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Author's Note: There are dark themes and sexual content later in this chapter that might be disturbing to more sensitive readers. If you find something troubling, please skip ahead a bit.
After a while of chasing after Pipi, Vincent called to him, "Do you think we could walk for a while? It looks like the edge of the forest is still pretty far and I'm not going to be able to run all the way."
Pipi stopped for a moment, then darted back toward Vincent.
For a moment it looked like Pipi was going to tackle him, but at the last possible second, Pipi leaped off to the side.
Vincent smiled at the move, then started walking at a casual pace.
"Viznit, what's your brother like?" Pipi asked curiously.
Vincent chuckled and said, "My name is Vincent, and my brother is exactly like me. His name is Lehman."
"Lemon?" Pipi asked uncertainly.
"No. His name is Lehman. I don't know what it means in his language, but I looked it up on my ship's computer and back on Earth the name Lehman means something like 'renter' or 'borrower'... I guess since he's a Chameloid, it's perfect for him." Vincent said consideringly.
After a quiet moment of walking, Vincent looked down to find Pipi looking back at him with confusion.
"You don't understand a thing I just said, do you?" Vincent asked seriously.
Pipi reluctantly shook his head.
Vincent smiled and said, "It doesn't really matter. Lehman is my brother and I love him. That's all that's important."
"Lookit! Lookit! Lookit!" Pipi called with unrestrained glee as he raced ahead.
"What is it?" Vincent asked curiously.
"Yummy honey berries." Pipi said with delight.
"Honey berries?" Vincent asked curiously as he stepped forward and noticed that the berries looked a lot like red, orange and green gumdrops.
"Nuh-uh. *Yummy* honey berries." Pipi said seriously.
Vincent watched as Pipi pulled down one of the branches of the bush and nibbled one of the glistening berries.
"Okay. *Yummy* honey berries. I got it." Vincent said with a smile.
"Have some yummy honey berries Viznit. They're really really good." Pipi said cheerfully.
Vincent opened his mouth and was about to correct Pipi again when he caught himself. He didn't really mind if his name was mispronounced and Pipi was happy.
After a moment to consider, Vincent pulled one of the red berries free from the plant and popped it into his mouth.
When he bit into the berry, the flavor exploded in his mouth. It was sweet and wonderful, reminding him very much of the fruit punch that his mother used to give him when he was little.
As he reached for another, Pipi said, "Don't eat too much. Mommy says that too many yummy honey berries will make you feel yucky."
"Okay. I just want to try an orange one." Vincent said as he pulled the next berry.
This one seemed to have all the citrus flavors combined into one tremendous burst of flavor. Vincent couldn't tell if it was sweet, tart, sour or all of the above.
"Come on Viznit. Come on, come on!" Pipi called as he hopped away from the berry bushes.
Vincent smiled and began to walk at a brisk pace to follow.
As they continued to walk, Vincent began to feel an overwhelming sense of peace wash over him.
On impulse, Vincent started to run full out through the open grass.
Immeasurable happiness infused Vincent's being as vague, half forgotten memories returned to him. Memories of being free and uninhibited, running simply for the joy of running.
Pipi saw Vincent running and began to run even faster to share in Vincent's joy.
Vincent slowed for just a moment, then tumbled into a somersault, rolling easily back to his feet and breaking into a full run again.
Pipi bounced with glee, thinking that Vincent's tumbling was the most wonderful, joyful thing he'd ever seen.
Vincent slowed again, this time he nearly came to a stop before bending down and launching into a cartwheel.
Pipi stopped all movement and watched with wide eyed wonder as Vincent completed the maneuver.
"Do it again! Do it again!" Pipi called as he broke into a full out run.
Vincent did another cartwheel, then another, just enjoying the feeling of being free in the wide open space.
As Vincent and Pipi approached the forest path, the free exuberant feeling left Vincent completely.
The entrance to the forest was dark and cavernous.
The trunks of the trees seemed to arch away from the path, making the darkness ahead feel even more consuming.
The tops of the trees nearly met above the path, leaving only the slightest shimmering dots of light.
"You'd better go back home now Pipi. I don't think I like the look of this place." Vincent said as a feeling of menace crept over him.
