Saturday, February 13, 2016

Threat of the Fire Demon - Chapter 13

AUTHOR's NOTE: (Fun insight into how an author's mind works.)
You will see I have added an element into this passage as though it were here all the time. Charles now has a journal. When 'free writing,' as I do on the blog, I sometimes have 'after-thoughts' of something I would have, or should have, written if I had it all to do over again. I wanted a journal and so added it. You will find, if you chose to backtrack, that I inserted it in the chapter where they first start off on their journey and again in the 'swamp' chapter. This will be an element I will use to move the story forward or for reflection, as the case may be. 
Happy reading, Theresa

For such a petite young lady, Charles and Saul were amazed at the amount of food Azur ate. They both assumed it was because she burnt off so much energy when she was in demon form.

Charles insisted on joining them at the table for lunch even though Azur suggested he take it in bed on a tray. They filled their plates and bowls with a hearty stew, hunks of homemade bread with butter, and a salad made from every conceivable vegetable the pair knew, plus some odd things they had never seen before. There was a plate of cheeses and sausage, a plate of sweetbreads and cookies, a bowl of mixed fruit, and mugs of cider, ale or water. The pair had not eaten this well in years.

The conversation was confined mostly to how the two travelers came to be in Azur’s land.

“The swamp was the worst,” Saul declared in a disgusted tone.

“He’s not fond of water,” Charles chuckled and took another bite of sausage. It was flavored with herbs and had been smoked to perfection.

“It was not water,” Saul countered. “It was slough. Thick nasty stuff. It stuck in my fur.” The thought of it made his skin crawl and his tail twitch.

“I swear he climbed up on every log or rock we passed that would hold him.” Charles grinned over the rim of his mug.

“It was nasty,” Saul exclaimed.

“No… what was nasty were those sand snakes…worms…” he threw his hand out in a gesture of disgust. “Whatever you call those tubes with teeth in the Land of Sand and Stone.”

“Geela…I believe is what the Baretti call them,” Azur offered.

“Indeed they do,” Saul said with a smile. “How did you know?”

“Oh, I have done some traveling.”

Azur spooned out another bowl of stew for herself and motioned to the men in an offer to refill their bowls. They both shook their heads.

“No, thank you,” they almost spoke in unison.

The conversation lagged for a time. Charles wasn’t ready to bring up Raven or their mission. Azur seemed lost in her own thoughts. Saul wondered if she was replaying her chase after Thaldrake. There must be multiple gates in each land. She said she ‘traveled.’ Remy probably just gave them a map of the gates he thought they could recognize the easiest.

Charles broke the silence. “There is such a variety of food selections here,” he commented between spoons full of the last of his stew. He wished his garden would produce such healthy vegetables.

Azur was buttering a piece of bread. “We are blessed with a long growing season and good, rich soil.”

“Charles tries to grow a garden back home,” Saul said with a lopsided grin. “He talks to his plants.”

“I confess, I don’t think the plants and I speak the same language.” Charles shrugged. “Nothing seems to grow well.”

“Really?” Azur asked, as she started to pour Saul a mug of cider. “Would you prefer milk?” She hesitated over his mug. “I have plenty. I just forgot to put it on the table.”

“Cider is fine, thank you,” Saul said, as he raised his mug. “Though milk might be a nice addition to dinner.”

Azur’s face took on a slight blush. It made her skin glow bronze. Charles found it very attractive.

“I am afraid you will have to fend for yourselves for dinner,” she apologized. “Feel free to eat whatever you please.”

“Will you be leaving us?” Charles inquired. He hesitated popping another grape in his mouth, waiting for her answer.

“It is for the best. Our buildings are bricks made from straw and mud, but they will burn.”

“Do you turn every night?” Charles and Saul were both curious about the metamorphosis Azur went through. Charles was sorry he missed the night before. Saul’s description sounded fascinating.

“We all do. We call it the 'blaze.' And, while I am thinking about it, I should warn you it would be best if you stayed inside after dark.” She busied herself with spreading butter on yet another piece of bread before going on. “The younger members of our community are not totally in control of their actions. They could accidently hurt you, and even though they would be sorry afterward, you would still be badly burned.” She added jam to her bread and then piled on slices of sausage.

“We’ll be cautious,” Charles assured her.

*****

“I’m leaving now,” Azur announced.

Charles was back in bed. He had a long nap after lunch. When he awoke, he asked Saul to retrieve his journal from his pack. Charles worked on catching it up as he chatted and compared notes with Saul squatting by his side. A lot had taken place since his last entry. Azur went to tend her garden and was out for most of the afternoon. When she returned she seemed agitated and was distinctly radiating heat.

She was dressed in the leather skirt and halter top Saul saw her in the night before. What was it like to live two lives, he wondered? Mild mannered healer during the day and killer fire demon during the night. No… that was not right, she hadn’t killed Charles or him. In fact, she healed Charles. The change in her was not that cut and dried.

“Please, remain inside,” she warned again.

“Will you be alright,” Saul asked. After what he saw last night he was worried for both Azur and Thaldrake, if she found a way to him.

“I will be fine.”

She slipped off her sandals and stepped out the door, closing it behind her.

