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Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Issue 39: Sword and Sorcery

Edited by Shousetsu Bang*Bang
Smashwords Edition
Copyright 2012 Shousetsu Bang*Bang

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Shousetsu Bang*Bang Issue 39 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Table of contents

Up the Garden Path, by shukyou (主教),

illustrated by noodlenoggen

Things Left Unseiðr, by Kirisaki Nizuki (霧崎弐透)

The City of a Thousand Days, by Ogiwara Saki (荻原咲),

illustrated by beili

Flight, by Kikuna Matata (菊菜 瞬),

illustrated by noodlenoggen

Rough Day at Sea, by Shokushu Ritsuka (植朱立歌)

Triune, by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ),

illustrated by cerine

The King of Bayan, by Shikkoku no Suzu (漆黒のスズ)

Ash and Incense, written and illustrated by Iron Eater

Diplomacy, by Kougyoku (紅玉),

illustrated by Prosodi

And I shall know you like the back of my hand, by Nijiiro Sumi (虹色墨)

Hack and Slash, by Kaerutobi Ike (蛙跳び池),

illustrated by neomeruru

touch my mouth and hold my tongue, by hakugei (白鯨)

A Divinis, by Matsu Kasumi

The Eye of Nechemyyeh, by Tsukizubon Saruko (月図凡然る子),

illustrated by neomeruru

Front cover by enduro

Edited and published by the Shousetsu Bang*Bang editorial staff. Read more about this issue at

Up the Garden Path

by shukyou (主教)
illustrated by noodlenoggen

Ianaver Swordhand is a human fighter. Standing a majestic six and a half feet tall, he has high strength and charisma balanced by relatively low speed and dexterity. He wears a dwarf-forged breastplate, a gift from Nortiln Giantcrippler, the party’s other fighter (and himself a dwarf); he wields a sword that has a plus-three in dragonslaying, which is reputed to be very handy should he ever be approached by a dragon.

Literally the only reason Noah can remember most of this is because it’s all written on the piece of paper in front of him, on the table between his can of PBR and Jai’s bag of white cheddar popcorn.

“Coming over the ridge, you see a forest,” says Ruby, her words slightly garbled by the stick of red licorice jammed in the corner of her mouth like the world’s floppiest cigarette. “Huge fucking forest. We’re talking trees as far as the eye can see. An eerie mist rolls along the ground, shrouding the interior in mystery. Other than that, though, it looks like a completely ordinary forest.”

“I think I’d like to know more about this forest,” says Jai, speaking not so much for himself as for Viceak Hawklight, centuries-old human mage, whose magics have over time turned his skin a copper sheen and deepened his human eyes into dark pools of starlight. Jai has a little pewter statue in front of him of an inch-high wizard, painted appropriately. All the others have similar miniatures of their characters, except for Ruby, because being the DM is apparently the opposite of having a single character, and Noah, because this is his first game. “I’m casting a spell of checking that mother out.”

Ruby shrugs and nudges a red die across the table to him. “Roll for perception, wizard.”

Jai takes his hand that was resting on Noah’s knee and picks up the die, then drops it a few inches above the table; it clatters around the detritus there and comes to a stop on the far side of Layni’s beer. “Wizard fail-rolls a two,” says Layni, picking up her beer to show the table the outcome of the die’s fall.

“Looks like a completely ordinary forest!” chirps Ruby, looking smug. Jai mock-scowls at her, which only makes her smugness grow. “Who wants to check it out?”

“I want to check the hell out of that completely ordinary forest,” says Walker, who is, for all intents and purposes, Nortiln Giantcrippler. He told Noah at the beginning of the game that ‘Giantcrippler’ is actually just a family name and some of his best friends are giant, and Noah’s subsequent befuddlement made Jai laugh. Noah doesn’t want to be nervous around these people, especially since they’re Jai’s best friends, but he can’t help it; he’s never had a boyfriend before, never done the meet-the-friends thing before, and never played a tabletop role-playing game before. Considering that his parents never miss a Sunday evening service at the Emmanuel Korean Baptist Church, he’s not sure what part of this equation would upset them the most.

They do seem like good people, though, and they’ve been nothing but nice to Noah for the past several hours, even as they’ve grown drunker and more ridiculous. Zak — or, rather, Corhana Beestinger the halfling rogue, though Noah isn’t entirely sure what either of those last two words mean — raises a fist to the air. “I will go with my dwarf friend into this forest! And if anything dangerous should be found in there, well, I run faster than he does.”

“If anything dangerous is in there, I’m going to pick you up and toss you into its mouth,” says Walker, miming doing just that while Zak laughs. “And then plunder your digested corpse for your invisibility cloak.”

“Is that any way to treat a dead lady?” asks Zak, holding a knobby, unladylike hand to his chest.

“I’ll go too,” says Noah, doing his best to get into the spirit of things. “Into the forest, I mean.”

The other players at the table give a rousing cheer and drink from their respective cans of beer, which Noah has come to recognize as a gesture of support and encouragement, so he smiles and drinks along with them. “Our newest ally has the adventuring spirit!” declares Layni on behalf of half-elf cleric Ravamorel Greensleeves, whose tiny pewter self wears a very shiny blue hooded cloak. “Let’s send him in first.”

Jai squints a scowl at her; Noah has realized that most of the tabletop interactions here involve pretending to be angry while other people laugh, which is new to him, but still strangely appealing as far as group dynamics go. “Let’s send our rogue in first to check for traps in this completely ordinary forest.”

“I’m with the half-elf here,” says Zak, jerking his thumb in the direction of Layni, who is, according to Jai’s brief preparatory dossier email, Zak’s real-life girlfriend; Noah hates himself for being stereotypical about it, but having a girlfriend is not what he would have expected from a man playing a female character. They make a cute pair of opposites, though, with his muted hipster palette next to her bright punky pinks and rainbows. They make Noah a little nervous too, though, because if they’re this group’s standard for an adorable, stable relationship, that standard is pretty high.

