I'LL FOLLOW YOU

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ZAGAN- 1574

 

Claudia carefully selected another sprig of rosemary, the fragrance of the herb floating up to her nose and she inhaled deeply, then tossed the leaves onto the fire that burnt merrily in the hearth. She gazed out of the window at the moon, which had reached its fullest. It was full dark, the woods around her little cottage silent apart from the rustling of animals in the undergrowth and the crackling of the flames.

 

Confident that she was alone and that no one would now come calling, she unlaced her gown and let it drop to the floor. She stepped out of the pool of fabric, pulling her shift up and over her head as she moved, dropping it on top of her gown.

 

Naked, she lifted her arms to the heavens calling upon the old gods of her ancestors. Such things were frowned upon in her village and she knew that they wouldn’t think to kindly of her activities if they knew how she spent her evenings.

 

She had never attempted such a spell before, but her great aunt was very ill, and she had done all she could with her own skills and knowledge. She had little choice. She thought back to the day she had overheard her mother and grandmother talking about the summoning. Her grandmother had never performed it herself, but she had known someone that had. It wasn’t something that was undertaken lightly, but she felt like she had no other choice.

 

“Ereshkigal, great queen, soul taker,

You who dwells beneath the earth in the realm of shadows,

In your palace of blood and bone. I pray this eve and beg your indulgence

As I pray for my kin.

Blood of my blood

Bone of my bone

Hear my words.”

 

Claudia waited, shivering in the cool air, alert to any sound. The summoning sigil she had drawn on the wooden floor stayed dormant, no flair of light, no clap of thunder, not even a puff of smoke. Well that was disappointing.

 

 

Zagan was getting sick and tired of being Ereshkigal’s lap dog, running back and forth, doing her dirty work while she lounged about on her throne, issuing orders. Here he was again, dumped unceremoniously into the mortal realm without a by your leave, uncaring as to what he had been in the middle of.

 

He yanked his breeches back up from where they were still pooled around his boot tops, tucking his protesting penis away. He smoothed down his shirt, not really caring about his appearance but needing a moment to gather his thoughts, preparing himself for yet another dull mortal and their banal needs.

 

He could already sense the mortal, although she wasn’t entirely human. Witches were one of the lowest supernatural beings, barely worth including, but they were often desperate for more power, for more wealth or good looks. With any luck this one would be as simple as the others to manipulate, sign up and then he could spend some time in the nearby village, hopefully finding a willing bed partner to make up for the Demoness he had just left on her hands and knees.

 

He stepped out of the corner in which he had appeared, ignoring the summoning circle in the floor, he was never so stupid as to get himself stuck in one of those things.

 

 He had expected to see another toothless hag wanting to turn back the hands of time. He almost stumbled, so shaken was he by the vision of loveliness that stood before him, her head bowed, all those auburn curls tumbling down to hide her face, her arms raised in supplication. And she was naked, very very naked.

 

Well, his luck certainly was in. He stepped towards her silently, like the predator that he was. Somehow, even though he usually passed unnoticed by every being he encountered, the Witch turned to face him. She looked terrified, shaking in the chill air, yet she looked him dead in the eyes, a stubborn tilt to her chin that told him she would never back down unless forced to. He liked that in a woman.

 

“You called, child?”

 

She lowered her hands to prop them on her hips, refreshingly unconcerned as to the fact that she was nude. “I called for a goddess, which you are not.”

 

He had to fight to keep the amused smile off his face as she glanced down at his body. “No, I’m not.”

 

“Then why are you here disturbing me?”

 

Damn, she was a feisty one, normally he would snap someone’s neck for talking to him in such a tone, but he found he didn’t mind with her.

 

“I am her representative, here in her stead. What is it you seek?” He waited, expecting to hear the usual requests.

 

“My dear aunt is unwell, I have done everything I can for her, but I fear her time is coming to an end. I have come to barter for her life.”

 

He raised an eyebrow. Now that surprised him, had he truly found someone that cared more about another than herself?

 

“Child, if it is her time then there is nothing that can be done, for the fates of all are pre-determined and out of my hands.”

 

He hated the way her face dropped, her shoulders hunching, sadness weighing her down. But she only allowed herself to wallow in pity for but a second before she visibly pulled herself together and straightened, that determined look back in her eyes.

 

“If it is her time and that cannot be changed, what must I do to ensure that she does not continue to suffer so? I have done all I can. I understand that she must go, but must she do so in so much pain? Can she not live out the remainder of her allotted days in comfort and peace?”

 

It seemed the little Witch would not be told no. He admired that about her and found that he actually wanted to see her succeed, to give her that which she wished for. He, the darkest of the dark, wanted to help her. Wasn’t that just an alien concept? Not that he would do so for free, Ere would never allow that, there always had to be an exchange for his gifts, for his help, it was part of his curse and her own twisted pleasures.

 

“If I help you, what will you give me in return? You said you wished to barter, did you not?”

 

Claudia closed her eyes briefly, taking a deep breath, gathering both her nerves and her composure. She had nothing of value to offer, no jewels or fine wines, no valuables at all in fact. All she had, was herself. She had hoped that the goddess would bless her with her presence, so that she may have offered herself as a priestess, pledging her devotion always, but she somehow knew that this being cared not for prayers or worship. He was predatory, he was powerful, and he was male. And if she knew anything it was that males liked to possess. She had heard enough from the other girls in the village to know how males thought and acted. She had no choice.

 

“I have nothing to offer but myself, My Lord.” She could see the aura of power that hung over him like a cape, the strong set to his shoulders, the air of dominance he possessed. He was handsome in a wild kind of way, his hair, which was dark as night, hung unbound around his shoulders, framing a face that, to her, was simply breath taking. He had sharp cheekbones that tapered down to a harshly angled jawline, accented by a neatly shaped beard which drew attention to his lips, the top one slightly thinner than the bottom. A mouth that most would call cruel, capable of morphing into a sneer with little provocation, but she had seen the way that it twitched at the edges when he wanted to laugh but was holding back, she knew, just knew, that his smile would be rare but devastating. His nose was long and straight, what one might call an aristocratic nose and he had darkly slanted eyebrows that rested above the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen. They were the colour of silvery moonlight on a foggy night, seeming to swirl like a bottomless pool, holding the knowledge and wisdom of many years, something that was at odds with the fact that he looked to be in his late thirties. He looked healthy, virile, and strong, like he had never wanted for anything in his life. He likely had everything he needed in the world. He would no doubt turn her down.

 

His other eyebrow rose to join the first. Could she be any more forward?

 

“Yourself?”

 

She nodded.

 

“Clarify, if you please.”

