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DarkFyre Chapter Sixteen

Silmaria desperately struggles to help Rael hold on.
The darkness of the cave was broken only by the small, flickering flames of Rael’s makeshift torch. It had spun off into the corner during the struggle with the bear and there it sat, dying. The flame was weak and feeble, yet it would not go out fully. It swirled, sputtering and pitiful, but it clung stubbornly to the torch and sent a tracery of shadows to sprawl in shapes and flittering figures grand and small along the icy stone walls.

The shadows were dramas and tales and romantic battles, the stuff of songs and the fabric of everyday life, playing out in rapid succession, one twisting and twining its way into the other in a great weave that made up the tragic and beautiful flavor of Human and DemiHuman existence. Love and tragedy, joy and loss, triumph and bitter failure. Life and death, always. All spawned by the flame that refused to yield.

Silmaria’s sobs quieted quickly, and for a time she simply sat, holding the fallen young Lord whom she’d grown to love with her tears running down her cheeks. For those few moments, she was quite simply overloaded. Grief and fear warred for dominance, and then seemed to decide they were perfectly content to share her in equal measures. Fear from the horrifying encounter with the bear, which had been frightening enough in and of itself to traumatize anyone. Then, to see Rael fall so grievously…

Silmaria studied him closely, watching him, clinging to a ghost of a hope. And a good thing, too; he was still breathing. His breathers were coming shallow and sporadic, but they were there. He was not dead. Not yet.

“Stop panicking, Silmaria,” she told herself quietly.

Then, “Stop it,” more loudly. She physically shook herself, forced herself to move through a haze of despair and fear so deep it dragged at her bones. The Gnari girl reached up and placed her fingertips at the pulse point in Rael’s throat. It was there, weak like his breathing, but as steady and unyielding as the man himself.

Swallowing down heartache, Silmaria steeled herself and began to peel away the layers of Rael’s clothes where they were shredded by the bear’s claws. The wounds were frightening; deep, bloody gouges were raked in Rael’s left side from hip to ribs, and the entire area was already turning vivid shades of bruising. Blood seeped from his rent flesh. After examining him, she didn’t think any internal organs had been destroyed, so he was lucky in that regard.

Silmaria grabbed the cleanest part of one of Rael’s cloak’s and applied firm, steady pressure to as much of his wounds as she was able, thinking and planning as she did; he probably wouldn’t die outright from these wounds if she could get the bleeding stopped soon. But the chance of infection and the wounds turning putrid were very high. She had no herbs or medicine to fight an infection.

“One thing at a time, Sil,” she told herself, holding pressure as the cloak began to blossom with shades of the Nobleman’s blood. “No point in worrying about infection if you let the man bleed out.”

Silmaria had no idea how long she held pressure on those wicked, fearsome gouges. Moments. Endless, agonizing moments that stretched on forever. As she stared down into Rael’s still, lax face, and she felt a surge of determination; she would not let him die. Not while she had the strength to tend him and coax him on toward life. She would keep him going. Somehow.

At last, the bleeding stopped. The Gnari girl wished she had something to stitch the Nobleman’s wounds, but her options were preciously limited. It didn’t matter; she would make do with what she had. She walked to the cave mouth where the snow was piled high, gathered a few handfuls of the soft white powder, and brought it to Rael. She let it melt and trickle down to wash his wounds, then carefully wiped the blood away. Twice she had to stem the bleeding as the wounds tried once more to flow, before at last deciding Rael’s gouges were as clean as they were going to get.

Taking her knife to one of her own cloaks, she cut out a series of long strips. She pressed a clean part of Rael’s cloak to his wounds and bound the cloth tight with the strips. It was difficult work; moving the huge man, who could do nothing to help her, required all her strength and left her sweating despite the cold of the cave. As she moved the Knight about he would shudder and moan softly, but he barely shifted except for little jerking twitches, and he didn’t wake at all.

By the time Silmaria was satisfied that she’d done all she could do, she was utterly exhausted, her body fatigued to the point of shaking, and she was covered in the Nobleman’s blood near up to her elbows. But his wounds were cleaned and dressed and bound, and she had him bundled up in their cloaks and blankets as warmly as could be managed. All Silmaria wanted to do was collapse into an unmoving heap beside him, and sleep.

Instead, she busied herself doing what must be done. She took stock of their supplies. They had practically no food left. A backward glance at the bear carcass convinced her that wouldn’t be much of a problem. Her more immediate concern was fuel. They had precious little firewood left stowed in their packs. She didn’t know if she would be able to get safely out into the storm anytime soon to collect more. Though the cave was certainly much warmer and comfortable than trekking through the blizzard, it was still wickedly frigid inside, and the colder Rael got, the worse it would be for his recovery.

Water wasn’t a problem. She took the two wooden bowls they’d brought along to eat from and filled them with snow, then brought them inside to let the snow melt. Once it had, she filled the satchels of water they both carried, and then repeated the process so she would have more ready at hand.

This done, Silmaria decided to take a chance and used some of their rapidly dwindling wood supply to build a fire. It took her some time to get a small but wonderfully welcome little fire going; she wasn’t as adept as Rael at fire starting. Still, she gave thanks that he’d insisted she learn how to start one using his flint and tinder, and after a few false starts a fire crackled quietly as it spread with the ever-present hunger inherent to all flames.

The Gnari girl checked her Lord again. He was unchanged and unresponsive, but quietly restive. His chest rose and fell and his breathing was less harsh and ragged for now, though he occasionally grimaced in his sleep. She’d made him as comfortable as she was able. Now, rest was the best thing for them both.

