Golden sands and hot weather. Two things that are inseparable facts of life in the Valley of the Gods. Between the towering cities lies the savage wastelands where many monster girls make their home. The Chief God’s touch was felt here more than anywhere else. Where once there was little life, now exists many city-states ruled by powerful undead Pharaohs. They command supernatural authority and deliver prosperity to many. It is no exaggeration to say that those cities are gleaming jewels amidst the dunes.
You are a mere wanderer.
Your feet blister and ache under the harsh conditions. You are running low on everything, from water to clean clothes, and you aren’t sure how far the next city is. There is little respite to be found or scavenged. And you must tread carefully, for ferocious and lustful Sandworms roam the plains in search of foolish travellers like yourself. So you quieten your complaints and continue to move forwards.
Many hours pass, and you are only roused to awareness when the texture of the ground underfoot changes tact. No longer loose granules, but rather the compacted, dry stone of a well-travelled road. You look to your left and then to your right – but nothing lies on the horizon. You pick a direction and follow it, secretly hoping that lady luck smiles down on you once again.
More time elapses and a commotion happens to catch your ear. Two women seem to be arguing beside a cart of goods being pulled by a bull. You hesitate to approach. There are very real dangers faced when travelling alone, the chief amongst them being the obscene lengths that monster girls will take to try and marry you should they discover that you are single.
Yet there is no way beyond them that is out of their field of vision. Your aching feet protest so strongly at the prospect of being forced onto the sand again that marriage to a stranger seems like an improvement to you. You decide to take the risk before you permanently cripple yourself. The two women’s figures come into focus.
One is tall and muscular and tanned, with a pair of curved black horns that resemble those of the bovine trussed up next to her. She towers over the smaller girl and is dressed in little more than a cyan loincloth and chest piece. Her legs become furry below the knee and end in large black hooves.
The smaller woman cuts a less intimidating impression. She has similarly dark skin but wears a colourful rainbow veil that covers her upper body. She has a pair of black furry ears that point to the heavens above, and a face contorted into an aggressive looking snarl.
“Aya, what good would this journey be if not for the sake of the Pharaoh?”
“You damn dogs are always so obsessed with them! Any time I ask you to lighten up you try to bite me!”
“The Pharaoh can reward us with riches far beyond what any simple merchant can offer! Lest you forget, these goods are exotic beyond compare, an assembly of the finest silk and food from the North. I take great offense to your suggestion that we merely sell them to a squalid merchant! We would not break even! Do you want our blood and sweat to be in vain?”
“She has servants and ass kissers like you bringing her party favours like this every day of every month! And when I suggested bringing a man with us you refused.”
“Kidnapping a man from the north would have made this journey even more difficult. And we have barely made it this far as things stand!”
The Anubis’ ears perk up as you take a step closer, she sniffs the air and turns to face you, “By the gods!” Her travelling companion has much the same reaction.
“Quick, grab him!”
“This is the perfect chance, he’s right here! Let’s just take him to the Pharaoh!”
You throw up your arms in surrender before the bovine beauty can bowl you over and make you feel any worse than you already do, “Do you know where the nearest city is? I’m out of water.”
“See? We didn’t even need to hogtie him,” the cow laughs.
The Anubis eyes you up and down, taking note of your poor condition. “Hm. We may have to clean and bandage him before presenting him. I think the Pharaoh would be rather offended by his present appearance.”
“What is all this talk about presenting me?”
The Anubis smirks, her tail wagging at a high speed, “The most radiant Pharaoh and matriarch of the stars, goddess of all that she sees and the watcher of the great Bahr River, Bahiti Am-Heh, seeks the grandest and most peculiar of items from across this grand world. To be presented before her heavenly person within the grand capital of Salah.”
“Basically we want to take you to see her - so she’ll be impressed with us. We’ll give you some food and water for the trouble.”
The Anubis pouts, “Don’t speak of her so casually Aya! Lest a great plague be unleashed unto our houses!”
“You live with your mother, Runt. And I don’t even own a home within those walls.”
The Anubis ignores the barbs and turns back to you, “I am Shem Haresh Al-Hathor. And this is Aya Ra-Het. We are working to capture the imagination of our dear leader, and you have arrived at the perfect time. What better way to push our offering into the forefront? A genuine foreigner from another land!”