 

She couldn’t be offering what he thought she was, he had to be mistaken. He squinted at her, trying to interpret the expressions that were flitting across her face. She was like an open book, her emotions wide open to anyone who cared to look. She gave off an aura of innocence and sweetness, a goodness that he hadn’t seen in more years than he could remember. Humans were never this selfless, they were never willing to trade for anyone but themselves. But not this one.

 

                                            ***

 

He was going to make her say it, he was going to make her offer herself to him like a cheap whore. She was a score and three winters old, too old for courtship now that she had refused the one suitor that had ever asked for her hand, her father agreeing to the betrothal but passing on before the marriage had taken place. She had no family bar her aunt, who had looked after her following the deaths of both her mother, father and grandmother all in the space of a year, so no other family had a wish to be tied to hers. She had no one special to save herself for, it was doing her no good, but it could for her aunt.

 

“I’m offering myself, my body, all that I am. All that I ask is that I be with my Aunt in her final days, for as long as she is with us on this earth. After that, I will be yours.”

 

Zagan could tell that she was nervous, that she didn’t relish the idea of selling herself to a Demon in exchange for her aunt’s health. She obviously knew little about the world, likely had never even left her village to see the world outside. She was naïve and innocent, pure in all ways, it shone out of her like a beacon.

 

“You’re a virgin?” He had to be sure. A virgin’s blood, so pure and untainted was worth more than anything else, especially a mortals, that being something they rarely saw. Add to that the vintage, she was at least in her early twenties, and a Witch, that made her very rare and special indeed. But it begged the question, how did one as lovely as her stay that way?

 

Claudia nodded, her gaze fixed firmly on his face, refusing to be embarrassed by such talk. She was naked, having called upon a goddess and received a Demon instead, but she was also not one to back down.

 

“Why?”

 

Claudia frowned, what did he mean, why? Because she wanted to help her aunt, obviously.

 

He could see the confusion written across her face as clear as if she had spoken aloud. “Why are you still a virgin?” he clarified.

 

Claudia shrugged, that was an easy thing to answer. “Because I haven’t found anyone that I wished to marry, my father had promised me to someone, but when he passed on I broke the engagement, I feel no need to bind myself to one that smells like a dung heap and looks like the back end of a pig.”

 

A shocked laugh almost escaped Zagan’s mouth, but he managed to smother it. “Ah, mortals and their unwavering beliefs. You do know you need not be married to engage in such sport?”

 

Did he think her an idiot? “Of course I know that, I’m a virgin not a simpleton, but there is no one in my village that I have an interest in, they are all either old, married or repulsive, why would I put myself through that?” She suddenly felt very exposed, more so than when he had first appeared to her and instinctively tried to cover herself with an arm across her chest and her free hand covering her crotch.

 

She was embarrassed, which he found a little surprising, she had been so bold in her words and summoning that he had almost forgotten that even though she was a Witch, she was still mortal. He wanted her, more than he had ever wanted something in his life before. She had a purity and goodness that called out to him like a siren song, and here she was, offering herself to him in any way that he wished.

 

Yet still he hesitated. Old as he was, he had never crossed that line as many others did, he had never slept with a mortal, had never felt the need to. But oh, was that need making itself known now. Some unknown part of him had suddenly sat up and taken notice, demanding that he take what she had offered and damn the consequences.

 

He took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts and his hard-won control. Ereshkigal had sent him in her stead because she had assumed that the Witch would be boring, that she would have nothing of value to offer, when in truth she was offering the most valuable thing in the world. Herself. But also, her trust. She was trusting that any deal she made would be upheld, that he would follow through with anything he promised. That was more than just valuable, that was priceless.

 

“Well, are you just going to stand there all night, or are you going to help me?”

 

She was a persistent thing; he’d give her that. He wanted to help her, more than himself, he truly did. By only taking her virginity he would only be helping himself, he couldn’t take that back to Ereshkigal, no, he had to ask for more.

 

“Blood,” he announced, thinking out loud. If Ereshkigal found out that she was a virgin and where he had gotten the blood, she would demand that he bring the Witch to her, keeping her there to drain as she wished, likely to the point of death. But, if he took her virginity after he took a donation of blood, only he would be punished. He could handle that, he did so on an almost daily basis. What was once more if it protected the female in front of him?

 

“I beg your pardon?”

 

“Blood and your body, that is my price.” He’d made his choice, there was no going back now.

 

Claudia had known that something like that might be suggested, but she wasn’t so stupid as to agree without question.

 

“I’ll get to stay with my aunt until she has passed? I won’t have to go with you yet?”

 

She didn’t think that what she was offering was enough, she was willing to give more? He allowed himself to dwell on the idea of having her permanently by his side but dismissed it. Ereshkigal would never allow him to keep her, or if she did, she would likely use her as a way to annoy, to control him, and giving that bitch another hold on him was the last thing he’d ever do. No, this could be a one time only transaction.

 

“This will only take tonight, then your time is your own.”

 

Her time would be her own? So she wouldn’t have to go with him? She could be her own person and leave this place as soon as her aunt passed? That was all she had ever dreamed of. Lifting her stubborn chin, she forced herself to uncross her arms, displaying herself once again, boldly meeting his eyes.

 

“I agree to your terms.”

 

Zagan couldn’t help the smile that stretched his lips, the sensation rather alien to him, he hadn’t had cause for a genuine smile in a very long time. She was fascinating, this little mortal Witch with her strong heart and even stronger determination, he couldn’t wait to find out more about her, as he did with every other being he made a deal with. One touch and he’d know if she was as genuine as she appeared, as truthful, as honest, as good. Slowly he lifted his arm, holding out his hand.

 

She had been right about his smile, the force of it hit her like a punch to the gut. It changed his entire face, taking him from intensely handsome to stunningly gorgeous. She liked him, and for some reason, she trusted him. She knew it was foolishness to trust a being such as he, she had been told all her life that Demons lied, they could never be trusted, yet here she was, doing that very thing, because it just felt right. He felt right. Without the slightest hesitation Claudia placed her hand in his.

 

He waited for the rush of knowledge, the images that would flood his brain showing him her life up until the very moment that she took his hand, but his mind stayed empty of any thoughts but his own.

 

Shocked, he stated at her, unable to understand how it could be that a simple mortal would have an impact on his life or that of others around him, for that was the only time that he was blind to another being. He’d encountered it only a handful of times before, and each time had been worse than the last.  He really hoped this time was different.

 

He could feel her pulse racing where his fingers rested on her wrist, his large hand engulfing her smaller one. She was scared, but she wasn’t backing down. He didn’t want to believe that she was lying to him, that she could be anything but the selfless girl that she seemed. He should back off now, he should tell her that he had changed his mind and would not be making the deal with her, but he couldn’t force his body to leave. Against his better judgement, he stayed.

 

“What is your name, little one?”

 

“Claudia, and yours, My Lord?”

