Short Story: This Armor that Surrounds My Heart, Part One

Hello, readers! As the title says, this is part one of a short story about romance, becoming, and the outer demons who name ourselves Carag. This one will write and post part two sometime after releasing the coming week’s chapter of And All the Foundation Shudders.

Fair warning: Part One ends in a pretty bleak place. Taken by itself, it’s a bit of a downer, and Part Two will in some regards be standalone. Kairliina thinks the emotions built up during Part One will make the–heh–release of Part Two hit much harder, but it’ll still be satisfying if taken by itself. This one, on the other hand, will leave you with a hole in your gut if you don’t read Part Two.

But hey, some beings enjoy a bleak story! Here’s a Google document, as well as a Word document, if you prefer off-blog means of reading:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yztQfBLlMMn0HVlTuHIN79LdothOu8FG4qhpm7BquFE/edit?usp=sharing

And here’s the story in the blog. There’s a ton of great worldbuilding, lots of lovely description, some bursts of action–this one hopes you enjoy!

This Armor that Surrounds My Heart (smut)

The Carag have a way of showing up when one thinks about them. It seems silly how much I planned. All those rituals, signals, notions of bartering dreams for research…

Well, here she is: an outer succubus.

The osmium dais reverberates beneath my feet. Spindly curves of entwined metalloid twist away like frozen rays escaping an unseen sun.

My field gear makes me feel underdressed. And she?

She has horns, of course, but that’s oversimplifying.

Her eyes are rose-pink slits hovering, flaring, deep in the void her sockets contain. Lattices of bone-white chitin turn her forehead into an astronomer’s nightmare of smaller eyes. Her horns are silver, mirror-polished, blade-like, perforated by small holes like pitted fossils.

Her lips, big and plump and pink, sit suspended between exposed upper and lower jaws full of interleaved glittering fangs.

Her skin’s blue, otherwise, forelimbs glistening with membranes and superfluous eyes like the ones studding her tongue.

And her wings, bizarre hallucinatory things like a blue stormy dusk perforated by the rays of a red-white sunset that only exists in those perforations. Digitigrade legs, a thick, long, bladed tail, a fall of mushroom-like translucent flesh, off-white into red, in place of hair.

So, yes, she’s a lot to take in. But I’ve been reading up on the Carag for years to prepare for this trip, and I don’t want to seem too easy to fluster, so I say,

“I must admit… I wasn’t expecting you to be quite so humanoid.”

Her lips drop. Well, now I just feel like a prick.

“Were you expecting something more esoteric?” she asks.

That voice. It’s a knife, it’s silk, it’s breaking apart and spilling into me through my pores to make every hair stand on end and every nerve catch fire. Its echoes bounce around inside and gather in my belly.

“I can oblige,” she laughs.

And squelching tendrils erupt from inside her face, inside her blue skin. Her eye-lights extinguish. Something viscous and ripping cracks apart the chitin-lattice of her forehead, her limbs unravel like a thousand threads unspooling at once.

Her whole form folds over itself, and as it folds it grows instead of shrinking. Black flesh and hordes of whipping, whistling purple graspers, pincers and teeth all expanding, joints and flesh-petals branching out to surround me in a micro-horizon of warped forms.

To call Carag ‘psychic’ is vastly understating the scope and capacity of their minds. I understand that much in a textbook sense. I can cite facts and behavioral patterns, I can give an analysis. Sentences and sentences and sentences that amount to nothing like reality.

Her mind’s touch is a detonation inside mine, a shaped charge of abyssal impulse blasting through me. Images of her many-angled form with its strange spore-like scents of sweetness and decay, the tickle of curiosity.

“Is this… is this your true form?” The words tumble numbly out of my quaking limbs. I’m on the verge of fainting from the mass of visions filling my head–of falling face-first into the flesh before me, of tearing my clothes loose, of plunging my cock into every orifice–

Her billowing psyche forces mine wider, filling me with the sensation of her knowing. It is aching, it is breaking, it is quivering lust making my hips buck at the air, and I moan. The visions of her form grow sharper in my mind’s eye. A sense of heaviness, of solidity.

I scramble, trying phrase after phrase against the sensations she pours into me until I find one that conjures exactly the same feeling: “It is.”

