A Big Shiny Blue Marble Ch. 10byTaLtos6©
***Would you do it? Walk into a demon's home of your own free will if you were Selena? Remember that she's a very capable rogue, and has always had to take care of herself. Ten golds is a lot of money to Selena. 0_o
She awoke looking at a nightstand which was not familiar to her. Selena groaned as she realized where she was and she rolled over onto her back. The light coming in through the window past the almost drawn curtains told her that she'd slept a lot later than she'd have intended. She sat up and thought about where she had to go today.
She almost fell right back down onto the mattress again. Not that, she thought, wondering how she'd ever agreed to it. She thought about it and began to think about just going back home. She had the two golds, didn't she?
With them, plus a little care, she'd go far into spring before she needed to look for work again, maybe into summer. It would almost be like a vacation, not as though she'd ever had one of those, but she'd overheard wealthy patrons talking in taverns once in a while. They told of traveling to places that she might have heard about, but sometimes hadn't. Even the places that she had heard of weren't possible to even think about much. But she'd listened anyway as she'd picked their pockets now and then.
Alright, she thought. She had to do this. There were ten more golds at stake for her. With those, she might even be able to travel at least a little and if she stayed at home, she wouldn't need to work for two years and maybe more! She could plant a garden; she could plant barley and wheat, once she'd gotten a plow.
Besides, she thought, she wanted to spend more time with Ny'Zeille if she could. She almost hoped that this would take all of the possibly three days now, just for that. All that she had to do was, ...
All that she had to do was to go up to some strange home and have to see him again -- maybe have to answer questions from him. Well, she could do that for ten golds, she decided, and even maybe face the little kid with the big eyes too.
She got out of bed and checked her hiding place first. Satisfied that the money was still there, she pulled some clothes on and sauntered down the hall to pee. From there, it was a quick trip to fill a basin with water and she washed her face and brushed her hair before going to see about a morning bath.
She stared at the innkeeper for a minute. "You're certain?"
"Well yes," he said, "Everything was paid for but this amount here, Miss. If I remember rightly from what the other lady said to me, it's fer the second pair of ales that was called for last night."
Selena began to laugh.
"Is there somethin' wrong then, Miss?"
"No," Selena grinned, feeling a little sheepish now as she pulled out some coins, "No, not at all, sir. And here's for a tip. Thank you and have a fine day."
He smiled at her, "And to you, Miss. We'll look forward to yer next trip through, then."
She nodded and walked down the steps to where her horse had been tied up for her. At least the sun was shining again, she thought. But then she stopped and looked across the way at the shop.
She found the slightly overgrown pathway without difficulty and started up the long incline. It only went straight for about the distance that it took to get out of direct sight with the road below. After that, it began to wind in a series of switchbacks, so that she found herself riding to and fro, left and right along the low mountainside.
At every turn there was a stone pile of some sort with markings carved into the biggest piece. She'd passed two of them by before it dawned on her that they'd been piled in such a way so as to look generally like a human figure in a sort of stylized way. Each one looked a little different than the last and had a pile of round stones placed to one side of it. She wondered what they'd been placed here for. She began to feel as though she were being watched, but there wasn't enough heavy vegetation on the slope for an adult person to really hide themselves behind.
When she looked back, the stone 'figures' seemed to have shifted a little, at least the top stone of each one. There were no faces carved into those rocks. She stopped her horse and looked around. The sky was blue, and the birds were singing. What the hell was the matter here? The birds would have stopped singing if there were intruders there from their point of view. She looked back the way that she'd come. She couldn't see the road down below. She couldn't see the tip of the hill, though she could see more loops of the road that she was on, zigzagging their way to the top. She nudged her horse onward, hoping that this wouldn't take all day.
She thought that navigating this pathway must really be a joy to have to do on a dark night... with no moon to see by ... especially after a heavy snowfall.
She thought of other possibilities as she went along. What if one were being pursued? She looked up and then down. Oh, that would surely be fun. There were places where the loops were pretty close together, less than ten yards -- thirty feet, but they were about ten feet apart in height and the face was sheer here. So that meant that anyone chasing her only had to wait for her to pass to rain arrows on her. She got back to the matter at hand.
