The Beastmaker's Journey

Story by BlakeTheDrake on SoFurry

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#8 of Tales of The Beastmaker

Sayn, summoned to the Southern Continent by a letter from her old friend Parakemnos, embarks on a journey across the seas. Accompanied by her friend and consort, Lutra of the Otter-Clan Beastkin, she soon finds that traveling on a ship loaded to the rafters with emigrating Centaurs carries its own sort of fringe-benefits... but alas, sea-travel is far from safe. Who knows what one might encounter, out there on the wide blue sea?

(This one wound up being quite a bit longer than I'd planned, but I couldn't see any neat way to split it up, so... there it is.) runningthroughgrass provided proofreading as always. Thanks!

The Beastmaker's Journey

Sayn was lying on her back on the grass, looking up at the clear blue sky with a lazy smile on her lips. Clouds drifted and whirled above, driven by a wind that did not touch the walled-off park at the center of her Seraglio. Around her, silence reigned, but for the twitter of the handful of stubborn birds who remained there. There was no humming of insects - nor any moaning or grunting from near the pond. It had gotten a mite too chilly to indulge in such activities outdoors, so the still-frequent encounters of pleasure had been pulled into the heated chambers of the individual consorts. Aishee - who was quite unaffected by the growing chill - had moped about that for a bit, but following Sayn's own example, the consorts had been good about occasionally heading into Aishee's water-filled chambers for their sordid meetings... so that the voyeuristic mermaid could watch, or join in.

Soon, it would be too cold to spend any real time in the garden at all. It was already winter on these latitudes, and only the nearby presence of the Great Bay was making autumn linger - though not for long. But for now, and a bit longer, Sayn could lie there - sensibly dressed - and enjoy the clear blue sky, and the symphony of colors that the passing of the year had painted on the once-green park. She had the time for it, after all. Things had been quiet lately. No major disasters to deal with, nor any heavy duties weighing on her mind. Ever since she'd seen the centaurs' main migration-fleet off from Fairharbor, she'd found herself with abundant time on her hands.

Well, maybe it was just because of the assassination-attempt. The thought still made her shiver slightly. The feeling as if she'd been punched in the chest. The flash of realization that the magically-reinforced dress she'd received from Aterxeus, the Black Dragon, had saved her life. Struggling to maintain her composure and aura of command, even as she sent her Beasts baying after the assassin's blood with a mixture of fury and fear. She hadn't even thought of telling them to take the guy alive... not that they'd gotten the chance, anyway. Of course, his inconvenient suicide meant that it remained uncertain whether he'd been acting alone - and if not, who had sent him.

Were her officials leaving her alone because they were afraid of giving her any work that might draw her into the line of fire again? Or had her display of apparent invulnerability served to drive home her supposed divinity to the point where they didn't dare bring anything 'beneath her dignity' before her? Either way, she didn't mind terribly. All too often, she felt out of her depth when it came to making decisions of statesmanship, and both Cybra and her consorts made sure to keep her informed of the going-ons around the continent. If her government did something she disapproved of, she was ready to jump in and wag her finger in appropriate directions... and as long as they were doing just fine without her, well, she was happy to take it easy for a while. Sooner or later, SOMETHING would go wrong again, and then everyone would turn to the Goddess-in-Residence to solve it. She might as well make sure she was well-rested for when that happened.

As if summoned by that thought, four tiny hooves made from carved stone could be heard swishing their way through the grass towards her. Cybra - heading her way. Outside of the usual 'status update' times. That rarely boded well. "There you are... ya know, if I didn't have a mental connection to you, I would've been hard-pressed to track you down. If anyone but me had been searching for you and found your chambers empty, their first impulse would've been to look underneath each of your consorts first..." The sharp-tongued little Beast was the only one who ever sassed her about her sexual appetites - probably because her manifest divinity had served to make such appetites both normal and fashionable across the continent. Cybra, however, didn't much care.

Sayn, however, was used to his attitude, and just leaned her head back to stick her tongue out at him. "Oh, I got that taken care of earlier. I've got so much time on my hands recently, I can actually satisfy my boundless libido AND find the time to laze about to boot. Something tells me that's about to change, though. What's up, fuzzball?" Cybra rolled his eyes - painted stones that he managed to make VERY expressive - and then shrugged. "A ship just arrived from the Southern Continent. It had a letter aboard, addressed to you - from your old friend, Parakemnon." With a groan, Sayn sat up, grimacing at the accuracy of her earlier prediction. Parakemnon led the new Centaur Colony on the Southern Continent, and he wasn't real big on correspondence. She got letters from officials in the human enclaves down there now and then, updating her on the centaurs' progress - but the Centaur King (as he now styled himself) didn't care for penmanship himself.

If he'd actually sent her a letter, something was terribly, desperately wrong. As Cybra trotted up next to where she sat, she spotted it lodged in his wool - a neat, white envelope that held the promise of enormous troubles that she would have to solve. With some trepidation, she picked it up and broke the wax seal on the back, pulling out a sheaf of slightly-creased parchment. Parakemnon's penmanship was, as always, atrocious. Centaurs didn't really HAVE a written language, though a few - himself included - had learned human letters... to some degree. With some effort, however, she managed to make enough sense of his missive to get the gist of it.

The centaurs had moved south, across the expansive plains of the Southern Continent, away from the human enclaves that dotted the northern coast. The plains were perfect for the centaurs - there, they would found their kingdom, and raise their many new foals. The enchantment she had obtained from Aterxeus had worked as advertised - already, countless new fillies had been born, bearing with them the promise of growth. However, to build a kingdom, the centaurs had to give up their nomadic ways - at least in part - and build permanent settlements... for this, they required materials. Fortunately, they had discovered that beyond the great plains, equally great jungles waited.

On the northern continent, there was little in the way of such vegetation - a bit on the western peninsula, where several Beastkin tribes lived, and a few spots on the southern coast where the Sea of Grass hit the ACTUAL sea. Apparently, the Southern Continent had a LOT more. Exactly how much remained uncertain, for as soon as the centaurs had started to poke their heads into those jungles, they had met something unexpected: Natives. The details were vague, but from Parakemnon's description, they were reptiles of some sort... clearly intelligent, capable of tool-use and - more problematically - weapon-use. They did not speak any language the centaurs could understand, however, and the initial encounters had not gone well. Even after pulling back from the jungles, the centaurs had found their new settlements harried by reptilian raiders.

The centaurs were warriors born, and natural skirmishers. They were unaccustomed to being on the defensive, to say nothing of BEING raided rather than DOING the raiding. Several of the centaur chieftains who had agreed to serve under King Parakemnon in return for partaking of the birthrate-correcting enchantment were baying for blood, loudly advocating punitive expeditions into the jungle. If these reptilians wanted to contest the foundation of the new Centaur Kingdom, they would have to be wiped out! So far, however, Parakemnon was managing to keep them under control - not so much by telling them that they were invaders on the reptilians' home territory, but rather by reminding them that the existence of the Centaur Race remained uncertain. The first generation of foals born without the cursed gender imbalance their old god, Thenares, had left them with, had not yet grown up. If they lost too many warriors now, their future could still be in peril - and they had no idea how many of the reptiles might lurk in that jungle.

However, his ability to keep his warlike people under control was limited. And SOMETHING had to be done about the reptilian attackers. As long as neither side understood the language of the other, however, there was no way to resolve whatever misunderstandings the initial encounters between the two races had created. And so, he turned to her - requesting that she use her diplomatic skills and magical powers to help him find a peace with his new neighbors. "A new race..." she mumbled, reading the last bit of the letter a few more times to make sure she'd gotten it right. "The first explorers made such a big deal out of how the Southern Continent was entirely uninhabited, save for the monsters who roamed the plains. Guess they just didn't go far enough south."

With a grunt, she jumped to her feet and looked down at Cybra, who returned the look with one delicately-sculpted eyebrow raised. "All right, then. No more slacking off. We need to start prepping for a trip to the Southern Continent!" The eyebrow shot even further up. "Surely, you're not planning to go in PERSON?" She just grinned. "Surely, I am. We're talking about making the first diplomatic connections with a completely unknown civilization! I've GOTTA be there in person. Besides, the centaurs respect me, and my Beasts represent the best option we've got for convincing a warlike culture - if that IS what they are - to negotiate. Now, stop wasting time, and go get some wheels turning!"

Less than two weeks later, she was standing on the tarred deck of a ship, watching the gleaming towers of Mosvaruch shrink into the distance as they sailed through the Great Bay and towards the enormous expanse of the Southern Sea. She wasn't even exactly sure what kind of ship it was. Caravel? Cutter? Clipper? Carrack? Something with a C, she was fairly certain. She also knew that it was neither the biggest nor the fastest ship afloat, but it WAS the best she could get on such notice - and even then, just barely. The captain had taken a lot of convincing - and a lot of bribery - to accept the trip. Apparently, even though the Southern Sea was always warm, sailors steered clear of it when winter struck the northern parts of the continent - for that was storm-season, and the storms that could build in that vast, open expanse of water defied imagining.

But if they made good time, they'd reach the Southern Continent before the storm-season started for real. They'd be stuck, then, of course - no way in hell the captain, or any other sane sailor, would be willing to attempt to cross that sea until months later, when the storms had passed and the waves again became calm. If Cybra hadn't been so murderously efficient at arranging the trip, they wouldn't have made it south in time, either. But once she'd made it clear that she wouldn't be dissuaded, the diminutive creature had leaped into action with aplomb, and demonstrated just how well he'd managed to tie himself into the bureaucratic and political system that had sprung up in the palace as it was being built - like weeds rising before you'd even finished tilling your garden, he'd once commented.

Budgets had been arranged. Those who protested the idea too loudly had been silenced with threats or bribes. The hundreds of people who were utterly certain that they NEEDED to accompany The Beastmaker on a journey of such importance had been carefully redirected. Captain, ship and crew had been found and cajoled into service. The Captain of the Guard had been VERY determined to include a full squad of armored, lethally-competent bodyguards, and the verbal fencing-match that had resulted was already the stuff of Palace legends. The Captain had slunk away with several bleeding wounds on his pride after being reminded that The Beastmaker could create an invincible army from mud and twigs if necessary. And besides, she would not be unprotected on the journey - despite the great Migration-Fleet already making several round-trips before settling down to wait out the winter down in the southern enclaves, there were still many, many centaurs waiting for a chance to make the trip. Sayn had offered to let a 'few' hitch a ride there on her ship... and even the Captain of the Guard had to admit that the centaurs would protect her with their lives if needs be.

She'd had adherents and believers amongst the Centaur since the day she first drafted them into service for her war against the Northern City-States. The elder Shaman of Parakemnon's tribe,whom she'd faced down and inadvertently converted, had more-or-less appointed himself as her High Priest and Prophet amongst his equine kind. Since then, he'd worked tirelessly to 'spread the word', gradually gaining new converts... and once she came through on her promise, correcting the skewered birth-rate that had been slowly killing them off, his work became a lot easier. By now, the vast majority of the Centaur people - save for a couple of isolated tribes who still refused to join Parakemnon's alliance - were fanatical adherents of hers. She could feel them, even now, looking at her with the intense, religious awe of a recent convert seeing a living goddess in the flesh.

Of course, Cybra wasn't the only one who'd pointed out that an abundance of dedicated young stallions aboard ship would ALSO ensure that she wouldn't get lonely - or bored - on the long sea-trip. No doubt, they'd all be eager to engage in a more PERSONAL form of worship. And, sadly, she might NEED that kind of distraction, for to her great sadness, she was forced to leave her beloved Korlin behind. The kind, dedicated and studious Kirin was just as heavily entangled in the governance of her new empire as Cybra was, so it was depressingly clear that neither one of them could be spared from their posts for such a long trip.

She wasn't traveling along, though - one close friend, she could at least bring. Lutra, the Otterkin Consort, was standing by her side, albeit looking in the opposite direction. Her eyes sparkled as she shaded them with one long-fingered paw, staring across the sea as if hoping to see the mysterious Southern Continent just by looking hard enough. The adventurous Otterkin had jumped at the opportunity to accompany her, and fortunately there had been been rather few hurt feelings in the Seraglio about only her alone going. It was fairly obvious to everyone that Lutra was simply the member of that inner circle who could most easily be spared... and, though no-one was crass enough to say it that way, replaced.

The Beastkin had continued to integrate with human society - both directly, through immigration, and through increased trade and exchanges of technology and ideas. Valuable medical herbs, rare alchemical supplies and exotic food-stuffs were flowing into the human city-states from the Beastkin lands, and in return, they received goods and technologies that were already raising their standard of living drastically. The number of species-motivated 'incidents' between Beastkin and Humans living in each other's societies was also dropping steadily. Lutra, in other words, hadn't really had much to do of late...

Still, 'just in case', an eager replacement had jumped in, accepting a purely temporary position in the Seraglio: Ssinizz, whose name Sayn still had trouble pronouncing, was taking a leave of absence from her post as a Priestess in Sayn's own church to go serve in a more direct fashion. The sleek, sensual Lizardkin had been amongst the candidates when Sayn first sought a Consort - just like Lutra. Which, of course, made her the perfect replacement. Sadly, it had taken a while for the message to go out, and the Lizardkin's flock had been far west, near the borders of the Beastkin territories - so she had not arrived yet. Sayn had hoped to... renew their acquaintance before setting out, but such was not to be. Perhaps when she returned? But, ahh, far too soon to be making such plans.

Speaking of her friends in the harem, Aishee the Mermaid had been working overtime too. Negotiating directly with her clan - thanks to the flooded, underground tunnel between the Seraglio's central pond and the waters of the Great Bay below, which had been recently completed - she'd arranged for a thoroughly elite escort. A full two dozen hardened Merman warriors were now swimming in formation around the ship, led by a young Prince of the clan - an older brother to Aishee, who seemed to be taking his duty quite seriously. Even though they'd yet to leave the bay, they were already fanned out and watchful, ready to challenge and destroy any sea-beast who had the extraordinarily poor judgment of considering the ship a viable snack. Idly, she wondered if she'd be able to... get to know him better during the journey. Mermen didn't have the same reputation for promiscuity as their female counterparts, but it was worth a shot. If he was even half as good as his sister, it'd be well worth the effort. And if he really was as serious as he seemed to be... there was always the rest of his squad.

Lutra broke her out of her erotic reverie with a grin, pointing ahead towards the endless, featureless expanse of the ocean. "It's amazing, isn't it? When you look at it, you can almost see that the world is a sphere. I knew before, but it's hard to wrap your mind around, you know?" Sayn nodded, feeling the Otterkin's infectious grin touch off a smile on her own face as well. It was true, indeed, that the seemingly-endless ocean showed off the world's curvature like few other things. If the world had been flat, they would've been able to see the Southern Continent ahead, instead of just the blue sea meeting the equallyblue sky in a hard-to-distinguish line. Behind them, another demonstration - the gleaming towers of Mosvaruch were still visible to the sharp-eyed, but ONLY the towers. The lower city had already dropped beneath the horizon.

"You suppose there are other continents, to the east or the west?" The spirit of an ocean-faring explorer seemed to have been born in the energetic otter, and Sayn had to giggle at the eager look on her face before she managed to answer. "Perhaps. The sages say, 'most likely'. However, explorers who sail east and west never come back. The merfolk won't run escorts very far in those directions, either - they say there are beings out there that they cannot fight. Griffons can't fly far without needing to land and rest, so they cannot reach other continents either. Maybe dragons can - but if so, they aren't talking about what they've found there. I actually asked Korlin about whether the Kirin could fly across the seas to such remote places - and y'know what she said?" The otter quickly shook her head, a look of eager curiosity on her face. It made the cute little whiskers vibrate. "She said that maybe they could, and maybe they would... when they'd finished bringing peace and balance to THIS continent. Until then, they've got enough on their hands. Or, hooves. You know what I mean."

Thinking of Korlin made her instinctively reach for the gleaming gemstone that hung from her neck. As jewelry went, it was fairly simple - a chain of woven steel and gold, with a polished diamond the size of a grape set in the middle. However, the simple necklace was charged with potent, magical forces - the combined efforts of three elven mages and one Kirin. In theory, the necklace should enable her to speak and understand any language under the heavens. This was hard to test, however, since everyone on the continent spoke the same language. 'Other tongues', that was the stuff of legends. Supposedly, back during the Age of the Gods, each and every people had used their own language. The Beastkin had even had a different tongue for each tribe. But the Gods - so said the legends - grew tired of the resulting complications, and banished all of these individual languages. Instead, they gave a new language to their people, one that they had crafted themselves - a Divine Tongue that could be spoken with equal ease by anyone, whether they had beaks, gills, muzzles or just plain old lips. The ancient languages survived only in the form of lingering naming-conventions and crumbling bits of written lore.

Of course, that tale left some interesting implications, if the reptilian natives of the Southern Continent truly spoke a different language. Had they been cast aside by the gods before the Divine Tongue was passed down to all mortals? Banished to the south? Had they been created in secret by a renegade god, and therefore not received the gift? Or perhaps they had possessed the Divine Tongue once, but then had been cursed to lose it - for abandoning their god, perhaps? The possibilities were endless, intriguing, and entirely irrelevant. With any luck, she'd get to find out straight from the horse's mouth when she arrived. She idly wondered if the highly-secret letter that had prompted all of this had leaked yet. Certainly, the same questions that were bouncing around in her mind would rattle noisily in the minds of theologians, sages, philosophers and historians throughout the continent.

The silence had dragged on while her mind whirled, one hand closed protectively around the necklace. The feeling of Lutra's warm, fuzzy body sidling up close to her brought her back to reality, however, and she looked down to see the otterkin's humble assets pressing against her arm. Meanwhile, a long-fingered paw was seductively caressing her buttocks, bringing rather more direct, physical matters to mind. Lutra's grin was broad and irreverent. "You know, all this 'seeing how small the world really is' and whatnot, trying to comprehend the shape of reality... it wears on you. Or on me, anyway. I could use something simple and straightforwards to take my mind off of it. Like maybe breaking in your stateroom, hmm?"

Sayn returned the naughty grin with a nod, and arm in arm, they made their way across the tarred deck towards the grandly-named 'stateroom'. It was, in truth, merely a cabin meant for a dozen men, redecorated and repurposed with great speed and little room for subtlety, to serve as her chambers for the trip. Of course, now that this had happened, everybody were wondering why nobody had gotten around to laying down a purpose-built Flagship for the Beastmaker's personal conveyance, and from what she'd heard right before setting out, the keel had now been laid down for just such a ship, at the biggest and most celebrated shipyard in Mosvaruch. Of course, actually FINISHING that ship would take the better part of a year, assuming everything went to schedule (which seemed unlikely in the extreme), so for now, a hired ship with a jury-rigged room would have to do.

The bed was large, sturdy, comfortable and bolted to the floor. It was also swiftly 'broken in' as Lutra wrestled the unresistant Sayn unto the covers, her strong fingers even more energetic than usual as they pulled away clothes and sought sensitive spots beneath. The adventurous spirit she'd displayed on deck was clearly undiminished even down in the darkness of the cabin - perhaps not surprising, since the smell of the salty air and the tarred boards, as well as the constant swaying of the floor, provided an ever-present reminder that they were still at sea. The otterkin's lips hungrily sought her own, and she easily melted against them, happy to let the other girl take the lead.

Lutra's sleek and powerful body pushed her into the bed, the sweet-smelling oil secreted by her fur mixing with the background scents of the ship. Two fingers were buried deep between her legs, wriggling forcefully, while the hilt of the hand ground against the sensitive clit above. Sayn wasn't sure if there was some new, creative twist to the way those fingers assaulted her, or if it was just the extra energy, the added impact of the otter's overflowing energy that did the trick, but either way, she was entirely blindsided by the first orgasm - it came at her out of left field, taking her breath away with next to no warning. Her shrieks and moans were drowned, however, by forceful lips - and her thrashing limbs were stilled by her lover's powerful body.

She was too caught up in the pleasure to even notice where the ropes came from. They weren't the sleek, finely-spun ones they'd sometimes used back at the palace - smooth and artistic, most likely woven for just such a purpose. These were simple, rough ropes, no different from those that the men labored over up on deck. The itchy way they dug into her fair skin gave the familiar thrill of bondage an added edge of rough barbarism,and overtones of added violation. Lutra clearly picked up on it as well, and played along with it splendidly. Her normally-soft lips assaulted Sayn's fully-exposed pussy - her legs now tied to the bedposts, preventing her from concealing her honeypot anymore - with unusual brutality, rough tongue lashing across all the most sensitive bits... and the sharp, predatory teeth would now and then nibble on the labia or even the clit just hard enough to send a shock of sensation up her spine.

Sayn could only moan as her body was thus brutalized. Powerful fingers squeezed and pinched her breasts and nipples, harsh slaps fell on her inner thighs and belly. Orgasm after orgasm tore through her pussy, helped along by the constant oral stimulation, leaving her more and more sensitive... with no indication that her otterkin lover was about to tire out anytime soon. When her groans grew too loud, Lutra simply shifted her position, silencing her cries with a well-placed, dripping-wet crotch. Powerful thighs enclosed her head, holding it in place, and the aromatic scent of the otterkin's natural oils grew overpowering. Obediently, she started to lick the flavorful juices off of the light-pink slit, her nostrils flaring as the familiar scent of newly-mown hay was added to the scent-image. She'd never figured out why the otterkin's asshole smelled like fresh hay, but considering how often she found her nose in that general department, she wasn't inclined to complain.

Several surges of hot otter-juices had filled her mouth - and been dutifully swallowed - before the tight vise of Lutra's thighs were removed from her head again. She'd lost count of the number of orgasms that had wracked her lower body during that time, leaving the muscles in her tied-up limbs simultaneously sore, and strangely relaxed. She didn't feel like moving, even when Lutra undid the ropes and started to push her semi-catatonic body around - instead, she just panted in the comparatively-fresh air, and enjoyed the afterglow. It took her several minutes to realize that the strong-armed otterkin had lifted her over the foot of the bed, her waist bent sharply as her feet scraped the ground and her upper body flopped on the sheets. Then the ropes came out again, and she found her arms and legs once again firmly attached, rough hemp itching against her skin. The bedposts served to keep her legs spread, and the headboard anchored her arms - leaving her quite helpless with her ass proudly in the air.

Lutra was behind her now, whiskers tickling her buttocks as the tongue beneath reached in between them. Smooth, wet and muscular, it dug into her sphincter - slightly sore as it was, from all the reflexive tightening it had done during the previous orgasms - and began to ease it open, relaxing and stimulating it. Sayn moaned into the crumbled bed-covers. They smelled of sweat and sex-juices and aromatic oils - of her and Lutra. After a few minutes of this, however, the otterkin lifted her head from between the fleshy globes of her rear, and grinned down at her with a mischievous expression. "Oh, this will never end at this rate... you're just too insatiable for little old me to fuck you properly silly all by my lonesome. But don't worry - I just had a splendid idea. Just... wait here for a bit, why don't you?"

With that, Lutra was on her feet and out the door - leaving Sayn tied-up and groaning helplessly behind her. Her pussy and ass alike were twitching, trying to understand where all that delightful stimulation had gone. Her pleasure-addled mind, meanwhile, was only slowly starting to parse Lutra's statement, and she hadn't actually managed to finish figuring out what was going on before the otterkin returned - with company. A pair of young, wide-eyed centaur stallions stepped into the cabin with her - part of the ship's 'cargo', obviously. Lutra gestured towards Sayn's exposed rear as she grinned up at them. "Well, there you are - ready to serve your goddess directly, hmm?"

Twisting her neck, Sayn could get a decent look at the two. The angle wasn't ideal, but she could certainly see something dangling between their legs... growing steadily. Oh, yes, she needed that... Lutra's fingers and tongues were instruments of great skill, but there were limits to what they could reach. Itches deep inside her they couldn't scratch. The well-hung centaur studs were under no such restrictions. She felt the throbbing in her groin redouble as they hesitantly approached, clearly torn between reverence and horniness. Was she supposed to say something? She couldn't really think straight. But clearly, they needed some extra encouragement. "Don't keep me waiting..." she finally managed to groan out, her voice somewhat hoarse from earlier screams of pleasure.

