tagSci-Fi & FantasyLyre of Tears Ch. 02: Steel Sheathed in Velvet

Lyre of Tears Ch. 02: Steel Sheathed in Velvet


There were many perks to being a mage.

For instance, whenever Tor Moraine and his troops had to set up camp, Tor used an enchanted tent that set itself up or tore itself down when he spoke the appropriate command words. Meanwhile, his men had tents of the boring, non-magical variety, which required old-fashioned elbow grease to be built.

Sure, Tor could have created enchanted tents for his men as well, but Bethe assured him that the extra work was good for them. It had something to do with military discipline and self-reliance. Besides, it was also a smart idea to occasionally remind his people who the boss was.

There were many perks to being the Lord of Agisgrad, as well.

The interior of Tor's tent was quite spacious. It was so spacious, in fact, that it was split into two 'rooms' separated by curtains. In what passed as the bedroom, there was a large, round bed surrounded by a canopy of diaphanous material. The canopy's original purpose was to protect the sleeper from insects, but that was rendered unnecessary by the tent's bug-zapping ward, which fried any insect that tried to get in. The tent's temperature was also magically regulated, so no matter how hot or cold it was outside, on the inside it was always nice and cozy. Because of the tent's amenities, Tor never had to rough it when he was away from home.

In the tent's other room was a table big enough to sit six people. Tor used this table for meetings. He also used it as his desk for reading or to compose missives to Lady Lucinda, the woman who kept Agisgrad running like a gnome-built machine in his absence.

Against one of the tent's canvas walls was one of the most important things that Tor brought with him on his adventures: his wizard workstation. It was a multi-tiered table upon which all sorts of supernatural paraphernalia were placed, like the apparatuses used in alchemy, a small chest filled with precious gems used for divination, and a medium-sized cauldron. Wizards and witches had all sorts of uses for a cauldron.

Behind the workstation was a shelf filled with books. Tor called this collection his 'mobile library', and they represented only a tiny fraction of the written knowledge he had amassed over the years. The rest of his collection was, of course, back in his personal library in Agisgrad.

His wizard's workstation, bed, tables, chairs, and the rugs that covered the tent floor were all stored in a pocket dimension when Tor didn't need them. When he did need them, each object could be summoned and set in their proper place through the casting of a simple spell.

Tor entered his tent with Bethe close behind. Unclasping his cloak, he swept it off his shoulders and hung it on a cloak rack that stood beside the entrance flap. Bethe, who was clad in armor and armed with at least one visible weapon, had nothing to hang on the rack, which was already filled with an assortment of different colored cloaks.

"Have the men been instructed to stay away?" Tor asked as he removed the pouch that contained Zenzephiriil's fairy dust from his belt.

"Of course, my Lord." Formal as usual, Bethe stopped just past the entrance to stand guard. Tor cast a sidelong glance her way. He smiled, for he was amused by how she kept up the appearance of only being the captain of his guard. The fact that they were lovers was the worst-kept secret in Agisgrad.

He knew that she would relax after they spent some time alone. She always did.

Tor beckoned her over. "Come, have a closer look. You know how much I enjoy an audience." With a playful grin on his face, he turned his attention towards his workstation and the ritual he was about to perform. That grin gradually disappeared while he worked.

Most of the pouch's contents were poured into a special, glass vial. After plugging the vial with a cork, he brought it up towards his face to have a closer look. The fairy dust within sparkled with fey energy. To Tor, those sparkles were a promise of arcane possibilities. As he learned tonight, fairies weren't especially difficult to locate, and convincing one of them to part with her dust proved to be more simple - as well as much more fun - than he expected. However, according to his research, their dust was a difficult component to work with. Only the most capable of mages could try.

Thankfully, Tor was supremely confident in his own abilities. Since he had such an easy time getting the dust, surely he'd have an easy time using it, too, right? He was excited to use it for the first time tonight, and he also looked forward to experimenting with it in the future.

Bethe approached, choosing to stand behind him, to the side, and with plenty of room between them. "You never explained why you needed the fairy's dust, my Lord."

"I didn't? How careless of me. Please give me a moment and I'll fix that oversight."