"Yeah. I never ever been this close to the forest before. I didn't know it was so scary. Can't you go back home with me?" Pipi asked in a small voice.
"I'd really like to, but I have to go find my brother. He might be hurt or frightened. He needs me." Vincent said as he went down on one knee to be closer to Pipi's eye level.
After a moment to consider the statement, Pipi quietly said, "I wish I could help my brother like that, but mommy says I'm too little."
"What's wrong with your brother?" Vincent asked with concern.
"He's... he's gone. Mommy says he's never coming home." Pipi said as tears started forming in his eyes.
Vincent reached down and gave Pipi a firm hug.
"Thank you Viznit. Are you sure you can't come back with me?" Pipi asked into his ear.
"I'm sure Pipi. You need to go home now." Vincent said, then reluctantly released Pipi from the hug.
"I love you Viznit. When you find your brother, bring him so we can all play together." Pipi said with a new burst of energy.
Vincent smiled and said, "I will Pipi."
After a moment of watching Pipi hopping off into the distance, Vincent turned to face the forest with resignation.
The first step on the path was the worst.
Vincent could feel his heart pounding in his chest, as if it were screaming at him, begging him to go back.
As Vincent walked into the gaping black orifice, he felt a chill run up his spine.
Slight sounds could be heard from the darkness all around him, like whispered voices, plotting their next move.
The cold of the darkness passed over his skin like icy fingers, caressing his skin with feather light touches.
Panic welled up in Vincent, even though his logical mind couldn't find a reason for it.
He was simply walking down a forest path. He was in no danger, and yet...
Vincent forced his breathing back to normal and continued to walk at a deliberate pace.
Even though his logical mind told him he wasn't in danger, every instinct that he had was telling him that he should be running to get out of the forest as soon as possible.
The sound of movement from ahead drew Vincent's attention and he stopped to investigate.
Vincent looked around and finally was able to see a pair of pink eyes looking at him from just off the path.
"Who are you?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Who do you want me to be?" The voice answered softly.
Vincent cautiously took a step closer, determining from where the eyes were, that the mysterious person was quite a bit smaller than him.
"Come and play with me. I know lots and lots of games." The soft voice said in a low, sultry tone.
Vincent stopped, not liking the suggestive tone at all.
"Maybe some other time. I've got to go find my brother." Vincent said cautiously as he began to back away.
"Come and play with me. I'll make you feel good, I promise." The voice said a little more desperately and moved slightly closer, just into the light.
Vincent was only slightly surprised to see that the creature was a rabbit, larger than Pipi but with the same strange pink and brown swirls in his fur.
"Please play with me." The rabbit creature said with tears of frustration welling in his eyes.
"No. I've got to go." Vincent said firmly as he turned to leave.
"You can hurt me." the rabbit said in a softer voice.
"What?" Vincent asked reflexively and stopped again.
"You can do anything you like to me. Just make me feel." the rabbit creature said as he moved slightly closer.
"Stand back." A firm voice said from behind Vincent.
The rabbit creature froze in his tracks as he looked up.
Vincent turned and found himself staring up into the face of a deer.
The deer had a small rack of antlers with three points on each side.
Even though he was covered with short brown fur, his body was firm and tone... and definitely humanoid.
Vincent noticed that the deer creature's hands were completely human looking and didn't have any fur at all.
The deer wore a loincloth around his waist and held a wooden spear which he had poised, ready to throw at the small rabbit creature.
"It isn't safe for you here. You need to return to the Realm of Blades." the deer said to Vincent in a deep voice.
"I can't..." Vincent stammered, then after a moment to compose himself he continued, "I have to find my brother Lehman. The people back there, I guess in Blades, told me that I need to go to The Core and talk to the queen to find my brother."
"Then I will escort you. I am a member of the queen's guard and I am patrolling the forest path since we received reports that the Hoven are on the prowl."
"The Hoven?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Creatures like him." the deer said and gestured with his spear in the direction of the rabbit creature that was still watching them.
"What's wrong with him?" Vincent asked with concern.
"The Hoven gorge themselves on sensation. They live only for pleasure... and to contaminate others so their numbers will increase." the deer said darkly.