That did the trick. The first of the centaurs snorted, and then jumped forwards to cover her lithe body with his equine bulk. The blunt head of his cock slapped against her buttocks, but fortunately, Lutra was right there to help with the aim. Sayn couldn't see her, of course, but she could hear - and sense - the otterkin crouching beneath the centaur, doing a quick round of prep-work. A pair of strong, slender fingers were pushed into her asshole, stretching open her freshly-relaxed sphincter. Meanwhile, based on the slobbery sounds, the still-unflared head of the centaur's cock was getting a solid layer of lubrication. Clearly, Lutra had very specific thoughts about which hole needed servicing first.

Finally, with the help of Lutra's guiding paw, it went in. The sensation of having her asshole stretched open by a centaur's massive cock was something she'd never entirely get used to - nor did it ever stop hurting a bit, at least at first. But the feeling of the long, hot, veiny column of meat pushing deep inside her was more than worth it, sending shockwaves of pleasure radiating down through her neglected pussy and pushing a breathy groan from her lips. The centaur started to thrust forcefully as soon as he was safely anchored inside her - clearly, Lutra's prep-work had gotten him well and truly horny. But it was obvious that he'd had experience with willing human partners before - being part of the younger generation of centaurs, who had benefited from the many 'volunteers' that had streamed to centaur camps since the war. He wasn't using his full weight, or his full length - instead, he was pushing as deep as he could go, and then matching his strokes to the limitations of her body. She could hear him grunting in surprise above her, though - he'd most likely never been able to go this deep before. He certainly didn't seem to mind, though...

The bed creaked beneath them, but held. Sturdy construction, stout wood reinforced with iron. Cybra had been the one who saw to getting her cabin outfitted for the long sea-journey, and the dear little critter hadn't disappointed. The sound mixed with the grunts of both the centaur and her, with the sloppy sounds of his well-lubricated member being repeatedly driven into her ass, and with the steady creaking of the ship around them. A pleasant little symphony. Nearby, wet sucking sounds flowed into the musicas Lutra applied her oral skills to keeping the other centaur on the peak of arousal in preparation for his turn. Very forward-thinking. These were still young centaurs, after all - little more than colts. They wouldn't have the staying-power of older, more experienced stallions... though they were still quite impressive by human standards.

Sure enough, it took barely more than ten minutes before the bucking centaur above her reached his limit and, with a stifled groan, shot his hot, thick load into the depths of her ass. The warmth filled her - a familiar, pleasurable sensation that fused pleasantly with the afterglow of the anal orgasm he'd managed to pound out of her a couple of minutes earlier. His cockhead flared within her, creating a thick lump of soft tissue deep inside her pussy, pulsing with the rhythm of his beating heart. He seemed content to just stand there for a bit, his cock fully buried inside her - but an impatient whinny from behind got him moving again. Lutra's expert treatment was clearly keeping the other centaur on a blade's edge of pleasure, and he didn't seem inclined to wait too long for his turn.

The flared head scraped across her insides and tugged her sphincter outwards as he pulled out, eliciting a fresh groan from her. Her asshole gaped momentarily in the absence of penetration, the warm air of the cabin caressing her inner walls for a few scant seconds. Then the first centaur jumped aside, and the second charged in with an eager snort. He needed no aiming-assistance to find the still-open hole between her buttocks, and despite his cockhead being - by the feel of it - about halfway flared already, he pushed it inside easily. Yet another thick rod of pulsating, equine meat surged into her, tickling still-sensitive walls.

Out the corner of her eye, she saw Lutra whispering something in the first centaur's ear, before dipping beneath his flanks to clean his dripping cock with a wet towel. The centaur nodded eagerly, his eyes glowing with a strange mixture of religious awe and residual desire. Sayn had little time to consider what those whispers might concern, however - the waves of pleasure were spreading through her abdomen again, in tune with the second centaur's ferocious thrusts. Letting her breathing grow deep and steady, she closed her eyes and let her body move as it wished - undulating against the ropes, pushing back against the pounding cock that was rampaging so deeply in her ass. There was nothing to do - nothing she NEEDED to do - except enjoy the ride.

Some time later, another load of hot horse-cum was blasted deep into her rectum, and with some slight hesitation, the now-softening cock that had deposited it there was pulled out. Two seconds later, however, a fresh tool - wet, slick and rock-hard - appeared to take its place. This one aimed for her pussy, though, and she came almost before it had fully penetrated her. Her sensitive snatch had been vibrating with desire for the last half-hour, feeding only on the vibrations leaking down from the asshole above, and the direct, forceful stimulation of a huge, centaurian member was almost more than it could handle. Three or four more orgasms followed in rapid succession before the pounding shaft shot its load into her eagerly-waiting womb, giving her no time to wonder where that third cock - and the centaur presumably attached to it - had come from. Maybe the first one had gotten it up for round two?

The flared cockhead pulled back, giving her another mini-orgasm as it peeled back her labia and emerged with a noisy 'plop' sound. Then another appeared, going for her still-gaping asshole this time. The next two went for the pussy, though, followed by another visitor to her well-worn rear hole. Each of them lasted anywhere from five to fifteen minutes - but however long it took, there was always another rock-hard, ready-to-fire cock ready to jump in right afterwards. Large quantities of cum were leaking from both her pussy and ass by then, providing ample lubrication and adding a slimy undertone to the ongoing symphony of sex-noises.

During a couple of back-to-back anal assaults - where the orgasms didn't come so hard and fast as to prevent rational thought outright - she managed to figure out what was going on. Looking over her shoulder with half-closed eyes, she could see a line of centaurs extending clear out of the cabin's door, each waiting their turn. Lutra was bouncing around everywhere, 'fluffing' the waiting centaur-cocks to get them hard and lubricated, wiping down those who had finished, and occasionally giving a sharp reminder to centaurs who let their lust and youthful enthusiasm get the better of their restraint. Good thing too - Sayn was certainly in no mind to protest when her lovers got overly forceful.

Occasionally, the hard-working otterkin would take a few minutes to take a break... by planting herself spread-legged in front of Sayn's face. The familiar scent of female arousal was all it took to get Sayn's tongue working, even when she was in the depths of orgasmic semi-catatonia. Through the fogs of pleasure, the sweet, flowing juices of Lutra's light-pink pussy tasted even better than usual. The aromatic scent of the otterkin's oily fur was heavily mixed with the rank smell of sweat, by now - not to mention the increasingly-thick smell of cum that hung in the cabin like a tangible fog. The air was getting heavy with the rapid breaths of so many warm bodies - making her increasingly light-headed.

She wasn't sure how long the orgy continued. There was no sense of the passage of time in the artificially-lit cabin, the flickering of the dangling oil-lamps providing no clues. She'd long-since lost track of anything she might have counted, be it orgasms or lovers. It had definitely been more than an hour since the first centaur was led into the room. Maybe two hours? Three? More? She had no idea. All she was really aware of was the bonfire of sensation burning in her loins. The ache of rubbed-raw flesh. The pulsations of repeated orgasms, washed out by the afterglow of the many that had gone before. The throbbing need for more.

But eventually, it ended. She vaguely sensed Lutra at work, still - politely but firmly escorting the remaining centaurs out of the cabin, with a "Sorry, maybe next time" message for those who hadn't yet had their turn. None of them protested, even though several had clearly been waiting in line for some time - which spoke well of their impulse-control, or possibly just indicated that she was still commanding some degree of religious reverence even in her present state. Then, the ropes that had held her down for so long were removed, creating a sudden surge of pain in her ankles and wrists as the blood rushed into the constrained areas.

Next thing she knew, she was lying up on the crumpled, sweat-soaked sheets, cradled in Lutra's arms with a mug of cold water pressed to her lips. She drank deeply, amazed at how good the cold water felt. She'd been sweating in her restraints for... the aforementioned uncertain number of hours, laboring in the heat. Her throat had become dry and parched, all unnoticed... no wonder the otterkin's pussy-juices had seemed so tasty. The air was growing lighter too. A porthole had been thrown open, letting in the cool, salty sea-air, along with the cries of the sea-birds and the lapping of the waves against the ship's hull. Lutra's strong, gentle fingers were running through her sweaty hair, and caressing her wrists where the ropes had rubbed them raw.

They stayed liked that for some time - talking little, but luxuriating in one another's company as they both relaxed after what had been a long and intense session. As she began to recover, Sayn started to realize that Lutra was nearly as worn-out as she was - while she'd been stuck in an immobile crucible of violent orgasms, the otterkin had been running around, recruiting centaurs for the orgy, keeping an eye on things to make sure nothing got out of hand, and wearing out her tongue and hands 'fluffing' the many visitors lining up for a go at Sayn. She knew from back in the Seraglio that Lutra enjoyed a good centaur-fuck as much as she did, and it would have been easy for her to pull one out of line to satisfy her own desires... but as far as Sayn could tell, she hadn't done so. She couldn't really say why that simple fact gave her such a strange, happy glow inside, but right at that moment, she was tremendously glad that she'd decided to bring the energetic otterkin along on the long, long trip to the Southern Continent...

With her 'stateroom' broken in, and the ship's cargo of centaurs thoroughly inducted in how best to worship their new goddess, the scene was set for a pleasurable trip indeed. On Cybra's insistence, she'd brought several heavy, dusty tomes on history and statesmanship as 'homework' for the trip, and the dutifully worked her way through a few chapters every day... but no-one, least of all a being who had sprung from her own mind, could be surprised that she'd rather spend the long days at sea having mind-blowing sex rather than reading. There were several hundred centaurs aboard, and their until-recently skewered birthrate being what it was, 90% of them were males. Several dozen had gotten to know her intimately during that first orgy, but there were many more, and from what she could tell, they were ALL eager for a chance to 'share the love' with The Beastmaker... thoroughly ensuring that she was never short a lover, or two, or ten.

Of course, Lutra remained a regular in her bed - and always happy to bust out some rope and creativity when a change from plain ol' centaur-pounding was in order. Fortunately, there was no need for Sayn to feel bad about leaving the otterkin to her own devices for most of the trip - the energetic girl had taken to the shipboard environment like a duck (or, well, otter) to water, and spent most of her time climbing about in the rigging and pestering the sailors to teach her more about how to run a ship. Her inhuman agility and incredible stamina were already allowing her to hold her own against experienced sailors for many of the shipboard duties, and mutters around the crew about 'furry bastards' having no place on a human ship seemed to vanish naturally on their own... not that they'd been particularly loud to begin with, considering who they were transporting.

Sadly, Sayn's attempts to drop hints to the ship's merfolk escort proved less successful. The prince leading the squad seemed inordinately straight laced, and her every suggestion that they get to know one another more intimately were deflected with such consummate ease that she honestly couldn't tell whether he was being politely distant, or entirely oblivious to her intentions. She considered trying to seduce some of his officers instead - or just picking a particularly handsome soldier - but ultimately decided to drop it. Undermining a leader of (mer)men by going behind his back was never a good idea, not even on something as frivolous as sex. And besides, on reflection, she wasn't entirely sure how she'd manage to get any kind of privacy with one of them. Couldn't very well invite a merman to her chambers, after all... and while jumping in the sea for a quick liaison wasn't technically impossible (the weather was beautiful and the water was still pleasantly warm), it would've left them with an uncomfortably large audience of both sailors AND merfolk.

Instead, she found a handful of lovers amongst the ship's human crew. In a way, it was a novel sensation - she'd been spending so much time with centaur, beastkin, griffons, kirin and dragons that it seemed a long time since she'd had a plain old human lover. Most of the sailors were rough, closed-minded types, but she found a few gems amongst them. A handsome gentleman with a cloven chin who looked like he'd jumped from a dictionary's description of 'Dashing Corsair'. A gloriously-bearded, barrel-chested fellow with a sparkling sense of humor and a laugh that seemed like it could shake the whole ship. A muscular bruiser with enough scars and tattoos to outfit an entire dockside tavern, but who revealed a surprisingly gentle side with a little prodding. All three were also reasonably well-equipped (well, by human standards, anyway), and skillful lovers - bespeaking the kind of broad basis of experience that only a true sailor could hope to accumulate. After all, maintaining a woman in every port took hard work!

Between the efforts of those three, several dozen virile centaurs, and of course Lutra, the days passed swiftly. According to the captain, they were making good time, too - after two weeks of sailing, they were nearing the middle of the great, southern current, and the weather was still holding strong. Their over-sized merfolk escort was the very image of efficiency, and had so far easily deflected every sea-creature that had started to sniff in their direction, long before they even came into view of the ship. If everything continued to go so well, they'd see the shores of the southern continent within three more weeks.

Really, with as well as things were going, she should've known that disaster HAD to be right around the corner - at least, that's what she told herself afterwards. Sixteen days out of port, the sky darkened with brutal suddenness. The steady wind that had been driving the ship south picked up speed, suddenly more menacing than helpful. The blue-green sea took on a darker, more ominous shade - as if to swiftly remind those who floated on its surface just how deep it was. The sailors became very visibly nervous, and there was suddenly a lot of praying going on all over the ship - mainly to old Cerulec. But not JUST to him...

Most of the centaurs stayed below as the storm began to brew. Only a couple of the braver ones climbed up to the deck to stare into the teeth of the white-crested waves and the blackened clouds. Nonetheless, Sayn could feel the weight of their faith, their belief in her, on her back as she stood near the bowsprit, watching the waves rise higher and higher. No-one had said anything to her - it wasn't so direct. But she'd heard the whispers rising through the boards. She could feel their stares. She was a goddess, was she not? Surely, she could calm the storm. Any self-respecting prophet, messiah and/or high priest could calm a storm. As could, for that matter, a suitably experienced and well-educated wizard. A living goddess should be able to do so with ease.

With an exertion of will, she relaxed her jaws. She'd been squeezing her teeth together so hard it hurt. She'd never asked to be worshiped as a goddess - merely accepted that it was inevitable, and then gone on to make the most of it. That, however, seemed a small comfort now. There was nothing she could do about the storm - nothing whatsoever. All she COULD do was put her faith in the captain, the crew and the ship to carry them through - same as any other passenger. Maybe she should've brought a 'court wizard' along for the trip, as several of her advisers had suggested... but, while weather-control was one of the primary areas of study for human mages, wizards skilled and experienced enough to handle this kind of storm were quite rare, and their presence in the various major cities of the continent had a significant impact on local economies. Pulling one out for such a long journey - assuming any of them actually AGREED to it - would have caused a tangible economic down-tick. And possibly left thousands to starve when the harvest failed because their main weather-wizard was off gallivanting around the southern continent. So she'd refused, and trusted in her luck.

Which had, apparently, run out. It was becoming increasingly clear that the storm wasn't going to be a near-miss or anything of the sort - an anvil-shaped thunderhead was forming to the west, and they were caught directly in its wake. The waves were rapidly transcending from 'choppy' to 'terrifying', and on the captain's orders, the ship was starting to turn. There was no hope of outrunning the storm, or getting out of its way in time. Their only hope - however diminutive - was to charge directly into its teeth, in the hopes of climbing the mountain-sized waves it would soon be throwing their way, and maybe finding the nigh-mythical 'eye of the storm' somewhere inside the impending chaos.

A shout from below drew her attention. Clinging to the side of the ship with a stony expression on his face was the merman prince who led their escort. "Apologies, great Beastmaker, but we will not be able to stay on the surface for much longer! The waves are becoming too violent. We will dive down to quieter waters, and return when the storm has passed. If any sailors are thrown overboard, however, we will do our utmost to aid them." She nodded in reply, carefully keeping her face straight. It wasn't as if there was anything to say - the merfolk were at home in the sea, but they couldn't make a ship float if it wanted to sink. At least the sea-beasts they were supposed to stand guard against wouldn't be a problem either - they, too, tended to seek deeper waters when storms blew past.

Within the next hour, things went rapidly downhill. The storm hit like a solid wall - rain and sleet driven before the wind. Darkness fell despite the time ostensibly being little past midday, and only the occasional flashes of lightning illuminated the surrounding sea. The resulting peals of thunder only served to add emphasis to the constant howling of the wind. The sails had, of course, all been pulled down - no mere piece of sailcloth could have withstood the force of these winds - and the sailors had abandoned the high masts to labor on the deck. Sayn understood little of what they were doing - throwing out floating anchors to stabilize the ship, reinforcing the masts at the base, and much more - but all she really needed to know was that they did these things with the grim-faced determination of men walking towards the gallows. The creaking of the ship beneath her feet, which had become so comfortingly familiar over the past two weeks, had taken on a despairing note as well. The waves were battering the hull with ever-growing ferocity, seeking to tear it apart.

Still, she refused to move. She clung to the ropes of the bowsprit, one hand wrapped around the railing hard enough to turn her knuckles white. She stared down every wave that assaulted the ship, even as they started to rise high enough to drench her hair and clothes with cold, stinging salt-water. An act of pure, foolish defiance... or maybe a despairing hope that staring right down the jaws of doom might awaken some sleeping power within? After all, she still did not know where her gifts had come from, or what their true nature was. Who was to say that she did not have other powers, buried deep within? That she might not actually summon up the power to quiet the storm, if she just stared at it long enough?

If nothing else, perhaps her defiant stance could help keep morale up, to some degree. Certainly, she could not imagine that it would improve anybody's spirit if she suddenly turned tail and ran back down to her cabin to hide under the bed. She chanced a glance over her shoulder. Nobody was actually paying any attention to her. The sailors were all busy, pulling on ropes, running bilge-pumps, nailing pieces of wood to other pieces of wood, and shouting at each other over the howling of the winds. Lutra was in the thick of it, too - and if any of the sailors had any reservations about her presence left at this point, they certainly wasn't going to air them at this juncture. The few centaurs who had climbed up to the deck earlier had long-since retreated to the relative safety of the holds - where they were no doubt praying. To her, most likely... for all the good that would do them.

That bitter thought was interrupted by a terrified shriek, loud enough to pierce the tearing scream of the winds. "ROGUE WAVE!" The sailors froze in their tracks for a split second, then began to move again at an even more frenetic pace than before. Many of them had been laboring while attached to the central masts by stout ropes, and while they continued their work, everyone ELSE rushed to grab on to something solid. Sayn felt like she was moving in slow-motion as she turned her eyes forwards again. The sea in front of them had turned into a solid wall of water. The wave rising before them was easily twice the height of those around it, towering above the highest mast-top. Already, the deck beneath her was starting to tip back as they entered the foothills of this colossal mountain of water.

Suddenly, a warm, salt-soaked body was behind her, embracing her. Lutra's long, powerful arms reached down past her own to catch the railing in a death-grip. The otterkin's face was next to her own, neck against shoulder. Vaguely, she could hear a tearing sound of claws digging into wood right behind her own feet. As the deck tilted further, she found herself falling back into that powerful embrace, smelling the familiar aroma of Lutra's bodily oils - now serving their original purpose for once, turning the otterkin's light-brown fur into a waterproof coat. She could never have held on to the railing on her own during something like this, she realized - she would've gone tumbling back across the ship, and assuming she didn't wind up breaking her back against the mast, she would've been overboard and most likely dead long before the merfolk could hope to reach her.

She wasn't looking at the wave anymore. At the current angle, she was staring right up at the whirling, black-on-gray clouds above. Up and up they went, riding the enormous wave. She heard screams behind... screams that rapidly grew distant and vanished. Sailors who'd been too slow to tie themselves down, or who hadn't managed to grab unto anything sufficiently solid. Sailors who hadn't had an otterkin ready to jump in and save their lives. Then the view shifted, and for a moment she felt weightless. They were at the top of the wave, and she was looking out across a landscape of rolling hills and snow-capped mountains - all rent from nothing but water, flowing and shifting constantly. Except... what was that shadow in front of them, a bit off to the left? It looked solid. The waves parted around it. It could only be one thing... but that was impossible, wasn't it?

Her view shifted again. They were going down the back of the wave, now... at a terrifying, breakneck speed. More screams behind her. This time, the sea wasn't a wall to run into - it was a terribly solid-seeming floor that they were free-falling towards. Considering how long it had taken to climb to the top of that wave, it seemed rather unfair how quickly they descended. A single stuttering breath, and they hit the floor. A shockwave went through the entire ship, driving every man aboard to his knees - Sayn and Lutra being no exceptions. A terrifying, cracking noise resounded through the hull. It didn't take an old salt to know that was bad news. Pushing her head up despite the sudden ache in her neck, Sayn peered in the direction of the shadow she'd seen earlier, ignoring the sting of the rain in her eyes. She could only just barely see it, a steady darkness peeking between the waves. A stray bolt of lightning illuminated it for a split-second, and then she was certain.

She had to shout to make sure Lutra heard her, despite their heads literally touching. "GET ME TO THE CAPTAIN! QUICKLY!" Their eyes met, and Sayn was surprised at what she saw in them. Lutra had been working alongside the sailors since the storm started, as hard and as skilled as any of them, and had jumped in to save her life without hesitation. But now that she got a good look, she could tell - the girl was terrified. This was her first time at sea, and she'd only learned just barely enough to fully understand how doomed they were. When Sayn spoke, however, a glimmer of hope lit in those deep, brown eyes - a desperate belief, clinging to the simple fact that Sayn was DOING something. It made her wonder how much 'faith' the members of her harem - those who knew her at her most mortal, her most fallible - actually had in her. But such philosophizing could wait - assuming she survived to see another dawn.

Whatever her thoughts, Lutra certainly did not hesitate to act on those directions. With one arm wrapped tightly around Sayn's waist, she clawed her way across the ship towards the wheel, grabbing onto ropes, railings, and the occasional passing sailor to propel the two of them across the constantly-shifting deck. Sayn could only just barely manage to keep her feet moving fast enough that she wasn't EXACTLY being carried. Despairing shouts could be heard from below - deep, coarse voices made ragged by panic. The ship's holds were obviously leaking, and the centaurs would soon find themselves faced with the choice between drowning below, or climbing up to the deck where they'd swiftly stumble overboard to drown there instead.

Lutra dragged her up the stairs that led to what Sayn remembered - with a sudden, terrified giggle - was called the 'poop deck'. That was where the ship's wheel stood, with the steersman lashed to it by several stout ropes and an expression of wide-eyed terror on his face. Nearby, clinging to the railing, was the captain - his normally well-oiled mustache made wild and frizzy by the soaking water and the static electricity the storm had brought with it. The veteran sailor turned a gimlet eye on her as she entered his field of view, and he snorted as Lutra dragged her the last bit of the way over to him. "Well, the Beastmaker has decided to grace me with her presence! I'd say 'I told you so', but at this juncture, that would just be petty." He wasn't shouting - rather, his voice simply cut through the storm like a well-worn saw, sharpened for just that purpose by long experience.

Sayn quickly shook her head, dismissing his sarcasm as unimportant. "CAPTAIN... THERE'S AN ISLAND AHEAD! A BIT TO THE LEFT... OR PORT, OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL IT." She WAS shouting. Whatever trick he used to be so easily heard over the storm, she didn't know it - but she COULD shout with the best of them. He blinked in disbelief, even as she insistently pointed in the direction of the shadow she'd seen from the crest of the immense wave. "What? That's ridiculous. There aren't any islands in the Southern Stream. The sea here is so deep that even the merfolk can't reach the bottom!" That was entirely true, of course. She knew that much. But she also knew what she'd seen. "IT'S THERE, CAPTAIN! AND UNLESS YOU HAVE A BETTER IDEA, I SUGGEST WE STEER FOR IT!"

The captain hesitated for a moment, squinting in the direction she was pointing. Futilely so, she knew - even knowing approximately where it was, she couldn't see much more than a vague glimpse of it between the waves from this limited vantage. A dark shadow that could just as easily have been yet another rising wave. For a minute, it seemed like the captain would ignore her. Then he glanced over at his steersman, whose fear-frozen face had taken on a sudden expression of despairing hope as he, too, looked in the specified direction. Then the captain shrugged, sending a small shower of water out from his shoulders. "If ever there was a time to grasp for straws, I suppose it would be now. Set the course as she directs, Mr. Smith!"

