Elanni reclined on the layered animal pelts that covered her floor by the fire. Twilight had almost surrendered to the night, filling the cabin with thick shadow and darkness that wavered in the red light of the hearth. In the silence she sipped tea from a bowl between graceful palms, and patterns of ember-light danced across the slim curves of her unclothed body.

The rap across her barred door was loud and forceful enough that she choked on her drink before forcing it down with a hard gulp.

“I seek audience with the devil-blooded witch Elanni!” boomed the resonant voice of a man outside her door.

The woman on the floor set aside the small bowl she held and cast an angry gaze over a bare shoulder. “You’ll wish you hadn’t if you rap my door again! Go away!”

Three swift knocks shook the oaken door that had turned aside hungry bears and dire wolves. “I’m not leaving.”

Elanni coughed and wiped her chin. “You have the wrong cabin! Find the other one!”

“Yours is the only one on this mountain, Witch!”

With an annoyed growl she rose, and the flames of her hearth flared on the fuel of her anger. Snatching a limp robe from where it hung on a wooden peg, she thrust her arms into the sleeves of the grey garment and tied it around her hourglass waist. Scowling as her bare feet touched the cold wooden planks leading to the door, a swipe with her hands to either side lit every torch and standing candle in the cabin.

“You’re either very brave or very stupid,” Elanni said in a piqued and smokey voice. She then draped the hood of her robe over a shadowed face, “For your sake you had better be very rich as well!”

The witch grabbed the stout wooden bar securing the entrance with twice the strength of any man, lifting it from the brackets easily. With a thud she leaned it against the wall before yanking an iron handle to throw the door open with a bang.

“What!” her shout echoed through the dark mountain forest of drab autumn colors and patchy snow.

The glare intended to intimidate the man who dared disturb her exile fell instead on the battered steel of his breastplate. Slowly lifting her nose, Elanni finally saw the face of his great helm staring down from where it rested loftily above her forehead.

“I seek to negotiate a contract with you,” a bass voice echoed within the helmet.

Elanni took several steps backward, taking stock of the visitor in her doorway. Undoubtedly, he was a bullish slab of muscle underneath the armored plates he wore, and entering the cabin would require the warrior to stoop if he tried. The witch’s eyes soon looked to the manticore’s head draped over the shoulder of the figure standing outside her open door. Its attendant pelt and paws hung as a cape on the man, almost obscuring the golden eight-pointed star upon the guard of his sword.

She pointed a black nail at the broad blade sheathed on his belt. “I have heard tales of you. You are Rurrn… slayer of monsters with the might of ten. Rurrn, who braved the breath of Nazz, and survived the dragonsfire to slay him. Rurrn the Burned, hero of Korthrin that never displays the price he paid in scars to claim the Fallen Star he wields in battle. You are Rurrn! He who dares to oppose the God-King Rhaith in his conquest of the North!”

“I am he,” the helmed figure nodded.

Elanni gave a smooth, smokey laugh before flashing yellow eyes and shaking her hooded head. “And what could I possibly have to offer to the Hero of Korthrin? If you seek to arrange a contract I’ll tell you what I’ve told all the others… To start, you’ll need a full-blooded devil and not some halfbreed like me!”

Rurrn crossed powerful arms over his chest. “I’m not brokering my soul for some twisted boon as Rhaith has! Tell me, Witch Elanni, are the stories true? Can you read the Black Runes as rumor says you can?”

The witch pursed black lips under narrowing eyes. “Yes, but not without risks… as devils go, I’m barely literate in the Black Speech.”

“I have the scroll with me,” the warrior said patting the satchel on his hip.

“One thousand gold coins. No less.”

“I pried it from the dead hand of Rhaith’s high-priest, and pray that it grants me some insight to stop him as it —“

“—Two thousand,” Elanni interjected.

“— is written by Zarridun himself…” Rurrn finished.

Elanni threw up her blue-hued palms and backed away. “FOUR thousand! And I confess that’s a bargain as I’m fearful even to touch it!”

“That’s a steep price, Witch,” Rurrn’s voice echoed under his helm.

“And there are better readers, trained readers, of the Black Runes than I! You should seek them out and leave me be!” Elanni snapped back.

“Finding a trustworthy reader neither in the God-King’s employ, nor slain by his assassins, has eluded me thus far.”

“It may elude you still!” Elanni said pulling back the hood that covered the raven black hair that fell long and loose past her shoulders. The elegant, otherworldly face of the woman flashed a smile of long canines over her skin the color of a dark blue sky.

“Is this the face of a monster you can trust?! I would think a worldly man such as you would be wiser,” she said running her fingers up the length of the slim black horns above her brow.

