Chapter Twenty-two

When he awoke, his muscles still hurt from the continuous training in the last two days. Saljin had claimed it was impossible to learn the handling of the Dekka'shin that fast, but he was determined to find out as much as he could about the weapon and its use.

He knew already that it took more than just to know the movements to handle a weapon. He needed constant training, day after day and week after week, until the tool felt like an extension of his own arm, until no longer the mind ruled action and reaction, but move and countermove were embedded in muscles, sinews and bones. Those reflexes decided on life and death, not the theatralic waving of murderous instruments. Reflexes he didn't have and couldn't develop in that short time. And Khiray wasn't a warrior anyway.

It made no difference for the others. They possessed additional Troll steel weapons now - Hhrughas swords -, but ironically those wouldn't help them against the Demons. Not even Perlish and Delley, who both were quite good with weapons, would fight with swords in the battle that might lay ahead. Ghanzekk's staffs were the right choice here. And they didn't need much skill for their use - the right word and the right gesture triggered the magic that actually worked at some meters' distance as well, although not with the same power as in a direct contact. Training one's swordskills was essentially useless, unless Galbren arrived at the wrong time in Alvanere with his second ship.

But Saljin had made a discovery. Searching for a suitable shaft for her broken Dekka'shin, she had tried a fitting staff from among Ghanzekk's arsenal. Khiray had wanted to keep her from using it at first - to fix the blades, she had to cut the staff and drill a hole into it. But they had enough of them to fight a long battle - if the Archangel came, the Demons wouldn't be a problem any more, and if he didn't came, additional weapons wouldn't make that much of a difference.

Khiray's reservations, as it turned out, were unnecessary. Saljin didn't need to damage the staff. At the first fitting of the blade, the weapon seemed to accept the metal - it changed its form, stretched out to reach for the Troll steel, snuggled into the empty opening of the fixing and fused inseparably with the steel. It seemed as if Ghanzekk had thought of a similar use of the staffs already and provided a helpful magic.

After Saljin fixed the second blade, she tried the renewed Dekka'shin. The green fire flared up and flowed across the steel. The magic seemed to be dripping from the weapon. It looked as if the whole Dekka'shin was dipped in venom, shimmering and blazing, an otherwordly, cold, but nevertheless deadly fire - Demon poison.

They didn't know for sure whether the Troll steel blades would intensify the effect on the Demons - but if a touch was more deadly than a shot from afar, it might indeed be more effective to wound the Demon and to have the magic boil into the wound. In any case it didn't seem to diminish the power of the magic. Finally, Saljin improved Khiray's Dekka'shin as well with one of Ghanzekk's staffs. Khiray now insisted on learning how to wield the weapon.

It wasn't just the fight against the Demons. The Dekka'shin belonged to Saljin's culture, it was a typical weapon of her people, and he wanted to learn about it to fit in. They had talked a lot, about the Foxtaurs and the Armygan, the life and the times and the world. He wanted to be as close to her as possible - as long as she was still at his side.

But strange enough, since the last devastating meeting with Khezzarrik khi Valangassis that bad premonition had disappeared - the bodiless voice that claimed that he and Saljin would go different ways had ceased. He had thought a lot about what that could mean. Maybe it was because he had finally accepted that she would return to her people. Maybe, however, the reason was that he wasn't as sure as before where his roots were. Despite all the things that had happened to him in the meantime, his longing for the faraway places was still there. Even the most alien lands couldn't be as dangerous as the Demons. Every time he thought about visiting Foxtaur Territory, and maybe the world beyond, he felt that strange tingling in his guts that told him he would never be content as a mere merchant on the old route.

There was the 'Silver Ansicc', of course, his heritage. Delley, Kinnih, Shooshun - more than just Furrys who worked for him, rather his friends. But a great part of his future had died in Sookandil already. And there was Saljin. Right now he felt closer to her than ever. The invisible wall that stood between them had disappeared. Had it really been only a question of duty that kept haunting Saljin for so long? She had explained it to him, but Khiray couldn't really comprehend it. For someone whose teacher had been a Rat, the bonds of honor and duty were maybe not as tight as for the Foxtauress.

