Karil had associated with more than one damaged soul in his line of worship. Indeed few if any of his regulars (his children as he thinks of them sometimes) had the life they would have wanted. Healthy psyches do not need to resort to pagan worship to make existence bearable. So often enough there is a desperate undercurrent to those who turn to him, and he accepts them with all of their insecurities and weaknesses.

After all they are his main source of nourishment, so frantic in their pursuit of pleasure. Few of them realise how well he knows them, each of these lonely souls who come to him from every walk of life often craving something subtler than simply physical sensation.

He caters to them regardless, hearing the need behind the prayer and indulging where he can, all the time maintaining the illusion that they are one of many faceless souls that offer tribute. This feeling of anonymity is essential he had discovered centuries ago, because humans are so vulnerable when it comes to the pursuit of pleasure. As a deity it is rare indeed that a desire is new to him, and nothing can ever truly shock him, but people who seek an outlet for their hedonistic shame need to feel that they are safe from speculation, and he is nothing if not obliging.

So he indulges the need that they are not even fully aware of, offering the illusion of privacy even as he spins their specific fantasies. And whatever the taste, however perverse by human standards Karil does not judge. This is a house of pleasure and Karil understands that it is often the misunderstood and marginalised who have the greatest need of an outlet.

He offers them gratification without awkwardness, skilfully guiding each worshipper to others who will share their want, inventing lovers where there are no convenient partners at hand. More than one marriage had begun from his matching, after all who better to single out compatibility than an Izezu?

And it is a point of pride that no one who frequents his establishment is ever at the mercy of blackmailers. With his nature it is easy enough to single out those disruptive souls who might seek to take advantage of his children, and those he visits in person persuading them to take their business elsewhere. Karil can be frightening when he chooses (some require it of him so it is a useful skill to cultivate) and even the most repressed individual has some pleasures they would not want exposed.

After all Karil knows how he and his followers are viewed by many; how could he not be, human emotion being transparent to Izezu? It is easy enough to judge his chosen for their lifestyle of hedonism and decadence. What his detractors might be unaware of is the wretchedness and loneliness that so often underlies their need. There is a far gulf separating pleasure from happiness, and Karil cannot help but feel protective of those who worship him. Why do the stable judge addiction so when they so clearly do not understand it?

He is also one of the most active Izezu when it comes to interfering in the lives of his worshippers, although many do not ever see his touch. Sometimes it is the smallest things, a suicide who is unexpectedly interrupted by a stranger who somehow knows all the right things to say and then afterwards is nowhere to be found. A chance encounter between two desperate but oddly similar souls, both seeking companionship but lacking the social skills to achieve it without a little guidance. A policeman who happens to be at the right place at the right time to prevent an attack. A disappointing one night stand that suddenly becomes passionate and o so pleasurable. A good god does not need to be called on to know when his interference is needed and Karil finds humanity too fascinating to stay away for long.

And he does not always confine his meddling to his own, particularly in the case of his most vocal detractors. After all so many humans remain utterly clueless in such matters as gratification, and as the local Godling it is Karil's responsibility to take such fragile souls under his wing. The fact that these people rarely appreciate his guidance is really immaterial. Karil does not do it for the thanks, and the sight of rigid senators driven to perplexity by inappropriate feelings towards their co-workers of the same gender is worth any amount of being shouted at. Particularly as many of the more conservative types derive such pleasure from the act of condemning the dissolute. It really is too easy.

There are others of course, the adventurous who really do chase thrills more than filling emptiness. They appear often and rarely remain for long; it is the nature of these to seek variety and although Karil caters to any taste conceivable the act of selecting their thrill from a catalogue would soon bore them. These require less concentration for their desires are straight forward and they seldom experience shame about them. He pays them little attention because they do not really need him, and he has come to appreciate the challenge.