With Lutra's help, she found herself at the side of the wheel, pointing towards the shadow in the distance. She could still see it, barely - as something just a shade darker than the surrounding waters. The ship creaked and groaned like a dying man as it turned, now climbing the waves at a slight angle. Ahead, the captain was shouting orders at the sailors beneath, throwing in streams of blistering curses when they hesitated. Tiny squares of sail were strung up, rarely lasting long and making the masts creak and splinter with every blast of wind, but providing the additional push they needed to get over the waves, against the direction of the storm.

A flash of lightning coincided with the ship cresting a small wave, and for a split second, the growing shadow ahead was clearly visible. A swaying forest of green. White sand beaches made dark by the waves. Not some tiny, one-palm island, either. The captain let out a string of curses, but in a strangely elated manner. "There really is an island! I don't believe it! And if the ship holds together just a wee bit longer, we might actually reach it alive! DID YOU SEE THAT, YOU SALTY BILGERATS? KEEP IT UP, EVEN IF THE MAST TEARS! WE'RE RUNNING THIS TUB AGROUND!" With a sigh, Sayn lowered her arm. It was aching from having been pointed towards one spot for so long. There was no more need for it now - the captain, the steersman, the navigator and probably half the sailors on the ship had spotted the island by now.

She sagged against Lutra's strong chest, tired beyond measure. Those strong, wet, fur-covered arms enfolded her, pulling her back into a corner of the poop-deck, holding her tight even as her vision began to fade. The roar of the storm and the shouting of the sailors grew distant. Darkness claimed her, and even when a jarring crash tore through the entire ship, sending her body surging forwards against Lutra's tight embrace, it failed to wake her up.

The sky above her was sapphire-blue. A gentle breeze caressed her skin. Silk-soft sand supported her limbs. The whispering sound of vegetation swaying in the breeze was mixed with the energetic noises of human activity - indistinct voices carrying an edge of elation. The smell of roast bacon. A gentle hand stroking her head. Was this... paradise? The land once promised to those chosen by the gods? If so, she clearly hadn't gone there alone. Lutra's broadly-smiling face, whiskers vibrating with joy, entered her field of vision. "Finally back with us, are you? I was starting to get worried, even though the doc said you were just fatigued."

With a groan, she pushed herself up to a sitting position and looked around. They were on a beach, as she'd gathered even while half-asleep. Gentle waves lapped against it, and before her the sea extended unbroken to the horizon, just as blue as the sky. Only the fragments of driftwood scattered across the sands bore evidence to the horror and violence that same sea had brought with it the previous day. From the position of the sun, it was morning... how long had she slept? Well, that would depend on how long they'd been stuck in the darkness of the storm, but she had no idea about that. It had felt like an eternity, but it might have been nothing more than a scattering of minutes for all she knew.

Looking over her shoulder, she could see Lutra kneeling in the sand behind her, arms ready to catch her should she fall back to the ground. There was joy in her eyes, and worry too. Behind her, the jungle stood as a green wall. However isolated this island was, it clearly did not lack for fertility. Palm-trees dotted the beach itself, but beyond that, thick vines and dense underbrush rose with startling speed into something that appeared almost impassible. She could see it continue to rise, like a green hill, towards what seemed likely to be the center of the island - an immense tropical tree with broad, bright-green leaves that rose above the rest of the forest like a kneeling titan.

Off to the left, a more sobering sight waited. The ship, beached and broken. Large tears were visible in the tarred boards. The masts above were tattered and splintered, one of them missing entirely. A few sailors were crawling around on the hulk, seemingly inspecting the damages, but most of the crew were on the beach, sitting around a series of roaring cook-fires, eating roast bacon and drinking coconut-milk. The centaurs were there too - some of them milling about, but most of them laying on the ground looking exhausted. She recognized the ship's doctor, kneeling in their midst, working on a panting young colt. His apron was liberally stained with blood.

The crunching sound of boots walking across sand alerted her to the captain's approach, and with a deep breath, she turned to face him. Swaying slightly as the sudden movement made her light-headed, she heard Lutra make a worried intake of breath and flashed a comforting smile at the Otterkin over her shoulder before returning her gaze to the approaching captain. Her worries that he would take this opportunity to catch up on the 'told you sos' he'd missed the previous day, however, proved unfounded - instead, he nodded pleasantly at her and smiled. "Ah, 'tis good to see you on your feet, lass... I mean, Beastmaker, ma'am. Your friend was worried - as was the centaurs. And the men, for that matter. I don't know how you found this impossible island, but I've heard more than one of the lads grumble that it wasn't Cerulec but The Beastmaker that answered their prayers during the storm. You might see a few more sailors visiting your temples in the future - assuming any of us make it off this rock alive."

She grinned back at him, feeling much better with the knowledge that the captain wasn't inclined to blame her anymore. "I'm sure they'll get a warm welcome, but really, there was no magic or divine insights involved. I just spotted it when we crested that big-ass wave - guess I was just the only one on deck with nothing better to do than keep an eye out for impossible islands." The captain just shrugged, shaking his head. "Aye, I figured 'twas something like that, and ye can tell the lads that if you want - though I'd appreciate it if you waited a spell. We're alive, which is always a nice thing, but I won't lie - we're still in dire straits indeed, lass. Knowing we've got a livin' goddess on our side helps keep the lads' spirits up, you know? We sailors are a superstitious lot, after all."

Nodding, she glanced at the ship behind him. "Duly noted, captain... so tell me, how bad IS it, really?" His smile instantly disappeared into a somber scowl. "Bad enough. Not nearly as bad as it COULD'VE been, obviously, but bad enough. I lost a dozen men to that storm. Good men. Also, the cook. The galley was torn open, probably when we came down from that big wave... washed him right out, along with most of our food-stores. What's left has mostly been soaked, which means it won't keep. 's why we're having a cook-out, see - might as well eat our fill now, 'cuz it'll be moldy in a matter of days." His eyes panned out across the unbroken waves. "Well, there's hope yet for the lads, I suppose. Some of them might've been caught by our mermen escort, aye? We haven't seen them yet - but they'll track us down soon enough, and no mistake. There ain't never been anything that could hide from the Merfolk on this or any other sea."

He turned around fully to look over the beached ship with a critical eye before glancing over his shoulder at her. "As for this old lady... well, she's in a bad way. But the keel held, both coming down the wave and hitting the beach. A miracle all by itself, that is. Well, it helps that this is such a gentle beach - not a single reef to be seen, no boulders mixed into the sand... barely even a pebble, really. Might as well have rammed her into a big old mound of pillows. But, aye, she's taken a beating - she'll need a lot of repairs. Lots of holes patched. A new mizzenmast, preferably, though I reckon we could make it to the southern continent without that one if we had to. Fortunately, our maintenance-supplies made it through the storm unscathed, so fixing her up is entirely possible."

Finally, his glance turned to the jungle, and he scowled at it. "Which brings us to that... jungle. As impossible as the rest of this island, but our saving grace, aye? Plenty of materials there for repairs. Probably food-supplies, too. A jungle that size will have animals - birds and critters - that can be smoked or salted to last the trip south. Fresh fruits that can be dried. Well, I've already got men - and centaurs - going across the beaches looking for useful stuff. Large pieces of driftwood, coconuts, sea-turtles and tortoises... those make great provisions for long trips, you know. We already found a freshwater stream down the beach a spell, so we'll be able to restock on water easily enough."

"But you haven't headed into the jungle yet, I take it?" She asked delicately, and he nodded, somewhat shamefacedly. "Well, no. As I told you before, we sailors are superstitious folks... and even if we weren't, who's to say what kind of beasties might lurk in an impossible jungle on an impossible island? The men won't go near the treeline, and I've no inclination to try'n order them to - I've lost enough lads as it is. Your centaurs are raring to go, of course, but they're too bulky to get anywhere in undergrowth that dense." He shrugged. "So I was actually kind of hoping that YOU could... look into that jungle somehow, lady Beastmaker, ma'am."

She nodded, and glanced back towards the ship, reaching out with her mind. Yes... they were still there. Stacked like cordwood in one of the ship's upper holds, entirely unaffected by the storm. Calling out, she felt them stir and shift, and as they began to move, she turned her attention back at the captain. "I will... but since you mentioned 'my' centaurs, I have to ask. You said you lost a dozen men in the storm - but how many centaurs went with them?" A grin suddenly appeared on the captain's face again, surprising her until his words caught up with it. "Not a single one, ma'am. Yet another little miracle, and don't think for a second they aren't chalking it up to you."

He looked over at the centaur herd, where the doctor was still busily at work, and his smile froze a bit. "Well... that's not to say that it wasn't a bloody close call. The holds were nearly flooded by the time we managed to beach her. Poor critters were barely keeping their heads above water. Several were halfway drowned. Others got impaled by splinters when the hull broke. And there's several broken bones between 'em from being jostled around down there. The doc's been working overtime, but there's only so much he can do - mostly just keep 'em alive and make 'em as comfortable as possible. When we get to the Southern Continent, a proper Healer can get 'em fixed up good as new... assuming, of course, that we actually GET there."

Sayn nodded, smiling despite the litany of injuries. It was good to know that at the very least, her folly in braving the impending storm-season hadn't gotten any of the centaurs killed. The thought of them dying with her name on their lips was... chilling. She shook it off and gestured towards the deck of the ship with her head. "Well, captain, like you said... I DO believe I can help with THAT." A pack of dark, massive shapes had appeared up there, the well-worn boards creaking as they dashed across it, jumping over the railing without shadow of hesitation, to land smoothly on the shifting sands below. Second later, they were lined up before her in a knife-sharp formation.

Her 'Honor Guard'... her elite bodyguards. The Iron Pack, some called them. The finest, most carefully-crafted beasts she'd ever built - a far cry from the army she'd once led. Back then, she'd used whatever materials and tools were on hand, crafting many of them with nothing more than a simple knife and whatever random detritus of wood and stones she happened to have within arm's reach. These, however, were... different. They'd been born in what was, most likely, the most luxuriously appointed workshop in the world. It had been one of the first parts of her palace to be completed, designed from the ground up to be her inner sanctum. Outfitted with every tool a craftsman could possibly dream of, and lavishly supplied with every material under the sky - from the most basic slabs of granite to the most exotic junglewoods and gemstones.

She'd labored there to create a suitable group of beasts she could bring with her to 'officious' occasions - something that provided a good balance of shock-and-awe, intimidation, and actual utility. The results were certainly hard to miss. Quadruped in nature, they were shaped like something between a boar, a bear, and a bulldog - with massive forequarters and a large hump. Their muzzles were lined with what was essentially a steel bear-trap, further accentuated by two set of razor-sharp tusks jutting out to the sides. Bands of steel lined their backs and encircled their thick, sturdy legs in the manner of an armadillo, extending down across their faces in a helmet-like design. Faces and joints - wherever the steel might have been too rigid, basically - were covered in cured bear-leather. Underneath, she knew, was a skeleton carved from a rare variety of hardwood imported from Beastkin lands - nearly as tough as iron, and much lighter. Claws of razor-sharp obsidian tipped each of their broad paws. And as a final touch, she'd given them eyes made from a somewhat obscure, semi-precious gemstone called 'Black Tourmaline' - its glossy black sheen interleaved with wavy lines of charcoal-gray gave the beasts a disturbing glare indeed.

She looked at them fondly as they lined up before her, then sent them dashing towards the jungle with a gesture. Their bulky bodies weren't particularly suited for such dense vegetation, but their sheer mass, colossal strength and razor-sharp tusks would enable them to tunnel through the undergrowth like a mole through dirt. In trampling and cutting down the underbrush, they would clear the way for the sailors - who had stopped eating for a moment to cheer on the beasts - to make their way deeper into the forest, secure behind the armored flanks of her beasts. Feeling satisfied - and quite hungry - she joined the men at the bonfires for a roast bacon, thick gruel and fresh spring-water. Then she had some more bacon, having suddenly realized that she was famished.

As she chewed, however, she looked down at the mounds of driftwood that had been stacked up as fuel for the fires. The larger, more sturdy pieces had been pulled aside for use in the ship-repairs, but that still left a lot of smaller, mostly-useless chunks. Something about those fragments of dry, pale wood - worn smooth and white by salt and sun - spoke to her, though, and she glanced thoughtfully towards the jungle where her elite beasts were noisily burrowing into the vegetation. They were making decent headway, to be sure, but it was slow going - and while she captain hadn't MENTIONED the time-factor, he really didn't need to, either. The longer they spent stuck here on the island, the better the odds that another early storm would gather, and maybe hit them before they reached the relative safety of the Southern Continent.

Speed, thus, was of the essence. And that meant gathering repair-materials and food-supplies as quickly as possible. Which would be easier if they knew where such supplies could be found, rather than just working their way methodically into the dense jungle. With those thoughts in mind, she picked up some of the driftwood fragments and began to fit them together, pulling out the whittling-knife she never went without to assist. She barely noticed Lutra appearing at her side with her full toolkit - retrieved from her cabin, presumably - but she quickly put the tools to use. In short order, she'd crafted something resembling a small, many-armed monkey - and despite its simple construction, it jumped out of her hand with great vigor when she told it to, crabbing its way across the beach before climbing into the jungle. There, it was in its element - jumping from branch to branch and swinging on vines as it swiftly caught up with the steadily-advancing tunnelers.

She could still do better, though. She'd never tried to build jungle-specialized scouts before, and it presented some fascinating challenges. There was no shortage of materials, either, and she hummed merrily as she started working on her next construct. At one point, she was jarred out of her reverie by loud, delighted cheering, and looked down to the beach to see a number of merman heads bobbing in the water - with human heads carried between them. She grinned and waves down to the merfolk, then bent over her work again. Yes... something more spider-like, that was the ticket. Legs to grip and jump. Maybe take some hints from the crabs, too. No need to keep the legs going in just two directions, though.

The triangular spider-crab she wound up creating was clumsy at best as it covered the beach, but much like the spider-monkey, it came into its own as soon as it reached the jungle - countless legs snagging on to different pieces of vegetation, pulling it through the tree-crowns as quickly as a horse could run on flat land. She was definitely on to something with the many appendages. She just needed more flexibility to really take it to the limit - something smoother and stretchier than driftwood-chunks. Seaweed? She'd have to weave it first. Maybe just vines? Why not? It'd enable it to blend into the jungle perfectly if it simply stopped moving. A fast-moving, effectively-invisible scout. Couldn't get much better than that. She listened with half an ear as Lutra passed on information from the merfolk to her. Three of the sailors that had been swept overboard during the storm had been rescued by them, and returned exhausted and waterlogged, but alive. Also something about the island not really being an island.

Finally, her masterpiece was completed. It resembled an octopus a bit, but really, it had little in common with any living being. It was, after all, merely a ball of dried seaweed and vines, wrapped around a rudimentary skeleton of driftwood. Several sets of pebble-eyes peered in every direction, blinking lazily. Dozens of vine-tentacles wriggled in the air. When she set it down, it awkwardly rolled across the sand on weaving tentacles - but once again, it only showed its true mettle in the jungle. Every arm found a different purchase, grabbing everything from twigs to tree-trunks, pulling the oddball construct through the jungle at a swift, smooth, thoroughly efficient pace, even as it analyzed and mapped everything in sight. Her two earlier scouts were well ahead of it, and had already marked a few groves of fruit-bearing trees, areas where small critters converged, and particularly thick and sturdy-looking trees for repair-materials. She sent them fanning out in each direction, while her newest creation forged onwards in the direction of the island's center.

Only then did she lean back and breathe deeply, feeling slightly dizzy after the lengthy sculpting-session. A long-fingered paw handed her a juicy-looking, bright-yellow fruit, and she gratefully bit into it, marveling in its sweet taste even as the juices covered her chin. She blinked up at Lutra, then grinned. "Sorry about that. I get a bit absorbed when I work. Forget to eat, too, sometimes. How long was I at it?" She glanced at the sun even as she asked the question, and saw that it had risen notably since last she checked. Lutra confirmed her suspicions. "Several hours. But your labor's already borne... well, fruit! The sailors don't seem to mind heading into the forest when they've got some big, mean, steel-armored beasts to hide behind, and that cute little monkey-scout-thing you made first led 'em straight to a natural orchard. The captain's got some of his men slicing out the fruit to dry in the sun already. Others are cutting down hardwood trees deeper inside the jungle. Everything's looking great, really, despite the whole deal with the island..."

Sayn blinked, looking up from her half-eaten fruit. "The island... umm... yeah, I heard you say something about that while I was working, but I didn't... quite pick up the details. Focused, you know. Could you run it by me again?" Lutra rolled her eyes with exaggerated patience, but then quickly nodded. "Well, you'd HAVE to be pretty out of it to ignore something like that... what the mermen told us when they got here is that this place isn't really an island at all. It's some kind of... floating knot of vegetation. MASSIVE knot of vegetation. They've swum all the way under it - no rock or stone, no connection to the bedrock. It's just a huge tangle of vines down there, they say - some of 'em as thick as a castle tower. I guess most of this jungle we're looking at doesn't actually grow ON it, either - rather, they're probably PART of it. But I guess the dead leaves and wind-carried dust built up around here long enough that there really IS a layer of sand and dirt on top of the vines, so there's actual trees growing amongst the rest... hell of a thing, huh?"

She could only nod, her mouth still full of sweet, juicy fruit. That was certainly... something. Explained why there'd be an inexplicable island in the middle of a deep-sea trench, though. And probably also explained why nobody had spotted it before - it had to be drifting along on the great current, heading steadily east. From what she'd read in preparation for the trip, oceanographers theorized that the Great Current encircled the entire world... which suggested that this particular island was on an endless, world-spanning cruise. How long had it been since it was last near these shores? Based on how slowly it seemed to be moving, and the prevailing theories concerning the size of the world... probably centuries. A mysterious location indeed...

Once she'd sated her hunger and thirst, she spent some time just sitting back, watching the gradually-ascending buzz of activity, and seeing the island through the eyes of her beasts as they penetrated deeper into the jungle. The sailors were all busy with the repairs, as well as treating the available food-supplies so they'd last the rest of the trip. The centaurs were pitching in wherever they could - those that were still mobile, anyways. Several were helping to drag heavy logs from the newly-carved tunnels leading into the dense jungle, while others continued scouring the beaches for turtles, coconuts and other edibles. A steady train of them were also carrying pitchers of water from the nearby stream to refill the ship's barrels... leaving one to wonder where that stream was COMING from, considering the island's vegetative nature.

Her original two scouts were getting close to completely circumnavigating the island, and had already marked more copses of hardwood, fruit-bearing trees and decent hunting-grounds than they'd ever be likely to need. They were also far enough away by now that her connection to them was getting... foggy. The last of her creatures, however, was still making its way deeper and higher, and what she saw through its many eyes was rapidly becoming more interesting. Once it crossed a certain, invisible threshold, the jungle became far less dense - as if the outer ring was a deliberate wall or fortification designed to keep out unwelcome visitors. Suddenly, there was space between the trees, and enough room for larger creatures to move.

In the dense jungle, her scouts had spotted only small beasts - colorful jungle-birds and hand-sized rodents who jumped between the closely-connected trees. No monkeys, strangely enough. But beyond, there was more life - including whole herds of wild boars, looking smaller and more short-haired than those she knew from the main continent, but still easily recognizable. Fat, flightless birds walked amongst the trunks. Strange, lazy-looking creatures dangled from high branches with overly-long arms that ended in two oversized claws. And... something else. Something entirely unfamiliar. Her scout froze in a tree-crown, its vegetative body blending in easily as it watched and waited.

They were strange indeed - four-legged beings that seemed part reptilian, part insectoid, and part plant. A small herd of them were passing by. They were all pastel-colored, mostly in shades of yellow and red, clawed feet propelling them across the jungle's floor at an easy pace. Petal-like wings were layered across their back, though whether they were purely decorative or might actually allow for flight was hard to tell. In basic body-shape, they resembled nothing so much as dragons - albeit very SMALL dragons, each no larger than a big dog. Their hide, too, resembled a dragon's... but the sharp, stony eyes of her scout could easily tell that the coating were feathery petals instead of a dragon's armored scales.

Their heads, however, looked hard and chitinous, with a brace of overlapping armor-plates around the neck, and a short, upturned, blunt-looking horn at the nose. Their tails, meanwhile, terminated in something resembling a flower's bud, instead of a sharp spike. They were, in other words, far from intimidating... with one possible exception. Prancing at the front of the group was a larger specimen, with a vivid blue coloration. The petal-wings on its back looked bigger and thicker, its nose-horn was long, forked, and pointy - and two additional, dangerous-looking horn rose at the back of the face-plate. Its back and belly, meanwhile, were covered in overlapping, chitinous armor-plates, with the petal-scales only coating sides and limbs. If she had to make a guess, it would be that the blue one was an alpha-male, leading and protecting a pack of females.

She watched them for a time, observing their behavior. They were foraging, it seemed - their sharp claws allowing them to climb the tall, thick jungle-trees with ease, picking out choice fruits from the crowns. Their sharp beaks made short work of even the toughest nuts, too. The male - if that was what it was - circled around them in the meantime, seemingly on guard... but when an unwary group of wild pigs strayed near, he suddenly darted towards them, claws tearing up the forest floor even as the wings on his back spread wide for stability. He tore down a young boar with a swipe of his claw, and buried his beak in the neck of another, while the survivors dashed away with a chorus of squeals.

It wasn't purely defensive reaction, she realized with a chill. He dragged the two dead pigs back to the foraging group after the kill, prompting the sedate-looking females to descend from the trees and join him in feasting on the fresh carcasses. Clearly, they were omnivores - and not adverse to hunting if the opportunity for easy prey presented itself. How many of them might there be on the island? Considering the size of the lightly-forested central area, there could easily be... many. Way too many to let her sleep easily. These creatures would probably find it hard to make it through the dense outer wall of vegetation, but even if they couldn't actually FLY - a possibility she still couldn't exclude - their sheer climbing-skill suggested that it was entirely possible. Of course, if she kept drilling tunnels through the wall, it'd get that much easier for them.

The logical response, she quickly decided, was to pull back her scout and rein in her Elite Beasts before they bored any deeper into the living wall of the outer jungle. There were more than enough sources of food and hardwood in the outer layers to serve their purposes, without disturbing the things that dwelled in the center. Just as she was getting ready to do so, however, something very surprising happened. Another male - this one bearing shades of vivid purple - came swooping in on a pair of broadly-spread petal-wings, demonstrating both flight capability and extraordinary agility in dodging between the trees before landing near the still-feasting pack. Then he nodded at the watchful, bright-blue male and started talking. "Ah, Mariyacan! I thought you had the guard-duty in this sector. Eager on the hunt as always, are you?"

The blue male grunted and swallowed a mouthful of bloody pork. "Nah, these critters just got a bit too careless. It's a sin to ignore a meal when it walks right between your claws, isn't it? Now get to the point, if you don't mind. I know you wouldn't fly all the way down here from the Palace just to smooth-talk me. I hope for your sake you aren't looking to poach from my harem..." He glared possessively across the group of pastel-colored females, who almost unanimously rolled their eyes and went back to eating. Several seemed to have had their fill of meat, however, and returned to their treetop foraging while largely ignoring the two males... except for a couple who lingered nearby, seemingly just to make eyes at the newly-arrived, purple male. Much to Mariyacan's visible annoyance.

They were talking. That was interesting. They were also speaking the Divine Tongue, which she probably wouldn't have realized was strange, if it wasn't for the recent report of reptilians on the Southern Continent speaking something ELSE. Since she now knew that it WAS possible to speak other languages... that suggested that these strange, unknown creatures had been created by the same gods that created humankind, the centaurs, the dragons, and all the rest. How strange. Her attention was riveted on the two chatty creatures as the purple interloper sighed and shook his head. "Always so defensive. I was merely trying to be polite... but yes, I have reason to be here, and it has nothing to do with your harem. Sorry, ladies." He directed the last bit at the nearby cluster of admirers, who tittered in an almost disturbingly human fashion and then quickly dashed up the trunk of a nearby tree to start chattering amongst themselves while picking nuts.