She senses the shift in mental pressure and condenses, hardens, becomes again the horned form I first saw her in, and says, “and so is this.”

“You… you have multiple true forms?” I scratch my head, feeling for all the world like an idiot caricature of myself.

“No!” the outer succubus laughs. “Listen! This:”

And she is folding, splitting, tearing herself into herself, black flesh and graspers and studding pincers.

Again the crushing-down, rippled shines following the ridges and splitting-open seams of black flesh spilling garish blue blood, until she again becomes horned and bipedal.

“Is all the same form.”

I hit the dais hard, all the wind knocked out of me as I land flat on my ass.

“B-but…” Flap my lips as I may, no more words emerge.

The Carag giggles. “I am all the shapes that I am. Right now I’m just folded differently, that’s all.” She tilts her head, grinning. The secondary mandibles beside her exposed jaws flex, clacking cheerfully.

“Same Ushviiret.” She bobs. “And that is my name. Ushviiret Saelvur. I felt no particular affinity for my parents, so I discarded the familial name. To date, I am happy enough with the names I have.”

“Right, uh…” I fiddle with my gear. I stagger upright. “I want to study you.”

“Oh?” Ushviiret hooks a claw under one strap of the sleeveless low-cut gown that only exists–or I can only see? Is it part of her, too?–when she’s… folded… in this bipedal style. “What an adorable way to ask. Alright, mortal. Let’s do some research–“

“Not like that.”

She halts. Inclines her head. Membrane-brows rise. “You want to study an outer succubus but isolate her from her ardor? What is the moon without the caught light of the sun and the world it orbits? ‘Succubus’ is a word that only reflects me when you put it in the right place.”

Ah. There’s that renowned Carag mysticism.

“But very well, mortal.” Ushviiret chuckles. The sound of it cuts right past my rational mind and fills my head with swooning feelings. She phases closer, leaving behind gaseous glowing-blue fractions of afterimage, and boops my nose.

“I’ll indulge this bizarre un-study of yours. Next time, just say the sex feels like too much pressure.” She drifts past. A wave of her hand rips seams through space-time, opening vistas of purple nebulae wreathing faded metal constructs and disjointed shining scaffolds.

I stand, stricken, until she looks over her shoulder and frames her wry smile with a wing’s inner arch. “Are you coming, mortal? The places between are dangerous for a flesh-life like yourself to remain alone.”

A babble of assent tumbles out. My time with Ushviiret begins.

She answers my questions directly and otherwise says little. I start baffling and perhaps annoying her within the first week. We come upon a subterranean society of creatures, squat hard-backed things with blind eyes and long, long whiskers, who struggle with predators harassing their village.

“We should help them,” I insist.

“Why?” Ushviiret shrugs. “They’re not our responsibility. I feel equal curiosity in the predators as for these beings. They exist outside the prey role. They have sufficient food and resources.”

“I… I want to improve their lives, that’s all.” The critical sharpness in her distant-star eyes annoys me. “What? Is that so strange? I thought demons understood empathy.”

“I know ten methods to travel enormous distances instantly,” the outer succubus answers, arms folded. “If I flitted about the cosmos trying to solve every problem I can come across, I’d tear myself apart through exhaustion in a single day. My life is its own meaning. My value lies in myself, not the services I can render.”

“You can be callous if you want.” I undercut my own sharp words by snagging my kinetic rifle on its holster. “I want to help.”

“Okay, look, just…” Ushviiret clenches her clawed hands at her sides. “Let me, then, if you’re so insistent. I’m a combat veteran and an adept of the deep power. I’ll do it in an eye-blink and then we can get back too–“

I brush past her. Sensual and busty as she might be, her power makes her stand as solid as a cruiser’s bulkhead. So of course, the shoulder I try to push into her bounces back and spins me around. After that, the hunt goes about as well as I expected. I struggle to track the skittering, armored, many-eyed predators in their natural habitat. I burn out the barrel on my pulse rifle from firing too rapidly. How else am I to compensate for having no idea where the weak spots on these organisms are?

The last one tackles me when I miss it with my bayonet, and it tears me open.