She sat down and huddled into her thick clothes as she held her stiff, frozen fingers out to the fire. She wondered that she didn’t have to quiet her mind; normally, her thoughts would be jumbled and frantic, bouncing confusingly one after the other in a wild ruckus of fear, anxiety, and endlessly repeating ‘what ifs’. But just then, her frantic thoughts couldn’t penetrate the thick haze of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

The flames swayed, sensual, hypnotic. Patiently restless. Tendrils of heat reached and dipped, twisting as it reached toward the cave roof. The warmth was spreading, moving through the cave and slowly thawing away the biting cold. The heat enfolded her, chasing the lingering chill from her bones, suffusing her with a fuzzy comfort, a sort of happy numbness.

Silmaria sat, motionless. Rael was just an arm’s length away. She stared into the writhing, simple beauty of the flames. As it always did, the fire held her gaze. She was so exhausted, so very tired, and filled with grief. There was still more to do. More tasks she must attend to if she were to be prepared. Her thoughts and feelings were crowding at the periphery of her conscious, amassing, and she knew soon it would be like a dam bursting, and all her sorry and worry and fear would crash down atop her.

No one could be numb forever; even as detached as she felt just then, it was only a matter of time. Her emotions and swirling thoughts were already scratching at her threadbare walls. Soon they would be torn apart like so much frail parchment. She should be as productive as possible before the inevitable collapse of her resolve.

Only, not just yet. She wanted a moment. Just a moment, or two, or however several she could manage, to just sit peaceful and still, and let the fire lull her.

It was an old comfort. A touch stone, really. The flames were familiar, reliably steady, and ever-changing. The dancing interplay of orange and yellow and red, twining one about the other, contracting to not but an ember before swelling to a rushing burst of heat and energy, an inferno waiting to be released if only it could find more fuel, more substance, more of anything.

More, more, more, the fire called. Silmaria swayed, spellbound, the call of hungry flames compelling in her head, a voice as old as time itself.

Come. Feel the splendor of my embrace. Let me enfold you like a lover, liquid heat spreading over your skin like the warm blanket of creation. I am comfort. I am love. I will swallow all that you are, and never let go.

You will never be cold again.

Never be alone.

Give yourself. I need you. To live. To be alive. To give heat and life and fire to this cold, wretched world.

And you need me. You need me, or you will never know the glory we will be together, the wonder you can never experience without my touch burning its way through you, setting you ablaze within and without until I warm your tired soul.

Yield to me. Surrender yourself. Be more than you are. More than you've ever dreamed. Become part of me. Turn yourself over to the blistering heat of my cruelly tender care. Let me consume you, strip you to bone and crack your marrow open until you turn to ash. I will take all that you give. You will give until the last vestige of yourself, and you will give it all gladly.

I will die with you. We will have shared shining moments where we both burned hotter and more brightly than all the suns in the heavens.

Come, was the fire’s hot whisper of promise on her skin.

Let us be one spark for a few perfect, precious moments.

Or an eternity.

Silmaria work with a start. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep but it couldn’t have been more than an hour or so. The fire was still burning, softly cunning and lovely. Oddly, she was not drowsy, or muddled, or numb. She was stretched on her side, her body curled in a semi-circle around the fire, so close to the flames that if she moved just a scoot closer her clothes would have gone up. She was hot all over, roasted by her nearness to the fire, but she was not uncomfortable. On the contrary, all trace of the sluggish chill in her blood and bones had faded, leaving her feeling loose and lithe and supremely relaxed.

The low, compelling call in her dreams, the voice of flame and fire and all things comforting and peaceful shifted about in the back of her mind, already fading, a shadow lingering at the periphery of her thoughts. Ungraspable, but warm. She smiled, as if half recalling a long ago conversation with an old friend.

With a long cat-like stretch, Silmaria sat up. She felt alert and awake as she hadn’t in days, weeks even. The expected flood of emotions and darting thoughts and overwhelming tears never came. The Gnari felt calm, relaxed, and focused. Clarity and purpose filled her.

Silmaria rose and tended to Rael. He was still unconscious, and though she tried to coax him to wakefulness, the man wouldn’t so much as open his eyes. She checked the pulse point at his throat and found his heartbeat steady, if somewhat faint. He was warm to the touch, but didn’t appear feverish, and his breathing was deep and even.

Gingerly, she peeled off the strips of cloth binding his wounds and pulled the cloak-turned-bandage away. The rends in his side began to seep blood at one spot, but otherwise remained clotted, ragged, and hauntingly painful looking. Silmaria took the cloak she’d been using as a bandage to the bowls of water and, stepping to the cave mouth, washed it as best she could. It would not be totally clean, no, but she didn’t feel sure she could risk sacrificing too many more pierces of clothing without leaving one or both of them to the ravages of cold.

After she’d washed and wrung out the cloak several times she set it to dry before the fire while she gathered and melted more snow to wash Rael’s wounds. Even warming the water by the fire, it was lukewarm at best. Hot water would have been better, but she worked with what she had available. After the Noble’s wounds were clean, she gently lifted his head into her lap and dripped water into his mouth. It was a slow process; if she tried to get too much into his mouth at once it just went dribbling out, wasted.

Rael’s hair, once a thick and brightly burnished copper, now clung to his skull, damp and tangled and matted. She smoothed it back tenderly and helped him drink until she could get him to swallow no more. She tore a small strip of venison jerky with her teeth, chewed it thoroughly, and pressed tiny bits of it into his mouth at a time, knowing he would need any nourishment at all to strengthen for his recovery. Coaxing him into swallowing the small bits of soft food by rubbing his throat lightly to encourage him was a long and arduous ordeal. With stubborn patience she repeated the process until she was satisfied with his progress, for now.