Over the centuries he has become quite the expert and predicting the needs of new worshippers as they approach his gates. It is something of a game although not one he shares with others. There are other Izezu who can feed similarly to him but they seldom protect the humans in their care and Karil finds it a little distasteful. One brother in particular he could find no common ground with even before the current conflict. Although Calesta always made it a point to seek him out every couple of centuries with offers he found disturbing (sadistic as ever brother?)

Then of course there are the worshippers whose tastes are far from harmless. He turns none away, why should he when he can create victims who will experience no real suffering while satisfying the darker urges of his clients? These are not monsters although society might condemn them as such. They come to him because they have terrible needs but do not want to prey on the helpless. Karil respects that and enjoys the variety. After all it is surely preferable that they kill here in illusion rather than taking the action outside where he cannot guide it safely.

And then of course there is Tarrant. By far the most fascinating of Karil's hobbies the Izezu had been relieved and somewhat unsurprised when the sorcerer had casually risen above the necessity of death. If anyone could perform miracles it was that one, and a single mortal lifetime had seemed far too short a span to really study such an unusual and entertaining specimen.

This is one relationship that few of his siblings would have understood, and even Karril at times struggled with it. After all even as a human Tarrant was about as uptight as they come and the man was absolutely obsessed with control. More than this the existence of the pagan lifestyle was a corruption of his greatest work and a direct insult to everything the prophet stood for. It was baffling therefore that the adept would tolerate and even come to feel something resembling affection for the demon, but somehow it had happened.

In part it unfolded because Karil was an easy going and persistent fellow who was undeterred by insults (however cutting), dismissals, banishings, broken wine glasses, being trampled by unhorses or being set on coldfire (on more than one occasion). In part because he possessed a drug that the adept could never entirely resist; arcane knowledge that could be found nowhere else; every demon had his Achilles heel. Then there was the fact that the Neocount had always possessed a dark sense of humour, one that he all too often hid from humans who would have recoiled in fear (The Hunter on the other hand relished in not suppressing it)

Perhaps it was because underneath the veneer the sorcerer had never really fit into human society. Oh he had faked it as flawlessly as he did anything, alternating between charm and threats (and combinations thereof) so that he was adored by many, and respected and feared by the remainder. But he also set himself apart, leaning on his brilliance as an excuse, while only Karil saw the truth. In that way Gerald was every bit as isolated as Karil's less complicated customers.

That was something few understood, certainly his wife never had; appearances aside Gerald Tarrant was never a good person. There was an amorality to him which no human had ever come close to breaching, although some were respected and even tolerated. Perhaps it came from the isolation of being an adept at a time of such persecution and ignorance. Perhaps it was to do with the humiliation and pain of a childhood that the adept never brought up and Karil would never allude to.

But the fact remained that even at his most benevolent there was a contempt beneath the gentleness. Oh he had controlled the darkness, just as brutally as he controlled everything about himself. Sadism was reserved for those he deemed acceptable targets, and the Neocount had cultivated enemies as other men did wines.

Karril suspected that it was the suppressed darkness that made the man so very magnetic. He had watched so many fall under the Neocount's spell over the centuries he had even begun to wonder if it might work on an Izezu. Or perhaps it was simply that he regarded Tarrant as the oldest of his children and perhaps the most in need of his assistance, although the man must never suspect that Karril regarded him thus. It would not be healthy for the Izezu's continued existence.

That was something that the Priest (another fascinating curiosity) clearly did not understand, although the man had reacted quite impolitely to it being pointed out. (These church men... so easily offended) Damien Vryce had fallen into the trap of idolising the prophet, even as he despised the Hunter, never seeming to understand that the difference between the two was at best superficial.

A saint would not have tortured his family to death no matter how great the moment of weakness. Gerald Tarrant had done so with very little remorse, and hardly any provocation. The seeds of the Hunter had always been there; it seemed so obvious to Karil who had known them both. (Yet just the thought of it was so painful to the priest that he repressed it utterly.) But then to accept the prophet's darker nature would mean casting a shadow over everything the man had created, and everything the Priest believed him. The God of Pleasure understood this, although it still concerned him.