A blinding cone of pure nova vaporizes it off of me. Ushviiret drops to a knee beside me. She alternates pink and blue pulses, highlighting damaged organs and creating silhouettes of those I’ve lost, then filling me with scalding-tickling-pleasuring power that bubbles, swells, and hardens into replacement flesh.

“Leave it.” My bloody hands slip off her wrist, powerless to stop her. “Survival of the fittest, right? I’m too weak to be worth helping–“

“Piss off, you mortal idiot.” Her glow intensifies, imparting such healing force that muscles leap and yank me from side to side as they seal over the gash, and new skin grows. Grunts of discomfort escape me. “That’s not what any of this was about. Stop looking for someone outside yourself to fix, stop looking for a cause to serve and a purpose to fill…”

I pass out from blood loss or exhaustion, and hear nothing else that she says. After that, after I wake up in my own bed back in my own room with Ushviiret setting silent by my side, it’s another three weeks before she risks speaking any further about her culture.

“Hey, _____.” A sudden smile from Ushviiret as we recline aboard a Carag star-liner, all reds and flesh and chitin-plates integrated with a black metalloid hull. Oblong forms, efficient, make the exposed whorls and strips of the living ship’s flesh all the more phantasmagorical. “I’ve been thinking… if you wanted, if it gave you a way to grow more comfortable addressing certain topics… well, never mind the supposed moral angle. I would like it very much if you fantasized about me while you masturbate. You know, if you –“

“No, thank you.” Standing too swiftly makes me reel, dizzy, at the ship’s strange ever-shifting gravity. Apparently, for Carag, it functions as a sensory massage, making them feel blissfully free to experience themselves across a range of different rates. For a flesh and blood being like me, it’s nauseating. It’s from that sick dizziness that my answer emerges. “L-look, Ushviiret, I… I appreciate the offer, alright? But I-I respect you too much for that.”

The outer succubus drifts out of her chair and alights before me. “_______?” She takes my hands in hers, smiling sweetly. “I am a succubus, a demon of love, lust, and dreams. I am also an exhibitionist. To take me into your mind and use me for your pleasure is very respectful to my being, and doubly so now that I’ve invited you. On the other hand…”

Her glow-lined claws dig into the backs of my hands. “If you ever again imply that the fact that I’m a slut is cause to disrespect me, I swear by the Void, I will flay you alive.”

Her mind again wedges into me with none of the play or gentleness from our first meeting. Coursing images of vapor bleeding along blackened spires beneath a blinding blue star, skin-crawling sensations of penetration and wet succumbing pouring along unwilling muscles as she forces my mind to open for her. The weight of her power is awful and adamant: Ushviiret is making a terrible, actionable promise.

When she withdraws I can only clutch my skull and collapse to my knees, reeling, flailing words at the crazed knowing she has swollen my synapses with. In the end, it’s the simplicity of the answer my chosen words resonate that undoes me: the lust of a succubus is the core of her being. To attack her in her heart, the sanctum of her ardor, is attempted murder. And Carag do not sit idle before those who would do violence upon them.

“That’s enough mind-to-mind for a good long time,” the Carag succubus mutters, and stalks out of the suite.

We scarcely speak until the day we find another oddity, on an arid world dominated by low-energy lifeforms with large surfaces and low internal density to let off excess heat. A fault spills toxic gases into a wilderness of interconnected, hard-shelled growths. Underneath their chitin and the creepers they extend to seek water and nutrients, they possess such frail and immobile flesh.

Again, I’m squaring off against Ushviiret. “I want to help.”

And again, she folds her arms. “Why?”

I run through ten solid minutes of moral arguments, sweeping talk about our responsibility to preserve biodiversity, about the inheritance of our descendents and the inherent value of life. All the while she stands there, utterly indifferent.

“What do you want me to say?” I flap my hands at the magenta sky. “What, that I-I just like these growths and it makes me, personally, sad to imagine them gone?”

“Yes,” Ushviiret says, brightening. “That’s a motivation I can act in harmony with.”

Infuriating creature!

Her mind sutures together with mine at the seams, two bubbles each of infinite smaller capsules within. Each overlapping without merging. Tendrils of her seep into me and pluck out my imagined schematics. Vents, filters, solar panels, all to power a Carag-crafted device that should keep neutralizing the gas until the vent gutters out in its own time. The strange-shelled growths will endure.

