Author’s Note: After writing the first part of the Jain Swiftblade Saga, I realized that it’d be good to further establish the background of everyone’s favourite, unbearably ticklish Warrior Vixen. A “prequel”, if you will. The following (epic) story tells of Jain’s tumultuous childhood, as well as portraying her first ever quest. Oh yeah, there’s tickling as well.
Many thanks to Cosmo_ac for agreeing to proof my stories, and Kyle for putting up with a perfectionist. ;)
When most girls turn seventeen, they’re betrothed and married-off, and in the case of the rich or mercantile classes, given jewellery or a new dress. Jain Swiftblade, however, was given a sword. It was a falchion, a short, stout-bladed scimitar; the favoured weapon of Jain’s mother, Jezail Truestrike. Jezail like all S’Nomian Warrior Vixens, had been a strict teacher, most would say overly harsh; but either way, young Jain had inherited her mentor’s chosen weapon and breathtakingly agile style of combat. Jain had excelled with the falchion, and her sheer speed with the weapon had earned her the moniker “Swiftblade”, as per the traditions of the S’Nom. Yet now, a day after her seventeenth birthday, it was finally time to test her mettle.
Jain stood in front of the Matriarchal Council of the S’Nom. Her mother was amongst them. Jain was strikingly pretty, and everybody could foresee that she’d turn into a beautiful young woman, as she grew older. The young vixen was already beginning to grow sharply in stature, and further develop the lithe, nubile musculature she’d require to succeed in her inherited profession. She had her mother’s good looks, but sadly, had inherited a lot more. Jain’s eyes were a deep, penetrating blue, like artic seawater, which perhaps reflected the coldness of her personality. For the last five years she had trained to become a Warrior Vixen, and the regime had arguably robbed Jain of attributes, which might have made her a friendly, likeable girl. Jain Swiftblade was frosty, reserved, and bitter, yet ruthlessly skilled and intelligent. However, this did not stop her from being scared out of her wits as she stood before the stone-faced S’Nomian council for the first time.
Sensing Jain’s unease, the High Matriarch, the head of the S’Nom, addressed Jain, and smiled in what she thought was a disarming fashion. It had all the warmth of a hungry wolf grinning at a lamb.
“So, young Swiftblade, we meet at last. Are you prepared for your Warrior-hood Quest?” Jain met the High Matriarch’s withering gaze, trying desperately not to show her intimidation. Inwardly, she felt sick to her stomach with fear, and her heart was beating at an impossibly high rate. Just stay calm, Jain told herself, it’s not like your entire life had been building up to this moment…The young Vixen swallowed, bowed and spoke.
“I am, High Matriarch. The goddess Fortunata has imbued me with the strength and will to triumph, and so I shall.” Jain glanced at her mother, who sat two places to the right of the Matriarch on the Council, hoping to see at least a measure of encouragement. However, she forgot that her mother was Jezail Truestrike, and her stomach convulsed as she caught her teacher’s cold, malevolent gaze. She knew instantly what Jezail was thinking. Humiliate me, and you’ll wish that you’d never been born.
Jain’s eyes snapped back to the High Matriarch. She whimpered inwardly, wanting the ground to swallow her up in an instant.
“Excellent!” the Matriarch soothed, steepling her claws in front of her. To Jain’s alarm, the clan chieftain turned to her mother. “Mistress Truestrike, do you have confidence in your pupil’s ability to fulfil her quest?”
Jezail bowed her head, and spoke in soft, icy tones.
“No doubt whatsoever, Matriarch. My daughter carries with her the reputation of my forbears and the honour of the S’Nom. She will not fail.”
Jain risked another look into her mother’s burning, amber eyes, and once again regretted it. The young vixen tried to tear her gaze away, but like a moth captivated by a deadly flame, she was powerless. It took the voice of the Matriarch to break the soul-draining trance.
“Very well, Jezail, I’m sure your confidence is well placed. You have the Council’s blessing, my child,” the Matriarch said, turning once more to glare at Jain, “you will leave a girl, but return a woman, and a Warrior Vixen of the S’Nom.”
Jain bowed once more, turned, and exited the Council Chamber. The young vixen walked outside, staggered a few feet, and threw-up violently behind the nearest tree.
“Remember, daughter,” Jezail said as she secured the load-bearing rig on Jain’s mount, “keep your guard up, and don’t be afraid to feint if you feel overwhelmed.”
Jain looked down at her mother and mentor as she double-checked the saddle and packs on Vassago, the young horse she had been bestowed with for her Warrior-hood Quest.
Jezail’s eyes had softened slightly since the Council meeting. But only slightly. Jain had never been close to her mother. Not in a loving way. Mothers and daughters in the S’Nom were never really meant to have loving relationships; the idea was incompatible with their inevitable positions of teacher and pupil. Yet Jain and Jezail had not even shared the mutual bonding of souls that mother and daughter should have achieved as part of Jain’s warrior training. That had become impossible, ever since that one afternoon. The day her father died. The memory struck her like a knife to the heart.
The Marauders had struck in an instant, hitting the S’Nom when they were at their weakest, and the majority of the warrioresses were away fighting against the Sunghar in the west. The mounted raiding party swept across the fields, scattering the labourers bringing in the crops and torching the storehouses. Jain, then only twelve, had been out wandering in the fields talking shyly with some of the older boys, despite her mother’s wishes, when they struck. The males fought bravely with what they had; scythes, spades and pitchforks, but they were untrained, and disadvantaged against mounted opponents. Her father knew that she was in the fields, and had run; scythe in hand, out to rescue her. He found Jain, and had protected her from the Marauders until a spear finally impaled him. Vendanse Kel killed six of the raiders before he was felled, defending his daughter. It was a warrior’s death for a fox who, in a female-dominated warrior culture, as a male, was forbidden to take up the sword.
The Marauders were finally driven off by the few remaining Warrior Vixens, Jain’s mother amongst them. Jain could still remember the look on Jezail Truestrike’s face when she saw her husband’s corpse, face down amongst the corn. Then, her mother had looked across at her, cowering a few feet away. Jain knew even then, what her mother was thinking as she looked down on her. Jezail blamed her. Jain remembered those proud amber eyes: brimming with tears, and filled with hate.
If it weren’t for you, he would still be alive. Stupid little girl. You should have stayed at home.
Jezail Truestrike had been destroyed that day. All that had been left was an empty husk, filled with hatred and remorse.
Jain continued to gaze down at her mother, her heart aching as she did so. Jezail despised Jain, although she had never actually put her feelings into words. The only thing that had kept them together was the S’Nomian warrior code, and the obligatory training by her embittered mother. Jain had tried so hard, so hard to become the warrior her mother had always wanted her to be, but not even on the eve of her first quest had Jezail’s feelings for the young vixen changed. She missed her father, but most of all, Jain missed the mother she could have had.
“M-mother?” Jain said, her voice quavering. Jezail’s head snapped up, an impatient look on her face.
“Yes, what is it?”
“I… I won’t fail you.”
“I would expect nothing less”, Jezail replied evenly. “There”, she said finally. “Remember everything I’ve taught you.”
Jain tried once more to provoke a reaction in her mother, one last attempt to bring down the barrier of pathos that divided them.
“I’ll make you proud”, Jain said.
Jezail turned away, avoiding her daughter’s gaze.
“I know”, she replied, and began to walk away, back towards the village. Jezail Truestrike didn’t stay to watch her daughter ride off at a gallop down the trail. Even then, she wouldn’t have seen the bitter tears that streaked her young daughter’s face as Jain Swiftblade rode towards her destiny.
It was dark when Jain reared her mount to a halt by the roadside. She was tired, and lacked a light to read her map by. It didn’t take long for Jain to gather enough wood to get a fire going, her extensive training had seen to that. She pitied those that lived in cities, like the Imperials. The S’Nom often, if reluctantly accepted ambassadors from the Holy Reman Empire and the myriad other feudal kingdoms which surrounded them. Jain had heard stories of city life from Warrior Vixens who had been hired by merchants, lords, ladies, and even kings. Her mother had once even boasted that a member of her lineage had been hired as a bodyguard by the Holy Reman Emperor himself. She couldn’t imagine a life other than that of a S’Nomian vixen; living at one with nature amongst the trees while the males tended the fields. Jain snorted. Cities. That was no way to live. The young vixen’s thoughts flashed back to the mission at hand, her Warrior-hood Quest. It still filled her with dread.
Jain had been charged with what was seen as one of the most treacherous quests ever bestowed upon a Warrior-Initiate. Her task was to travel to the lair of Bellerogrim, a legendary Emperor Dragon that was said to be the guardian of a vast hoard of treasure. Bellerogrim was a creature whose existence was known only to the S’Nom and a few individuals elsewhere who still remembered the myths and legends of the past. Even then, very few actually tried to find the creature. All who did were said to never return. Jain Swiftblade was the first of the S’Nom to be sent to find the lair of the Bellerogrim, and the very mention of the dragon’s name had struck fear into her heart.