"But isn't there something we can do to help him?" Vincent asked as he noticed that the small furry creature was trembling, but he couldn't be sure if it was from fear or excitement.
"No. Once a person has been seduced by the Hoven and taken to their monstrous queen, they are lost forever." the deer said solemnly.
"Their queen?" Vincent asked slowly.
"A Succubus. A vile creature with the ability to read your deepest desire and enslave your very soul." the deer said seriously.
Vincent continued to watch the rabbit creature before him. It was obvious that he was in desperate need and was suffering.
"You're a member of the queen's guard, right?" Vincent asked in confirmation.
"Yes. I am Danas, sworn knight of the queen of all realms, protector of the innocent." the deer said firmly.
Vincent nodded, then said, "I am Vincent Winters and I am a Trach Manja. That means that I have the ability to change things that seem impossible to change. I understand your duty, so please understand mine. I have to help this guy."
"His name was Peiron." Danas said absently as he seemed to be considering Vincent's words.
"If there's anything I can do, if there's even a chance that I can help Peiron, I have to try. I wouldn't be worthy of the title Trach Manja if I walked away from this." Vincent said seriously.
"But what about your brother?" Danas asked calmly.
"Lehman is a Trach Manja just like I am. He knows what it means and he'll understand. If he were here he'd be doing exactly the same thing." Vincent said as he looked up into Danas' eyes.
"Very well. Since this is the course you have chosen, I will tell you that there is a rumor among the queen's knights. It is said that if you kill the Succubus, her spell will be broken. All those under her power will have their own free will returned to them." Danas said seriously.
"Why didn't you tell me that before?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Because it would be wrong to give false hope to the families of the Hoven when we have no way of defeating a Succubus. It is better for them to accept the loss so they can move on." Danas said quietly.
Vincent nodded, thinking of Naleen and Pipi and how they would be suffering right now if they were waiting on Peiron to come home.
"Also, it is only speculation. It has never been proven." Danas said quietly.
As soon as Vincent stepped off the path and out of the light, Peiron immediately grabbed onto his leg and hugged him tightly.
"Is he going to hurt me?" Vincent asked cautiously.
"Not precisely. He will try to seduce you so he can draw you to his queen." Danas said as he watched Peiron carefully.
"Okay. I don't see that being a problem... but do you think we can get him to stop humping my leg?" Vincent asked uncomfortably.
"Perhaps, but only if you find another way to provide him the stimulation he craves." Danas said slowly.
Vincent looked down at the furry creature for a moment, then said, "Never mind. Let's just get going before he finishes."
"Peiron, we would like to play. Do you know anyone else we can play with?" Danas asked carefully.
The rabbit creature stopped humping Vincent's leg and looked at Danas with complete joy as he said, "You're gonna play?"
"Yes." Danas said slowly, watching carefully for Peiron's reaction.
The small rabbit creature released Vincent's leg and moved toward Danas with caution as his eyes were transfixed on the loin cloth.
"But I wouldn't want Vincent to be left out. Is there someone else we can play with?" Danas asked in a leading tone.
Peiron didn't seem to hear as he took another step closer to Danas and reached out one paw toward the loin cloth.
His lower lip was quivering with excitement as he drew closer.
"Not yet." Danas said firmly, causing Peiron to jerk his paw away.
Peiron looked up at Danas with tear filled eyes and asked, "Can I see?"
Danas flashed an exasperated look at Vincent, then said to Peiron, "You have to find us someone else to play with. It'll be more fun if we can all play together. Find us someone else to play with and I'll show you."
"Show me first." Peiron said with a quiver in his voice.
Danas considered for a moment, then asked, "If I show you, then will you find us someone else to play with?"
Peiron nodded quickly, never taking his eyes off the loin cloth before him.
"Promise?" Danas asked as he moved his free hand down to the edge of his loin cloth.
"I promise! Show me!" Peiron said desperately.
Danas hooked one finger under the edge of the loin cloth, then slowly shifted it aside.
Vincent felt that he should look away, he fully intended to. But as the cloth was moved aside, he found that he was staring at Danas' penis with fascination.
To Vincent's surprise it looked fully human.