Saul sprang to his feet and headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Charles demanded.

Saul cracked the door. “I’m going to follow her.”

“I told her we would stay in,” Charles countered.

“No…You told her we would be ‘cautious.’ And I will be.” Saul went down on all fours and silently slipped out the door.

*****

The nighttime world of the fire demons was mesmerizing to the cat-man. Young fire demons, ones who must have been under ten years, were corralled by the older demons and it appeared as though they were being schooled. Saul sat hidden in the branches of a tree at the edge of the forest as he watched the children throw fireballs. They practiced spearing disks with their tails. Their tails seemed to stretch to unbelievable lengths and were like whips. They coiled them around objects with great dexterity.

His exceptional night vision allowed him to follow a group of older children with several adult leaders as they hunted below him. The youngsters were lethal and accurate in their aim.

Saul leaped from his perch and trailed along in the shadows after Azur when she drifted away from the younger main group, but so did two other demons. They walked beside her and when she started to run, they tackled her and brought her to the ground. A fiery struggle ensued. She appeared possessed and intent on escaping her keepers. They would release her periodically, whether from some unspoken plea or to test her determination. When she headed toward the gate where Saul and Charles met her the night before, they would once again capture and restrain her.

Midway through the night, she ran a different direction. Saul knew from his studies of the map with Charles during the day, that she was headed toward the gate which would take her out of the Land of the Fire Demon and toward Raven’s, but each time her demon keepers stopped her.

Eventually, toward morning, she sat quietly and watched the children play under the supervision of the other adults. She toyed with a small fire devil, a whirlwind of fire she created between her hand and the ground. She guided it over the area where she sat scorching patterns in the grass.

Saul stayed long enough to watch the demons transform into their human looking selves. The women were all dressed similar to Azur. The men wore loincloths not unlike his own except made of a heavier leather.

He wanted to see who Azur’s two keepers were, so he could locate them and talk to them during the day. He recognized the older keeper. He noticed him when they first entered the village yesterday. It was hard not to. The man was huge, well over six feet and would have had to turn sideways to get through an average sized door. From his attire the day before, Saul took him for the community’s blacksmith. Once the man morphed back into his daily guise he helped Azur up and dusted her off like he was tending to a youngster who had fallen. He held her by the shoulders and spoke softly to her.

The other keeper came up behind him. He had been sitting not far away from Azur. He was younger and possessed the predominately dark hair of the community’s inhabitants. He reached out to her and she fell sobbing into his arms.

As Saul stealthily worked his way back to the house the sun crested the hills behind the village. He noticed the human occupants of the community coming out from their homes to tend crops or feed and water animals. The community seemed to have a decent amount of humans in residence. Like all areas of The Realms the humans persisted, always present in the background.

*****

Azur cleaned up and fixed them breakfast upon her return. Afterward, she suggested Saul help Charles outside to sit in the warm morning sun for a little while. Charles and Saul thought she might want the house to herself and a lounge in the sun sounded good to the two weary travelers. There was a porch swing hung from the stout limb of a huge plum tree in the front garden. Azur tucked Charles in with bright overstuffed pillows and a light patchwork blanket. Saul brought him his journal.

“You’ll be okay out here for a bit?” she asked the two.

“Fine, thank you,” Charles answered.

She reached over and felt his brow. “No fever this morning. When I finish cleaning up and have a bit of a rest, we’ll have a look at your leg.”

Azur had never seen anyone in her lifetime that possessed such beautiful eyes as Charles. They were the blue of a late afternoon summer sky. She held her hand on his forehead for a fraction of a minute longer than she had too as she gazed into the pools of icy blue.

Charles always thought that Saul’s eyes were striking, but they were cat eyes and therefore not so rare in his species. The same lime green color in Azur’s eyes, against her smooth bronze skin, made something within him stir. Something he had not felt since his wife died over two years ago.

There wasn’t much Saul missed. He saw the lingering eye contact between the two. The way Charles leaned slightly into Azur’s touch.

“I think I will take a walk around the gardens,” he announced.

The comment broke the spell between the two and Azur’s hand dropped to her side.

“I’ll be back in a little while. You’ll be okay here, Charles?”

Saul thought he would be more than okay. He would probably have lovely dreams if he fell asleep.

“I’ll be fine,” Charles replied, patting his journal. “You can tell me all about it when you get back.”

“Will do.”

Saul nodded at the pair and scooted off to leave them to whatever might develop. It had been a long time since Adele passed. Charles deserved some happiness and if Azur gave it to him, if only fleetingly, then that was a blessing. And he knew from what he saw last night that Azur needed someone to calm her soul. If anyone could do that, it was Charles. The man lived a tranquil life and those who touched him found peace. Saul knew that for a fact. He had once sought nothing but violence and revenge himself. Then he met Charles and all that changed. His soul breathed a deep sigh and his heart stopped bleeding. Saul hoped Charles could do the same for Azur.


If you are enjoying this tale set in The Realms,
consider reading these books from the Twin Cities Series.
The Twin Cities Page contains:
A synopsis of the series
Sample Chapters
And
Links for purchasing platforms are below the header
Available in eBook and Paperback

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