 

Once again she had shocked him, no one ever wanted to know his name, they were either disappointed that they hadn’t received the goddess they had asked for, or they knew who he was and were terrified. But not this one.

 

“Why do you wish to know my name?”

 

Again, her chin lifted in deviance as she stepped closer to him.

 

“If I am to spend time with you in such a manner then I wish to know you name, for even though we are not to be together beyond this night I still have no wish to give myself to a stranger.”

 

Was she sincere? Was that all she wished to know for?

 

“My name is Uru,” he didn’t trust easily, if at all, and so he gave her a shortened version of one of his many names, one he was sure she would never have heard of.

 

Claudia nodded as if it were a done deal and moved around him to lay down on the small straw stuffed mattress that lay in the corner of the room, pushing aside the roughly woven blanket. She lay stiff as a board, her eyes closed.

 

Zagan let his eyes travel the length of her body, studying her at his leisure. Never before had he seen a more perfectly formed female. She was a little skinny for his usual tastes, not a spare ounce of fat on her, her body honed from many days work and likely a less than fulfilling diet. Yet to him she was more beautiful than any goddess, her purity and goodness shining from her like an aura of gold. She was unsullied, innocent in all ways.

 

He suddenly felt ashamed that he had come to her straight from the arms of another, even though it had not been his choice. He could still smell the scent of Demoness on him and had the desperate urge to plunge himself into a bath and scrub from head to toe, only then might he be worthy of her. Unfortunately, he had not the time for such things.

 

Moving forward he stripped off his boots, tossing them aside, the thump of them hitting the floor shocking her into opening her eyes. Her head turned to watch him, her bottom lip caught between surprisingly good teeth, giving away how nervous she was.

 

Normally he would care not for his bed partner, choosing more experienced creatures who would never be so timid, leaving him free to worry of nothing but his own pleasure, but she was different. He didn’t want to hurt her, in fact, he found that he actually cared that this would be her first time with a male.

 

Conscious of the fact that she had probably never seen a male’s body before he moved slowly, not wanting to spook her, sitting carefully beside her on her bed.

 

“Why did you not disrobe? Surely if I had to, so should you.”

 

So much for her being sweetly innocent. With a wry smile he grasped the hem of his shirt and tugged it over his head, tossing it aside to join his boots.

 

Much to his amusement and he could admit, male pride, her eyes grew wide as they roamed his now bare torso.

 

Claudia had never seen a man such as he. Sure, she had seen her share of topless men either from having to tend their injuries or while they worked the fields, but even those that hadn’t run to fat were nowhere near as impressive as Uru was. He wasn’t so overly muscled as to scare her, but he was wide enough in the shoulders and defined enough as to be intimidating, couple that with his height which had him towering over her head, it was obvious he was not to be messed with. A thought suddenly entered her head and was out of her mouth before she could stop it.

 

“The goddess sent you from the underworld, are you a Demon, then?”

 

Zagan didn’t believe in lying, he would evade the truth if he could, but he would never avoid a direct question.

 

“Partly, yes.”

 

He waited, ready for her to call off their deal, to grab up the blanket and run screaming from the house, but instead she simply nodded, then looked down at his breeches.

 

“Will you be removing them too?”

 

She wasn’t scared of him? She wanted to continue? He couldn’t have been more surprised if she had suddenly smacked him around the head with a goat. Shrugging he grasped the waist of his breeches and pushed them down his legs, kicking them off to land on the floor, before lying flat out on the mattress beside her.

 

She had never seen a fully naked man before, her eyes struggling to take in every inch of his flesh. He had a light sprinkling of dark hair that spread across his pectorals and again from just under his naval down to join that in which his manhood resided. Talking of his manhood…she squinted at the thing that so many women in her company had alternatively squealed over and then cursed during the agonies of childbirth. It really was a strange looking thing, to be sure. She wasn’t even sure what to compare it to. She knew the mechanics of impregnation and childbirth, so she really shouldn’t be so nervous, but now that the moment had come his flesh looked far too large, imposing and hard for her to not fear it.

 

“That...that is...”

 

“Yes?” he resisted the urge to tense his cock and make it bob in greeting.

 

“Not going to fit.”

 

Surprised laughter erupted from the Demons mouth and she scowled in response. How dare he laugh at her when he was planning on impaling her with that thing betwixt her legs?

 

She waited impatiently until he stopped laughing and managed to compose himself.

 

“I apologise, I was not laughing at you, my sweet, I was simply delighted by the way your mind works. You have my word that I will not make a move towards you unless you say so. In fact, you may make the first move, and if you choose not to, then I shall leave.”

 

Was he serious? He was prepared to stop and leave her be if she so wished? A part of her said she should take the chance to escape with both hands, that she could back out and continue to live her life as she had been. But she knew she couldn’t, not only did she owe it to her aunt, but she wanted to see what it was all about. She wanted to finally become a woman on her own terms.

 

Mind made up there was only one question left. How was she to proceed? She had always heard that it was the male’s job to take the lead, yet he seemed content to lay and watch her. Her mind whirled, trying to remember all she had heard of the act of bedding. Kissing! The girls always spoke of kissing as a prelude to lustful activities. She had never kissed anyone before but how hard could it be to mash your lips against another’s? Lunging forwards, she slammed her lips against his.

 

Zagan stiffened, unsure of how to react. He hadn’t kissed anyone in more than a thousand years, and he hadn’t been prepared to start now. He had the instinctive urge to push her away, he should push her away, because kissing led to caring and he refused to care for anyone ever again. He raised his arms to move her away, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. She was so innocent, and she was scared, he could feel her body trembling against his, but she was trying so hard to hide it, to be forward and fulfil her end of the bargain.

 

She obviously had next to no experience when it came to the ways of making love, her lips were hard and unyielding, pushing with brutal force, as if she were trying far too hard. Against his better judgement he wrapped his arms around her waist, taking charge of their kiss. He pulled back, breaking the seal of their lips. Claudia opened her eyes to stare at him.

 

“Is something amiss?”

 

He shook his head, stroking his fingers up the smooth length of her spine until he could fist them in her hair, holding her head still as he moved closer. He brushed his lips against hers, gently back and forth, allowing her to get used to the pressure and the sensation. Gradually her lips softened under his, then parted with a breathy sigh.

 

He took full advantage of her relaxation, allowing his tongue to gently tease the seam of her lips. To his intense delight she opened for him instinctively. His tongue gained entrance to the warm, sweet depths of her mouth, her taste and the scent of her skin almost overwhelming on his senses after so long below with nothing but Demons and the dead for company.

 

She smelt and tasted like a fresh spring rain, pure and clean, refreshing, energising and yet relaxing, all at the same time. Something about her called out to the dark depths of his heart and he was powerless to ignore it.