“But you didn’t really bring me over, we just happened to meet.”
“Details, details,” Aya rumbles, “So what if we embellish the tale a little? We could have chased you down through an icy tundra for all she knows.”
The Anubis’ admiration for the Pharaoh seems to win out over her desire for approval, “Aya, we need not such tall tales. The mere presence of such a man will surely speak for itself. Dishonesty will only hurt should she dig deeper.”
“Whatever. Let’s just get out of here before some sandworm tries to steal our prize.”
You are offered a seat on the back of the cart, which you accept. Aya whips the cow into movement. You lean back against the baskets and close your eyes for a well-deserved rest. Being presented to a Pharaoh beats out dying of thirst.
“Psh, hey. Human, wake up!”
Your eyes peel open. The sun has started to set. The orange glow bounces off the tall, cavernous walls that surround the cart on both sides, it’s a world away from the wide-open desert you went to sleep in. You clamber around the side of the cart and hang off the side. The full scale of your destination finally comes into view.
Inside of a gigantic basin surrounded by rocky cliffs lies a beautiful walled city. The sand coloured stone of the buildings and defences give it an angelic air. There are splashes of colour everywhere. Painted murals to gods and figures of the city’s past. The buildings are not merely contained inside – they spill out from the walls and form dense blocks of houses that touch the edge of clear pools of water.
“Impressed?” Shem smirks, “For the Pharaoh, such an incredible city is a mere trifle. A birth right divined in the stars.”
“How many times do you have to give this speech?” Aya complains, “You can’t just let them admire the damn thing.”
The cart trundles along past many low-lying farms and homes until it comes upon the open gates of the city proper. You take the time to admire the many sights and sounds. Hundreds of people haggle, talk and party in the streets. Some stop and stare at you, you shrink back and try to draw less attention.
The cart comes to a stop outside of a two-story home. There is a small stable attached to the building where a few more animals are stored. Shem hops down and pulls you towards the door, “First order of business, cleaning you up. Aya, park the cart and keep an eye on the goods.”
“Yes Mistress,” she droles.
The interior of the home is messy and tightly packed. Baskets and boxes are piled high in what could best be described as organized chaos. Shem pushes you through the front living space and into a small room that contains a depressed tub that is full of clear water. You almost drop to your knees and take a big drink out of it, but you then realize that this is meant for bathing.
“Clean yourself stranger. I shall prepare some new clothes for you.”
“You have some on-hand?”
“I have everything in this house, silly. Now let’s hurry – the court is in session today and I’d like to deposit our goods before they spoil.”
She closes the curtain and runs off to find some presentable clothes for you. You strip off your trusty equipment and slide into the pool. You notice that it is constantly flowing in and out like a fountain, presumably to keep the water clean. This is a level of sophistication that you’d never seen in any of the other cities you’d visited during your long journey.
You hurry and clean your body; the water is stained red with the wounds on your poor feet. You dry yourself with a soft white towel and await the return of Shem. She knocks on the wall next to the curtain, “The clothes are here.” You peek under the cloth covering and spy a pile of white rags that have been left behind. You don them and discover that they’re… much more revealing than anything you’d wear normally.
Aya and Shem are waiting for you when you step back into the main living room. Aya whistles, “Looking like a real high-class waste of space.”
“Shush. We have to make sure that he’s ready to be seen by the Pharaoh.”
“Assuming we can even get let through the palace gates.”
Shem pouts and stamps one of her big black paws on the ground, “I’m the daughter of the high justice! Of course they’ll let us inside!”
Aya closes the gap and prods her in the chest, “No. They’ll let you inside, but me and the cargo here might have a harder time.”
“It’s the tributary, they’ll let anybody inside. Trust me.”
“Officially, the High Justice of her Highness’ Scales. They maintain our laws and legal system, and that person happens to be Shem’s mother,” Aya explains. “She’s basically the Pharaoh’s right-hand woman.” Shem’s chest puffs up with every complimentary word, tail swishing, grin cracking. “Stop looking so damn pleased with yourself you contemptable mutt!”
