Sarlene's Touch Ch. 27byFuinimel©
Calleslyn crossed the lobby of the Wizards' College, looking about for someone she knew well enough to talk to. The villa had been attacked by a demon, obviously sent to steal something, and Lady Tarissa had sent her here to find out what she could. Until now they had been reluctant to tell people what they knew of the infernal threat to the city, but having seen a demon openly, they could now ask questions without raising suspicion among the conspirators – whoever they were. Indeed, it would some strange if they did not.
The lobby, however, was relatively empty, so the elf decided to make her next port of call the library. It occupied a significant part of the building, and, while it was not a good place for socialising as such, there was always likely to be someone there. She stepped through the stone archway and looked around, the numerous stacks of books and scrolls hiding much of her view of the interior.
"Can I help you?"
She turned round to see the librarian peering up from a collection of scrolls, a slightly nervous smile on her face. Nariti knew a lot about books and scrolls, but rather less about the actual human world, which would not have made her Calleslyn's first choice for uncovering any wizards that might be involved in the dark arts. But at least she was present.
"Yes, perhaps," she said, coming over as the small, mousy woman reflexively smoothed her robes down. "I was wondering about the restricted section of the library."
"Oh," said Nariti, looking a little taken aback, "it's in the basement. And it is, well... it is restricted, you know. You need permission to read those books. They are about demons and things, you know. Not... well, not very nice at all."
"Yes," agreed Calleslyn, trying not to sound as if she was stating the obvious, "and I would need to get permission from you, would I not? As the librarian."
"Well, yes... yes, you would. That would be... or the Master of the College. But otherwise, yes. Um... why do you want to go to the restricted section?"
She decided for the direct approach. "My house has been attacked by a demon."
Nariti's eyes widened, and she physically jerked backwards, clutching out for a quill, as if for security. "Oh, my goodness me!" she managed, voice wavering.
"So, I was wondering... who have you given permission to recently? Has anyone been in the restricted section in the past few weeks?"
"You... you can't imagine that someone from the College...?" asked the librarian, her voice moving up half an octave to a virtual squeak, "I mean... that's... that's... Those books are restricted for a reason. I am very careful, I don't just let people in, you know. We couldn't be having with that sort of thing." She fiddled with her quill, looking almost as if she expected a demon to pop up from behind the stacks.
"So, nobody then?"
"No, no... nobody has been in there for a while. Well, except Valmor, and he had permission from the Master of the College. Something about defences, I think. But other than that, no... even I haven't been in there recently. There isn't much call for it. The books are perfectly safe."
Valmor – that was interesting. Calleslyn knew the man as a pompous and arrogant fool, but was he the sort to summon demons? At first the idea seemed absurd, since the man operated more by ingratiating himself with the wealthy and influential members of society. But if the thing beneath the city, whatever it was, was seeking to corrupt people, wouldn't they be the sort of people it looked for? And would Valmor be the kind to turn down an offer of true power if it was offered to him? She certainly wouldn't put it past him.
"Well, thank you, Nariti," she said, "I don't think I will need to use the restricted section myself, at least not yet," as a paladin, Lady Tarissa would probably be able to find more useful information on the demon and how to fight it. "But as long as there have been no strangers poking about with infernal tomes, I suppose I may to have to look further afield."
"Oh good," said the librarian, looking distinctly relieved, "that's very good to hear. Glad I could help." And she sat down at her desk again, spreading out the scrolls as Calleslyn turned away to find someone who might know more about sinister gossip than the socially isolated young woman.
"No, no," muttered, Nariti, half to herself, "there's been no strangers doing anything like that since the business with Ornejirhs."
Calleslyn turned round, frowning in puzzlement, "what business?"
The librarian looked up, as if startled by being heard, "um, you know, with the staff."
The elf walked back over to the desk, "I have no idea what you're talking about. Who's Ornejirhs? And what sort of name is that, anyway?"
"Southern. Um, I think. I mean, he looks southern, doesn't he? Oh, right, you don't know. But it was..." suddenly an expression of realisation crossed her face, "oh, of course, that's right, you were out of the city, doing dangerous things in the wilds. Anyway, he destroyed a magic staff, that's all I was saying."
