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Like a Bat out of Hell (part 2)

December 19, 2013

The gnome who wanted to be Brightfire coughed frantically to clear her throat of the choking smoke that had enveloped her and waved her hands in passes that she really wished were mystic enough to summon wind.

Then she sat up in bed screaming until her mind cleared: she was not Brightfire. She never would be.

Lying back against the pillows, she allowed a single tear to trickle down her cheek as she remembered.

***

She had coughed frantically on the smoke, her eyes tearing over and her lungs wracked by caustic fumes. As a result, when she could finally see again, her startlement to find herself looking at cracked, rough basalt rather than cobbles.

“What… Where… How…” She exclaimed feebly, looking up finally as she came back to her knees.

A low chuckle was all that answered her. When she saw its owner, the gnomes eyes went wide.

He was a handsome devil, she would give him that. Almost like a gnome except for the red wings, the small horns and the eyes that had little flames dancing in them. He lounged on a rocky spur, the flames of hell his back drop and toyed with a foot long sceptre that appeared carved from a single ruby.

He also wore a simple crown made of gold, rubies and fire. She noted abstractedly.

But mostly what she noted was the fact that he was a devil. And that the backdrop wasn’t a quiet residential street but a curtain of steam, smoke and lava.

In short, she was in hell. Or a reasonable facsimile of it.

The devil’s chuckle turned into a broad grin that split his handsome face with predatory fangs.

“I’ll give you one answer for free.” He noted dryly. “But that was three questions and the other two will cost you. Do you really want that?”

Young as she was, the Gnome was not stupid and she shook her head quickly.

The devil sighed theatrically, “In that case, which do you want answered.”

Her mind raced. “How can I get home?”

He chuckled again. “I don’t think that was the question you were asking.”

“It might have been,” she replied pertly despite her fear. “It starts right.”

“So it does. Very well. You can get home with my help.”

“I meant safely.” She snapped.

“Manners, manners.” He chided gently, waving a puff of scalding smoke over her. “Besides, surely my old friend taught you to be clear when bargaining with fiends.”

“Your old friend?”

“Your former master, a certain Brightsong.”

“That’s a lie. Master Brightsong would never deal with beings like you.”

“Oh? Then why are you here?” He asked mildly. The little gnome set her lips firmly and he laughed again. “Well no matter. But to return to what your previous comment. I can transport you back perfectly safely so even if you had taken sensible precautions the answer would be the same.”

“Oh.”

“So, you had your freebie. What now?”

“Nothing,” she said stoutly. “I’m perfectly fine here. I have no intention of selling you my soul.”

“Darling girl, I have no desire for your soul. I am sure it would be nauseatingly sweet and horribly difficult to hold on to.”

He sounded sincere, horribly so and she was tempted to believe him. But while her master had not wasted much time in instruction in the wiles of fiends, he had been clear that they should never be believed. She shook her head.

“Well, then I don’t have much to offer you do I. So you might as well leave me alone and let me be.”

“Really?” The chuckle was back in his tone and then he was gone. She peered around cautiously and with rather more than a little terror. All was silent, which made her feel not the slightest bit better.

Finally, she remembered to rise fully and planted her legs sturdily behind her. Not that she saw any hope beyond her master rescuing her before she died. If even he were capable of that.

A blur of motion to the side caught her attention and she spun, catching her foot and stumbling again. Her clumsiness was lucky for her though as the claws of the spined, flame shrouded, leonine thing that had pounced on her, caught and shredded her dress not her flesh.

She screamed, already off balance and knew that she was dead. Then He was there again, catching the thing by the tail and throwing it twenty feet into a stone pillar where it twitched once and was still.

“Are you sure you want me to leave you alone?” He inquired wryly. She could only sob, trying to still her racing heart and cursing her reaction.

Still, when he made as if to disappear again, the word “Stop!” was dragged from her. He paused with raised eyebrow. “Why did you save me?” She asked with what composure she could muster.

“I said I did not want your soul. I never said there was nothing I wanted that you had.” He responded with a grin.

She blinked at him and found herself near to responding before she kicked herself mentally. He was handsome true, and just the right height her worser self insisted on reminding her, but she was fairly sure that flirting with a devil was a bad idea. Even if her lessons had never actually covered that one. Still, that rogue part of her mind noted, it had been a very long time since she had had anyone noticing her. Silverymoon had a fairly large Gnomish population all things considered, but her studies had not exactly been conducive to social events and all the othe acolytes and apprentices in the temple were of human or elven origins.

As a result, her “no” was nearly as gruff as it was curt, busy as she was stamping on this inexplicable attraction. He seemed to pay no mind.

He laughed again, “You misunderstand. If you want me in your bed then it will be for you to ask not the other way round.” Her eyes went round with outrage but, before her indignant protests could find vent, he had continued. “No, what I had in mind was simply an exchange of favours. I send you back and, in exchange, when I want something you can do for me, you will do it.”

“Really?” She asked disdainfully, her indignation subsumed by his apparent assumption of her stupidity, “so you do me one favour that is clearly defined and easy for you to do and in exchange you get an open ended ability to ask me to do something. I think not.”

“What would you suggest then?” He asked affably.

“If, and this is only hypothetical,” she added hastily, “IF I was to accept it, it would be only in exchange for a similarly well defined favour.”

“My darling girl, what on earth could you offer at this stage of life?”

“That’s not my problem, I’ve stated what I want.”

“You have to be reasonable though. Otherwise the fun goes out of this.”

She shivered as she perceived the threat behind the light words.

“Well, you can’t expect me to accept something so open-ended.”

“Some conditions might be reasonable.” He conceded.

“Like.”

“Oh, the favour cannot involve genocide or the destruction of the world. How would that suit?”

She gaped at him in sheer disbelief. “Well that would be a start but I’d have said no harm to anyone or anything.”

“Be serious. How could I possibly predict if there was going to be harm. That would be ludicrous.” He paused. “How about something totally different.”

“Such as?”

He grinned at her tone; it was clear that she was hooked and had completely forgotten the theoretical nature of the discussion. “Well, perhaps an ongoing arrangement with this thrown in as a signing on bonus.”

“You have got to be kidding! What could possibly make me want an ongoing arrangement with you?”

The devil smiled cheerfully and settled down to bargaining.

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