“All right,” says Ruby, waving her hand in the middle of the table to get everyone’s attention. “We shall push ourselves past this impasse in our traditional manner: democracy. All those in favor of the more traditional approach to the problem of an unfamiliar area — which would be sending in our most alert and perceptive party member — show of hands?” Jai raises his and elbows Noah, who follows suit. “All those in favor of sending our newest and least experienced player into a treacherous situation where he’s probably going to be eaten…?” Walker, Zak, and Layni all raise their hands. “Ah, democracy! Cowboy up, Swordhand, you’re leading the pack.”

Jai rolls his eyes. “Fine, but as a stalwart guardian of the realm and upholder of the good, et cetera, et cetera, I insist I be allowed to follow at his side.”

Ruby glances over at the other players. “Acceptable?” The three nod. “Fantastic. Accompanied by Viceak Hawklight, you, Sir Ianaver Swordhand, venture forward into the completely ordinary forest, as your trusty companions wait just beyond the borders of the wood for word of your findings. You step inside and a great and eerie quiet surrounds you; there are no sounds of birds or wild animals, and no wind rustles the leaves in the trees. You venture onward until you come to a clearing, off of which branch three paths. The first is well-lit by the sun and lined by many colorful flowers. The second is darker and mossy, and in the distance you can hear the sound of running water. The third is the darkest, but as you peer into the dimness, you can see that it ends at the mouth of a foul-smelling cave. Where shall you go?”

“Well, brave fighter,” asks Jai with a smile, “which way do we pick?”

Noah frowns, thinking on his choices. “Does it matter?” The last thing he wants is to make a bad decision at a crucial moment.

“Yes and no,” says Jai, stretching his arm across the back of Noah’s chair so that his fingertips rest against the skin just above Noah’s shirt collar; Noah, aware everyone’s eyes are on him, tries not to shiver visibly. “There’s a different story down each path, but you can’t pick a wrong one. Just whichever sounds like the best to you.”

Popping a watermelon jelly bean in his mouth for courage, Noah nods. “Flowers and sunlight sound okay. Let’s go that way.”

“First path it is!” announces Ruby with a smile. “Are you going to check it out first, or are you just going to walk straight ahead?”

Is there anything I should check out?”

“Roll to see,” says Ruby, pushing the red die back to Noah. Noah tosses it; it comes up with a five. “Okay, you smell something. It’s a nice smell, though. Very green, like you get when you walk into a florist’s. Does this change your mind?”

Noah looks at Jai. “Should it?”

Jai shrugs, still stroking the back of Noah’s neck with tiny brushes of his fingertips. “Depends on if you like flowers.”

“Flowers are good.”

“I’ll remember that.” Jai winks.

“You step forward down the floral path,” narrates Ruby, reading from a tattered manual she holds in her lap, turned so none of the players can see what’s inside. The top right corner of the front cover has the name ‘Arjuna Bhattacharya’ handwritten on it in thick black marker; technically it belongs to her older brother, but since he left for college years ago without taking it with him, she has declared it rightfully hers. She’s Jai’s oldest friend on campus — they’ve known one another since middle school — and Jai made a point to take Noah out to lunch with her before inviting him to the group’s long-standing Thursday night game. Noah thinks she likes him, but she’s got the kind of pixie face and dry sense of humor that make it so hard to tell. “The air is sweet and clear here, far less oppressive than it was in the earlier sections of the forest. Gentle vines cling to the sides of trees and drape down over the path.”

“Well, while you guys are tiptoeing through the tulips,” says Walker, pushing back from his chair, “this dwarf is going to ye oldey refrigerator for another round. More ale for my companions?”

“And make some more popcorn,” says Layni, rocking back in her chair to look up at his face; he’s built like the high school football player he used to be, and he towers over her. Zak keeps a hand on her knee, steadying her against toppling over. “I got a new box yesterday. It’s in the middle cabinet.”

“Ale and the traditional half-elf snack of choice! My quest begins!” Walker gives the table a deep, ostentatious bow before turning and crossing the ten feet into the apartment’s half-kitchen, separated from the main room room by a planter wall stacked high with papers, books, and the other trappings of a three-bedroom off-campus apartment inhabited by four people who aren’t too fastidious about cleaning. Noah’s been here before, but only when no one else was home and only long enough for Jai to pick up a book he’d forgotten. It’s different now, full of noise and beer cans, and he likes it better this way.

Jai picks up the die and spins it with his fingertips. “All right, I’d like to look around,” he says, and he drops the die; it clatters and comes up twelve.

Ruby consults her book, tracking her place with the eraser end of a pencil. “Okay, so maybe it’s an enchanted forest.”

“I am shocked,” says Jai, sounding not shocked at all. “What do I see in this enchanted forest?”

“Four objects!” Ruby holds up her left hand and ticks the items off on her ring-covered fingers as she goes along; the rings are big and plastic, and none of the stones are red. “You see: a small orange rock with some writing on it, a rusted ancient arrowhead, a white bone, a lavender flower on a tall stalk.”

Jai smiles at Noah and squeezes his knee. “I am going to pick that flower and present it to Sir Swordhand as a token of my affection, because he likes flowers.”

Noah knows something has gone terribly wrong when he sees the mischievous-yet-polite smirk on Ruby’s face corkscrew into a full-on evil grin. “You bend down,” she says, leaning forward and letting the book slide down in her lap, “and grasp the stem of the flower. Because you didn’t roll a sixteen or higher, though, you don’t notice the trap until it’s too late. When you tug on the flower, the stem doesn’t let go, but a poof of bright violet powder blasts out, covering your face and chest. Surprised, you gasp and breathe it in.”

Sensing that the moment for action has fallen to him, Noah sits up a little straighter. “I, uh, ask him what’s wrong.”

Jai opens his mouth to reply, but before he can say anything, Ruby cuts in: “He can’t answer. The pollen’s taking hold of him. He writhes on the ground. If only your half-elf cleric had come with you, her knowledge of herbology might come in handy here.”

“Cleric is currently waiting for her traditional snack,” Layni calls over her shoulder. The first sound from the kitchen area is a rude one, followed by the startup whir of a microwave.