"And this has a connection with demons?"
"Well, it was a demonic staff. Or diabolic, or something. Cursed and evil, anyway. He destroyed it for us, and banished the curse. They say he's a demon hunter, or something. From the south," she added again. "I think. Is it important?"
"My house has been attacked by a demon, and this man hunts demons," Calleslyn pointed out, reflecting that the librarian really didn't seem very savvy outside her narrow area of expertise, "where can I find him?"
Ornejirhs turned out to have rented a moderately sized house on the outskirts of the city, almost on the opposite side to the adventurers' villa. The neighbourhood was quiet, suggesting that this might well be a man who valued his privacy, since surely somewhere nearer to the college would have been more convenient.
Calleslyn wondered again about the wisdom of coming on her own. Ornejirhs was something of a mystery, a stranger with knowledge of demons who had turned up out of nowhere. But, in a way, that counted in his favour. The little they knew of the thing beneath the city implied that it had taken a long time to establish its control, which meant that an outsider should be free from its taint. Of course, there was always the possibility that it had summoned him here specifically, but that didn't fit with the fact that he had clearly destroyed a demonic artefact, rather than stealing it for himself, or at least preserving it for future use.
Everything suggested that the stranger was what he claimed to be; a hunter of demons, which was exactly the sort of person she needed information from. She wouldn't tell him about her fears for the city, but it would be reasonable enough to ask the expert about the demon that had invaded her home. Besides, she wasn't exactly defenceless.
So why did she have a nagging feeling that something was strange about this mysterious arrival? Perhaps it was just the name, which didn't sound as if it belonged to any culture she knew of.
So it was with a slight sense of trepidation that she knocked on the door to the rented house. She could hear someone moving about inside, but all the curtains were drawn, hiding any view of the interior. She knocked again, and this time heard footsteps approaching the door... a door that was soon opened by a woman in a most remarkable costume.
It looked, at first glance, as if it ought to have been armour, but that someone had forgotten some of the pieces. Or, to be more accurate, and forgotten almost all of them. The woman wore tight leather boots to just below her knees, and metal bracers around each wrist, and apart from that... well, technically, it was mail armour, but it didn't look as if it would protect very much. Two triangular pieces of tightly woven steel mail covered each breast, with a narrow armoured strap in between and additional leather straps over each shoulder, and round her back. That last strap was tight enough for the pieces of mail to raise up the woman's ample breasts, providing them with significant support, and emphasising a rather impressive cleavage.
And that, aside from the bracers and a silver necklace decorated with a carved piece of pale green stone was all she wore above the waist. Her shoulders and upper arms were bare, her long blonde hair falling in rivulets down her back, and her bare waist showed a perfect hourglass figure. Calleslyn's eyes involuntarily wandered lower, to something that, even being charitable, she was hard pressed to describe as a skirt.
It, too, consisted of two triangular pieces of tight mail, albeit more elongated than those of her upper garment. They hung, front and back, from a narrow belt covered with metal segments, and did nothing at all to conceal the woman's hips or thighs. Above this curious garment was a second, heavier, belt, from which hung a narrow sword, of the sort sometimes favoured by the people of the south.
For there was no doubt that the woman was from one of the southern lands. Her skin – most of which was on display – was pale, her hair pure blonde and her eyes dazzlingly blue. Calleslyn decided that the woman couldn't have gone out dressed like this very often, since, aside from the obvious effect on the menfolk of Haredil, with skin that colour, she surely ought to have got sunburned.
"You wanted something?" asked the woman, her distinct accent again betraying her southern origins.
Calleslyn was aware that she had been staring. Not that that was an unreasonable reaction to such a costume, but it was not very polite. She was still trying to work out what the point of it was, unless this was some sort of exotic dancer. The sword rather counted against that theory, but what kind of warrior would want to wear armour that left almost her entire body unprotected, she had no idea – Lady Tarissa was from the south, and she wore full plate.
