tagSci-Fi & FantasySarlene's Touch Ch. 24

Sarlene's Touch Ch. 24


Almandar was surprised to find Dolrim apparently standing guard behind the doorway to the villa. The dwarf looked grim -- even more so than usual -- and was still dressed in full armour, his weapons at the ready.

"Where have you been?" his fellow adventurer asked gruffly, "we expected you some time ago."

"Seeing to Skirina's security," he replied, conscious that he had been doing rather more with the young woman than that, "as we agreed. Has something happened?"

The dwarf simply nodded, "you had best see Tarissa. She is in the kitchen.."

The urgency in Dolrim's voice convinced Almandar to head there straight away. It sounded as if something very serious had occurred, perhaps here at the villa, while he had been away enjoying himself. And for what? After they had had sex, Skirina had simply upped and disappeared. There had been, he now realised belatedly, something very strange about her, something that didn't quite fit the image she had been trying to project.

When he had discovered the note that she must have left for him just before she left, it had only confirmed that she had been keeping secrets. But whatever the truth was, he doubted he would see her again.

"Almandar! Thank the gods!" said Tarissa as he entered the kitchen, looking far more pleased to see him than Dolrim had.

"What has...?" and then he stopped, seeing the unmistakable spatter of fresh blood on the floor nearby. Such things were not supposed to happen here, in their island of safety. He looked at the paladin, a cold chill beginning to strike his heart. What was going on?

"We have been raided," replied Tarissa, simply, "a burglar, and no ordinary one. They struck Horvan before making their escape -- he's all right now, I've healed him. Although he was rather shaken, and he's in his quarters at the moment."

"A burglar, here?" Almandar tried to wrap his head around the concept. Who would be foolish enough to try and steal from successful adventurers? "Wait... what do you mean, 'no ordinary one'?" The way she had said it made it sound as if she meant more than just 'unusually skilled'.

"A demon." She waved a hand to forestall further questions, "that's all we know at the moment. Somebody sent a demon to steal something from us. At least, that seems the most likely explanation, since the infernal powers tend not to be interested in our world in that way. Which means that somebody with demonic connections is planning something... and I really don't think that's a coincidence, do you?"

Almandar was temporarily lost for words; it was all fitting together rather too well. Although he still did not know what it all meant. He pulled the folded scrap of parchment from his pocket, and handed it to Tarissa. "Skirina left me this. And then she ran off into the streets -- I don't think she's coming back."

Tarissa read the note. Skirina had obviously written it in a hurry, and it said, rather cryptically:

13 12 human sacr Dark Heart.

"Human sacrifice?" said Tarissa, "and a coven of thirteen would make sense; demons like their numbers. Twelve left, since we killed the wererat this morning. And is 'Dark Heart' something or someone in the city, or is it the thing that's imprisoned? How does Skirina know any of this? Something she learned from her captor?"

Almandar shrugged. He had been through the same questions in his mind, but had no more idea of the answers than she did.

"Well," said the paladin, "if anything, this just makes our mission more urgent than before. Because I have to tell you that the thief was successful. It used powerful magic to break into our vault, and stole just two things: one of them the censer that we found on the last expedition. Which, as I am sure you remember, I detected at the time was filled with infernal magic."

"We should have destroyed it," she added wistfully, "but I was hoping we could learn something to our advantage. Now some necromancer or demonologist has it, and that cannot be good. I have already sent Calleslyn and Vardala out to see if they can learn anything. Hopefully, whoever it is has left at least some waves in the city, now that we know what we're looking for. I am going to leave Dolrim here, just in case, and I intend to see what else I can learn about this censer. There may be something on it at the Temple of Pardror -- I only wish I had done it earlier."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I have something different in mind for you, and I don't think this note changes that, useful though it is. We have to find a way through those mutated plants in the tunnel, and the sooner we do that, the better. To do that, we will need the advice of an expert, so I would like you to go and see the druids. If anyone knows anything about plants, it should be them."