The Emperor Dragons were a dying breed of creatures: few in number, reclusive, and famous for accumulating treasure and hoarding it in caves. Henceforth, Jain’s quest was not just a test of her tracking and wilderness training. Her other objectives were to evade or vanquish Bellerogrim, and most importantly, bring back as much treasure as she could carry. The young vixen looked up from her map at the empty sack tied to saddle of her horse. The mountainous nature of her quest threatened to overwhelm her, but Jain composed herself. She was a Warrior Vixen. A member of a proud, noble heritage dating back to the days when Fortunata still walked the earth. Not even an Emperor Dragon could stand in the way of completing her task! Jain allowed herself a smile. Yes, the look on her brothers’ faces when she rode back in triumph will be most pleasing. Her mother’s reaction, however, was not something she wanted to think about. Jain rolled up the faded map and tucked it away under her saddle. She looked up at the tree canopy around her, her ears pricking as she listened to the night insects begin their chirruping. Jain extinguished the fire, pulled out her blanket, and huddled up to the warm flank of her steed led on the ground beside her. She was around a day’s ride away from the cave where Bellerogrim supposedly lay in wait, and would need all her strength for the task ahead. The young vixen slowed her breathing, closed her eyes, and wiped her mind of all troubling thoughts, just has her mother had taught her. As Jain Swiftblade rapidly drifted off to sleep, she put her thumb in her mouth, and smiled to herself in comfort. It was a habit no amount of training could get rid of.
As she slept, Jain’s thoughts once again took her back to her unhappy childhood, and the living hell that had been her warrior training. Becoming a Warrior Vixen was never meant to be easy, but Jezail Truestrike was a cruel, vindictive, and unforgiving teacher. Her methods for punishing Jain when she make mistakes or failed were tried and tested, but Jezail applied them liberally. The number of times Jain suffered and wept in the thumbscrews or under the cane was innumerable, but throbbing thumb claws and a sore rump were the least of the young vixen’s worries.
The death of Vendanse Kel had, of course, affected her two brothers as well; but for them it was like losing a friend rather than a father. They recovered quickly, too quickly in Jain’s embittered mind, and took up their new hobby of tormenting her.
She didn’t know why Jax, the oldest, and Toran, the second eldest, made her life a misery. They didn’t blame Jain for their father’s death like her mother, she knew that. Jealous. They were jealous of her. She should have seen it earlier. Jain had always been destined for power and glory as a Vixen while the males of the S’Nom were the natural labourers. It was the will of the gods, and set down in law. Yet for mere males, her brothers had everything. They were strong, handsome, and popular. It made her even more bitter to think of it. Yet still they tormented her, and knew exactly how to do it.
Jain had always been unbearably ticklish. Her father had always teased her and poked her ribs when she least expected it. Whenever he tickled her, it had always been gentle, fun, and a sign of affection. Her brothers, however, turned it into a method of torture. It started just before she began her warrior training. They used to lie in wait for her, when she was alone, and pounce. It was impossible to escape or resist. It was a ritual that was to become well practiced: either Jax or Toran would pin her down while the other would remove her boots, exposing her pink, sensitive soles. Then, they brought out the feathers. She always begged and pleaded them not to tickle her, but they just grinned back, before slowly, gently, brushing the tips of the torturous instruments up and down her squirming feet. She lost count of how many times they had tickled her, each time almost to the edge of consciousness. It was a regular exercise in humiliation, and she refused to tell her mother of the way her brothers treated her. She wouldn’t have listened, anyway. She probably would have punished her for allowing herself to suffer such indignity. She could still remember their taunts. Tickle-wickle, little Jainy…Yet tickle-torture was by no means the limit of her brothers’ cruelty.
She was thirteen, love-struck, and vulnerable. New, turbulent emotions assailed Jain’s young mind, especially when she watched him. She felt sick, giddy, and entranced all at once when she watched him.
Jain gazed at Brin Zarre as he worked from her hiding place amongst the trees. He was chopping wood and had stripped down to the waist. She was captivated as she watched his firm, youthful muscles ripple and tense with each stroke of the axe. Jain’s heart was in her mouth and felt like it was going to explode at any moment. She sighed inwardly. He was perfect. Jain imagined herself kissing Brin. She wondered what kissing felt like. Nice, she would expect. Anyway, it didn’t matter if Brin wasn’t good at kissing; he was so handsome that she wouldn’t care. Jain shook her head and refocused from her daydream within a daydream. Brin had stopped his work and had laid down his axe. It was now or never. Just stay calm, smile, and act naturally, she told herself.
Jain stood up and walked out from behind the tree she had used as a hiding place, almost tripping up on a stray root as she did so. Brin’s ears pricked up and he turned towards her. He smiled. Her heart leapt.
“Hello Brin…” Jain cooed, batting her eyelashes in what she thought was an alluring fashion.
To his credit, Brin managed not to laugh. He looked at the young girl stood in front of him. Jain was really very pretty, and Brin knew she had a crush on him, which was probably why the fact that he was almost eighteen didn’t seem to bother the young vixen. It was an awkward situation, but Jain was a pleasant girl, and the daughter of a member of the Matriarchal Council. He really didn’t want to upset her. He grinned back at her.
“Hello Jain, nice day, isn’t it?”
“All the nicer to be talking to you, Brin”, the vixen replied sweetly.
Once again, the young fox had to suppress his mirth. He’d rather face a day in the stocks than deflect Jain’s clumsy advances. She grinned once more. “Would you like to walk me home? It’s not that far…”
It was hopeless. He really had no choice.
“Of course, it’d be my pleasure”.
Jain’s grin widened, and she almost leapt with glee.
“Well, come on then, boy, let’s be off!”
They’d been walking for a few minutes down the forest trail, and the unlikely pairing hadn’t exchanged a word after setting off. Part of the reason was that Jain was too preoccupied gazing lovingly up at Brin’s face. Then, a mischievous thought struck her. Her heart raced, and she flexed her claws in readiness.
“Hey, what was that?” Jain said hurriedly looking off into the trees to Brin’s right.
Enquiringly, he turned his back on Jain and peered off into the forest, giving the young vixen her chance to strike. In an instant, Jain had thrust her claws under Brin’s arms, and started to tickle furiously at his bare ribs. He was caught totally off guard, and practically leapt into the air with an alarmed yelp. Laughter burst from the surprised fox’s mouth, which only abated when Jain withdrew her hands and Brin spun around to face her, an incredulous lopsided grin on his face.
“Why you little…” he began.
Jain grinned back at him impishly, cheekily flexing her delicate claws.
“I was just checking.”
“Checking what?” Brin replied, suspiciously, but smiling nevertheless.
“Checking to see if you were ticklish. And you are.”
Brin shook his head and grinned. Jain really was a piece of work. They might have even stood a chance together had she been a few years older. He was half-tempted to tickle her back, but that would only have encouraged the besotted young vixen.
Suddenly, the two were distracted by the growing sound of voices coming down the trail towards them. Jain groaned inwardly. She recognized them all too well. Within seconds, Jax and Toran had rounded a bend and were walking straight towards Jain and Brin laughing loudly. No doubt at some particularly lewd joke. Then her two brothers saw them, exchanged conspiratorial looks, and strode purposefully towards them.
“Hiya, Brin!” Jax said cheerfully, before thrusting a thumb in Jain’s direction. “What are doing with her?”
Before Brin could answer, Jain grabbed a hold of her companion’s muscular left arm, pulled the hapless fox close to her, and tried to sound as defiant as possible.
“As it so happens, myself and Brin were taking a walk. A private one. Weren’t we, Brin?”
“Er, I…” Brin stammered.
Jain’s brothers grinned with malicious glee.
“Well, well, well, Brinny-boy! I didn’t know you and Jainy were an item!” Jax’s eyes narrowed. Yes, exposing Jain’s little secret in front of Brin would be most amusing. He grinned maliciously. “ Did you know she still sucks her thumb, Brin?”
Jain’s eyes widened in horror, and she turned desperately to look up at Brin. He was trying hard not to laugh, and starting to fail miserably. Jain rounded on Jax, hatred flaring in her cobalt-blue eyes. She felt tears of rage begin to well up, and her heart tear asunder. She had never felt so angry in her life.
“Aw, I think little Jainy’s going to cry…” Toran chimed in wickedly. And he was right.
Tears began to run down the young vixen’s cheeks. She felt her claws begin to ball into fists. She glared at her two grinning brothers. Humiliating her with feathers wasn’t enough for them, was it? Now they had to do it in front of the boy she loved. Jain screamed with rage and ran at Jax and Toran, her fists flying. It was a hopeless battle, and her futile pummelling deflected harmlessly against her brothers’ muscular torsos. She hated them so much!
Brin realized that the situation unfolding before him was far from a laughing matter. He reached out and tried to pull Jain away from her brothers, who were laughing meanly. The enraged young vixen span around and shrieked at him, her eyes burning.
“GET AWAY FROM ME!!!”
Brin recoiled, and watched guiltily as Jain ran off crying into the forest. He turned and glared at Jax and Toran who were still laughing, Doran leaning melodramatically on his older brother for support.
“Was that really necessary?” he said, testily.
“Oh come on, mate,” Jax replied, it only a bit of fun!”
Brin suddenly felt very angry, both with himself and his friends.
“You call that fun? You two really are bastards, aren’t you?”
“Serves the little brat right for being so haughty”, Toran piped up. “If she ever becomes a Warrior Vixen, then I’ll eat my boots.”
Jain ran sobbing through the entranceway of the family home, racing past her mother who was busily polishing her sword. Jezail Truestrike groaned and laid down her falchion on the worktable. She neither knew nor cared what had upset her daughter this time, however, she was set to start her warrior training by the next full moon, and she didn’t want anything distracting her pupil.