“Is it … poison?” asks Noah. It seems stupid, but this has become oddly stressful for him; Jai has been playing the same character with these guys for two years now, and Noah can’t imagine it’ll help their relationship if said character dies at the imaginary hands of his stupid new boyfriend.

Ruby’s expression softens a little. “Okay, fortunately you remember that when you were all crossing the Snake Tongue River an hour ago, you agreed to carry some of the things from other people’s packs because you’re stronger than they are, and one of the things you took was Ravamorel’s copy of 1001 Wild Herbs and Magical Plants, third edition, translated into the Common tongue. You pull it from your pack, turn to the index, and flip through until you find a drawing of the flower in question: the Phalla Lily.”

Jai points an accusing finger at Ruby. “You suck.”

“And you are currently in the paralytic throes of arousal, so hush.” Ruby whacks his finger with her pencil before turning her attention back to Noah. “The pollen of the Phalla Lily is known throughout the land for one key property: its incredible, insatiable, incurable aphrodisiac qualities. Persons who inhale the pollen must be guided to orgasmic release soon, lest they die of unsatisfaction.”

“‘Unsatisfaction’?” Zak snorts a laugh. “The publishing house needs a better translator.”

Hapa elf problems,” Layni says, holding her hand up for a fistbump that Zak returns, complete with subsequent explosion.

“Reading further,” Ruby continues, though Noah gets the strong impression she isn’t actually reading anything at all, “you see that the pollen is very fast-acting, leaving its victims dead within hours, sometimes even within minutes. You can run back the way you came, find your other party members, see if any of them have the items to make the antidote, and return to where your comrade lies, wrestling for his life against the effects of the Phalla Lily — assuming, that is, you can find your way both out and back again. Or you can take matters into your own hands.”

A quick survey of the faces around the table — including Walker’s, come back from the kitchen with a bowl of red-dusted popcorn in one hand and a six-pack in the other — reveals four devilish grins and one frown that has no joking behind it, the latter of which belongs to Jai and is turned on their DM. “Come on, Ruby,” he sighs, stroking the back of Noah’s neck. They haven’t been dating long, but in that time, Jai has definitely shown himself capable of keeping an eye out on Noah’s behalf. He’s two years older than Noah, he’s got more experience with things like school and living on his own and being openly gay, and here he is again, ready to save Noah from a sticky situation, even if said rescue involves Jai’s putting himself between his new boyfriend and his old friends.

In that moment, Noah understands what’s happening. “No, wait,” he says, and Jai pauses, caution still furrowing his brows. There’s no need for caution now, though, not with the stakes so high. This is as clear a mission as he’s been given all evening, clearer than the party’s first battle against the skeleton knights, clearer than bartering with the troll blacksmith, clearer than the drinking contest with the centaur bard. It’s a challenge, and he can back down from it or he can rise to it.

And he hasn’t been playing the game for the last three hours without learning something about courage.

Noah looks Ruby in the eye. “I take his pants off.”

The table explodes in another round of cheers and Walker puts an open can of beer right in front of Noah, then claps him on the back so hard Noah worries for a moment that his lungs may have exited through the front of his chest. “You roll to take his pants off, Sir Swordhand,” says Ruby, pushing a blue four-sided die his way.

Noah tosses the die with confident force and it bounces once before coming up a bright white 4. “That means no more pants, right?”

“For a four, you can take off everything he’s got on,” declares Ruby. “You remove his wizard’s robe, his wizard’s hat, his wizard’s breeches, and his wizard’s anything else he’s got on under there — and because you rolled so well, any wizarding booby traps he’s got going are rendered null and void.”

“I don’t have wizarding booby traps in my underwear,” says Jai, who still sounds a little cautious, but has begun to relax and lean back against the back of his chair. He raises an eyebrow at Noah, who gives him a thumbs-up in response. Noah’s come this far, he can’t back down now.

“Underwear or in any other places.” Ruby leans forward and rests her elbows on the table, no longer making even the pretense of reading the book. “And you are still incapacitated by the pollen, unable to speak or control your movements or, really, do anything that isn’t gaze up into Sir Swordhand’s eyes, begging silently for the release you so ache for. So zip it.”

With a sigh that can’t hide the smile behind it, Jai draws an invisible zipper tag over the line of his closed lips. “Okay,” says Noah, considering his options, “I … consult the book to see if it has any tips on the most effective things. Positions. Effective positions.”

Ruby shakes her head. “The book itself has no recommendations. However, there are several blank pages in the back which Ravamorel has used to make her own annotations. Perhaps something may be found there….?”

“Oh, yeah.” Layni pops a piece of popcorn in her mouth — the mysterious red is chili powder, Noah can smell it even at a distance — and wipes her fingers on a napkin. “Big ol’ section titled Sex Pollen Tips, followed by more than a few mentions of penetration and some schematic drawings of medieval strap-ons. Thorough. You’re lucky I take such detailed notes.”

Noah thinks on this a moment. “Do the notes indicate which person has to be the one penetrated?”

“The notes,” says Layni with a shrug, “are unspecific.”

He and Jai have had penetrative sex exactly twice, which is not-coincidentally the exact number of times Noah has had penetrative sex, period, both encounters in Noah’s tiny dorm room, both times with Noah on all fours against the mattress, Jai kneeling behind him, and a soon-to-need-laundering towel spread beneath them. Noah, however, has been sure of his sexual orientation for nearly a decade and, having had no one around he could trust with that information until quite recently, learned at a young age how to bypass the parental controls on his computer. Theoretical information is still information. “I search through his pack for something approaching lube,” Noah says, thinking practically.

The move actually seems to catch Ruby by surprise, and she bites her lower lip, thinking. “Wizards don’t often carry around K-Y–”

“Actually,” Zak interrupts, “Sir Swordhand needs to look in his own pack, because back when we were crossing the Snake Tongue River, I gave him all my non-essentials because I was tired of carrying them on my little halfling back, and one of the things in there was a jar of Lamia Oil, known for both its non-toxicity and its lubricative properties.”