He wished to stay forever at her side... He bent forward and touched her neck fur with his muzzle, breathed her scent. His right hand wandered over her side. So alien, yet so close already. Khiray felt an overwhelming tenderness for the beautiful warrior. The thought of losing her at some time seemed almost surreal. The warmth of her body flowed through his arm. He moved a little closer, stroked the spot where her upper and lower body met. Strange. Didn't they say that warriors had a light sleep to sense the coming of the enemy immediately? But Saljin simply slept on. Khiray surreptitiously raised his upper body. Playfully he let his hands wander across her lower body, very gently, back and forth, over side and thigh, down to the tail root.

Saljin sighed softly in her sleep. She suddenly seemed so vulnerable. An impression that certainly was misleading. She was stronger than him and had more stamina. She was heavier, more massive - even if her four-legged shape hid that fact as long as she was standing -, but at the same time at least as nimble as he. Vulnerable? She could teach Perlish a lesson if she wanted to, and the Deer was tall, a skilled warrior, everything but a weakling.

But nevertheless he felt the need to cover her with a protective blanket and to guard her sleep like that of a very small cub.

She was not exactly a cub, however. He scratched her tail root and was rewarded by a twitching tail tip. Her soft forms were not weakness but sensuality. Beneath the loose fur strong muscled hid. He followed the line of her thigh muscles with a finger, across the knee, down the leg, as far as his arm could reach. Alien, yes - that part of her body had some undeniable animalistic aspects, and at the same time it was incredibly erotic. The curve of her buttocks, the way the longer fur on the backside of her legs fell in twirls, the contour of her sinews and muscles - all that was as attractive for the Fox as her intoxicating scent. Warm fur on a relaxed, sleepy body. He let his hand slide upwards again, this time on the inner backside of the leg, but not all the way - he didn't want to wake her.

His erection called for attention. He looked down and shook his head. Some body parts weren't content with anything. How, again, had he spent the previous evening? He had no intention of disturbing the quiet scene, especially not that early in the morning. But his penis could not be talked into returning to the furry sheath. He took his hand off Saljin's body and crossed his arms, but it didn't help. It really seemed as if some parts of his anatomy sometimes showed a will of their own.

"That's what you think", he whispered. A sensation of intense silliness - and merriment - took hold of him, and he answered himself in a high voice.

"But I want to!"

"You are silent. There's only one boss, and that's me!"

"Aaaw! Every other muscle gets trained till it drops, just me gets ignored all the time!"

"You are no muscle. You don't even have a muscle worth that name, or sinews, or..."

"Got a bone, though! So nyah!"

"And you don't need to be trained."

"No? Just wait until you really need me! Then I stay in hiding and won't come out to play!"

"Saljin will tickle you until you do!"

"I will be all limp and totally unusable. Looky, I'm shrinking already and wither away!" The latter was not true at all, very much to Khiray's displeasure. He took a small bottle of oil that stood on the side desk, let some drops drip onto his hand and rubbed it over his maleness. The member had to be kept wet as long as it wasn't safely tucked away - otherwise, the skin would dry out and get chapped. The result was at best a day-long itch, at worst an inflammation. Oo'men allegedly hadn't a problem like that. No wonder, their privates were hanging out all day. He didn't know any Oo'men so intimately that he could have asked how they dealt with it - but he would have been interested to know.

The silly feeling was gone, and he stopped the dumb dialog. There was no reasonable talking with some body parts, not even if one held the conversation all by his own. He attended to Saljin again. The Foxtauress hadn't moved. Khiray laid down at her side and rubbed his body on her back fur. He put the right arm across her lower chest and drew her close to himself. For a moment he could even forget the Demons - Pallys, who prepared his magic behind locked doors - Perlish the outlaw who awaited the battle with grim humor. The world could be so beautiful, so peaceful.

He laid the right leg as well across Saljin's body and leaned a little more towards her. Her presence alone filled him with calmness and composure. Sighing, he stretched out.

"I hope you won't continue that way", Saljin remarked. "You know how difficult it is to get that stuff out of the fur."

Surprised, Khiray rolled on his back. "I didn't want to..."

"Start without me?" Saljin turned around until she was lying on her belly. "Dz, dz! It rather looked that way."

"I'm innocent! He started it! - How long are you awake, already?"

She grinned. "Since you are, of course. We warriors do have a light sleep, you should know that by now. It was quite hard to keep silent when you talked to your little, eh, big friend."

Moaning, Khiray closed his eyes. "You could as well pretend you didn't hear that!"

Saljin laughed ringingly. "Why? Oh Khiray, sometimes you are really... cute."