The heartbroken young vixen was still crying, lying face down on her bed. Jain’s room in the log- construction that was her home was her only sanctuary from her family and the outside world. As a female, Jain was automatically granted her own living space while her hated brothers shared an adjacent room. In Jain’s mind, it was the only thing she had to be thankful for. Just then, Jezail entered the room.
“What are you crying for, child?” Her cold voice was far from maternal.
“I’m not crying!” came Jain’s muffled reply.
“Don’t lie to me, daughter…” Jezail said testily.
Prompted by fear more than anything else, Jain raised her head and met her mother’s frosty gaze through teary eyes. Jezail sighed, and knew instantly what had happened. It was bound to occur at this age… she reasoned.
“It’s a boy, isn’t it?”
Jain paused, and nodded solemnly. Jezail’s face grew hard. The talk she had to give her daughter before her training had been a long time coming, but it was necessary for all S’Nomian females who wanted to succeed as a Warrior Vixen. She sat down next to her on the bed.
“Let me tell you about boys, Jain, and males as a whole”, she began. “Do you know why we rule and the males work and serve us?”
“Because Fortunata taught us that-” Jain started, fearfully.
“Why did the sacred goddess teach us that our lives should be lived this way?”
The Warrior Vixen’s young daughter shook her head dumbly. “I’ll tell you why, Jain. Males are dangerous, unpredictable, impulsive, foolish, and uncontrollable if they are not properly subjugated and given direction. We fight because we are skilled, quick-witted, and disciplined. They toil because they have the strength and stamina to do so. They serve us, and we protect them and bring honour and glory to the clan.
Now… let me tell you about love. Love subjugates us to men. It is an illness, a ruinous disease which has been the downfall of many a noble vixen, and is an insidious threat to our culture, and our place in the social order.”
Jain listened to her mother, agape. She could hardly believe what she was hearing. Hadn’t her mother loved her father? She’d seen them laugh and joke together, seen them embrace, and kiss each other. She plucked up her courage and spoke.
“B-but, father… he-”
Jezail’s reply was low, and deadly.
“I told you never to mention him in this house again.”
Jain stared fearfully at her mother, who refused to meet her daughter’s gaze. In a trembling voice, the young vixen spoke once more.
“Father l-loved me, he loved you-”
Jezail raised her right hand impossibly fast to strike her daughter, but the vixen held the blow, her claw trembling at the apex of its arc. Jain cowered, whimpering, shielding herself from her mother’s fury. Jezail slowly lowered her arm.
“Never love a male, Jain. They’ll destroy you, and leave you with nothing. You’ve learnt a hard lesson today, and be assured it will happen to you again should you not be wary. Males may be pleasing to look at; handsome, fibrous, some may even treat you with affection. Yet all, in the end, will lead to your destruction. As a Warrior Vixen, you cannot occupy yourself with the servile gender. Use them, exploit them, fight for them in return for coin, but never, never love them.”
Jain’s bottom lip quivered as she and looked her mother once more in the face. Jezail’s tone softened slightly, but it didn’t prevent Jain from recoiling in fear again has her mother reached out towards her. Jezail brushed her claw tips across her daughter’s tear dampened cheeks.
“You are… very pretty, Jain… and one day you will grow to be beautiful. As a consequence, you be propositioned by males. Their motives may vary, but the repercussions, should you be unwise, will be your undoing. Do you understand?”
Jain nodded soundlessly.
“DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” Jezail repeated coldly.
“Yes mother.” Jain tentatively spread her arms and made to hug her mother in order to gain at least a small measure of comfort, but Jezail stood up sharply, avoiding her daughter’s grasp.
“Good. Now stop snivelling and come with me, I’ll show you how to use a whetstone.”
In those ten, soul-crushing minutes, Jain Swiftblade began to be forged. With her training, she became her mother’s daughter in every fashion, except in the one way, which perhaps mattered to her the most. But that could never be changed.
Jain woke from her tormented slumber, and found that she had been crying in her sleep. It was almost sunrise, and it would be prudent to set off again as early as possible. She cursed, and wiped the bitter tears from her cheeks. She’d show them. She’d show them all.
She’d found it! She’s actually found it! Jain Swiftblade gazed at the huge cave mouth in the ancient cliff face. Her eyes traced the semi-circle of enigmatic runic script carved around the edge of the dark, foreboding portal, some of it obscured by vines or patches of moss. She had no idea what the unknown language was, or what it meant, but she knew precisely what the cave contained should the legends be true. The young vixen returned to her horse, and began to fabricate a torch using the stick and some oilcloth she’d brought with her. At least she’d be able to see where she was going. Once she’d lit the torch using a tinderbox, she advanced tentatively towards the cave entrance.
Jain made her way through the dark, dank, stale-aired passageway, her torch spluttering and casting haunting shadows on the rock around her. She brushed away cobwebs and nearly tripped several times over ancient stalagmites. Then, her boot hit something, the object clattering across the ground with a metallic sound. The young vixen looked down. It was a breastplate. No. It was a breastplate still filled with the ribcage of its previous occupant. Her heart started to race and a few feet further on, she came across the skull, that of a boar, still wearing its helmet. Stay calm, Jain, stay alert. She steeled herself. She was not some clumsy, oafish boar. She was Jain Swiftblade, Warrior Vixen of the S’Nom! She advanced further through the cavernous passageway. Jain could swear that the way ahead was getting lighter… She would succeed in her quest, and return in glory! Yes, there was definitely light up ahead, just around the corner… Her mother would be so proud! Maybe she would finally find it in her heart to love her.
The light was strong now. A bright, yellow light. Nothing could stand in her way, not even a dra…Jain emerged from the passageway into the light, and the chamber beyond. It was an awe-inspiring sight.
“…gon…”, she muttered.
The cavernous chamber was the most breathtaking thing Jain had ever seen in her young life. It was lit by dozens, no, hundreds of enchanted torches, their flames undying, secured in brackets around the circumference of the cave. Their light shined down on what lined the cavern floor. Treasure. Mountains of it, stretching for hundreds of feet before here. Countless billions of gold, silver, and bronze coins, precious gems, jewellery, finely crafted furniture, mounds of silk cloth, pots and urns, probably filled full of exotic liquids, and to her disbelief, a pile of massive, orange Roc feathers. The Roc was a long extinct, mythical bird of massive size, whose feathers were well known for their magical properties. On reflection, she wasn’t surprised that the feathers, some as tall as herself, could be found amongst items that could purchase an entire herd of the finest horses. But all of this finery wasn’t what really caught the young vixen’s attention.
It lay on the largest treasure mound in the centre of the chamber, sleeping. The fabled guardian of the treasure cavern. The mythical Emperor Dragon, Bellerogrim. The great beast was a deep emerald green, and a massive, magnificent example of an ancient, noble species. Bellerogrim’s scaly, sinewy bulk was still, unmoving. Thank the gods…Jain watched its huge flanks expand and contract as it breathed rhythmically, each breath exhaled with a loud, rumbling snore. The Emperor Dragon’s huge, pointed, reptilian head was crowned with four great, black horns, and bore a vertical ridge of spines which started at the beast’s forehead, and ran all the way along its neck, and back, and down its tail, which was curled around its body. Just as the legends described him. Jain started as Bellerogrim shifted his gargantuan bulk slightly and exhaled deeply, twin fireballs erupting from his nostrils. Carefully, she laid down her torch against a nearby rock. She gulped, and reached down to her belt for the treasure sack she had been given. The sooner she got out of here the better. The young vixen’s heart skipped at beat. She’d left the bloody sack back on her horse!
Jain cursed herself and thought frantically. She’d come too far to throw everything away, now. She looked around, and saw the pile of silk cloth she’d first seen when she entered the cavern. She could use one of the sheets as a sack! Jain grinned at her own ingenuity and crept across the sea of coins towards the silks. Her footfalls were near silent, and only the occasional, tiny “chink” of coinage could be heard. She breathed slowly, reducing her heart rate, just as she’d been taught. Slow and steady wins the race…
After what seemed like an eternity, Jain finally reached the silks, and tentatively reached down and picked up a sheet of the luxuriant material. She had never felt silk before, and wondered at its smooth texture, momentarily distracted. For a second, she envied the city-women who were privileged enough to wear clothes made out of this material. The young vixen snapped back to the task at hand, and glanced back at the massive, dormant, emerald green bulk of Bellerogrim, the great dragon still snoring serenely. Jain crouched down and began to carefully scoop handfuls of coins and lower them into the centre of the square of silk she’d laid before her; marvelling at the mixture of coins, jewellery, and gems. After she had gathered a respectable amount, she glanced once again back at the treasure’s guardian. He was still sleeping. Jain allowed herself a confident smile. It was almost too easy. A few seconds later, and she’d folded and tied up the silk, lifting it slowly, gently into the air. Holding the bagged treasure at arm’s length, she turned one last time towards the snoring bulk of Bellerogrim. On a girlish whim, Jain stuck out her tongue at the Emperor Dragon, turned and started to creep back towards the cave mouth. Some guardian he was… Jain was impressed with her own stealth. Not a sound could be heard in the cavernous chamber save that of her own, steady controlled breathing. Not a sound. Not even the snoring of the massive 200ft Emperor Dragon behind her. She froze. Her heart felt like it had been turned to ice. Slowly, deliberately, young Jain Swiftblade turned around, and looked directly up into the massive smiling, reptilian face of Bellerogrim.