Mariyacan just fixed his purple counterpart with an annoyed glare. "Fine. Since you're obviously all done being polite, Orichaniel, perhaps you could get to that point I was talking about." Orichaniel's face took on a serious cast - it seemed remarkably expressive for being, apparently, a solid slab of chitin - and he nodded. "Well, yes. All joking aside, there's something big going on. Scouts report that a ship has stranded on the eastern shores. Your group is the closest to the landing-point, hence why the Queen thought it important you be informed. Normally, there'd be no worries - the Outer Wall protects us - but the Queen sees much. And she says these visitors are... different."

All traces of annoyance and querulousness had disappeared from Mariyacan's face and poise, and he quickly moved so that he could keep an eye on the edge of the outer jungle's heavy vegetation while continuing the conversation. "A ship? Indeed? That storm yesterday must have blown it in... by the Fruit, how long as it been since last time! What do the scouts say? Any chance that the ship could be... recovered?" There was a certain dreadful eagerness in his voice - a hunger that made a chill run down Sayn's spine, miles away. Orichaniel scratched his chitinous chin and looked away. "Based on the reports of the scout... quite possibly. But like I said, the Queen sees much. She wants this matter handled with a great deal of care. We do NOT want any... avoidable conflict. You may consider that an order from the Queen herself."

The vivid-blue creature was obviously not happy with that message, and started to pace, his eyes constantly flashing towards what they'd called the 'Outer Wall'. "The Queen is... gentle. I understand her desire to avoid bloodshed. But I've heard about what happened last time a ship was beached... gentleness, as I recall, did not win the day." Orichaniel flinched at this, turning his head away. "Yes, I know those stories too. We all do. It was a... sad day for us all. However, we are all subjects to the Queen, and you should not forget that either! She sees more than any of us, and unlike the rest of us, she actually remembers what happened last time. She was there. If she says that these visitors are different - that things WILL be different - then we MUST trust in her."

Mariyacan sighed, shaking his head, and huffed out a heavy breath. "Yes... yes, of course. I did not mean to suggest that I might ignore Her will. Or that I question Her wisdom. I'm just... well, you know who my brood-father was. He told me those stories a great many times." He shook his head again, then raised it. A sharp, penetrating whistle emerged from between his tightly-clenched jaw, and the foraging females all raised their heads as one, suddenly attentive. As they began to climb down from the trees to approach him, he turned to face Orichaniel again. "Therefore, I am going to remove myself from temptation. Sikyahne owes me a favor - I will call it in, and forage in his territory today. If our guests penetrate our walls, it will not be me who is waiting to meet them."

With a throw of his head, he began to lope north at a steady pace, and the pack of pastel-colored females quickly fell in behind him. A couple seemed to hesitate, throwing longing glances at Orichaniel, but only for a couple of seconds - then they too took off, catching up to their sisters with a series of rapid, wing-stabilized leaps. The solitary, bright-purple male remained standing, looking after the retreating pack, for a few minutes. Then he shrugged. "Well, I guess that's the wisest choice he could make, under the circumstances..." he groused, obviously to himself. Then he shot a sharp glance towards the unbroken wall of vegetation to the east, and rapidly ascended a nearby tree before leaping from its crown with petal-wings spread wide. He was gliding west, towards the center of the island, picking up altitude with powerful wing-beats even as he zig-zagged between the trees.

It was a lot of new information for Sayn to take in. The bit about the previous shipwreck was... ominous, to say the least, but apparently the local Queen was a decent sort, which was promising. The whole thing was also far too strange, mysterious and just plain INTERESTING to be ignored. Making a quick decision, she sent her scout onward towards the island's center, but with orders to move with great care and a high priority of avoiding detection. The other two scouts - who had just about reached the far side of the island by now - were also redirected inwards, to look for more information about these strange, plant-based insecto-reptiles. Then she left them to their own devices, snapped her awareness back to her actual body, and jumped to her feet - startling Lutra, who had been watching her zone out for a while at that point.

"Things have just gotten interesting." She remarked, throwing a quick look around to ascertain that nothing notable had changed while she was focused on her scout. She also peered suspiciously towards the sky above the island's center. Was there some colored specks there, moving against the background of green-on-green? "Go fetch the captain. We need to bring him up to speed." Lutra raised an eyebrow, then quickly nodded and dashed off across the sand - but Sayn could vaguely hear her mumbling something along the lines of "maybe bring ME up to speed sometime" as she went.

She got her wish soon enough. As soon as she came back with the worried-looking captain in tow, Sayn pulled them aside - out of earshot of any of the nearby sailors or centaurs - and quickly told them what her scouts had discovered, before summing up her take on it. "So, based on that, I figure out best bet is for me to head towards the island's center and establish PEACEFUL contact with these natives. They may be able to help us repair the ship faster, and they'd DEFINITELY be able to supply us with all the food we could possibly need."

The captain nodded, somewhat hesitantly. "I'm just as happy leaving all o' that in your no-doubt capable hands, your worshipness. Making first contact with an unknown race is a bit over the head of this humble sea-captain. Especially when it sounds like the last bunch of sailors who landed here got themselves eaten..." Sayn quickly put a calming hand on his shoulder, trying to defuse the glumness that snuck into his tone at the end. "Don't sell yourself short, captain. While I'm heading inland, you'll be in charge here. That ALSO means that you're in charge of making sure there aren't any unfortunate incidents. I know they're keeping an eye on us SOMEHOW - so there must be scouts of some description lurking somewhere. If some random sailor - or worse, centaur - were to stumble on one of them... things could escalate in an unfortunate direction very quickly. Unless you're ready to step in and prevent it."

He stiffened momentarily at that - then his face hardened, and he nodded. "Aye, I hear you. I'll keep the lads AND the horsies on a short leash, and we'll hope that these things will continue to stay as invisible as they have so far. Mind, if it comes down to it... my first duty is to look after my crew. My second's to the passengers. I hope you understand that too." She nodded, gravely, and released his shoulder. Then she looked towards the jungle's edge, where three of her previously-dispatched Elite Beasts were emerging from the tunnels they'd dug into the wall of vegetation. Now, they were converging on a different tunnel - one that had gone deeper than any of the rest. They'd widen it as they went along, before merging with the trailblazer up front.

Four beasts... the best beasts she had, perhaps, but still only four. They would be her honor-guard, and hopefully deter any overly aggressive creatures she might run into before reaching the island's center, and the 'palace' that apparently waited there. Lutra was standing close by her side, a determined look on her face, and Sayn knew that there'd be no point in telling the otterkin to stay behind on the beach - even if she was inclined to. She wanted to have the sleek, powerful otter-girl by her side as she walked into this - as much for moral support as for her proven strength and speed. Hopefully, everything would work out without violence or bloodshed, but she was acting on some rather thin information. It seemed sensible to be prepared for the worst.

They proceeded through the jungle-wall at a slow pace. Part of that was letting the Elite Beasts take their time carving out a broader path, ensuring that they weren't crowded by the surrounding vegetation - but there was more to it than that. Already, Sayn's two first scouts had left the thickest part of the jungle and entered the more lightly-forested central area where the strange, plant-like reptilians lived. As they snuck through the area, they spotted - and overheard - more and more of the creatures, sending their discoveries back to Sayn. When something particularly interesting popped up, she often had to borrow their senses directly, leaving her to stagger slowly forwards in a trance, supported by Lutra's firm hands.

One of the first things she found out was the name of the race - they apparently referred to themselves as 'Flower-Dragons', which seemed rather arrogant to someone who knew firsthand the mind-boggling might of true dragons. On the other hand, it didn't seem likely that they'd picked that name themselves, leaving her to speculate futilely about their origins. Who had created them, how, and why? Once she met the 'Queen', she'd have to ask a few questions about that, assuming the diplomatic tone seemed fertile - if only to satisfy her own burning curiosity.

More important than these musings, however, was the image her scouts' reports began to paint of the 'Flower-Dragon' society. Her initial assumptions, based solely on the interaction she'd caught between two of the males, had painted the picture of a basic, primitive, patriarchal system. Males led harems of female, who followed and obeyed them. Territories belonged to the males. Something like that. This shallow assumption was swiftly dashed when her first scout - the many-armed monkey - came across a pair of females exchanging gossip, and hid in a nearby bush to eavesdrop.

"You've heard the rumors, right? About the ship?" The female speaking up first was a light, pastel-blue color and seemed quite eager. The other one, meanwhile, was reddish-orange, and shook her head with a knowing grin. "It's no rumor, love. Solid facts. You know one of my brood-sisters works at the palace, right? She had time to swing by and bring me up to date on the latest right before we set out. There's a ship, all right, and everyone at the palace is in a frenzy trying to make sure we don't get a repeat of last time." The blue female sidled closer, eyes wide. "I KNEW you'd have the straight line... why would the palace try to keep it under wraps, though? Shouldn't we all be alert, under the circumstances?"

The orange female shook her head, and quickly looked around. "Come, now, you know better than that. Hey, say it with me! Males are only good for fucking and fighting..." The blue female instantly finished what was clearly a well-worn refrain. "...and that second one doesn't come up very often." Then her face fell. "Oh... right, I get it. If they spread the word, the males will hear it too. And then they'll get all fired up about being big, tough protectors. They always start strutting around like the Fruit's gift to the island whenever they hear the story about the last shipwreck. How their brood-fathers valiantly fought to protect us poor, weak womenfolk from the bloodthirsty invaders!"

"Exactly. And it gets worse..." the other flowerdragon replied with a sad head-shake. "Guess where that ship crashed, hmm? The eastern beach, that's where. And you know who's claimed the 'territory' nearest to that part of the wall?" The blue one took a couple of seconds to think then spat. "Oh, Queen's Mercy... Mariyacan, the Great Hunter, isn't it?" Her orange compatriot nodded and rolled her eyes. "No lesser soul. Fortunately, the Queen knows that too - and according to my brood-sister, she was planning to send Orichaniel down there to... solve the problem." The blue flowerdragon first stared in surprise, then suddenly her eyes lit up. "Oh! I get it. The way those two have butted heads in the past, Ori knows all his buttons, right? He can play that stuck-up peacock like a champ. Heh... I bet you, Mariyacan will move out of the way and think it's his own idea."

The orange one shook her head, grinning broadly again. "Oh, I'm NOT gonna take THAT bet, love. But hey, say what you will about Mariyacan, at least he DOES have some real hunting-chops. I talked to a girl from his harem a while back - there's never a shortage of meat when you run with HIM. Guess that's why his harem keep playing along with his delusions of authority." The two of them grimaced in unison, and the blue flowerdragon picked up the thread of what seemed like a well-worn complaint. "Ugh... you got a point there. Did you see the 'prey' that OUR 'noble leader' brought back earlier? A squirrel! I wouldn't be surprised if the poor thing just happened to fall out of a tree in front of him and died from the impact."

A grinning reply seemed to be right on the orange flowerdragon's lips, but then her face took on a suddenly serious look. "Yeah... he's pretty worthless, all right, but... this whole thing with the ship, it kinda' makes you think, right? I mean... the Queen is hopeful that things will be different this time, but you can't really KNOW. It's not like we've managed to talk to them yet. And my brood-sister also said that the scouts had reported, it isn't just humans this time. There's some huge, four-legged things with them too - dunno what they are, but they're big and tough-looking. If it DOES end up like last time..." A shudder went through them both, and the blue one shot a guilty glance in the direction of the rest of the female group, who were foraging nearby. "Yeah. I get what you're saying. The males may be useless half the time and horny the rest, but... 's true, if the worst happens and we're attacked, they'll fight to protect us. DIE to protect us. Even someone as useless as Urecurath. That's as much in their nature as wanting sex all the time."

The sound of claws shuffling across the forest-floor interrupted the discussion. Both females looked up rapidly, their faces taking on a strange, thoughtful expression as a bigger, more brilliantly-colored male approached. 'Urecurath', presumably. He was lobster-red, though speckled with vivid, canary-yellow around his hindquarters, and otherwise resembled the last couple of males she'd seen - three insectoid horns crowned his face-plate, and petal-like armor-plates covered most of his body. He didn't carry himself with quite the same level of alpha-male confidence as Mariyacan had, though, nor the sort of easy grace Orichaniel had displayed. Instead, he was just plodding plaintively ahead.

He nodded at the two females as he approached. "Oh... there you two are. I wondered where you'd wandered off to. Didn't you want some of the prey I'd brought down? It's all gone now, I'm afraid." The blue female rolled her eyes and answered with a light touch of sarcasm. "Oh, already? Imagine that. No worries, I was planning to stick to nuts and berries today anyway..." Sayn wasn't sure how Urecurath managed to so clearly mope, considering that his face was made up of rigid plates of chitinous armor, but there was no other word for his expression. "There's no need to take that tone... I do my best, you know? I do my duty." The note of wheedling in his voice didn't do him any favors, but the two females shot each other a telling look at the last bit, obviously recalling their earlier discussion.

Their expressions suddenly shifted, becoming softer somehow, and the orange one flowed smoothly forwards to rub her sides against the surprised-looking male. "Oh, we know you do, Urec. You're always looking out for us. You've earned your due wages as our protector. Hasn't he?" The last bit she directed over her shoulder to her blue friend, who was quickly following her lead and moving up close to the male. "Oh, certainly... don't mind me, I was just feeling a bit waspish 'cuz I didn't get to sample your prey. I know you do your best for us." She, too, moved up close to him, rubbing his face-plate with the short, blunt horn on her nose.

Surprise gave way to a look of eagerness on his face, and he grinned broadly at the two females. "You two are in a fine mood today... heh. Maybe it's been a bit too long since I last... took my due from you? I didn't mean to neglect you..." The orange female - safely out of his field of view - rolled her eyes extravagantly. The blue one, meanwhile, kept a straight face, and returned the grin. "Oh, come on - this isn't about what you're due. Sure, you can ask any one of us to lift her tail for you, but 's not like you'd ever do that to anyone who isn't willing. Nor are you owed anything but the most... basic of services. This, however, is about what you DESSERVE... and I think you do deserve a little... extra, hmm?"

While the blue one talked, the orange female bent her knees and slipped half her body down under the taller male's belly - pointing in the opposite direction. Her head rose to sniff at the male's groin, and the low vantage provided by Sayn's diminutive scout gave her an excellent view of what went on down there. Between two of the armor-plates covering Urec's hindquarters, something was... sprouting. It looked more like the bud of a flower than any dick she'd ever seen, but considering its location and delicate-pink coloration, there wasn't much doubt that was what it was. It was relatively short, but bulbous, with a texture that resembled overlapping petals. A thickening at the base called to mind the knot of a canine - or possibly the root-bulb of a flower.

She didn't have much time to study it, however - as soon as it had fully emerged from the gap between the armor-plates, the orange female opened her chitinous maws and swallowed it whole. Urec groaned, apparently unconcerned about her lack of soft lips - but then, based on the sounds Sayn's scout was picking up, it seemed like the flowerdragon females had learned to compensate for that shortfall with some really active tongue-work. The male shuddered at the attention, his legs instinctively spreading for stability. Meanwhile, the blue female cocked her head sideways and pushed her face into his, locking their face-plates together into what seemed like a rather intense kiss.

Minutes later, Urec suddenly stiffened, his brilliant petal-scales glimmering in the light that filtered through the dense tree-crowns as he shivered. The orange-colored female continued to service him orally for a few more seconds, then pulled her head back, leaving a sticky string that looked a bit like tree-sap connecting the tip of his bulbous cock to her tongue for a moment before it snapped. As she pulled her body out from under his, she winked up at her blue compatriot, who promptly broke the kiss and backed up a bit. "Well, then... now that you're all warmed up, how about we get right down to it, hmm?" Her voice was smoothly seductive, and the way she moved as she turned around in front of him had a lot of added sway to it.

Bending her forelimbs, she curled her tail up along her back, the bud at the end touching the nape of her neck as she gave the slightly winded-looking male behind her a challenging gaze. Below the tail, a pair of pink rose-leaves formed an easily-recognizeable pussy, gleaming with dew-drops, and above it, a smaller rosebud of dark red. She shook her rear invitingly, and the tiny rosebud seemed to pulse. "Hey... you want to fuck my tight little ass this time, hmm? It's been a while since I last let a male do me there... so I'm just about virgin-tight. All ripe for a new... deflowering."

The bright-red male was literally drooling at the sight, and without bothering with any words, he dashed forwards, leaping on her back. Her curled-back tail supported him like a springy pillow, even as his claws locked around her shoulders in a tight grip, and his hips began to pump as he stabbed his trembling member at her groin. It took three quick thrusts before it his its mark - and the tiny bud of the female's asshole blossomed around the rapidly-thickening shaft. Miles away, Sayn shivered as she imagined the sensations that layered-petal design might create as it thundered up such an obviously-tight orifice.

The female who was actually experiencing it, meanwhile, groaned out loud and grimaced. There was more pleasure than pain in that look, even as her legs seemed to shake slightly below her, and something about it told Sayn that the bit about her being 'practically a virgin' back there was unlikely to be true. In fact, she seemed quite familiar with anal pleasures. Urec, however, didn't seem to notice or care. He was merely thrusting into the warm tightness of her ass with an ecstatic look on his armor-plated face.

His thrusts were long and powerful, backed by muscular hindquarters and a set of rear claws that were thoroughly anchored in the ground. He might not have had a great deal of length to work with, but he was making the most of it, pushing from the narrow tip, across the petal-layered central bulge, and right to the edge of the knot at the base with every thrust. The knot, meanwhile, looked noticeably thicker than when Sayn had last seen it, indicating that it did, indeed, serve the same kind of purpose as it did on canines. Its bulbous thickness, meanwhile, seemed to be preventing its owner from pushing it though the female's flowery sphincter, despite it lacking some of its advertised tightness.

The orange-shaded female, however, did not seem content to be merely an observer in her friend's vigorous buggering. She moved between the two, ducking low to avoid the male's swinging tail, and stretched out her neck to reach between the two sets of closely-positioned legs. The tongue that emerged from her mouth was long, triangular, and somewhat reminiscent of a particularly meaty orchid-leaf, dripping with saliva. It traced the line of the other female's rose-petal pussy with consummate skill, sending fresh shivers through the girl as the sensations radiating through her abdomen doubled down.

Despite the alien nature of the creatures she was watching, Sayn had enough experience to recognize an oral virtuoso when she saw one. Clearly, this orange flowerdragon knew just how to apply her tongue, whether it was to a male's budding penis or a fellow female's delicately-dewed pussy. The long, fleshy instrument bored into the center of the blue flowerdragon's slit, dashing up and down it, and frequently caressed a small, bud-like nub at the lower ridge that Sayn strongly suspected was their clit-equivalent. Something that was almost certainly an orgasm went through the recipient, making all her colorful petal-scales shiver. The voice that then emerged from her was even more husky and seductive than before. "Ooohh... don't hold back... push your whole bulb up my ass... I wanna feel it deeeeep... mmm... pump me full of your sap..."

He snorted in response, eyes burning with lust, and his hips began to thrust with even more fierce intensity. His loins ground against her rear with insistent force, and finally, with a sucking sound, his knot-bulb disappeared into the once-tiny rosebud of her ass. The flowery sphincter clamped down behind it instantly, and his previously-long movements become nothing more than short, sharp jerks. His facial expression, however, indicated that he didn't really mind - based on the way his eyes were rolling back in his head, just having his full length embraced by her tight, hot ass was taking him straight to heaven.

Then the orange one raised the stakes further. Now that the loins above her weren't moving so much anymore, new targets offered themselves to her questing tongue. First, she simply jumped up one floor from the drooling pussy she'd been exploring, and let the tip of her tongue trace the lower, reachable edge of the other female's sphincter, caressing the back of the male's knot at the same time. The two of them shook practically in unison at the sensation. Then, she pulled back a bit - and lifted her head to take a look at the tiny, rose-bud-like hole beneath UREC'S tail. As the tip of her tongue began to prod and caress it, his eyes flew open and his jaw followed suit. "What are you... ooo... that feels gooood..." His line of thought clearly fragmented as the orange female's skillful tongue began to explore his asshole, prodding, caressing, tickling, and pushing deeper inside.

It didn't take long for this treatment to elicit an orgasmic moan from him, and underneath him, the pastel-blue female also shuddered in pleasure. The orange-colored oral expert pulled her head - and tongue - back to grin broadly at the panting pair before moving around to the front of them. Urec's eyes boggled as she then proceeded to lock her chitinous lips together with the still-mounted blue, sharing an intense and no-doubt flavorful kiss that was returned with all the eagerness of a good post-orgasmic glow. As their beaks parted again, the orange female winked invitingly up at the bright-red male. "I hope you don't think you're done, hmm? As soon as your bulb relaxes enough to pull out, it's MY turn. Mmmm... you wanna fuck my ass too? Or would you rather have my pussy? I'm dripping wet back there either way..."

Urecurath swallowed, an eager grin spreading across his armor-plated face. "I don't know what's gotten into you two today... but I think I like it." He was mumbling under his breath, but if Sayn's scout could pick it up, so could both of the females. They gave each other a knowing glance, but said nothing. The male, meanwhile, began to flex his hips experimentally, testing the tautness of the blue female's sphincter with his knot, and she moaned lightly in response. The whole scene had been intensely erotic, and Sayn was strongly tempted to continue to watch - but she hadn't sent her scouts out to be voyeurs. She was seeking insights into the social structure of the flower-dragons, and not only had she likely exhausted what she could learn from this particular trio, ANOTHER of her scouts had also come across something far more significant that demanded her attention.

Her best scout - the last she had created - had been steadily penetrating deeper into the flower-dragon lands during the voyeuristic interlude. If it hadn't been for its ability to blend seamlessly into the vegetation, she never would've dared to let it proceed so far forwards, but as it was, it provided a steady stream of new information. There were entire cities - or at least villages - closer to the island's center. Scores of spherical 'nests' were built in the crowns of thick, sturdy trees, woven from branches and sticks, glued together with sap, and inhabited by pastel-colored females. They were reminiscent of beehives in their shape, which seemed unlikely to be a coincidence considering the insectoid features they also showed. Larger, rougher-looking nests stuck to lower, stronger branches clearly housed the rare males, but it was already quite obvious that the flower-dragons had a gender-imbalance far more severe than anything the Centaurs had ever had to deal with. Based on what she'd seen so far, perhaps one in a hundred were male. Of course, a gender-imbalance in THAT direction was far from unsustainable from a traditional point of view - if each of the males had the virility and stamina to breed a hundred females, then the population could certainly be sustained in that fashion...

It soon became clear, however, that it wasn't that simple - when her scout found a nursery and school. That's when she realized that there was more of the insect to the grandly-named 'flower-dragons' than just their chitinous plating and the shape of their nests. A tremendous hive stretched between the trunks of several tall, thick trees, forming a solid wall of hexagonal cells - most of them occupied by wiggling, pale-white larvae with huge, black multifaceted eyes. The grub-like creatures were cared for by a small army of females, who brought a steady supply of fruits, berries and thick, juicy-looking leaves to them, often carrying them between their hexagonal chambers and the feeding-pits slung over their tails.

The initial likelihood that these puppy-sized grubs were, indeed, the larval stage of the adult flower-dragons was quickly made into certainty when the scout reached the next area of the nursery - another wall of hexagonal spaces, these filled with pupae. Wrapped in something resembled hardened leaves, they were regularly turned around by their female attendants, but otherwise left to their own devices... unlike the next area, which turned out to be a communal child-rearing facility. Here, the hives of interlocked hexagons gave way to dense masses of small, spherical nests, resembling clusters of grapes as they dangled from thick, ancient jungle-trees.

