Camille, Ruby and the Sphinx
© 2013 by Strega

Camille, Ruby and the Sphinx

In a dusty corridor of crumbling Castle Greyhawk Ruby the halfling waited, her drab leather armor blending in with the stones. Her face and hair were smeared with dust and cobwebs, by art rather than accident. In the shadowy corner nothing stood out; even the blade of her dagger was tempered to a black, non-reflective sheen.

A soft footfall sounded outside the door and Ruby smiled. Her rivalry with Camille would end tonight.

She had underestimated Camille.

When Ruby made her way back to town that day, exhausted, sore in every hole and sticky with lion-sphinx seed, her thought was to make her way home unseen and plot her enemy's destruction. There were many horrible things she wanted to do or seen done to Camille, but first she had to make sure her rival didn't know she was still alive. Other business demanded her attention too; Camille had a good idea in tricking rival thieves into the sphinx's den, and thus its stomach. She too had enemies who would, in a perfect world, end up as lion food. Some thought must be invested in how to get them into that situation.

But above all Camille must not know she survived.

So she cleaned herself up as best she could at a creek just outside town, collected some stashed clothes from a hollow tree, and walked right past the gate guards dressed and acting like a child barely old enough for lessons. There were advantages to being a halfling, one of which being that that a small frame and broad face made it easy to pass as a human child. Blending in with a few children actually on their way back from the fields, Ruby skipped and laughed and hoped that the guards wouldn't see that the "child" had a bosom and broad hips entirely not in keeping with her apparent age.

They were too busy poking spears into a wagonload of hay to notice, so trying not to limp she made her way to her safe house. In return for certain favors of a nature much like what the sphinx had taken for free, a merchant let her live in a back room. He thought she was just a halfling shoemaker on the outs with her family.

Wincing, for after her meeting with the enormous cat she would not walk right for days, she made her way up the steps and opened the back door with her key. And there, on the stoop, slid under the door, she found an envelope addressed to her. Addressed to her thief's name, that is, for naturally Ruby was not her real name.

A quick check for poison or other traps later – for nothing seemed too unlikely now — she was reading.

'Dear Ruby,' and her face twisted in a grimace of rage, for she knew the handwriting. 'By now your cat-man friend has assumed a more tubular shape and has departed the sphinx's room by the floor grate. I would like to think that you have as well, but I know the big winged cat and I know you. Thus I am certain that your pussy and ass are sandpapered raw by a large, barbed cat cock and your burps bring back the flavor of lion spooge. The same thing happened to me, so I empathize. Wait, no, I don't. Remember that time you told the gnoll trader I'd be sneaking in disguised as a cleaning lady? Yes, I know that was you. Because of you I know what a gnoll's dick tastes like and that it doesn't hurt as much as a sphinx's when it goes up your ass. But it still hurts. Camille.'

The paper crinkled as she crushed it into a ball. Oh, how Camille would pay.

It was the bit at the end that made arranging the payment more difficult. "P.S., the big kitty let me put one of those magic recording stones in the eye socket of one of the statues. By the time you read this I will have retrieved the stone (the lion and I have an understanding, it'll only cost me a quickie) and if anything happens to me everyone you care about is going to get to watch the sphinx having his way with you. Stay on my good side."

So she had underestimated Camille. But Camille underestimated her, too. Ruby didn't have a good side. And she didn't care about anyone as much as she cared about revenge.

The next day she stopped by the thief's guild to buy new tools (the sphinx had kept hers, along with her enchanted dagger) and there in the common room she saw Camille. Their eyes met and each produced their best fake smile while looking for signs of weakness.

She thought she saw it, but diminished though the guild's membership was due to Camille's machinations and a certain giant lion's digestive system, there were still other thieves there and it was against guild bylaws to kill another thief directly. The way to do it was how Camille had: trick a rival into breaking into a trapped house or get them to pick the wrong pocket.