"I was looking for Ornejirhs. I was told he lives here."
"Yes, he does," the oddly dressed woman eyed the elf with suspicion, "but who are you, and why do you want to speak to him?"
"My name is Calleslyn. I am a magician, from the Wizards' College here. I understand Ornejirhs is an expert on demons, and I wanted his advice."
"It is true that he knows much about fighting evil," admitted the woman, then stood silently for a moment, critically appraising the elven magician. After an uncomfortable pause, she opened the door further, although her expression still did not look much more welcoming. "You had better come inside."
The interior of the house was shadowy, the drawn curtains keeping out the direct sunlight, although they were not heavy enough for the rooms to be truly dark. The strange woman led Calleslyn into the first room on the right of the corridor, which turned out to be fairly spacious, and well decorated.
The room was lit with a reddish light, thanks to the colour of the curtain that covered the window. Most of the furniture looked to have been purchased in Haredil, but there were exotic hangings on the wall whose origins the elf could not place. There was a long, curving sofa, which looked local, but numerous scatter cushions across the floor that did not. This unknown magician and his strange companion, then, had brought at least some more portable items with them, whether from their home, or from some other place that they had visited.
"I am Imrilda," said the woman, "I am Ornejirhs' fighting companion. Please, sit anywhere you like."
"So, is he around?" asked Calleslyn, not entirely sure what to make of the situation.
"No, I am afraid not. He is out on business. But he should be back very shortly, so it would be best for you to wait here. We have wine or water, if you would like to quench your thirst."
"Thank you." The elf sat down on the sofa, her earlier feelings of uneasiness having not at all subsided. Something was not quite right about this set up, but she could not put her finger on it. She at least took consolation from the fact that Imrilda looked equally uncertain, and that she probably did not know how experienced a magician Calleslyn actually was.
The blonde woman left the room and returned shortly after with a bottle of white wine and a couple of glasses. She did not sit herself, standing instead, near to the door.
"So, where are you from?" she asked, breaking the uneasy silence as both women eyed the other.
"South of here."
Well, that was vague. "And Ornejirhs?"
"Yes, he is from the south, too."
"It's not a southern name, though."
"Haredil is a long way north, there is much to the south of here. There are many different peoples there."
"So which people does Ornejirhs belong to?"
Imrilda stiffened slightly, and clearly thought about her answer before replying. "He is from further south than I am. A distant land, not well known to my people, and even less so here."
"How did you meet?"
"He'll be here shortly, you can ask him then." The blonde crossed her arms, and leaned back against the wall, her eyes not straying from her guest. It seemed that she was not in the mood for further conversation. Not that she had been very forthcoming so far, even assuming she was being truthful.
Having little else to do, Calleslyn looked around the room. It looked comfortable enough, and the decorations were not, she suspected, cheap. Ornejirhs, then, had somewhat expensive tastes. There were a few carvings here and there, she noticed, placed on low tables or stands. Some were stone, images of what appeared to be gods or heroes, but others were ivory, and these were either of animals – many of which were unfamiliar to her – or strange abstract designs of curving shapes and intricate swirls. The decorations on the wall hangings were all abstract, too, she noticed, and there seemed something a little odd about them. Whatever culture Ornejirhs called home, it had a different sense of aesthetics than any of those she knew.
Imrilda was a puzzle, as well. She wore that sword, and claimed to be a 'fighting companion' whatever that meant. Yet, at least when she was at home, she wore outlandish and provocative clothing that seemed out of place for a warrior. Considering what she was wearing, it was difficult to avoid noticing that she had a stunning figure, with a narrow waist and flat belly, well moulded thighs, and an ample bosom.
Her pale skin looked flawless, which was another puzzle. Any fighter had a few scars, but there were none that Calleslyn could see. That could have just been good healing magic, but it occurred to the elf that there was a good chance the armour itself was magic. It made no sense in any other context, but if it somehow projected magical protection over those parts of the body that it didn't cover, that was at least a partial explanation. Although, even so, it was a wonder she didn't wear anything over it – and Imrilda's natural pose suggested that she was used to the clothing, and hadn't been caught half-undressed.