Snickering, Walker cocks an eyebrow at him. “And where did you pick up this jar of Lamia Oil, exactly?”

Zak just smiles. “Oh, you know me. Wherever we go, picking pockets, making friends.”

“All right!” Ruby claps her hands together. “After searching through Viceak’s pack and finding nothing, you get the brilliant idea that you should probably search through your own pack, just in case. In there is a jar of Lamia Oil, which I really hope for your sake smells better than it sounds.”

“Like a summer breeze,” Zak promises. “Made from snake-ladies. Try not to think about it.”

“And I’m just lying here?” asks Jai.

“Yep!” chirps Ruby. “Sweating and writhing and gasping. Here.” She nudges an orange twelve-sided die his way. “Roll for cock size.”

Jai manages to look mortally offended as he picks up the die. “These are my options?”

“Wizard Hawklight, you are no doubt hiding many things under your robes, but I refuse to entertain the possibility that one of those things is a twenty-inch fleshy magic wand. Now toss it or I’ll default to one.”

Jai rolls both the die and his eyes, and the former comes up nine. “A nine-inch copper cock,” says Layni thoughtfully. “I think I’ve got one of those in my bedside drawer.”

“I think I gave it to you last year for Eid,” adds Zak.

“Hey,” says Walker, poking Zak in his side, “you never give me anything for Eid.”

Zak pokes him right back. “You don’t even know what Eid is.”

“Apparently you get sex toys for gifts, which means I want in on it.”

“Can we please,” Ruby says, tossing a crumpled-up empty bag of Skittles in their direction, “concentrate on the terrible, life-threatening plight that has befallen our dear wizard companion?” With exaggerated choirboy poses of innocence, they both sit up in their chairs; Ruby gives the situation a nod of approval and turns back to Noah. “Okay, Sir Swordhand: wizard defrocked, nine-inch throbbing turgid cock exposed, snake-lady-summer-breeze lube acquired, situation dire — what now?”

Well, Noah supposes, there’s nothing like going all the way. “I take off all my armor and clothes too.”

I,” Layni interjects, “am getting a tingling in that special sense I have when there are naked men somewhere in the area, and I ask my companions if they don’t want to go on in and check on our friends, who may be in some unspecified peril. Are my companions with me?”

“Aye!” cry Zak and Walker in unison, lifting their cans of beer for punctuation.

Ruby nods. “All right, you three start making your way through the forest, taking your time, checking for traps and not pulling up any flowers like a dumbass. But you,” she says, turning back to Noah, “don’t know they’re coming or even how quickly they’ll arrive, so you’ve got to act quickly.”

“I take the Lamia Oil and–” Noah stops, considering his actions. “Is it more like olive oil and sort of liquid, or more jelly like Vaseline?”

Ruby looks to Zak, who declares, “Vaseline.”

Noah supposes that this is the best way to tell Jai that he’d like to switch around in bed sometime. “I take the Lamia Oil and slick up my cock.”

Walker picks up the twelve-sided die and tosses it, grinning at the result. “You mean, your twelve-inch cock.”

“Yes, my foot-long cock,” says Noah, feeling a little flush rise in his cheeks at talking so dirty in front of people he’s only just met, but pushing past that embarrassment as he glances beside him and sees Jai. Any previous look of concern is gone, replaced instead by a pink glow over his pretty brown cheeks, and he’s caught the corner of his lower lip between his teeth, though Noah suspects Jai doesn’t know he’s doing that. As encouragement goes, it doesn’t get much better than this. “And now it’s covered in Lamia Oil.”

“Your twelve-inch sword stands at the ready, jutting out from your lean, muscled fighter’s body, prepared to meet its target,” narrates Ruby, lips twisted into a grin. “Beneath you, on the blanket of his robes, in uncontrolled response to the sight of your magnificent prick, Viceak spreads his knees and gasps.” She gestures to Jai, who makes the appropriate sound effect. “Already, the poison is seeping into his brain. He only has one chance. His life is in your hands! What will you do next?”

Noah considers how to phrase his actions, then just goes for it. “I kneel down between his legs, grasp his thighs, and penetrate him.”

Zak hisses through his teeth. “Twelve inches all at once?”

“I–” Noah frowns, trying to cover for how he hadn’t quite thought through the mechanics of that one. “Well, there’s no time to lose, right?”

“Roll to see how that went over,” says Ruby. Noah does, and the twenty-sided die comes up eighteen. “Oh, you’re in luck, the wizard likes it rough. Penetrated, he gasps again!” Ruby waits until Jai complies with her prompting, though Noah can hear that the sound, while comic, also has a note of sincere need to it. “His cock stirs and stiffens even further, bobbing with every thrust you make into him and slickening his belly! At this moment, your companions walk into the clearing and catch you two in flagrante delicto! Companions, your response?”

“I reach into my dwarf-pack and pull out my trusty silver violin,” says Walker. “Mood music.”

“Actually, now that I’m here, I’m just going to sit under a tree and watch.” Layni keeps munching at the popcorn; she’s been waging her own campaign against it all this time, and has nearly succeeded in eliminating the horde.

“Yeah, don’t stop on our account,” says Zak. “Unless the dwarf music gets bad, in which case you should stop and throw something at him.”

Walker sniffs. “I am the Isaac Hayes of dwarf violinists.”

“Surrounded by your companions, some of whom are more helpful than others,” Ruby says, eyeing their side of the table, “you continue to thrust against one another’s bodies. Your sweat combines with the Lamia Oil and makes your bodies slip and slide together. Your manly pheromones fill the glade. All the tree pixies and other sentient magical creatures of the forest poke their heads out to see what’s going on, then stay for the free show. Gasping and thrusting, you pleasure one another as best as you’re able, considering the circumstances.”

Noah is glad he’s scooted his chair in close to the table, because Ruby’s words are certainly having an effect on him — not thinking about some burly barbarian-man ramming some metal-skinned wizard exhibitionist-style in a magical flowering forest, but picturing how he wants to fuck Jai like that, off where no one is watching. He doesn’t have a twelve-inch cock or magical snake-lady lube, and Jai isn’t incapacitated with an aphrodisiac, but he doesn’t suppose any of those things really matter. He gives Jai’s leg a little nudge under the table, and Jai nudges him right back, which is as good as a promise of later.