These were populated by young flower-dragons, freshly-emerged from their pupae, the females no bigger than a large cat, and the rare males not far behind. They gamboled in the treetops and between the trunks, climbing and play-wrestling and gliding on their still-underdeveloped wings, while a number of frazzled-looking adult females tried to maintain some degree of order. The sheer vitality and joy displayed by the young made Sayn smile, miles away, and she found herself hoping even more intensely that she could reach an understanding with these creatures' Queen. Whatever had happened to the previous group of shipwrecked sailors, these weren't monsters or dumb beasts - they were, as they access to the Divine Tongue had indicated, PEOPLE. And she most definitely did not want to kill any of them if she could at all avoid it.

Her scout, however, continued past this 'daycare', and found something resembling a proper school beyond it. The clustered nests were bigger, there, as were the Flowerdragons that inhabited them. They were young adults, clearly, and rather than rambunctious playing, they were clearly taking 'class'. The schoolroom was the forest, of course - no more, no less - but the females watching over them were clearly less worried about maintaining the peace, and more about imparting knowledge and skills. Foraging, nut-cracking, advanced climbing-techniques... but if there were any lectures about the history and culture of the proud Flowerdragons included in this education, her scout didn't spot any, alas.

It DID, however, spot the fact that the classes were segregated by gender at this point. And after a bit of searching, it spotted a small cluster of males, their colors not yet quite as vivid as the full-grown ones. They were apparently just finishing up a lesson on hunting-techniques from a rather bulky-looking male with intense, canary-yellow petal-scales, and had clearly been watching with rapt attention. As her scout settled down to watch more closely, however, the lesson apparently finished, and the bright-yellow male walked away, leaving the class to eagerly discuss what they'd just learned about ambush-techniques for a few minutes. She was just about to send the scout onward, when three females walked up in front of the cluster of males, and some instinct told her to stick around and watch some more.

Part of it was the aura of matronly authority that radiated from the biggest of the three females. Her coloration was soft-pink, and there was a gentle softness in her eyes as she surveyed the class, but the way the males reacted to her presence left no question that she was someone they respected. Flanking her were a pair of somewhat-smaller (and thus, presumably, somewhat-younger) females, wearing spring-green and a shade of yellow so vague it was practically white, respectively. Younger females acting as 'teaching-assistants' to an older matron, perhaps?

The pink female nodded at the class, who instantly fell silent. "I am glad to see you all so enthusiastic about your brood-father's teachings. I trust you all feel you have learned something, hmm?" The answer was immediate and delivered in perfect unison. "Yes, brood-mother!" She nodded, again, with an air of satisfaction. "That is good. However, he DID rather run past his scheduled time, so we're going to have to move on right away. This will be your first lesson in an important discipline, so we cannot tarry!" The students all nodded in unison, curiosity about the 'new discipline' obvious on their youthful faces.

She looked around at them before flashing them a gentle smile, then launched into her lecture. "Now, then. I know you are all eager to grow up and become splendid males, and that you've worked hard on learning how to hunt for your future harem - and to fight, if necessary, to protect them. However, as males, you have another duty too - a duty to the Queen. Once you are fully-grown, you will spend a month of each year in the Palace, as part of the Queen's Harem - there to do your duty in breeding the Queen, and thus fathering the next generation of flower-dragons."

Several of the students nodded, indicating that they already knew this basic truth, but most of them were simply listening with rapt attention as she continued. "You have all come of age within the last month... and while there is some time yet before you will be given a harem, or expected to do your duty in the palace, I have no doubt that most of you have already began to feel certain... urges. Particularly if you've visited old friends in the female housing, against all rules, as most of you tend to." A ripple of winces and swiftly-avoided eye-contacts ran through the entire class while the pink matron sent an exasperated look sweeping across them. Nobody made any comments. In fact, it seemed like nobody BREATHED.

Shaking her head, she continued as if that interlude hadn't taken place. "Now, those urges are perfectly normal - they are part of what makes you male, and when you are not engaged with servicing the Queen, your harem will take care of them. If you tend well YOUR duties to THEM, they will do so with eagerness, too. However, whether you are with your future harem, or the Queen herself, you should know that sex is not merely a matter of needs and urges to be satisfied. As with hunting and fighting, skill and ability plays a strong role."

Her eyes were taking on a measuring quality as she kept sweeping them across the small crowd of young males. "Thus, this will be your first practical lesson in sex. I do not expect miracles out of any of you, but I DO expect you all to do your very best - as I'm sure you always do - and to work hard on mastering the skills you're about to learn." She gestured with her tail towards the two females flanking her. "My brood-daughters are here to help, and I expect you to treat them with the same respect you show me. So - form three orderly lines, and let us start the first practice-session, shall we?"

On that cue, all three females turned around and bent all four knees to lower themselves closer to the ground, while curving their tails up and along their backs. "We're starting with the basic mount, of course - your instincts should suffice for this, so I don't expect there to be any questions..." The pink matron's voice remained exactly as authoritarian as ever, even as she took up the theoretically-submissive sexual position before her students, and indeed, there weren't any questions. There were a bit more than a dozen young males there, and they had already sorted themselves into three lines as ordered, without any fuss. There was a certain pattern to it, too - the ones who had lined up behind the matron herself were somewhat larger and more brilliantly-colored than the rest, suggesting that they were probably at least a little older, and thus more confident... and more likely to have already gotten a bit of 'unscheduled practice' in with some similarly-aged females. If nothing else, they were probably less worried about disappointing their teacher.

The first three males took a step forwards and mounted the females kneeling before them, their movements noticeably more unsteady than when she'd watched the older Uric do the same earlier. But as the pink-shaded teacher had said, their instincts were on their side, and despite the females in this case being noticeably larger than themselves, they were still working just fine. Claws slid into place on shoulders, abdomens rested against the springy underside of curled-back tails, and hind-claws dug into the ground for purchase, even as they began to thrust forwards in harsh, jerky motions. Sayn's scout didn't have an ideal angle on the action, but it certainly seemed like these young males were wielding the same sort of short, stubby, bud-like cocks as the grown male she'd observed earlier. The relative shortness of their tools probably made them fairly easy to handle, but it still took each of them several questing strokes before they found their mark, between the rose-petal labia of the females.

The two younger females made some slight, groaning noises as the eager young males penetrated them, but the older matron just gave a curt nod of approval up at the somewhat nervous-looking male who was clinging to her back. "Aim is one of the things you need to practice - you should be able to hit your mark at the third stroke at latest. And of course, you must always be careful never to... 'hit the wrong hole', unless invited. For now, though, focus on your stroking-techniques, and let's see how you do..." Her clear and even voice seemed to calm the males somewhat - both the one mounting her, and the neighbors. As commanded, they began to settle into a rhythm of long, powerful strokes, using as much of their unspectacular length as they could manage.

Predictably, there were some imperfections. The two less-experienced males mounting the smaller females both managed to pull back too far, and fell out - forcing them to once again spend several seconds jabbing around in search of the freshly-abandoned orifice. The two females didn't have their 'mother's' supreme poise, but they still managed to provide a quiet stream of advice for the males, urging them not to panic if they fell out, to control their thrusts so they did not injure themselves by hitting a hard hip-bone when they'd expected a soft pussy, and similar sage suggestions. The male steadily pounding the older, pink female, meanwhile, had managed to keep going - though the expression of intense concentration on his face suggested that he didn't find it easy.

"Practice makes perfect..." she said in a calming tone, glancing up at him. "Do not worry - it may be difficult now, but with more training, maintaining the right stroke-length will become second nature. In the meantime, it is better to sacrifice an inch or two of stroke to make it easier on yourself, rather than have to focus so much that you forget to enjoy it." He nodded appreciatively, and his face eased a bit, even as the jerking of his hips became less intense. Both his face and those of his neighbors were also beginning to show a rising pleasure. Instincts were triumphing over lack of experience.

Clearly sensing this, the pink female moved on briskly. "Now, next stage - the right time to tie. Ideally, you should not do so until you have given your partner at least one orgasm, but with your current levels of experience, that is hardly realistic. Consider it a goal to strive for, for now. But at the very least, make sure your knot is safely placed before you reach your OWN orgasm - which, I think, is quite soon for all three of you." The males nodded, almost in unison, and started pushing themselves forwards more intensely than before. Their hind-legs, solidly embedded in the ground, curved as they smashed their hips into their partner's rear ends with all the vigor of youth behind them.

Sayn's scout had sharp hearing despite its lack of external ears - and it actually caught the sound of the three bulb-like knots slipping through three sets of tight, rose-petal labia in rapid succession. The two younger females moaned in obvious pleasure as the young males reached full penetration at last, and even the pink-shaded teacher gave a slight shudder of apparent delight. The males continued to jerk their hips, instinctively vibrating their cocks inside the tight embrace of the receptive pussies as they rapidly approached the climax. Then they froze, almost at the same time, and their petal-scales fluttered as shivers went through their bodies.

After a few seconds of that, they collapsed on top of the three older females, panting, their bodies visibly relaxing. The pink female glanced up at the male who was now leaning heavily on her folded-back tail, and seemed to shake herself a bit before beginning to lecture anew - every bit as crisp and authoritarian as ever. "Well done, all three of you - under the circumstances. Once you're fully-grown, you can expect a tie like this to last for a while, and there's nothing wrong with taking that opportunity to rest and catch your breath. It is polite, however, to pull out and dismount as soon as you feel confident that you can do so without discomfort to either - your weight DOES get tiresome after a while, after all."

The young male on her back quickly pushed himself up as she spoke, trying his best to look like he wasn't tired at all, and she flashed him a tolerant smile before continuing. "However, THIS time, you are dealing with older, more experienced females. So I do believe you'll find it quite easy to pull out already - which is convenient, considering that you all have a number of class-mates waiting in line behind you." This quickly got the two other males to follow their older peer's example, pushing themselves up straight and doing their best to conceal the slight shakiness of their forelimbs. Then they backed up and, with only a slight grimace of apparent discomfort, pulled their knots out of the tightly-embracing pussies they'd been nestled in. Thin strings of a clear, sticky-looking liquid followed them out, covering the rose-petal labia with a gleaming sheen.

As the three young males moved aside, very carefully not staggering, the next three males moved up and jumped on the back of the waiting females. Having had the opportunity to watch their peers at work - and listen in on the advise the females had handed out - they were somewhat less awkward than the first set, though their aim clearly still needed work. They were also all fully-erect and obviously eager, and the resulting enthusiasm was infectious. There was noticeably less advice and more moans flowing from the two younger females this time around, and even the older, pink female was seemingly starting to get into the mood.

By the time the second trio was done and the third set took their place, the atmosphere was definitely moving further away from 'class' and towards 'orgy'. An almost sickly-sweet smell was spreading in the clearing (which surprised Sayn a bit, since she hadn't really thought about giving her scout a sense of smell in the first place), and she filed it away for future reference as the scent of flower-dragon arousal. The labia of all three females were, by now, puffy and eagerly-spread, dripping not just with the young males thick, plentiful, sap-like cum, but also a clear, dew-like fluid that seemed likely to be their equivalent of pussy-juice.

Despite the young males' individually poor staying-power, quantity had a quality all its own - and Sayn's sharp-eyed scout had spotted the tell-tale signs of orgasmic bliss sweeping through all three of the females by then. With the air choked by sexual hormones and the teachers' minds filled with exploding clouds of pleasure, order was rapidly breaking down. The neat lines behind the females fell apart, and horny, impatient males began to mill around the trio, with throbbing, bulb-like cocks swinging heavily between their legs. The pink matron made a token attempt to restore order, but she was foiled by the fact that the one currently mounting her was one of the biggest and oldest of the students - and apparently had some pre-existing experience, or possibly just some impressive natural talent. An orgasmic moan interrupted her attempt to order the students back in line - and her 'brood-daughters' were already far past even trying.

Soon, both of the pleasure-dazed younger females opened their mouths to the horny young males clustered around them, and the invitation was swiftly accepted as the males reared up to mount - and vigorously hump - their armor-plated heads. The pink matron shot a sharp glance at them, and opened her mouth to make another protestation - none of the males had QUITE had the sheer balls to try and mount HER from the front - but then she just sighed, closed her eyes for a second, and shrugged. Her voice was rather more fuzzy than it had been before, and was quiet enough that it was barely audible over the increasingly raucous orgy, but Sayn's scout picked it up easily nonetheless. "Well, passion IS an important factor in sex, too... and I suppose that's a worthwhile enough lesson in itself." Then, she seemed to settle down, her flanks vibrating as she enjoyed the attention of the surprisingly-skilled youth on her back.

Once again, Sayn was sorely tempted to let her scout - and her attention - linger at the orgy, just for the sheer, voyeuristic thrill of it. But she had to admit, that really WAS all she'd gain from doing so - and however reluctantly, she ordered the scout to move onward, while simultaneously sampling what she was getting from the other two. She'd certainly learned much, however, before the 'class' descended into pure entertainment. And not just about the apparently very... liberated attitude the flower-dragons took towards sex, and the education thereof.

Apparently, their social structure resembled certain insects, such as ants or bees... a single fertile queen, supported by fallow females who did all the work, and constantly fertilized by a small cadre of males who had no other real purpose. In this case, however, self-awareness had intruded, and a civilization had grown to polish some of the sharper corners of such a system. Amongst simpler insects, males born in excess of what was needed to keep the queen busy were simply slain... but here, they were integrated into society, their driving needs seen to by the sterile female, while they earned their keep as hunters and occasionally protectors. It was fascinating, really, and she could imagine any number of sages and scholars back home who'd salivate over the opportunity to study such a unique culture. Certainly, it made sense that leaving all procreation in the hands of the queen freed up just about everyone else to regard sex as simple entertainment... or perhaps, rather, a bit of sport, considering the skills and abilities involved.

There was still a couple of blank spots in her understanding, however... starting with the second male she'd seen; Orichaniel. His demeanor, and the female's attitude towards him, had seemed radically different from any of the other males she'd seen. And the gossip she'd picked up earlier indicated that he was somehow attached directly to the Palace, and thus the Queen. As a sort of troubleshooter, apparently - but that seemed to gel rather poorly with the way males were generally regarded and treated. It was a minor point, perhaps, but it bugged her - so when the spider-like scout she'd sent out second caught a glimpse of a strangely reminiscent situation, she didn't hesitate to redirect it to observe more closely.

A handful of pastel-colored females were clustered around a male whose coloration started out sea-green around the face-plates, and gradually phased into a deep cerulean that covered his slender tail. The female's demeanor was almost predatory - they had literally encircled the solitary male, and there was a certain... hunger in their eyes. Their movements were deliberately smooth, with lots of tail-swaying - something she'd already learned to identify as seductive behavior amongst flower-dragons. At the same time, however, their interest did not seem to be entirely carnal.

"Come oooonnn..." one of them wheedled, rubbing her flank against his. "We all want to know what's going on, and we know that YOU know. Heck, EVERYONE knows, nothing goes on in the Palace that the Drones don't know about..." The blue-green male grinned down at her as she swayed past him, a studiously innocent look on his face. "Oh, come now, it's not like I'm some sort of confidant of the Queen's... I may be a Drone, but I'm the youngest one in the Palace, which means I'm basically just a gofer. Most of the time, I'm just running messages back and forth."

Another female slid close past him, caressing his flanks with her tail-bud as she rolled her eyes. "Oh, sure... the youngest out of a grand total of THREE. 's not like the Palace overfloweth with drones, yeah? A male who can actually think with his head instead of his dick is too valuable to waste as a 'gofer'. I'm sure you run messages - really important messages that you get to interpret on your own and deliver in whatever manner you judge best. So don't play the innocent little secretary with us, bucko..." The male - drone? - shrugged offhandedly. "Well, maybe that's true, but at the same time, it's ALSO true that I'm the youngest. The really important stuff gets handled by Orichaniel, and Raffaselion picks up most of the other high-profile tasks. I would hardly have time to gossip with you lot otherwise..."

"...but you DO know exactly what's going on at all times." A third female interjected with what was, quite clearly, a statement rather than a question. Again, he shrugged, and grinned. "Well, maybe I do. But this is high-quality, high-profile gossip! And how exactly are you planning to get it out of me, hmm? Like you so perceptively said, I AM a Drone, which means that I don't have some overriding sex-drive making decisions for me..." The rest of the females were closing in now, and there was something about the way they were moving - and the way the words were flowing - that seemed to suggest that this was a familiar dance for everyone involved. "Yeah, well, the same's true for US... but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a good fuck. Needs and desires being two different things, and all that rot."

He made a big show of considering it, thoughtfully looking up at the tree-crowns while his tail lashed in intricate patterns behind him. "Oh, well, I suppose I can see your point... but doesn't that just mean that you're going to be enjoying it at least as much as I do? How is that supposed to be an incentive for me to spill the beans about Palace secrets?" The female who'd spoken first shook her head in mock annoyance, backing away from him a bit before she answered, a note of playfulness in her voice. "You drive a terribly hard bargain, don't you? Oh, all right then... tell you what. You satisfy our curiosity, and we'll satisfy YOU. You get to have ALL of us, any way you like, as many times as you want... we'll be your Harem for the day. Or, well, at least the afternoon."

She punctuated the remark by spinning around and lifting her tail high, curling it all the way back so that the bulb on its tip touched her neck. A wanton display of mating-readiness, obviously - and the gleaming dew-drops on her flower-petal pussy didn't hurt either. The other females quickly followed her example, lining up next to her with equal exposure, throwing a few eagerly challenging glances over their shoulders. The drone male's eyes swept hungrily across the display, and finally he clicked his tongue. "Oh, fine fine, then... but I'm gonna make you all WORK for it, and don't think for a second I won't. You know perfectly well that plenty of young ladies almost literally throw themselves at me, just for a chance to sample the famed sexual skills of a drone, asking for nothing in return..."

His grumbling, however, was rendered rather moot by the thick, bulbous bud swelling between his hind legs, emerging from its leafy cover in response to his rising arousal. The females grinned expectantly. The sea-green male took a couple of quick steps forwards, and then leaped on the back of the female who'd been the spokesperson for the group. As his movement carried him forwards, he speared his thick, heavily-textured cock-bulb in between her rose-petal labia in a single, smooth movement that carried all the impact of the jump with it - while showcasing both impressive aim and a great deal of confidence in same. She moaned loudly at the sudden stimulation of her obviously already aroused pussy, and her legs trembled even as the impact made her tilt forwards.

The male had apparently expected this, and took advantage. His claws, already clamped around her shoulders, pushed forwards and down - and with a groan, her forelegs collapsed, sending her head and upper body crashing down on the soft grass. The drone male grinned down at her as he began to gyrate his hips, using the newly-altered angle to pound her with gravity on his side. "You DID say 'any way you like', right?" He asked conversationally. His only reply was a moan half-muffled by the tall grass. The other females looked down at her, licking their chops, and the male grinned at the nearest one - a pale-orange specimen with some purple spots clustered around her thighs. "As for you - why don't you back that sweet rear end of yours up where I can taste your dew, hmm? Just try not to step on your friend here..."

She obeyed with almost indecent haste, agilely stepping over the other female's head as she positioned the requested hindquarters in front of the male - who hadn't stopped thrusting for a second. He sniffed and licked his lips, clearly enjoying the smell - did they also SMELL like roses, she wondered? Sadly, this particular scout of hers lacked the olfactory capacity to tell her. Then the drone male lifted his head again, and looked around at the remaining three females. "Well, there's no reason for the rest of you to just stand around looking pretty - not that you aren't doing a fine job of THAT..." His roguish voice sparked a series of giggles from the obviously-aroused females, which he let die out before he continued. " how about you step up where I can see you all, and form a Ring of Roses, mmm?"

The three females threw each other a quick, amused glance, with eye-rolls that seemed to say "Males, am I right?" with some eloquence. But they also quickly got moving, marching up to a point in front of him where they'd be in easy view, and taking up position in a triangular formation, head-to-tail. This enabled each of them to simply crane her neck to the side in order to reach her neighbor's exposed pussy, which was exactly what they proceeded to do. Three long, slender tongues invaded three sets of petal-shaped labia, already dotted with dew. Considering their body-type, Sayn thought, this sort of 'formation' was probably the closest they could get to a 'sixty-nine' type arrangement, and it wouldn't be possible with less than three females. And since it didn't seem likely that they could masturbate, that - and the general shortage of males - suggested that what amounted to a lesbian threesome was the most BASIC sexual position they had. Could that be the root of their rather... liberal sexual attitudes? Well, a PART of the root, perhaps.

The male, ignorant of her musings, was continuing to work on the first of the females, his tail swaying whiplike as his hips pistoned against hers. His technique was certainly superb - slight variances of angle and rhythm were combined with twisting motions to ensure that he kept hitting new spots within his mate. The way her eyes had glazed over and the steady stream of short moans emerging from her mouth certainly seemed to indicate that he was doing SOMETHING right. Similar moans were starting to come from the female in front of him as his tongue drilled into her privates, suggesting that he was equally skilled in THAT department. Her purple-speckled thighs were shaking with pleasure, and she was pushing her groin back against his face with obvious relish - her tail still curved all the way along her back, letting him look over it at the three carousing females before them.

One of said females glanced over at the rutting trio and withdrew her tongue from her partner's pussy long enough to grin broadly "So this is what 'working for it' feels like, eh? Truly, a harsh price to pay..." A gurgling laughter could be heard from the other corners of the triangle, followed by shudders of pleasure as the vibrations trembled through two sets of genitals. The male, however, had clearly heard her, and withdrew his own tongue from his purple-speckled partner (eliciting a groan of disappointment) to lift his head and look over at them. "Oh, and by the way..." he said with deceptive casualness "If the mood strikes you, feel free to... go high. You'll need the extra lubrication before I'm done with you all, rest assured."

The female who'd first broken the triangle - or 'Ring of Roses', as that particular position was apparently called - gave a slight shudder, but her grin didn't indicate any displeasure at the implications. "Oooh... such willfulness! Such masculine dominance! Really gets a girl's blood flowing... I can hardly wait to be suitably violated." She winked over at him, then turned her head again - and this time, her long, slender tongue did indeed 'go high', drilling into the tiny rosebud of her partner's sphincter. The male licked his chops at the sight, then quickly dipped his head to resume his own tongue's exploration of the pussy before him.

Sayn forced herself to pull her senses back from the scout. This time, she arguably DID have a justification for sticking around 'till the end of the orgy - namely, to listen in on the promised gossip. But it was highly unlikely that there'd be anything in there she didn't already know - what with being the central character of the current events, and all that. Besides, she was running out of time - despite their slow progress, her retinue was nearing the inner edge of the jungle-wall. They'd joined up with the trailblazer a while back, and she now had a full four beasts carving a path before her. Lutra was still at her side, clearly nervous about her long bouts of inattention. She couldn't afford to keep her mind split once they emerged into Flowerdragon Territory proper.

Besides, the really _important_bit of information had been the whole 'drone' deal. Apparently, drones were very rare, and highly valued by this culture... for any number of things. They were clearly male, but presumably sterile, and were clearly accorded a whole lot more respect than the average (though still rare) males. A complex matter, but it certainly did explain her original point of confusion, namely the male - or rather, drone - who went by the name of Orichaniel. Apparently, he was THE main troubleshooter and problem-solver for this 'Queen', hence why he'd been sent to clear her way of less rational individuals.

Before her, the wall of vegetation fell away under the tusks of her beasts. It really was an unnaturally sharp demarcation - one step, and she went from being surrounded by a near-solid tangle of vines, trees and underbrush, to standing on a carpet of moss, looking around at large, well-spaced trees with broad crowns. From above, the two areas would be effectively indistinguishable, but from down here... it was abundantly clear that it wasn't some natural process that had created the 'jungle-wall' she'd just cut her way through. Considering the... unusual nature of the island itself, one might assume it was simply part of the original design. Though exactly WHO had designed it, and HOW, was another matter entirely...