Not to mention that it was very cold down south, which surely made the choice of clothing even more unwise.
The time dragged on, with Imrilda simply standing there, watching, and Calleslyn feeling increasingly ill at ease. Finally, she broke the silence.
"Is he going to be much longer? Because it has been a while already."
"I do not think it will be much longer."
The elf was not convinced by the warrior-woman's continued evasion. "Perhaps I could leave a message," she said, "I can be back tomorrow."
"Why don't you have another glass of wine? I'll pour one." Imrilda moved over to the bottle, turning away from Calleslyn to pour another glass, giving the elven woman a good view of her shapely buttocks, only half-hidden by the triangle of skirt-like mail. "Here," she said, turning round and holding out the glass."
"No thank you, I must be getting back."
Calleslyn stepped towards the door, and Imrilda immediately put the glass down and moved to stand in her way. Her right hand was hovering just above the hilt of her sword.
"It will not be long. It will be easier to wait than to return tomorrow. It will save you a walk."
Behind her back, Calleslyn flexed her fingers, preparing a sleeping spell that would knock the blonde woman out cold. The magical energy began to curl around her fingers, and she prepared to make the sudden motion that would cast the spell.
"Elves," said Imrilda, "we have stories about them where I am from. Near the pine forests."
The magician paused, uncertain what to make of the sudden change of topic, but wondering if it might give her further information.
"They say that they enchant people away. They cast a glamour of some kind on young men, leading them away into the forests. Many are not seen again, but some, they say, come back changed. Is that true, do you think?"
"I don't know. I'm not that familiar with that part of the world, as you pointed out yourself."
Imrilda nodded, her eyes not leaving Calleslyn's own, but her hand moving away from her sword, fingers spread, as if in a gesture of peace. "But that's not all they say."
"They say that the young men... it is not always the elven women that enchant them away. They say that sometimes, it's the elven men. Does that seem possible?"
"Perhaps. But I don't know if it's true."
"You see, there is something I've noticed about you, Calleslyn. Something that makes me curious. I wear this armour to protect me."
"It's magical, I assume?"
"Naturally; it would have to be, as I am sure you realise. But that's not the only way it protects me, or I would choose something else. Because it is also distracting. When men look at it, they tend to falter, perhaps make mistakes they would not otherwise; it can be very advantageous at times. Not all the time, of course. It doesn't distract animals, obviously enough, and, of course, it doesn't work on women, either."
Calleslyn said nothing, waiting for Imrilda to make her point.
"Except, Calleslyn..." her voice dropped to a purring tone, soft and slow, yet tinged with a slightly cold menace, "except it has been distracting you, hasn't it? Ever since you first saw me, you have been looking at me as a man would... and, believe me, I know how men look at me. I did wonder at first if you were using some sort of powerful disguising magic, but I don't think that's it. I thought I had to be wary of you, keep you here until Ornejirhs returned, but I don't think you present that kind of danger to me, after all."
"No," she went on, "I don't think you want to hurt me, or Ornejirhs either, for that matter. I don't think that that is what you want to do to me at all. Because you know what I think, Calleslyn? I think those stories about the elves are true. And the way you've been looking at me, it's not just the elven men, is it?"
She took a half step forward, leaning towards the elven woman, so that their faces were inches apart. "I think I know what you want to do to me, Calleslyn. What you'd really, really, like to do to me."
They stood like that, silently facing each other, with the elf trying not to give any hint of an answer on her face. Behind her back, she moved her fingers again, ready to throw the spell.
"No answer? Well, we'll just have to see whether I am right, won't we?"
So saying, she leaned a little further forward, took the surprised elf's face in her hands and kissed her on the lips. Calleslyn pulled back, unsure of how to react, but Imrilda simply pushed more forcefully forwards, kissing her again, and pressing her body up against the elf's own. This time Calleslyn held the kiss, wanting to see how Imrilda would react, but if she was faking anything, she was good at it, because moments later they were locked together in a passionate kiss, tongues entwining, the human woman's hand running through her long hair.