Saturday, February 6, 2016

Threat of the Fire Demon - Chapter 12

Saul told Charles everything. He detailed the attack by the beasts in the jungle and Thaldrake’s timely intervention. He told Charles about how Thaldrake was turned, about the dungeon no one knew existed below Raven’s mansion and the atrocities that took place there. He told Charles what Thaldrake said about Remy and his mind.

Charles cursed under his breath at the injustice.

And Saul told the man about Thaldrake’s intention to become a doctor. By the time he got to the night Thaldrake lanced Charles’ leg, Charles was shaking his head.

“We can’t tell anyone where he is,” Charles said.

“My thoughts exactly, in fact, I felt so strongly about it that I promised for both of us that we wouldn’t tell,” Saul confirmed.

The cat handed Charles a slice of fruit he picked up in the jungle. The elf ate it and held out his hand for more. The cat saw that as a good sign.

“What are you going to do about Azur,” Saul asked. “She was frantic to get at him last night when we arrived.”

“I need to talk to her. As soon as I can hobble, we need to find their village.”

Charles licked the juice from the fruit off his fingers and held out his hand for another piece.

Saul obliged him offering him a larger hunk this time on the tip of his dagger. His ears swiveled backward as he caught the sound of someone approaching. He turned and saw a young woman, perhaps mid-to-late twenties, with chestnut colored hair, walking toward them across the wasteland. Her sandals kicked up the ash and her soft peach colored shift, which fell almost to her ankles, blew in the light breeze. She was pulling a small two wheeled cart behind her. Saul came to his feet.

“We have company,” he announced, because Charles wouldn’t have been able to see her from his place on the ground.

When she got a bit closer Saul saw the woman’s eyes and the breeze carried her scent to him. He could smell the familiar woodsy aroma he attributed to the landscape last night, but knew now was Azur’s scent. He was thrown off a bit by her appearance. She had transformed. Her skin was no longer a deep chocolate color, but a warm bronze tone. The fiery tattoos, horns and tail were gone. If Saul had not been certain of her smell he would have sworn this was a totally different person, a human in fact.

“It’s Azur,” Saul whispered with conviction as she came up on them.

Charles struggled to rise, but Saul placed his paw on the man’s shoulder and forced him to remain down.

“Azur,” he nodded in greeting, as she left her cart in the clearing and came up on them. He stepped to one side. “This is Azur, Charles.”

“I am pleased to meet you and I thank you profusely for your healing touch,” Charles said with a winning smile.

“I’m pleased I could help, but we need to get you to a decent place to rest,” Azur said without hesitation. Her voice seemed to have morphed along with her body. It was strong and commanding. “Can you help him to the cart?” She asked Saul.

“I can walk, after a fashion,” Charles offered.

“Not today, my friend,” Saul said and pulling him to his feet he slung him over his shoulder like a bag of grain, walked the few feet to the cart, and eased him down gently on the pallet quilt covering the bed of the cart.

Charles reached up and grabbed the cat’s paw. “Thank you, my friend,” he said sincerely.

“See…” Saul grinned, “I told you, you would need me along.”

“And it has not escaped me, who ended up carrying whom on this journey,” Charles smiled back.

Saul nodded and went back to gather up their equipment. He put it on the cart beside Charles. When Azur started to pick up the tongues to the small vehicle, he moved her away and stepped between them instead.

“Point the way, my lady,” he said, as he adjusted the handles in his paws.

“Around the base of that hill,” she replied, as she stepped back to walk alongside the cart and talk with Charles.

The two chatted as Saul listened in. Charles was vague about their reason for being here, or their travel plans. He didn’t lie, but he was not forthcoming with the information that he was there to make sure Azur did not pursue Thaldrake to Raven’s area of The Realms. Frankly, Saul wondered to himself why the demon was still here. He wondered why she hadn’t moved on in pursuit. He had expected they would have to loop back toward home in order to catch her before she entered their area. The cat did his own assessment of the demon. In this form she seemed to be calm and reserved, unlike the violent creature she was last night prior to helping Charles.

Saul had to marvel at their lush surrounds once they left the scorched area in front of the gate. The roadside was a profusion of wild flowers amid deep green grass. There were fields of ripening grain which tipped their heads in the gentle breeze. It appeared as though the fire demons were farmers in their ‘off’ hours. It was a delight to the eye.

When they reached the outskirts of the village several people approached with offers to help. The little cart was taken out of Saul’s control and two men, one on each tongue, pulled it the remainder of the way to Azur’s home.

Walking freely now, Saul noticed even more evidence of horticulture. Between each domed building there appeared to be a long angular shaped garden plot with beans crawling up triangular trellises and bright red tomatoes hanging invitingly on the oversized bushes. Squash vines meandered through the gardens showing off their ripening fruit with a variety of shapes and colors. Melons lay waiting for the picking and the gardens were all dotted with flowers and trailing, blooming vines. The area was a gardener’s paradise, unlike their part of The Realms.

Each person they came upon nodded greeting and asked Azur how she was and wished her well. So many so that Azur eventually explained to Charles and Saul that she recently lost her husband and child to an invader. She turned her head and wiped a tear from her cheek, but said no more.

Charles was carried by the same two men who pulled the cart into Azur’s home and placed in a bed which had been made ready for him. It sat in a small alcove off the main room. It was obviously meant for patients the woman wanted to keep close while tending.

Azur showed Saul to a small adjacent room which had obviously been her son’s. The window in the room looked out on Azur’s own lush garden patch. There were carved wooden toys scattered across the floor, which Azur hurried to pick up and place in a brightly painted chest against the wall.

“You can stay in here,” she said, as she held a small carved hippogriff to her chest longer than the other toys. “This was his favorite.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” Saul said.

“I don’t remember much of last night,” Azur confessed. “I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

“No,” Saul assured her. “When you found out Charles was hurt you healed him. I believe he would have died without you help.”

She looked down at the toy in her hands. “A fire demon does not have much control during the ‘Blaze.’ Especially a young demon like me,” she confessed. “My friends have been keeping me safe here until the demon within calms. It wants revenge so badly it hurts.”

“And you, now?” Saul asked. It was like they were speaking of two different people.

“I just want to be alone and mourn,” she said softly. Tears rolled down her cheeks to fall uncheck onto the little hippogriff.

“I am sorry we have imposed ourselves on you,” Saul said.

“No,” she countered. “It will be good to have someone around to cook and care for. It will take my mind off my loss.”

She placed the toy in the box along with the others and closed the lid. “Lunch will be ready in a little while. You can sit with Charles until I call.” She turned and scanned the room. “If you need anything, just ask.”

Saul shook his head as Azur left the room. Obviously, the demon community had this under control. Raven had no need to concern himself with her unless she managed to get by her ‘demon keepers.’ He and Charles had made the long journey and almost died for nothing.

Saul by Elizabeth Babicz

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