One Night

Chris Van Deelen

Every great character needs an origin, and this is how Ronnath's daughter Cheonsa came to being.

One Night

Noise - the nearly physical oppression of raucous sound assailed Ronnath’s senses as he entered the tavern located on the docks of Waterdeep. The large room was filled almost to the point of bursting with all manner of people – humans, a smattering of Dwarves and Elves, and even a pair of Halflings. There was a trio of bards, boisterously playing off in one corner. The interior was so dim Ronnath felt his natural low-light vision kick in, allowing him a far better view.

He instantly felt right at home, and a smile crossed his face, chasing away the scowl he perpetually wore. “I be likin’ it,” he said to no one in particular. A few of the humans seated near the entrance turned and glanced at the tall, powerfully built elf and then returned their full attention to their drinks, meals and companions.

Moving with grace and alacrity which defined his blood, Ronnath made his way through the throng of men and women, deftly dodging spilled drinks, suddenly thrust out feet, and all manner of obstacles with would have tripped up most normal people. There were a few muttered curses thrown his way, but he ignored each and every one, his mind set and his destination clear.

After passing a table filled with half a dozen huge, hairy human males, and one human woman. The males werre bare-chested and displayed tattoo-covered, muscular flesh. They eyed him with barely concealed hostility, except for the woman, who seemed to be sizing him up the way a hungry man would look at a haunch of venison. Ronnath decided it would be best to ignore the group and eventually he found a seat at the bar.

He wriggled his way between a human man who was one drink away from sleeping on the counter, and a figure dressed in riding leathers and a cloak the shade of the deepest depths of the Underdark. Ronnath barely gave either a glance as he waved his gloved hand towards the harried bartender.

The man, a portly fellow in his late forties or early fifties, nodded once and held up a hand displaying a single finger, giving Ronnath the signal he would be right with him. The Elf nodded in return and stared forward, looking at the impressive display of bottles covering the back of the bar. Many were covered in labels, indicating their origin far from the shores Waterdeep called home. He was not surprised in the least to see several were in script he could not even come close to deciphering.

Then again, he knew he was not the most intelligent Elf ever to have graced the lands of Faerun, so it did not bother him in the least. He allowed his eyes to travel over the mirror off to the right, one which gave him an excellent view of the interior of the tavern. His nose tickled and he stifled the urge to sneeze as the pungent scent of herbs wafted into his personal space, and he heard the cloaked figure beside him sneeze. It was a soft, feminine sound, if such a term could be applied to the explosive exhalation caused by a sneeze.

He let his eyes linger on the cloaked figure, and was not all that dismayed to see the soft curves of full lips and a pert nose, barely visible through the concealing hood. He could not make out the rest of her features, but could have sworn he caught a flash of red where her eyes were. It did not matter to him; he had seen all manner of being since he had buried his adoptive parents several years before.

“Bless ya,” he said in a voice loud enough to break past the cacophony of sound assaulting his ears.

The hooded head turned ever so slightly to the side to regard him, the woman saying nothing.

He shrugged and turned his full attention to the human bartender, who finally managed to make over to him. “Whadda be drinkin’?” The human asked gruffly.

“Undermountain Stout,” Ronnath said without hesitation. “Two pints.”

The bartender blinked once and then shook his head. “Elf, that be a Dwarven brew, wouldn’t ye be likin’ some wine or da like?”

“I know what I want,” Ronnath almost growled. He was getting rather tired of the reaction he got every time he ordered the drink of the Dwarves. It was so damn cliché so many people figured him to want wine and cheese, or eat nothing more than vegetables. He had acquired a taste for the strong brew and would take it any day over the – in his opinion – swill most Elves drank.

“Yer funeral, Elf.” The bartender shrugged and grabbed a pair of pint mugs and went over to a large Keg set into the wall. He quickly poured the drink and upon returning placed both mugs on the table before Ronnath and took the gold coin the Elf had dropped as payment.

Ronnath lifted the brew and sniffed the drink, smiling in satisfaction at the strong aroma. He took a swing and knew instantly he was drinking the real thing, not some imitation swill many of the bars offered. Satisfied, he finished the brew in four long pulls and slammed the empty stein onto the countertop. He would take his time finishing the second stein, after all, the night was still young and he had gold to spare.

It was at that moment he realized the woman seated beside him was watching him through the mirror. Yes - he was right and had not imagined it, the woman had red eyes, burning brightly in the depths of the shadows of her hood. Their eyes met for a moment and she nodded in what Ronnath could only guess to be approval at his choice of drinks. Feeling emboldened, he held up the stein. “Ye want one?” He asked, not looking in her direction, but instead keeping his eyes locked on the twin red glows of her own.

“If yer buying,” she answered. Her voice was as soft as a whisper, and yet he could hear it clearly over the din of the tavern. There was a hint of an accent, one which Ronnath could not place, but then again it was the docks of Waterdeep, and people from the farthest lands often stopped here for trade.

“That I am,” Ronnath answered and waved at the barkeep, who came over a moment later. “Two more,” he indicated the stein and dropped another gold on the counter.

The coin disappeared as if by magic and the barkeep left to retrieve the requested drink.

“I don’t oft see an Elf who likes drinks brewed by Dwarves,” the woman said, still studying him through the mirror. She had placed both her hands on the counter, and her arms were covered by dark brown sleeves, and she wore thin leather riding gloves.

“I’ve few friends in a small village where I grew up who introduced me to the stout,” he answered. He took his eyes from hers and turned so he was facing the woman. He noticed she was armed; a longsword strapped to her hip, which was barely visible through the cloak she wore, the tip of the sheathed blade barely visible.

She chuckled lightly. “Even with the dislike which be legendary between Elves and Dwarves?” The cloaked woman asked the humor clear in her voice.

“Don’t really know about that,” Ronnath turned his whole body so he was directly facing the woman. “An, truth be told, I don’t really give a damn. I’ve never had no issue with Dwarves before, and I not be getting’ the whole attitude. They be makin’ some excellent weapons an’ armor, and sure as the abyss know how to brew a good drink.”