He leaned onto his arms and raised his upper body. "Only for you, beloved. Only for you."

The Foxtauress moved around, bent forward and touched Khiray's member with her tongue. The Fox shuddered. His fur stood on end.

"I've got the strange impression I have to help someone to get to rest", Saljin mused. She clawed one hand into Khiray's belly fur and laid the other on his thigh. Then she devoted all of her attention (and all of her tongue) to the disobedient body part. She let her tongue tip wander along the underside from the point to the sheath, having it dancing around a little, before she suddenly took the full length of his member in her muzzle and caressed it with her lips.

Khiray sank back to the pillow. "Saljin, if you keep this pace, that won't last very long!"

She looked up. "That's not the idea, I think." She let the right hand slide between his thighs and ran her claws lightly through the thin fur that covered his balls. "As much as I'd like to spend the day in bed - we arrive at Alvanere today, you said. Do we have the time for idle frivolities?" She used her tongue again to massage Khiray's most intimate regions.

The Fox clenched his teeth together. "We have to cross the whole Lake of Alvanere! No reason to hurry." He already felt a well-known heat rising. The knot at the base of his penis started to swell, as it always did shortly before his climax. If that happened before he penetrated his partner, it made a complete insertion impossible: just as sure as the knot connected him to his lover if they got together in time, it stayed outside if it grew too early to its full size. At least that had been always the case with Lysh; the knot was too big to get past the female opening without problems. With Foxes and Wolves, an additional difficulty arose: their femininity closed involuntarily around the knot and held it tight. Skilled courtisans, some Furrys said, were able to control that muscles deliberately to drive every male Furry to ecstasy with special techniques. Khiray knew as well that size and experience of the partners were important - if a male Fox and a female Wolf indulged in sexual games, a "tie" was not necessarily the result, even if the Wolf couldn't control her holding reflexes. And if the female partner had born children, it was often possible to end the tie with a little effort.

He and Lysh had never been able to do that - she was an Otter, and thus smaller than him, and he was rather generously built for a Fox, with a distinctive knot. They had to wait for the tie to end - or they used the technique to enlarge the knot up front, if they didn't have the time. That had a vast disadvantage, however: it robbed them of an important part of the act. The knot was a main focus of his pleasure, and the sensation to hold it within oneself caused - according to Lysh - a stunning climax.

They had tried to break the tie, but without success - it had been a rather painful experience every time. Maybe it was different with Saljin. They hadn't tried it yet, but the Foxtauress was a lot bigger than the Otter girl (in every respect), and since the male Foxtaurs didn't have a knot, she maybe hadn't the holding reflex as well.

Khiray sighed. Technical considerations like that somehow diminished the pleasure of the intimate, pleasurable game. One shouldn't think too much but rather let one's instincts roam free, doing what brought the most joy to oneself and one's partner.

"No reason to hurry?" Saljin seized the oil bottle on the desk and poured some of the fluid in her palm. "Then we can start all over again later, can't we...?" She closed her fingers around his member and started to massage the oil into his tender skin. With her other hand she rubbed the soft fur of the sheath. Then she gently licked off the sparkling drops that had appeared at the tip of Khiray's maleness, and let her tongue softly slide across the knot. Finally she put both hands around the shaft and moved them in a maddeningly slow rhythm up and down. "That oil of yours may have a pleasant smell, but the taste definitely needs work."

The Fox arched his back. "It's not... meant... for salads!" The heat became unbearable. He felt the blood pulsing in his veins, the heart beating in his chest. Saljin's left hand surrounded his knot and applied gentle pressure while turning left and right. "I don't have much opportunity to study you that well", the Foxtauress smiled. "Although I should know every hair on your body by now..." She bent forward again and caught his furry sheat with her teeth. Growling in a low voice, she shook her head as if she held some small prey animal in her muzzle. Her lips touched the inside of his legs. Her breath blew hot across the skin under the light fur.

It was too much. Khiray breathed deeply and released the fire of his passion. His hands clasped the blankets of his bed while his seed poured over his belly fur.

Saljin shook her head. "Now look what you've done. I think they'll smell it half the day." She picked up a towel that had been left from yesterday's evening and started to clean up Khiray with one hand, while the other continued to caress his maleness.

"Oh, now it's my fault...", the Fox murmured and groaned with pleasure.

