badge to its center.
The Captain stopped the Lieutenant from following the Constable, turning her towards the other door as he spoke to Zizzy. “I’ll take our newest guardswoman here to talk to the lady and get her ready. Are you sure you don’t want her to be first?”
Zizzy shook her head, wings rustling gently behind her. “No,” she said as her eyes began to pulse with a reddish light in time with her inhumanly powerful heartbeat. She continued with a husky rasp to her voice. “I’ll be more in control after these first two, so I can be gentle with her. Let her know her life won’t be spent in vain, despite her accidental crime.” The massive door to the cell block where the condemned were kept rumbled open with an ominous thud, punctuating her statement and adding even more gravity to the situation.
The grizzled old Captain nodded somberly, and with a gentle touch to the Lieutenant’s elbow turned to other doorway. Neither of Zizzy’s companions saw her expression finally give way to unbridled lust as she strode through the black stone entrance, and she was silently grateful for that.
For it was time for Zizzy to feed.