He deepened the kiss another notch, humming with pleasure when she moaned deeply, leaning into his embrace, relaxing against his chest. Her arms slid tentatively up to his shoulders, pulling him closer.

 

He gave her what she wanted, breaking the kiss to trail his lips down her throat, enjoying the feel of her silky skin. She shuddered, tilting her head to the side to give him better access.

 

“I was unaware that a neck could be so sensitive,” she commented, her voice sounding sweetly breathless.

 

He chuckled, unable to stop the sound, she was so refreshingly honest. “Precious one, there are so many parts of your gorgeous body that would be sensitive to my touch. Would you like me to show you?”

 

Claudia paused, not sure how to answer, if at all. It was not done for a woman to appear too eager for the attentions of a man, especially when she had no intention of marrying the man, or indeed ever seeing him again.

 

Zagan’s lips kissed the top of her shoulder, the fingers of his free hand skimming across her ribs to reach her chest. He just barely brushed the underside of one breast, but it was enough to make her jump.

 

“You may speak freely, precious, you never have to hide your feelings from me. Just speak your truth.” The tip of one finger gently circled around one pert little nipple. “I’ll ask again, would you like me to show you?”

 

This time she didn’t hesitate to nod.

 

Her mind was overwhelmed by the mere presence of this being, one that felt so old and powerful to her sensitive nature. There was a darkness in him, hence why she had asked if he were a Demon, but strangely she was not afraid of him. The darkness held a loneliness that she ached to ease.

 

She had never had much interest in males, having seen too many spirited and free friends turn into quiet, submissive wives at the hand of their men folk. She was determined that she would not end up so. But with this being she instinctively knew that he would never seek to tame her, that he would never impress his rule upon her. He was someone that she could see herself with, yet she knew they had no future together, just this one night. It would have to be enough.

 

She had always thought that her body was there purely for functional purposes, it got her around, it allowed her to perform her duties as healer to the villagers and hardly ever let her down, but she had never seen it as anything pleasurable. Now she saw that she had been very very wrong.

 

Her skin felt so sensitive it was almost unbearable, his every touch set her alight like nothing before. She had never believed the villagers when they had spoken about their couplings being anything more than a biological need. Now she knew the truth. She almost tingled with anticipation, not knowing what to expect but craving it none the less.

 

At her nod Zagan wasted no time. For some reason he wanted to make this good for her, he didn’t want her hurt. She was giving up something so precious for such a selfless reason, he was in awe. Holding her protectively in his arms he rolled her over onto her back, settling himself above her.

 

“Are you going to touch me again?” Her question was sweetly hopeful, but to his ears it was the most erotic thing he had ever heard.

 

His answering growl vibrated against her skin as he dipped his head to her breast, flicking his tongue against her nipple.

 

“Oh…” Who knew that a nipple, a purely functionable nipple who’s only use should be to suckle a child was now the focal point of her entire being? Who could believe that a simple tongue could affect her so? Would it work with just anyone’s tongue, or would she never feel the same way with anyone else? It had taken her twenty-three years to find even one person that she felt even slightly attracted to enough to contemplate laying with, how could she do it again?

 

His teeth nipped delicately at her flesh, making her jump, bringing her out of her ponderings and very much back into the present. The area tingled with awareness, the little flash of pain instantly melting away into a pleasurable hum.

 

Zagan was a little surprised but very happy to realise just how responsive she was to him and his attentions. For a virgin she was a natural when it came to the ways of love. He couldn’t wait to see her reaction to what they would do next.

 

He didn’t have a lot of time to do all the things he wished to, her body was a variable playgroup for his attentions, but Ereshkigal hated to be kept waiting and the last thing he wanted was for her to come storming in at the worst possible moment. No, he would make it quick, but he’d make damn sure it was good for both of them. It was the least he could do for her.

 

He let his lips wander the delicious terrain of her body, kissing a path down from her delectable breasts and lower to the small patch of hair that hid her most sensitive parts. He could already smell her arousal and was willing to bet money that she was already slick to the touch.

 

He wanted her ready for him, ready for the moment that he took her. He couldn’t give her much, for he had nothing to give that she hadn’t bartered for, had nothing of his own, but he could make sure that he left her with good memories of her first time.

 

He trailed his fingers up the length of her thighs, loving the way she squirmed at the tickling sensation. She was so responsive to every soft little touch, so different from the tough Demons that he usually bedded. They wanted hard, they wanted to be mauled and to maul in return. Never once in his entire existence had he been with some that was gentle, loving and pure. Not like Claudia.

 

His fingers just brushed the small patch of curls, but she acted as if she had been shot, her legs clamped together around his hand, trapping it and preventing him from moving.

 

“Do you not wish for me to touch you?” He nuzzled his cheek against her stomach, breathing in her scent.

 

“I do!”

 

“Then you need to relax, precious.”

 

She nodded, taking a deep breath, actively relaxing her body. He felt her legs loosen their hold on his hand. Using his shoulders nudged her legs further apart, not giving her time to worry, to feel shyness as humans were want to do. She squeaked in protest, her thighs flexing again, trying to close but the wide set of his shoulders prevented it.

 

Always having been one to believe that actions spoke louder than words, he lent in and placed a soft kiss directly on her center, shocking her into compliance.

 

“That’s better,” he whispered, loving the way her breathing hitched when he used the fingers of one hand to spread her apart, his tongue sweeping lightly down her entire length. He almost groaned as he got his first taste of her sweetness. Could she be any more perfect? He did it again, just to watch the way she froze, holding her breath the entire time that he made contact.

 

“Breathe, precious.”

 

She exhaled in a rush, struggling to make sense of what was happening. If she was honest with herself it was all a little overwhelming, it had all happened so fast, she hadn’t planned any of this. But then, maybe that was for the best? Often times the best laid plans went awry and you ended up in a situation not of your making. Sometimes the best things came into your life unexpectedly, and if Uru was to be one of those thing for her, she knew she would never regret it.

 

Zagan kissed her again then let his tongue wander as it so desperately wanted to, circling around, up and down, dipping lightly inside to catch a taste of her. She responded beautifully, appearing to give up the mental fight she was having with her body to control her movements and her reactions to his touch. She let down her guard and began to move, slowly at first, so slowly that he wasn’t entirely sure that she was even moving at all, but she was. Her hips lifted for him, rolled lightly as if chasing his tongue for a more satisfying touch. She didn’t know what she wanted, but her body did.

 

Zagan pulled back one last time, nuzzling his cheek to the soft skin of her thigh, lifting his head to catch her eyes. “Do you wish for me to continue? Because this next part may hurt a little, you understand?”