“I suppose if I’m trying to get him off,” says Noah, “I should be giving him a handjob while I’m fucking him.”

“Oh, and your hand is lubed up, which is an automatic plus-two to a handjob,” Ruby says, and Noah knows she’s just making this all up now, and he doesn’t even care. “His nine-inch prick slides through your slick, hot fist. He writhes beneath you as his orgasm builds. His flushed skin is warm to the touch. For several minutes you pound into him, withdrawing all twelve inches of your frankly ridiculous penis before plunging it back in, over and over again. At last, he stands on the brink of orgasm! Roll to make him come!”

It’s such an absurd command that Noah is momentarily paralyzed with inaction — but then he complies with all due diligence. He sweeps his arm across the table, picking up all six die that have gotten scattered across the surface through the evening’s activities. Clutching them in his fist, he lifts his hand a foot above the table and lets go, setting off a rain of numbers that clatters across the table’s hard surface. In the middle comes down the largest of the die, its upwardmost face showing a bright red 20. “He comes,” declares Noah with an air of triumph.

“He comes!” echoes Ruby, making the statement a triumphant cry. “Buckets and buckets of sticky, hot come, all over your bare bodies! Just huge white explosions of spooge! Looks like it’s been snowing liquid on his chest! Spunk everywhere! And it’s the antidote! He’s going to be okay!”

“Well, thank fuck for that,” says Jai. “Can I move and talk again?”

Ruby nods. “Well, the pollen isn’t keeping you down any longer, but you’ve still got a rock-hard foot-long jing-jang shoved up your fundament, so asking if you can move is a complicated question.”

“Unspeakably grateful to my savior, I seize both sides of his face in my hands and pull him in for a long, passionate kiss,” says Jai, who grabs Noah’s face and does exactly that. He tastes like beer and the pizza they ate earlier and a few bites of Layni’s horrible spicy popcorn and it’s wonderful, all wonderful. The others around the table laugh and applaud, but Noah’s only concerned with Jai’s approval, and now that he’s gotten it, nothing else matters.

“Well, Sir Swordhand,” says Ruby as Jai finally lets him go, “your mission has been accomplished, though you yourself are still in quite a state; what would you like to do about that?”

Before Noah can answer, Jai stands and grabs the collar of Noah’s shirt, dragging him to his feet. “I think we need to go discuss his actions and decisions during this event in private,” says Jai, tugging Noah with him back to the trio of bedrooms at the other end of the apartment. “Give him some pointers, help him find some places to improve, maybe have a couple reenactments….”

Noah steadies himself against the wall to keep from falling over. He can’t stop grinning when he sees the faces of Jai’s friends smiling back at him; he feels about as good as he expects he would have if he’d slain a real dragon. “So, will Sir Swordhand be riding with us again next week?” Zak calls after them, giving Noah a big wink.

“If I survive this performance review, I’ll let you know,” Noah promises, laughing as Jai pulls him into another enthusiastic kiss, then yanks him into the bedroom and slams the door shut behind them.

Author’s Notes

Things Left Unseiðr

by Kirisaki Nizuki (霧崎弐透)

Shouts still rang out through the war camp, echoing through the shallow valley and making it difficult to tell which side of the besieged city they came from. The tents surrounding the breached stone walls sported almost as many scars and stitches as did the warriors running to and fro, each focusing single-mindedly on his assigned task with little regard for the corpses littering the blood-stained grass underfoot.

The fourth wave had fallen back after the walls had been breached, both yielding with only a bit of reluctance to Commander Ragnar’s orders. The man’s voice rumbled through the valley like thunder from Thor’s mighty hammer, audible above the din even when one’s own voice was not. Had it been anyone else leading the siege this season, the ferocious Ulfhednar berserkers in their wolfskin coats would have forced their way into the city, its houses, and any peasant men or women holed up within. But it was not yet time. Ragnar was said to know everything except defeat, and his warriors held none but the gods in higher esteem. The fifth and final assault would not begin until he gave the command.

Trudging through the camp with a pail of scented water in hand, the only man who looked upon the carnage around him with distaste stepped gracefully around a bloody axe wedged into the ground. Its wielder was still holding it in a white-knuckled grip, unwilling to let go even with his torso lying a good ten paces away. The man with the wash bucket closed his eyes for a moment and lowered his head, his tangled brown curls falling in around his ashen face as he whispered a silent prayer to the Valkyries for the fallen warrior’s soul.

Ulfvald had never understood the appeal of the annual campaign. The other men of his clan revelled as much in bloodshed by day as they did in honeyed mead by night. When they were not at war, he loved the culture of his people, the food, the stories, the music, the poetry. But everyone else seemed to see that as just one half of the rhythm of their lives. For him, it was the only half he could relate to. In the winter, his preferred half was dominant, but with the turn of the seasons came the return of this unpleasant business. And to what end? So the dead warriors’ souls could be taken up to fight with the gods in yet more wars?

He turned to continue onward with the bucket he had been asked to fetch, yet a particular sound made him stop abruptly. With all the chaos raging around camp, no other man would have heard the faint palpitation, but Ulfvald knew it was a sign of trouble. It was the beat of a cowardly heart, seeking a way to convince itself that it was not afraid; Ulfvald knew from experience that a weak soul in a strong body was not to be taken lightly. Reaching his free hand into his white robe, he grasped his bronze pendant tightly, feeling its radiant energy curling eagerly up his forearm and making the fine hairs stand on end.

“What do you want, fat man?” said Ulfvald, his eyes narrowing as he turned to face the interloper. The man in front of him was indeed large, his shield and spear the size of toys next to his girth.

“Fucking stroðinn,” spat the man, making an obscene gesture with his spear. “Been penetrated yet today? That’s what you seiðr witches do all day, isn’t it? How you work your cowardly magic?”