“Since when was it illegal to be proud of my mother? It’s every Anubis’ dream to be a high justice!”
You decide to step in and defuse things before they come to blows, “Ladies. Shouldn’t we be going down to this tribute… thing.”
“Ah! Of course! Let us be away. Destiny awaits!”
“Destiny” turned out to be something like a doctor’s office on a busy afternoon. Of course the palace was all marble floors and towering sandy pillars, but it was contrasted by a carefully arranged seating area outside of the doors to the throne room. You occupy yourself by admiring the beautiful artwork painted onto the walls on the room that show the history of the city.
Shem simply won’t keep herself quiet, “Did you know that the Pharaoh wasn’t awoken by a human man? She’s the only single ruler on the continent. That didn’t stop her from creating the world’s most wonderful city, mind you.”
“Shem Haresh Al-Hathor and Aya Ra-Het?” One of the guards calls out from by the doorway. The three of you stand and walk over, heads bowed slightly as a sign of respect.
Shem’s tail is going wild, “Okay, remember what we talked about. Make sure to bow at her feet, remember to always use her official title, and eye-contact is good. She likes it when people look at her when speaking.”
The guard waves through two more armoured women who carry the offerings that Shem and Aya have gathered, “We have inspected your offerings thoroughly and found nothing amiss. Please enter the chamber with the Pharaoh’s grace.”
The doors swing open under some kind of magic force. You stand behind Aya as you follow the guards inside. You’re a little bit nervous about meeting an all-powerful ruler and undead goddess who could probably glare you to death, should you mess up. The throne room is blinding, with white marble floors. Huge purple curtains that probably cost more than a house hang in front of openings in the walls, letting a cool breeze roll through. They flutter and ripple in the wind.
At the end of the long room is a platform topped with an elaborate golden throne. You can see a vague white and brown blur sat on it, who you assume is the queen of this city. Around the throne are piles and piles of… things. Gold, jewellery, food, animals in cages, tapestries, and clothes. They spill out over the steps, discarded like garbage.
As you walk closer you see her in more detail. The Pharaoh sits, head supported by a palm in what is clearly a display of intense boredom. She is wearing little to cover her own body, brown skin is marked with deep red patterns. She is outrageously curvy, with wide hips that spread out under her own weight, hue breasts, and a healthy weight to her body that indicates that she’s eating well. Dark, almost purple hair spills out from under a crown fashioned after a desert cobra.
If these were different circumstances, she’d cut a majestic figure, but right now she looks like she wants to leap out of the nearest window.
Shem doesn’t seem to notice, “Mighty Pharaoh, we bring with us a gift in your honour!” She gets down onto her knees and bows her head. You decide to keep your head down and do the same. You lay your forehead against the very clean floor and wait.
You get back up onto your knees and study her in more detail. She’s beautiful, not unlike most other monster girls this side of the great river. Plump lips, fiery crimson eyes, a well sculpted nose. She strikes a balance between cuteness and beauty. The silence stretches on and on, and you find yourself growing increasingly disquieted with the situation. You glance over to Shem, who herself is beginning to break out into a cold sweat.
Or a normal sweat, the sun is pretty hot right now.
“Yes your holiness?”
“I would have thought that you of all women would not submit yourself to this… tributary season.”
Shem speaks confidently, “My mother insisted.”
“Did she now?” Her eyes flick over to Aya and then to you, “Who is this?”
“Ah. He’s… a stranger. From a foreign land!”
The Pharaoh leans back in her seat and crosses her legs, “Have I not made it clear that I have little interest in creating a human zoo? If I accepted every man that my people bring me, there’d be nary a room left in the palace.”
“He’s not really an item your holiness, we merely thought that he would… enhance the presentation of our offering!”
“She bribed me with some water.”
Shem elbows you in the ribs, “Hey!”
She smirks. Not much, but you notice it. “I am merely a wanderer your holiness. The skin on my feet are as frayed as my nerves.”
She waves a bejewelled hand in the air, “Hmph. Then I shall welcome you to our city. I am Bahiti Am-Heh – Pharaoh of Salah, and watcher of the great river.”
“It is my honour.”
“For a foreign wanderer you treat your superiors with unusual respect,” she observes.