Tor put the vial away in a cabinet that contained all sorts of rare alchemical ingredients and spell materials. On a rack was the tooth of an adolescent dragon from Atia, a continent far to the east. In a jar filled with alcohol were the eyeballs plucked out of an abyssal horror. Tor nearly lost his mind when he and Bethe vanquished that living nightmare. Hanging like jewelry off a small stand were the braided hairs of a Ramposian drop bear, one of the nastiest little fuckers that Tor had ever encountered. Drop bears got their names because they looked like little bears that dropped onto the faces of anyone unfortunate enough to sleep under one of their trees. It was because of them and creatures like them that Tor refused to sleep outdoors.

That was only a small sample of what was inside his workstation. And there was so much more locked away in his mage lab back at home.

From the top shelf of the cabinet, Tor withdrew a piece of white wood. It was about one-and-a-half inches in width, seven inches in length, sanded smooth and varnished to a glossy sheen. The handle, which was the thicker end, was covered in intricate carvings of leafless tree branches. The tapered shaft was mostly featureless except for a few symbols carved near the tip.

The piece of wood was a wand, one of the magical implements that Tor used most often in battle. While Bethe and her soldiers used pikes, bows, and swords in combat, he used wands, rings, and other items of power instead. Almost every article of clothing he wore served one or more mystical purposes.

"I need the fairy dust to perform an enchantment ritual," Tor explained as he handed the wand to Bethe, inviting her to inspect it. "And this fine piece of wood is what I will imbue with fey energy. I had it crafted by the finest woodworker in all of Agisgrad." He probably didn't need to brag about that last bit, because by now Bethe should have already known that he always used the finest items in his enchantments.

"Once the ritual is complete, I'll have a brand new Wand of Weakness." He spoke as excitedly as a boy who was about to open his birthday presents.

Following a thorough inspection, which included running her calloused thumb tip over the branches carved into the handle, Bethe handed the wand back to him. "Who or what will you be using this wand on?"

"Maybe I'll use it on you, dear Captain. I'll sap your strength so I can have my way with you whenever I wish."

Bethe frowned at him. But after a few seconds of staring at her lord's twinkling eyes and smile, she couldn't help but giggle. Tor was sure that the warrior woman didn't giggle like that for anyone but him.

Chuckling, Tor set the wand down to one side of his workbench, then found some chalk. "Tomorrow, we will make our way to the actual target." He used the chalk to draw a circle on the center of the bench. Although he drew it free-hand, the circle ended up looking perfect, because Tor and other wizards practiced drawing circles a lot.

"Can you tell me more about this target so I can prepare my men accordingly?"

"We'll be hunting a witch!" he exclaimed as he began to write symbols around the arcane circle. "An orc witch, to be precise, holed up somewhere in the mountains to the north and east of our present position. According to my sources, she is quite powerful. I suspect she'll have all sorts of eldritch nasties protecting her lair, so we will need to plan accordingly."

"Understood, my Lord. May I ask why are you targeting this witch? Does she have the Lyre of Tears? Or does she know where it is?"

"The latter. She should know its location, as well as other information that will be useful to us. And it's a safe bet that she will not share that information, willingly. Starting tomorrow morning, make sure our troops are given those items of protection against dark magic that I had the Mage Collective create."

"It's already done, my Lord. They're now equipped with the belts that protect against death magic, and they've each been given those potions that bolster their wills against mind control. I took the liberty of assigning these items to them on our first day away from Agisgrad."

Tor turned to her, one of his white brows arched. "Oh? And how did you know to do that, Captain?"

"Instinct, perhaps?" A sly, little smirk tugged at a corner of Bethe's full lips. "Or perhaps I'm able to anticipate your orders because I know you better than anyone."

Tor barked out a laugh. "That you do, my dear. That you do." His guard captain's efficiency never ceased to impress.

The mage wrote the last of the symbols needed to complete the arcane circle. Next, he picked up the pouch he nearly emptied out earlier, dipped his finger inside, and covered his fingertip with the remainder of the dust within. He examined his fingertip for a few moments, noting how there was only a small amount of dust on it. That was fine, for the ritual did not require much. Taking his time, he spread the fey particles over the wand by running his finger up and down the shaft. He also made certain that some of the dust got into the symbols carved near the wand's business end.