"As always, of course", the Foxtauress replied and started the attempt to clean him with her tongue. "Ah, will it last as long as...?"

"M-hm!" Khiray made an affirmative sound. Even this way, the erection would stay until the knot shrunk by itself. As long as he wasn't joined with his partner, the danger of drying out still persisted - although Saljin devotedly tried to prevent any damage.

The Foxtauress curled her body up until her hindquarters lay side by side with his loins. Then she raised her tail and let it stroke very slowly over his maleness, back and forth. Khiray moaned. If she had had more control over her tail motions, he had cried out aloud. But even in this fashion it was enough to make him climax within a minute - this time soiling Saljin's tail fur. She gave him a reproachful look. He just smiled and extended a hand to scratch her tail root intensively.

It took a while until his member had returned completely into the sheath and Saljin stopped her ministrations. Khiray rolled over and stroked her fur. "Do you want me to...?"

She shook her head. "Later. The way you move, your arms hurt like hell. Just turn around."

Dutifully, he turned on his belly. The Foxtauress placed herself over him and started to knead his aching muscles - not with her hands but with her front paws. Khiray was surprised what precise control over her toes she had. He wasn't half as skilled with his feet.

On the other side, he hadn't any front paws at all; they seemed to be some cross between paws and hands.

"Do you think we'll have to fight?" she asked.

"Hmmm. I don't have a clue. Maybe the Demons will notice us somehow. Maybe they are on their way to Drun'kaal already. We can't know." He rested his head in his hands while Saljin treated his lower back muscles. "If we are really unlucky, they'll catch us before we reach Alvanere. But I don't think that'll happen. Khezzarrik wants us to destroy Beladanar so he's safe from his fury. I don't understand his game in its entirety - I think it's rather funny for him if our chances are a little uncertain -, but I believe that if Beladanar had a possibility to kill us despite the staffs and despite Pallys' knowledge, Khezzarrik had provided us secretly with a better weapon. It is easy for the Demon to get around the rules. He made us his tools, and that's what we still are. We even know it, but can't do anything about it."

"Does he watch us? Khezzarrik, I mean."

"Maybe." The thought caused Khiray some concern. "He mustn't open gates anymore, but if he can see us by other means... Ghanzekk could see across the spheres and levels, Pallys had said. Khezzarrik has probably the same ability. And it would please him very much to observe the end of his game..."

"If it is the end", Saljin continued his final thought. Yes, maybe there was another goal behind all of Khezzarrik's plans, one that remained invisible. It had been Khezzarrik's intention to get free from Beladanar and to return to Hell. He had accepted that he would never be able again to open the gates. For him, the rest of the conflict would be fought out in the Demon world. But there was no reason to assume that his plans in this world had ended. Somehow, he might have set things in motion that won't show results until much later. They couldn't know - until it was too late, maybe.

The only hope Khiray had was to be able to discover Khezzarrik's plans in time. He knew the scheming character of the Demon by now. He would be on his guard, always ready to strike back.

Khezzarrik was still dangerous.

"I wonder if the Demons really have to keep a pact in every detail", Saljin mused. "It seems to be such a... fragile thing."

Khiray shook his head as well as possible in his situation. "No. I have read a little in Ghanzekk's books. A pact is powerful - more powerful than the Demons. I don't know what ancient forces cause a pact to take effect, but they are quite subtle, bonds like cobwebs, but impossible to tear apart for the Demons. There had been pacts even before there had been mortals like us... whoever the Demons sealed pacts with by then. Anyway, they are impossible to break. The Demon has to follow the exact words. The pact itself provides the power that binds a Demon. It hurls him back to Hell if the pact is fulfilled or gets nullified by death, and it opposes the Demon power by itself if the Demon tries to break the pact. If the Demon resists that power too much, it can even kill him. He has no choice. The mortal, on the other paw, can modify the pact, tone down the conditions for the Demon, cancel certain parts or the whole pact, and he can release the Demon from service. I could allow Khezzarrik to open gates again, if I wanted to."

"Demons are so powerful that it is hardly imaginable that there is a force like that - a force that has no real origin but keeps them at bay", Saljin thought aloud.

"I don't know." Despite the thoughts of Khezzarrik, Khiray started to get sleepy. "Demons are not that powerful at all. They may possess great destructive force, but that's not more than an earthquake or a flood have. There are weapons against them, even."