You meet her eyes and speak with purpose, “Respect and manners cross many rivers.”
“Good words to keep in mind, and from a handsome face too. Shem, Aya, you may leave your offering with the others.” The guards don’t wait before unload the cart and tossing the foot, clothes, and other items of interest onto the pile. Shem does not raise an objection to the rough treatment.
You whisper under your breath while the noise is still ongoing, “Does she seem… bored to you?”
“You think so?” Aya mumbles, “I bet she has to sit through this every day. Bunch of ass kissers bringing her crap she doesn’t need.”
“Aren’t we being ass kissers then?”
“Yeah, I’m just brave enough to admit it.”
Shem hushes the both of you as the cart is finally cleared. Bahiti waves away the guards, who disappear behind the curtains to lie in wait. She waits a moment before speaking again, “I thank you for your gifts. You are the most interesting guests of the day. I find you slightly less baneful than the average noble. Dare I say that you are almost marriageable.”
“Uh, thank you.”
She smirks openly, “Do you find me attractive, wanderer? Does your heart beat like a drum to be in my presence?” You feel your ears turn a little red as she sets her sights on you. You hold your nerve and keep eye contact. She speaks her next words deliberately and with intent. “Be… honest.” They wash over you, and for a brief moment the only thing you can think of is compliance.
“Yes your holiness. You are one of the most beautiful women that I have witnessed in my short life.”
It catches her attention. She checks her nails, “One of? Have you met a beauty greater than I?”
“O-once, during my travels to the East.”
“And what variety of woman was she?”
“A Ryu. She looked after a shrine. People have different standards and desires, but she captured the heart of every man she came across.”
Her eyes narrowed, “How interesting. Shem Haresh Al-Hathor, is this man within your company?”
“No your holiness. Our being together is merely transactional.”
“I wish to speak with him further. May I relieve him from your care?”
Shem can barely constraint her excitement, one of her finds being taken by the Pharaoh herself? She could only dream of such attention before. “Of course your holiness. If you wish for his company, he is yours to take.”
Aya seems to take objection to the idea, “Hey, Shem, aren’t you even going to ask for anything? We spent all that time getting this stuff.”
“Don’t worry about it,” the starstruck Anubis whispers, “Our tribute is being taken personally by the Pharaoh, there’s no need for us to ask for any more.” The bovine woman is seconds away from committing a murder in front of her holiness. Shem bows again and pulls Aya out of the throne room. “We’ll talk again later!”
The door slams shut, leaving you alone with the Pharaoh. She stands from her throne and descends the steps, sandal covered feet clacking all the way. As she comes down to the floor you become acutely aware that she’s a head taller than you. “Stand.” You feel compelled to do so. You’ve heard many tales of the power of the god voice, and how it can compel a man to go against his own nature with merely a word. It seems that those stories were no exaggeration.
Her hand reaches out and cups your chin, tilting you up to meet her gaze anew. “Child of man, you have inflamed something in me that I have not felt for many moons. The things I value above all else, honesty and bravery, are often in such short supply among those who seek me. The eyes of the Pharaoh are upon you.”
She leans down, hot breath washing against your face. You can smell her hair and the sweat on her skin, “I am a competitive woman. There is no one who may stand above me, so my remedy is thus. I will erase that memory from you and imprint my own in its place. You will think only of me. I will be your sun and your stars; I will be the air you breathe and the water that nourishes. When you blink, I will be the darkness that surrounds you.”
Her eyes glint with something unfamiliar. A cold shiver runs down your spine as you realize just what kind of situation you’ve found yourself in. Shem has thrown you to the wolves. A strike of madness, a tinge of eternity. This is a woman who has lived a thousand lives before you, whose memory spreads beyond the desert dunes beyond. And now, her attention is on you. By mere chance you have released this woman from her boredom. There is no backing down now.
Another hand on your chest. You stumble back as she pushes you away with a smile, “But for now, a declaration of intent will do nicely. Wanderer… you are in the East no longer. You are within the walls of my world, and I hold you in my palm. I have duties to attend to, but do not forget this – you are mine.”
Mine. She speaks the last word with a venom that catches you off guard all over again. What is there else for you to say?
“Very well. Let us duel another time.”
“Yes, we shall.”