The mention of the abyss caused the woman to stiffen ever so slightly. Most people would not have noticed, but Ronnath had a keen eye, one of the reasons it made him such an accomplished archer, and it did not go un-noticed. “I say somethin’ wrong?” He asked casually.

“Nay,” she chuckled. “I just findin’ it refreshing to meet an Elf like you, some pointy-ear who can be lookin’ past the race and see what lies beyond.

Not sure how to react to the statement, Ronnath hid it by picking up the stein and taking a long drink. He wiped the foam from his face with the back of his hand. There was something very odd about the stranger standing next to him, and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand, a clear sign of danger. “I’m not like most Elves,” he confessed, trying to shake the feeling, but allowing his eyes to roam the tavern. Ronnath did not want to admit it was quite possibly the woman who was giving off the vibes, but he hoped to find what was tripping his internal alarms.

Leaning forward onto the bar, the woman rested her forearms on the scarred and stained wood. Her gloved hand wrapped around the stein handle and she brought it up to her lips to take a delicate sip. “I’m Setholee,” she said after a moment. “You?”

“Ronnath Al’Thia,” he grimaced, thinking just how angry his human mother would have been at neglecting such a simple act of manners. “Sorry,” he half-mumbled.

“Well met, Ronnath Al’Thia, of a small nameless village,” the full lips smiled from the shadows.

“My home, that important to know?” he protested.

“Well,” she laughed. “Not really, just curious.” I guess there are far worse places you could be comin’ from.”

“And you, Setholee?” He took another swig of his brew and belched, feeling the strong ale starting to go to his head. Red flowed like wine into his cheeks and he leaned back against the bar, grimacing as his slung quarter-staff dug painfully into his lower spine. He quickly adjusted the weapon and mumbled another apology.

“You most certainly are not like any Elf I have ever met,” Setholee leaned in a little closer, the already short distance between them shrinking more. “Crude and gruff. Most of the Elves I have met are prim and proper, and not to mention arrogant or aloof.”

Wonderful, Ronnath thought to himself. Way to make such a great impression after only a few minutes. “Sorry, I no be meanin’ offense.”

“None taken,” Setholee laughed. “I like it.”

“You do?” Ronnath blurted and then closed his eyes and shook his head. He wanted to bang his skull against the hard wooden countertop.

“Aye, it’s refreshing!”

Taking another drink, he did his best to calm his thoughts. He was getting tipsy, and he found he was beginning to like the strange, hooded figure sharing the bar with him. He indicated to the bartender for another couple of pints and the hidden woman nodded her thanks.

For the next hour they sat next together, talking quietly and sharing a few of their adventures. Ronnath was careful not to go into his past, at least not too much; although he did let it slip he had been raised by humans. Setholee said it showed, and asked him how old he really was.

To most elves, Ronnath should still be at home with his family. The few who do take to the adventuring life typically waited until they were past their first century of life, while he was barely in his forties. As it turned out, Setholee said she was only in her early twenties and accused him of being a cradle-robber.

It made him smile.

Setholee had taken to the life of being a sword for hire, selling her skills to the caravans which travelled along the routes out of Waterdeep. She was currently between jobs, and was just looking for a little time to relax and spend some of the gold she had earned from her last position.

To his amusement and slight discomfort, Setholee turned out to be a rather physical woman. As they spoke, her hand often touched his arm or brushed his fingers, and even once she reached up and wiped away some of the foam which had accumulated on his lip from the strong stout.

Ronnath wished to pull the cloak from her face, but he had too much respect to do so. If she wanted to show him her face, then she would when she was ready. He would just have to be patient.

“Tell me Elf, what brings you to the city of Splendors?” She asked as her left hand reached out to touch his arm.

 “Work,” he managed to say without slurring his words. There was something about the woman’s touch, strong and yet soft, which shot an electrical current through his arm, down his spine, where it came to rest squarely in his groin. “I be lookin’ fer work. Figure I’d be doin’ the caravan guard or mebbe join a mercenary company. I be pretty handy with me bow and all.

“A mercenary then – it can be a rough and often dangerous life, although there are a few reputable companies to be found.” She said. If Setholee noted the reaction her touch and very presence elicited, she gave no indication.

“Mebbe,” he turned his body so she was forced to remove her hand, and it kept the sudden excitement he was feeling well hidden – not that she was likely to notice, considering the level of lighting in the tavern. “I be pretty good at trackin’, hunting too, and I know the forests.”

“You’re an Elf,” She stated as if he did not already know that. “Using bows is as natural to you as breathing, and forests? Aye I can see you knowin’ them pretty good as well.”

She have something against or for Elves? He thought silently, half dreading, half hoping. Although he was still very curious as to what the woman was herself hiding. She was the only person in the enter tavern to be wearing a cloak, or for that matter, had the hood up.

“I be,” Ronnath started when a strong hand landed on his shoulder and he was roughly pulled away from the counter. “Outta me way, tree-hugger,” a gruff voice growled.

Ronnath turned to face the assailant and was not really surprised to discover it was in fact one of the three humans he had seen entering. He found himself looking down at the man, who was considerably shorter than he, although probably outweighed him by at least fifty pounds. Before he could react further, the man’s two companions shoved him back several feet. If it was not for his heightened agility, he would have careened into a nearby table. Ronnath cursed loudly and turned to face the trio.

“Hello lass,” the large human said in a near-mocking tone as he sidled up next to Setholee, standing where Ronnath had been a few moments before. He reached out and grabbed the drink suddenly left vacant by the Elf’s sudden and unexpected departure and drained it without coming up for air. He smacked his lips suggestively and then ran the back of his hand across his mouth. “Why not spend yer time with a real man, instead of one of those prissy Elves?”

“I not be seein’ around here,” she replied depanned, turning her head from side to side, making an exaggerated motion indicating she was looking. “Except me friend,” she waved a hand at Ronnath. “Be ye be so kind as to point one out to me?”