For the next month that was what she did. Ruby, and probably Camille as well, let slip by indirect means that there was loot to be found in a newly uncovered section of the ruins atop the hill. Several Guild thieves, and as many independent operators that one or the other of them hated disappeared into the castle. A fair percentage of those no doubt ended up meeting the sphinx. Between the two of them they were keeping the big cat well fed. Several times she herself went into the ruins, mapping out corridors and traps with paranoid care. It was a necessary exercise if she was to leave just-sufficiently-accurate treasure maps for rivals to find. Twice she found and looted the remains of fellow thieves killed by deadfalls and other traps, and if the sphinx made any of those he met the offer he'd made Ruby they did not accept, for they were never seen again.

There was work to do besides that, of course. The guild was down to barely two thirds of its usual roster and Ruby was twice dispatched by the guildmaster to recruit promising independent thieves. The recruiting pitch was, of course, "Join us, leave our territory or die." There were guild burglary jobs, merchants to extort for protection money, and personal jobs to do on the side.

A week after she got back she had occasion to hire two khardaki lion-men for a job. Khardaki made fine dumb muscle; strong, honorable and not too bright. And, unfortunately, handsome. The sight of their regal manes, powerful musculature, tawny fur and commanding amber eyes brought back thoughts of a certain sandpapery tongue. She could have had both in her bed in an hour; besides liking a good fight, the lion people were notoriously uninhibited. That she was less than half the height of the smaller one wouldn't even enter into their minds. 'After all,' they'd probably think, 'If I crouch a bit her mouth will at just the right level.'

But the thought of that led to other, less pleasant thoughts. Entertaining as the sphinx's tongue had been, the barbs on another part of his anatomy had been much less pleasant. In the end she couldn't bring herself to bed them, even though she'd heard rumors that only some of them were thorny down there. It was just too soon.

She did not go without lovers, of course. She simply stayed away from the feline ones and as usual stole from most of the others. Just as the merchant who owned her safe house thought she was a shoemaker, so it was simple to pretend to be a halfling prostitute. There were enough travelers — caravans guards, merchants, soldiers, migrant workers — who craved childlike, yet mature lovers that she wouldn't lacked for clients. She could make a very good living just robbing their sort, if the guild work ever dried up.

In the course of her days she saw Camille, and each time they met she smiled. Bygones were bygones, correct? But she didn't believe it, and looking into Camille's eyes she knew her rival did not either. Foremost in her mind was getting even with her fellow thief, and knew Camille harbored the same hate for her. Nevertheless she must be circumspect.

It wasn't until she heard Camille was buying stonecutting tools that saw her chance. Tools like that meant her rival was gearing up for another run into the ruins of Castle Greyhawk.

And so one Starsday evening Ruby waited in a crumbling stone corridor for her enemy. It was the part of the keep she knew best, and barely visible chalk marks showed each of the suspected trap triggers she'd found. There was a trapdoor, too, and if it were anyone but Camille Ruby would lure them onto that. Camille might really have an understanding with the sphinx, though. It would come down to knives.

Camille entered the ruins alone, not trusting others with her secrets. Save the first time she'd found no treasure, unless you counted the few coins she'd scavenged from the remains of fellow tomb robbers. She'd spent an inordinate amount of time in the ruined castle in the last few months. The place was a warren of crumbling corridors, cobwebbed rooms and hidden passages. "Her" portion of the castle was only a tiny corner of the place and even so she was sure she'd only found a fraction of what there was to find. Thankfully, not many others knew about the entrance she'd found. Were it easier to enter the place would be infested with giant spiders and who knew what else. As it was, as long as she was careful to keep an eye out for traps and fellow thieves who'd followed her treasure maps, she could explore in relative safety.

Or so she thought. She was only a few steps past the door on this latest mapping expedition when the least scrape of footfall behind her warned her of an attack. Her dagger was in her hand instantly and she leapt forward, turning in the air to land facing her attacker. Even so the tip of a blade grazed her back, carving a furrow across the supple black leather armor. An instant slower and she'd be shy a liver. You could get by with only one kidney or lung, but you really needed your liver.

"Ruby!" It was the halfling, all right, armor smeared with dust and webs so only her short stature and the glitter of her green eyes gave her away. Camille stood two feet taller than her foe, but she didn't underestimate her. Ruby had been at this game longer than she, and that included inserting her dagger into many a back.