After that, Ushviiret is looser around me. She smiles more, laughs quickly, and talks about deep things close to her demonic heart. And despite our past disagreements, despite her alien ethics–or lack thereof–I begin to be charmed by this smiling star-demon.

Another week. I’m in my creaking but comfortable chair in my stationside apartment. The hazy blue-green of _______’s atmosphere spins with glacial slowness outside my window.  Someone’s hidden shuttle full of contraband nestles among the cables and sensors affixed to the overhang that makes my room feel like a little cave. I’m inputting data and pausing to rattle off my recorded observations about what all the numbers and terms mean, glancing between each of my three monitors, when a claw’s tap on my shoulder makes me leap in my chair.

“Hey,” Ushviiret beams, giggling without a trace of guilt at my shellshocked stare. “Sorry for the short notice, just found out myself. There’s an all-species sex-convention scheduled for an hour from now. It’s at Anvureg station. Part of the Prutaern fleet shipyards in Saelvur space. There’ll be a lot of experienced instructors there, some of your own people. I thought it be a lot easier for you to start studying Carag sexuality if you’re not the only repressed novice getting schooled.”

“I’m not repressed!” Pushing her away and spinning back to my work does nothing for my cause. “L-look, I appreciate the offer, and I might be interested under other circumstances, but I’m logging my observations tonight. I’m already booked.”

“So unbook yourself! What will your higher-ups do, whine about it? Let them whine, you’ll be having sex!” Ushviiret spins me back around. “And don’t turn your back on me. If you want to ward yourself against my words you’ll need a stronger ritual than that.

“I have responsibilities!” I pull away and turn again. “I’m not an immortal star-demon, I can’t just blow everything off to chase my desires of a moment.”

“Do you want to be?” Ushviiret asks quietly. “Are you trying to protect some part of yourself from me, _______?”

I give no answer. Light flashes behind me, and she’s gone.

Months whirl by. Ushviiret turns tense for about a week, and she’s much more obvious about the many, many, many times she leaves me for a few minutes, for an hour, once for a full day to have sex with this partner or that. But day by day, once more, she eases her watch. I walk while the Carag hovers, going more or less where her whims take her. She speaks about Graesh Saelvur’s shared passion for song and style, about thousand-voice ballads echoing over the shining spires of Saelvimadraig.

Weapon-shrines, aurora plays. She shows me her collection of Abrogated Time–frozen moments from a hundred battles, strange turns of luck, the last gasp of lovers who asked her to end their lives in ecstasy.

“You can’t try to cling to anyone, you know?” she asks as we stand on the last tower standing above the collapsing maze of an ancient city on some rusty, dusty, scorching husk of a world. “Those last moments, the emotions in memory… a demon must find sweetness in desolation.”

That’s Ushviiret. Such a rich and layered inner life that I can’t imagine ever adding anything to her. She finds such genuine beauty even in the idea of ending the life of a loved one because they’re ready to go, and they won’t stay a moment longer–not even for her.

Months more. So many strange and wondrous places. I have the chance, once, to watch Ushviiret fight. To unleash her Carag might against an uncanny monstrosity that attacks us in the midst of a maelstrom of pastel colors, a realm of invisible paths and transparent wraiths that fade into solidity, like this one does at the instant of its attack.

I say ‘watch Ushviiret fight,’ but it’s like tracking a supernova that contorts and condenses and expands across a hundred pinpoints, each spoke expanding into a shearing line through other-flesh. Sudden sunbursts of atemporal gunfire, bullets phasing into existence on the far side of the bioluminescent star-behemoth she battles. Each erupts through its exit-wound whole seconds before the volley that sends them into its flesh.

The Carag transmutes as she carves, punctures, rends. Every churning ravine of scorched matter bubbles into crystals and cracking ceramics. Every vaporized cloud her nova sears from its hide condenses into a shining weave of microfilaments. Those pull taut a moment later, slicing aside the body-masses it churns up to defend itself and clearing the way for her blinding-bright sword to drill through from one side to the other.

Eleven seconds, by my instruments. Eleven seconds and it’s over.