A very ugly look crossed the human’s face and he turned a deep red. “How about comin’ with me and I’ll show you just how real a man I am,” he threatened, one hand reaching for Setholee, the other cupping his breeches.

“Hey,” Ronnath snarled loudly, “Leave the woman be!”

“Ohh… the original attacker laughed. “This tree-hugger has a pair!”

The tables near the rapidly degrading scene went silent, the occupants watching in anticipation of the violence they could sense in their very bones. Ronnath’s hand never strayed near the sword he carried, although he shifted his back so he could easily draw the quarterstaff located there.

“Bigger than what ye have, ya orc-humper,” Ronnath retorted. It was a crude comeback, and he inwardly grimaced. If he was just a bit more intelligent, he might have come up with something more appropriate.

The speaker looked as if he had swallowed something foul, and then he burst out laughing. His small, closely spaced brown eyes danced between his two companions and Ronnath, the anger quickly giving way to anticipation. “Git yer ass outta here, Elf. Me and the lady have some business matter’s ta discuss,” with that, he swatted Setholee on her rump.

“I was talkin’ to the lady first,” Ronnath retorted, feeling rather lame, and anger burned in his chest when none of the humans responded.

Setholee grunted in something akin to either pain or annoyance, maybe a mixture of both. “Do that again,” she said, her voice perfectly calm and conversational, “and you’ll be pullin’ back a stump,” she finished, her gloved hand coming to rest on the hilt of her sword.

Any anger the leader of the trio of rough-shod humans felt dissipated almost instantly. All three humans laughed, the speaker slapping his knee in merriment, tears running down his unshaven face. “Ye have spirit, lass – I be givin ye that,” he chortled. “Ditch the pansy and be with a real man.”

Slowly Setholee turned away from the bar; using her hips to swing the sword enough it bumped the rude human and he was forced to move out of the way. Although her face was still hidden by the hood, her eyes shone bright red in the dark recesses provided by the garment. She sighed and shook her cloaked head. “Gods below in the hellfire,” she said her voice almost regretful. “Didn’t we already go over this?” She pointed with one hand towards the man’s crotch. “Oh right, the little head obviously be still thinkin’ for the big head, but from where I stand, they seem to be about the same size in either case,” her lips curled into a cruel smirk. “Besides, I don’t be doin’ Pixie dicks.”

By this time the bartender had made his way over to the fracas, and he was signalling with his hand to the tavern’s bouncers, who were likewise making their way through the crowd. “Alright, that be enough out of you, Lars.”

“Piss off,” the speaker said without missing a beat, his eyes locked squarely on the cloaked woman. “Say lass,” he said as the bartender turned several shades of red, “what be ye hidin’ beneath tha’ there hood?”

Ronnath managed to get his hand on the lower portion of his staff and had slipped it free of the ties holding it in place. He was carefully sizing up the situation, noting the location of the thug named Lars and his two companions. He was pretty sure he could take out one, if not both of the men in a matter of a few quick strikes. They would not be killing blows, but odds were pretty good he could knock both senseless. Ronnath happened to be looking at Setholee at the last comment and could see her body stiffen. He too was curious as to why she remained hooded, but was not about to ask.

“That be none of yer concern,” she answered coldly. “Best ye turn around and leave while you still can.”

“Ye be threatenin’ me?” Lars snarled, stepping closer so he could easily reach out and touch her.

“Abyss below,” she sighed dramatically. “Ye be even more stupid than ye look. Mebbe th’ Elf had it right, me be bettin’ yer momma was an orc or mebbe a goblin. After all, ye certainly have th’ looks and brains of such.”

Lar stammered and spluttered at the insult, clearly not quite understanding how badly she had just insulted him and his lineage. He reached for his weapons.

The longsword was out of the sheath before anyone could react, the point already pressing against the wind and sun-baked flesh of Lars’ neck. A tiny bead of ruby-red shone in the dim light. “I will not be tellin’ ye again,” she stated matter-of-factly, her voice still completely relaxed. “Piss off or meet whatever god yer tiny brain worships.”

“Outta the way,” a voice thundered like the wrath of the gods, forcing Ronnath and Lars two thuggish companions to turn. Not only were the two tavern bouncers coming onto the scene, there was one of the city watch there as well. The man was resplendent in his gold-trimmed red cloak and chain-mail armor. He was tall for a human, standing several inches taller than Ronnath’s own stature and he had the gait and stance of an experienced combatant.

Taking advantage of the sudden distraction, Lars took a step back and away from Setholee and her blade, and with the swiftness of a Yuan-Ti, he raised one hand to knock the weapon to the side and struck out. A fraction of a second later, Lars grabbed hold of the hood covering Setholee’s head, pulling it down and away to reveal what she had been concealing.

Ronnath was not sure what to expect to see, but the visage which greeted him was certainly not it. And it was the very first time he had ever encountered one of her species. He had heard rumors of them, and knew they were supposed to be quite common in the lands of Thay and other regions, but were about as rare as a good Drow in this region of the land.

There was no denying she was beautiful. She had delicate features, full, soft lips and almond-shaped eyes. The pupils were ruby-red, with just a tinge of fire-yellow mingled near the edge of the whites.  Her nose was small and perfectly proportioned. She possessed high, regal cheeks, and a face which looked as if she never frowned.

And then there were the horns.

She had thick, massive horns which grew from her temples and hugged the side of her skull, curving backwards and slightly down. Her hair was tied up in knots, and it was likewise red, with hints of yellow and even gold.

She was a Tiefling. The spawn of a mortal and a demon or fiend, or possibly another outsider, one of the creatures which dwelled in the realms only reached through magic or the most heinous rituals.

“Holy shit!” Ronnath cursed before his brain could lock down the epitaph.

“Ain’t nothin’ holy about that devil spawn,” Lars countered, letting go of her hood as if his hand had been scaled by boiling water. The human stepped even further away, his ruddy complexion going pale with fear at what he had just seen.