By then, the cloak she’d placed by the fire was dry and warm. She checked it over to be sure it was as clean as possible then pressed it to Rael’s wounded side. He stirred, moaning quietly, and gave a soft sound of protest before settling. Silmaria bound the cloak-turned-bandage into place, then resettled his clothes and coverings around him until he was well covered and warm.

Her Lord made as comfortable as was possible, Silmaria strapped her small, deadly dagger to her belt. She slung the quiver of arrows over her shoulder and rose, bow in hand. She steeled herself, jaw set stubbornly, and went to the back of the cave.

With equal measures apprehension and determination, Silmaria slipped on quiet feet past the corpse of the bear and into the deeper cave. She had an arrow nocked at the ready. Her eyes scanned warily, the glow of the fire casting shadows on the wall like tumultuous specters.

The ground sloped downward at the back of the cave, descending into a hollow of sorts, a cave within a cave that slid its way into the dark recesses of the mountain. Silmaria followed the cave with her pulse drumming out the rapid thud, thud, thud of her racing heart right behind her ears. Her eyes darted this way and that, nervously scanning, and she had to consciously remind herself to relax her fingers and keep her grip on the bow firm, but supple.

Never fond of enclosed spaces, Silmaria wanted nothing more but to run back into the main cave, which had seemed claustrophobic and closed in before, and drink in the wide open, airy space. But she wasn’t able to abide the thought of something else unseen and dangerous and hungry shambling up from the darkness to ambush them again.

All light from the torch in the cave above faded as the Gnari followed the gentle, ever downward and ever deepening slope. The way wasn’t very large; the bear would have taken up most of the space along the cave here. Step by careful, silent step she went, her pelt raised and tingling with apprehension as the silent darkness enfolded her. Even with her night eyes working well enough for her to just barely perceive her surroundings, her imagination conjured all manner of foul death and beastly dangers from the inky blackness of the cave. Bears, mountain lions, slavering, half-starved wolves and all other manner of less mundane beasts lurking deep within the mountain, all impatiently waiting for a meal to wander its way right down to them.

When the pungent, overpowering scent of decaying flesh and dead things registered to her sensitive nose it did precisely nothing to set her at ease.

Almost, Silmaria turned back. But memories of being caught so thoroughly unawares, the desperate struggle neither of them had been prepared for, and the disastrous end results steadied her resolve. Perhaps she would find her death here in this wretched pit, but she wouldn’t be caught by surprise again.

Her fingers twitched on the bowstring, slick with perspiration, and her stomach coiled into wretched knots. She stepped, and stepped again, muscles refusing to relax. She struggled to keep her breathing even, though fear settled into a heavy stone in her gut. The darkness amassed around her, weighing on her shoulders, clinging to her, smothering.

When she came upon the end of the cave, Silmaria’s breath went out in a rush.

At last, she laughed. A short, nervous, foolish sort of laugh. The Gnari girl shook her head at all the imagined demons and beastly predators she’d conjured in her mind. She would have been almost disappointed if she weren’t so deeply relieved to find the cave held nothing but a hollow where the bear had settled in to hibernate and sleep. Bones littered the floor in piles, some broken where the bear had cracked them with powerful jaws to suck out the marrow. There were a few old carcasses that had the last scraps of meat clinging to the framework of bones and they were putrid with rot.

Silmaria didn’t give the bones too close an inspection, lest she find something resembling human among them.

Sure that the cave housed nothing with a dangerously overdeveloped sense of hunger, she gratefully made her way back to the cavern where Rael waited, still smiling wryly at her own skittishness.

***

Skinning and butchering the bear was an ordeal. Silmaria had precious little enough experience with dressing the smaller kills she’d made, and the bear was immense. She stubbornly pressed on though, working her sharp, wicked dagger under the pelt and slicing it away to reveal the wealth of meat underneath. She knew there was no way they could eat all of it; the heat from her fires trapped inside the cave was insulated and spreading. Which was wonderful for warming up and not freezing to death, but less so for the viability of the meat.

Still, Silmaria cut off enough of it to last them quite a time. She planned to eat enough to replace some of the fat she’d lost through the harsher days of their travels, and to last her through more lean times to come. She knew the prospect of getting Rael to eat was slimmer, but she was determined to get as much of the damned bear into him as possible.

She spent more of her precious fuel to get the meat cooked, and even took their single small, dented cooking pot and placed it over the fire. She cut up some meat and put it on to boil, and soon had a good deal of broth ready to be consumed.

She ate some of the bear meat before tending to Rael; once she smelled the cooking meat, her body rather violently reminded her just how hungry she was, reacting to the smell with a wave of hunger and weakness that left her belly gnawing itself into wretched cramps and the rest of her physically shaking. As much as the Gnari wanted to tend to her wounded companion, Silmaria reminded herself firmly that she could do nothing for him if her strength gave out. So she ate, slowly at first and deliberately forcing herself not to gorge on the meat. Every bite was a trial not to stuff more into her starving belly.

At last, her hunger appeased, Silmaria went to Rael. With tired but capable hands Silmaria lifted his head up to her lap and went through the slow, necessary process of feeding him the broth. He managed this easier than the food she’d given him earlier, but his response was still minimal at best, his body automatically swallowing and consuming rather than any conscious effort on his part.

With a soft frown she watched him. The Knight was clammy. Sweat beaded his strong brow, and his lips were colorless. As she fed him the broth, Silmaria felt his forehead.