"Not against Beladanar. Not against Khezzarrik. After all what Pallys told us, no magician can stand his ground against them."

"The Archangels can. And I'm sure even Beladanar and Khezzarrik have their weaknesses. I believe that they shield themselves somehow against the powers of this world, and if you know the secret of that shield, you can defeat them. Just the way we can defeat the lesser Demons already. They guard their secrets jealously - didn't Khezzarrik use that words?

They are not all-powerful. They just seem to be, because their violence and cruelty intimidates us. They don't have any respect for life, they don't have any fear of death. They cause terror in everyone they meet, and devour that terror. And at the same time the fear prevents that anyone opposes them or even fights them. They are like tyrants that rule by murder and torture. They can be overthrown, but one risks his life in that attempt... and... sometimes even more."

Saljin sighed. "Pallys put it somehow differently."

"He has been their victim. He lives inside of his fear. Who escapes the dungeons of the tyrant, doesn't dare any resistance. But the tyrant is mortal nevertheless."

"Those tyrants command powers that are beyond any magician's. Didn't Pallys tell us that Ghanzekk was the greatest magician of his time, with thousands of years of experience? But he fell prey to the Demons nonetheless."

"Call me a fool, but I think that Ghanzekk could have defeated the Demons. After all I have read, the Demon powers are different from a magician's power, the way fire and water have different properties. But with all his knowledge Ghanzekk could have learned about the Demon sources of power. He was so intent on destroying them that he spent all of his life countering their might with his own. If he had studied their secrets instead, he would have been able to bring their own weapons down upon them."

The Foxtauress snorted. "Of course you know better... although you are no magician, although you don't have a thousand year experience. Don't you think Ghanzekk had that idea somewhen already?"

Khiray turned on his back against the resistance of her paws. "I don't know. He lived in fear... he was a victim of the Demons. Maybe that has blinded him to the obvious. Maybe not, however, maybe I'm wrong, and all that is not possible at all. But I refuse to believe that resistance against the Demons - even the Demon lords - is generally impossible. I don't want to believe that their power is so immense that not even the most powerful wizards of this world can do anything against them. Because if that's the case, every single one of us is nothing more than a victim, a pawn, in need of the help of Gods and Archangels, helpless against forces that push us here and there and finally take us out of the game. We can control our own destiny - and even if there are powers that can subjugate some of us for some time, they can't suppress us all forever!"

"Not even the Gods?"

The Fox extended his arms and pulled her down. "Not even the Gods. Not forever. One day wielders of power will walk this world, equal to the Gods themselves, and they will be our descendants. One day."

"You have big dreams."

"Those dreams are not for me." Khiray closed his eyes. "I'm content to travel the world. Ride in the steam-powered rail-vehicles of the Oo'men. Glide through the air in their flying ships. To see the many corners of the world that Pallys once has visited, and to set my foot on every continent, as merchant or whatever. - Small dreams. And if I can't get this one, I just want to be with you. Today and tomorrow and forever."

"Forever is a big word", Saljin said quietly.

"As long as you can stand my foolishness." He tried to laugh, but he had a lump in his throat. "I'm just a victim of the Demons as well. But the fear they spread doesn't reach me anymore, because there are things I fear even more." His arms held her so tightly as if he wasn't able to let go anymore.

She freed herself from his grasp, stretched out at his side and licked his muzzle. "I know. And I fear..."

"That I'm a fool? That I'm wrong? That we all will die, because we don't stand a chance against the Demons?"

The Foxtauress shook her head. "No. I fear that all this will end before we had time to say goodbye to each other."

A shudder ran down Khiray's spine. "Please, don't say that."

"We are warriors, my Foxy." The Foxtauress sighed audibly. "I know that, and you do as well - otherwise you would insist that I wait somewhere far off the battle, so I would remain safe."

"I wouldn't think of that."

"Because you know. We are warriors, each one in his own fashion. We dance in the night after the victory. But there are always those who don't live to see the victory, and thus we dance as well in the night before the battle. Nothing is forever. Nothing. Not even those who won immortality for themselves live to eternity. Maybe even the stars get old and die. Nothing is forever, and nothing is for sure. - Come with me!" She jumped up.

"Wait!" He wanted to grab his loincloth, but she dragged him along, out of the cabin. He was not really comfortable running around naked on his own ship - he wasn't a cheap worker, he was the captain; damn it, he even possessed shoes! -, but Saljin was relentless.