There was no welcome-wagon waiting for her. No ambush, either, as far as the sharp eyes of her beasts could tell. No sign of any Flowerdragons anywhere nearby - just the occasional small critter foraging for food in the undergrowth or amongst the long branches of the tree-crowns. Nonetheless, her beasts fanned out in front of her in a protective formation, ready to intercept anything and anyone who might come suddenly charging at her out of the surrounding green. No attack came, however, and they proceeded cautiously deeper into the woods. Ahead, the land rose steadily towards the peak at the center of the island.

As they walked, Sayn mulled over everything she'd learned about the Flowerdragons from her scouts so far. They were similar to ants and bees in many ways - they had a single Queen, who was apparently both their ruler and their mother. They started out as grubs and pupated into their adult forms. The vast majority of the population was sterile females, who were the ones doing all the work - foraging for food, rearing and educating the next generation, and so on. Those males who weren't occupied with breeding the Queen assisted foraging-teams as protectors and hunters... but got little respect from their charges, who saw them as lust-addled, foolish and largely useless.

And then there were the 'Drones'... apparently, sterile males, who seemed to be valued for several reasons. Certainly, they seemed popular with the females. And, yes, the Flowerdragons seemed to have a rather... easygoing attitude towards sexuality, on a cultural level. Perhaps it made sense, seeing as the vast majority of their population was entirely sterile, removing the 'consequences' of sex, and reducing it to simply a pleasurable, shared experience. Either way, she couldn't claim that she minded - they were a lot closer to her own attitudes on the subject than most of her fellow humans back home.

Of course, her own predilections, and her church's adoption of orgies as a form of worship, had been shifting the cultural attitude towards sex quite a bit back home ever since she started her rise to power. The increased cultural exchange with the other races had done still more. After all, each of the races had their own little twists and mores to add to the melting-pots that the major human cities were increasingly turning into. The Beastkin, for example, had long traditions of using sex as a way to seal alliances and other agreements between clans - since such mating could not result in children, it was a 'safe' way to build an intimate connection. Much like the merfolk penchant for seducing humans, these traditions had provided an anchoring-point for the sexual revolution she'd somewhat inadvertently sparked... but compared to these Flower-Dragons, her continental peers remained rather severely repressed.

She made a cursory scan of the information her forwards scouts were sending back. All three of them were closing in on the central heights of the island by now - the 'Palace', which unsurprisingly seemed to be a titanic mass of vegetation. It resembled a vast tree - the same one she'd seen from the beach - but up close it was clear that its trunk was not contiguous. Rather, it was made up of an uncountable number of thick vines, woven together into a solid wall. Between the 'roots', tunnels led into the interior, where presumably there were rooms and corridors wrought from the living vines. However, a steady stream of Flowerdragons passing through said tunnels made it impossible for her scouts to approach or penetrate undetected. The only passage that lacked regular foot-traffic instead had a broad, rushing river emerging from it - and none of her scouts were suited for swimming, especially not against such a current.

That river presumably had several splits and off-shoots as it headed towards the sea... including the small stream that the centaurs and sailors had been using to refill the ship's water-storage. She'd wondered about the source of that earlier, and the fact that the river originated in the 'Palace' only made it more mysterious. Indeed, there were many, many questions she was looking forwards to asking the Flowerdragons... assuming they'd actually get around to speaking to her at some point. She'd already penetrated rather deeply into their lands, and based on her scouts' reports, she knew that she'd start seeing actual habitats soon enough. Surely, they weren't planning to just let her walk unchallenged all the way to the Palace?

No sooner had the question formed in her mind, that a colorful shape became visible between the undergrowth ahead. Her beasts advanced towards the shape with extra caution, but their sharp senses soon allowed her to identify it - a vividly purple Flowerdragon that she instantly recognized as Orichaniel, the same Drone Male her scout had spotted when it first made contact with the island's native denizens. He was sitting, quite calmly, in the middle of their path - forelegs crossed in front of him, and petal-wings neatly folded along his back. It was obvious that he'd placed himself there deliberately to meet her, presumably reasoning that simply waiting quietly for her would be less likely to draw a spontaneously aggressive reaction from her protective detail than swooping down dramatically from above.

Considering that she was essentially making 'first contact' with a whole, sentient species, apparently forgotten to all on the Continent, she really should be very... officious about it. Maybe do a bow, or say something deep and memorable that would look good in future history-books. But considering all the information her dedicated scouts had collected for her - and how her ability to connect with them had let her see it all through their eyes - she really couldn't resist. Flanked by two of her beasts, with Lutra lagging somewhat uneasily behind, she walked up to him, admiring the way he was managing to stay calm in what was no-doubt a tense situation for him.

Then she nodded pleasantly at him. "Hey, Orichaniel! Back down from the Palace already, eh? The Queen certainly keeps you busy - hardly any time to see to your vast swathe of admirers, is there?" The artfully-maintained expression of gravitas and steady calm on his face collapsed as he stared at her, his jaws falling open. Then he visibly caught himself, shook his head and cleared his throat. "Hmm, yes... important work, you know how it is. But you seem to have the advantage on me, my lady. How might I address you?" She grinned approvingly at him. She knew quite a few professional diplomats who couldn't have recovered their equilibrium so quickly. This one was GOOD at his work.

"Well, most people call me The Beastmaker, but that's really more of a title. I think I'm also technically an Empress these days. Or possibly a Goddess, there seems to be some degree of overlap. My friends just call me Sayn, though." She said it all in a deliberately casual voice, and Ori seemed to take his cue from that as he nodded. "Well, since we've only just met, I will say that I am delighted to make your acquaintance, noble Beastmaker. My Queen, as you are apparently already aware, has sent me to meet you as her representative. I have been instructed to guide you to her presence, with the goal of opening... negotiations. I require, however, your word that you will refrain from... any violent action while you are within our lands."

He looked at her expectantly, genuine hopefulness (and just an EDGE of fear) bleeding through his carefully-maintained diplomatic facade. She shrugged. "I will give you my word that I - and those I control - will not resort to violence except in self-defense. Will that suffice?" He nodded quickly, and got to his feet in front of her. "Perfectly. Conversely, I will - as a representative of the Queen - guarantee your safety within our territory. I have no doubt that you are already aware of the Queen's location, but I hope you will allow me to guide you anyway. Purely in the interest of... politeness, you understand."

Soon, they were walking at an easy pace through the jungle, the four-legged Flowerdragon clearly reining himself in to match her speed. After a bit of consideration on how to best strike the balance between 'friendly' and 'not to be fucked with', she decided to walk alongside him while one of her Elite Beasts kept to her other flank. The other three, she left a few paces behind, along with Lutra - who was busy looking in all directions for signs of foul play. She had been silent for a while, now - but Sayn sensed that it was not fear that held her tongue. It was easy to forget that otters - and, by extension, Otterkin - were predators. Their favored prey were fish, of course, but nonetheless the air of quiet focus that surrounded Lutra was very much that of a hunter with all senses sharpened, and muscles tensed for instant movement.

Orichaniel's route guided her around all the major settlements her scouts had spotted earlier, as well as the nurseries. Spherical tree-nests were still frequently visible though the crowns, however, and from many of them, curious, multi-colored faces looked down at her. Nobody approached them, however - whether due to wariness or orders from above. Before them, the land rose towards the island's peak, and the broad trunk of the giant tree that stood at its center became visible beyond its lesser cousins. The sight relaxed her for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if any rogue males with martial inclinations had any desire to ambush her, they'd likely not do so within earshot of their clearly diplomatically-inclined Queen. Second, she'd been able to pull back the scout she'd left near the tree, and now had an extra set of eyes hidden in the tree-crowns, providing her with some excellent situational awareness. She wanted to believe the best about these Flowerdragons - they seemed like decent folks, and their liberal attitudes appealed to her - but she couldn't afford to be careless. They clearly had a vested interest in obtaining a working ship, and it didn't take a great sage to figure out why THAT might be. Or why that might leave her at odds with the Queen...

She threw a covert glance at her escort, and considered breaking the silence to ask Orichaniel a few questions about what the Flowerdragons might have to offer. Based on what her scouts had picked up so far, he occupied a 'right-hand man' role relative to the Queen, so chances were he actually had the insight to answer most of her more pressing questions. However... that would put him in a rather awkward position, forcing him to choose between overstepping his authority by basically opening the negotiations on his own, or being rude to a Very Important guest by refusing to answer her questions. And while taking such an aggressive tack in the negotiations - essentially seizing the initiative and starting the talks on HER terms - might be advantageous, she found that she didn't really want to do that to 'Ori'. He was tough, intelligent, obviously respected by his peers, and clearly dedicated to his Queen - and, by extension, his people. In a strange way, he reminded her of Cybra... only less cynical, and quite a bit more handsome.

Yes, she'd started to appreciate the beauty of the Flowerdragons. While certainly quite a bit smaller, they DID have some of the grace and strength of dragonkind... albeit with little of the overwhelming arrogance that followed those great lizards around. Their colorful, petal-like scales gave them a vibrant profile, and the way they moved in their native environment was a thing of beauty. More importantly, they were... delightfully vivacious. Her scouts had continued to pass their impressions on to her as they spiraled through the island's central areas, and even when she hadn't been focusing specifically on one of them, she'd still gotten a steady feed of images. Flowerdragons running and climbing, playing and sporting, chatting and gossiping... and having sex. Lots and lots of sex, much of it involving only the females. Despite their isolated, walled-off home, there was nothing of the dour hermit about them - they were enjoying life to the fullest, and even the rumors spreading amongst them about foreigners landing on their shores had failed to quell their appetite for life. And that was, to her, a very attractive quality.

And so, they walked in silence, as the trees thinned out and gave way to a network of thick, vine-like roots, all streaming towards a single location. It was as if the lesser trees were too awestruck by the gargantuan growth that loomed over the center of the island to approach it. She found herself gasping in wonder as they at last emerged from under the dense crown, and she could lean back her head to stare up at it. Somehow, the visions sent by her scouts had failed to fully convey the sheer sense of SIZE. No tower built by man - or even the Elves, during their time of glory - had been this wide - let alone this tall. The broad leaves that swayed at the top of the green-brown colossus were larger than the ship she'd come here on. She was suddenly reminded of the Leviathan - when she had met him, she had been boggled by the thought that something so immense could be ALIVE... but this tree was bigger yet, and if the merfolk were right, it was only a small part of an even greater whole. The island itself was an enormous, living organism of vibrant plant-life, with this titanic tree as its beating heart.

She sensed, more than saw, Ori's broad grin as her pace faltered. To the Flowerdragons, presumably, the great tree was a simple fact of life. They had no basis for knowing just how amazing it was, with every last one of them having been born and raised within sight of it. The wonderment of someone seeing it for the first time would be a far stranger sight, for them. She lowered her head again and flashed a smile back at him, even as he struggled to compose his face back into a suitably diplomatic expression. "Nice place you've got there... I think it's actually bigger than my own palace back home. Of course, that IS still under construction... and as I'm sure you know, it isn't really the SIZE that matters, anyhow, but how you use it - right?"

It was Ori's turn to stumble slightly at the last part, but he quickly regained his balance and cleared his throat. "Hmm, yes, quite... though in the interest of honesty, what you see before you isn't the Palace proper. Rather, the Palace occupied a series of hollows and tunnels that take up only a tiny fraction of the Living Heart, right down here near the roots. Ah, yes - that is what we call it. It is not precisely a 'tree', after all. Rather, it is an outgrowth of our island, and an important part of it." She nodded studiously, and then glanced towards the rushing river she'd spotted emerging from the... 'Living Heart's' roots when she first scouted it. It was flowing as swiftly as ever, off on their left. "Interesting. I assume that freshwater river over there has something to do with this 'importance', hmm?" Ori nodded, a note of cautious approval in his voice. "Indeed, most perceptive. The Living Heart is the only source of freshwater on the island, and for that reason alone, vital to our survival."

They had continued to walk as they talked, towards one of the gaping tunnels leading into the hollows between the roots. When she'd scouted the area earlier, it had been heavily trafficked - but now, it was entirely empty. Their footsteps began to echo as they moved inside, the sunlight fading behind them, and the darkness briefly became oppressive. Then her eyes began to adjust, and she realized that several of the vines making up the woven-together walls of the tunnel were pulsing with pale, blue-green light. Hardly daylight conditions, but enough to ensure that she could see where she put her feet.

The tunnel soon hit a three-way split, and divided several times after that - but Orichaniel moved with the unhesitating certitude of a local, obviously knowing the paths of the Palace like the back of his claws. Now, at least, she genuinely DID need a guide, and she subconsciously moved closer to the suddenly-comforting bulk of the bright-purple Flowerdragon. She also, however, made sure to memorize every turn they made and every fork they hit, just in case it became necessary to make her own way out of there... in a hurry.

Like before, they encountered no other living soul - the path had obviously been cleared for them. It was clear, however, that this was not the norm - the bark-floor beneath her feet paid testimony to a heavy traffic of clawed individuals, with half-closed gouges in the living vegetation showing off the fact that this palace was self-repairing. Her ears also picked up the remote sounds of skittering feet and hushed voices, possibly echoing down through these tunnels from a significant distance. All in all, it seemed... excessive. Like she was some kind of dangerous monster that few dared approach for fear of accidentally provoking her. Just how badly had these Flowerdragons' FIRST meeting with humanity ended? Well, she already knew that the answer to that was 'very badly indeed for all involved', but still.

Finally, two other Flowerdragons appeared in the otherwise empty tunnel, which had been growing broader as they walked. They were standing stock-still, flanking what seemed to be an opening into a larger hollow. A pale, blue light was radiating through this entrance, and the sound of rushing water could be heard, echoing pleasantly through the tunnel. Both of the guards - which was obviously what they were - were clearly male, displaying both the stronger colors and formidable nose-horn of their gender. They were also doing a passably good imitation of a pair of statues, with their eyes being the only thing moving. Said eyes, however, were glaring rather intensely at her.

Orichaniel stepped forwards, nodding pleasantly at the two of them. "The Beastmaker, leader of the foreign castaways, here to see the Queen. We are expected." He said it with an air of bored formality, as if having mysterious, foreign representatives visiting their ruler was an everyday occurrence... and somehow, this seemed to calm the two guards just a little bit. Both of them made a brief, curt nod, then resumed their statue-imitations - but they weren't glaring at her anymore. Still keeping an eye on her, mind, but that much was expected from any decent guard, regardless of circumstance.

However, as she stepped forwards, she saw their glared shift to her retinue, and paused. She was walking into an unknown and potentially perilous situation, but... well, she's learned enough about courtly manners since becoming empress to know that entering the presence of a monarch while armed to the teeth was generally considered quite rude. She didn't carry a sword or a bow, of course, but her Beasts were her weapons - some more obviously so than others. And so, with an extravagant gesture (not necessary, but seemed appropriate), she commanded the four Elite Beasts that had escorted her so far to line up against the tunnel's wall in full view of the two guards. Lutra, who'd previously been hanging back with the Beasts, immediately took the hint and sidled up closer to Sayn. Ori, meanwhile, looked back at the Beasts - who were now lying down, eyes closed, seemingly dormant... and while he said nothing, she could see both gratitude and hopefulness in his eyes.

Finally, they stepped through the opening, just the three of them - and her breath caught in her throat as she looked upon the den of the Flowerdragon Queen. It was every bit as big as her own (ludicrously extravagant) throne-room back home, and had a far higher ceiling... as in, she couldn't actually SEE how far up it went. But while her own throne-room was a sterile construction of marble, velvet and gold filigree, designed to overwhelm visitors with the sheer impact of majesty and wealth, making them feel small compared to the towering pillars and grandiose throne, this space was... vividly alive. Half the floor was taken up by a deep, azure lake of sparkling freshwater, with one side of it opening into a cavernous tunnel that would, she knew, emerge from the great tree to wind its way downhill towards the shore while dividing several times. Above the lake, several clusters of fist-sized, bright-blue fruits hung heavily from vines spiraling off from the walls, and it was from these fruits that a steady drip of clean water emerged, filling the hollow with the sound of water-bells.

By the shores of the lake, a raised dais covered by thick, bright-green moss served as the Queen's throne. An orchard of unfamiliar plants - thicker than a man, twice as high, and each crowned by a single, huge, brightly-colored fruit - served as a backdrop for the being that crouched upon it. Sayn wasn't sure exactly what she'd expected - considering the insectoid lifecycle of these creatures, perhaps a great, bloated thing with an abdomen constantly spitting eggs? But that had been silly, really. With but a single relatively-small island and no apparent dangers threatening them, it wouldn't take much to maintain the population - so even with but a single female birthing every last member of the species, she really wouldn't be all that overtaxed.

That was, however, an idle side-thought. Sayn's FIRST thought was one of undisguised awe. When she'd first heard these beings refer to themselves as 'Flowerdragons', she'd thought it a rather arrogant term - compared to the terrible power and magnificent presence of true dragons, they were really not very impressive. But this being... was different. The Queen towered above her children, larger by an order of magnitude - indeed, every bit as sizable as a dragon in its natural form. Her limbs, folded peacefully beneath her, were treetrunk-thick and covered in deep-brown plates that seemed somewhere between insectoid chitin and the bark of an ancient tree. Indeed, these plates covered her entire body, from what Sayn could see, with the plates growing thinner and more armadillo-like towards the long, curled tail at the end of the massive body.

There were two features of the immense body that really drew the eye, however. The first was the huge horn that rose from the front of her face, far more magnificent than any carried by the males. It branched into three halfway up, forming an elegant symbol - but the edges of the obviously-hard material gleamed razor-sharp, and all three tips looked decidedly pointy. It was obviously not just for show - this 'Queen', far from being a simple breeder, could shred a squadron with a few throws of her massive head. Further driving this home was the OTHER feature - her wings. Tightly-packed along her back, half-covered by curved plates of chitin, they were nonetheless huge. Made up of petals, as with her children, these ran the spectrum of yellow, orange and deep red, somehow bringing to mind a sunrise. And from the size alone, Sayn could not help but conclude that despite her sheer mass, the Queen was most likely capable of flight.

However, once she'd finished absorbing these rather extravagant traits, and digested the fact that this Queen clearly had the capacity to dish out extreme violence if necessary, the rest of it began to filter through. Yes, she was huge, she was armored, and she was armed... or, at least, horned. But she was also... beautiful. The bud that her children carried at the tip of their tails was, in her case, a wide-open flower, showing the same delicate shades of yellow and orange as her wings. Areas of gentle, bright-green moss softened the lines of her armor-plates around the joints. More petals - these going from deep orange to bright red - poked out between the plates that lined her head, creating a sort of natural tiara - and beneath, her face shone forth, the only unarmored area in sight.

Her face was white, somehow bringing to mind the delicate, white bark that certain rare trees displayed. It was certainly expressive, as were the bright, green eyes that burned in its midst, flanking the armored plates that covered her forehead and connected to the impressive nose-horn. Right now, the face showed a welcoming smile, and the eyes seemed to glow with hope. She, too, had seen - and approved of - Sayn's decision to leave her Beasts behind before she entered... somehow. Orichaniel approached the dais and delivered a respectful bow - with practiced smoothness - before straightening up. "As ordered, my Queen, I bring before you the leader of the shipwrecked outsiders - Sayn, known as The Beastmaker." The Queen returned his bow with a firm nod. "Thank you, Orichaniel. As always, you have performed admirably." Her voice was melodious and strangely feminine, despite being pitched with a deep, basso rumble that suited her massive body quite well.

Sayn felt herself quail a bit as the immense being's attention focused purely on her, but hid it as best she could as she, too, approached the dais and delivered a polite half-bow. The Queen returned it - inasmuch as was possible from her current position - by bowing her head far deeper than she had towards Orichaniel. "Greetings, Sayn Beastmaker. I am the Queen of this island, and have no name beyond that... though, that might change, in the near future. It is my hope that we might reach a mutually beneficial understanding. Already, it is clear that neither one of us have any interest in courting violence, and considering the restraint you have displayed, let me make one thing clear to you in return..."

The Queen took a deep breath, the bark-plates on her chest creaking slightly before she spoke again. "If we should fail to reach an agreement, you will be escorted - unmolested - back to your ship, and permitted to finish repairing and resupplying it with whatever materials and resources you might glean from the Outer Wall. In other words, I have no intention of forcing an agreement on you by the threat of violence or by restricting you from resources without which you would be imprisoned here." Sayn nodded, letting the gratitude she felt show on her face. Granted, it didn't cost the Queen anything to SAY something like that, but it certainly got their meeting off on the right foot - and she personally felt quite certain that the Queen meant every word. Which was quite an accomplishment - obviously, this hidden, floating island didn't see a lot of traffic, and it might easily be centuries before another chance such as the one she represented came along.

While she pondered that, the Queen quickly continued. "However, that being said, I believe that I and my people could be very helpful in getting your ship seaworthy - and properly supplied - faster and more thoroughly than you could accomplish on your own. And I AM aware that time is a factor - the weather of this region is known to us. The storm that passed through here yesterday was unusually intense for so early in the year, but it will not be long before its younger siblings sweep in as well." The Queen paused again, and Sayn considered saying something... but there really wasn't much she could add other than "Yeah, that sounds about right." Which somehow lacked the proper... gravitas for such an important, diplomatic meeting. So she merely raised an eyebrow, and waited for her host to continue.

Which she did, a minute later, while fixing Sayn with an obviously inquisitive look. "That, I believe, sums up my own bargaining-position rather succinctly... but before we continue, I need to know yours. I am aware that you are the highest-ranking human on the ship now beached on our shores, and the non-human passengers - Centaurs, I believe - also seem to hold you in high regard. However, we know... little of the world beyond our shores, particularly in terms of how its political climate might have changed over the past few millenia. So I fear I must ask - what rank, if any, do you hold on the continent itself? Have you land, resources, authority, influence?"

Sayn could not restrain a grin. She HAD been wondering if the Flowerdragons - particularly the Queen, who apparently 'saw much' - actually knew who or what she was. Apparently not. "A perfectly understandable question, your Majesty. To answer it, my rank is 'Empress', though a fair - and growing - percentage of the populace also choose to worship me as a Goddess. Which means I have all four of the things you mentioned in extravagant abundance. Except for a few independent tribes that I have no particular interest in forcing to submit, and the mighty Dragons who choose to remain aloft, I largely control the northern continent in its entirety. And in the interest of clarity - that includes six different nonhuman races, all of whom are considered equal under imperial law. Indeed, fostering harmonious relations between the different races is one of the main purposes of my empire."

The Queen actually flinched physically when Sayn made her initial declaration, and Ori did much the same, his eyes suddenly growing as a low whistle escaped his chitinous lips. The last part of her speech, however, made them both lean forwards again with renewed interest. "I see... my apologies, Your Imperial Highness. We were unaware of your rank - and I do hope that our reception has not given offense." The Queen's words were somewhat halting, and it struck Sayn as significant that the majestic being didn't show any inclination to DOUBTING her statement. Considering that she'd have had a good reason to CLAIM such significance and authority if she didn't actually have it - and that her statements sounded rather like empty bragging even to her own ears - that suggested one of two things: Either the Queen was sufficiently naive and unfamiliar with lying in general to simply take whatever she was told at face value... or she had some way of telling for sure that Sayn actually WAS telling the truth. Most likely, it was the later, especially considering some of the subtle hints about the Queen's 'seeing' that she'd picked up earlier.

Trying not to let those considerations show, Sayn quickly shook her head. "Oh, I take no offense - after all, I'm the one who showed up on your land unannounced! If anything, you've been a most gracious host, under the circumstances... especially since I hear that previous human visits to your lands ended less than pleasantly." A dark shadow passed over the Queen's bark-white face at this, and she nodded stiffly. "That is... true. The last time a human ship crashed upon our shores, its crew were... unwilling to accept our assurances of peaceful intent. They called us monsters, and sought to destroy us. I suspect their actions were driven by desperation - their ship was far more heavily damaged than yours seems to have been, and it is likely they could not have repaired it without our help. Certainly, we were unable to restore it to seaworthy condition by ourselves." She quickly shook her head. "If you wish to know more of those deplorable events, I will tell you of it - but for now, I hope we can leave such matters in the past and focus on the future."