There were no native druids in Haredil. For one thing, druids preferred the countryside to the city, but even in the surrounding lands druidism had never been popular; it simply was not part of the native culture. Druids were, however, far more common out to the west, close to the elven lands and the lush forests of the coast. As a result, a few followers of their nature-based religion sometimes ended up in the city for various reasons, and they had established a small grove on the edge of the holy quarter, near to the temples of the local gods.

Almandar had passed it before, once or twice, but he had never entered. It looked almost like a small area of parkland from outside, a reserve of wattles and palm trees gathered around one of the warm springs. There was certainly nothing to mark it out as special, if you did not already know what it was. A single path led into the interior, winding between the trees so that the area within was not visible from the road.

Almandar did not even know if any druids would be present in the grove. How commonly maintained was it? The trees certainly looked unkempt, and, while he supposed that the druids probably liked them wild, that did not imply they were kept busy tending to the grounds. He pushed his way past a low-hanging branch and found himself in what had to be the centre of the grove.

The ground was open to the sky here, the trees forming a dense thicket all around. There was no visible sign of a spring, although the grass was surely lush enough that there had to be a good supply of water nearby; he doubted that the infrequent, albeit heavy, Haredil rainstorms would be enough to keep it so green. A stone about a foot high stood opposite to the point where he had entered, carved with curling symbols and unfamiliar runes. There was no other path leading out, and nobody visible.

He looked around, but there was no sign of any druids, or, indeed, of any human handiwork other than the carved stone. His eye was caught by motion in the branches of a nearby tree and he looked up to see a genet looking down at him, before darting back into the leaves. So, there was wildlife, but no people, which rather limited his options.

"Greetings, stranger. I am Davnait, how can I help you?"

He whirled about, surprised to see that he was not alone after all. A woman had stepped from... well, he could only assume from behind the trees, since there was nowhere else to have hidden. She must also have moved very quietly, and, glancing down, he could see that her feet were bare, with traces of soil between her toes.

She wore a long white robe, tied at the waist with a simple cord. It was slit deeply at the front, reaching almost to her navel, revealing a creamy white cleavage. Her only other adornments were a sprig of some green plant on a string around her neck, and a wreath of leaves around her head.

"My name is Almandar," he said, "I have come seeking your advice on an urgent matter. One that concerns a perversion of nature."

She had looked serene until then, but at those words her brow furrowed, and her expression became more intense. He clearly had her attention.

"Sit down," she said, kneeling on the grass, and folding the long hem of her robe beneath her legs, "and we shall discuss this."

She was clearly not a local, he reflected as he joined her. But that was as he had expected, and 'Davnait' was certainly not a local name. Her accent had a strange, lilting quality to it, although she spoke Common well enough that he expected it was her native tongue. Her hair was almost jet black, falling in waves to her mid back, ringlets framing her heart-shaped face. Her eyes were dark, contrasting with the pale colour of her skin, and her neck long and slender.

He had expected to meet an old, bearded man, some kindly guardian of nature, but this was certainly an improvement.

"My friends and I were exploring an underground passage," he said, not wanting to give too much detail away, "and we encountered a great mass of plants. Not fungi, as one might expect down in the darkness, but plants with leaves and stems, and long creepers too. They looked greyish, at least so far as I could tell in the light available, and they were clearly unnatural, mutated."

"But it wasn't just that... they also moved. When we approached, they reached out, and, well... they were dangerous. Carnivorous, in fact, eating flesh like an animal would," he remembered how they had feasted on the body of the dead wererat. You did not need to be a druid to see that these things were an affront to the natural world.

"We want to get past them, destroy them if we can, but the magic at our disposal would likely damage the tunnel they were in, which would have unfortunate consequences. We were hoping that your people might be able to provide us with some other means of getting through. Could you help us?"

She was silent for a long while, looking down at her hands, before finally meeting his gaze again. "Yes, we know of such things. I have not seen them myself, but there are stories. They do not belong here, in this world. Even burning them would be difficult, at least with normal fire. There is something we can gift you with, though, that will help fight them off. I will have to talk with my fellow druids, and then there will have to be a ceremony to create it."