Tor repeated this process until there was no more fairy dust left inside of the pouch. He set the pouch aside, picked up the wand, then placed it in the center of the enchantment circle, making sure that the tip and the handle were each pointed at the correct symbols.

"Please make yourself comfortable," he told Bethe, his dark eyes leaving the wand to find her face. "This will take some time." Running the ritual through his mind, he turned and walked to a basin of water set on a stand near his workstation. There, he washed his hands as thoroughly as a surgeon would before an operation.

While he did this, his guard captain took a seat at the table behind him. She removed her weapon belt and leaned her sword against another chair, where it was within easy reach. Then, after Tor stepped back to the workstation, she watched him work.

Tor always enjoyed doing what he did best while Bethe - his biggest fan - watched. His nimble fingers were in constant motion, performing complicated gestures above the circle and wand. He muttered a seemingly never-ending series of words in an ancient language that a vast majority of people in the world did not know. Neither the gestures nor the words could stop prematurely, or else the enchanting ritual would be ruined and Tor would have to start from the beginning. That was why such rituals required a great deal of concentration as well as physical stamina.

Before long, the arcane circle began to glow, its light white with a bluish tinge. Tor's eyes had been closed, but when they opened they, too, glowed with that white-blue light. Twin lines of light extended from the circle, enveloped the wand, and lifted it up an inch above the bench.

"Bixo nim pho. Nim salat fadra nim..." Bethe's eyes were glued to the wizard while he spoke the incantations, gesticulated over the wand, and lost himself further and further into the ritual. Now and then, she stood up to peek through the tent's door flap and ensure everything was in order outside. But for the most part she stayed in her seat to watch over the man she had sworn to protect.

According to his research, this ritual needed to last a specific amount of time. So when Tor's internal clock told him that precisely fifty-seven minutes had passed, he stopped the gesturing and the incantations. The glow around the wand and the circle faded, and the wand clattered back onto the workbench. Tor shut his eyes, staggered backwards, and gasped for air as though he had been holding his breath for too long. Bethe was on her feet and behind him the very next instant, holding his upper arms and preventing him from falling.

"Are you alright, Lord Loviotor?" She helped him get to a chair.

It took several moments for Tor to catch his breath and respond. "Yes, yes. Thank you."

Bethe got a goblet of water for him, which he guzzled down. Only after he got his breath back and quenched his considerable thirst did she ask him the most pressing question. "Was the ritual a success?"

"Give me a moment, and I'll see." Without leaving his chair, Tor reached for the wand and grasped it with the power of his mind. It floated off the workbench, over the rug, and into his open palm. He closed his eyes for a moment, and when they reopened they glowed with a faint gold light. Using his Mage Sight, he inspected the wand from top to bottom.

Moments later, a smile spread across his face, showing off his strong, white teeth and the pride of another successful enchantment. "Not only is it done, but I'm tempted to say this is among my finest work. The power within this wand is unlike anything I've created before." He continued to examine his newest creation with the utmost care.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean the wand may have properties besides the ability to cast a weakening spell." His Mage Sight ended and the magical gleam left his eyes. "I'll need to experiment to learn what these properties are."

"Is it because this is the first time you've worked with fairy dust?"

"That's part of it, most certainly. Another part of it could be that I'm getting so damn good at this that the items I imbue impress even me." Using telekinesis once again, the wizard returned the wand to the workbench. He was just showing off at that point, because immediately after the wand landed on the bench, he stood up and strode to the wash basin. The almost full hour of enchantment was sweaty work, which was why he wanted to splash water on his face and neck.

Toweling off, he turned around to find Bethe on her feet. She was staring at him with something in her gaze. He thought it was admiration; admiration mixed with something else, something far more intimate. He tossed the towel aside, then paused to consider those eyes of hers, which were striking and blue.

Because Bethe was from the southern lands of Umperico, people from the north assumed that her eye color was rare. But that wasn't true. Because Tor had spent some time in Umperico, he knew that while most people there had brown eyes, there were many with blue or green eyes, as well. In truth, Bethe's eyes were not so rare. Yet the truth did not make her eyes any less striking, nor did it make Bethe any less attractive.