“And just where do you think, you’re going, sweetling?” the great beast growled in deep, rumbling tones, edged with gleeful amusement.
Jain, dropped the silken bag, and ran as fast as her lean, toned legs could carry her. Behind the running, terrified young Warrior-Vixen to-be, Bellerogrim sighed, and casually swept one of his great, clawed forearms through the sea of treasure, creating a veritable tidal wave of gold. The wave of treasure swept in front of Jain, almost knocking her off her feet, the barrier of riches finally crashing into the wall of the cavern, pouring into the entrance, and her only route of escape. Cursing and praying both at once, Jain desperately tried to scramble up the newly created mountain of gold partially blocking the cavern entrance; fighting her way up to the summit, hoping then to slide down the other side to freedom.
Her ambitions were thwarted when she felt something gently, but firmly grip her left leg, she turned her head sharply to see that Bellerogrim had the limb caught between massive fore-claw and thumb. Jain screamed in terror, as the creature dragged her down to the base of the treasure mound, and inexplicably let go. She took the chance, and once more started to claw her way up to freedom, but again, she felt the Emperor Dragon’ grip on her leg, which dragged her back down to the bottom. Yet again, the creature let go. The process was repeated another two times before it dawned on Jain that the beast was cruelly toying with her. The young Vixen leapt up onto her feet at the bottom of the treasure mound, and drew her falchion. Bellerogrim’s sardonic smile didn’t alter, but the creature couldn’t help but raise an amused eyebrow at the Vixen’s hopelessly futile gesture. Jain fought the terror welling inside her, and held the short sword between her and the dragon in what she hoped was a threatening fashion. Plucking up her courage, she addressed the creature for the first time.
“Back, foul beast! I’ll slay you if I must!”
Bellerogrim’s eyes widened in disbelief, as if appreciating the insult. The Emperor Dragon’s huge eyes were deep crimson, with vertical black slits forming the pupils. They exerted an aura of ancient power and intelligence. The massive creature’s amused smile vanished, and his face changed into a mask of thoughtful contemplation. Then, to Jain’s horror, he grinned toothily, and in his massive fore claws, scooped up a collective handful of treasure; lifted it up into the air, and carefully began to pour it down onto her. She didn’t even have time to scream, and could only hold up her arms to shield herself from the shower of gold. Within seconds, she was partially buried; only her head and arms breaking the surface of the layer of treasure. She struggled against the weight of it all desperately, and realized that she’s lost her sword in the chaos. Then, suddenly, the helpless young vixen was jerked out of the veritable burial mound by her wrists, and hauled up in front of the face of Bellerogrim. The Emperor Dragon grinned once more, its pointed, gleaming white fangs were even more terrifying up close. Jain Swiftblade whimpered, closed her eyes and waited for the end.
It didn’t come. Jain slowly opened one eye, then the other and gazed fixatedly at Bellerogrim. He had stopped grinning, and an expression of amused interest was now formed on his noble reptilian countenance. Jain looked up and saw that she was being held in mid air by the dragon, the fore claw and thumb of its left claw firmly gripping her wrists. The young vixen dangled ignominiously, and knew immediately that resistance was useless. Then, the great beast spoke once more.
“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. My name is Bellerogrim, but you probably knew that already. And you are..?”
“My name is none of your concern, dragon.” Jain said defiantly.
Bellerogrim’s expression once more bore a look of amused astonishment, before his vast, lipless maw broke into another grim.
“Prickly little flower, aren’t you?” he growled. “But very pretty, nonetheless.”
The Emperor Dragon swept his gaze up and down Jain’s dangling form, a flash of uncertainly crossing his face. “I must say”, he continued, “I’ve never seen biped females wearing such… unusual clothing.”
As a S’Nomian Vixen Warrior, Jain’s garb was scant; outsiders would say non-existent. As was tradition, she wore high, slender leather boots, a thong, fronted and reared by medium-length animal skin tabards, and a low-cut leather brassiere.
Warrior Vixens shunned heavy, cumbersome plate armour used by warriors of the feudal powers in favour of a fighting style that relied on speed, agility and aggression. It had not failed for a thousand years and made the vixens of the S’Nom unmatchable individual fighters; perfect for mercenary work.
“I am a Warrior Vixen of the S’Nom”, Jain said evenly. “You should fear our very name, let alone our appearance.”
Bellerogrim’s expression changed to that of genuine wonder.
“A S’Nomian! Yes, my kin spoke of your people… Female warriors unmatched in speed, skill, courage and beauty…” The creature’s mouth shifted into what could only be described as a smirk; Bellerogrim was admiring Jain’s lean, nubile musculature. “Yes… that would explain why you are so… meaty…Most interesting…”
The Emperor Dragon had never before seen such a fascinating little creature before in his life. He was used to seeing feeble little biped females in long, extravagant dresses, chained to rocks, or locked up in impossibly high towers. “Please”, Bellerogrim crooned, “I would like to know your name…” He spoke almost absent-mindedly, raising the index claw of his right fore claw, and moving it to the young Vixen’s vulnerable form. Jain watched the beast’s massive claw coming closer, and thought it was probably wise to comply with his wishes.
“My name is Jain Swiftbla- hey! Stop that!”
Bellerogrim had gently poked at her bare midriff, and was about to do so again. “I said my name is Ja-HEY!” The creature prodded tentatively at her belly, it’s claw brushing partially down its length as it made contact. Jain squirmed, and failed to suppress an involuntary laugh. That tickled! “Listen!” Jain said sternly, her fear abating slightly, “Do you want to know my name, or are you going to continue to prod me-he he he!”
Bellerogrim was no longer interested in Jain’s unusual clothing or vigorous musculature, but her reactions when he poked her. His maw spreading once more into a wide toothy grin, Bellerogrim held his gaze on the vixen’s face as he prodded her stomach and sides softly in quick succession. His suspicions were confirmed.
Yes, she is, isn’t she? The dragon grinned with unrestrained verve.
Jain tried desperately not to giggle and appear undignified, but she couldn’t help it. She had no idea what the beast was up to, but it wasn’t pleasant. The ancient dragon undoubtedly wanted to toy with its captive just as it did when she tried to escape. Then to her relief, Bellerogrim stopped prodding her, lowered its right claw, and spoke in deep, soothing tones.
“Tell me, my pretty little Warrior Vixen… Are you ticklish?”
Jain’s relief was instantly replaced with a feeling of deep, unfathomable, dread. Her nervous reply was automatic.
“No…” she said, trying to mask her burgeoning paranoia. Bellerogrim gazed at her, his eyes watching Jain’s face for any flicker of deception. Her words were as transparent as a cut diamond.
“I think you, are”, the Emperor Dragon replied evenly, the great beast sizing the young vixen up like a piece of meat.
“I told you I’m not!” Jain retorted, but the panic in her voice was obvious. She tried to rally. “Anyway, why would you want to tickle me? Dragons aren’t meant to tickle!”
Bellerogrim’s grin widened.
“On the contrary, sweetling”, he said, his deep voice dripping with honey. “We dragons aren’t all just treasure-hoarders, damsel-eaters, and village-burners. Some of us like to have fun.”
Jain really began to panic. Being helpless was frightening enough, but the prospect of being helpless and tickled, and by a 200ft dragon was terrifying. She cut her losses.
“Are you going to tickle me? Please don’t…” she pleaded.
Bellerogrim merely grinned back at her, his deep red eyes flashing with monstrous glee.
“Now, now, little vixen. All pretty girls are ticklish, and deserve to be tickled. And you, sweetling, are very pretty indeed…”
Jain whimpered inwardly. There was no escaping it. She tried one last time, one last appeal for mercy.
“Please!” she begged, “Don’t tickle me, I can’t stand it!” Jain searched for a trace of compassion or empathy on the dragon’s huge, reptilian face, but saw nothing other than cruel desire.
“Don’t be so coy, little Vixen Warrior!” the dragon bellowed. “You might even enjoy it!” Bellerogrim slowly, theatrically, raised his right fore claw up to Jain’s prone squirming body, before extending his index claw towards the young vixen’s bare midriff. “Now how does that quaint little biped taunt go? Ah, yes… Kitchy, kitchy, coo...”
Its tip brushed gently up and down Jain’s vulnerable left side. Jain’s flesh crawled and quivered in response. She screwed up her eyes, locked her jaw, and tried desperately not to laugh. It tickled! It tickled! Oh gods, please make him stop!
As if it sensed Jain’s torment, Bellerogrim smiled widely, moved his claw around, and began to stroke and probe at her left side. The helpless warrioress barely managed to suppress a yelp of laughter. Bellerogrim spoke once more, his claw tip stroking her bare midriff as he rumbled in deep, yet pleasured tones.
“Does this not tickle, sweetling?” The dragon grinned as he decided to change its approach. “Does my touch not make you want to laugh?” Jain’s cruel tormentor continued to slowly, gently, tickle her left side. Bellerogrim, flexed another of his long, dextrous claws, and in one deliberate movement, swept it’s fore claw around to Jain’s front and scribbled the tips of the two claws on her firm, flat stomach. “Not even if I tickle your… tummy?”
Laughter burst from Jain’s snout in a stream of yelps and giggles. Bellerogrim grinned hugely in satisfaction.