Her next thought took her back to the stone 'men' again, since the one immediately above her stood a little ahead and on the next step up. She noticed that the 'head' of this one had a line on the back side, looking a little like a crack. She didn't think about it again until she looked as it was directly opposite here to her right. She looked up and saw the crack again. But not on the back side now. Chastising herself for being foolish, she went on until she passed the next one at the bend and started back.
She stared at that one rock now, and the crack was facing her again. She rode up to it and stopped directly in front to stare at that line. She leaned out as far from the saddle as she dared without falling and saw no such feature where it had been before. Shuddering a little and trying not to think about it, she rode on, but on her way by, the next level up, that crack was still facing her. She turned her horse around and rode back a ways. Turning around again, she looked and that line was still the central feature of the thing. She spurred her horse a little quicker after that, realizing that it these stonemen were alive somehow, then each of them had a pile of stones to hurl.
At last, the slope eased off into a rounder shape and she rode to the crest, happy to leave the stonemen behind. Beyond that she saw an arched gateway, all by itself in the thin woods. Thankfully, the gate was open, she smirked to herself as she rode up to it. She'd have hated to have had to ride around it. It would have taken her at least thirty feet out of her way, she chuckled.
But then she noticed something and she was certain that had it not been for her thoughts about the rockpiles, she'd never have the thought to notice what she was looking at now. As she came very near to the open archway, she looked along the line where there would have been a wall if this had been the gateway through it. What she saw was grassy light forest, the same as it looked everywhere else, lying flat and damp-looking like any other in the cold winter here which snowed little. But there were no trees along that line. Only the grass. She looked the other way and it was the same.
She looked down and saw a piece of deadfall -- a thin sort of branch which had fallen from a tree at some point, either from snow or a strong wind. It looked to be a piece of one of the nearby birch trees. Selena knew that birches give up their branches easily in strong winds. She looked down at it and considered, thinking to get off her horse and toss the branch into that clear and open line of grass, just to see what would happen. She almost did, but suddenly found that she really didn't want to now.
"Oh, for pity's sake," she grumbled to herself, wondering what was wrong with her. She rode through the archway.
From somewhere far ahead, she heard the sound of a single chime.
Shaking her head, she rode on, noticing the angle of the afternoon sunlight. She sure hoped that she got to where she was going soon, because if she'd been wrong in her choice of pathway to follow, she wouldn't be getting back to the road until dark, and the thought of riding past those stones again, ...
But she saw a high wall up ahead, maybe twenty feet high with another gate. She rode up to that and saw that it was closed.
"Oh, this just gets better every minute," she muttered, climbing down from her horse. "Where's my welcome?" she wondered aloud, thinking now that she had the wrong place for certain, though she couldn't really understand how it was possible. She reached out to touch the ironwork, seeing that there were doors as well which could be closed behind the gate.
That chime sounded again, and then there was silence. Only the sparse chattering of the few birds intruded on her thoughts. Looking ahead, she saw a large, low building a long way off with a great set of doors. In between, there were gardens and open sections which looked a little inviting. But then they were there and she was out here, she thought.
The heavy doors began to swing open and she saw Ny'Zeille step out to begin walking toward her. Selena stared. This was her friend in her natural state, the horns which she'd seen the day before, wings, long tail and all. And she wasn't wearing a thing. Selena noticed that as the demon came a little closer.
It wasn't terribly cold at the moment, but Selena would have hated to be naked here just now. Ny'Zeille didn't seem to notice the cold at all, other than the way that her nipples seemed to have reacted to it. It took a while for her to get to the gate -- it was that long a walk, and she walked at an average pace, not striding for speed or anything, she only walked. Selena only wished that she might have that sort of feminine grace as she watched. The demon's face opened into a wide smile and the gate opened inward by itself.
"Selena! I was wondering when you'd make it up the hill," she said, "I was growing worried, until I heard the second bell at the gate out there. It can take a good length of time to get here, I know, but still..."