Danas was semi-erect and his entire crotch seemed to be hairless.
Peiron moved forward, obviously wanting to claim the cock with his mouth when Danas quickly shifted the loin cloth back into place.
"No. Please." Peiron begged.
"You promised. Find us someone else to play with and we can play for hours." Danas said carefully.
Peiron reluctantly shifted his gaze from the loin cloth up to Danas' eyes, then nodded his agreement.
"The sooner we find a playmate, the sooner you can have your prize." Danas said in a leading tone.
"This way... she's this way." Peiron said and left the path, hopping into the forest.
Vincent looked up at Danas with question.
"I hope that you really do have the power to change what is destined to be. Otherwise we will probably be 'playing' with Peiron for the remainder of our lives." Danas said, then started walking.
"I hope so too." Vincent muttered to himself as he left the relative safety of the path.
The trio traveled through the forest, barely able to see in the meager light that filtered in from the canopy of leaves above.
Finally they walked into a small clearing which was carpeted with a dense layer of moss.
"We're here! We're here! We're here! Can we play now?" Peiron asked as he nearly vibrated with his anticipation.
"Where is she?" Danas asked darkly as he held firmly to his spear.
"Danas." A woman's voice said in a low, sultry tone.
Vincent searched for the source of the voice and finally was able to make out the form of a female humanoid deer emerging from the edge of the clearing.
She was nude and was slowly stroking her large bare breasts as she looked at Danas through half lidded eyes.
"You..." Danas gasped as he froze at the sight.
"I want you Danas. I want you inside me." She said in a low, husky voice filled with desire.
"Fill me... complete me... make me yours..." She said in a seductive whisper as she took another step closer.
Vincent glanced at Danas with concern.
Danas had dropped his spear and his loin cloth was tented out, showing his obvious arousal.
"Danas. Listen to me. It's a trick." Vincent said as he quickly reached down and retrieved the spear.
"Kill him Danas. If you kill him you'll never have to go back. You'll always be loved. You'll always be mine." She said seductively.
Vincent looked from the Succubus to Danas cautiously. It was almost certain that he was going to be attacked, but the question at the moment was, by whom?
Finally, with obvious effort, Danas whispered, "No..."
Vincent didn't know how long Danas could withstand the temptation of the Succubus. If he was going to make a move, it would be now or never.
With the spear firmly in his hand, Vincent gathered his courage to face the Succubus.
Between one moment and the next, the Succubus changed from the voluptuous doe into the image of T'Lani.
Vincent's eyes went wide as he froze in his tracks.
"You are not fulfilling your responsibilities as my husband. It is your duty to bring pleasure to your wife. You have developed to a sufficient degree. Come... pleasure me." T'Lani said reasonably.
Vincent felt the electric tingle of desire spread through his body as his breath became shallow.
"Prove to me that you are an adult. Take me. Claim me as your wife." T'Lani said seductively.
Vincent blinked, then gripped the spear more firmly in his hand.
"You may be able to read my mind and know what I want, but you don't know anything about my wife." Vincent said, then lunged forward to stab at the Succubus with the spear.
She easily evaded the spear and moved into a defensive posture.
"My wife accepts me just like I am and would NEVER ask me to prove myself." Vincent said as he felt his rage building.
"And you dishonor my wife by looking like her and acting like such a slut." Vincent said with a growl, then lunged again.
The Succubus was able to evade Vincent's attack again, but just barely.
"My children, protect your queen!" T'Lani said firmly.
"Too late." Vincent said with a snarl as he moved to attack again.
Before he could move into action, he felt hands holding him back.
Vincent looked up and saw Danas pulling him away from the Succubus as Peiron grabbed onto his other side.
The Succubus chuckled with satisfaction as she transformed again, this time into a hideous, withered creature.
The snaggle toothed crone moved forward and stood over Vincent with satisfaction.
"It has been years... centuries... since I have been able to claim a child without illusion." the Succubus said with delight.
Vincent struggled, but found that Danas and Peiron were holding him firmly.
"Strip him and get him hard for me. When I've finished with him, I'll personally reward you both for your service." She said in a wheezy voice.
Danas began to open Vincent's jumpsuit as Peiron started to nuzzle and lick his neck.