The ignorant man knew nothing, as always. Ulfvald sorely wished to show him what the mystical art could do. But he felt his teacher, Lady Vanadis, trying to reach out to his mind and remembered his task at hand.

“I don’t have time for this,” said Ulvald. He made to walk away, but the man kicked something in his direction. He had to sidestep to avoid the severed head, water from the pail spattering over the sides and soaking his boot.

“What’s your hurry, woman? Busy fetching rags for the witches while the real men are out spilling blood?” The man took two steps toward Ulfvald, who took two steps back. The shape of his pendant burned against his palm, eager to tear into the offensive man’s soul like a piece of tender meat, but then another thunderous command pierced the air and the man turned his head to listen.

Ulfvald hurried away, though the man continued his taunts. “That’s right, stroðinn, run back to the whore tent where you belong. Out here you might be mistaken for part of the booty.”

Insults like stroðinn were among the worst one could utter to a Viking man, as they accused him of ergi, or effeminacy. Courage and masculinity was highly prized among the Vikings, and to be used sexually by another man was considered the most passive and feminine of acts. Sure it was fine to fuck another man; the warriors did that to the conquered quite routinely. But to be on the receiving end, and willingly? Ulfvald never understood the double standard. If anything, bottoming took more courage.

The only socially acceptable way to respond to such an accusation would be to clear his name through a duel. But Ulfvald was not a normal Viking man. He was a seiðman, one of the very few men who could use the female mystical art of seiðr. He couldn’t clear his name if he tried.

But he was in a hurry right now anyway. Lady Vanadis, a wise and powerful seiðr practitioner, the army’s lead seiðkona, had been injured in the mystical struggle with the seiðkona that was protecting the city.

As her apprentice, it was Ulfvald’s duty to tend the wounds to her body and soul, and as the Lady’s eldest apprentice had been killed in the second wave assault, Ulfvald was the only one in camp who could do the latter. Using seiðr divided the attention of the soul between one’s own body and the surrounding world, leaving an unprotected practitioner easy prey. Lady Vanadis was guarded by some of the strongest Ulfhednar berserkers in the camp, but even they could not protect her from attacks to the soul.

Ulfvald wove deftly in and out of the horse-hitches until he came to the large rectangular tent he was looking for, standing amid an almost circular patch of vibrant green grass, free of the blood and grit that seemed to permeate the rest of the valley; well, mostly free. Disconcertingly, there seemed to be some blood and a few chunks of wood inside the edge of the barrier. Normally he would have shed his mud- and blood-covered boots before stepping into the ring protected by Lady Vanadis, but the crack in the barrier worried him.

A half-dozen enormous wolves lounged on the grass around the entrance, heads on their paws, resting, but alert. Clearly no warriors had broken through, so why was he feeling so unsettled? Two burly old guards, their beards reaching a good halfway down to their knees, spread their halberds and nodded solemnly to him as he passed. These seasoned warriors had been in countless campaigns before, and had a justfied fear of seiðr; if they still disapproved of a man’s learning the mystical art, they didn’t show it.

The moment he entered the tent, Ulfvald felt a shiver pass over his arms. Three of the younger apprentices were talking in hushed voices in the corner, but the dais in the centre was empty.

“Where is Lady Vanadis?” he asked, his hands trembling as he called out for her in his mind. He had just heard her voice moments ago. Where was she?

The young apprentices stopped chattering and busied themselves with a half-hearted examination of the carpets, half-dried tears visible on their cheeks. A lump grew in Ulfvald’s throat, though he couldn’t bring himself to swallow. He closed his eyes and strained his ears, listening for Lady Vanadis’s calm and comforting heartbeat, the one he had homed in on so many times when being chased through the streets as a child, but he could hear only noise.

Ulfvald dropped the scented pail and rushed back out of the tent just in time to see a body in the distance being carried away toward the grave site – a body covered in a white shroud.

“No!” he shouted. “No, Freya, please, don’t take her yet! We still need her!”

Cursing the goddess’s awful timing, he started off after the corpse-bearers, but a boy with barely a shadow of a beard caught him by the arm. “Sir Ulfvald,” he said. “You’re Sir Ulfvald, right?”

The unfamiliar term of respect threw him off-guard momentarily, though he craned his head to keep sight of the procession. “Yes, what is it?”

The boy tilted his head, his amber eyes wide with curiosity. “So it’s true that you don’t have a beard. How old are you?”

“I don’t have time for this,” Ulfvald said, grasping at resentment lest he fall into a panic.

“No, Sir Ulfvald, I’m sorry,” said the boy, clinging desperately to the sleeve of Ulfvald’s robe. “I– I have a message.”

“Then speak quickly,” he said.

“Sir Ragnar needs to speak with you, immediately.”

Watching the corpse-bearers disappear into the distant woods, Ulfvald sighed. “Fine.” He turned brusquely toward Ragnar’s tent and hurried off. “You don’t need to use Sir with a seiðman, child. There’s no need to show such respect.”

“I know,” said the boy, a tear welling up in his eye. “But there should be. Sir, I want to learn too someday, I’m–” But Ulfvald had walked out of earshot without any sign of hearing him.

When he got to the commander’s tent, he found Ragnar outside with several of his warriors. Ulfvald cursed under his breath. Ragnar never showed him disrespect when he came to the seiðr tent to coordinate the attacks with Lady Vanadis, but in front of the men, he would no doubt need to save face.

He could already feel the scornful stares of the warriors drilling into him as Ragnar beckoned him to step up, though none dared to speak before their commander. “Ulfvald,” he said, “I have just heard report that Lady Vanadis has succumbed to her injuries.”

I’m sure that’s ever so inconvenient for you, thought Ulfvald. If you hadn’t decided to attack such a well-fortified city, she would still be with us. “She is no doubt with Lady Freya now,” Ulfvald answered, trying to hold back his tears. The warriors would be angry enough at having to retreat and await the arrival of another seiðkona; it would be better not to show any weakness in front of them. “She had always wanted to meet the goddess.”

“You will take her place,” said Ragnar gravely.