The sun had risen already. To the right and the left, high trees passed by. Swamp cypresses let their roots dangle from the banks into the water. Birds sang, and the shadows of animals moved through the brush.

The Foxtauress led him to the bow. The hull of the 'Silver Ansicc' broke through the gentle waves, smoothly, although with less elegance than her animal namesakes. A hint of mist lay over the water. Up in the wheel-cabin Delley or Kinnih were on duty, but no one else of the small crew was anywhere to see.

"Do you feel it?" Saljin pointed at the river.

The morning breeze caressed their fur. "What?" Khiray asked.

"The future. Out there a new day waits for us, and we don't know what it will bring to us. The uncertainty. Who of us will be alive tomorrow morning? The fate. We are drifting into the unknown."

The Fox breathed deeply. Not far from here, in the villages along the river, the day began. Furrys arose, started to do their day's work. They had their own lifes, their own shadows that haunted them, even though they didn't know anything of Demons and magicians.

"We form the future", he said firmly. "We don't sail into the unknown."

"Life is out there. Animals, plants. The river. The land. And the mist throws a veil over everything." Saljin raised her voice and started to sing a song, strangely solemn and sad, in a language Khiray didn't understand. But he could understand the music, the mood. For a while he just listened.

"Are you afraid?" he finally asked.

The Foxtauress stopped. "Of course. Only a fool wouldn't be afraid."

"Of the future, too?"

Saljin shook her fur. "No. The future will come. There is no point in either fearing it or wishing for it. It will be the way... it will be. We are living here and now. I just fear... to lose all the things I have now. A warrior shouldn't carry such thoughts around."

"We have ourselves. Each other. We have friends."

"I had friends once, and relatives. Not long after, they were all dead. Mikhoi of the Steep Path. Aryfaa of the Yellow Herb. Halann of the Deep Caves. Dokmaris of the Dead Desert. And Dek of the Thousand Foes."

He didn't interrupt her listing. He knew what moved her. His father had died as well, his mother - even if that had happened a long time ago -, and in some respect, Dek had been his friend as well.

"As long as it lasts, Khiray. Don't ever say 'forever', please. Don't say it. Say 'as long as it lasts' instead, because that is the single truth that counts for us."

He put his arms around her. "As long as it lasts, beloved." Standing, he could look down on her. She returned the embrace. For a while they just stood there. Then she freed herself from him, looked across the river, put her front paws on the rail and stood up like a living figurehead. Arms widely spread, she held her muzzle to the wind, breathed the far-carrying fragrance of Pellem flowers, the strong aroma of Balglut resin, the feeble scent of smoke from stone ovens. Her hair and her tail were blowing about in the wind that slowly dissolved the mist.

"Today is only a moment", she finally said and left her post, "and today is eternity. Let us dance."

"What, here?" Khiray looked around. It was too early for one of the others to rise voluntarily, and the helmsman had probably better things to do than to stare at the bow deck, but maybe not... and the bed was more comfortable anyway.

"Here", Saljin confirmed and let his tail glide through her fingers. "Here is as good as anywhere else." She ran her claws roughly across his back until his fur rose.

And they danced. Their bodies touched, his hands wandered across her skin; their muzzles licked and caressed each other's fur. She dug her claws into his belly fur. He nibbled at her soft ears. She embraced him with her paws. He let his fingers stroke her spine down to the tail root. A dance that excluded the world outside - that belonged only to them. They shared their gentleness, they shared their wildness, they shared their bodies and souls. There were no Demons present at that moment, not even in thoughts.

Khiray admired Saljin's body. The alienness that had irritated him so much at first, had become an essential part of her self. Had someone offered him to change Saljin into a normal Vixen, he would have turned him down. Not that there was any such possibility, or that Saljin would have agreed to such a transformation - but even if that would have been the case, Khiray had become so intrigued and aroused by the elegant lines and graceful movements of her body that he couldn't imagine her any other way. He followed the contour of her muscles with his finger. What would it be like to live in a body like that...? The Fox tried to imagine going the other way, becoming a Foxtaur himself. Four legs might be an advantage on the river, providing sure footing. But the 'Ansicc' was not equipped for four-leggers, as well as any other things in the Armygan that were meant for use by many different races, but always two legs only. And there might be other problems as well... Lost in thought, he scratched Saljin's neck and drew small circles around her breasts that were quite big for Furry standards. "Saljin?"