As Danas began to pull the jumpsuit off Vincent's shoulders, he moved his mouth close to Vincent's ear and whispered, "The spear."
It took a moment for the words to register, especially since Peiron was tonguing his other ear, but as soon as he was able to comprehend what Danas had said, he discretely turned the spear he was still holding until it was easily within Danas' reach.
Peiron's paw began to playfully tease Vincent's left nipple as he nuzzled behind Vincent's ear.
Vincent let out an involuntary shudder of breath at the sensation and hoped that Danas would make his move soon.
"Slowly children. Slowly. This one is delicious." The withered crone said as she writhed with pleasure. A part of Vincent's mind realized that she was experiencing his emotions as he felt them.
Danas' fingertips dragged slowly down Vincent's chest and toward his belly, moving ever closer to the erection which was barely contained by the lower half of Vincent's jumpsuit.
"Yesssss..." The Succubus said as she shuddered with delight.
In a sudden flash of movement, the Succubus was staring with disbelief.
The spear was embedded in her chest as Danas knelt on one knee holding it in place.
Vincent blinked for a moment, then tried to get his breathing under control as he watched the Succubus clutching the spear, trying to pull it out.
Danas jammed the spear even deeper into her chest and watched her carefully, not knowing if she had another method of attack.
A gasp drew Vincent's attention and he turned to see Peiron writhing on the ground beside him.
After a deep, calming breath, Vincent started to pull the upper half of his jumpsuit back on.
"Vincent, hold the spear." Danas said firmly.
Without hesitation, Vincent hurried to Danas' side and took firm hold of the spear.
"Hold on tight." Danas said as he moved around so he was behind the Succubus.
Vincent held the spear with both hands and braced his weight against it.
Danas took firm hold of the Succubus' head with both hands, then sharply twisted until he heard a definite 'crack'.
"It is done." Danas said as he released the Succubus' head allowing it to fall limp against the creatures shoulder.
Vincent slowly released the spear he had been holding, then glanced over at Peiron with concern.
"It looks like he's in a lot of pain." Vincent said quietly.
"Um, Vincent... that's not pain." Danas said cautiously.
Vincent looked at Danas with question, then down at Peiron again.
Danas was right.
The expression on Peiron's face wasn't agony, it was absolute bliss.
Vincent looked at Danas with question at the unusual reaction.
"I believe I understand now. The Succubus seduced the Hoven with the promise of fulfillment and satisfaction, but once under her control they were treated to stimulation upon stimulation... they never achieved completion. That was what kept them in her power... the promise that at some point the building passion would finally be released." Danas said in a considering voice.
"So he's having an orgasm." Vincent said as he looked at Peiron uncertainly.
"It appears that he is having all the orgasms he has been denied since becoming Hoven." Danas said speculatively.
"Oh... um, wow." Vincent said as he watched the rabbit creature writhing in ecstasy.
"Now that the Succubus is dead, all those under her control should be released." Danas said seriously.
After a moment, Vincent asked, "Danas, are you alright? For a minute there it looked like she almost got to you."
"Yes... I never imagined that she would be so... real... If not for your comment about the dishonor she brought to your wife, I might have been fully seduced." Danas said with difficulty.
"I guess it's good to know that if she could turn into my deepest desire, that she turned into T'Lani for me... who did she turn into for you? Was that your wife or your girlfriend or what?" Vincent asked with interest.
"No... well, um... actually, that was my mother." Danas said shyly, and Vincent was certain that under his fur he was blushing.
After a moment of silence, Vincent absently muttered, "And I'm the one in therapy."
"How long do you think this is going to take?" Vincent asked as he watched Peiron cautiously.
"There is no way of knowing." Danas said regretfully.
"Well, I'm going to need to get to The Core so I can find my brother. If you can get me back to the path, I should be able to find my way." Vincent said seriously.
"Yes. I can carry Peiron and hopefully he will... finish... before we reach the path. Otherwise, I will carry him back to his home." Danas said slowly.
Vincent nodded, then realized that he hadn't finished getting dressed again.
"Vincent, I am curious to know, how effective was her seduction on you?" Danas asked as he lifted Peiron into his arms.