"I guess that I was slow, looking at things, mostly. So I've come, Ny'Zeille, I'm finally here. After all of that," she waved her arm behind her. "You didn't say anything about earning at least one gold just for getting up here."
The demon laughed, "True, I guess that I should have said something about the long way up. Come, let's see to your horse." As they led her mare through the gates, they began to swing closed soundlessly behind them.
The walk to the stables took a bit of time as well. "Aren't you cold?" Selena asked.
"I'm not really bothered all that much by cold, "Ny'Zeille said with a bit of a shrug, "I suppose that it comes from flying during the winter. The work of it keeps one warm. Out here like this well, I'll live long enough to get inside the stables. Now yesterday, that was cold for me, just as it was for you. I wasn't moving at all then, was I? I was just sitting and shivering on my horse, the same as you were."
"And wanting to warm your hands." Selena chuckled.
"And wanting to warm my hands," Her friend laughed, "Here we are," she said.
They closed the stable doors behind themselves and had her mare in a stall in minutes with feed and water. Selena saw Ny'Zeille's horse there as well, looking comfortable, and she saw the stallion that she'd stolen twice in a third stall, a little way off. Selena tried not to think about that, but she felt that she needed to know anyway.
"Is he here?"
"My son?" her friend asked, turning, "No, he is away far to the south and west. Red demons tearing through a little town on the edge of a desert. He had no time to ride, so he just went very early this morning. He only waited long enough for me to hurry here, so that Nahl'een wouldn't be here alone. I don't know when he'll be back, so you're stuck with me."
"What are these things, and why are they different from you?" Selena asked, wanting to know now.
"They are the things which give us all such reputations," the demon said, "They are the stuff of the nightmares of humans. I could tell you that the rest of us are all fine, upstanding folk, but it wouldn't be completely true, though we are a lot more civilized than a lot of you and all of the reds.
There were once wars between us which lasted for thousands of years. Now, they are mostly imprisoned, kept on another plane all their own. Every now and then, however, a few get free and might come here, since humans have little in the way of defense against them. I could say that Dahlgren is here to protect mankind, but that would be incorrect -- though I suppose that it would be a more romantic notion. He is here to help with the balance.
If this was a world where red demons lived, and he was here as he is now, then he would be off killing humans if they came here causing needless death and chaos."
"So I can know one if I see one by his red skin?" Selena asked.
"No," her friend replied, "There is no visible way for a human to tell."
"Well you said that they were called red demons," the thief said, a little confused.
"The name applies to their minds and the color of their thoughts," Ny'Zeille said, "They are murderous, bloodthirsty things. You might tell them by looking at their eyes. They're usually twitching nervously. It is their way. One of my kind would know in an instant. We can smell their blood, as they can smell ours."
They walked to another set of doors which led into the house. As Ny'Zeille opened the doors for them, Selena heard squealing joyous laugher from far down the hall and around a corner. A huge animal came into sight, about to continue on, carrying a smallish figure on its back, but it slid to a stop and turned its head toward them. The figure looked as well. The pair resumed their original course and were out of sight within a second or so.
"Um, Ny'Zeille?" Selena began.
"Yes, "the demon answered, before remembering. She groaned, "Forgive me. I was thinking about something else. Yes?"
"What were we looking at there, up ahead?" Selena asked, "What was the big thing there?"
"A pair of young friends playing, I suppose. The larger one was Sheavre. She's a young hellhound. One of seven which are here, eight when I come to visit, since I always travel with my own. The other six which belong here are all larger than Shaevre, and run the grounds outside at night."
They were walking down a long hallway of which one-third was the main aisle. There was a row of columns to either side, and further out was a narrower aisle, again, both sides. After a few moments, NY'Zeille turned a little to look past Selena. Nahl'een was riding Shaevre quietly along the aisle to the left of Selena, She said nothing, but was studying her intently.
"Hellhound?" Selena asked.