Rurrn crossed his arms again. “I’ve been forced to slay others of your ilk before. When I first heard mention of you years ago, I thought you would be the same. Yet here you are… Hiding away from men rather than seeking to rule them. No, you’re different, Elanni. And I do trust you.”

Elanni’s yellow eyes seemed to waver, and then looked away from the hero. “It… It will still cost you four thousand coins. No less.”

“I have no such coffer to give you. My coins have been vested into the hands of Korthrin as weapons against Rhaith.”

Devil-blooded Elanni looked back up to the armored man. “Then what deal could you offer me that would equal such value?”

“A secret for your ears alone. And a service I can render.”

“They will need to be grand indeed to broker the risk you ask of me…” Elanni said reaching to close the door.

Rurrn’s gauntleted hands reached upwards, grasping the sides of his great helm and lifting it away. Elanni held her breath expecting a painful nightmare of burned scars, but instead stood blinking at something more unexpected as the empty helm fell discarded.

“The flames of Nazz never scarred me, thanks to my father’s bloodline.”

He stood there silent, unmasked and uncomfortable in Elanni’s wide-eyed gaze. Rurrn was impressive and lantern-jawed, but the red ochre and terracotta colors of his skin were the first signs of his demonic heritage. She scrutinized his jawline studded with short, blunt spikes before looking to his forehead and the curving, ram-like horns that rested over his scalp.

Elanni let curiosity draw her closer. “You… hero of the Northmen, a demon halfbreed!? This explains much about your prowess… Yet this is a secret that could destroy everything you’ve worked for!”

Rurrn looked at her with serious eyes that were a lustrous shade of emerald, and nodded.

“I’ll admit, it’s a grand secret… And I’ll keep it safe knowing now that we’re more alike than not… But it still doesn’t barter strongly enough to be worth the risk you ask of me.”

Rurrn’s eyes remained honest and fixed on her. “It must be torture to live as you do, Elanni. To be born of incubus seed, to have such sensuality ingrained as part of your being. To know your impassioned touch is death to the race of men. But, unlike any other fiend from the Pit, Elanni, you’re possessed of a conscience and soul at odds with half of your nature, aren’t you? They may call you a monster, but I dare you to refute me when I claim that you live in exile, not because you are hunted, but because you wish others to be protected from you!”

Elanni shook her head with dampening eyes. “I won’t, for it’s true.”

“And I would call you a saint for it!”

“No!” Elanni shouted back, “Call me cursed! ”

“Then you may call me cursed as well, because your abyssal taint won’t harm me, Elanni.”

“Won’t harm you? What does that—”

Rurrn watched the devil-blooded witch stop mid-sentence as the opportunity he proposed dawned across her brow. “Our infernal ancestors have cavorted since before time began. I fear not your touch.”

Her yellow eyes flared at Rurrn’s words. “You shouldn’t make such a claim! Please don’t tempt me, Rurrn. I can’t be saved…”

“I’ve braved great dangers to rescue beautiful women before.”

Elanni’s voice was brittle. “I won’t risk it, even as my body howls to embrace you. I’m a monster and my passion is poisoned…”

“I am a monster as well, but I am also a man. Would I risk my life just to hold a woman in my arms at last? Perhaps not. But to heal the heart within her? Yes, I will dare your kiss for that.”

“The first time broke that heart,” she said reaching out with the trembling hands which had so innocently slain the only lover she had ever known years before. “I have caressed no other since…”

Rurrn leaned forward and let Elanni embrace him. In tears, she braced herself as passion overcame willpower and her black lips were pressed to his. The moment stretched into several, and when Rurrn didn’t break the silence with even a whimper, Elanni at last opened her eyes. He then met her passion with his own, and she felt Rurrn’s hands on her hips before he lifted her off the ground. Heart pounding, she savored the hero’s hot breath for a long-held instant before he gently placed her bare feet back onto the floor of the cabin.

Elanni stumbled backward in shock. Doe-eyed, she regained a half-stunned composure exhaling the smoke-ring of Rurrn’s kiss.

“I have that and more to offer the woman whom my strength won’t harm… If you’re willing.” Rurrn said drawing in an excited breath.

The blue woman nodded, and her look of enamored surprise slid into a grin as Elanni untied her belt.

“I find the terms of this agreement, very acceptable,” she said letting the robe slide off and into a pile around her ankles. She raised her arms, watching Rurrn take stock of every beautiful line and curve that she offered him, feeling desired for the first time in decades without fighting back her own concupiscence.

Elanni fanned the membranes of the vestigial, bat-like wings on her back as she took Rurrn’s hand at the threshold, smiling and daring to speculate that there could be more than lust between them.

“I will read your scroll in the morning’s light, Hero of Korthrin. But the night is cold and long… Come! Let me remove the burden of your armor, and warm you by my fire.”

(c) Jason H. Abbott – November 5, 2015

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