“Damnation,” she muttered worriedly; his forehead was near scalding to the touch, his temperature burning hotter than any she’d ever felt. She forced her hands to be steady as she got as much water into him as she could, then placed everything aside with a rising sense of dread.

Peeling the layers of clothes back off, Silmaria’s stomach lurched at what she revealed.

He was absolutely feverish, his body burning up and covered in sweat so heavily in ran off his sallow skin in little glistening streams. Worse, his wounds looked awful. They were puffy and swollen and a vibrant, angry, ugly red around the edges.

“Don’t do this to me,” Silmaria said aloud as she began to clean his wounds, wiping away blood and sweat and praying she wasn’t making a bad situation worse. Infection had been her worst fear, the surest way he would succumb.

“Come on, my Lord, you have to fight this,” she said to him, praying he could hear, fearing not a single word would reach him. She stared down at him as her hands tended his flesh, willing strength into him. Willing strength into them both.

“Don’t you give up. Don’t you leave me. You are stronger than this. Do you hear me? You are stronger than anyone I’ve known. Stronger than these paltry wounds. You are a good, strong man, a Knight of the realm and the finest sword hand I’ve ever seen. Men couldn’t stop you. You faced down a bear without flinching. My warrior Lord wouldn’t let himself succumb to some pathetic fever and infection! It’s not the end you deserve, and I won’t let it happen. I won’t!”

Brave words. Brave, rash words, and Silmaria believed them.

Almost.

***

“I wonder what the south is like. Mother said she and Father came from the southlands. I’m sure she told me where, but I don’t remember. She didn’t speak much of our homeland, or our people. But she said they were warm, and green, except where there were badlands and wastelands and deserts, but even those places were warm, and nothing like the Dale. Mother said I was born in the south, but they had already started their journey by then, and I was only a few months old by the time they made their way to DarkFyre.

“The Dale is all I remember,” Silmaria said. She huddled into the thick bear skin she had draped around her and stared at Rael, and her eyes were far away. “I wonder if I will remember the south when we get there. In some part of me that goes deeper than memory, I mean. Someplace in my heart and my flesh and my bones that remembers the sun’s warmth unhampered by the cold of the land, and green grass all year round instead of for a few short months in the summer. Summers without end. Winters that feel like spring. A desert. A skyline without mountains. I’ve heard of these things. But I don’t know them, except maybe in that core deep within, buried and silenced by memories.”

Part of Silmaria wondered if she was going mad. She’d been carrying conversations with Rael all night and day. He’d yet to answer her. Even knowing he wouldn’t, she kept on talking with him. She spoke with him about small, inconsequential things, musings and wonderings and maybe’s and what-if’s until she was jibbering and jabbering about absolutely nothing.

Yet still she spoke. Madness or no, she felt certain that in some way, on some level, he could hear her. And if there was even the slightest, smallest chance that something as simple and cheap and precious as words could keep him clinging to life, fighting and persevering, then she would speak until her throat closed and the words became ash on her tongue.

***

“If you could smell yourself, you’d gag, too,” Silmaria said with dark humor. It brought up that question of madness again, but she couldn’t help but to smile grimly or she’d put all her focus on just how queasy she was becoming.

Rael’s wounds were festering, the infection grown much worse. Puss and foul smelling blood oozed, viscous and purulent, from the Noble’s ragged flesh. He was not healing well. Not healing at all. By the day, by the hour even, the wounds worsened in one of the most aggressively fast infections she’d ever witnessed.

That very morning in a fit of desperation, Silmaria had ventured out of the cave. The blizzard had relented, but only barely. The storm was still too savage to risk going far. And even if it hadn’t been, where would she have gone? Rael said they had about a day’s journey through the pass to go yet, and even after that, there was yet more distance before they would find any sort of civilization in the southlands.

Escape was not her goal anyway; Silmaria searched and foraged, to disappointing results, for any sign of herbs or plants that could help treat his wounds or bring down his fever, anything that would make a difference for him. Her hopes of any good coming of the effort had been slim, and her efforts were ultimately fruitless.

She was at least able to come upon a felled tree along the path. It was a young tree and just small enough that with near an hour’s work and a great wealth of effort, straining, and a plethora of creative curses, she was able to drag it back to their cave.

The fire was crackling now, which was a blessing since she’d run out of wood last night and they’d had to spend the night without the flame’s comforting warmth.

Silmaria wrung the excess water from a much abused scrap of cloth, and wiped Rael’s sweating face. He was so hot she could feel the burning inside him radiating from his flesh clear through the rag.

“How long can a man burn so hotly before he has nothing left?” Silmaria mused, aloud, as she had begun to speak near any thought in her head aloud by this point just to keep talking to him.

“How long have you been on fire this way? Two days? Three? A dozen? I can’t even remember anymore, my Lord. It’s starting to blur. How can I be losing my grip on time when you’re the one who’s sick? Am I so lost without you, already?”

He didn’t have to answer her. She already knew.

***

“I think that this is my fault.”

She had cleaned his wounds yet again. They were no better and no worse than before. Any heart she took from seeing no further decline in his condition was sobered by the fact that neither was he getting any better. He seemed to be stuck, unchanging, and while it was better than any further deterioration, how long could he really hang on like that?

His wounds were cleaned and tended, but his fever raged like the most potent fire in the world. He burned like the sun. The infection may be at a standstill, but the fever was going to kill him just as sure.

With little recourse, Silmaria put one of his blankets over him and hauled snow into the cave to pack all around him, mounding the cool powder onto him. This took some time; at first, every time she put new snow onto his covered body, it would immediately melt, so great was his heat. At last, though, she piled more and more onto him, until it was molded to him so thickly its own abundant cold sustained for a time.