All around the tavern burst into wild, frantic activity. Many of the men and women knew about demons and other such creatures – although more than likely not a single one had ever seen one in the flesh. Odds were if they had, they would not be here today. Even the guard from the city watch took an involuntary step backwards, trying to put as much distance as possible between him and the woman, as if her very presence could tear his soul from his mortal form.

Ronnath had to admit he was actually kind of impressed with the human. The thug named Lars stood back and drew a pair of daggers from his belt, taking a combative stance. It was clear from the way the man held the blades; he had used them many times in the past and was more than a little proficient in their lethal use.

“No weapons!” The bartender and city guard screamed in perfect harmony, as if they had planned on doing so. It was as if that was the cue the tavern had been waiting for, the place absolutely exploded in a chaotic wave of panic and violence, fed by the presence of a creature which by rights should never have placed a foot on the earth of Faerun.

Lars feinted with the dagger, testing the woman’s skill. It was obvious, even to Ronnath and Setholee did not fall for the clumsy attack. Instead she sidestepped and casually swatted the dagger to the side, and when the human attempted to slide in with the other weapon; she reversed the blade’s direction, likewise knocking it to one side.

The two thugs who had entered with Lars likewise pulled their weapons, one lifting a metal club, too small to be considered a mace or Morningstar, but in the right hands would inflict terrible damage, while the other drew a short-sword. They instantly set themselves on either side of the ringleader and held the weapons at the ready.

Outnumbered, the Tiefling Setholee did not flinch or appear to be concerned. Instead of fear or doubt showing, she looked calm and supremely confident. “Three to one?” She snorted and with amazing agility, leapt from the floor so she was standing on the top of the counter. “Ye don’t stand a chance.”

“Oh for the love of Mielikki,” Ronnath groaned. Even he had heard the cliché more times than he cared to remember. Then again, considering how easily she swatted aside the bully’s daggers, maybe there was more to it than simply a tired old boast. Still – he hated bullies. He hated those who would prey on the fairer sex – albeit one with demonic blood running through her veins – and the type of men who faced the woman down. It was not something he could in all good consciousness stand aside and watch. The staff rested easily in his fists as he readied to intervene.

Lars and his goons were obviously used to working together and had probably been in many fights side by side. They knew each other’s moves and reactions, and had probably defeated more than a few foes over the years. One of the two men was not where near as graceful, but instead used brute strength to make up for the lack of agility as he clamoured up onto the counter-top, staying just out of striking distance. He was the man holding the short-sword, and he grinned wickedly, showing a mouth filled with brownish, half-rotted teeth.

The other man with the club remained in his position, as if waiting for the opportune time to strike. All around the tavern was either in the middle of the patrons clearing out, not wanting to have anything to do with the demon-spawn, or were watching with rapt attention. Either way, the bouncers and the city watch suddenly found it more than a little difficult to make their way to the scene of the impending brawl.

“Demon-spawn or not,” Lars growled from deep within his barrel chest, “Ye be payin’ blood fer blood,” he did not even attempt to lunge or feint, instead he dropped his left hand and with a nearly deceptive flick of his wrist, sent the blade hurtling through the short distance between them. It slammed home, hitting the Tiefling in the side, but much to everyone’s shock, the blade failed to penetrate the armor hidden beneath her travelling cloak.

A thousand curses and epitaphs ran through Ronnath’s mind as he witness the underhanded attack. Although the man with the club was several yards away, he took two steps forward and launched the staff, tip first as if it was a spear, into the back of the man’s skull.

Sure it was underhanded and he knew it, but he still did not like the three to one odds, even though it had become abundantly clear the Tiefling named Setholee was fully capable of defending herself.

The tip of the staff caught the thug at the base of the skull, right where the spinal column connected. There was an audible thwack and a cracking noise and the man dropped to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. Ronnath had pulled the blow, only putting enough power into the strike to disable, not to permanently kill – although it took a great deal of willpower for him to keep from doing so. The man would live, and every time he considered ganging up on someone he might, just might, reconsider it, remembering how close he had come to death.

“What the…” Lars grunted as he caught the dispatching of one of his two thugs out of the corner of his eye, “I’ll deal with you later pretty boy,” he said, but some of the bluster had left his tone.

“No you won’t,” Setholee countered. Instead of launching an attack against the other figure on the counter, or even striking out at the man named Lars, she concentrated for but a second. It was enough for the short-sword wielding thug to make his move, but she had obviously anticipated the strike and easily ducked the blow.

The area around the combatants suddenly plunged into utter darkness. Screeches of fear co-mingled with those of anger and outrage as everyone suddenly discovered they could no longer see.

Ronnath had heard rumors of the powers many of the demon-spawn possessed, and knew those of the Dark Elves and of course sorcerers and mages were fully capable of bringing forth such globes of utter black. He had never encountered such before and knew he was at a very distinct disadvantage.

The sounds of metal on metal rang out like a bell in the un-natural darkness and he heard a grunt of pain. It was loud and very masculine, so he knew Setholee had managed to land a strike against the thug. Ronnath was not surprised to realize the demon-blood could fight in the darkness, considering what she was capable of. Still, he knew he had to do something and was not about to leave her to face the two men, even if she could handle it.

The sounds in the bar grew louder and even more frantic, and he could hear the distinctive noise of weapons coming free of sheathes as the panicked patrons fought and clamored to escape what they were positive was an opening to the very gates of the abyss.

Try as he might, Ronnath could not pinpoint where the Tiefling and her two assailants were located, despite his keen hearing. He took several steps towards where he knew the bar had  been and in an instant felt the floor give out beneath him and it rushed up to meet his face. The Ranger barely had time to yelp in fright when he hit. Stars exploded in his vision, and as painful as it was, he had suffered far worse over his years, especially at the hands of his human siblings. The taste of blood filled his mouth and he distinctly felt something gripping his ankle.