It was his turn to stare at her. With her armor, athletic build, and short hair, it was possible to mistake her for a man from a distance. But making that mistake was impossible up close. Tor was close to her, now, yet he wanted to get closer.

"Why are you looking at me like that, Lord Loviotor?" she practically purred.

"I'm just thinking about all the things I want to do to you."

"Is that so? Instead of merely thinking about them, why don't you show me?"

"Oh, I will." With a wisp of a smile on his lips, the wizard snapped his fingers, and at the same he whispered a single word: "Vren."

Instantly, Bethe's breastplate, bracers, gauntlets, and legguards shimmered, then disappeared, which left her in the simple clothes she wore underneath her gear. Tor - the one who enchanted her armor - had included a teleportation spell in the enchantment specifically for occasions like this.

The wide-eyed guard captain stared at her body for a few moments before shooting an accusatory glare at the mage. "I liked that armor. A lot. What did you do to it?" Her Umperican accent became somewhat thicker, which always happened when Tor riled her up.

"No need to worry, my dear. I merely put it someplace safe and out of my way."

He approached her, a hungry gleam in his dark eyes. Although she was armorless, Bethe was far from defenseless. Yet she felt helpless as her lord closed the distance between them then enveloped her with his arms. They stared at each other for a breathless moment, their faces so close. Her glare softened, her lips parted, then their mouths met passionately.

"Mrrmm!" Bethe moaned when their lips touched. She moaned louder when Tor eased his tongue into her mouth. As he used the tip of his tongue to soothe the sides of hers, he helped himself to two handfuls of her rear, squeezing her flesh and pulling her body against his.

Although her armor was off, her pesky clothes were still in the way. He needed her naked, now. He began to strip her by unbuttoning her pants. Bethe, who was clearly eager to help, untucked her shirt and pulled it up and off. Their lips needed to separate for the briefest of moments when she yanked the shirt past her head. Their kissing had to be interrupted a second time when she yanked her slip off. Once she was naked from the waist up, their mouths rushed back to each other, and the two lovers resumed savoring each other's kisses, only this time his hands make contact with her naked flesh when he touched her.

As he always did when they made love, Tor marveled at how Bethe could be hard and soft at once, and how she could represent strength and elegance at once. She was like steel sheathed in velvet. Her body was powerfully-built thanks to several years of rigorous martial training and the exercise of regular adventures. And all those lovely muscles were underneath soft, bronze skin, which Tor knew tasted as good as it looked.

Her skin would have been perfectly smooth if not for the scars that she sported here and there. There were some thin scars along her muscular arms, a few longer ones on her back, and a jagged one on her side, which told the story of a nasty wound that nearly ended her life years ago. Tor was thankful that the worst thing she got out of that encounter was only a scar.

After she removed her shirt and slip, Tor's hands went crazy on her body, touching her all over. They slid up and down her sides, up and down her sculpted back, and along her spine. He grasped the sides of her full breasts, fondling them while pushing them together. He thumbed both of her nipples. Bethe's body arched in response to his touches, and she poured a pleasured moan down his throat because of his kisses.

His hands then dipped down to the back of her thighs so he could hoist her up into the air. Not wasting any time, she wrapped her powerful legs around his waist. This got a grunt from him, which turned into a low, humming groan when she began to suckle on his tongue. It felt as though she were squeezing and kissing the breath right out of him, yet he wouldn't have had it any other way.

Tor turned around and carried her to his bed. He walked around blind, so it was when his knee bumped into the mattress that he knew it was time to throw her. Bethe bounced on the mattress, laughing, her smile looking especially bright on her gorgeous, tanned face. She began to pull her pants off, but then changed her mind, deciding to sit up and help him strip instead.

"You have far too much on, my Lord," she laughed.

It was true - Tor had multiple layers of clothes to take off. First, there was a fine, short-sleeved tunic made of red linen, which Bethe was eager to remove. Underneath that was a shirt of mithril chainmail, which could protect against all but the most powerful of blows despite being as light as cloth. Bethe helped him remove that, too. Finally, after they worked together to strip him of the shirt he wore beneath the mithril, his torso was finally bared.

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