With that, everyone present went silent. The warriors looked as shocked as he was. “Commander, how can you say that?” said a burly warrior, stepping forward, his face twisted in disgust. “We cannot fight under the taint of this wretched witch-man’s ergi.” There were murmurs of agreement and indignation among the warriors, but none other dared to speak up.

“Then you, Grimulf, are a coward. Let it be said that Grimulf Grettisson has so little confidence in his manhood that he fears fighting under a seiðman‘s spell might turn him into a mewling woman.”

The red-bearded warrior’s face grew bright red and shook with anger and he raised his axe as Ragnar stared him down. The other warriors laughed heartily, but gave Grimulf some space. The Vikings loved a good exchange of insults more than an exchange of blows; the legendary barbs traded by sharp-tongued Loki and the other gods were favourite stories at mealtime. Grimulf’s only honourable response would be to challenge Commander Ragnar to combat, a feat they all knew he had no hope of winning, yet the air around him was still tense. At long last, he lowered his axe and stepped back, though continued to glare at the commander.

“Men, do not forget that Lord Odin himself uses seiðr,” said Ragnar. “He is said to have learned it from his wife Freya and used it to defeat an army of Ice Giants who did not expect such sorcery in the absence of a woman. Odin’s strength lies not only in his body, but in his mind and in his soul; that is why he is the greatest among the gods. So let not fear and prejudice sow weakness into your hearts.”

“Or between your legs,” said the boy from before, only now catching up and smiling shyly at Ulfvald. The men laughed once again.

“See, young Falki is not afraid of seiðr, not afraid to do what it takes to achieve victory,” said Ragnar. “Is there a warrior here with half the bravery of this boy who will stand in the ritual with Ulfvald?”

Ulfvald had recovered his voice enough to protest. “But sir, I cannot! Lady Vanadis was an expert at the battle hymn, she had been on a dozen campaigns in the past, but I–”

“Silence,” boomed Ragnar’s voice, loud enough to snap even the strongest warrior from his berserker trance. “You will perform the ritual in Lady Vanadis’s place. We are one strike away from taking this city and ending our campaign for the season. Would you have us pull back and try to take the city later as the snows fall?”

Ulfvald closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Sir Ragnar. I– I will perform the ritual,” he said as he clasped his trembling hands behind his back. He had seen it performed many times, but he had never tried it firsthand.

“Now, I ask once again,” repeated Ragnar, “who will stand in the ritual and lead our warriors to victory?”

It was a pitiful sight to be sure. Grown, battle-hardened men, with their horned helmets and blood-stained axes, looking this way and that, shuffling their feet, grunting or coughing without saying a word. Ulfvald felt like a complete fool, but who could blame them? They knew the rituals could get rather intimate, but did they have any idea what to expect? They were used to seiðr practitioners being female.

It was the boy, Falki, who spoke up in all sincerity. “Sir, I would stand in the ritual with Sir Ulfvald.”

Ragnar smiled for a moment and then laughed. “I admire your bravery, Falki. And I will remember it. But you have not yet completed the rites of adulthood, have you?”

Falki looked sullenly at the ground and kicked it absently as he shook his head.

“No matter. You are more a man than any of these ergi warriors.” He spat. “The rest of you have a long way to go before your souls will be selected by the Valkyries to fight alongside the gods. They have no need for cowards. As you are now, the Valkyrie would simply clean their boots on your beards and move on. I will stand in the ritual myself.”

Falki looked up at the commander with respect and awe as the warriors stood with their mouths agape. Ulfvald didn’t know what to think. Ragnar was fit, but he was old enough to be his father. But then something unexpected happened.

“No, Sir, I will stand in the ritual.” It was Grimulf. “The men need you on the field, and I would like to show them that my manhood is more than up to the task.” Ulfvald stared at him in disbelief, yet Grimulf’s gaze was fixed on the commander. He was just a few years older than Ulfvald, yet somewhat shorter and stockier. While not particularly long, his orange beard was clean and had a slight fork to it, with each point braided neatly.

“Very well,” said Ragnar, nodding his head slowly. “I take back what I said before, Grimulf. You have balls, unlike many of these other so-called men. Go put them to good use. The rest of you, take your noonday meat and mead and begin preparations for the next assault.” Then, with a nod to Ulfvald, he said “We begin when Ulfvald sends the signal and not a moment before.”

Ulfvald stood dumbfounded while the crowd dispersed in a cacophony of metal. They say the gods are fond of surprises, but what a turn this day had taken. He could almost feel Lady Vanadis watching him from Freya’s heavenly hall of Sesrumnir. A tug on his sleeve brought his attention back to reality.

“Sir Ulfvald, may I watch the ritual?” asked Falki, a slight smile raising one corner of his lips.

“I’m sorry, um…Falki was it?” began Ulfvald. “I’m not sure, it’s not really appropriate for childr–”

“You sure can, boy,” shouted Grimulf, louder than necessary. “Bring your friends! They can all see Grim’s manhood in action!” Ulfvald rolled his eyes.

“But, Sir Grimulf, my friends are all back in the village,” said Falki. “I’m the only o–”

“Then be sure to watch carefully and tell them all about it when we get back!”

“Yes, Sir!” said the boy with all too much enthusiasm.

Ulfvald lowered his head and began rubbing his temples. Lady Vanadis must have put Loki up to this. He could almost hear her musical laughter. Ulfvald might have laughed too, were it not for the sadness at her passing and the nervousness in the pit of his stomach. He could probably pull off some kind of curse, though dealing with Grimulf might be trying to say the least.

When they returned to the tent, the younger apprentices had already started packing their things for a retreat. They looked concerned when Ulfvald explained the situation, but after a few harsh words from Grimulf, they began scrambling to prepare the scents and oils. Male seiðr practitioners were not unheard of, but it was rare to see one leading a battle hymn, and clearly these young girls did not hold Ulfvald in as high esteem as they did their late mistress.