The halfling shrugged. "Too bad. I was hoping to end this without drama." She stepped forward with care, avoiding a stone Camille knew was a trap. She didn't know what the trigger did, but it stood a fraction of an inch higher than the flagstones around it and neither thief had an interest in finding out what deadly thing it unleashed. Camille, too, stepped with utmost caution, circling to the left. Ruby was left handed, which made her a somewhat tougher opponent than an equally skilled right hander. To counter that she would try to stay at a distance and use her greater reach.

With a seemingly lazy flick of her arm Camille feinted at Ruby's face, then tried a cut at the halfling's wrist when the black dagger went up to block. Ruby was having none of it and nearly managed to clip the back of her hand with an expertly timed countercut. Camille's counter-countercut actually grazed Ruby's forearm, but the thick leather bracer worn to strengthen a thief's wrists for climbing absorbed the blow.

Neither fighter was interested in retreat and each tried to engineer a distance that favored them. That meant that Ruby was always on the advance and Camille on the retreat, circling, probing for weaknesses. It was a deadly serious business, with little of the flamboyance of swordplay. Instead, by a series of short, swift swipes and lunges they tried for a good bleeding cut. Only when enough of those landed would they try for a decisive strike, all the while wondering if seeming weakness was a ploy to lure them in. At the end of two minutes of intense blade work both were sweating and neither had so much as a scratch. A fight like this could end in an instant of bad luck — one stumble would do it — or continue until someone tired enough to make a mistake. With two well-conditioned and evenly matched fighters like themselves that might take half an hour or more.

But it didn't. Though each had mapped the traps and triggers they could find and each was familiar with the dusty corridor they fought in, it proved impossible to concentrate on two things at once. Ruby saw Camille's foot coming down on a particular stone, one marked almost invisibly with her personal shade of green chalk, and with a gasp of alarm she threw herself backward. She knew that even this might be a ploy; perhaps Camille knew the trap was false or had expended itself, and was trying to goad her into revealing an opening in her defense. The best defense was to be far away, so neither a trap nor her distraction would be a factor.

It wasn't a ploy, and a couple of yards of extra distance bought her no safety. Camille's foot came down softly on the stone and the corridor was filled with a flash of eye-hurting purple light that enveloped both women. Ruby blinked and stepped back, holding her dagger out straight to deter a ballestra, and as her vision cleared she saw Camille was in no shape to attack. In fact, her opponent was stark naked. Even the wrap that held back Camille's brown hair in place was gone, and the neat ponytail spilled messily over her sweaty shoulders.

"Ha!" high-pitched and lacking in real mirth, her laugh was. "That should make things easier."

And then Ruby noticed that she was no longer holding her dagger. Moreover, her arm was missing its armor. It took only a single glance downward to see that she too was as naked as the day she was born. The purple flash had disintegrated or teleported away all their gear!

Camille, just as angry as she was and unwilling to end the fight just because they no longer had weapons, cursed and threw a punch. Ruby slipped out of the way and darted in close. In an instant they were grappling, her strong little frame contending with Camille's taller but less muscular one. Already both of them were scraped and scratched as punches were thrown, fingernails were used as claws and hair was pulled.

Just as Camille swayed aside to dodge a punch, Ruby looked past her and realized the ceiling, not to mention the walls, were much further away than they should be. There was not nearly this much space in the narrow corridor she'd chosen for their fight; she had picked it expressly because it would keep her longer-legged opponent from staying out of reach. No, they were in a much larger room now, one lined with terribly familiar statues.

The largest lion statue turned its head to regard them. Dust fell away from its seemingly stony features to reveal the tawny fur beneath, and amber eyes regarded the two of them with vast amusement.

"Well," said the sphinx as he stood and stretched. "Well, well, well. What have we here?" Dust dropped from his flanks and mane as hard muscle flexed and the great lion-bird shook his head. Cruel black claws unsheathed as he treaded in place, making sure every part of himself worked after who knew how long a rest. Hours, days or even weeks of holding that statue pose, yet in moments the sphinx was standing there with no sign of cramp or weakness, watching them fight. The monstrous cat, six feet or more at the shoulder and with wings that would more than span the room if unfurled, grinned at her as his tongue moistened his chops.