She sat close to him and felt his brow. His fever was ebbing somewhat, but he was still warm enough to chase the chill from hands frozen from handling the snow.

“I think that this is my fault, because I started to love you. I don’t have good luck with love, you know. The people I love die. Or go away. They never last.”

Silmaria sat, hands folded in her lap. She felt like a little girl again, with Master Edwin. Dumping the contents of her head and her heart out to let someone wiser shift through the pile and make some sense of the senseless jumble. Would that she had tried to let Rael do so before now, when he couldn’t shift through anything.

“I’m so very afraid of being alone,” Silmaria went on, her voice soft, too soft to be heard, but he probably couldn’t hear her anyway so it didn’t really matter. “I’m afraid that everyone I love, everyone I care about, will be forever doomed to pain and death. It’s happened time after time. My mother. Master Rael. All my friends at House IronWing. Now, you. When I love someone, it’s the surest sign that eventually they’ll be gone, too.

“I think that’s why I wanted so desperately not to love you, if I’m honest,” she went on as she pulled the bearskin closer and clutched at her knees. “Everything I thought about you before I knew you turned out to be wrong. I thought you a selfish, irresponsible, uncaring Noble prick. And I was wrong. So wrong. You’re a good man, a Noble in the true sense of the word. You saw a wrong that you’d inadvertently caused, even though you were rightly being brave and valorous serving your duty on the warfront. And even struggling with your own fears about some terrible and unknown force trying to assassinate you, you still did everything you could to turn life around for us at the House.

“You didn’t have to. Hell, most Nobles couldn’t give two loose shits about their servants. But you did it anyway. Because you’re honest. And kind. And strong. Like your Father.”

Tears slipped down her cheeks, silent and only a precious few of them, because that was all she had left, and all she would allow herself. “Now, I’ve killed your honesty, and your kindness, and your strength and everything else, because I let myself love all of them and all of you.”

***

Rael’s fever was unrelenting. He’d seemed to rally for a few short hours earlier that morning. Silmaria had taken heart and her spirits soared. Though his wounds still seeped some puss, it was minor indeed compared to before, and the angry redness at the edges of his gashes was diminished. He breathed and slept easier, and his fever had at last dipped.

Silmaria kept him clean and dry and covered, and worked hard at anything that could keep her busy. She’d gotten about all the meat she safely could from the bear by that point. Even the meat she’d salted and smoked wouldn’t keep much longer without actually going into a salt barrel, but for now, it was edible.

She instead ventured out into the storm once more to scrounge for a bit more fire wood, restocked their water satchels, made more broth, fed it to Rael and gave him water, filled their water supplies yet again, and scrubbed out some of the rags and makeshift bandages and whatever other clothing was in bad need of some cleaning, wetting them down in the snow and then scrubbing them on some nearby flat rocks before setting it all in front of the fire to dry.

The Gnari had even removed the claws and fangs of the dead bear, thinking they could either be sold once they got back to a town, or at least fit some purpose later on as they made their way through the wilderness.

By evening, or at least what Silmaria figured was evening with the blizzard still raging outside, Rael worsened once more. His fever returned with a vengeance. It burned through Rael until he was hotter than ever, as if all the fires of the hells collected within one man. Holding his hand and wiping his brow was nearly painful.

“Come on,” Silmaria said in a voice of resolution. “You were there. You were almost there. You were getting better. Don’t let it win now.”

Rael thrashed and jerked, moaning. His eyes fluttered and twitched under his eyelids, and he would not be still. His face was a mask of pain, grimacing and scrunching, with deep lines etched into his brow. The Gnari clutched the warrior’s hand, squeezing, willing every last ounce of her strength into him.

He could take it all, have it all, if only he would live.

His grip on her hand was fierce, yet it was wavering. His strength was fading, even as he fought that terrible battle.

“Fight, my love. my warrior Lord,” Silmaria said to him. He writhed and bucked and thrashed in an ever-growing frenzy. He came close to ripping his hand from her grasp, but she clung to it stubbornly, refusing to let that contact go.

“Please, Master. Come back to me.”

***

“Aahhh!” Rael screamed, and then screamed again, louder this time. His thrashing grew frantic, his face a red, sweating mask of agony. With a sharp jerk he yanked his hand from the Gnari’s grasp.

His hands clawed and pulled at his clothes, ripping them, desperately wrenching them aside until his upper body was bare. Silmaria tried to stop him, but he was in a frenzy and even feverish unto death he was just too strong. The Nobleman’s huge hands grabbed at his wounds, clutched at nothing in a desperate fit.

“Ah! Ahhh!” Rael screamed, and screamed in unbearable suffering.

“I don’t understand, my Lord!” Silmaria gasped in rising panic. “What’s wrong? What is going on?”

She lifted a hand to his sweat drenched brow and then jerked it back, the heat of him truly scalding to the touch now. “Gods, what is happening to you?” she said with wide eyes.

A deep, roaring scream came charging from Rael’s ragged throat. His back bowed up off the cave floor as every muscle contracted and went rigid.

With a tremendous flare of light and heat that sent Silmaria scooting backward on her ass, a great fire came flaring to life. It surged and swirled as it came from within Rael’s body and spread over the length of his wounds in crackling, popping gouts of flame, as if he were hemorrhaging fire instead of blood. The flames were a silvery white light, spreading to cover every inch of damaged tissue along those fearsomely cruel gashes.