"We need it soon," said Almandar, mindful of the fact that whatever force lay beyond the barrier of vegetation seemed to be active in the city, and had already found the adventurers' home. "The sooner the better."

Davnait shook her head, her eyes filled with regret, "these things you describe are powerful. To create even a minor weapon against them would require a ceremony, a communion with the powers of nature that I cannot conduct on my own."

"It does not have to be too powerful," he replied, "my friends and I are resourceful, and skilled in magic of our own. But, unfortunately, speed is very much of the essence here. Even something minor would be helpful, if it is all we can obtain in time."

"I am sorry. Truly, I want to fight these things as much as you. But to enchant an item with the energy of life... that is not something I can do on my own. If you were a follower of one the paths of nature, it would be a different matter. But the gods of Haredil are not our own, and their ways conflict with ours, weakening any ceremony we could conduct, even if I had the time to instruct you in it."

Almandar tried to hide his disappointment, holding his hand briefly over his face. From everything she said, there was nothing much they could do -- not without waiting for time that he suspected they no longer had. "I fear you are right," he said, "I follow the goddess Sarlene, and know nothing of druidic ways. But if I..."

"Sarlene?" said Davnait, suddenly, her eyes widening, "oh, but that is different! Sarlene is your name for... well, for an aspect of one of the paths of nature. She holds the power of fertility, which all living things need to grow and reproduce. It is not the ceremony I had in mind, but with your goddess's help, there is a method I can use."

"Really?" It seemed he had a chance after all, and one that would show the benefits of his unusual choice of deity into the bargain. "What sort of thing would this ceremony produce? And what will it require?"

"Something powerful enough," replied the druid, "and it will require the power of your fertility as a conduit for both of us to reach down our respective paths. So long as you are fertile, and truly believe in the teachings of your goddess, that will be enough. Indeed, you should find the ceremony enjoyable, and one not so far from your own."

She smiled, and got to her feet. "Come, we should not be here. There are too many distractions in the city."

Almandar frowned as he joined her, brushing some of the dirt from his trews. "There isn't much in the city that's less urban than this... where did you have in mind?"

She said nothing, but just turned her back, and beckoned for him to follow her. She headed for a narrow gap between the trees, just behind the carved stone. It was filled with scrubby undergrowth, with no sign of any kind of path, and would be difficult to walk through. Besides, the grove was not that large, and he knew that all that lay in that direction was another street, although there might be room to hide something even smaller than this clearing between the trees.

Nonetheless, he followed her, noting how the undergrowth seemed to hardly impede her movement at all, yet caught on his own clothing.

But he had not travelled more than a couple of steps before he felt a sudden pulling sensation, and the world lurched around him, almost causing him to stumble. Suddenly, everything was green.

Well, not everything, he realised. It was just a change in the light. He was not standing where he had been moments before. In fact, this was not even Haredil... this was a lush forest, nothing at all like the parched lands around the city, nor any of its watered parks.

He looked around in wonder, trying to take it all in. He was in another clearing, but much larger than the one he had just left. Tall trees stood all around, trees with broad green leaves and thick vines that hinted at far more regular rainfall than Haredil ever received. The air was also cooler, he realised, and the sun higher in the sky, further from the western horizon than it had been a moment before.

The place was full of life, and, as he watched, he saw a squirrel scampering through the trees. There were ground squirrels near Haredil, but this kind, he knew, was found only to the west, nearer the coast. There were no genets here, then. He could even smell the richness of the soil, the luxuriance of the forest vegetation. For there was no doubt that this was a true forest, not some small patch of woodland, or a city park.

He recovered his composure enough to look around properly, slowly accepting the fact that he had somehow been transported hundreds of miles to the west, perhaps to somewhere near the elven forests where his father had been born. Taking stock of his surroundings, he noted a ring of stones, three or four feet in height, much larger than the one in the city, but marked with similar carvings. A small, natural, pool stood just outside them, and three separate paths led off between the trees. This was clearly a much more potent druid's grove than the one he had left.