Sayn nodded quickly, wishing she hadn't brought the subject up in the first place. After all, she could easily imagine how it must've happened - humanity's track-record for dealing with other races wasn't great, prior to her own ascent to power. Running into creatures as alien as the Flowerdragons under circumstances as stressful as a shipwreck could quite easily have sparked some first-encounter misunderstandings that would then rapidly spiral out of control, with no-one able to rein in the violence once it started. Idly, she wondered if the Queen had been forced to get personally involved... certainly, no mob of fear-driven sailors armed with improvised weapons could've hoped to stand against HER. Though, perhaps it was better if that question remained unanswered, for the sake of further... diplomacy.

The Queen, meanwhile, sighed and glanced over her shoulder at the orchard of fruits that made up the backdrop of her throne. Her eyes seemed to linger on the largest of them - a bulging, pear-shaped thing of mottled green and brown, hanging heavily from its stalk. Then her eyes returned to Sayn, filled with purpose. "Very well, then. As you have no doubt divined, our interest - MY interest - in your ship is as a way to escape from this island. Not on a personal level, but as a species. We, the Flowerdragons, exist only here, on this one, unnatural island. In a sense, we are satisfied with this. This island was made for us - literally - and we are safe and happy here. There are no threats to our existence, and we could live here undisturbed for millenia yet to come."

Sayn raised an eyebrow, urging the Queen on when she seemed to hesitate. "I sense a 'but'?" The Queen sighed again, her eyes seemingly drawn back towards the pear-shaped fruit. "But, my daughter cannot live here." She shook her head as if to clear it. "I will tell you more of our... origins, later, if you wish to learn of it. For now, suffice to say there can only be one Queen on the island. However, I am not immortal. Long-lived, compared to my children, but not immortal. And so, every century or so, one of my seeds will produce a new, potential queen. Once she hatches, she will... fight me. Not by any will of either one of us, but by our very nature. Our bodies will respond to one another, and the very air will become poison around us. Had I grown old and weak, thus, she would overcome me and become the new Queen. But I am still young and strong - and so, she will die. As several of her younger siblings have before."

The deep sorrow in the Queen's eyes made Sayn wince. Such an approach to survival probably made sense for mindless insects, but for sentient beings like the Flowerdragons, it was horrible. The towering Queen, despite her alien nature, seemed to immediately recognize her sympathy, and smiled wanly at her. "There is only one way to prevent this: Before she hatches, her egg must be removed from the island, to somewhere beyond my range. However, she could not hope to survive on her own - and even if it was possible, such an isolated existence would be a torment, not a mercy. In other words, what I desire is the creation of a new... colony, for lack of better words, for the Flowerdragons. This would involve the movement of a number of eggs, larvae and adults to a new, suitable location, along with the Queen-egg. As such, at a minimum, we require a ship - but ideally, we require land and safe passage thereto as well. We do not wish to steal anybody else's land, nor would it be desirable if we had to fight to keep it..."

Sayn nodded absently, her mind already racing. "So you need... land. Preferably somewhat isolated, preferably with a familiar sort of environment... but there isn't really that much unclaimed land left on the northern continent, hence the Centaur emigration to the south... and with what we're hearing from there, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to send you guys in that direction anytime soon." She was talking to herself more than anything, but both the Queen and Ori looked at her with intense interest as she rubbed her chin, searching her memory. She knew she remembered something... something about an overgrown island...

Ah! The Thenarians! There it was. Months ago, it had come across her proverbial desk. Achidias and Cybra had been talking to her about it. Yeah, it had been about the Thenarian tribes... those tall, blond, bearded, dark-skinned barbarians from the archipelago off the south-east coast of the continent. They were fanatical worshipers of the war-god Thenares since the Age of the Gods, and they had carried on being so despite the disappearance of said god and the passage of millenia. According to their beliefs, dying in 'worthy combat' would grant them eternal life in some 'warriors' heaven', and a seat by Thenares' throne - hence, the ancient name they used for themselves - 'Mandirkrigoa ', meaning 'The Death-Seeking Warriors' in the old language they had used before the Divine Tongue was created.

Always in search of a chance to die fighting worthy foes, the Thenarians were piratical raiders - striking at any ships that came near, and raiding up the eastern coast of the continent in their double-hulled canoes - the front of them usually carved into the likeness of a rising lion, goat or serpent, in honor of the monstrous Chimera that had been Thenares' favored pet and symbol. The appearance of those boats on the horizon sparked panic in coastal settlements all the way up the coast, and made even the stoutest militiaman quake in his boots. The obsidian battleaxes favored by the Thenarians might be primitive, but they were also undeniably effective - and the way their wielders tended to charge half-naked and screaming into combat, without regard for their personal safety, tended to have a somewhat... intimidating effect on their foes.

A permanent solution to the problem was... under debate. The Thenarian tribes, unsurprisingly, weren't interested in joining her empire, especially after the way she had 'seduced the Centaur race away from the True Faith', as they would presumably put it. And fighting those fanatics on their own turf - in those jungle-covered islands they called home - promised to be an exceedingly expensive endeavor in terms of bloodshed. Not just because of the home-field advantage, but also because the Thenarians spent at LEAST as much time fighting each other as they did raiding foreign coasts. A serious attack would force the tribes to unite, making them far more dangerous than they already were. So for now, the coordinated response had been one of... limiting their ability to cause damage. Naval units provided escort for otherwise-vulnerable merchant-shipping, and fast-moving scouts - including Griffon air-sweeps - provided early warning of coastal raids, enabling centrally-stationed response-forces to protect a wide range of small settlements.

However, the Thenarians had responded in their own way - by branching out, and striking in a new direction. The southern coast of the Sea of Grass was largely unsettled, due to the brutal environment, inclement weather, and generally nomadic nature of the locals, and as such the direction of Thenarian raids had always been northwards... until recently, when the organized response that Sayn's newly-forged empire made possible pushed the raiders to get creative. Suddenly, Thenarian raiders had appeared beyond the mountain-range that marked the border of the Sea of Grass - striking at the many small settlements, harbor-towns and fishing-villages that dotted the coast of the southern city-states.

The mystery of how the Thenarians could raid so far from home had been solved eventually, however, thanks mainly to Griffon aerial scouts. A small, otherwise-insignificant island off the southern coast of the Sea of Grass had been occupied by the raiders, and turned into a resupply-base and resting-spot. Using that as a jump-off point, they could strike far further west than would otherwise be possible. Fortunately, they still weren't too well-established or numerous there, so with Achidias reassuring the Centaur-tribes that remained in the area that the sudden naval presence wasn't aimed at THEM, a concerted effort by Mosvaruch's well-trained marines had managed to wipe out the fledgling pirate-base.

However, the island remained unoccupied, and there were concerns that the Thenarians would simply set up a NEW base there eventually. Some of her advisers had talked about setting up a permanent naval presence there specifically to deny the island to the raiders, but the problem was that nobody particularly WANTED the damned place. The island was small, rocky, heavily overgrown with thick jungles and occasional patches of swampland, and infested with stinging, disease-carrying insects and venomous critters. The Thenarians, accustomed to such environments, might not mind too much, but any other force that tried to settle down there would be dealing with some pretty severe health-issues in short order. She'd wound up discussing the matter with Lutra, broaching the option of one of the most tropically-adapted Beastkin-tribes taking over the island - such as the Gatorkin or Lionkin - but none of those tribes had the numbers, or inclination, for launching such an endeavor. Indeed, her own success at promoting further integration of Beastkin and Humans, and raising the standard of living amongst the Beastkin tribes, rather got in the way in this case... with everything coming up roses back home, it seemed like nobody particularly wanted to move to a remote, isolated, bug-infested island.

A smile creased Sayn's lips, and her eyes came back into focus. "I think I know a place where you could settle quite happily. Mind... you say you don't want to have to fight to keep it. That, I cannot guarantee. This floating island of yours is a paradise, but once you step off of it, you have to be prepared for what that means. Out there, you have to be willing to fight to hold what's yours - even with my support. In a sense, that is the price to pay. But I do not think it's one you are... incapable of paying, either. You are not defenseless, and neither are your children." The Queen, who had been observing her thoughtful expression closely, nodded solemnly. "Yes... I understand that. And I appreciate you telling me so up front. Knowing that fighting might be necessary will have some... impact, on the composition of our initial colony." Ori snorted, mumbling seemingly to himself - though Sayn's sharp ears picked it up without trouble. "Probably for the best. There's getting to be a few too many males on this island. Offloading them somewhere they can actually do some good sounds like win-win to me..."

Orichaniel froze, glancing about as if he'd only just realized he'd been talking out loud. The Queen shot him a tolerantly bemused look, then shook her head with a grin. Sayn, too, couldn't help but smile, if only at the crestfallen expression on the Flowerdragon's face as he realized they'd both heard him. Taking pity on him, however, she quickly moved the conversation on. "Well, if you're willing to accept that your 'colonists' may have to defend themselves from... raiders, on occasion, then I do believe I can offer you some land that would be suitable for you. And a good first impression on the people of the continent, whom you will be doing a favor just by moving in."

The Queen's bright-green eyes narrowed speculatively at this, and Sayn couldn't help but suspect that, despite her isolated background, she had enough strategic insight to realize why settling on - and defending - an island might benefit others. However, there was another, stickier issue, and it was time to air it. "...however, if you're hoping to reach there on MY ship, I will have to disappoint you." She said it quite firmly, hiding the way the suddenly-rising tension in the room made her quiver internally. "We came here with a full crew - loaded to the rafters, really - and I'm not about to leave anyone behind. We could squeeze in one, maybe two extra individuals, but certainly not a whole colony. Also, we've got... critical business on the Southern Continent."

The tension, however, eased a bit as the Queen nodded with understanding. "Of course. That much is... expected. It would take some time for us to gather the people and resources to launch such an endeavor anyway. And fortunately, I can... control the rate of maturation for the seeds somewhat, enabling me to delay the birth of my daughter for a good while yet." Again, she glanced back at the wall of fruit-bearing plants behind her, and this time, Sayn spotted one of the fruits shaking slightly, as if in a breeze... realizing, perhaps belatedly, that these 'fruits' were really eggs. What a bizarre lifecycle these creatures had! From the sound of it, they started out as... seeds, produced by the Queen, then those grew into plants, which formed a fruit, from which presumably hatched those larvae she had seen through the eyes of her scouts earlier... and then those grew up, pupated, and finally became full-grown Flowerdragons. She could not think of a single other creature that sported such a complicated way of life, not even by half.

She quickly shook off her surprise, trying to keep a straight face as the Queen continued. "I assume that, with the resources available to you, it is within your power to send us another ship - one with empty holds, ready to ferry us to a new home." The Queen then made a face, before Sayn could even answer. "...though I am aware that I am asking a lot, considering that all we can truly offer in return is a bit of help in getting your beached ship repaired and resupplied a little bit faster." The 'no worries' Sayn had been about to pronounce died on her lips as a thought occurred to her, and she suddenly grinned broadly.

"Well, that's true... and yes, I can arrange a ship for you, though it will take months before such arrangements can be made, you understand. As I said, I'm on my way to the southern continent, and regardless of how long my business there winds up taking, I'll be stuck there until the storm-season passes. Once I return to my power-base in the north, though - a few words is all it'll take to send however many ships you require your way." She clasped her hands in front of her mouth, looking over her fingertips at the Queen with her best 'piercing gaze'. She'd practiced it often enough back home. "However, as you say, that is rather a lot of resources to put into motion in return for some fairly limited aid. Seen as a pure trade, it is... heavily in your favor."

Orichaniel winced, his eyes flickering as he looked from Sayn to the Queen - but the Queen herself merely narrowed her eyes, leaning her head forwards a bit. "As you say. But I assume from your tone that you have an... alternative arrangement in mind?" Sayn nodded, no longer hiding her smile. "Certainly - it is quite simple. Join my Empire. Then your people will also be MY people, and it will be my duty to see to their needs, including emigration, regardless of the resources required." A sharp intake of breath could be heard off to the side, but the Queen never flinched. Instead, she just smiled. "Despite my admittedly limited knowledge of the outside world, I do not believe this is how Empires usually add new people to their ranks. Fascinating! Please, tell me more - what would joining your Empire actually entail?"

What followed was a lengthy back-and-forth on the exact political composition of Sayn's fledgling empire. She was actually surprised at how many of the details she could recall, considering her habit of avoiding the nitty-gritty of the everyday work - and if she was to be honest with herself, some of the Queen's rather insightful questions left her giving answers that she wasn't _entirely_confident were accurate... but they damn well _should_be, so if it turned out upon her return home that she'd been wrong, the EMPIRE would have to adjust to her words, not the other way around. And as she'd hoped, the basic philosophy she'd set out with - equality, harmony and prosperity for all species - clearly appealed to the Flowerdragon Queen.

And so, finally, the Queen pushed herself up from the prone position she'd been in, standing on the moss-covered dais that served as her throne. It made her look even more magnificent, of course - an immense, towering beast, wreathed in ancient wisdom and mystical power, who would not compare unfavorably to a true Dragon. Sayn almost winced as she watched this powerful being bend her forelegs and neck in a genuine bow of respect... and submission. "Very well, then, Your Imperial Highness. As Queen of the Flowerdragons, I hereby formally place my people - my children - under your protection, as members of your Empire." The words were somewhat stiff and formal, but there was no note of distaste, humiliation or resentment in them. Sayn quickly returned the bow, her mind racing to put together a suitably severe reply. "I accept you and yours into my Empire, then - and swear that I shall not fail in my obligation towards you."

This was followed by a minute of somewhat awkward silence as the two monarchs looked at each other, each seemingly wondering if the other was going to launch into a longer speech. Then Sayn tugged on her lips, a thought occurring to her. "Well, it's good that we got that sorted out, but... how are my ships going to FIND this place again, when I send them to pick your colonists up? It's a drifting island in the middle of the sea. And it'll have moved significantly by the time I can get those ships ready." The Queen grinned, clearly glad that the silence had been broken. "Oh, yes... that is easily handled. My children, you see, have a... homing-instinct, of a sort. The males do anyway - the females' wings can't carry them far enough from the island for it to kick in, so it's uncertain if it's general. But anyway, on those rare occasions that a male flies far enough away from the island for it to matter, he retrains an unerring awareness of where it is."

Sayn quickly nodded, getting the idea. "So I just need to bring a single male with me from this island - and we can certainly make room for that on the ship - then I can always find this place again. Convenient!" The Queen's grin grew a bit broader, however, as she returned the nod. "Indeed. However... I do believe we can, as the saying goes, kill two birds with one stone here. You mentioned that all the races who are part of your empire have sent representatives to your Palace, to serve as ambassadors and advisers on matters pertaining to their kind. You also mentioned having... critical, and no-doubt sensitive business to see to on the southern continent before you return home. Considering all that, it would seem foolish to send a simple male along with you - he would be more likely to cause trouble than be of any help."

Her eyes fell now on Orichaniel, who had been standing quietly near the wall, very carefully not saying a word, ever since his... somewhat embarrassing outburst earlier. There was a sadness in those eyes, and it was mirrored in his as he saw her expression. "Orichaniel..." she said, sounding formal once more. "You have served me long and well. Of all the drones, you are the cleverest, the most charming, and the best flier. There is none more suitable for this role, however much I would miss you. But I cannot order you to do this - to leave this island that is your home, and all the people you hold dear. I can only ask."

But he was nodding even before she'd finished talking. "I understand, my Queen. We're entering a new world - one almost incomprehensibly larger than we are used to. Someone has to look after our interests out there, and if you believe I am suited for that role, I will not argue. So, yes. I will leave this island with The Beastmaker - our new Empress - and support her in her endeavor on the southern continent. I will represent our people at her court, and lead the promised ships to our island so that our shared dream will finally become truth." The two of them maintained eye-contact for a few more moments, and Sayn thought she saw something like tears building up in both sets. Then, the Queen nodded and smiled.

"Thank you, Orichaniel. You will be missed. And with that, I believe, all of the details have been taken care of! I will send a group of our best wood-workers down to the ship, loaded down with materials, to assist in the repairs. Food-supplies will follow. Perhaps you could send one of the... creations you brought as bodyguards along to make introductions?" The last bit was directed at Sayn, as the Queen's mood quickly shifted from solemn to energetic. Sayn blinked and shook her head, more to get her thoughts back on track than in denial. "Oh, they can't talk..."

Of course, as soon as the problem popped up, the solution followed close behind, and Sayn turned to look at Lutra, whom she'd almost forgotten during the lengthy political discussion that had gone before. The otterkin had been quiet as a mouse during the entire exchange, silently hovering behind Sayn's shoulder. There seemed to be a new spark of... respect? Or maybe even reverence? in her eyes, though - like she'd seen a new side of Sayn, and liked it. Smiling at the gorgeous otterkin, Sayn nodded. "You go with them, Lutra. Tell the sailors and the centaurs that the natives are friendly and have joined the Empire. Get 'em all started on working together on the repairs."

Lutra returned the nod, he whiskers vibrating. "Got it. I guess you don't really need a bodyguard at this point, anyway. What're YOU going to be doing in the meantime, though? I mean, you could just head back to the beach yourself." Sayn turned to raise an eyebrow at the Queen, who still hadn't settled down on her throne after getting up for the bow. "Good question. I assume from your suggestion, however, that you have something in mind, Your Majesty?" The towering Queen nodded, grinning broadly as she stepped down from her dais, sending slight tremors through the wooden floor. "Indeed. It occurs to me that something as momentous as forming an alliance with a mighty empire should be celebrated. So! A banquet it is! A FEAST!"

The last bit came out as a joyous roar, reverberating up through the hollow towards the invisible ceiling far above. The response was nigh-instantaneous. Several previously nondescript patches of wall - made up of tightly-woven vines - suddenly opened up to reveal new tunnels, many of them high up on the walls. A veritable swarm of Flowerdragons emerged from these new openings, climbing down the walls as easily as they'd walk across the floor - all females, from the looks of the coloration. And most of them carrying things, either in their mouths or held tight to their backs with tail and petal-wings; Pillows of soft, green moss. Simple, short-legged wooden tables. Wooden barrels lashed together with vines. Woven baskets loaded with gleaming fruits and berries.

As the banquet began to take shape around her, Lutra was hurried on her way, with orders to return and join the festivities as soon as she'd made the necessary introductions at the beach. Meanwhile, more and more Flowerdragons filtered into the chamber, and the 'throne-room' that had seemed so grandiose and severe when the Queen was its only resident, quickly turned into a warm, vital, somewhat crowded banquet-hall. From what was being set up, Sayn realized that the locals were more technologically advanced than she'd have thought - obviously, they had no metals to work, and just as obviously they hadn't invented fire (which wouldn't have been a very wise invention when you live on an island made from floating vegetation, anyway) - but they were clearly quite skilled at woodworking, presumably using nothing but their own claws for tools.

Other than the short-legged tables that were now being lined up throughout the hall by the dozen, there was also crockery, of a sort - plates and pitchers of carved wood. The barrels that were being spaced evenly throughout the room were quite different in design than those she was familiar with - what with lacking metallic bands - but seemed both sturdy and watertight. The fact that they hadn't invented _chairs_was hardly surprising, meanwhile, and the moss-pillows DID look quite comfortable. Finally, the woven baskets were both beautiful and sturdy-looking - making her briefly ponder the profitability of some sort of export-business for Flowerdragon-made Woven Goods.

With the party clearly getting ready to take off for real, however, she didn't have much time for such thoughts. A huge (but still short-legged) table had been set up in front of the Queen's throne, and on its right-hand side, a normal-sized table covered in elaborate carvings and crenelations had been placed, along with a pillow of the freshest, greenest, most downy-looking moss. She barely even needed Orichaniel's polite gesture to tell her that it was where the 'Guest of Honor' was supposed to sit. And, of course, she barely had time to enjoy the feeling of the soft moss shaping itself around her buttocks before a heaping plate of fruits and berries was placed before her, along with a pitcher of sparkling fruit-juice.

She dug into the fruits - which looked even more delicious than the ones that had been recovered from the 'jungle-wall' during her earlier foraging-efforts - and gazed out across the hall as she ate. She was clearly at the center of attention, with the dozens of attending Flowerdragons - including a large number of brilliantly-colored males - glancing up at her frequently. However, while THAT aspect was certainly familiar, this event had little in common with the stuffy banquets she'd been forced to sit through all too often back at the palace. The Flowerdragons were chewing their way through mountains of fruits and nuts, and throwing back pitchers of fruit-juice with vivacious eagerness, chatting animatedly amongst themselves. The sheer joy of life she'd seen through the eyes of her scouts as they spiraled around the island was very much in appearance here, too.

It was also infectious. The fruit-juice that was being served - from enough barrels to float a small ship - had a certain sharp zest to it, and it didn't take long for Sayn to realize that she was feeling... just a bit buzzed. Apparently, the Flowerdragons HAD invented fermentation, and the juice being served was actually some kind of hard cider. This realization made her drink it a bit slower... but not by very much. Rather, she welcomed the slight easing in the back of her mind that the alcohol brought. It helped to... chase away some residual memories that had started popping up all unbidden when she'd considered the subject of the Thenarian Tribes.

After all, she'd met a Thenarian, once. Just not a typical one. Lorrack the Black's story was fairly well-known, in that sense - that he'd been born on those barbaric islands, but ill fit in due to his short stature, black hair, and lack of formidable physical features. The runt of the litter, a freak amongst his own people - made only worse by his preference for thinking. When he grew up and started suggesting that the clan's warriors might consider the use of rudimentary tactics and strategy to secure easier victories over their targets, he was nearly declared a heretic - after all, dying in combat was the whole POINT of those raids.

So he'd left the islands, with a handful of fellow tribesmen who'd come around to his way of thinking. They had become the core of his first mercenary band, and with access to the libraries and sages of the northern city-states, Lorrack had added a thorough education in military strategy to his natural talent. The fearsome reputation of his tribesmen had earned him his first contracts - and the ruthlessness and sheer skill he displayed during those earned him many more. By the time he and Sayn met, he'd been perhaps the most fearsome mercenary commander on the continent. Their first two meetings had been on the battlefield - glimpses at a far distance. The third had been... more direct. She did not like to think about what he'd done to her in that cell, and for the most part, she didn't. He was dead, now, anyway - though it wasn't common knowledge. After all, he'd been executed in her place, his body transformed into an indistinguishable copy of her own by Korlin's magic. As far as most people were aware, he'd simply run away - gone into hiding to avoid the vengeance of a living goddess, after losing his final battle against her.

But she didn't want to think about that. About him. And another pitcher of the strong, fresh cider helped with that. She forced her now slightly fuzzy brain to find something else to run circles around. This island... the Flowerdragons. There were still many unanswered questions about it. And looking at the way the Queen was emptying her barrel-sized pitcher of cider repeatedly, an increasingly broad smile on her white face as she laughed at some joke originating from Ori, off on her left side, she figured she could probably get some answers easily enough if she just asked.

Sure enough, the Queen was feeling garrulous - whether from the cider, or just sheer happiness at the way this high-powered diplomatic encounter had worked out for the best. With a bit of prompting, she started in on a full background of the Flowerdragons, beginning with their origins. Apparently, they had been created not by a true god, but by a demigod - one of the many half-divine children that had been spawned during the Age of Gods. While many of them had been merely superhuman, some few had inherited a large portion of their divine parent's powers - often referred to as 'Scions', they had worked miracles almost as great as the gods themselves, or so the legends said.

In this case, it had been a Scion of Vertanimis, the God of the Wilds, who had thought to impress his divine father by duplicating a feat previously only attempted by full gods - the creation of his own People. His motivation had, at least in part, been due to the lopsided way he'd inherited his power - Vertanimis' dominion included the forest, the plants, and the wild beasts... but he was first and foremost a hunter. He enjoyed running with the deer, stalking with the tigers, swimming with the otters... and had created the Beastkin specifically to exemplify the wild virtues of the beasts. His son, meanwhile, had mainly inherited his power over plant-life... which, however potent, did little to impress his father.