 

She didn’t need to think about it, the answer was yes, it would always be yes. In less than an hour he had shown her more care, attention and pleasure than anyone else. This being, this Demon who should, by reputation, have taken full advantage of the deal they had struck, was treating her with the utmost respect, honouring her wishes as no other would. She had been right, he was a blessing in disguise, for she knew that if she had given in to the pressure to marry and taken a husband, whomever she married would have no such care for her. She had heard enough stories to know that he would see her as his property and he would take what he wanted, whenever he chose, giving her little to no choice in the matter.

He accepted her nod without the need to argue with her, to insult her intelligence by pushing his point as if she were a simpleton who couldn’t comprehend his words. She felt his hand travel the length of her thigh, his fingers softly brushing, making her shiver in anticipation. She didn’t know exactly what was going to happen next, but she was fully on board with whatever he had planned. She didn’t know why, knew she probably shouldn’t, but she trusted him completely.

 

She jumped when his lips once again touched the place that no one else had, his tongue seemingly made of magical fire that burnt in such a way as to feel nothing but pleasure, she liked it when he did that, it made her feel wicked and sinful but she couldn’t find the thoughts to care. She had always been one to break the rules and this would be no exception.

 

She relaxed under his attentions, enjoying the feeling of pleasure that radiated out from where his lips and tongue made contact. There was no way she could describe it, her thoughts simply refused to make sense of it, she couldn’t think, she could only feel. It started out as a quick burst of pleasant sensation, there in a flash and then gone as soon as he stopped, but the longer he worked her, the deeper the sensations became, lasting longer each time.

 

The penetration, when it came was an alien feeling but not unpleasant, though it did make her jump in shock. When his finger slowly breeched the tight muscles of her vagina she acted in instinct, her inner walls clamping down, trying to force out the unknown invader, but he didn’t let that stop him. He took his time, pulling back, then easing in again.

 

She was tense, she couldn’t help it, he had warned her that she would feel a little pain and no one could relax when that was on the horizon. She was surprised, therefore, to find that she felt no discomfort from the insertion of his index finger. She forced herself to relax, to let her body go limp and pliant as he worked her body expertly.

 

He continued with his attentions, never ceasing his tongues exploration of her most intimate place. So, when he eased another finger inside her, moving them in a scissoring manner to loosen her tight walls, she offered no protest, she didn’t tense up, she simply enjoyed.

 

“Give me your hand, precious.”

 

She did as he bid without hesitation, reaching her left hand down to entwine with his. He no longer had to hold her legs apart, she had relaxed fully, her thighs falling open to give him full access. Her hips undulated with his movements, riding his fingers in such a way that he knew she would be a natural when he finally got his aching cock inside her, it was all he could do to hold back, but he needed to keep her virgin for just a little longer.

 

He would have to pick his moment carefully to avoid scaring or hurting her. Ereshkigal was under the impression that blood taken by force, blood that contained the fear and pain of its donor was all the more potent, but he wasn’t prepared to deliver that, she would have to be content with vintage virgin.

 

He could feel her body winding up, growing tenser and tenser as her pleasure built under his careful attentions. Not allowing her to see what he had planned he conjured up a small, ornately carved bowl, waiting for just the right time.

 

 

Twisting his hand he crooked his fingers, stroking along her inner wall, searching for just the right spot… her hips shot upwards, her gasp of shocked pleasure giving him all the encouragement he needed.

 

Her breathing had become deeper, ragged as she let out small, soft moans. She was so close, her inner muscles sucking on his fingers. Gently he eased in a third which she took easily, pleasing him immensely, she was almost ready. She was so tense, her body as taunt as a bowstring, so ready to explode, but she held it in check. That wouldn’t do.

 

“Don’t hold back, precious, just let go.”

 

His words released something in her, allowing her to relax her control, letting the pleasure roll through her unchecked. A warmth had filled her womb, a buzzing tingling sensation sparking at the base of her spine that detonated with one last swipe of his tongue, crashing over her like a wave.

 

The second he felt her let go, felt her body begin to shudder in orgasm he moved, bringing her arm to his mouth. Bearing his fangs, he bit down hard and fast on the tender flesh of her inner wrist. Her blood leaked into his mouth as wetness flooded his fingers where they still moved inside her, moving in time with his carefully placed thumb on her clit, drawing out her orgasm as he positioned her wrist over the bowl, allowing her blood to drain out.

 

Claudia felt the flash of pain but it barely registered in comparison to the pleasure he had conjured within her body, at this point he could do anything to her and she wouldn’t care at jot.

 

Zagan watched the blood collecting in the bowl, not letting her move until the bowl was full, enough to appease Ereshkigal but not enough that Claudia would miss it. Waving a hand, he sent the bowl away, not wanting her to catch sight of it, then brought her wrist back to his lips. Carefully he licked over her wounds, removing any trace of the blood she had spilled as well as healing the wounds, leaving her with nothing but two shiny round scars.

 

He couldn’t help the moan that escaped his lips as he tasted her blood. She was everything he had imagined she would be, her blood amongst the purest he had ever supped. Being used to feeding on Demons, who’s blood could take on a dark, sometimes rotten taste, Claudia was ambrosial in comparison. That small taste coated his throat, warming his insides like a fine whiskey, comforting and addicting, though he knew he’d never again partake, once he had finished here Ereshkigal would have no further use for her and he wouldn’t risk her safety by coming back.

 

Easing his fingers out of her still trembling core he crawled up her body, covering it with his.

 

“Wrap your legs around me, pet.” He lifted one thigh, encouraging her to lift her hips and wrap her legs around his waist. Without hesitation she did so, lifting her legs high, locking them around his waist, crossed at the ankles, her heels digging into the cleft of his arse. Without his say so she did the same with her arms, sliding them over his shoulders, one hand resting lower down his back while the other slid up to tangle in his hair.

 

He froze, the memories of a thousand feedings at the hand of Ereshkigal flooding through his mind. She liked to grab his hair, liked to hold him still and force his compliance, glorying in the fact that she owned him, liking to remind him at any opportunity. He wasn’t his own person; he wasn’t free to make his own choices and they both knew it.

 

But here, tucked away in this tiny little cabin on the edge of the woods he wasn’t her chew toy, he wasn’t her demonic minion, he was a man and he was determined that she was not going to taint his time with this precious creature, no matter how brief a time it may be.

 

Forcing himself to relax he allowed Claudia to tug his head down towards hers, their lips meeting in a kiss the likes of which he had never experienced before. He had rarely, if ever, kissed a bedroom partner and if he did it was a wild meeting to teeth and tongues that often left them both bleeding. Claudia was smoothing else, something so different to anything he had ever experienced before. This might be her first time with someone, but for him it was the only time that mattered. With her he was just as inexperienced and new. Their kiss was tender and caring, coaxing his tongue to mate with hers in a sensual dance that stoked the fire between them, from smouldering embers to a raging inferno.