"They are not really hounds, "the demon said, "They are really just another race of demon. They merely look dog-like. They are very intelligent, and most can have two shapes as well. They all understand speech, though in the shape that you saw, many cannot speak. They are all quite a bit larger than the largest dog, and something to always remember is that they are very much heavier. It is possible for one to grow to like a person, as Shaevre has grown to love Nahl'een. Even so, try not to allow one to stand on your foot.
You'll see them here everywhere, but they won't harm you. If you find the desire in you to pet one as you would a regular dog, you may wish to ask first, but never push their fur backwards. The ends are like razors when they wish for them to be. Shaevre allows Nahl'een to ride her as a human child might learn to ride a pony."
Selena was shocked, "That was -- "
Ny'Zeille nodded and held up two fingers, "Two shapes, remember?"
She looked again and gave her granddaughter a wink. Nahl'een giggled and as Selena turned her head to look, the little demon flew off down the hall, laughing. Selena was a little surprised that she didn't feel any fear -- walking next to a demon and watching a young one flying away clutching what looked for a brief instant to be a doll or something.
Selena stopped and stared at the hellhound, who now turned to her and approached slowly with softly glowing red eyes.
"What should I do?" the rogue asked nervously.
"Well, calling her a good doggie is out of the question," Ny'Zeille said dryly, "You can try speaking to her as though she can understand what you say -- since she can. Her name is Shaevre, as I said. You should say hello."
The hound padded slowly up to Selena, extending her neck a little to sniff her cautiously. Her nose came to a little higher than Selena's navel.
"Hello, Shaevre," the rogue said. The red eyes nodded once in reply.
"Come, Selena, let's get something warm for you to drink by the fire." As they turned to walk on, Shaevre fell into step behind them silently. Everywhere they walked, Selena stared. The place seemed to go on forever. NyZeille sensed her friend's wonder.
"It is large, Selena, and it is possible to get a little lost here, but there is a plan to it and once you learn that, you can find your way anywhere easily. There is a large center and four wings. They are all a little different in their schemes, once you notice. It is easy to tell where you are by looking at the walls.
When they arrived at the kitchen, Selena marveled at the rich smells of the meal cooking there slowly. NyZeille took a pair of mugs and found some tea leaves, before pouring hot water in from a steaming tap. With their mugs in hand, the rogue followed to a round hall where there were benches to sit on.
"Is it always this warm here?" Selena asked.
"It is always the same," the demon replied, "never really hot, and never cold. You'll get used to it, and I'll take you to a room which you can use as your own while you are here. You certainly won't need that cloak here. Set your pack down and rest a minute. We can see a little of the arboretum from here, and over that way," she pointed, "is the stone garden. That way, lies the garden of sighs, and behind us, there is what Dahlgren has come to call the beach. All of them are tranquil spots where one can spend hours."
Selena looked around and then back at Ny'Zeille, "Why would someone have a stone garden, and what is the garden of sighs?"
"The stone garden is an open area with a collection of stones in shapes, some geometric , some random. All of it is laid out around a large, open area which suits itself for practice in fighting arts. The stones are there to evoke thoughts and feelings and are decorations. You may wish to use it to exercise in, for example.
The garden of sighs is a place designed to please the senses."
She smiled, "All of the senses, my friend. If you were here alone for example, and found a want in yourself for some pleasure, that would be where you would go. There are shapes to the features there which are to soothe tired muscles, even some designed to be used for personal pleasure, if you catch my meaning. For both sexes, there are places where one might wish to press one's body against for the sensation of it. I use it sometimes. My son uses it a lot, now and then. Nahl'een is forbidden to go there since she is far too young.
It is the only place in the building which will not permit her to enter it since she is a child. It would prevent her from developing any sort of magical extensions of her will, if she were allowed there."
Selena had been what she was for far too long not to have noticed that she was being looked at. She turned her head a little and saw a slight motion. Looking down, she saw Shaevre looking off in the same direction, so she glanced off into the distance in such a way so as to permit her to see the little girl in her peripheral vision as Nahl'een tried to get the hellhound to look somewhere else.