This power, however, had enabled him to create a floating island far from prying eyes where he could experiment with the creation of new life without the humiliation of having early, failed attempts spotted by his peers - or, worse yet, his father. There, he sought to duplicate, in his own way, the aspect of the mighty Dragons - the creatures of the God of Mystery, recognized even by the gods as being the mightiest and most formidable creatures out of all the people they had crafted. The result of his labors was, of course, the Flowerdragons - but while they were undeniably an intelligent and fully-valid species, he deemed them a failure.

With the possible exception of the Queen, they lacked anything resembling the intimidating aspects of the Dragons he had used for inspiration. Their lifecycle was overly-complicated and far too vulnerable. And worst of all, while he'd hoped to grant them the power of a true 'hive-mind' by incorporating aspects of certain social insects in their design, the final result was - from his perspective - the worst of both worlds. The individual Flowerdragons remained INDIVIDUALS, while the Queen's mental connection to her children merely gave her a powerful sense of obligation towards them.

So, far from being the swarm of dragon-like locusts he could have presented to his father as the ultimate in intelligent predators, they were peaceful, compassionate, and highly social. So he abandoned them, and the island, and sought other ways to prove himself to his father. He never returned. This suited the Flowerdragons just fine - unlike the centaurs, they had realized quite easily that the (demi)god who created them didn't necessarily have their best interests in mind, and they were quite happy that he simply left them alone rather than continue trying to shape them into the monsters he'd hoped for. Their happiness, however, diminished somewhat once they'd finished spreading across the entire island, and realized how limited their world was... and how poorly he had equipped them to go anywhere ELSE.

After that explanation, the Queen began to launch into increasingly complex descriptions of how the island worked - the river, for example, was provided by some special vines that drew up sea-water from below, and passed it to special fruits that leeched out the salt and impurities before releasing the remainder as fresh water. As an added bonus, the 'salt-fruits' could be picked when they got older and replacements had started growing, finding use as seasoning. That much, Sayn could follow. When the conversation started getting into how the Queen's connection with the rudimentary Flowerdragon 'hive-mind' and link to the living island itself, allowed her some form of limited omniscience within the borders of the island, however, Sayn's understanding - and, resultingly, attention - began to wander off. The increased lightheadedness she was experiencing didn't help.

Neither did her growing horniness. Not that there was any mystery in where THAT feeling was coming from. The banquet - though it was really hard to call it anything other than a straight _party_at this point - was becoming increasingly carnal before her. Whether it was due to the vast amounts of cider that had been consumed, or just the Flowerdragon's generally easygoing attitude towards sex, quite a few tables had been pushed aside to make room for a more interesting feast. Flowerdragons were coming together in pairs and small groups, and passionate kissing and flank-rubs were quickly escalating in the natural direction.

As her eyes swept over the increasingly animated crowd, she suddenly spotted Lutra. The gorgeous Otterkin had apparently returned from her errand a while back, and decided to just grab an empty table in the hall rather than interrupt Sayn and the Queen. Judging from the empty, overturned barrel of cider nearby, she'd wasted no time catching up with the festivities, and she was currently laughing raucously while swinging another full pitcher of the sparkling stuff around in the air. Surrounding her was a small mob of Flowerdragons - including a couple of males - who were laughing along with her while eyeing her sleek, fur-covered body with a mixture of curiosity and desire. Well, certainly, she'd be considered an 'exotic beauty' amongst them, to say the least.

Sayn's cheeks were growing rapidly hotter. Could be the alcohol getting to her, or just the fact that the hall was growing increasingly warm. A large number of bodies engaged in strenuous physical activities so close together would do that. What had started as a banquet, and then degenerated into a party, could now only be described as an 'orgy'. Several groups of females had formed what she knew, by now, was called 'Ring of Roses', sharing oral pleasures with one another. All the males she could see were in the middle of mounting a willing female, too... and in some cases, there was a literal line forming near them, indicating that they had some desired skills. She recognized one of them as a Drone from her scouting-trip - the one who'd been cavorting with five feisty females just hours earlier. He clearly had admirable stamina. Based on that, she guessed that the OTHER male who was surrounded by a small mob of females was probably Rafflesion, the third and last (though apparently not least) of the island's Drones.

Somewhat belatedly, she realized that the Queen's overly-technical description of the process by which she could mentally interface with vegetation had drifted into a series of lustful groans, and a glance to the side confirmed her suspicion. Several males had gathered around - or, rather behind - the much-larger female, and one of them was now busy servicing her... with surprising skill, considering the size-difference. Then again, perhaps it wasn't so surprising - other than the Drones, the males present here in the 'Palace' were obviously part of the Queen's current harem, so they'd be used to it. The male's strong fore-claws were digging into the thick, bark-like armor covering her hindquarters as he stood nearly erect, his hind-legs carrying his weight while his tail stabilized him against the floor, enabling surprisingly long and smooth strokes. Certainly, the Queen seemed to approve of his technique.

Sayn was feeling increasingly left-out. A few of the Flowerdragons present were still digging into the fruit and cider, but the vast majority had gotten caught up in the carnal festivities. A glance back towards where she'd spotted Lutra earlier confirmed her suspicions too - her Otterkin friend was currently bent over one of the small tables, while a strawberry-red male pounded her from behind. Based on the way her eyes were rolling back in her head, and the steady stream of delighted moans that could be clearly heard over the general din of the orgy by virtue of having a rather different pitch than the Flowerdragons', she was enjoying it wholeheartedly - and the male seemed to be just as happy. Clearly, the free-love Flowerdragons weren't adverse to dragging two-legged visitors into their games. So why hadn't anyone approached HER? Were they simply too... intimidated by her title, or her powers?

A throat-clearing sound behind her drew her attention away from the increasingly-thick scent of sex that lay as a fog over the room by now. It was different from what she was used to - less salty sweat-stench, more of the sweet smell of slightly-spoiled fruits - but it was nonetheless instantly recognizable as what it was. Looking over her shoulder, she was surprised to see Ori standing there - alone. Considering his reputation, she would have expected him to be mostly buried under willing females. And sure enough, a quick glance over towards his seat - on the other side of the Queen - revealed several disappointed-looking females walking away from it and filtering into the general floor-orgy.

Realizing that he'd apparently shaken off several ardent admirers to approach her, she lifted a quizzical eyebrow, waiting for him to speak. Ori nodded in the direction of where Lutra was writhing under the bright-red male - with several other Flowerdragons of both genders waiting (and making out) nearby as they waited for a chance to become more intimately familiar with the exotic visitor in their midst. "I wanted to apologize - it seems like my less clear-headed fellows have dragged your bodyguard into the evening's entertainment. A little too much cider may have made the rounds. No worries - I'll go extricate her in a moment, and get them all to back off."

Sayn's brow furrowed, and she quickly shook her head, before focusing on keeping her voice from revealing how much cider SHE'D put away already. "She's not my bodyguard. She's part of my inner circle... representative of the Beastkin tribes. Which means she's my adviser, and my consort... and my friend, not incidentally. If she's having fun - and she seems to - there's no reason for anyone to interfere." Ori seemed to stumble a bit at that, blinking rapidly. "Adviser and consort... umm... this inner circle, isn't that the same one I'm supposed to join?" Sayn, sensing dawning understanding, let a grin spread across her face and nodded. "That's the idea. Hopefully, you'll be up for the... challenges of the position. Surely, it cannot surprise you that an Empress would have at least as expansive a harem as a Queen, hmm?"

The proper, diplomatic expression on Ori's face melted away into a boyish grin that seemed to fit him a whole lot better. "Certainly not!" He replied with obviously-fake vehemence, his eyes suddenly roaming up and down her body in a far more... analytic fashion than before. "And I shall, of course, endeavor to prove myself more than a match for all of my new... official duties." Feeling the sudden intensity of his curiosity and desire - presumably enhanced by having had to say no to a number of desirable females just a few minutes earlier - made her cheeks heat up. Not that she hadn't already had a slight blush going, thanks to the cider...

Damn it all - between the cider and the way the sounds and smells of the ongoing orgy was making her wet, she couldn't be bothered with subtlety anymore. Pushing herself up from the moss-pillow, she swept a half-empty plate of fruits and a completely-empty pitcher of cider off her table and bent over it, hitching down the practical (and not terribly imperial) travel-pants she'd been wearing. Leaving them clustered around her knees, she shook her ass a bit and glanced over her shoulder at Ori, who was licking his chitinous lips at the sight. "Words are cheap - how 'bout I give your skills a quick review right here and now, hmm?"

He didn't answer - the time for words was over, and then some. With a practiced leap he was on top of her, his body heavy against her back. Powerful claws wrapped around her shoulders with exquisite gentleness, and something hot and silk-smooth rubbed against her groin. His no-doubt extensive experience didn't help him back there - the holes were in different places. But he'd gotten a good eyeful before he mounted her, and he knew that too... already, he was prodding and pushing as he sought a welcoming orifice. His shaft first slid smoothly in between her thighs in a near-miss, rubbing across her wet pussy in its full length - sending little shocks of pleasure and expectation up to her brain as she felt the ribbed texture of his tool against the sensitive skin as a promise of more to come.

Fortunately, she wouldn't need to wait for long - he'd already figured out the problem, and was shifting his body back and down to get a different angle. The sensation of his body on top of hers, mounting her, weighing her down, was as arousing as it was unfamiliar - it reminded her in some ways of her various experiences with the similarly quadruped Centaurs, but the flowerdragon was much smaller... which, in a somewhat counter-intuitive fashion, made him better at it. Centaurs were simply too big and heavy - they had to support themselves during sex, or risk crushing their partners under their sheer bulk. Ori, meanwhile, was holding her down, pushing her into the table below and resting his muscular mass on her back in a fashion that tickled her submissive side quite nicely.

Then he found his mark, thrusting upwards at an angle with only a hint of awkwardness as her labia eagerly parted before the bulb-like head, the texture of layered petals teasing the well-lubricated tunnel. She moaned, instinctively shifting to better accommodate him as he thrusted deeper, pushing her lower back down to move her pussy towards a more horizontal position. The reward for this came swiftly, in the form of several more inches worth of gloriously rippled shaft - right up to the point where it grew smoother and more narrow. She felt the top of his knot - just as heavily textured as the rest of his tool - kiss her outer labia, but it stopped there.

For a moment, Ori stood still, apparently gauging the best way to proceed into such unfamiliar territory. She let her inner muscles squeeze down on him rhythmically, encouraging him to get going again - and after a second or two, he did. Long, smooth strokes, carefully measured, began to pour into her, and the heavily-textured shaft turned each of them into an almost overpowering source of stimulation. He was picking up the pace steadily, too, as he grew more familiar with the still somewhat unfamiliar stance and angle - his tail no doubt stabilizing him against the floor, as she'd observed before.

Compared to many - indeed, most - of her regular lovers, Orichaniel was rather... poorly equipped, size-wise. But while Sayn DID enjoy the pleasures a truly well-hung lover could bring - the sensation of being stretched open and filled to capacity - she also knew quite well that size wasn't everything. After all, she spent just as much time with female companions who could cause just as much pleasure with a slender pair of fingers or a tiny, but well-practiced tongue. Despite this, she was genuinely surprised by just how much pleasure Orichaniel's tool - barely 7 inches in length - was bringing her. It wasn't reaching into the depths of her body to kiss the mouth of her womb - but the waves of sensation radiating from every part of her it touched seemed to go far beyond its mere physical reach.

It wasn't just the ribbed texture - though, obviously, that was a big part of it. But the sheer skill with which it was applied multiplied its impact - it was a top-quality tool wielded by a master craftsman. Amid the glow of her first orgasm - one that had risen so quickly it had almost driven the air from her lungs - Sayn began to realize just what kind of specimen she'd 'acquired' today. Considering the gender-ratio of the Flowerdragons, there were probably a few thousand females on the island. And there were THREE Drones, the only males that these females regarded with any kind of respect. Orichaniel was the highest-ranking of them. Considering the eagerness with which the females seemed to throw themselves at the Drones, and the generally liberal attitude they displayed towards sex, odds were that Ori had been, to use the vernacular, 'drowning in pussy' pretty much since he reached sexual maturity. That much practice, with that many partners, over that many years, had produced a true virtuoso.

As the blinding sensation of her first climax began to fade, she felt another rising already - stronger, fiercer. Ori had changed his technique somehow behind her - she couldn't tell how. The pleasure radiating from her pussy was simply too intense to pick up any kind of details. As her capacity for coherent thought began to fade, she realized that even now, he was still operating under a severe handicap - her body was unfamiliar to him, from the angle of her pussy to the sensitivity of her tissue. He had to use caution to make sure he wasn't accidentally hurting her. What would he be capable of when he'd gotten to know the human body as intimately as he knew his fellow Flowerdragons? Then her mind exploded into pleasure, and there were no more thoughts. She was pretty sure she emitted a wordless scream of pure ecstasy. If so, however, it probably blended into the general din of sex-noises that filled the hall just fine.

Everything beyond that was seen through a hazy fog of pleasure, with new experiences shining through like bright lights while the rest just faded into the background of sheer sensation. First, there was the unexpected discovery that despite his smallish girth, Ori could actually 'tie' with her. She had expected his knot to swell once he finally pushed it inside - same way it worked with griffons - but instead, it... bloomed. An outer layer of thick, fleshy leaves curled open inside her, grasping at the inside of her labia and locking him solidly in place. With this anchor in place, Ori switched his previous long-stroke technique for one based around short, lightning-fast jabs that made her whole body thrum like a tightly-wound violin-string. Multiple orgasms resulted, and he didn't slow down until he reached his own climax - spraying a load of something thick and sticky into the depths of her pussy.

As his knot compressed itself again - the thick leaves curling back into a tight ball - he began to pull out, sending renewed shocks of pleasure through the hypersensitized tissue of her inner walls. However, he was far from done - it was clear that he had the stamina to match his skills, seeing as he didn't even sound winded when he whispered in her ear. "You know, many of my partners enjoy a switch to the other hole at this point... just to recover a bit. Would you like..." Which was as far as he got before her brain managed to jolt her mouth into producing a vaguely-coherent word. "Please..." It came out as more of a drawn-out moan than an actual answer, but she suspected he got the message. He'd been punctuating his earlier line with a few more smooth thrusts, and the sensation of his still-hard, still-ribbed shaft rubbing against her insides was so intense as to be literally painful. Yes, her pussy definitely needed to 'recover a bit'.

He found her ass more easily than he'd found her pussy - presumably, it was in roughly the same place on a flowerdragon. The velvet-soft tip of his cock parted her pert buttocks, found its mark between them, and pushed inside. Her well-trained sphincter, accustomed to far more formidable entrants, easily stretched to accommodate him... and almost immediately started transmitting signals of confused pleasure to her already overcharged mind as the layered petals that covered the shaft began to tease it. Then, to her vague surprise, she felt the narrowing before the knot come and go as Ori boredinto her ass right to the hilt - easily pushing his knot inside on the first stroke, flattening her buns with his hips.

Apparently, this flowery knot required some time to... prime itself after deployment, giving him a grace-period where he could use his full length - and the added impact of the small, but still very noticeable 'bulb' at the base of his cock - without getting stuck. And use it he did - long, powerful strokes poured into her, each one ending in a loud slapping noise as his chitin-covered loins smacked into her buttocks. Unsurprisingly, the sensation of this improvised spanking only added to the rising tide of the anal orgasm that was busy drowning her mind back into insensibility.

There were other flowerdragons around them, now - males and females both. Apparently, Ori's example had dispelled whatever reluctance had kept them from approaching her earlier. In her present state of mind, they all seemed to blend together, though - just like everything else. She wasted no time putting her mouth to use on whatever genitals were offered, however, and soon learned some interesting new things about flowerdragons. The males' cum was sugary-sweet and stuck to the roof of her mouth. The females' rose-petal pussies didn't smell like flowers at all, but rather like fresh fruits... matching their flavor, which tended to fall somewhere on a scale from watermelon to fresh peaches. The combination of fruity freshness and syrupy sweetness was delicious, a perfect dessert for the banquet - and she eagerly sucked and licked as much of it as she could get.

She barely noticed when Orichaniel finally ran out of steam and jumped off her back. Another flowerdragon - this one an ordinary male, rather than a Drone - had replaced him within seconds. While he lacked any semblance of Ori's sublime skill, her pussy and ass alike were basically just one big bundle of overstimulated nerves at that point - so his powerful, straightforwards thrusting, combined with the textured shaft and knot, was more than capable of keeping her in a state of orgasmic trance. He didn't have Ori's staying-power, either, but out the corner of her eyes - looking around the groin of whichever flowerdragon she was currently applying her tongue to - she could see several brightly-colored bodies waiting their turn. It didn't seem like she'd be suffering from any kind of shortfall anytime soon...

Indeed, by the time she finally found herself without a partner, she was barely conscious - and surprised at that much. Looking around, she found herself as one of the last survivors of what had clearly been the single-most epic party she'd ever been involved in - there were HUNDREDS of flowerdragons scattered across the floor of the immense chamber, far more than there had been when the party started, indicating that more had drifted in to join the festivities at a later point. The vast majority were snoring on the floor, often piled together in little knots that had clearly been involved in some nice, sticky sex right up to the point where everyone ran out of steam.

Lutra was no exception - the otterkin was lying across the back of two sleeping females, snoring loudly and cradling an empty pitcher like a teddy-bear. A glistening, sticky mess surrounded her groin, and if the male flowerdragons' sperm was even half as sugary as it tasted, it would be a bear to get it out of the slick fur once it had dried... especially if one had a monumental hangover to go with it. Sayn grinned tiredly at the thought and, with a thought towards her own future, managed to stagger over to the nearby freshwater lake with a pitcher in hand, washing down the residual taste of gods-knew-how-many flowerdragon genitals with the clear liquid. With any luck, that should take the edge off her OWN impending hangover.

There were still a handful of partygoers on their feet - a group she knew she'd soon be leaving. Some of them were still eagerly mating - latecomers, she had to assume, who'd joined with full energy-reserves. The rest were lounging on their moss pillows, chatting in low, comfortable voices while snacking on leftover fruits from the banquet. The Queen was still awake too, though not talking - she was just lounging at her throne, eyes half-closed as she looked out across her 'children' with a sleepy smile on her face. Her eyes focused briefly on Sayn as she yawned and settled back down on her delightfully-soft moss-pillow, and the two of them shared a wordless grin of post-coital languor. Then Sayn stretched out on the pillow, laid down her head, and let sleep carry her off.

The next day was... hectic. And unpleasant. Sayn's hangover wasn't as severe as Lutra's but it was still enough to leave her equal parts grouchy, and happy that everything was proceeding smoothly enough that she didn't have to think much. Upon returning to the beached ship, they found that the Flowerdragon work-crews had integrated with the sailors with remarkable ease - apparently, the respect (and/or faith) she'd earned by spotting the island in the middle of the storm had left the sailors willing to believe her capable of just about anything, so when Lutra'd returned to tell them that the natives had decided to join the empire and would be helping with the repairs, they'd just shrugged and taken it at face value.

The captain had overseen the details of the cooperative venture, and once he'd seen the flowerdragons' exceptional wood-crafting skills for himself, he'd wasted no time making the most of it. Work-crews consisting of several flowerdragons and one sailor each were crawling all over the ship, making repairs big and small. The flowerdragons were doing all the heavy lifting and woodworking, while the sailors helped explain what NEEDED to be done, and handled any task that required actual fingers - such as hammering in nails. The flowerdragons' claws were far more dexterous than one would have assumed, but they still couldn't wield tools in quite the same way hands did. On the other hand, those claws DID allow them to skitter up masts and along the side of the ship without any need for safety-harnesses or climbing-gear, even while carrying heavy lumber, and that made everything progress MUCH faster.

The flowerdragons had also brought various special vines that they used in their own constructions - tougher, stretchier and easier to work with than ropes - and once an improvised tug-of-war game had convinced the sailors of the materials' sturdiness,it was quickly incorporated into the repairs. As the work progressed, caravans of flowerdragons also arrived carrying sturdy barrels of sparkling spring-water, dried fruits and meats, and... yes, hard cider. Which did little to dull the sailors' enthusiasm for their new allies. An impromptu party occurred on the beach that night, ostensibly celebrating the rapid progress of the repairs. Sayn and Lutra, who had barely recovered from the PREVIOUS party, politely declined to participate. Both of them had spent the majority of the day lying on the beach with mugs of cold water close at hand, watching the work progress through half-closed eyes.

Still, even watching from a distance, Sayn enjoyed the party. Seeing humans and flowerdragons - two species who had only just met, and whose last interaction had apparently ended in blood and death - drinking, eating and merrily chatting amongst one another, gave her hope that her empire truly would accomplish what Korlin hoped, and bring the many people of the world together as one. And the way several pairs of (uniformly-male) sailors and (uniformly-female) flowerdragons drifted away into the cover of the nearby jungle towards the end of the party seemed to indicate that her church had SOME kind of point about a policy of 'free love' breaking down barriers.

Fortunately, the sailors were all hardened drinkers, and despite several man-sized barrels of cider being left quite empty at the end of the night, none of the men seemed affected by the festivities beyond a few squints and grumbles of headaches. The flowerdragons, meanwhile, had turned out to lack any capacity for hangovers at all, and were quite mystified by the whole thing. Either way, the work continued apace from early morning, and a bit past noon the repairs - which would have taken at least a week or two for the sailors to accomplish alone - had been completed.

The weather had held for the past couple of days - beautiful, blue skies as far as the eye could see, and the Merfolk had sent swift scouts in all directions to check for incoming storms further out, returning with the same message. Thus, with time at a premium, it was decided to launch that same evening, and the last of the food-supplies were hurriedly loaded aboard while a cluster of stout flowerdragons gathered on the shore to help push the ship back into the water. Orichaniel, who had helped with the integration of the flowerdragon work-crews the previous day, had spent most of this one saying goodbye to his various friends and female admirers, from the looks of it - at the very least, it would be several months before he returned, and the trip was not without dangers. As the ship began to slide backwards across the silk-smooth sand, moved by countless flowerdragon claws, he stood on the deck at Sayn's side, looking at the island of his birth with a complex cocktail of emotions gleaming in his eyes.

An immense shadow nearly blotted out the sun for a split second, and the sailors on deck gasped as a magnificent form descended from the sky to land amidst the flowerdragons on the beach. The Queen herself had come to see them off. Somehow, her huge, armored body seemed even more imposing out here in the open - perhaps partially because her wings were unfurled. The layered petals stretched for yards and yards, each running a spectrum from deep orange at the top, to pure white at the bottom. As the ship slipped off the beach and took float, she nodded at Sayn and Ori. "I will be expecting your ships when the storm-season has cleared, my Empress. Our colonists will be ready. Orichaniel - make me proud. Make all of us proud." Her words rang clear across the waves as the sails behind them unfurled, and the rudder turned them towards the southern continent. The two of them could only nod, words caught in their throat. The Queen had entrusted the future of her people to the both of them. Neither one of them had any desire to fail in that trust.

_ END _

The Beastmaker's Promise

**The Beastmaker's Promise** Sayn groaned in frustration as she leaned over her desk, staring at the papers scattered across it. Bad news, all of it, and all about the same thing: What she had come to refer to as 'The Centaur Problem'. She had the...

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The Beastmaker's Palace

**The Beastmaker's Palace** The white towers rose from the plains like slender trees, their soaring profile reflected in the clear waters of the bay. It was a masterpiece of architecture, beautiful even in its infancy - for the great marble palace...

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The Beastmaker's Victory

**The Beastmaker's Victory** Thick, black smoke covered the skies. What little light penetrated them showed a scenery out of an apocalyptic vision - a field covered in corpses both human and not, broken weapons and arrows sticking out of the ground....

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