In her horror of seeing the sphinx again Ruby dropped her guard, and sure enough a fist smashed into her cheek to remind her that she was not the only one in the cat's chamber. She went down on her backside, scraping her rump cruelly on the cold rough stone, and only a swift continuation of the fall into a backward roll let her escape a follow-up kick that would have stove in her throat.

"Eat her!" Camille yelled, not at all nonplussed to be twenty feet from a couple of tons of sphinx. "She's in your chamber, you're the guardian, eat her!"

Ruby was opening her mouth to say more or less the same thing when she saw Camille's eyes go wide. The sphinx stepped forward and cuffed Camille back onto her rump. Powered by the lion's tremendous muscles the huge paw could have taken her head off, but with claws sheathed and soft pads foremost it slapped her down almost gently. Ruby found herself sitting across from Camille, separated from her rival by the same paw.

"I do not think you have a correct understanding of our relationship," the great lion rumbled. "I am not your pet, or your servant. I am not even your lover, though we have mated. I am the guardian, and you are an intruder. You should proceed from that when addressing me."

"But," Camille said, her eyes still wide. Naked, she held herself up with her backthrust hands as she stared up at the fanged jaws close overhead. "But I came back to you voluntarily. I sent other thieves here and fed you. I was in your chamber when you ate Ralgh and Soren, I lay on your paws and watched the bulge they made as you swallowed them down. I came to your gate twice after that and both times waited for you to lift it so I could come in! I even brought the countess here, because she was curious, and you had her way with her while I watched!"

"And she paid you for the service," rumbled the sphinx. "I heard you haggling over the fee out in the corridor. She had a yen to experience the exotic and I was amenable, as it had been some time since I last mated. I did not eat her because she entered through the gate, with my permission. When you came through the gate, once to plant that magic spy-eye and once to retrieve it, I allowed you to enter and leave for the same reason. That you stroked and sucked me, and swallowed my seed each time was a benefit, but it was not why I let you live. Nor did you feed me other thieves out of the goodness of your heart. They were your enemies. Eating them suited me, but it does not indebt me to you."

The sphinx looked down at Camille, and the expression on Camille's face showed that she realized it at last. The cat could be friendly, in a savage sort of way, and it might tolerate their presence if they did not violate the rules that governed its behavior. But it was a guardian first and foremost and if they violated those same rules it would eat them as quickly as it would anyone else. If it fucked them, it was not because of any fondness, much less love. It would do so simply because it was horny, and afterward its rules remained the same. Perhaps it would be different if a she-sphinx or other cat-femme ended up here, but that did not help them any.

Ruby already knew this, and perhaps Camille had at first, but familiarly led the human thief to view the cat with almost-friendship. That had been a mistake.

"So because I fell into that…" Camille began, and paused.

"Teleport trap," the sphinx growled. "You came here, everything you wore and carried went elsewhere. Most importantly, you entered against your will. Think back to what happened the first time each of you came here by accident. That you came here via magic this time does not change anything. You are still intruders and I am still the guardian."

Ruby knew where this was going. "Now we don't get to leave unless we come to you willingly."

"You will leave in either case," said the lion with disinterested flip of his tail. "If you refuse, you will leave after I digest you. I do not need to eat at all often, but food is always welcome. In that case, of course —"

"We would leave via the grate, yes, yes," said Camille testily. "I know how this works." Not too far away was the stained grate that served the cat as a toilet. Through it departed the remains of intruders that either did not interest the lion or who refused his offer.

"Ha!" said Ruby, but without much humor. "I had to watch Kursh get swallowed alive because of you, Camille. That cat-man was a good friend of mine. Tell you what, O lion," she said, and looked up at the sphinx without fear. He was a predictable beast, after all. "I will agree to stay with you for a week — if you have food and drink for me that is — with all the sex you can handle, if you will eat Camille."

"A weak offer, bitch," Camille shot back. "Sphinx, I'll stay with you for a month if you eat Ruby instead."

"A month and a week," Ruby hissed back at Camille, "And an extra week if you ram your thorny manhood up her tight human ass before you eat her."