“PAH-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!” She blurted. “No!!! Please, don’t!!! TEE-HEE-HA-HA-HA!!!” The Emperor Dragon began to alternate between gentle prods and lingering strokes; which combined, were driving Jain into a state of ticklish hysteria. “Stoppit! Stoppit! Stoppit!”
“Who’s got a tickly tummy then?” came Bellerogrim’s booming, ecstatic voice. “Answer me, little Vixen Warrior, or I won’t stop…” He’d switched back to tickling her with a solitary fore claw, which was now spiralling around Jain’s quivering stomach. Her whole body convulsed. It was unbearable.
“Me-he-he-he-HE-HE!!! Please stop! I beg of you!!! ”
The Emperor Dragon chuckled in response.
“I lied. I won’t stop, I’ve only just started!”
“NO-HO-HO-HO-HO!!!” Jain wailed. She tried desperately to struggle against the sadistic dragon’s grip; wriggle, squirm, anything, but it was hopeless. The absurdity of the situation, as mind-bending as it was, did not help block out the excruciating tickling sensations assaulting her consciousness. She was being tickle-tortured by a 200ft Dragon! It was as if the gods themselves were tormenting the poor young warrior-to-be.
For what seemed like hours, Bellerogrim, poked, prodded, teased and tickled his pretty little plaything. He especially enjoyed the sweetling vixen’s reaction when he poked his claw tips under her arms. The way she yelped and squealed with laughter was delightful! The great dragon prodded her left armpit once again, and grinned wickedly at her response.
“EEK! PLE-HEE-HEE-HEASE! No more! Let me go-ho-ho-ho!”
Bellerogrim scratched and scritched at the little vixen’s armpits, savouring her laughter. It really was highly enjoyable…His eyes cast absent-mindedly around his treasure chamber, and lay to rest on the pile of large, long, delicate Roc feathers near the far side of the cavern. Bellerogrim’s eyes narrowed, and the Emperor Dragon’s lipless maw spread into a huge, fanged grin. …but it could be so much MORE so…
The horrible, unbearable tickling had stopped. Jain Swiftblade opened her eyes, and looked directly into those of Bellerogrim, who was smiling back at her serenely. Her heart was still beating impossibly fast. She wondered what the depraved beast had in store for her next. Then, he spoke.
“My, you are a ticklish little thing, aren’t you?”
Jain suddenly found her temper rising. She’d been trained to be warrior, not suffer cruel, ritual humiliation in the grip of an overgrown lizard with a tickling fixation! She narrowed her piercing, blue eyes, and growled defiantly.
“Let me go, Bellerogrim, or you’ll regret it. The rest of my clan know where I am, and they’ll come looking for me!”
The dragon did not appear intimidated.
“I do hope so, my spirited little warrioress. I shall take great enjoyment in them if the rest of your kin are just as ticklish as you…” Jain growled in response. “Yes, you are a fiery thing. But tell, me… Jain, is it not? Do you have a good grip?”
Jain stopped growling and suddenly looked very worried.
“What do you mean?” she asked quickly.
“Oh, it’s just that with those strong, muscled arms of yours, you shouldn’t have any trouble clinging onto one of the stalactites, up there,” Bellerogrim soothed, glancing up at the cavern ceiling.
“No!” Jain blurted, panic overwhelming her. “Wait!”
But the Emperor Dragon, still holding her tightly by her wrists, hoisted her up higher into the air towards the stalactite-studded roof of the treasure chamber. Within seconds, she was within reach of one of the long, downward-pointing rock spires. “Here were are, sweetling, grab hold of it”, Bellerogrim cooed in his deep voice, releasing the grip on one of Jain’s wrists, leaving her hanging precariously in the air. Jain mustered one last bout of courage and spoke as defiantly as she could.
“What if I don’t?”
Bellerogrim’s reply was simple, deadly, but edged with jovial malice.
“Then I’ll drop you.”
The young vixen’s eyes widened in horror. She looked down at the distant cavern floor. It was a long way to fall. Whimpering, she grasped tightly at the tapered shaft of the stalactite, with her free hand, and once Bellerogrim had let go, swung the other around to secure her grip. The young Warrior Vixen was left hanging helpless from the stalactite, gazing fearfully at the grinning Emperor Dragon, who was now moving purposely below her; reaching around with his fore claws behind him. Jain’s fiery-orange fur concealed the fact that the blood began to drain from her face, as she saw what Bellerogrim held, grasped in each claw. Two, long, pointed, pastel-orange Roc feathers.
You evil reptilian bastard…
The Emperor Dragon looked up once more at his captive, tauntingly brushing the tall feathers against each other like a butcher with a knife and sharpening rod.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” the dragon teased. “They say that if you tickle a creature with a Roc’s feather for long enough, they’ll go mad… I wonder what effect TWO will have?” He grinned, that cruel, malicious grin, and raised the twin feathers to Jain’s vulnerable, dangling body. “I suppose I’d better find out…”
Jain’s bottom lip quivered. She faced a choice of falling to her death, or being tickled into insanity. She begged one, last time; her voice quavering as she did so.
“Please… Don’t tickle me with those… Have mercy…”
Bellerogrim purred, deeply; smoke flaring from his nostrils. He smiled.
“Mercy is for the weak, pretty Warrior Vixen… And you are strong, fiery little creature. Your sweet laughter will be as music to my ears.”
With that, Bellerogrim raised up the feather-tips to Jain’s underarms, poised, and then prepared to draw them down the entire length of the young vixen’s body. The feathers touched her armpits. Jain’s body convulsed, and she gasped in mortification. The tips started to stroke down her underarms. It was horrible. The touch of the feathers was beyond endurance. Jain Swiftblade lost all self-control, except for the one part of her brain that made her hold on to the stalactite above her.
The feather tips stroked down to her upper ribs.
They crossed over the leather straps of her brassiere, giving Jain just enough time to breathe in before the feathers made contact with her lower ribs.
“I CA-HA-HA-HAN’T TAKE IT!!! P-PLEASE GODS MAKE HIM STA-HA-HAP!!!”
The tips reached her sides, licking their way, slowly, deliberately down their length.
“NO MORE!!! NO MORE!!! PLEEEASE!!! PLE-HEE-HEE-HA-HA-HA!!!”
Bellerogrim grinned as he stroked the Roc’s feathers over Jain’s belt, and down her thighs.
“NO-HO-HO-HO-HO!!! PLEASE STA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!”
Jain had never felt true suffering until now. The feathers her brothers used to tickle her feet with were nothing compared to the orange instruments of torture Bellerogrim held in his huge fore claws. The feather tips eventually reached the tops of her boots and the tickling ceased. The flanks of Jain’s tormented body quivered and tingled. Tears of anguished laughter that had formed in her eyes trickled down her cheeks. She gazed desperately down at the face of Bellerogrim, who flicked out his long, forked tongue mockingly.
With a smile he raised the feathers once more to her body. Jain sobbed inwardly. Please gods, not again, not again…They touched once more at her armpits, and again began their second, torturous route down her vulnerable, helpless form. All young Jain Swiftblade could do was laugh, beg, plead, and hold on for dear life, as the relentless tickling of the Roc’s feathers slowly, and gradually drained her strength, will, and dismantled her sanity.
Jain lost track of how many strokes Bellerogrim made of her flanks. All that mattered was that she was losing her grip on the stalactite. She would fall sooner or later. It was just a matter of time. The young vixen’s life flashed before her eyes. It could have been worse, she thought miserably. So this was how it would end for Jain Swiftblade. She would have laughed if her lungs weren’t already aching and fit to burst. In a moment of spiritual clarity, Jain commended her soul to Fortunata, and let go.
And landed firmly on her feet.
Jain opened her eyes and realized that she was still alive, and not a gruesome mess on the treasure-laden floor. She looked down at the soft, cool surface she was standing on. It was smooth, and green. He gaze shifted up and around. Long, dexterous finger-claws stood around her. The young vixen span around, and came face to face with the grinning countenance of Bellerogrim, who held her in his huge, cupped fore claws.
“Do you really think I would have allowed you to fall, little Jain?” he growled, softly, his reptilian face taking on an almost paternal look of concern. “I am not a cruel being. I would have not tickled you to madness or let you die”
Jain composed herself.
“Will you let me go, then?” she said nervously.
“…No…” came the Emperor Dragon’s reply. “At least not yet… I have not yet finished my play with you.”
“W-What do you mean?”
Bellerogrim’s expression changed once again to his all too familiar grin. His deep, crimson eyes, fell on the young vixen’s boots. Jain knew instantly that it was their contents, which were foremost on the great beast’s mind. Oh by the gods no… Not that! Not my feet! She shifted them nervously, trying not to exhibit any fear.
“Yes, your feet, Vixen Warrior… I have no doubt you have the prettiest, most ticklish little sweetling feet…”
Before Jain could react, the Emperor Dragon closed the fingers of his huge left fore claw around her body, pinning her arms to her sides. Within seconds she was utterly helpless once more. She squirmed experimentally; moving to see which appendages could still be moved. It didn’t surprise her that her feet were the only parts of her body other than her head, which had escaped unrestrained. Then, slowly, melodramatically, Bellerogrim reached down with his right fore claw, and delicately pulled-off her slender leather boots, as if plucking petals off a flower. The feeling of cool air on her feet was refreshing compared to the normal suffocation they experienced within her S’Nomian boots. Their relief was to be short-lived however, as her tormenter lowered his head, and marveled at the soft, tender, light pink soles of her bare, unbearably ticklish feet. Bellerogrim glanced up at her, arched a scaly eyebrow, and extended his index claw towards her right foot. Softly, gently, he scratched the claw tip up and down the full length of the sensitive sole. Once again, taunts accompanied Bellerogrim’s ruthless tickles.