Instinctively, Ronnath kicked out and felt the satisfying impact of the heel of his boot hitting hard flesh. The hand holding tight to his ankle let loose, and this was followed by a grunt of pain and a very colorful curse. The Ranger did not recognize the voice, so it could have easily have been one of the two thugs, or another patron. Either way, the man should not have grabbed his foot the way he had.

After what felt like hours, Ronnath regained his footing and he hefted the quarterstaff in both hands. He felt disoriented and found it exceedingly difficult for him to maintain his balance due to the utter blackness. His eyes were open and he could hear the uproar and chaos around him, but he could not see a thing. Standing his ground, he felt movement all around him, but most of the movement was directed away, as the patrons made good their escape.

Sensing the incoming attack, Ronnath ducked and felt the thick edge of a club just barely brush the tip of his right ear. So – one of the thugs was inside the circle of darkness with him and was looking to play. Having pinpointed the direction of the attack, Ronnath gripped his staff in both hands and lashed straight out, using the weapon like a spear. The edge sank deep into flesh and he was rewarded with a whoosh of air and a grunt of pain. His strike had found a home.

A second later he felt something sidle next to his back and he was about to strike out when he heard the Tiefling’s voice. “I’ve got yer back, Elf,” she said and he could feel her muscles ripple under the cloak she wore, her arms and body working in perfect tandem as she struck out at the thugs.

“How can ye be seein’,” he grunted as he listened. By now he figured at least half the patrons had managed to escape the bar, but he could still hear several figures moving in the darkness which surrounded him. “An’ besides, I be havin’ yer back!”

“I ain’t arguin’ with ye there,” she spat and the physical contact was broken as she pulled away. There was a sharp cry of pain followed by what sounded like rain pattering the floor of the tavern, and a second later the world returned to full clarity as the darkness dissipated.

Setholee was only a couple of paces away, staring down the mouthpiece thug who had instigated the whole mess. He was cradling his bleeding hand against his chest, three of his fingers gone. What had sounded like the patter of rain was blood fountaining from the wound and hitting the floor. One of the thug’s two companions was on his knees, rubbing his side and glaring balefully at Ronnath. The other was lying on the sawdust caked floor, out from the blow Ronnath had delivered with his staff.

Ronnath struck hard and fast, catching the thug who was glaring at him square in the face. There was a sickening crack of bone shattering beneath the wooden tip of the weapon and the man’s eyes rolled up into his head, unconscious.

Setholee could see what was happening, and she instantly closed the distance and was in Lar’s face before anyone could react. The man saw her sword coming at him and he threw his already injured limb up to protect his head. Screaming through the air like a mournful soul, the blade sliced through skin, muscle and bone, cleaving the limb midway between the wrist and the elbow. The limb hit the ground with a sickening thud, the blood fountaining from the wound coming out in a gush, mingling with what was already soaking into the sawdust.

Despite the agony he had to be enduring, Lars turned and ran for the exit, disappearing into the small crowd of patrons who were still trying to make good their escape. “To the abyss with ye, demonspawn,” he screamed from the crowd, finally disappearing into the night.

Although they tried valiantly to close in on the melee, the city guards were pushed aside by the approaching mob of patrons. One was caught in the mouth by a bottle, the make-shift weapon shattering upon impact and tearing the man’s face. He threw up his hands and screamed in pain and the next thing anyone knew, the guards were fully engaged in the combat.

It gave Ronnath and Setholee a few seconds of breathing room as they came together. From the kitchen and bar several more men and two women appeared. Unlike the others, they were dressed in padded armor and were wielding clubs and saps. Ronnath had heard about people like them, press gangs who were used to fill the rosters of ships that were undermanned for one reason or another.

            “We’ve got more trouble,” he shouted over his shoulder, watching as the small group approached, their weapons held at the ready, clearly anticipating a battle.

            “Aye, Elf, I see ‘em,” Setholee replied. She was standing once again with her back against his and he could feel the tension beneath her cloak. It was intermingled with a slight tremor, one he could not place – fear? Anticipation? He really did not know, and he figured he would not have the time to find out.

One of the two females with the press gang drew her arm back and let fly with the club she had been holding. Such weapons were not known for being accurate when thrown, but Ronnath caught it flying towards his face and ducked at the last second. The weapon still grazed the top of his head and he felt a sharp pain and his stomach suddenly filled with nausea as stars exploded behind his eyes. It hurt, but it could have been far, far worse. Slightly staggered by the strike, he took a pair of steps sideways and the press gang took that opportunity to attack.

“Steady, Elf,” Setholee grabbed his arm and pulled him straight. She turned a few degrees and stood firm, her weapon in her hand as the four combatants were suddenly in range. She raised her sword and parried a pair of strikes with the clubs, and barely managed to dodge to the side as a third struck at her head.

“Me name is Ronnath,” he stated, somewhat dazed from the attack. “Not Elf!”

One of the two women attempted to slide in behind her in an attempt to flank, as hitting her from the rear would be easier than attempting to strike from the front. Setholee’s forked tail slashed out and wrapped around the woman’s ankle as if on its own volition, and as the Tiefling turned, the woman found her leg was no longer firmly planted on the floor. She hit the sawdust covered floor with a crash, her breath exploding from her chest, the woman dazed from the unexpected attack.

His mind still foggy from the blow, Ronnath let his instinct and training take over. He brought the staff up in an underhanded swing, catching one of the attackers in the side. The man grunted and cursed, but before he could return the blow, the Ranger reversed the staff and struck the attacker with a resounding blow to the side of the head. The man slumped to the floor, out for the count.

Behind him he heard a sharp twang and felt something pass through the right side of his travel cloak. The patron with the hand-crossbow had fired the weapon, and it had nearly hit him. The bolt tore through the heavy woolen cloth and burrowed into the side of the tavern’s counter. It quivered in the wood for a millisecond before the head popped free and fell to the floor.