"Hm?" She stretched. "Do you want something special?"

"Oh, no..." Smiling, he shook his head and dropped his hands. The thought that had just passed his head could wait a while longer... but it was on the tip of his tongue. "I just had a notion. How far can you turn around? I mean, can you reach... well... for example... can you brush your own tail?"

She grinned mischievously, as if she could see what direction his thought was really taking. She positioned herself on all four legs and leaned the upper body back, until it almost touched the back of the lower body. The sight surprised Khiray. He knew that the joint between upper and lower body was very flexible and didn't fix her to a right angle - after all, she could lie on her back without any problem.

But then the Foxtauress turned her upper body, and the Fox opened his eyes widely in awe. What Saljin was doing there seemed just as impossible as the skills of the snakefurrys on the actor's and artist's markets in Drun'kaal. She didn't seem to have any bones in her body.

Between the chest of the lower body and the ribcage of the upper body, Saljin's belly turned at 180 degrees. Her head and her bosom would point backwards now - except that she was still leaned back (or should it be "leaned forward"?).

She laid her muzzle on her tail root, spread her arms and embraced her own lower body at the loins, just in front of the hind legs. Then she closed her eyes halfway and let her right hand wander across the left leg on the outside, while the left hand explored the space between the slightly spread hind legs. Her fingers touched the rised bulge of her labia, stroked the full, wet flesh, moved forward and back again, until they slid in between the reddish lips. Saljin moaned comfortably. "Is that what you really wanted to ask?"

Khiray felt his ears turning red. After all the hours he had spent with Saljin in the most intimate game, he shouldn't have felt caught like that anymore. "Uh..." He ran his hands through his cheek fur. "Isn't that... uncomfortable?"

Saljin rose to an upright position again and turned around. "Not very much. It gets more difficult with the years, but it's no problem if one stays in practice." She rubbed her belly with a hand. "For you it's difficult to turn this way, because you have all your vital organs here. With us Foxtaurs, all the major organs are in the lower body, except the smaller lungs and the heart of course. Here we have only sinews and ligaments. And muscles."

Khiray came closer and followed the movement of her hand with his own as if he could feel what was going on inside her body. The spontaneous fascination had made a part of his arousal dissipate, but when Saljin stuck her fingers under his nose, he remembered what they were doing. He licked them and tasted the salty, slightly bitter aroma of her femininity. His hands showed more determination than his mind and wandered back to her well-muscled backside. They didn't need long to find back to the old rhythm.

He had to consider himself lucky that the Troll and the dream carvings had helped him. After all that had happened, he would have been hard pressed to overcome the memories of Hell on his own. But the way it was, all that seemed to be something that happened a long time ago - a bad dream only, veiled by the mist of forgotten memories. The occasional return of the horrifying images was a small price, compared with the possibility that he had to bear with them every day, every hour, every waking minute - as it had been Khezzarrik's intention. The Demon had wanted to destroy the love between him and Saljin without losing Khiray as a useful tool.

The Fox hated him for this. But Khezzarrik khi Valangassis had returned to Hell, beyond reach... no form of revenge, no way of justice would bother him, not even the Archangel could punish him. Khezzarrik had been clever, an undeserving victor - no, in the eyes of the Demons probably even a deserving victor who had enjoyed his cruelties and achieved every goal of his, except one...

He suppressed the memory of the Demon and devoted himself to Saljin again.

Lost in the exhilaration of twosomeness, it ended again with him kneeling behind Saljin, but something bothered him. "You know... we don't look at each other very often when we are doing it."

"Do you want to?" She turned her upper body around. "It's not the custom with my people, at least not in this position."

Khiray listed the possibilities in his mind. Foxtaurs among themselves... simply were suited better to each other. His anatomy was too different from hers. When he embraced her this way, his hands were busy - the length of his arms was not sufficient to fondle her breasts, anyway, and it would be an uncomfortable posture. "I think it would be nice." He shrugged. "Something special."