"Two months," snapped Camille, and the sphinx sat back on his haunches, quite bemused. This had never happened before. Only very, very rarely had two females ended up in his room with him, and not once had both of them accepted his offer. Never before had two females argued over who got to be wrapped around his shaft!

"Six months," Ruby snarled. "And every day I will swallow your seed. Every day each of my holes will be yours, and I will rub your ears and groom your fur, polish your claws and your shaft. Together we will learn every position a lion and woman can manage. Anything you want as long as you eat her."

Finally a moment of silence between the bickering women. The sphinx turned his great head to look at first one, then the other. One dart of his muzzle, one gulp, and the first would be gone. A hook of his paw before the other thought to run, another gulp, and the argument could continue in his stomach for all he cared. He could settle down to digest his meal in the peace and quiet he preferred.

But…solitary though he was by nature, he enjoyed mating as much as the next male. As a nigh-immortal magical guardian he could put the urges to the back of his mind, as he did his hunger, and go days or weeks or years without satisfying them. Nevertheless he was a lion, feathery wings or no, and when the opportunity beckoned he would mount early and mount often. If he ate both of the women he might wait a decade before his next chance.

He pondered the situation as the two women glared at each other. From behind dispassionate amber eyes he considered. Each had lured other thieves into this place. He'd found the false maps and smelled their scent on the parchment. Both were deeply wicked, self centered and ambitious. Neither was trustworthy; he should probably just snap them up, though even together the meal would hardly warrant a belch.

But both had been quite entertaining when stretched tight around his shaft. He had the one only for an evening, the second for an evening and a few brief visits, but either would be suitable to relieve a certain pleasurable itch that returned no matter how often he scratched it. And, after all, he'd long since reasoned that his duty to punish intruders didn't necessarily mean he had to kill them. Almost-rape was punishment too.

"I have decided," he rumbled, and his wings rustled as he unfurled them. Each went over one woman, and with a stroke of his pinfeathers he pulled them both up against his tawny flanks. The smaller one almost disappeared into his mane, so diminutive was she compared to his leonine bulk. One forepaw wrapped around each and held them close, and just the very tips of his claws slid from their sheaths to quell the beginnings of panicked struggle.

Both women quieted, and with his shaggy chin just above their heads he pronounced his verdict.

"I will give you a week," he growled. "And at the end of that week, whichever pleases me more I will let go. At the end of that week as well, whichever pleases me less will follow all the thieves you sent to their doom. Neither of you will make me a filling meal, but whichever it is will discover that my belly treats the great meals and the tiny morsels just the same."

And with that he let go, unfurled his wings from around them, and sprawled out on his back. The argument resumed, noisy and annoying, but he could tolerate that. For now the argument took place between his splayed-out haunches and at the root of his tail, as two women fought over who would get to suck first.

The excitement brought back that familiar itch. Hands stroked his balls and bellyfur, then not-bellyfur as he unsheathed, and suddenly there were hands on his shaft. A lion is not so well endowed for its size, but he was after all a very big lion, and there was enough of him to accommodate all four hand with some left over for not one but two sets of lips. The argument died away as each tried to show that she was the one he should let go.

Maybe he would eat just one, or eat them both regardless of the outcome of the contest. Maybe he'd go back on his word and keep the winner for his entertainment. Maybe he'd even keep them both. He hadn't decided yet.

With his head leaned back they couldn't see his face or the wide, fanged grin that spread across it. He had no idea who was doing what down there, but his turfed tail thumped the floor as his lust built. They weren't complaining about his barbed cock now, and someone was massaging his balls as someone else — or maybe the same someone, he couldn't tell — was about to get a faceful of lion seed. Or, more likely given what were doing at that moment, a throat full. Then perhaps he'd watch the naked, sweaty women squabble some more, or lick them with his raspy tongue for a bit until he was ready to go again. It is the nature of a lion to be a quick lover, but balancing that was the ability to mate over and over at rapid intervals.

He lay back and let what might as well be a a many-armed and -mouthed creature service him most pleasantly. Whatever he decided in the end, the next few days should be very interesting indeed.