The priest might not have believed it but the God was somewhat fond of him, and had gone so far as to adopt him as a more tricky project. The man was clearly worth paying attention to, after all he had established a closer bond with Gerald than any other human being, despite all of the obstacles. And Tarrant had never tolerated fools. It troubled him that the Priest had feelings that were not only inappropriate but also extremely dangerous to his health.

It was one thing to admire the prophet, without ever having encountered him (perhaps even to the point of infatuation). It was equally understandable to be caught up by the sheer fascination of Gerald Tarrant, a charisma that undeath had only increased. It might have been alright if the man had been able to accept the truth; that to love the Prophet was to love the Hunter. To pray to one was to be answered by the other. And when merely to think of the Hunter was to establish a connection between you and him, just imagine the peril of desiring him, however buried in your subconscious this feeling might be...

But with typical stubbornness the Priest remained oblivious to the danger even when the Lord of the Forest pointed it out to him (a civilised evil genteel and seductive?!) There was no way to insure your emotions were more obvious to the Hunter than to fear them...

But then the Priest was hardly a weak man, and he was far from the vulnerability of those the Hunter savoured. If he had been less worthy the danger to him might have been considerably lessened. As it was if the two had met before the sacrifice even Karil could not have predicted the outcome. But they had not, and Karil could sense the danger even if the priest could not yet, and it dismayed him.

Because Karil liked the man against his better instincts, and you could bet that however oblivious Damien might be to the matter, Gerald was aware of every nuance. After all he had the benefit of a thousand years to come to terms with a more unconventional sexuality. (As a living man the Prophet had been perfectly courteous to women but back then the knowledge that he would hurt them terribly had never been far from his mind.) The victims of early abuse were inevitably shaped by it...

And then there was the fact that for all of his posturing the Priest was a child compared to the adept, and if Tarrant had ever wanted to hurt him he would have been powerless to prevent it. Damien was not experienced enough in matters of sorcery to manipulate a soul bond, and even if he had been Tarrant had little in the way of emotion to read. The Priest on the other hand possessed a full human range, and suffering had weakened his resilience. The Hunter saw into his soul but so far Tarrant had been courteous enough not to obviously exploit it. This restraint from one who fed on fear, who had in fact fed upon the priest on numerous occasions... it was out of character, and Damien did not even realise how unaccustomedly gently the Hunter had handled him. Did he really believe that the nightmares that drove a hardened girl to suicide in a few months were the same quality as those he had endured in their travels? Karil shook his head.

Gerald might not want to admit it but he had accorded Damien his respect, and more than that a grudging admiration. This might not seem like much, but to a man with no real connection to the human world, and one who is drawn to revel in the destruction of that which he desires it was a dangerous intimacy. (And Damien was dangerously fascinated and dangerously in denial and The Hunter could never walk away from weakness)

And so Karil feared for Damien however their conflict with his brother went. He knew that Tarrant was too fascinated to really leave the man alone, particularly not given his love of sport. He had started wars with his own creation in order to fence with a worthy partner, he would surely require more than this grudging partnership with a man who had brought out so much of who he once was. Once the conflict with Calesta was over there would be no reason for him not to indulge. The truce between them would be done, and the Priest would return to his church, Gerald to his Forest.

Damien had once sworn to do everything in his power to destroy the Hunter and Karil believed that Tarrant would hold him to it. The result would be fascinating although the conclusion surely inevitable. No man had ever bested the Neocount (although no man had ever affected him quite so much either). Neither man would admit to it but no love had ever stirred them quite so powerfully as their interactions with each other. Some of the best fascinations were not overtly sexual; Karil understood.

And he would watch it go down with the same morbid fascination that had sometimes driven him to partake in the hunt. And he would feed because despite the bittersweet undercurrents (not that either would admit to them) it would be the climax of the story, the natural conclusion, more important than any of the other conflicts of either of their lives. The ultimate Hunt; could an embodiment of pleasure experience heartbreak?