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We stood in a wind-swept, barren landscape. Nearby a huge skeleton of a four legged creature dominated the surroundings. I could easily have curled up and gone to sleep in one of the eye sockets of the towering skull. A few of the local fauna attacked us, but were quickly beaten off.
I pulled Annah aside to talk to her about something that had bothered me since seeing Ravel in the maze. I tried to explain about what happened when I kissed Ravel, but she cut me off.
"Aye," Annah snarled, "don't be comin' and dredgin' up that wash. If yeh want tae lock lips with a fiend, kissing that hag was probably the *safest* thing yeh coulda done." She spat. "Now stop rattlin' yer bone-box: I donnae want tae hear another word about it, I don't." I asked another question, regarding something Ravel had said.
"In the maze, Ravel said you were tormented... what did she mean?" Annah frowned.
"She meant *nothing,* she did. Barmy hag talk, it was."
"Are you sure?"
"It was NOTHING. If yeh donnae know what she was sayin', I don't either."
"Well, if you want to talk about it, I'm lis--"
"I..." Annah's gaze dropped for a moment. "I donnae why I'm travelin' with yeh! I donnae know why I went with yeh tae find Ravel!" She frowned, but she seemed more confused than angry. "It makes no *sense,* it does, and I donnae like it."
"I..." Annah took a deep breath. "I think I have *feelings* for yeh. It feels strange, it does... I don't think I've ever liked *anyone.* But yeh..." Annah gave a half-hearted shrug without meeting my gaze. "I donnae know what it is about yeh, I mean -- yeh're *daft* a lot of times, yeh walk like yeh're hips are broken, yeh're clumsy, yeh smell like a zombie, but..." She sighed. "I *like* yeh."
I hesitated, torn. How could I explain to her that it would be much better if she did not want me, that I feared for any who followed me, that especially any who cared for me were doomed? As I stood in indecision, Annah continued speaking.
"It's cause I think yeh're *doomed.*" Annah suddenly met my gaze. "I think yeh walk with chains, but yeh don't know it yet. So I... feel for yeh, but I'm afraid for yeh... an' that's *killing* me, it is. I donnae want yeh come tae harm, but I donnae know what tae do to stop it!" Her concern, which so neatly mirrored mine, pierced me to the heart. I said nothing, but leaned forward.
I grabbed the back of her neck with my free hand, and I watched Annah's features go stone as I pulled her to me and kissed her on the lips. At first, it was like kissing a wall, then she started slowly kissing me back, hesitant at first, then with more confidence, her teeth lightly biting my upper lip. I heard her snarl in the back of her throat, and her tail started snaking around my leg, then *squeezing,* each squeeze matching one of her bites.
We had, of course, forgotten our companions who were standing nearby. Morte reminded us in his own way.
"Would you two cut it out before I have to get a dabus over here to separate the two of you!" Morte *hmmphed.* "Or at least allow me to cut in."
As I kissed, I suddenly noticed that Annah's skin was becoming warm - it was radiating heat, like hot coals. I pulled back, Annah's teeth giving one last bite, and she looked at me in confusion, then anger.
"What is it, then? I'm not good at it, am I?"
"No, it's your skin - why are you getting so warm all of a sudden?"
"Aye?" Annah frowned, and looked down at herself; I noticed small wisps of smoke were trailing from the edges of her jerkin. "Fiend blood, it is..." She raised an eyebrow. "Never had *that* happen before, though."
"What? No one's ever kissed you before?" She shrugged.
"No one ever *dared* tae. An' even if they did, I doubt it woulda been like that."
"I'll take that as a compliment, then."
"Aye... eh..." Annah glanced around, and her tail was flicking erratically. "Are we gonna keep movin' on now or what? We don't have time tae be standing an' chattin', we don't."
"Well, *I'm* not done kissing you yet. Come here." To the Abyss with my companions presence, I thought. In fact, at that moment I willed to the Abyss all worry about the future and Annah's probable fate if she stayed near me.
Annah stepped back, alarmed. "Nay - who knows what would happen next - maybe my body'll turn tae *flame,* it will! Yeh and your lips keep your distance!"
The moment broken, I lead the way to investigate the giant
skeleton. I was done with Annah, at least for now.
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