"How...?" he asked, turning his attention back to Davnait again, noting that she was the only human present.

"Nature provides," she said, cryptically, "and there is not time to explain further. We need the power of your fertility, and I know how to harness it."

She stepped towards him, and then knelt on the grass, bowing her head for a moment as she did so.

"What do you want me to do?" he asked, curious, and a little hopeful that her earlier words had really meant what they appeared to be hinting at.

"Just stand there," replied the druid, and, as he watched, she reached out for the drawstring on his trews, slowly undoing it.

His cock was already beginning to stiffen as Davnait slid his clothing down to his knees. She reached out for it, cupping his balls and then sliding her hand along his shaft. He watched as she continued to stroke him, her dark eyes alternately glancing up at his face and down to see the results of her ministrations. She had a cute little nose, he reflected, and her long curling hair framed her heart-shaped face beautifully. She had not undressed, but he longed to see more of that body.

The druid pulled back his foreskin, exposing the glistening head, and then kissed it, running her pale lips around it, suckling gently. He felt her part her teeth and tickle his glans with the tip of her tongue. He gasped at the sensation, and then watched as she took him inch by inch into her mouth.

She gripped his buttocks with one hand; kneading them with her fingers as her other hand fondled his balls. Almandar groaned out loud as she reached his full length, her tongue licking the underside of his cock, the tip almost reaching the back of her throat. She pulled back, his shaft now moist with her saliva, then plunged him back in again.

Vigorously, the druid began sucking him, teasing his balls with her fingertips and moving her head back and forth, sliding him and out. He placed a hand behind her head, feeling the luxuriance of her long hair, twining it between his fingers as they found a mutual rhythm, his hips grinding as he continued to fuck her eager mouth.

He continued to gaze upon her pretty face, her brown eyes looking up to his as she slid him half out and used her hand to squeeze the base of his cock. He groaned again as her tongue caressed the underside of his glans, feeling himself close to release. But then she pulled her head back, forcing him to relax his grip on her head.

Davnait got to her feet, running her tongue round her lips with a saucy grin. He reached out for her, but she raised a hand to hold him back. There was, he recalled, supposed to be a ceremony here, and perhaps this was part of it. How exactly they were charging some sort of magical item to fight the carnivorous plants he had no idea, but he wasn't going to complain, or to break the mood by asking about the details.

The druid undid the cord about her waist, letting it fall to the ground, and then shrugging off her robe, allowing it to pool on the grass. She wore no shift underneath, just a pair of brief panties. Her legs were long and pale, with slender calves and rounded thighs -- despite her time outdoors, she did not appear to have tanned much. His eyes wandered up, over her taut belly, to her impressively pert breasts, pale pink nipples jutting out with evident enthusiasm.

"Lie down," she said, forestalling his desire to touch and kiss her body, to use his own tongue to excite those nipples further.

Obligingly, he did so, struggling out of the remainder of his clothes. The grass felt strange beneath his back, an unfamiliar feeling, and slightly damp, as if it had recently rained. But the soil was soft and fertile, hardly a feather bed, but not uncomfortably hard, either. The sun shone down through the trees as she knelt beside him, and he hoped that this spot was as secluded as it looked.

He reached out for her again, trying to reach her panties to pull them down, but she took his hand in hers and pressed it into the earth beside his head. Leaning over him, she kissed him passionately on the lips, and he responded in kind, feeling her breasts rubbing over his naked chest. She released him, gasping for air after the long kiss, and flashing him a grin that showed startlingly white teeth. Still holding his hand out of the way, she kissed him in the middle of his chest, and then began to move lower.

She moved round to the side, still keeping his hand pressed down into the grass, her arm stretched over him as her face drew level with his cock again. She obviously wanted to finish what she had started.

She took his cock in her other hand, pressing it briefly against her face and nibbling the base with her lips, before gently sucking one of his balls. His hips moved involuntarily, the grass damp against his buttocks, as the druid took him into her mouth again.

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