 

Unable to deny them both any longer, Zagan fisted his cock, bringing it to her soaking entrance. He took a moment to stroke his tip up and down her length, coating his shaft in her juices, doing everything he could to ready her.

 

“Please, don’t tease me, just do it,” her whimpered words worked like magic on him, unable to deny her any request. He fitted his head against her and pushed slowly forward, feeling her inner muscles parting for him.

 

Her previous orgasm had done wonders for her body, relaxing and lubricating her better than he could have ever imagined and, with one long, smooth stroke he seated himself deep inside her. He heard her gasp but captured it in his mouth as he kissed her long and deep.

 

It took her a few moments to respond, her eyes squeezed tightly shut against the burning pain as he stretched her to capacity, but his lips called to her in a siren song she was helpless to ignore. She opened for him, allowing his tongue to slide inside. His kiss evoked a deep, primitive urge inside her that had her slowly moving against him, her body shifting and relaxing to accommodate his hardness.

 

He began to move, slowly at first, drawing back almost all the way before easing back inside, each retreat and subsequent re-entry easier than the last. It took but a few back-and-forth’s before her body readily accepted him, the pain becoming a distant memory, melting into a bone deep pleasure that had her moaning in response.

 

Zagan gritted his teeth against the need to pound into her luscious little body, his instincts demanding that he fuck her hard and fast as was his usual style, though he firmly told his instincts to shut the hell up. This was her time and she was the one in control, not him. She felt so amazing, so wet and welcoming, the heat of her body soaking into his muscles, warming him from the outside in, touching the cold, dark parts of his soul that he had thought lost to time and experiences he’d rather forget.

 

Claudia had decided that she rather liked this thing between them and now understood just why so many villagers allowed themselves to succumb to the lure of the flesh no matter the consequences. It was a decedent, sinful pleasure that she had never imagined could feel so wonderful. Every time he moved he rasped over little nerves that she hadn’t known she possessed but wished to get to know more closely.

 

He was going too slowly! She liked it when he let his control slip and entered her faster than before, it made her muscles clench and ripple in awareness, giving her a burst of sensation that she instantly wanted to feel again. Acting on pure instinct she lifted her hips to meet his thrust, using her legs around his waist for leverage, dragging him in hard and fast.

 

Zagan chuckled, thoroughly enjoying the way she grew bolder by the second, leaving him in no doubt as to what she wanted, even without words. He let her dictate the pace for a minute or two before he took over.

 

Rolling onto his side he took her with him, her legs still locked around his hips, though he hoisted them a little higher, giving him better access. Now that he didn’t have to concentrate on holding himself up, he could put his hands to better use. Slipping one between their bodies he sought out her clit, loving the way she squeaked in surprised pleasure when he stroked her as he thrust deep into her body, feeling her shudder in response.

 

With his other hand he found one of her hard little nipples, skimming his fingertip lightly over the peak. She was so perfect; beyond anything he could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams. When she lifted her head to his, her eyes glazed with pleasure, her lips parted for each shuddering exhale, he couldn’t stop watching her. He wanted in imprint her in his memory enough that she would last him a lifetime.

 

She felt good, too good, so good that he knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He felt that familiar sensation of his balls growing heavier, drawing closer to his body in preparation for expelling his seed. He just hoped that he could last long enough to watch her face as she orgasmed around his cock.

 

Spurred on by the images that filled his head he worked her clit a little harder, rewarded by the sound of her breathing changing, her body tensing in readiness.

 

“Please…” she whispered, not knowing what to ask for but needing it all the same.

 

“Anything for you, precious one.” He nuzzled her neck with his nose, dropping kisses the length of her throat, enjoying her throaty moans. He let his hips swing freely, knowing she could take it, long, deep and fast he moved inside her, feeling her walls clamp down around his cock as he tipped her over the edge into orgasm.

 

If he had thought her beautiful before it was nothing compared to how she looked while riding the waves of her pleasure, her eyes closed, her head thrown back against the rough mattress in pure ecstasy. Then, and only then did he allow himself to join her, his balls exploding in a release so intense that his brain almost short circuited, leaving him blind to anything but her, the feel of her body trembling against his, the way she sounded, the way she smelt, everything that was pure her.

 

She clung to him like he was the only solid thing in her world, the only thing that made sense, which was strange, because he found that he was holding her tightly for exactly the same reasons. He was used to meeting people and instantly knowing everything about them and what they would be doing with their lives, but she was hidden from him, a blank that was incredibly intriguing. Those kind of people were rare, the ones that you meet and in that very second you knew, you just had a deep-down awareness that they would have a massive impact on your life, good or bad. That they would in some way be special to you. She was one of those people.

 

He came back to awareness when he felt the gentle touch of her lips on his skin, kissing his shoulder where he had collapsed down beside her in a sweaty, sated heap. This was new. No one ever wanted to touch him once they had had their pleasure, they were up and out the door before he could blink, not that he had a problem with that, in fact he actively encouraged it. A cuddler he was not.

 

He expected her arms to loosen, for her to roll over and pull away from him, but she didn’t. Her arms tightened, pulling him closer, her lips seeking his in a kiss so tender that it shook him deeper than his recent release, leaving him breathless.

 

He needed space, he needed time to think away from her all-consuming gaze, from her welcoming arms and enticing warmth. He gently unwound her arms and shifted away, feeling his half-deflated cock slide from her warm depths to flop wetly against his leg. Her legs relaxed around his waist, allowing him to roll away to lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling. How long was it polite for a man to stay after he had bedded a woman? Technically he wasn’t a man and therefore wasn’t required to conform to the norms of mortal society, but she was mortal, and she deserved to be treated with respect, not like a chew toy to be tossed aside when she had outlived her usefulness.

 

He made the fatal mistake of sneaking a glance to the side... she lay on her back, staring up at nothing, her eyes wide and shining with unshed tears. Tears she was too strong to allow to fall. What had he done? Had he hurt her? He had been sure she was enjoying their activities as much as he had been.

 

Unsure what to do for the best he simply opened his arms, breathing a deep sigh of relief when she rolled closer, fitting her body against his side, her head coming to rest on his chest as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

 

He wrapped his arms around her, feeling her tense muscles begin to relax. She felt so good in his arms, as if she belonged there.

 

“Are you hurting?” he asked softly, letting his fingers run through the soft waves of her hair, the strands glinting like gold in the warm candlelight of her cottage.

 

She shook her head, her arm slipping around his middle.

 

“Then why do you weep, precious?”

 

She was quiet for a long time, so long he thought she may have fallen asleep, but when she did speak her voice was soft, unsure.

 

“Did I do it wrong?”

 

He frowned down at the top of her golden head where it rested against his shoulder. How could she think such a thing?

 

“No, of course not.” She had been the single most wonderful experience of his very long life.

