Chapter 5: The Dark
Furire finally stops, having reached the mouth of a frostbitten cave. He is cautious at first, but the buffeting winds drive him to clamber in with a little more haste than he would have liked. Once in far enough to be sheltered, he takes in his surroundings.
The opening he is in now is a few paces wide, but extends deep into the ground with a precarious gradient. A faint dripping of water can be heard echoing gently, putting him on edge. He traces his fingers over the irregular wall to his right, but pulls back when he feels a moisture that is surprisingly warm. Examining with his eyes, he realises there is a crimson tinge to the rocks he had been touching. Blood.
He checks his own fingers, in case they have released their own supply, but sees no cuts. Why then, are the rocks still dripping as if the liquid has only just been shed? He takes another step towards the curious discovery, hoping to find some kind of explanation.
Instead he finds himself with a hand around his neck and the sharp prick of a dagger just touching his back. He tries to cry out but is bundled to the floor, the attacker repositions their hand over his mouth to keep him quiet.
"Shalli kri! Shalli sstreki kri!" Comes the whispered demand. He does as asked and keeps quiet, being in no position to argue, still with a knife pressing into him from behind. He tries to turn to look at his attacker, but their hold is strong and keeps him looking at the cave floor.
A faint shuffling can be heard behind them, along with the crackling of a burning torch. The increase in pressure over his mouth tells Furire that these sounds are to be feared. There must be more than one, as they are talking, but even straining he is unable to make out their conversation.
Seemingly without warning, the heavy breathing closes in and the heat from the torch can be felt by Furire’s exposed cheeks. He finds himself looking at the boots of one of the unknown men, just inches from his face. He closes his eyes and tries to soften his breathing, though he knows that surely the man must have spotted them by now.
The silent searching of the man is only interrupted by his announcement of “Nothing here” and the sound of his footsteps trailing away. Furire opens one eye and sees that he was not mistaken, whoever they were have left without explanation or a trace.
He feels the knife leave his back and finds himself free from his attacker's grasp at last. Turning around, he finally sees her. Her.
A young woman is stood in front of him, a thin cloak around her shoulders. She removes the hood from her head and pulls out a pin to let her hair fall freely. Jet black and slightly waved, it reaches her waist, leaving him in no doubt that his original assessment was correct.
The armour beneath her cloak is like nothing Furire has seen before. It seems to be a mismatch of a number of different leathers, all vaguely dyed black. He recognises one part that has been scavenged from a Galertine uniform and another from an Ssrellian chestpiece. A belt around her waist holds two daggers; a third is still idle in her hand.
Furire’s inspection does not go unnoticed, her stare tells him that. He clears his throat and stands up straight.
“Who are you, ma’am?” He asks with his most polite tone.
“Ah, you’re Ssrellian, huh? You can drop the ma’am, I don’t have time for your noble pretences.” She replies in a hostile tone, fluent but still with a hint of her Rellian roots.
“My apologies-” He starts to reply but is cut off by her impatient interruption.
“-I have no need of your…” she waves her left hand in a lazy circle as she sheaths her knife and steps towards him, almost spitting in his face “apologies.”
Furire’s face does not flinch as he avoids the eye contact she is so desperately trying to gain with that burning stare. She is slightly shorter than him so her intimidation is somewhat hindered as she has to look up at him, but the tension created would not be matched by even the strongest warrior.
For a moment they remain in deadlock, until Furire concedes and looks down. He takes a quick breath as his eyes widen.
“What are you?” He asks, panicking and backing against the wall.
Her eyes are empty, black flames seem to flicker within them. Her lips are curled upwards in a smug smile but even they seem to bleed with the smoke of the fire in her pupils. She pauses for a moment, pretending to think before answering.
“I believe you would call me a demon, but that is not important.”
She takes a couple of steps towards him so that he is now pressed against the wall, Furire being unable to move away quickly enough. He hears the soft ring of one of her blades being removed from her belt then a whisper of something in Rellian that he can’t quite make out. She winks.
The next thing he knows, her lips are locked with his. He tries to resist but finds himself too weak. The faint touch of a blade on his leg halts his struggling, reminding him exactly who is in charge. The force behind the kiss diminishes slightly, but she does not release until after what Furire considers to be both too much and not enough time.
He remains in shocked silence, staring, confused, at this strange new woman.
“What’s wrong, dear? You didn’t like it?” She asks gently, stroking his face.
“No…I mean..I-“ He trips over his words, but is, once again, cut off.
“Never mind, I don’t care, it has served its purpose,” She states, matter-of-factly, pulling her hand back as her eyes return to their usual shade of brown.
Without another look, she replaces her hood and heads into the shadows of the cave’s depths.
Furire hesitates for a moment, but realises that no matter how hard he tries, he won’t be able to stop himself. So he follows.