Ronnath had no idea if the bolt had been meant for him, or for the Tiefling, or if the attacker’s aim had been blown from the combat taking place, but one way or another he was determined to show the man the error of his ways.

First he had to deal with the men threatening him.

Setholee continued to strike and parry the two men and one woman. Moving with a grace which almost rivaled his own, she pirouetted, deftly avoiding blows form the clubs. Her sword slashed through the dim light of the tavern and the woman howled as it found her wrist. The slash was not too bad, as she still had her hand attached to her arm, but the sharpened blade cut through muscle and tendon, severing the latter and causing the woman to drop her club. She keened piteously and backed away, clutching her wrist against her stomach.

Ignoring the woman, Setholee allowed her attention to fall upon the two men. They were still facing her, grim determination on their faces as they held their weapons steady. Instead of coming in one at a time, the two attacked in unison. At first it appeared as if they were going to come in from both directions, one going high while the other came in low, but it was just a feint. One held his club in his right hand and the sap in his left, and it was clear he was used to wielding both in combat. The other swung his club in a nearly dizzying display, whirling it around and in front of him, making it almost impossible for anyone to try and land a strike.

The Tiefling was pushed back, eating the distance until her back was against the tavern counter. It happened so quickly Ronnath barely had any time to react, and he was still concerned about the thug with the hand-crossbow. He was pretty sure the bolt would not pierce his armor, but at the same time he was not willing to test the theory. “Back off!” He roared, doing his best to impersonate his human father.

Both attackers ignored him and the dual-wielding man slipped through Setholee’s defenses by smashing her sword to the side and swinging with the sap. The club nearly knocked her sword from her grip, but she managed to hold onto it – knowing if she lost the weapon, her life would most likely soon follow. The sap did catch her on the side of the head, and it was partially deflected by the thick horn.

Which saved her from the darkness of the abyss, but it still knocked her senseless.

Ronnath savagely thrust his quarterstaff at the other attacker, forcing the man to abandon the elaborate pattern and turn to pure defense. The staff was easily knocked aside, but having trained for years in its use, Ronnath reversed the weapon’s direction and brought it up. The blow would have struck home, but his opponent was no slouch. The man stepped back a pace and brought his club down in a sweep, knocking the staff aside once again.

In combat, there is no such thing as a fair fight. Those who try to fight fairly rarely live long enough to see another battle. Instead of following through with his strike, Ronnath lashed out and caught the man with a side-kick.

Unfortunately for the man, he had turned his body as to better defend himself against the staff. He had not been expecting the Elf to kick him. Ronnath’s heel smashed into the man’s groin and crushed his testicles against his pelvis. The club fell from the attacker’s fingers as his face turned ghostly white and his mouth opened into a massive o as he sank to his knees.

“No such thing as a fair fight,” Ronnath growled and smashed the end of his staff into the disabled attacker’s mouth, shattering the front teeth and spewing blood nearly out to the bar. The wounded and now disabled attacker fell backwards from the blow, out for the count.

In the space of moment it had taken him to dispatch the attacker, Setholee was still reeling from the blow to her head. Weaponless, she fell to her knee and held up her hands in supplication to the attacker. “I yield,” she slurred, looking cowed and beaten.

“I dinna accept, demonspawn,” the man snarled hatefully. “Yer kind do not belong with the rest o’ us descent people!”

“You be wantin’ to kill her?” Ronnath shouted, turning to face the man. He stood in a combative stance, his left foot out before him, with his right hand holding his quarterstaff behind and at an angle. He could easily whip it about and bring it in with a devastating blow at any second.

The sound of strange, alien words broke the tension and from her kneeling position, Setholee raised her hand. A trio of blue-white energy bolts flew unerringly from her open palm to slam into the dual wielding attacker’s torso.

He screamed as the energy ripped into his flesh, completely ignoring the cloth and padded armor as if it did not exist. Ripples of the bluish energy raced across his body as his mouth opened wide in a silent scream, but it was clear the attack would not put him down. It hurt him, it distracted him, but it did not finish him.

Ronnath stepped forward and brought the staff out from behind his back in a sweeping arch. He aimed high and caught the side of the man’s neck, snapping his head to side with a meaty thwack. The man staggered but maintained his footing, garnering a sliver of respect from the Ranger.

The Elf was far from finished.

Twirling the staff over his head, Ronnath gripped the end with both hands and brought it down with all his considerable might on top of the attacker’s forehead. This time there was an audible, sickening cracking sound as the impact shattered the top of the attacker’s skull and drove sharp bone fragments into the man’s brain.  

He was dead before he could draw his next breath.

Ronnath was shocked. He wanted to disable the man, hopefully knock him out for the count, he was not expecting to kill the man. “Uh…” he blurted before he could engage his mouth.

“Enough!” Roared a man in the garb of the city watch. The man was flanked by six other members of the watch, all had their weapons drawn and were pushing their way past the few stragglers left in the tavern. They had the hard look of determination in their features.

Still dazed from the blow he had taken, Ronnath tried to figure out where the additional guards had come from. “Hey!” Ronnath shouted back, once again failing to engage the control over his mouth. “We be defendin’ ourselves!” He jabbed the bloody end of the staff towards the tavern’s exit, where Lars had fled “Him and his two butt-buddies be the ones who started the whole mess!” He waved a hand at the others who had made the serious mistake of attacking. “And they jumped in without warnin’!”

The Tiefling Setholee turned her head slightly and regarded the young Elf, her expression unreadable.

“We know that,” the guard shouted back, his weapon drawn as he approached the combatants. “And we will simply escort her out of this district and let her go free, for her own protection.”

Ronnath did not believe that for a second. He knew the guards and patrols in most cities were corrupt and would more often than not make troublesome individuals disappear without a trace – especially those who no one would miss, and a Tiefling fit that bill perfectly. He could not stand by and just let them take her into protective custody without doing something. “Then be takin’ me with ya,” he said before his brain could fully engage his mouth.