“Koochie, koochie, koochie…”
Jain exploded with laughter.
Bellerogrim couldn’t help but laugh himself with amusement. He moved his claw across, and tickled the young vixen’s other foot in the same way.
“Tikky, tikky, tikky…”
Jain’s feet wriggled and squirmed to no avail. The scratching claws of Bellerogrim were driving her mad. Tears once again welled up, and trickled from the Vixen Warrior’s eyes, and beads of sweat began to form on her brow. Jain, giggled, guffawed, screamed, squealed, begged, cried and pleaded for the tickling to stop. For someone as ticklish as Jain Swiftblade, it was nothing short of torture.
“STHAHAHAHAP!!! PLEEEAASEE!!! LEAVE MY FEE-HE-HE-HE-HEET ALONE!!! PLEA-HEE-HEE-HEE-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!”
She really was a fun little plaything, Bellerogrim thought as he tickled the little vixen’s feet. It was good to have some company once in a while.
Like all male Emperor Dragons, he could appreciate beauty amongst bipeds, and his species were famed for their infatuation with pretty young females. They tended to taste better. Yet Bellerogrim was slightly different. What was the point in eating a pretty girl if you could have so much fun tickling them, he reasoned. It was a unique outlook, but one which had, in the end, resulted in his downfall. He grunted, shaking the thought from his mind, and concentrated on the matter at hand.
Now where was he? Oh yes… Tickle, tickle, tickle…
Bellerogrim was an expert tickler, and had quite a lot of practice. His deceptively nimble claw tips pushed Jain to limits of hysteria, enjoying her laughter and what he thought were coy pleas for him to stop. Whenever he sensed her growing short of breath, he eased his tickling, and gently stroked the soles of her tender feet with the smooth knuckle of his index claw; allowing her to breathe freely. She’d need her breath back once he started to tickle her again. Jain didn’t know how long Bellerogrim had been tickling her poor, tormented feet. It seemed like forever. Her lungs ached, she was damp with sweat, her muscles were drained of strength, and her mind was pushed to the edge endurance. Then, just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.
The tickling stopped suddenly, and the young vixen’s tortured laughter abated, Jain gratefully sucking in as much air as possible. She focused through tear-dampened eyes at her captor, but recoiled in horror as much as its grip would allow her. In his other, huge claw, held up before her, were gripped the two, orange, Roc’s feathers. Bellerogrim’s eyes gleamed.
“Remember these, sweetling?”
The sheer horror of her situation was so overwhelming that Jain Swiftblade temporarily lost the power of speech. She whimpered. Roc’s feathers. Tickling her feet. The very prospect of it was enough to drive her mind into the abyss. The young Vixen’s eyes were like saucers. Finally, Jain finally gained control of her faculties.
“Please don’t tickle my feet… Not with those…” she whimpered softly.
For the first time, a flash of uncertainly crossed Bellerogrim’s mind. He looked closely at the pretty little vixen in his clutches. She really was terrified. The Emperor Dragon suddenly felt quite guilty. Maybe he’d pushed her too far… “Please don’t”, Jain pleaded. “I’ll do anything!”
A thought crossed Bellerogrim’s mind, and with a contemplative look on his huge reptilian face, laid the feathers down on the treasure-laden ground.
“Anything?” he growled curiously.
“Anything!” Jain replied eagerly, grasping hold of any respite from the dragon’s tickling.
Bellerogrim carefully lowered Jain to the ground, and released his grip. The exhausted young vixen fell out of his claw, and collapsed onto her back, completely drained of her strength.
Bellerogrim panicked, he’d never meant to harm her. He reached down tentatively towards Jain, his eyes showing genuine concern and worry. The approach of the dragon’s massive claw caused the young warrior to yelp and try to scramble away. Bellerogrim bit his tongue and jerked back his fore claw.
“Are you alright?” he asked, nervously. “Did I harm you?”
Jain rounded on the Emperor Dragon, her eyes narrowed and her gaze frosty.
“Why, are you concerned for me? You tickled me half to death! What do you expect, you stupid great lizard?!?”
The dragon’s brow furrowed at the insult.
“Now there’s really no need to talk like that, sweetling-”
“Don’t you ‘sweetling’ me, dragon!” Jain bellowed, jabbing a clawed finger at Bellerogrim who drew back, speechless. But he was only having fun…
“I-I’m sorry if I harmed you, I only wanted some company…” He stammered.
“So you torture, your guests, do you?” Jain retorted, coldly. The word clearly had an effect on the massive creature.
“But I was only tickling!” Bellerogrim said, his deep voice taking on a sincerely apologetic tone. “I thought you’d enjoy it!”
Jain Swiftblade’s S’Nomian warrior temper exploded.
“DID I LOOK LIKE I WAS ENJOYING IT WHEN I WAS BEGGING FOR YOU TO STOP???”
Bellerogrim now began to look genuinely perturbed, and the great dragon found himself unable to meet the little biped’s withering gaze.
“I’m sorry! It’s… It’s just that I get very lonely in here… Will you accept my apology?”
Jain’s anger began to be replaced with curiosity, and she calmed herself down. She hazarded that Bellerogrim could only take so much of a tongue-lashing, and she didn’t fancy her chances against a 200ft Emperor Dragon. It was wise to try and establish some common ground.
“I… apology accepted. But why don’t you just leave?” she said flatly.
A sad look crossed the massive beast’s face.
“I was condemned by my clan to guard the treasure hoard we had accumulated. Contrary to popular belief, the position of Treasure Guardian isn’t exactly a popular one,” he rumbled.
“But why? What did you do wrong?” Jain asked.
Bellerogrim suddenly looked quite embarrassed.
“The Emperor Dragons have to keep up appearances and maintain certain clichés. Ravage a kingdom here, devour a princess there, it’s all part of our culture. Only when I was tasked with devouring an Equinian princess, my first one, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. She was so pretty, and really didn’t deserve to be sacrificed like that. It wasn’t even me who burned all their crops in the first place!”
“So what did you do?” asked Jain curiously.
“I-I tickled her.” Bellerogrim said gruffly, looking away. “As well as a few other maidens I came across…”
Jain couldn’t help but smirk.
“You really do have a tickling fixation, don’t you?”
The dragon responded defensively.
“I enjoy tickling! It’s fun... When I sensed you enter the chamber, I thought I could have some fun with you. It’s better than me eating you, isn’t it?”
“That’s debatable…” The young vixen muttered, remembering her ordeal.
“Anyway”, he continued, “my clan didn’t see things my way, and I was sent here to guard the treasure chamber for all eternity. I suppose I deserved it…” he rumbled sadly.
Despite her normally cold-hearted nature, Jain couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy for Bellerogrim. But one question still remained unanswered.
“Why didn’t you tickle my feet with the Roc’s feathers? You obviously wanted to.”
The dragon looked empathic.
“Well, to tell you the truth, I saw your reaction, and concluded that was going a bit too far… I only wanted to have some fun, not torture you…”
“But that’s not just it, is it?” Jain countered suspiciously. “Why did you let me go?”
“Well…”, the Emperor Dragon growled in low tones, “When you said you’d do ‘anything’ to prevent me using the feathers on you, I thought you’d…”
Jain raised an eyebrow.
To her surprise, Bellerogrim shifted his massive, muscular, sinuous, emerald green bulk, led on his side, and slowly pushed out his rear foot claws out towards her.
“…tickle me…” he said shyly.
Jain was dumbstruck. She looked at the smooth, light green soles of Bellerogrim’s foot claws. They were huge. She raised her head, and looked the massive Emperor Dragon in the eye, an incredulous grin spreading across her face.
“You wanted ME, to tickle YOU?”
Bellerogrim flexed his toe claws impulsively.
“…yes.” He said, as matter-of-factly as he could.
Jain started to laugh despite herself. Bellerogrim turned back to look at the young vixen, the dragon bearing an embarrassed and slightly annoyed expression. “What are you laughing for?”
“Mighty Bellerogrim, dread Emperor Dragon and Treasure Guardian of the middle-north wants me to tickle him…” Jain laughed. It really was utterly ridiculous. “Very well”, she said, smiling. “If I WERE to tickle you, what would I expect to gain in return?”
“Apart from your life?” Bellerogrim tried, unconvincingly.
“We both know you wouldn’t hurt a fly.” She grinned slyly. Jain had called his bluff. She looked again at the Emperor Dragon’s massive foot claws, an idea forming in her head. “Let’s strike a deal. I’ll tickle you, if you agree to let me haul-off as much treasure as I can carry.”
Bellerogrim considered the offer. It was fair, and a bit of treasure missing wouldn’t be noticed by the clan. Anyway, he had always wanted to be tickled by a pretty young biped. It was a small price to pay.
“Very well, Jain, we have an agreement.” Bellerogrim rumbled. “Now…” he growled eagerly, flexing his toe claws once more. “Fulfill your end of the bargain.”