The flames licked at the ruined gouges, bursting and spouting in rolling fiery waves and crescendo’s from every bit of the raw meat that was the Nobleman’s flesh as if to cook every last bit of it. The heat of it was so intense she could feel it beating against her even as far back as she’d scooted. The light was resplendently shining, a surge of brilliance that left her eyes dazzled, as if Rael held some silvery sun within his body and its rays had come peeking through.

The man screamed on, wildly, a long, agonized wail as the fire poured from his side. Silmaria squinted against the radiance pouring from him and scrunched her nose, nauseated by the distinct odor of cooking flesh. Rael was suddenly up, leaping to his feet and shaking off the last vestiges of his clothing to stand naked and burning.

Silmaria’s eyes lifted from the gouts of silver flames bursting from his side to his face, which was a fierce mask of agony. And something else. Rage, perhaps. His teeth were bared and clenched, his features drawn into an animalistic snarl. His eyes were full of the pain of the burning. And something else. Something more. Something, or someone very different from the Rael she knew.

As the Gnari girl wondered if the strange, frightening flame was going to spread and swallow him entirely to burn him to ash, they extinguished. Rael stood, panting, his eyes darting around the cave suspiciously. Tendrils of pale smoke rose from his side. Where the grievous wounds had been was now fully formed, thick scar tissue adding to the multitude that already covered his body.

“M-my Lord,” Silmaria said shakily, still gazing at him in a sort of shocked awe. She didn’t understand what she just witnessed.

At the sound of her voice, Rael’s head swiveled quickly to pin her with his eyes. They were feral. Wild and frightening. Silmaria suddenly had the distinct feeling that she was sharing the cave with a predator.

Rael eyed her, his body still, unwavering, tense. Then he pounced, leaping across the space between them. Silmaria let out a gasp as he dropped atop her, his arms on either side of her, his weight hovering. Gods, he was huge, seemingly every bit as big as the bear in that moment, and every bit as powerfully primal. He pinned her to the floor beneath him, his wild eyes never once leaving her face.

He leaned down, the incredible heat of his body surrounding her. He sniffed her, eyes boring into her as he took in her scent like a beast.

For an agonizing moment, that was all, just his eyes on her as he loomed just above her, pinning her under his muscular bulk. Silmaria swallowed, staring into the fierce silver stare that was and yet was not Rael. Fear laced undeniable fingers through her.

Despite that, and because of it, Silmaria could feel a deep, quivering heat building in her core as a distinct, demanding slickness spread between her supple thighs.

“My Lord… what has happened to you? I don’t understand, what’s… ah!”

Silmaria’s words drew up short in a gasp as Rael’s big, capable hands went to her clothes, pulling and yanking at her thick winter garments. He near tore them apart with his insistence, yanking them up and down and aside in whatever way he could until at last she was bared and her generously lush, heavy breasts quivered before his eyes.

Before Silmaria could even form a thought or reaction, he was upon her. Rael wrapped her up in one powerful, taut arm, the other going to her left breast. He cupped the ripe orb of her tit, squeezing with powerful, warm fingers, groping and fondling her pliant soft flesh as those roughened fingers sank into her, kneading and grasping, drawing another gasp of pain from her.

Silmaria’s nipples were immediately two thick, throbbing pink tips of hardness, aching from the cold and his rough, demanding touch. His head descended and without a word he drew one puffy, swollen nub into his mouth. He sucked, hard, drawing at it, his tongue working over Silmaria’s sensitive nipple, lashing again and again. Then he pulled her nipple with his lips, sucking hard, and finally bit into it with his wicked teeth.

Her body went shock still, her eyes wide and mouth gaping in surprise. Then she squealed, and her back arched sensually, pressing her breasts into his mouth. Gods, oh fuck how blissfully painful that felt! His teeth worried at her fleshy nub and it brought her up on a spear tip of pleasure-pain, sharp and sudden and inescapable. Her cunt exploded, weeping and blossoming as her arousal spiked.

Rael slurped at her heaving, pliant tits, one and then the other, groping at them, cupping them with big, heavy hands as she quivered and writhed beneath him. Her gasping, shuddering moans and whimpers seemed to drive his demanding desire higher and higher still. The Nobleman seemed more beast than man, then, and she didn’t care, didn’t care as long as he kept touching and tasting her. It was everything she wanted and more.

His hands were no gentler when he jerked her pants down, leaving her completely exposed and vulnerable. She shivered, in cold and anticipation both. Had it not been for the heat of his body surrounding her she would have been frozen to the bone. As it was, she hardly noticed, all her attention focused on him and those cruelly wonderful hands.

At last Rael let her breasts be, leaving them aching painfully and covered in small bites that made her body tingle and her hips shimmy and wiggle. His big hands gripped her waist and her thighs, sinking his fingers into her firmly muscled, taut thighs. Silmaria moaned once more, sure she would bruise where his fingers claimed her. The Gnari girl stared up into her Lord’s face and spread her legs widely for him, a clear, wanton invitation to take whatever he wanted from her, to use her for that which she gave fully and freely.

He took her hips in a grip of iron and suddenly yanked upward. Silmaria yelped, surprised, helpless to resist and unwilling to protest. Rael tumbled her hips backward until Silmaria was piled up on her back and shoulders, crunched down into an uncomfortable, frightening, thrilling position with her knees pressed down near her face and her ass and cunt tilted straight up into the air.

Before she could finish being thankful for her inherent limber nature, she let out a howling yelp as Rael’s face descended between her spread thighs. He ran a strong, hungry tongue between her thighs. He started at the crack of her ass where he licked upward in a long, firm stroke, licking across her crinkled, sensitive asshole which made her jump and writhe to no avail. Up the full length of her puffy wet slit, splitting her juicy outer labia around his lashing tongue, until he found the throbbing, hypersensitive pearl of her hard little clit.