Falki was surprisingly eager to help out, though. He was keenly observing what the apprentices did, aiding them with the cleansing and then helping to rub the scented oils all over the two kneeling men. Normally it was impossible to tell which hands were which, but with Falki it was night and day, and incredibly distracting. Ulfvald gave a shiver as the pair of chilly, trembling fingers slid far too slowly over his cock and down his leg. He tried not to look at Falki too much, lest he embarrass the boy; surely there was no harm in letting him help out for now. After all, if seiðr was his calling, he would need guidance.

For once, Ulfvald was thankful that the warriors tended to steer clear of the tent. They might give Falki a hard time if they had seen him. Fortunately, the only one to see was Grimulf, the idiot who had invited him to stay in the first place.

Without his armor and fellow warriors, Grim seemed a bit nervous, yet his heart did not exude cowardice as had the fat man who had accosted him earlier on his errand. If anything, it felt relatively stable and confident, if still a little ego-bruised from Ragnar’s insult. His bravado, transparent to all but perhaps Falki and himself, seemed to mask his discomfort at not knowing what he was expected to do. Yet Ulfvald felt he could be counted on to do what was asked, which was mildly endearing.

“Can I at least touch the other apprentices while I fuck you?” asked Grim, reaching toward one of the young women. She deftly drew away from his reach.

Ulfvald fought hard not to laugh. “The apprentices are virgins for a reason, Grim. If their purity is violated in any way, the gods will curse our clan for eternity. All our warriors will lose their virility and sire no children and we’ll be dead within a generation.” Or something like that. Actually no one had ever told him why the young apprentices had to be virgins. Maybe it was just to keep them out of trouble.

But Grim seemed gullible enough; he pulled his hand back as if he had touched a hot coal. He suddenly looked very pale. Ulfvald grinned. “For the purposes of this ritual, Falki is an apprentice as well. So don’t get any ideas.”

The boy blushed as Grim inched away from him. The expression Grim made seemed calculated to show disgust, but his heartbeat reacted the same toward Falki as it did toward the apprentice girls. Ulfvald was starting to think this might be kind of fun after all. He had no idea the warriors were this inexperienced off the battlefield. “Also, you’re not going to fuck me.”

“WHAT!?” shouted Grimulf. “Ohhh no. I’m not going to take another man inside me.”

Ulfvald rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, that’s not how it works.”

Grimulf stared at him blankly as Falki’s chilly fingers massaged the oil into Ulfvald’s back.

“Let me put this simply,” explained Ulfvald. “If you fuck me, your milk is going to end up in the wrong side of me. It does no good there.”

Grimulf scratched his head with one of his huge hands. Falki’s chilly fingers were joined by a warmer and firmer touch pressing gently into Ulfvald’s lower back. He gave a faintly audible breath, but Grim didn’t seem to notice.

“I need to drink it,” Ulfvald said, eliciting a giggle from Falki. “That’s why we call it ‘milk.'”

“Oh. Of course! I can do that,” he said, fidgeting with one of the the floor cushions.

Ulfvald wondered if Lady Vanadis managed to explain the ritual to her men. “Once the ritual begins, there will be no talking.” Out there, Ulfvald had little sway with anyone, but in here, this was the domain of seiðr. Most dared not enter this tent. The warriors may not exactly have liked those who practice seiðr, as it didn’t have the kind of glory they often praised in stories, but those who had seen the battle hymn take hold had a begrudging respect for it.

It was a strange feeling for Ulfvald to choose when to begin. Timing was important in this ritual, timing and rhythm, but he normally just followed Lady Vanadis’s lead for such things. But realizing that waiting would not make things any easier, he looked one of the apprentices in the eye and nodded.

The attendant nodded back, then shared a knowing glance with the others. One took Falki by the hand and led him to a nearby cushion, instructing him on the proper way of sitting. Another poked her head out of the tent and spoke softly to one of the guards outside, who then left his post; the war drums began shortly thereafter. The final apprentice added some dried herbs to the fire and the smoke in the tent began to shimmer. Perfect. Now for the hard part.

Grimulf’s gaze was darting around apprehensively, but he was silent. Ulfvald doubted he knew anything about the rituals, though he no doubt heard the war drums and could assume it had begun. He seemed very tense, ready to leap out should an enemy somehow make it into the tent. While it was nice to know that he would fight to protect the seiðr practitioners, that tension would not do at all.

Ulfvald was surprisingly swift and had Grim on the floor while the apprentices were still stoking the fire and finding their seats. Grim struggled to get up, but in the tangle of cushions and blankets, Ulfvald’s unexpected strength seemed too much to overcome easily. When he grabbed at Grim’s crotch, he was surprised to grasp a cock every bit as hard as the muscles writhing beneath him. Perhaps not quite as big as he’d have expected from the man’s size, but he must have enjoyed the apprentices’ oiled hands more than his nervousness let on.

There were still no words, just a few muffled grunts. Ulfvald felt a grin coming on as he lay atop Grim, his face buried in Grim’s shoulder. But he had to concentrate. The men outside would be rallying for their final strike now, and if he could complete this ritual, fewer men would get hurt. As much as they relished the season of war, no one liked to lose a comrade at arms. They were his people, flawed as they were, and Ulfvald wanted them all to return safely for the feasts.

Grimulf’s now half-hearted struggles had acquired a rhythm, so Ulfvald began tightening his grasp in time to it. With the smoke filling the air, he could hardly see the others, yet he could hear their breaths, then their heartbeats, then the pulsation of their souls. Twisting around to sit on Grim’s chest, he put his lips to the edge of his hand, Grim’s cock just barely sliding into his mouth at the end of each thrust.

He swiped his tongue deftly across the head each time it reached his mouth, and reached out his awareness further. The souls of the three attendants pulsed in sync with the rhythm of the motion. Falki’s heartbeat was excited and slightly faster, but still close to the rhythm of the others; he definitely had some aptitude in the area.

Grimulf placed one of his massive hands on Ulfvald’s hip, holding him down, while the other pushed his head down further. With so many sensations, it was hard for Ulfvald to concentrate, but he tried again. The wolves were nearby, their heartbeats slower, their steady and confident alertness drawing a sharp contrast with the discordant noise outside. Everything else was a mess.

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