Jain’s heart began to beat rapidly. She’d never have thought in a million years that her Warrior-hood Quest would lead to this. The gods certainly did have a sense of humour. Oh well, she’d better get on with it. Hell, it might even present some measure of revenge…The young Vixen Warrior smirked, and walked towards Bellerogrim’s foot claws, one stacked vertically on top of the other. She could barely just reach over them.
“Well…” Jain muttered, flexing her claws. “Here goes nothing…”
“Oh, another thing”, the dragon growled sheepishly. “Could you, you know, taunt me as you tickle? Tease me a bit? Like I did with you?” Jain raised an eyebrow. “Please?” Bellerogrim crooned in his deep, cavernous voice.
A tickle-obsessed dragon. Jain’s mind boggled. You really couldn’t make this stuff up.
“Very well…” she sighed. Jain tentatively reached out towards the upper of Bellerogrim’s stack foot claws. Tease him…Very well…
Slowly, and gently, the young vixen scribbled her claw tips across the remarkably, soft, green, tender sole of the Emperor Dragon’s outstretched foot claw. “Itchy… kitchy, kitchy…?” Jain said, uncertainly.
Bellerogrim’s reaction was instantaneous. Facing away from her, he grinned widely, his eyes closed tightly, fore claws clenched. Jain couldn’t help but smirk. She lowered her left claw, and began to use it against the lower of the great beast’s foot claws. “Tikky-tikky tickle…” she eased, her confidence growing.
Bellerogrim’s toe-claws flexed indulgently as Jain quickened the speed of her nimble finger claws. She scritched and scrabbled them back and forth across the vast length of the creature’s massive soles. The great Emperor Dragon’s vast, muscular shoulders began to shake gently, and Jain watched as he extended his fore claws, grasping and pawing at the treasure-laden ground. “Aww…” The Vixen taunted, grinning, “Is the big, strong, powerful, Emperor Dragon ticklish…?” To Jain’s great amusement, Bellerogrim nodded vigorously, and puffs of thick, black smoke rolled from his nostrils. This was quite fun…
In one swift movement, Jain raised both her claws and vigorously tickled the balls of Bellerogrim’s upper foot claw; spiraling, looping, and circling them around. Then, she dug her finger claws into the tender sole-flesh, and began to drag them along the full length of the beast’s foot towards the heel.
The dragon’s entire body convulsed with barely contained mirth, Bellerogrim’s vast muscles rippling and sinews flexing. Fire erupted from his nostrils and he snorted loudly. He began to pound his clenched fore claws on the ground as Jain repeated the process. Apart from this, Bellerogrim hadn’t expelled so much as a titter. Jain was determined to alter this situation. Grinning like a naughty choirgirl, Jain reached around behind her and grasped the long, thick, soft, furry brush of her tail.
“Still not laughing, Bellerogrim?” She teased. “Such a noble creature… Laughing would be so undignified, wouldn’t it?” The young vixen moved the soft, white tip of her tail closer to the creature’s awaiting foot claws. “It would be so humiliating if a tiny little creature like me were to make you laugh…” Jain positioned her tail before Bellerogrim’s feet, readying it like a well-aimed spear. “Especially if I tickled you like… this!!!” With lightning speed, Jain swept the soft fur of her tail between the soles of the Emperor Dragon’s foot claws, tickling his unbearable sensitive arches.
Bellerogrim could stand it no longer. His great maw opened, and he boomed with great, deep, cavernous laughter.
“MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!” The very chamber shook with the sound, and Jain beamed with satisfaction. The Emperor Dragon spread his toes in response, and Jain exploited the opening. She brandished her tail and taunted her huge reptilian victim once more as she brushed the fur of her tail underneath Bellerogrim’s fully flexed toe claws. He guffawed hugely, and his booming laughter intensified.
“You have tickly-tootsies, as well???” Jain cried with newly discovered glee. “How adorable! Coochie, coochie, coo!!!” The young vixen released her tail, letting it swish back behind her. Jain brought her finger claws once more into the fray, and tickled all eight of the Emperor Dragon’s massive toes with reckless abandon. Bellerogrim’s booming laughter continued. At last he managed to roar a response.
“GRAH-HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA! YOU TICKLE WELL, LITTLE VIXEN!”
Jain grinned, and glanced over to the ground 10 feet away from her. Laid there, were the two, orange Roc’s feathers Bellerogrim had tickled her with earlier.
“Oh, I’ve only just begun…” She teased, softly, withdrawing her claws. “Now… Close your eyes again…”
Bellerogrim chuckled deeply, grinned, and shut his eyes, awaiting the surprise the little Vixen Warrior had in store for him. Bellerogrim growled contentedly. How long had he waited for this? Finally, after centuries of tickling helpless young maidens, one had actually agreed to tickle him in return. Little Jain was a very good tickler, and such a pretty one too. He recalled the wonderful sensations on the soles of his foot claws as the sweetling vixen’s little claws did their work. The dragon snorted twin columns of fire eagerly. I wonder what she has in store for me?
Jain Swiftblade grasped the feathers in each hand. They were incredibly light, and seemed to almost float in the air. Brandishing them easily, she swished them around her body in practiced arcs, like a pair of swords. She gazed back at Bellerogrim’s massive feet, and then up at his pointed reptilian face, his eyes closed and his maw still spread in a gleeful fanged grin of anticipation. The young vixen grinned evilly. You won’t just be grinning when I use these on you…
Bellerogrim waited. She’s taking her time…he thought. He could still sense her presence. What was she up t-
In one, perfectly co-coordinated movement, Jain stroked the tips of the two feathers across the massive soles of Bellerogrim’s feet. They glided effortlessly, all the way from his heels to the balls of his foot claws. The Emperor Dragon’s reaction was instantaneous. His eyes snapped open, and with a voice that shook the cavern to its very foundations, and threatened to bring the chamber’s ceiling crashing down upon them, he roared with laughter.
“BWAAAA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!” The feathers! She was using the feathers!
Jain wielded the feathers expertly, and with a grace honed through years of training in the arts of swordplay. She smiled with determination as she began to run the tips of the feathers across Bellerogrim’s toes, causing them to wiggle and squirm. Every few seconds, she’d swish them back, and poke their sharp, pointed tips in random patterns, on the tender flesh of his soles. Poke, poke, poke. The Young vixen grinned as the dragon barked mirthfully at every jab.
“Do you like the tickly feathers, dragon?” Jain teased.
“YEH-HEH-HEH-HEH-HEH-HEH-HEH!!!” came his booming reply.
“What was that?” She chided, playfully. “I didn’t quite understand. Maybe if I do this?” The young vixen started to spiral the Roc’s feather on Bellerogrim’s acutely sensitive arches.
Jain looked up at the dragon from her work. Bellerogrim’s great maw was wide open, and his massive forked tongue was quivering and lashing outwards with every single roar. His great fore claws pawed and grasped at the treasure-laden ground, and his gargantuan tail had begun to hammer up and down behind him. Now for the coup de gras, Jain though, beaming widely.
Bellerogrim laughed with total disregard for his own pride and dignity. The ticking was exhilarating! He’d never enjoyed himself so much in his entire life! He continued to bellow with laughter. Inwardly, he was glad the pretty vixen hadn’t used the Roc’s feathers underneath his toes… He really wouldn’t have been able to suffer tha- uh oh…
“Tickle, tickle, tickle!” Jain cried with malicious delectation, as she thrust and played the orange tickle-instruments underneath and in-between the great beast’s toes. The Vixen Warrior was knocked off her feet as Bellerogrim rolled onto his back, his powerful hind legs kicking in the air.
“AAAAHHHHHH HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!! NOOOOOO-HO-HO-HO-HO!!! NO MORE! NO MORE!”
The great dragon’s massive bulk shook and convulsed with laughter, sending waves and ripples of treasure outwards from it. Jain scrambled back from Bellerogrim, and leapt behind an open chest full of precious jewels. Self-consciously, she quickly reached into the casket and shoved a claw full down her brasserie. Just in case… she thought.
It took over a minute for the Emperor Dragon’s laughter to subside, Bellerogrim clutching at his immense sides with his fore claws, a wide, satisfied grin on his face. Eventually, his huge eyes cracked open, and scanned the chamber, and focused in on the Jain, who peered back at him nervously.
“Don’t worry, little Jain…” He crooned deeply. “I enjoyed that. You have upheld your oath, and you are free to leave”
Jain stood up and walked out from behind the chest grinning despite herself, the young Vixen’s eyes flashing with triumph and anticipation.
“With as much treasure as I can carry?” She asked eagerly.
Bellerogrim nodded and smiled.
“Of course. We Emperor Dragons are creatures of our word. You may take as much as you want.” Bellerogrim’s crimson eyes narrowed and his tongue flicked out amusedly. “Including what you’ve ensconced in your chest garment...”
“I- um… Thank you.” She smirked sheepishly, looking away. Nothing seemed to escape him, did it?
“Well, what are you waiting for, sweetling?” Bellerogrim growled smoothly with a sweep of one of his fore claws.
With that, Jain Swiftblade flexed her finger claws eagerly, grinned widely and went to work.
At least an hour had passed, and the large, treasure-laden silk sack that Jain had newly fabricated was reaching an unbearable weight. Bellerogrim watched Jain interestedly as she strode around the treasure chamber, stooping here, picking there, the young Vixen was clearly making all of her choices count. The Emperor dragon cupped his jaw in his great fore claws, as he watched Jain crouch down and pick up an elaborately jeweled diamond necklace from the ground.