“Wooooo!” Ushviiret laughs, whirling at hyper-speed, and babbles out three indecipherable bursts of sound before she comes down from her combat high. “Oh, sorry. I said that was a nice long fight, but I suppose for you it wouldn’t have been, would it?”

What am I to say to that? Well… perhaps confess the obvious. “I can’t give anything back to you.” Sagging shoulders, weary voice. “You’re beyond me. You always will be–“

“Hey.” Ushviiret squeezes my shoulders. “I came to meet you where you are. I journey with you because I want to and, frustrating though you can be, I find fulfillment from the elements your existence adds to mine. If you’re feeling sad about a sense of separation between yourself and what it means to be Carag, well…” She pulls me into a hug and whispers in my ear, “maybe take some time on your own and think about where that feeling comes from, okay?”

Whatever I should answer to that, I can’t think of it.

Still, I follow the Carag. I’m not sure what I’m studying anymore. I’ve exhausted every research question I ever planned. Every now and again I’ll think of something that seems new, only to ask, hear Ushviiret’s answer, and realize she’s already shown this to me many times. I was just too stupid to recognize a piece of her being until she put it to me in words.

And yet, I follow.

Through Ushviiret, I encounter teeming flocks of many-winged translucent things that soar on gasbladders above walking root-systems of tendrils extending down from sticky, stinking blobs that bristle with the decaying, half-digested corpses of caught prey. Her power protects me from the incinerating heat pooling inside the craggy dark ramparts of a volcanic summit, where eerie inward twists in long-hardened lava lead to an austere archway that looks as though it was called forth from the cooling stone in ancient days.

“Look at this.” She brushes its sides, eyes fond. “I’m pretty sure it’s an old Ashenvein Gate. I don’t think old Kairliina’s manifested one of these outside Carag space for around five thousand years.” She gazes at the igneous tides bubbling just a hundred feet below. “Carag luck runs long. The probability of this going so long without being buried or broken…”

She laughs. “Well, it’s low enough we can safely assume her causality kept it free and clear.” She gives it a last pat and flashes a brilliant smile at me. “You see, ______? The Carag find our way to the works of other Carag, and to each other. This, is.”

Another month. More sights. More wonders. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to walk among other humans. This endless wandering by Ushviiret’s side feels as though it’s all I’ve ever known. I struggle to imagine anything outside it. I could return home at any time. I’ve certainly collected more than enough research logs. Yet…

Wandering through the whirring halls under sparse amber lights. An alarm long since gone soundless from blown speakers. My omni-sensor keeps babbling about radiation counts that don’t matter because Ushviiret kissed my cheek when we came in. Her protection hangs on the nearby air like a second skin that doesn’t belong to me, warm and itching and so achingly familiar.

I return from my circuit to the ruptured reactor blazing away, as it’s blazed for an impossibly long time to create all the corium spilled around it. Ushviiret’s explained this to me in the past: sometimes things fall too deeply into the idea of themselves for entropy to find them. They persist, repeating a single moment over and over for years, decades, centuries or more, until something knocks them loose.

And suddenly the moment’s gone, and decay sets in, and there is no return to idyll.

All those thoughts disintegrate out of my head when Usvhiiret rears up from her bathing in the corium lake, stark naked, and pads out with her ample curves heaving. She smells like ozone and steel flowers, like the sweetness of sex and death. She’s brushing molten metal off and absentmindedly rubbing her clit when she finally realizes I’m standing there.

“Oh! Sorry, ______. You’d think with all my other-senses I’d have felt your mind, but I supposed I’ve gotten used to having you around, and heat-bathing feels so nice…”

As the corium leaves her body fully exposed, and the gratuitous wideness of her hips fills my head, and the muzzy-making flow of her aura seeps into my slackening mind, my eyes drift to the blinding starry glow from the aperture between her legs–

–and the prodding, flailing, narrow dark lengths squirming there.

“Ushviiret,” I ask, glancing away, “what is that?”

“Oh!” Her presence turns wry. I can feel her smiling at me in that knowing way, whether I look at her or not. “Some of these feeler-fronds belong to me. Some belong to the space-time traveling parasites inhabiting the void spaces lacing my body.”

