A/N: Dark and bloody story ahead. Among the things to beware of: violence, torture, a consensual incestuous relationship, people saying extremely nasty things to each other, and extremely dysfunctional family dynamics. Feel free to not read if you think these things will bother you too much to continue, but please don't keep going and then get upset. You have been warned.

Set in the middle of a war between the land Elwens and the Goddess Tirosina, who happens to rule Dark Music but also to rule Pain and Torture. Told from one fairly normal point of view and the POV's of the people involved in the incest. No graphic sex, but plenty of kissing, mutual desire, and so on.

No other warning I can think of.

Blood and Laughter

506, Age of Life, Late Spring

Prologue

"We have you now, Elwen."

Somal chuckled. The zudls who thought they had him pinned against the bank of the river were almost amusing. They might even have been cute, if one of them hadn't been hacking to bring up a lump of mucous—their preferred weapon—and the other pulling slime from its leathery wings to throw at him.

Not cute, perhaps. But amusing.

"It doesn't end here," he said easily. "Or are you afraid to challenge me, talon to sword?"

That got them; it always did. The zudls resented those who said that Tirosina, their goddess and creator, had given them so many natural weapons so that they never need close in direct combat. They would fight when given such a challenge, at least when they were confident of winning.

One of them stepped forward, fixing him with eyes like dark-tinted sulfur. "Let us dance, Bloodlord," he said, and began weaving his paws in a pattern that he no doubt thought was an imitation of the way that swordsmen fought.

Somal sighed and stepped forward. Clack, clack, and clack. His sword fended off the zudl's talons and tapped him smartly on the chest.

Spitting, the zudl caught at it.

Somal spun and set his feet. The zudl was dragged along with the sword, which he refused to let go of, and thus went tumbling into the river. Somal retained his sword, though, and turned to face the others with a smile.

He could see the amusement in their eyes. They thought their brother would rise up behind him and kill him, an appropriate punishment for turning one's back on a zudl.

But the river broke abruptly into a mass of churning bubbles, and there was a sound that might have been a scream muffled by the pressure of water. The zudls in front Somal narrowed their eyes.

"What did you do to him?" one of them demanded.

"I have friends in the water," said Somal. "Will you surrender or not?"

"We've heard tales of you, Bloodlord," said the one who had been scraping slime off his wings. "You would torture us without mercy, even if we did surrender, and thus there is no point."

Somal tilted his head to the side. "I believe you must be right. Pity." He held up a hand, and the laughing anger in him turned to icefire, which sat sparkling on his palm. "Will you run or no?"

"No!"

They came towards him, some half-flying though the distance was not great, others flinging slime or mucous.

Somal flung the icefire. There was an extremely loud crack, like the snapping of the world's biggest whip, and then a flash of silver light. Somal blinked it smoothly away, with the ease of long practice, and smiled to see the zudls lying on the ground, half-frozen.

"Had your fun?" a voice asked behind him.

Somal turned, nodding, to meet the gaze of the Elwen who floated in the river behind him, leaning his elbows on the bank. "I think so. There wasn't any blood, of course, and that makes it less fun."

"There was plenty of blood," Maremma disagreed, and held up a hand. It shone blue-gold, the normal color for a cioafuma in Elwen form, but there were still traces of dark fluid clinging to it. "Want some?"

Somal smiled and stepped forward, bending down to taste the zudl's blood. He kept one eye on the river, though, and wasn't at all surprised when a massive tail arose and swept towards him.

Laughing, he leaped into the air and somersaulted over the tail. It swept past him with a hissing sound. Or perhaps that was the sound of Maremma's frustration. Somal shook his head. "It will take more than that to catch me off guard, my kelyana."

Maremma dropped his tail back into the water with a discernible pout. "Are you ever off guard?"

"Sometimes. For instance—"

The tail struck again. Somal just leaned past it as it went by, and gave the swamp Elwen a disgusted look. "That wasn't even clever."

Maremma lowered his eyes. "Sorry," he mock-whined. "It gets a little frustrating, though, sometimes, with you having fun on the bank and me condemned to the water."

"Crocodiles can't move as fast on land," Somal pointed out calmly. They'd had this argument before. "It makes the most sense for you to stay where your magic puts you."

"I have other magic besides shapeshifting."

"Yes, I know, but this is most useful. Stay there for right now."

Maremma made his feelings clear by diving and banging his tail on the surface of the river, showering Somal with water. Somal grinned and shook his hair free of excess wetness. He didn't really mind. It was no wetter than he'd been after many a battle, though usually with other liquids.

"Come back when you want to actually help!" he called.

"Had an argument again?"

Somal turned his head to look at Lonaw, who had just emerged from the woods. "Not so much an argument as that he wants to kill me, and I don't want to die," he replied. "It's the reason we're kelyanai instead of friends. And he wants a bigger part in the battles, but as long as we keep to these battle-plans, having him in the water is the best way."

"He's proved a useful asset," his sister agreed, sliding down the bank the zudls had chased him down. She gave the frozen creatures a curious glance. "You didn't kill in your usual way, I see."

"No. Did you?"

Lonaw sighed and rolled her eyes. Somal loved to watch the effect; since her eyes were bright silver most of the way through but flecked with black near the bottom, it looked like night momentarily putting out the stars. "You know that zudls don't offer good sport for me, Somal. They don't have minds to speak of, and their wills either can't be broken or are so pathetic that I can break them without trying—I can't decide yet. I want better game."

Somal hooked an arm around her shoulders. "Some of the alalori are praying and chanting between Rowan and Tirosina's army, you know, trying to urge pace on everybody."

Lonaw turned her head, eyes suddenly alive again. "Are they, now?"

"Yes."

Lonaw grinned. "Let's go."

Somal kissed her, and then they were off, running side by side through the trees towards better sport. Somal wasn't worried about Maremma not being able to follow them. The shrieks should guide him well enough.