Warning: will be explicit and raunchy than my usual romance types. Trial by Fire by Xyantha Reborn Chapter 1 Another boot slam to the face. “Just! Give! Up! Why! Don’t! You!” Melody howled, punctuating each word by slamming her booted heel into the reptilian face. The sturdy heel made a muted thud on impact, but was no deterrent for the salamander, which continued forward. Rather than pulling away from her, it merely closed the nictitating membranes over its eyes. Below, jaws gaped to reveal sharp, almost transparent teeth. The rock was sharp against her bare hands, and a nail bent backwards in a flash of pain and irritation. “Look, you slithering piece of accessory, I am so not interested in this right now! Bugger off, or I’ll make you into a nice purse!” Another snap from the jaws, and another boot to the face “And boots!” She would need one, after this escapade. The head slithered backwards with a roar. “That’s right, stink breath! Backoff!” Grasping the rock carefully, palms throbbing, the witch wedged herself higher into the small cavernous opening she had fit herself into. Luckily for her the cave was narrow enough that she was able to shimmy herself up by spreading her legs and walking up the wall, though it made her tired legs scream in protest. Clear brown eyes narrowed with determination as her hands tightened along the hilt of her long dagger. With the blade facing downward, she prepared to drive it down when the beast came back for round two. It was bad enough to have been caught by one, but to be eaten by one would be inexcusable! She wouldn’t be able to show her face at all, after that sort of scandal! Her sensitive ears twitched as roars of frustration echoed off the walls. The sounds of thrashing and snarling followed, but ended before Melody had a chance to figure out what was happening. Silence slowly reigned. Her legs trembled from the effort of holding her position, and yet she still waited for that head to reappear. Water dripped quietly deeper in the cavern, and wind whistled slightly. Below her, the little beetles once again bustled from their holes, and the bats farther within rustled their wings as the settled back into place. “Great. Now I get to see what killed it, and then kill the killer. Always a bigger fish in the pond,” the young woman sighed theatrically as she released the death grip on her dagger looked down to gage her landing. The view of the floor was suddenly blocked out by a figure stepping into the opening. Curly brown hair and helmet whipped forward in union. The dark sockets of the helmeted head gazed up at her, grasped her ankle unceremoniously, and yanked her downwards. The lips which had parted in surprise let out a whoop of shock, but with the reflexes of what seemed to be long habit, the young woman slammed the hilt of her dagger onto the helmet. The head shook slightly but gave no other sign of her attack as she scrambled for purchase. Suddenly, her entire vision seemed to be comprised of his armoured form, and her eyes watered as her back slammed into the rocky and cold ground of the narrow cave floor. At which point she was peremptorily dragged out of the narrow cave, moss soaking her back and rocks and twigs tugging at her hair. As soon as the armoured figure was clear – he, she could tell by his height and width – turned his back on her, and dragged her another several yards with an iron grip on her ankle. Her kicks, screams and curses didn’t faze him in the least. “Get bent, you rusty suit of junk!” she hollered as her bare hands scrambled for a stone, a stick, anything to replace her dropped dagger. She flung fistfuls of damp dirt and rocks at his back. “I’m going to rip you a new one, punk! You want to wear your skin outside your armour? I’ll skin you and then sew you back up with your ASS on your FACE! Get ready for pain!” Melody was released abruptly, and she scrambled to her feet. “Thanks - mud pies in my pants, bud, usually I do that myself!” Several yards away, the corpse of the salamander was keeled over. She couldn’t see the dagger without turning away from him, and turning her back on the man who just killed that salamander did not seem like the best plan. “Great, just great! I weaken seal the jar - and you take credit for opening it! Typical male!” The figure still hadn’t moved, or made a sound. Righto. Time to booketh it! She edged away, and that helmeted head turned with predatory slowness to follow her movements. Now that she was standing, she could tell that the man topped her by at least a foot over her own (barely) five foot frame, and was twice as wide as she was. The armour was interesting – it was very close fitting, and a matte storm grey. It didn’t have any clumsy seams or openings – in fact she couldn’t make out a single seam from here. “Nice armour. Would have loved to see it on my bedroom floor with you skinned beside it. So you going to try and kill me? If so, let’s dance! Just to warn you though, I’m a witch of top notch calibre, so you might get the physical toad body to go with your toady personality.” She flipped her curly hair back over her shoulder, which promptly did exactly what it wanted to. The figure moved his gauntleted hand close to his face, flicked his middle finger close to his forehead, then tilted his head up slightly. It was almost as if… “Are you trying to tell me ‘oh my god, really?”’ Melody demanded, hands fisting at her sides. Two index fingers pointed at her, then the thumbs turned up. Right on? He swiped casual fingertips towards her shirt. Glancing down, Melody saw the words she had embroidered herself - ‘W!tch!n’ be B!tch!n’. “You are a sarcastic little shit, for someone who doesn’t talk, aren’t you? Whad’ya want??” She narrowed her gaze at him suspiciously. He didn’t seem particularly threatening. But then, there was a dead salamander laying there, and he had dragged her out of that cave like she was a sack of potatoes. Obviously a strong dude. Obviously not going to kill her instantly. She did love that in her men. Those huge hands raised in a placating gesture. One hand dipped to his belt, and he tossed a small scroll at her. It was catch it, let it hit her in the face, or roll away super dramatically. “Can’t you talk?” Melody grumbled, catching the little tube and unrolling the contents. For the safe return of my pure daughter, Melody of House Justeen, Prior to her twenty third nameday tournament, I hereby do pledge the sum of one hundred thousand gold pieces. Signed, Reginald Justeen. “Oh, dear Papa.” She rolled the script up, shaking her head. “One thing you have to realize…” She placed it back in its tube and tossed it back to the waiting man. “Is that I never go down without a fight!” The man had caught to tube reflexively. Upon contact, it flashed incandescently, blinding him. Melody didn’t stay to watch – or be blinded herself – but instead quickly vaulted the body of the salamander, grabbed her small pack, and ran headlong into the woods. Melody expected to hear him swear, or lumber after her. She had accidentally blinded herself with that spell before, and considering that it was just light - damn, it could sting! Instead, all she could hear was silence. She ran, hopping over tree limbs and jumping from rock to rock as much as possible. The forest obligingly scattered leaves and loose dirt across her path as she went, roots curling to obscure her route. After she had travelled what she estimated to be several miles, she sat down and took a deep swig from her skin, calming her breath and listening closely and carefully. About her, lush green forest lived. Most city folk believed in the quiet of nature. However, nature was utterly deafening to those who stopped to listen. The wind caused leaves to rustle, branches to creak. Mice crackled the dry fallen leaves from the last autumn’s fall. A stream trickled nearby, and birds chirped and cackled above her. Even the dry scrapes of carapaces and the snuffling of small wildlife sounded loud to her. She coughed quietly and spat copper tasting saliva. Damn, she had pushed too hard. Her lungs wanted nothing more than to have her cough, and cough, and cough – a luxury she had to swallow in order to stay hidden. Taking a sip out of her skin, she sighed. The man was in full, heavy armour – there was no way he could move as quickly or silently as she could. As long as she could stay ahead of him, she would eventually lose him. Rising with another sigh, she swung her bag back onto her shoulder and stepped around the tree, back onto the trail. “SONOFA!” she shrieked as armoured hands grasped her upper arms in a vice grip, twisting her so that her back was against his chest. He transferred his grip so that her kicking legs couldn’t connect, grasping her arms firmly so that she couldn’t reach her components. His chest wasn’t even rising and falling like he was out of breath! “Lemme Go! Lemme go! Lemmo go lemme go lemme go lemme go lemme go!” Melody snarled, trying to bash his face with the back of her head, and finally succeeded – against his helmet. “OUCH!” Finally, her efforts wound down, and she panted, hair in her face, staring at their feet. He shook her slightly. You done? It seemed to demand “Yes, I am done,” she responded pettishly, sniffing. He let her go. When she whirled to face him, he set one hand on his hip and waggled the index finger on her other hand admonishingly. He mimed running with two of his fingers, then crossed his forearms decisively. Melody rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I got it. No running. How did you catch up so fast? Oh. Right, the no talking thing. That is going to get old, fast.” She slung her pack over her shoulder. If she couldn’t lose him or run, maybe she could trick him? “What’s your name?” In answer, he turned and walked away, flipping his hand forward in a ‘lets go’ gesture. “I’m going to have to give my new pet a name,” she crooned, pushing damp hair from her skin. Those brown eyes seemed to glow for a moment as a sinister smile slid from one side of her face to the other before disappearing. “I can’t call you ‘it’ the whole trip. I mean, I assume you are male?” The