“Oh gods… oh fuck…” Silmaria panted, gasping, her hips shimmying and bucking as Rael licked up and down her slit, sucking firmly, drawing in the plentiful flow of her sticky-sweet arousal. His tongue plunged into her cunt, sliding in and out, swirling inside her in a maddeningly voracious hunt for her slick pussy juice. Rael swirled his tongue inside her, flicking, thrusting, sliding it about her insides as she panted and moaned and practically wept.

Then, his hands holding her thighs pressed up against her heaving bosom, Rael bit into her cunt. It was a light, grazing bite, his teeth nipping stingingly at her engorged folds and glistening pink inner flesh. It was painful, stinging and sharp and sudden, and it was enough to make Silmaria scream out a white-hot flash of agony as she immediately came. Her core clenched tight and small and then exploded, bursting inside her and radiating out in wave after wave of euphoric, undulating pain-made-ecstasy.

Silmaria did weep, then.

Rael, satisfied with the meal he’d made of her for the time being, let her crash back down to earth momentarily before gripping her legs and raising them, holding her trembling thighs. Silmaria hardly registered anything through that hazy fog of orgasmic bliss, simply laying there with her legs wide open and welcoming.

Then she felt the prodding at her cunt. She looked down, studying every detail of him, the flat, defined muscles of his belly bunching and working as the corded power in his shoulders stood out distinctly. Most of all, her eyes drank in his blatant arousal pulsing between his thick, sculpted thighs.

She’d seen his cock several times already, of course; cleaning him and tending to his wounds and his bodily needs while he had waned and recovered, waned and recovered had been very distinctly different than this, however.

Now he was fully erect, his aroused blood swelling his length, and there was no question of his vitality and good health. He was hard as stone and generously endowed to the point of making her cunt ache already just to look upon him. A long, bloated length of muscled shaft extended, powerful and menacing, and the blood engorged mushroomed head was already rubbing against the softly spreading entrance of her cunt, teasing her with promise of the sweet agony of pleasure to come.

Shamelessly Silmaria lifted her hips, pressing forward and upward, trying to get his fat cock worked up inside her. She was thoroughly beyond caring how desperate or depraved it made her look. She wanted him in her, now, as hard and rough and cruelly voracious as he’d been thus far.

Just then, something changed. Rael’s face wavered, the menacing, frightening, thrilling snarl melting away, shifting to a look of fierce concentration. His body went taut and absolutely still, and his eyes held more of the humanity and tender care that was the man she knew.

“Silmaria… I…” he growled out, and his voice strained with great effort.

She saw it then, in his eyes and his face. Horror. Shame. Self-loathing. A deep, heartbreaking apology for what he’d done, and what he would still do.

After… hurt… sick. Crazed, he’d said as he lay wounded. Not… self. Hurt. Don’t… let… hurt.

The Gnari girl didn’t understand, not truly. But she saw that on some level, he was not fully in control. He was fighting himself. Fighting against some deeply insistent, primal side of himself that was driven by carnal need. He fought against it because he feared hurting her.

“It’s all right, Master Rael,” Silmaria said softly, staring into his eyes. She reached up, her small hands cupping his face as she moved against him, grinding her hot slit against the bulging knob of his cock, willing him to see, to understand. “It’s Okay. Take me, Master. Take all of me. Take everything you need. I am for you. I am yours. Do it, please!”

He gazed down into her upturned, pleading face, the war within playing out on his stricken face.

Silmaria leaned up, staring into his eyes, one hand at his cheek as the other propped her up. Her breasts crushed tender and heavy and firm against his taut, rippling chest.

“I love you,” she said, and “Please,” as she found his lips with her own.

Rael shuddered violently, once. Then he pressed his lips into hers. Deep, insistent, and demanding, he claimed her with a searing kiss before lunging forward with his hips and driving his powerful cock deep into Silmaria’s welcoming, yielding cunt.

Her back bowed once more, delicate and gracefully obscene. Her thick mane of black curls, tangled and matted from the travails of their journey, tossed back as she let out a scream of sweetest painful pleasure. Rael held poised above her for the barest moment, his face a mask of satisfaction, the war with himself and whatever primal thing was within him put aside as the man and the beast within the man both gratified in the hot, wet, gripping confines of Silmaria’s cunt. She gasped out the end of that scream, her breath stolen. She was full, so very fucking full, her pussy stuffed with Master Rael’s bulging, thick cock. She could feel him in the deepest part of her, lodged violently up her stretching core, and his throbbing girth spread her perfectly, painfully, wonderfully wide.

The moment passed, and Rael gripped her hips tightly once more, his forearms hard and rippling. He pressed down into her, pinning her to the cave floor with his weight and his strength and his cock. The Knight pulled his hips back, his cock dragging free of her clenching, clinging twat, dragging a whimper from her full, panting lips before he rammed forward, piercing into her once again, driving his meaty length into her once more.

Rael set into a frenzied pace. There was no patience in him, nor gentleness. He used her. The rough Lord pounded into Silmaria’s tender pussy, driving into her quivering wet slit, stretching her anew with every powerful, relentless thrust. His strength was overwhelming, the slide of his cock stabbing into her weeping cunt over and again making Silmaria gasp and scream and sob with devious satisfaction.