Peiron placed his paws around Danas' neck and let out a few gasps as he shifted slightly.
"Her image of T'Lani caused me to react the same as if she were really my wife... but I guess that since my logical mind knew that she wasn't really my wife it made me angry. I'm pretty sure that she could tell that there wasn't any way she was going to make me 'want' her... so she told you guys to get me worked up." Vincent said darkly as he slowly followed Danas through the dense trees.
"I'm sorry Vincent, but I couldn't take the chance that she would notice that I hadn't been fully seduced." Danas said quietly.
Vincent smiled and said, "I'm not mad at you, I was just surprised that two guys could, you know, get me going like that... it bothers me a little."
"A certain stimulus will cause a certain response. It wasn't the two of us that... got you going... it was the stimulation we were providing." Danas said seriously.
After a moment of thought, Vincent said, "Thanks Danas, you're probably right. But somehow I still feel like I betrayed T'Lani because I felt anything at all."
"I believe that is natural. The memory of the experience will most likely haunt me for some time to come as well." Danas said darkly.
"Yeah. If the Succubus had turned into my mom I'd probably be pretty freaked out right now." Vincent said in thought.
Silence fell between the pair as they traveled, only being broken by the occasional gasp or sigh from Peiron as he writhed in Danas' arms.
"Danas!" A panicked voice called from the distance.
"Let's hurry." Danas said as he started moving faster.
Vincent hurried his pace, having difficulty walking through the dense foliage in the forest.
"Danas!" Called again, sounding slightly closer this time.
"I am approaching the path!" Danas called in response.
After another minute of weaving through the trees and bushes, the forest path came into view.
"Danas! You must come to Pat. We need you right away." A small creature said past heavy breathing.
Vincent was surprised by the creature because, up to now, everyone he had encountered had seemed to be a variation of an animal he was familiar with.
This creature seemed to be one big furry round body with thin, spindly arms and legs.
"What is wrong?" Danas asked seriously.
"There is an Incubus in the village. We have him cornered. We need you right away!" The creature said in panic.
Danas considered for a moment, then asked, "If you could take Peiron back to the Realm of Blades for me and see that he is reunited with his family, Vincent and I can go to Pat and deal with this threat."
Vincent was a little bit surprised that he had been included in Danas' declaration, but didn't even think about protesting.
"Yes. Yes. Just please hurry." The creature said desperately.
Danas bent down and carefully handed Peiron to the creature.
"What is wrong with him? Is he ill?" The creature asked with concern.
"Vincent and I defeated the Succubus. Peiron has been released from her spell." Danas said seriously.
The creature stared at Danas with wonder.
"Come Vincent, we don't have a moment to spare." Danas said, then broke into a run.
Vincent turned and quickly followed.
"What's an Incubus?" Vincent asked as he ran.
"He is the male version of a Succubus. He will try to seduce and enthrall just as the Succubus did." Danas said seriously.
Vincent continued to run as he thought about what Danas was saying.
Finally Vincent asked, "But instead of becoming T'Lani, he'll turn into a guy?"
"Yes. He will become the image of the male who attracts you most." Danas said quickly.
"I'm not sure I want to know." Vincent said hesitantly.
"Could whatever image he chooses be worse than the one the Succubus took with me?" Danas asked seriously.
Vincent tried to restrain a chuckle as he said, "No. I don't think so."
"Follow me now. We can cut through the forest and will be at the village in just a moment." Danas said, then darted into the trees.
Vincent followed without hesitation as he considered who the Incubus might become to try and tempt him.
"Danas! He is in the town square. Please hurry." A stout, hairy creature said in a low voice.
"Come Vincent." Danas said as the pair entered the village.
The sounds of a crowd could be heard from ahead of them.
When they finally reached the center of the village, Vincent could see a snarling beast being kept in place by a group of small furry creatures, holding spears and all manor of farming tools.
"Stand aside. I am one of the Queen's Knights." Danas said firmly as he waded into the crowd.
The furry creatures parted before him and allowed Danas to approach the creature without delay.
Vincent followed closely, traveling in Danas' wake.
"Foul beast. We have just slain one of your sisters in the forest this day. Tell me, why have you come into the light?" Danas asked firmly.