The Warrior Vixen turned-over the adornment in her claws, marveling at the way the innumerable precious stones sparkled in the torchlight. A sudden urge crept over her. Jain began to lift the necklace up towards her collar. It really was beautiful… Bourgeois, superficial, and very un-S’Nomian, but very beautiful all the same…
A booming voice broke her trance. It was Bellerogrim.
“It would look very nice on you,” he crooned.
Jain glanced back at him, and threw down the trinket with newly felt disdain. A mere bauble… she thought bitterly. Yet another example of how non-S’Nomian males bribed their women into subjugation. She would not wear such a shackle.
“I have no use for it,” she said coldly.
Bellerogrim’s expression changed to one of contemplation. He could sense the young Vixen’s turmoil. He spoke once more, anxiousness edging his cavernous voice.
“I did not mean to offend you, Jain. I am sorry.”
The Vixen Warrior turned and gave a thin smile.
“It is of no consequence, Dragon. I do not expect you to understand our ways.”
“How old are you, Jain?” Bellerogrim rumbled.
The question surprised the young vixen and caught her off guard. She saw no point in being evasive.
“I had my seventeenth birthday two days ago.”
The Emperor Dragon gazed at her feelingly. Even as an Emperor Dragon he knew well the lifespan of bipeds.
“I sense such sadness in you, little Vixen. It is not right for someone so young.”
Jain turned away, unable to meet the great creature’s penetrating stare. He could read her like parchment. Finally, she spoke, her voice low and even.
“I am a Warrior Vixen of the S’Nom, not a pampered, spoilt princess. My life has been one of trial, and I am grateful. That which has not killed me has made me stronger. And I will grow stronger still.” Jain walked over to the silken bag, and tied it firmly before slinging its considerable weight over one shoulder. She turned back and met the gaze of Bellerogrim one last time. He spoke gently, almost paternally, gazing searchingly into the young vixen’s eyes.
“I hope you are right, Jain. I pray that your gods will watch over you.” He bowed his great reptilian head.
“Thank you,” Jain replied after a lengthy, uncomfortable silence. “I hope that one day that you will be able to leave here. It… wasn’t right for your clan to send you here.” She tried a disarming smirk. “Even if you do like to torment unbearably ticklish girls like me.”
The Emperor Dragon couldn’t help but smile. The young warrioress was not as cold as she wanted to appear. There was hope for her yet.
“Could I ask a favour, brave Warrior Vixen of the S’Nom?” Bellerogrim asked.
Jain Swiftblade tried to straighten up proudly, but owing to the treasure-filled sack over her shoulder, she could only manage a half-slouch.
“Certainly, great dragon,” she said formally.
“Could you… put in a good word for me if you see one of my kin on your journeys? Say I flamed a knight or devoured a pretty young princess.”
The Vixen Warrior smiled.
“I’ll say you devoured a dozen princesses.”
Bellerogrim bowed once more, and Jain responded in kind.
“My thanks, Jain. Farewell.”
With that, Jain Swiftblade, turned around, and strode towards the cavern exit, newly cleared by her former captor. Her quest was almost complete. Within minutes she had reached her horse, still tethered outside, secured the treasure sack to the rear of the saddle, and was riding back towards home, and her final acceptance as a Warrior Vixen.
Almost half the village had come out to meet her. Nobody had expected young Jain Swiftblade to survive the quest. Jain savoured the looks of wonder and respect on the faces of those who had lined the path into the centre of the settlement as she rode in. The young vixen glanced to her left and saw none other than Maugenne Baneaxe and Shan Redclaw, the latter of whom had gained her moniker by tearing out the heart of another vixen who had insulted her honour. Jain thrilled when both of the scarred, battle-hardened Warrior Vixens bowed their heads in tribute. Then, as she looked ahead to her left, she saw her brothers, Jax and Toran. Both stared at her disbelievingly, their jaws agape. She glared at them, and smiled in satisfaction as Tura Darkheart, Fortunata’s Champion, stroke up behind her two siblings, growled something, and forced them to their knees, a gesture repeated by the other S’Nomian males who lined her passage.
Eventually, she reached the facade of the Council Chamber at the center of the settlement, and dismounted. Jain was approached by the High Matriarch herself, to whom she bowed deeply. The chieftain of the S’Nom smiled indulgently before she addressed the young Vixen before her.
“Arise, child. The gods and your people rejoice at your return. You have triumphed in your quest, and have endured the right of passage of the daughters of Fortunata. You are now a Warrior Vixen of the S’Nom.”
Jain’s heart glowed and her chest swelled with pride. Her entire life had been building to this moment. For the first time as long as she could remember, the young vixen felt sheer, unadulterated joy. Her elation was euphoric. Jain calmed herself slightly before she spoke.
“Your acceptance of myself as a warrior, is my honour, Matriarch. I pledge my service to you, my clan, and the Great Goddess Fortunata herself.” The formality was over, and the oaths of initiation were complete. In a voice edged with anticipation, Jain asked the Matriarch the one question she’d been desperate to enjoin as soon as she’d entered the village. “Matriarch, where is my mother, Mistress Truestrike? I did not see her when I arrived, and I am eager so speak with her.”
A flicker of uncertainty flickered across Jain’s mind as the Matriarch’s expression changed to one of reluctant empathy.
“My child… Your mother is not here.”
Jain’s proud smile was wiped from her face, and her insides felt like they’d been torn out with a meat hook.
“Not… here?” The young vixen asked quietly, her expression turning into a mask of uncomprehending disbelief.
The Matriarch looked away uncomfortably. She knew exactly what had happened and why. She’d been dreading this moment ever since she’d heard Jain had returned. She resented having to raise the poor girl up to the very apex of S’Nomian veneration, only to bring her down with soul-jarring disappointment. The Matriarch had been harsh to her own daughter when she’d trained her to become a Warrior Vixen, but she’d never been as cruel as Jezail Truestrike had been to Jain. Jezail’s decision was beyond vindictive.
“Your mother left just before you arrived. She was called away on an urgent duty. She will not return for several weeks.”
The lies felt bitter in her mouth. Everyone on the council knew that Jezail had volunteered for leave deliberately in order to spite her daughter. The acrimonious Warrior Vixen had fully appreciated her effect her absence would have on Jain. For someone who usually shunned emotion, it pained the Matriarch to see Jain’s adoration for her mother used against her. She couldn’t have refused Jezail’s request, it was beyond her power. As Vendanse Kel’s older sister, she had felt his death just as much as anyone, but his passing had destroyed Jezail Truestrike and any affection she may have had for her daughter. All that remained was bitterness and hatred.
Young Jain Swiftblade stood before her, expecting to see her mother; perhaps at last gaining her love and forgiveness, but receiving only cruel, vindictive, disappointment. Her empathy for Jain reached a deeper level as she saw the young Vixen trying desperately to fight back tears.
“I-I understand, Matriarch. I will be proud when my mother returns with greater honour and glory for the clan. If you will… excuse me, Matriarch, I would like to return home and rest.” Jain signaled feebly to the bulging sack of riches secured to her mount. “I hope the treasure I have brought you is satisfactory.” She suddenly felt very weak, and sick to her stomach.
“Of course, Jain Swiftblade.” The Matriarch responded, as kindly as convention allowed.
Jain bowed to the Matriarch, turned, and began to walk back towards the family home. Family, she thought bitterly, as the burgeoning tears finally brimmed over and began to trickle down her cheeks. She HAD no family.
Tura Darkheart, Champion of Fortunata approached the Matriarch and spoke in even tones, yet her pathos was obvious.
“May I speak frankly, Matriarch?”
“You may, my daughter.” She replied quietly.
“No-vixen deserves suffer such indignity and torment. Jain is now a Warrior Vixen and my battle-sister, and as a result, our souls are bonded as one.
“And so?” The Matriarch already knew what her daughter meant to say.
“If mistress Truestrike continues her vendetta against her daughter, Jain will have no soul left. Bitterness will breed strength in her, but she will rot and fester inside. Jain needs the love of her mother.”
“That is something that neither I, nor Mistress Truestrike can provide. I cannot begin to fathom Jezail’s pain, or that of her daughter’s. All I can do is pray that perhaps some day, they will both be at peace.”
Tura Darkheart, parting with the bearing of her warrior moniker, gently touched the robed arm of her mother, mentor, and Matriarch.
“Would you like me to talk to her?”
“No.” the Matriarch replied evenly. “It is not our way. We do not interfere in the personal affairs of our battle-sisters.” She felt her daughter’s hand slip away, and she watched as Tura, her beloved Tura, turned and began to depart. After a few feet, the Warrior Vixen stopped.
“I… love you, mother,” Tura said softly.
The Matriarch, sadness edging her voice, spoke low in reply.
“I love you, too.” She watched her daughter start to move away again, and join with Maugenne, Shan, and a few other of the assembled Warrior Vixens and begin to converse. She had no doubt that they were talking about Jain, but was equally confident that there was one aspect of the young Warrior Vixen’s life they would not be discussing.
Poor girl… she thought sadly. Jain Swiftblade’s life would be a tumultuous one, but the Matriarch prayed, with complete sincerity, that before her end, the young vixen would find at least some measure of happiness.