Now the Tiefling’s eyes went wide with shock and something which could have been mistaken as a smile twisted the corner of her mouth. “There be no need fer that, Elf,” she said, sheathing her weapon and putting her hands up in the air.

“No I insist,” Ronnath told her and the guards.

“What ‘bout me?” Screamed the woman who had been nearly been knocked unconscious earlier in the fight. “The demon-spawned bitch done crippled me!”

“And ye started it,” Ronnath shot back and before he knew what he was doing, he crossed the distance between him and the woman. He casually and smashed the butt of his staff into the woman’s mouth. The attack had been so quick and unexpected, no one had seen it coming.

Ronnath included.

Several teeth exploded outward from the impact and she spit out a fountain of blood as the blow shattered the jaw and pulped his lips. Her eyes rolled up into her head and she hit the floor like a sack of wheat.

The guard looked at Ronnath and then at the thug. “You better hope you didn’t kill her.”

“And if I did?” Ronnath growled, his staff at the ready.

“You’ll be spending the rest of your long life in the city dungeons,” came the reply without hesitation.

“Really?” Now Ronnath was feeling not only enraged, but emboldened as well. “So it’s perfectly fine for a piece of ogre-shit like him,” he pointed at Lars, who was no longer stirring in the pool of blood on the floor. “To come in here and threaten’ a young lady and when I be raise a hand to defend her, I be in the wrong?”

One of the guards shook his head and spoke. “He’s right captain,” the guard looked at the unconscious form bleeding out on the floor. “He was just defending her against him, and we all saw how the man reached for one of the daggers on his belt when the woman’s back was turned.”

Everyone stopped and stared at the guard, all equally shocked how the older, gruff-looking city watch member had just blatantly lied in front of everyone to protect Ronnath and Setholee. The Ranger nodded once, expressing more gratitude in the simple gesture than a thousand-page book could possibly convey.

With obvious reluctance, the captain agreed with the assessment. He glowered at Setholee and Ronnath, and then he shook his head in defeat. “So be it,” he said a moment later. “Come with me,” he nodded and the guards with him took up position on either side of the Elf and Tiefling and together they left the tavern, entering the cool night air.

Setholee replaced her hood and stalwartly ignored the looks of fear and hatred the few patrons who remained outside shot in her direction. Ronnath, on the other hand, found it to be supremely insulting and he met the eyes of those men and women, glowering his own anger until they looked away.

Together the small group spent nearly twenty minutes travelling until they were at the outskirts of the district. The guards stood before the small gate, making it clear that neither Ronnath or the woman were to re-enter. The silence was tense, and the guards still looked nervous, one fingering the weapon at his hip, although the captain simply looked resigned, while the other guard who had spoken in her defense appeared to be smug. With a heavy sigh, Setholee bowed to the guards and quietly thanked them for their assistance.

Without a word, the Captain turned and led the other away, but not before the one guard touched the tip of his helmet with his fingers, and bowed ever so slightly. A moment later, they were alone.

“Ye have me thanks, Elf,” Setholee said as she tilted her head and regarded him, her ruby eyes shining like the hearts of flames beneath her hood. “Why did ye do it?”

“Because I will not be standin’ by while a woman is attacked by a bunch of assholes,” he told her, turning to face her directly. Even in the dim light provided by the lanterns hung on the wall, he could make out her face – at least her lower jaw and he could see the slight curve of the smile it held.

“Even if I be part demon?” Her voice returned to its former soft lilt.

“Aye, and I don’t give a damned about that,” he told her, and was surprised to realize what he said rang true even to his own ears. “Good conversation, and I be likin’ your style, the way you handled yerself in the tavern.”

“Are ye still thirsty?” She asked. Setholee had shifted her stance slightly, placing one hand on her hip and cocking it to the side.

“Aye, and be feelin’ a little hungry too,” he answered. “Although I think mebbe layin’ off the ale would be a good idea. Me head is feelin’ just a bit thick.”

The city was massive, and despite the lateness of the hour, there were taverns open for business. Many of the local inns likewise provided drink and food, so filling their bellies would not be an issue.

“Walk with me, Elf,” she turned and began to move down the dimly lit street. Despite the lack of light, Ronnath had no problem navigating, as the little light provided by the infrequent lanterns or torches provided enough illumination he could still see clearly. In less time than it had taken for them to travel from their last watering-hole to the new district, they found an establishment, which was still open and serving customers.

Glancing at the sign, Ronnath could make out a blue dragon clutching at a well-proportioned human woman in one massive claw, a tankard in the other. “Blue Dragon Wine and Women?” He asked, his mind trying to place the name depicted in the image.

“Don’t really care,” Setholee replied as she pushed open the door and entered, not bothering to see if he was following or not.

Despite the late hour, the tavern was bustling. There were all manner of folk, mostly human, milling about enjoying the brew. The few women he could see were either completely naked, or they were so scantly clad it had to be asked why they even bothered. It was not a true brothel, but anyone knew not only food and drink could be purchased in the location.

Ignoring the few women who zeroed in on him, he followed Setholee to a small table near the rear of the establishment. One naked human woman held a tray in one slender hand as she cleared off the empty tankards. She smiled as he and Setholee appeared. “What be ye drinking?” She asked, and then added with a laviscious smile, “or be you wanting something a little wetter and warmer?”

“Two of yer house ales,” Setholee said in a purely neutral tone. “Nothin’ else.”

The waitress come lady of the night nodded in understanding. “Coming right up,” she and her heavily laden tray disappeared, leaving the Tiefling and the Elf alone.

“Ronnath,” she said slowly. “Yer a strange one, that’s for damn sure.”

“I’ve been accused of worse,” he chuckled. “I meant every word I said though,” his voice was serious. “I won’t stand by and let a bunch of thugs beat on a woman.”

“Despite me bein’ half fiend.”

“Especially because you be half fiend,” he confirmed. “I don’t be getting any bad vibes off ye,” he shrugged. “And I meant what I said.”