 

“Then why did you turn away from me?”

 

And there they were, the words that would haunt him for a lifetime. He didn’t want this to be his only night with her.

 

“Because the more time I spend with you, the more I want to keep you and I can’t. That wouldn’t be fair on you.”

 

She lifted her head to look up at him.

 

“What if I want to be kept?”

 

He shook his head, pulling her closer. “I can’t.”

 

“So we only have tonight?”

 

He nodded.

 

“Then we’d best make the most of it.”

 

                                                ***

 

Zagan returned to his realm with the coming of the dawn, the scent of his sweet Claudia still clinging to his skin, tantalising his senses. Somewhere between them joining once again and the quiet hours with her sleeping in his arms, he had made a decision. He wouldn’t give her up, he couldn’t. He knew it was the most selfish and irresponsible thing he had ever done, but he deserved some happiness, something that was just his, something special of his own.

 

He would be sneaky, something he was very good at, and keep her hidden from those that would cause her harm. No one could know about her, or know how he felt about her, it was too dangerous.

 

Quickly he delivered the cup of blood to Ereshkigal, making sure to be as vague as possible with the details as to how he had come by such a rarity, then escaped back to his chambers, his mind spinning with possibilities and plans. He would go back to her again that night and then he would ask her to stay with him once her aunt passed on. Not here in this dank, dreary realm, but somewhere out there in the mortal realm, somewhere they could be together. He had riches the likes of which Claudia could never dream of, though up until this moment he had had little to no use for them, he would happily give them all to her to ensure her happiness and comfort for the rest of her days. She could purchase a little house for them, or they could stay in her cottage if she so desired and spend every free moment he had together. It was a simple dream, to be with someone, but one that he had never allowed himself to contemplate before. Now that he was thinking of it, he couldn’t imagine anything he wanted more.

 

He had never allowed himself to believe there was a chance that he could find someone that he could trust, someone that had no hidden agendas against him. Someone that he could actually allow himself to fall in love with. She was a gift, one that he had never imagined he would deserve but that he would be eternally stupid to refuse. He knew what love felt like, the pure kind that was untainted by the shit that was his life, and this, this kernel of hope in his chest, the flickering ember in his heart, felt suspiciously like it.

 

He allowed himself a small, secret smile, warmed by the knowledge that maybe the Primal Gods didn’t hate him after all.

 

                                              ***

 

Claudia was dragged from her deep slumber and knew not why. She lay there for a second, wondering what had awoken her so suddenly. She turned over in bed, reaching out an arm but already knowing that he would be long gone, just as he had said. She should have known better than to get her hopes up, any connection she had thought she felt was obviously a figment of her imagination. He had said their time together had been limited to just that night, yet that didn’t stop her from wishing for more.

 

 Was that a noise? She lifted her head from the pillow, now very much awake and on the alert. The sound of voices floated on the sill dawn air, coming from outside her house, getting louder and more distinguishable the closer they came. A loud banging shook her door, but she didn’t jump up straight away. She had learnt many years ago that what others considered an emergency was not the same as she did, if she leapt up to tend their every need she would never get any peace, they would come to believe they had the rights to all her time. She would get dressed and answer at her own pace.

 

Another bang came, along with the bellowed demand that she open the door. She ignored it, glaring at the door as she reached for her discarded clothes. It had obviously been too much to ask for some peace the morning after a long but pleasurable night.

 

Without warning the door flew back on its hinges as the flimsy lock snapped under the force of a heavy shoulder. Shocked and not wanting to be found in the nude, she grabbed the blankets, pulling them around her body.

 

Four men from the village stomped their way into her little cottage and she was not happy. “What are you doing in my home? How dare you do this, get out this minute.” They ignored her words, along with her pointed look at the broken door, cramming further into her small house, making room for another man to enter.

 

The village elder stepped forward, the men parting to make way for him. Claudia had never liked the man, finding him to be an insufferable bore and quite the pig when it came to females of the species.

 

“Claudia Sprengen, you are hereby accused of the crime of witchcraft, you were seen performing magicks that have brought the devil to our door.”

 

 “I did no such thing. All I performed were blessings for the crops and for continued good health, all I mixed were the salves and tinctures needed to heal. All I did was good; I have performed no evil!” Claudia gripped her blanket tighter, trying to keep control of her emotions, refusing to let the fear she felt overcome her.

 

Bernhard, the young man her father had promised her to but she had refused to wed, pushed his way through the crowd to her side. Finally someone was going to help her, to speak sense. Bernhard had always been good to her and they had remained friends.

 

 When he bent his head towards her, she eagerly lent closer, listening intently for his words of support. “You are tainted; you gave your body to the devil. You are nothing but a whore,” he growled in her ear. Shocked to her core she froze, so stunned that she was unable to defend herself when he lifted an arm and backhanded her across the face, sending her sprawling onto her back on the bed.

 

“This it, whore, lay on your back where you belong, open your legs so we may all have a turn.”

 

Tasting blood from her split lip, Claudia blinked back the tears that had formed in her eyes, refusing to let him see her upset. Mustering all her courage she spat a mouthful of blood at his shoe, glaring up at him defiantly. “You are the evil one, not I.”

 

“Devils whore!”

 

“Look how she protests, such lies!”

 

“Dirty wench!”

 

Bernhard grabbed her by the hair as she continued to protest her innocence, using it as a rope from which to drag her from the bed to her feet. Once she was upright, he marched her through the door and out into her little yard, which was teeming with villagers all out for blood. She tried to pull away, to fight free, aiming a kick at his leg but was once again slapped down. She clutched the blankets tighter, very aware that she was nude under it and that they all knew it too. It didn’t matter that they all slept so, all they saw was a whore that had been dragged naked from her bed of sin. Nothing would change their minds.

 

The crowd began to cheer as she was dragged towards her father’s barn and thrown inside, the door slammed and locked behind her. Not one to go quietly she yelled and screamed, banging on the door until she was exhausted, her throat raw and voice hoarse. She had no choice but to give up. Defeated she sank to the floor, curling up on a pile of damp straw that she was sure housed a family of rats. How had her life changed so dramatically over night?

 

She had dozed off from sheer exhaustion and fear, curled up in her corner. The door opened without warning, jerking her from her fitful nap. Surely they had come to their senses and would be letting her go?

 

The open doorway revealed the Elder. “The trial is complete and your sentence will now be carried out. Save yourself some dignity and walk or you will be dragged.” Her clothes were tossed into the barn and the door slammed shut again.

 

Her mind was whirling as she quickly scrambled to get dressed. What trial? How could they have a trial without her? And what punishment did they speak of? Scared out of her wits but determined to face whatever was happening with dignity she straightened her apron and, with a deep breath that did little to calm her nerves, opened the door.