“I… what?” I’ve studied Carag history, culture, what little is known of their technology… but something about studying Carag biology in the abstract stabbed my mind. I wanted to wait to learn about it in person. So I guess, on this count, it’s my own fault this time that I’m patting dumbly at my faces–my face! My singular face!–trying to process what I’m seeing.

“Yeah. They take many different shapes.” Ushviiret opens her mouth, exposing both her eye-studded tongue and the eyeless heads of wriggling spine-studded things burrowed into the flesh around her neck. She flicks her tongue to lick each in turn. Slow, affectionate strokes.

“What… what do you gain from that?” I ask.

The outer succubus hugs herself, wings folding shyly around her. “Well… it’s just nice, I suppose. To nurture these little supplicants from the wide cosmos. You’ve seen the power I contain. A walking apocalypse, and yet…” Her look softens, pensive, and I cannot decide whether the smile she gives at the thought of the things infesting her is the smile of a sister, a mother, a lover, or something else.

“I can make my superheated flesh gentle for them. So easy, so instinctive, I become this yielding, enveloping thing. Sometimes their little proto-minds merge into me, and I assimilate them. Sometimes they pass on, carrying wisps of Carag influence to distant worlds, and in time seeding hints of the flora, the fauna, the geography of my people there. I’m a whole ecosystem, from bacteria and viruses to all these lovely crawlers.”

As she speaks her gaze turns distant. She fondles herself, tail drifting over curves, hips twisting side to side while bubbling pink slime trickles out between her legs. “In some ways most Carag are gestalt lifeforms. Whole layers of our psyche made up from all these little minds, too small to call sapient except as parts of us… asteroids orbiting a star and, one by one, falling into it, until the iron within them joins the fusion-fuel at its heart…”

“And you… you have sex?” I ask. “While those things are inside you?”

“Yes.” Ushviiret sighs. “Look, ______. We’ve had many months and many talks to build up to this. You never wanted to have any of the simpler talks first. Don’t make it my problem that suddenly you’re plummeting into the deep end of the abyss. You threw yourself.”

“No, I…” The clearing of my throat rattles on my nerves. “I wasn’t going to judge, I just… I really do want to understand. I mean it.”

“Hm.” Ushviiret presses a clawed finger to her cheek. “Would you like to try kissing me? I’ll coax my personal passengers to other regions within me.” She grins, a spill of auroras unfolding in jade and red from her maw. “No surprises. I promise.”

Quiet, trembling, I step towards her. Everything she’s just spoken about should disgust me. Every survival instinct should scream to get away from this diseased thing. The lust I feel is irrational, and the nervousness has little to do with fear. She’s shorter than me by a good few centimeters. She slips into my arms as easy as any mortal woman. I’m losing myself in the heat rolling off her, the warmth pouring from the back of her head into my hand, that spore-flesh-feminine scent overwhelming me.

Her lips press against mine. An eager sigh. Her claws press my cheeks, her tongue dances within mine. The urge to take her, here and now before the burning reactor…

I pull away, trailing mixed strings of my clear saliva and the bluish slime filling Ushviiret’s mouth. “I can’t do this.” I turn away. “I need to maintain objectivity–“

“For what?” Ushviiret demands. “What do you have left to study? You don’t even ask about the Carag anymore, just my personal life!” She sighs. A hissing intake of breath. “I’m sorry. I am sorry for raising my voice, I…” Her toe-claws clack against the metal floor. Her hand pats my shoulder. “I need to go work this frustration off before I talk to you more. And, ______… whatever answer it is you still need to discover, I’ve run out of ideas for giving it to you. I hope you figure out how to claim it for yourself.”

And she’s gone, her shapes melting into glowing color-swirls that spread laterally across the air and seep away across the universe. The light in the room dims. I realize that, behind me, the ever-burning reactor has just guttered out.

Ushviiret says little in the weeks to come. She leaves for trysts, flings, and just plain fucking more often than ever. She stalks by me in silence, rife with the scents of other bodies. Musky and tangy, sweet and sour, sexual secretions strewn across her face and breasts and always heavy between her legs.

Then one morning I wake up, and I know, long before I slump into my chair after the hours spent looking for her, that Ushviiret Saelvur has grown tired of waiting for me to become someone worth knowing. The outer succubus has finally abandoned me for good. (End of Part One)

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