They stood at the table in companionable silence until the waitress arrived with the drinks. Ronnath was about to hand her a coin when Setholee beat him to the punch and handed one to the woman. She smiled and left. Lifting the tankard, Setholee took a long swig and then put it down. Ronnath grinned. “How be it?”

“Pretty bland,” she said. “I like the stronger stuff.”

“Like the Dwarven stout I was drinkin?”

“Aye,” she grinned and licked her lips suggestively. “I like ‘em strong.”

Before Ronnath knew what was happening, she reached over the small table and grabbed him by the collar of his tunic and pulled him in close. Her face met his, her lips suddenly finding his own. They were hot and soft, so soft and the taste of the ale lingered. She kissed him long and deep and it was nearly a full minute before she let him go and pulled away slightly.

“Wow,” was all he could think of saying. He realized he could smell her, a dusky odor of sweat mingled with something else, an odor he could not place but he did not find it at all unpleasant. “What be that for?”

“You helpin’ me, stupid Elf,” she said. “I’m hungry, how about you?”

“I don’t know if this place be sellin’ food,” Ronnath replied, his voice slightly shaken.

“Not what I need to satisfy me hunger,” she said, her voice a husky whisper.

Ronnath returned his gaze to her face and he could have sworn her eyes were burning all that much brighter beneath the cloak. He realized what she meant and he could feel stirrings of his own lust for the woman. “I…” he stammered. “This place, I be bettin’ we could rent a room for a few hours.”

“We could,” she agreed and then reached out and grabbed his arm.

She pulled him in close, moulding her body against his and kissed him again, this time her tongue found its way into his mouth, the hunger and need so powerful it would not have surprised him if she could not wait until they were alone.

Ronnath pulled away long enough to catch his breath and he looked around the room, and found a man sitting behind a counter, who had not bothered looking up from a stack of parchment. He was probably used to seeing such displays and had long since grown tired of acting the voyeur.  There was a rack with numbered keys on the wall behind him. Without waiting, Ronnath pulled Setholee to the counter and spoke to the man. He barely glanced at them as he reached behind and pulled a key off the wall as he quoted the price. Ronnath placed the coin on the counter and he took possession of the key.  

Thirty seconds later, they were on the second floor of the establishment, the door closing behind them. The room was tiny, only about ten feet by ten feet. There was a small bed in the middle of the room, as well as a table with a pitcher of water and wash cloths stacked neatly beside it.

Undressing was almost comical as they fumbled with each other’s clothing. Weapon belts were dropped, cloaks discarded, boots shucked, but before long they lay on the bed, flesh on flesh, relishing the erotic sensation.

Setholee was far softer than Ronnath imagined, and her naked skin was so hot to the touch it was almost burning. Her tail whipped about as she rolled over and straddled him, guiding him into her inviting heat.

He groaned and closed his eyes, the waves of pleasure causing a wonderful tingling sensation to run through the muscles on his back. She was strong, and for only a moment Ronnath was concerned she might be an actual demon, a succubus or one of the other breeds, who was about to devour his soul and condemn him to the abyss.

It was not to be the case.

The sex was intense, a need which only the intimacy could quench. He was awkward, only having engaged in the carnal pleasures a few times in his short life, and she seemed to be only slightly more experienced.

It came as a surprise how gentle she was. Ronnath did not know what to expect, but he had been certain enjoying sexual pleasures with a Tiefling would involve a lot of violence, biting and scratching, and probable injury. Instead Setholee was tender, and took far more pleasure from the act of touching and caresses than any type of violence.

Feeling he was about to crest the waves of pleasure, Ronnath was going to pull away, as he had with the few other women he had sex with, but she clamped down hard, using her muscles to help him peak. She climaxed as well, crying out softly as she ground her hips against his, thrusting faster and faster in time with her gasps until she finally felt spent.

They lay together, she resting her head against his shoulder in such a way her horns did not cause him discomfort, not bothering to pull off his sweat-soaked body. “Ye may not be pretty,” she sighed in a husky whisper, “but ye know how to make me feel good.”

“Don’t be sellin’ yerself short,” he whispered. “I haven’t enjoyed meself like tha’ in many a month.”

The slipped into silence and in a minute he could feel her breathing steady and slow, the rhythm of sleep he had seen with his human parents and siblings. Ronnath was in no hurry and he felt comfortable, her weight a pleasant pressure against his torso.

Over the span of the darkness, they enjoyed pleasure with one another several more times, and eventually he managed to slip into his meditative trance, his mind flowing back over the years, latching onto the memories of the few women he had been with. They had all been human, which was not a surprise, and he had never sampled the sweet taste of an Elf maid, or any of the other humanoids he had been attracted to.

Even in his trance, his mind returned to Tiefling. Despite blood of a demon flowing through her veins, was a strong and capable woman, who knew what she wanted and took it. He could sense there was a good heart beating beneath the breasts.

When he finally broke his revery, Ronnath discovered he was alone. A sense of loss and sadness filled his heart and he wished the Tiefling named Setholee had stayed with him. He could still taste her on his lips, feel her heat on his flesh as he dressed and buckled his weapons back in place.

There was a single sheet of parchment on the small table, next to the pitcher of water. Picking it up, he could easily read the writing even though the lighting in the chamber was dim. Ronnath – thank you for standing up for me against those humans. Few people would have even given me a second glance, and fewer still would have been able to push past their own prejudices to help someone of my bloodline. Don’t look for me, I have my life and our paths cannot continue on the same road. Fight well and never change – good men like you are damn hard to find in the world. Maybe someday our night together will return to your thoughts, and when it does, remember me with fondness. – Setholee.

He folded the note and placed it inside his tunic before closing the clasps, his mind reeling at how different her written words were from the way she spoke. Ronnath felt his heart heavy, and wished for a moment she had not left him in such a way. Maybe it was the nature of humans and the those races who did not live as long as elves to enjoy a one night stand. He was not sure.

Ronnath knew he would not forget her and fervently wished someday they would meet again.