face of the helmet swung to face her briefly before facing forward. Blithely continuing, Melody traipsed behind him, biting a fingernail as she skipped. “Bernie. Sam. No! Calvin!” She worried at her thumb a little, eyes traversing his body. The suit was enchanted, that much she could make out. It made her eyes fuzzy to stare at it too long. “Bernard. Lito. George? No, I know, Tommy!” No response. “Hmm. They say that a puppy will tell you what its name is by reacting. I guess I’ll just have to say every name until I get a response.” She purred, chest swelling to take in oxygen for her next attack. Several hours later, even Melody was tiring of the game. Her companion had the patience of a rock. Not once had he even glanced at her, except to offer her his hand to cross a stream or climb something. That armour had to be enchanted. Her companion was strong, but no one was strong enough to move with such ease and rapidity over uneven ground without heavy breathing if he was in traditional armour. Even Melody’s calves were aching, even with the forest solicitously holding rocks steady. The movements of his body were strong and lithe, but she noticed sometimes he moved as if he wasn’t sure exactly where his own body started and ended. It was like he was taken aback by the proximity of his body to other objects. The weird thing was…the forest wasn’t fucking with him. It should have instinctively responded to the threat against her and lashed out in hundreds of subtle and shitty ways. Rocks would loosen to trip ankles – soil would become sodden to catch at boots. Roots would stretch up just enough to catch unwary feet. Despite its solicitude towards her, the forest didn’t seem bent on ruining his day. The ease and comfort he felt in the forest reminded her of one of her friends from long ago. “Fenwick. I’m going to call you Fenwick, or Fen for short.” He finally stopped, putting both hands on his hips. He turned to face her, head lowered. He heaved a sigh. Or at least his shoulders raised and fell - he made no sound. He raised his helmeted head, tilting it to the side. The whole appearance was one of long suffering, patience at an end. Alright. His put his hands out, palms sort of facing her, one over the other. Quickly, he sliced his hands outwards. Fine. One of Fen’s hands made a slow, circling motion with his fingers. The other hand returned to his hip, head still lowered towards her inquisitively. And why? He gestured like he hadn't spoken in a long time. Very expressive. “You must have been wearing that armour a long time,” Melody observed, choosing to play dumb. “I mean, not only because you seem really good at talking without words. It’s also the smell,” she confided in a loud whisper. She trotted along behind him as he turned away, shaking his helmeted head. “So are you some sort of merc? I mean there is the reward and all, but do you realize what you are getting me into? I’m going to be married off to the highest bidder. Well, not exactly. Technically to the guy who kills all the other guys in some backwards tournament. So, basically a murderer.” He shrugged indifferently. “Do you know how not cool that is? I don’t want to marry at all, let alone some murderous idiot who is marrying me for power and wealth! Hey, I’m talking here! A little attention! I’m not going to just go alone with you without a fight, do you hear me? Heads up - I’m going to ditch your metal ass the first chance I get.” Another shrug. Melody stamped her foot. “Oh, and I forgot to add – I’m going to annoy the crap out of you every minute of every day until you let me go! Starting on the subject of girls. What’s up with that? I mean, we totally pretend to be friends but secretly we hate each other. You can have one, maybe two girlfriends, then it’s all a lie. There is a maximum girl power quota – the more love you giveth to one girl, the more love you must taketh from another. Girls are SO annoying. They are obsessed about their looks, the guys they can get, and the guys they can’t. I don’t get it. Well, a little bit about the looks. I mean, no girl wants to be the fatty of the group. As long as there is one girl that is fattier, everything is ok. “Isn’t that a sad and mean thing to say? But it’s true – not of me, but most girls, because they are totally, totally shallow. Unless that fat friend is hotter than you, then they are totally jealous but try to convince themselves they aren’t. ‘Cuz great skin, great tits, and great ass speak for themselves. More cushion for the pushin! If I was into girls I would get me a girl with some curves. Reow!” She made a clawing gesture with her hand. “And then the whole guys thing – they all want a hottie. Even the ugly ones. I mean, you have to be reasonable. If you are a five, you need someone around a five. You can’t be a three and expect a ten. “Remember Fen, no one screws down. Only across or up. Or down if we are desperate. Or drunk. Or for revenge screws. So I guess that it isn’t much of a rule, ya know?” Slowly, his left hand raised to the helmeted head, rubbing his left temple.