The cave was full of the sounds of their mating. Their coupling. Their rutting. Their shameless, unabashed, carnal fucking. Rael’s hips slammed into hers with bruising force. Silmaria gripped his forearms and biceps and wide shoulders, whatever she could get her hands on just to steady herself. His body was corded steel under her fingertips. She writhed and bucked beneath his sawing thrusts, her rounded ass scraping along the rough stone of the cave floor in a way that only made her crave yet more of his brutal using.

“Fuck. Fuck! Yes, please!” Silmaria screamed, clinging to Rael, her body curled up into him as he plowed deeply into her, his generous length driving punishingly into her stretched open, slippery tunnel. She came then, violently, propelled by such pain and pleasure and lust and wicked fulfillment that it overwhelmed her. She shrieked out her release, her pussy clenching down on Rael’s heavy cock even as he continued to tirelessly thrust and drive into her quivering depths. Girlcum splashed from her trembling, pulsing pussy, spattering against his groin and running down her shuddering thighs and the deep, gyrating crack of her ass.

Rael growled, a deep, fierce rumbling in his throat that made her cunt dribble all the more. He pumped her full of his cock, his muscles rippling and bunching with the efforts of the conquest of her willing flesh. Their sweat mixed, glistening and chilly on their exposed skin as they meshed and mingled. A few more savage thrusts and Silmaria was cumming again, a violent release that had her gasping and hiccupping as pleasure scorched along her skin like fire.

His mouth was on hers, kissing her deep and rough, his lips and tongue and teeth hungry and demanding. She kissed him fervently and framed his handsome, fierce face with small, trembling hands. She came again, rode out another gushing orgasm on her Lord’s rigid cock.

Another followed, and another, until Silmaria lost all track and sense of where one orgasm began and another ended. Explosions flashed dizzying behind her eyes and there was a distinct thrumming of deep, primal power in her belly. Each orgasm left her happily disoriented, adrift on the waves of release that crashed over her again and again, dragging her down to drown in the darkest depths of ecstasy.

She was soaring and sinking all at once. Floating on bliss that dragged at her limbs until she was sluggish and utterly drained. Every time her pussy clenched up, gripping hard in splashing waves on Rael’s unyielding meat, she lost herself all over again, cast out, adrift in an ocean of harsh, glorious pleasure. It was rapture. A release unlike she’d ever truly known, only skirted and dabbled in small slips and forays.

It was a cruel, sharp, serrated edged sort of pleasure that he gave her. It cut to the bone and ripped her open, raw and weeping with helpless acceptance of his ravages.

Silmaria, forever cursed with a nature that yielded gladly to dark pleasures, had never known such completion.

With a sudden lunge, Rael buried the full length of his twitching shaft into Silmaria’s widely stretched slit, the bulbous head of his cock smacking against her cervix as her puffy, dripping folds wrapped around his base. He leaned down and his mouth found the side of her throat, and he bit her firmly, his teeth finding purchase on that oh-so sensitive slip of flesh and clamping down.

The Gnari screamed, eyes wide and glazed over as the grip of his teeth triggered yet another release. She gripped his cock in a velvet, desperate embrace, her muscles squeezing and milking as she came in a wet flood of warm girlcum that sprayed out as she lost all control. Her grip unmanned him, and a moment later Rael’s thick, hot cum spurted deep inside her in rope after rope of seed, splashing deep in her belly to fill her and coat the inside of her rhythmically squeezing cunt.

A soft, hiccupping sob came bubbling up from her throat. Silmaria shuddered as she clung to him, her small arms thrown around his neck in a desperate embrace as her orgasm washed through her, more subdued than her previous ones but longer and lingering, refusing to fully release her until she was a trembling, shaking wreck of a woman.

He lay heavy atop her, his solid, strong form dwarfing her as he gasped in deep breaths, his muscled sides heaving. Silmaria lay there, pleasantly trapped by him, her legs spread wide and her loins filled with a profound and wonderfully satisfying ache.

At last, Rael raised himself on his hands, lifting slightly off her. She let out a whimper as the oddly comforting crush of his weight shifted off and the heat of his body lessened, leaving her keenly aware of the cold of the cave and her exposure.

When she opened her teary eyes and gazed up at him, she beheld a mask of worry and concern, that same look he’d had before, only this time it did not war with that primal force that had fought for control as it sought her flesh. This was her Lord, the gentle, kind man she knew, and he needlessly feared what he’d just done to her.

“Gods, Silmaria, I’m so sorry… I couldn’t… I didn’t…” he began, his voice breaking.

“You did exactly as I wished you would do, and more,” Silmaria said reassuringly, and the smile she gave him was radiantly exhausted.

His face showed the confusion, the struggle. He did not fully understand. Himself, her, or their frantic, wild coupling, she couldn’t be sure.

It didn’t matter.

She took his face in her hands once more, her fingers lightly toying with the short copper curls of his beard. She met his eyes, strange, slitted greens to ethereal silver.

“You are my Master. Now, and forever, I am yours, to do with as you wish. My flesh. My mind. My heart. They are yours, to use and hold and keep, as gently or roughly as pleases you. You are my Lord Master Rael, a good, honorable man with fire and ferocity in him, and I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

She smiled up at him, her heart in her eyes, and when she kissed him once more, any protest or doubt he clung to was lost in the soft acceptance of her lips.

***

I want to give a big, big thanks to the many readers that sent me feedback last chapter. Ask and you shall receive, it seems! Thank you SO much, each and every one of you. Your support and encouragement really made writing this chapter enjoyable and meaningful for me. I hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I packed a pretty good deal of content into this one and I hope you all enjoy the developments here.

Questions, mysteries, and a whole lot of sexiness. What’s not to like?!

Thank you as always for any feedback comments or critiques!

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than Lushstories.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.


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