Saljin leaned forward (or backward?), and suddenly her face was directly in front of his. Her hands touched his fur. "Like that?" She smiled in a way that left nothing open to interpretation. They made a grotesque match right now, he guessed, but Khiray hoped that no one looked, that everyone was safely tucked away in his bed. And the sensation... the sensation was beautiful. He took his member with his hand, let it stroke a few times over her opening and slid effortlessly into her - they had some experience by now. The short widening of her eyes, the twitch of the corners of her muzzle - Khiray had never seen it that clearly before. He bent forward and kissed her eyelids, licked across her nose, bit her ear playfully. Saljin's tongue wandered down to his neck, her hands to the root of his tail.

They enjoyed the spice of the dance, in the gentle play, during the unbreakable tie - maybe not really unbreakable, but Khiray didn't try to separate from Saljin; why spoiling the moment? - and afterward. For a short time everything was clear and filled with light. The coming of an Archangel couldn't be better, Khiray thought.

Snuggled at Saljin's side, he giggled about the unintended pun in his thoughts.

"What's so funny?" The Foxtauress raised her head that she had nested on his chest.

"The coming of an Archangel..." Of course explaining it spoiled the joke. Saljin just sighed and let her head drop again. Khiray again attended to her soft ears with his muzzle and to her sleep-ruffled and love-tousled fur with his hands, sleepy, content, filled with silence and emptyness.


The bird calls had ceased. For the first time the Fox noticed his surroundings again. The river banks had disappeared. Only water extended all around the ship as far as he could see.

He gave Saljin a push. They had reached the Lake of Alvanere. The Foxtauress looked up. "What..."

Khiray rose and bent over the rail a little, as if he could see better that way. On the port side, veiled by the remaining mist, a dark line was barely visible: the tree-lined bank, the western part of the Dark Forest. Even with that hint of land, it still seemed to the Fox that the 'Silver Ansicc' was lost in an endless, lead-grey desert of water. Open water always fascinated him: on the river, the banks were always present. The open lake, however, was just like the sea, without a trace of land, without a possibility to navigate except the sun and the stars.

The sea, naturally, wasn't as calm. The faint breeze had died, and the surface of the water was almost motionless. The only sound came from the ship's engines.

Saljin's gaze followed his across the water. Suddenly, the calm mirror broke, and a grey head appeared, cackling and whistling. One fin after another rose from the depth, followed by sleek, elegant bodies that jumped from the water, shooting through the air and diving again into the bottomless depths.

"Ansiccs", Khiray recognized happily. "They are a lucky sign. - Not that I'd really believe in such stuff."

The Foxtauress smiled. "A warrior can't have enough luck, even if he mustn't put his trust in it."

Someone cleared his throat. Khiray and Saljin turned around. Delley was standing there, Khiray's loincloth and two brushes in his hand. "Even if you are not interested in common Furrys' morning rituals anymore, I'd still recommend the use of those." He gave each of them a brush and put the loincloth on the deck. "You are looking somewhat dishevelled."

"We just, ah..."

The Rat grinned. "I know. It was impossible to overlook. Highly interesting demonstration. Fabulous anatomy. Amazing performance. What a pity the view is so bad from up there."

Khiray sighed. So it had been Delley at the wheel, all the time. It was probably too much to ask from him to mind his own business. Actually they could deem themselves lucky that he had devoted enough of his attention to the wheel, so the ship hadn't run aground. Kinnih at least would have... Ah, no. He shook his head. The young Badger had been under Delley's bad influence for too long already. If the Rat taught him much longer, he would become just as depraved... as Khiray himself. The Fox giggled and started to brush Saljin's fur with powerful strokes. Of all the Furrys he knew, he would miss Delley the most, if he really did leave the Armygan.

Delley was on his way to his cabin already when he turned around a last time. "I'd rather recommend a nice, long, hot bath... you both took on a smell that reminds me of the brothels in Golmosh..."

The brush, thrown precisely by Saljin's hand, hit the center of his forehead with a hollow sound. The Rat rubbed the bruised spot, grinned once again and disappeared. Delley knew of course that Saljin just warned him - she could have hit him harder.

"He's really disgusting", the Foxtauress claimed, shaking her head.

"He's my best friend - and my teacher", Khiray replied solemnly.

Saljin nodded. "And he is right. Come, let's try that excellent bath tubs."

"Ah..." Khiray put on a thoughtful face.


"How do you know he's right? I mean, have you ever been in a brothel in Golmosh?"

He ran all the way to the bathing room, but although he knew every plank and nail on the ship, she caught up with him just at the door.

End of Chapter Twenty-two, go to Chapter 23, back to Chapter 21.