The beast turned to face Danas, then saw Vincent and froze.
"Vincent?" It asked in a surprised growl.
"Yeah." Vincent said hesitantly.
The beast began to shrink and transformed into a blue skinned boy with golden eyes.
"It's me." Lehman said imploringly.
"Lehman?" Vincent asked uncertainly, not knowing if this was really Lehman or the Incubus trying to fool him.
"Stop this! Tell me why you are here or I will kill you where you stand!" Danas screamed as he held his spear firmly.
Vincent considered for a moment, then said, "Danas, this isn't an Incubus. This is my brother."
"The creature is trying to seduce you." Danas warned.
"No... if he were trying to seduce me, he would've become Benny." Vincent said, then froze as he realized what he'd just admitted.
"Um, Vincent. Do you think you can get these guys to stop poking me now?" Lehman asked hopefully.
Vincent blinked, then said, "Oh, um... yeah. Danas, I'm really sure. This guy isn't an Incubus. He's a Chameloid. That means he can change into different kinds of creatures."
"Only the Incubi and the Succubae have that ability." Danas said slowly.
"So do Chameloids. But they don't seduce people..." Vincent said, then turned to Lehman and asked, "You don't, do you?"
Lehman rolled his gold eyes and said, "You're being lotsa help brother."
Danas watched the exchange, then slowly lowered his spear.
"People of the village of Pat. This creature is no threat to you. He is simply a stranger." Danas said seriously.
"Are you sure?" One of the villagers asked cautiously.
"I will remain with him while he is in the village so you can be assured that he will cause no harm." Danas said firmly.
Murmurs spread through the crowd, but Danas' words were finally accepted.
Vincent walked to Lehman and pulled him into a firm hug.
"Did you see Vincent? I can change again." Lehman said happily, then to emphasize the point, he changed himself into an exact duplicate of Vincent.
"Perhaps it would be best if you not do that while we are in the village." Danas said carefully.
"Yeah. They think you're some kind of monster that will try to make them all into your sex slaves." Vincent said seriously.
"Really? So that's what all that was about... I was beginning to wonder what it was about me that they didn't like." Lehman said playfully.
Vincent hugged Lehman again, happy to know that he wasn't lost or hurt.
After a moment of hugging, Lehman finally asked, "So where are we?"
"In a dream, I think." Vincent said seriously.
"Do what?" Lehman asked with surprise.
"Okay. A while back I met this guy... a creature really... his name is Brakkii. He's, like, this interdimensional creature who can create dreams and illusions." Vincent said thoughtfully.
"And why would he create a dream like this?" Lehman asked as he looked around.
Vincent shrugged and said, "I guess so he could send us on an adventure. He really gets into stuff like that."
"I don't understand." Danas said slowly.
Vincent smiled up at Danas and said, "I don't either, not really. And it doesn't matter."
"But are you saying that this place... these people... I'm not real?" Danas asked in a diminishing voice.
Vincent noticed the devastated look in Danas' eyes and quietly said, "I really don't have those answers Danas."
"You said that this, um... what's his name? Brakkii?" Lehman asked cautiously.
"You said he was an interdimensional being, right?" Lehman asked carefully.
"Yeah." Vincent said, keeping a careful watch on Danas' expression.
"Well, my people believe that the world of dreams is it's own dimension. When a person dreams, their spirit is actually transported to spend a brief time in the dream dimension where their thoughts and memories can change the shape of the world around them." Lehman said carefully.
Vincent slowly nodded that he understood.
"And my people also believe that there are creatures who have ascended and have the ability to travel on the dream web." Lehman said as he looked at Vincent seriously.
"Dream web?" Vincent asked cautiously.
Lehman nodded and said, "All the dreams in the dream dimension are connected by threads of collective consciousness. The dream walkers have the ability to walk from dream to dream and can even carry things from one dream to another."
Vincent nodded in thought.
"So are you saying that you believe that I exist in this 'dream dimension'?" Danas asked carefully.
Lehman thought for a moment, then shrugged and said, "I'm saying it's possible. All I know is that I laid down in one world and woke up in another."