 

There were three men outside as well as the Elder and one moved towards her. He carried with him a length of rope which he used to gesture to her to turn around.

 

“What? Why?” she knew what he wished to do and was having none of it. “I’ve done nothing wrong, yet you accuse me and conduct a trail without my presence? You are the ones who are wrong!”

 

All her protests were ignored as the man grabbed her arms and yanked them behind her back, binding them tightly with the rope, so tight that it bit into her flesh. She was pushed out of the barn and without her arms for balance and stability, stumbled and fell to her knees, unable to catch herself.

 

The barn was surrounded by people that she had once counted as friends and neighbours, friendly faces she had known all her life, but now their faces were twisted in anger, their smiles turned to glares. How could they turn on her so? She and her family had dedicated their lives to helping them, being good neighbours and friends. How could they believe that she could be anything but good? her heart hurt at the thought of their hatred.

 

Rough hands grabbed her by the rope that bound her and yanked her to her feet, propelling her forwards. The crowd parted and that was when she was it.

 

There, in the clearing that had once been their wheat field, a tall pole had been erected, a wooden box next to it. Her eyes grew wider as she realised what they had planned for her.

 

“No! No! I didn’t do anything wrong; I don’t deserve this!” she thrashed against the hands holding her, kicking and screaming madly as she was forcibly dragged towards the structure. A punch to the jaw had her seeing stars. She sagged in their hold, darkness overcoming her.

 

The blissful oblivion didn’t last long. She came awake as she was being lifted up onto the box by two men, a third holding her in place, while another untied her hands, folded them around the pole and lashed them back together. Another length of rope was wrapped around her waist, yanked tightly and a third used to bind her ankles to the pole.

 

She began to scream again, begging for mercy, begging them to listen to her, but her cries fell on deaf ears. She looked wildly around for a friendly face, for her aunt or her best friend, Myst, but there was no one.

 

The towns men formed a chain, passing logs and branches from one to the other, which were piled up around her feet. They were really going to do it; they were going to burn her. She’d heard of it being done in neighbouring villages but had never believed they would be so cruel as to enact that kind of punishment here. She had done nothing but help them, had cured them of more ailments than she could count, saved many of them from death, yet now they had condemned her to her own.

 

Terrified and helpless she tried to hold back the tears that inevitably began to trickle down her cheeks, cursing herself for being so weak and helpless. She tugged frantically at the ropes, trying to free her hands as the continued to pile the wood up around her, only stopping when she was buried up to her knees.

 

Bernhard stepped forward, a lit torch in his hand. The look on his face was one of pure triumph, his smirk evil to the core.

 

“This is what you get for being a whore. It took me years to even get a kiss from you, yet that thing got you opening your legs in an hour. I was walking past and heard you, I knew that thing wasn’t human, devil’s whore!” His head reared back as he spat in her face, the slimy substance hitting her cheek, dribbling towards her mouth where she was unable to wipe it away. She could taste it, sour and dirty like his breath.

 

With another vicious smile he shoved the torch into the wood at her feet. Others began to do the same, a sea of fiery torches coming towards her until soon the pile around her burst into flames.

 

Claudia backed up against the post, a reflex as the flames leapt ever higher, their heat beginning to rise, playing with her hair.

 

The crowd around her grew restless, beginning to move and chant, urging the flames to burn higher, faster, cheering as they moved closer, devouring the wood.

 

Claudia continued to protest her innocence, hoping in vain that they would take pity on her, that they couldn’t be as bad as she thought they were. She began to cough as the smoke rose, filling her lungs, burning her throat. She could feel the intense heat all around, her screams turning from fear to pain as the flames licked at her bare feet.

 

She screamed for help yet none came. Agonised sobs caught in her throat as the flames moved up her legs, charring her skin. Hoarse from screaming, her body heating from the outside in she could do nothing but writhe in pain.

 

In the distance she thought she could hear her name being called, the voice far away, almost indistinguishable beyond the crackling roar of the fire and the cheering crowd. Myst, was she here?

 

The thought calmed her enough that she could close her eyes and begin to pray, knowing that at least someone, somewhere still loved her. She prayed not for a miracle, but for a quick death, knowing that her time had come.

 

As if in answer the fire surged forward, catching hold of her dress, which burst instantly into flames, searing her skin, her hair catching alight. She felt her skin blister and burn, yet the pain was now abstract.

 

She tried to breath but couldn’t find any oxygen, the air around her nothing but smoke and heat. The flames engulfed her completely, yet she felt nothing now. She felt blessedly detached, silent at her end. She felt her spirit slip from her body, her mortal remains continuing to burn, the bellows of the crowd ringing in her ears. Light as a feather now, feeling no pain, no sensations at all she turned her head away from the gruesome sight, floating upwards and away…

 

                                                 ***

 

Zagan returned to an empty cottage. The interior was freezing cold, no warming fire in the hearth and the door left wide open, her bed unmade. He didn’t know Claudia well at all, but he was sure she wasn’t in the habit of leaving her home in such a state.

 

He started for the door, striding outside into the growing dusk, intent on finding her. She couldn’t have gone far, likely she had been called away on some emergency and had neglected to lock up behind her.

 

“Claudia?” he called, then stopped dead at the scene in front of him, taking in the still smouldering pyre, the burnt, twisted remains of a person slumped on a pile of ashes. “No!” he shook his head in denial, closing his eyes to block out the horrifying image that would haunt his dreams forever more. his heart screamed in pain, as if someone had reached into his chest, squeezed it in their hand and ripped it still beating from his body.

He slumped forward, all strength leaving his body as he collapsed to his knees, hope draining away as he stared at the charred body of the sweetest, most selfless person he had ever met. She hadn’t deserved this, she had done nothing wrong, yet once again, as soon as he had come into someone’s life things had gone to shit. He should have known, should have stayed away as he had vowed. He was a curse to anyone who dared to show him even the smallest taste of kindness.

He’d kill them all. He’d make them hurt as they had hurt her. Rage tore through him, his Demon side rising to the surface, his vision going red as he let the destruction inside him take hold.

Less than an hour later and not one person remained alive in the village. His Demon had spared no expense, had been deaf to all pleading as they surely had been to hers. Now he stood before the pyre, the blood of more than forty people dripping from his clothes, his hair, his arms, and he screamed.

He screamed for the loss and the what could have been as he lifted her gently into his arms, caring not that she bore no resemblance to his Claudia.

Spiriting her away, he took her to the most magical, spiritual place he knew, where he carefully buried her.

He sat beside her grave, the one he had dug with his own two hands, wanting to feel the physical effort, needing to do something for her once last time. Now the first tears he had shed in over a millennia ran down his face to drip off the end of his nose, splashing upon the soil that covered her.

One thought echoed over and over in his head. She couldn’t be gone; he had only just found her.