"Danas, you think, you feel, you have your own dreams. To me that means that you're real. It doesn't matter if this is some freaky dream or a dream dimension. As far as I'm concerned, when I leave or wake up or whatever, I'm going to believe that you're still here protecting the realms and serving the queen." Vincent said seriously.
Lehman smiled and said, "And we're Trach Manjai, when we believe something, it makes a difference."
"Thank you. Both of you." Danas said quietly.
A squeal drew the trio's attention.
"It's Magdon! He's come back!" A female voice said in wonder.
"I wonder what's up with that?" Lehman said as he watched the crowd gather around a stranger walking into town.
"The Hoven have been released from the control of the Succubus." Danas said with a contented smile.
Lehman looked at Vincent with question.
"The slaves of the Succubus have been freed and are returning home. Their families have been considering them dead because no one has ever returned after being under her control." Vincent explained quietly.
"Daddy!" A child's voice exclaimed and two, three, finally five little furry creatures ran to greet a weary looking man walking into town.
"Okay, I guess now that Lehman is safe and the Hoven are free there's nothing left for us to do except go to The Core. Where do we have to go next?" Vincent asked Danas seriously.
"To get to The Core from here, we would either need to travel through the Mountains of Despair and cross the Swamp of Abject Misery or we could traverse the Plains of Cruelty and Terror then follow the river of Anguish through the Valley of Desolation and Hopelessness." Danas said in thought.
"I think I'm sensing a theme here." Lehman said with a grin at Vincent.
"Yeah, I'm getting that too. " Vincent said with a chuckle at Lehman, then turned to Danas and asked, "I guess this means that there's no valley of cuddles and snuggles anywhere, huh?"
"The Valley of Cuddles and Snuggles is in Pannikin. That is quite distant from here and nowhere near The Core... why would you wish to go there?" Danas asked curiously.
"Never mind." Vincent said with a chuckle, then shared an amused glance with Lehman, "Besides, it doesn't matter which way we'll be going, as long as we're together I know that we'll be fine."
Lehman smiled at Vincent's assurance and nodded his agreement.
"Which way do you think is going to be best Danas? They all sound pretty bad." Vincent asked as he turned his attention back to the large deer creature who had become his unlikely friend.
After a moment to consider, Danas said, "The Mountains of Despair. The geography is constantly changing and it's possible that we may be able to completely avoid the Swamp."
"It changes?" Lehman asked curiously.
"Yes. And due to the changes it is easy to become trapped in a dead end canyon or to suddenly find oneself on a mountain peak with no way to climb down until it changes again." Danas said seriously.
"It sounds pretty dangerous." Vincent said with concern.
"It is, but if we keep our wits about us, we should be able to make our way through unharmed. On the Plains of Cruelty and Terror, we would constantly have to be on guard from attack. And, assuming we survived that, we would still have to pass through the Valley of Desolation and Hopelessness where travelers are compelled to relive the darkest moments of their lives over and over again." Danas said with menace.
"Okay. Let's not do that." Vincent said uneasily.
Lehman emphatically nodded his agreement.
"Then we should go. Delaying our journey accomplishes nothing." Danas said firmly.
"Are you sure it's okay if you come with us? I mean, I wouldn't want to take you away from your duty." Vincent asked Danas with concern.
"This is my duty. If you wish to know more of my motives, we can talk while we travel." Danas said, then suited actions to words as he began to walk away.
Vincent and Lehman looked back at the village where everyone was welcoming the recovered Hoven into their town.
"Okay Lehman, I don't know what's up ahead, but just so you know. Cowardly Lion, good. Flying monkeys, bad." Vincent said as they began to walk.
"What?" Lehman asked in confusion.
"I don't know if it'll come up, but I thought you should know just in case." Vincent said as he walked a little faster to catch up with Danas.
I must say that was a very unusual chapter, although it was very interesting.
I want to make a comment here because I am certain someone will correct me if I am wrong, but as I read through this chapter, I didn't find one single thing that I felt needed changing. Let me revoke that statement just a little bit. according to the spell checker, there are some misspelled words, and guess what! I only changed one, 'Incubus'.
Does that mean that I have no imagination. or is MultiMapper just having a very good day?
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher