A Game of Destiny

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Chapter Six: Spells of Sex

I awake in the morning slowly, aware of a weight on my chest. Trying to shift, I hear a strange sound, halfway between a purr and a growl. I open my eyes to see Pig looming over me, his face inches from mine, with a line of drool threatening to touch my chin. His tail of horrors whips my legs, and the sounds go from the half purr-growl into a lizard-like clicking frenzy.

“Good dog,” I say sleepily, unsure how to react, “Who’s a good beast of shadows?”

His clicking heightens with glee, earning a pillow thrown at him from Dong.

“Blasted Pig!” He groans, his tuft of white hair crazed, “I’m too old for this. My bones are mere twigs! Snapping, cracking and easily fucking severed.”

I see a shadow at the window, presumably Sequoia’s shadow, and I ponder on whether to wake her or not. I could wake her and ruin her day in a matter of seconds. She would peer down at me and feel nothing but disappointment.

My insides quiver at the thought, a sick feeling brewing in my stomach. I stare at the ceiling, trying to gather energy, before resigning myself to get up. My stomach insists I function.

“Did you sleep well?” I ask Dong, adjusting my clothing, “I slept soundly.”

Dong laughs incredulously, head flung back, and teeth bared.

“Did you fuck! I heard you talking in your sleep, pleading for whoever to get dressed,” he scoffs, buttering bread with gusto, “You were tossing and turning enough to worry your Giant friend.”

I bite my lip, remembering the nightmare of my dancing skeleton sisters. Their skin peeling off from muscle, tendons and sinews, until the bare white of bone glinted in the sun as they spun relentlessly. Seeing the teeth in their skulls instead of framed with smiles made me uncomfortable.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, disturbed, “Actually, I had an ominous nightmare.”

Dong hums in thought, tossing me a plate of buttered bread. He thrusts honey, berries and dried meat at me.

“Sounds shitty,” he announces, “Now eat up. We have a Witch to find.”

We move through the woods with the vague idea of direction. Lighthouses tend to be near water, so we were going near the water. Sequoia insisted Chief Ula would be focused on the Aouren Estate, so we should be able to skirt around and search for the invisible lighthouse.

“But what if Chief Ula does click that we’re not in there? What if she’s already onto us, or she’s nuts enough to follow us into the woods?”

I had been asking this question multiple times in various ways, only to receive short answers from Sequoia. She was still refusing to look at me, and it was beginning to hurt. Due to her height, it wasn’t hard for her to look over me, pretending I don’t exist.

“If Chief Ula and the Orcs came to the forest, they’ll be due lots of little Orc babies. Orcs love a sex fest,” Dong muses, throwing a stick for Pig, “It wouldn’t take much for an Epic Orc Sex Party to happen. They’re very open-minded.”

Sequoia scoffs.

“Like someone else I know,” she mutters darkly, looking right over my head.

I bristle, feeling the dig. I let her touch me: so what? We would have to consummate our marriage anyway, and why am I not allowed to enjoy sex without feelings of love? I have feelings of intrigue, care and respect towards her, and for now, I thought that was rather good considering the fact we’re strangers.

“You weren’t complaining when you were buried between my legs,” I snap at her, trying to gain some fleeting feeling of gratification in silencing her.

Sequoia laughs, and it’s a low rumbling sound. It reminded me of earth tremors moments before disaster.

“I can’t say much when I’m doing all the work,” she says from behind me, her voice grit and venom, “Not that I particularly mind when you’re squirming in pleasure.”

I spun around, our eyes finally meeting, and I study her face. Her eyes were slightly hazy, her cheeks flushed. She licks her lips, her expression darkening. Her eyes settled on my breasts shamelessly. Dong whistles at the open display of anger interlaced with hunger.

“Well, it’s not a full moon, but I’d say she’s affected,” he marvels, staring up at her, “Giant, how are you feeling?”

Sequoia barely notices Dong, her eyes on me. I was beginning to feel smaller and smaller, reduced to nothing but flesh.

“Hungry,” she answers sharply, her hand reaching for me, “I could devour you.”

I slap her hand away, confused and hurt. My heart pounds, unsure if I should run from the looming and lustful Giant; or if I should find a solution. Dong sees my unease, concern flickering across his face. He peers through the trees, searching for a cause or reason that would be affecting Sequoia. He finds nothing.

“Aye, we’re fucked,” he swears, “How fast can you run?”

I grit my teeth, not looking away from Sequoia. It felt like staring into the eyes of a predator, where any sudden movement would trigger a response. My ankle throbs, a warning that running would end badly, and I feel the pain gently thrum louder, feeling inflamed from continued use.

“Not very fast,” I admitted, “I injured myself yesterday. My ankle is bad.”

Eyes skimming the forest again, Dong begins to look nervous.

“I can’t see a quick route to escape a Giant intent on fucking your brains out dear, that I do not,” he shakes his head, looking at me in a peculiar way, “how about you smack her hard?”

I glare at him and then look up at Sequoia with nerves jittering in my stomach and leaping into my throat. It was like she was unable to hear the conversation between Dong and me, her eyes much too focused on me. I was scared to move. My pulse pounds in my ears, far too loud, and the sweat on my palms feels cold and sickly.

“How hard would I have to smack a Giant?” I hiss, not wanting to.

Sequoia is the Commander of an Army with insane strength and speed. What hope does a country bumpkin from Porro have against that? Dong swears when Sequoia moves to grab me again, and I flinch. I don’t want to hurt her. Despite the fact we weren’t lovers or even friends, I loathed the idea of hurting her.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper, “but you’re creepy.”

When Sequoia reaches again, I dive forward, swinging my leg around from under me to kick her hard. My ankle cries in protest as my boot connect with the armoured leg, and I hiss as the pain shoots upwards towards my knee. Sequoia bends to grab me, unaffected, and I swear colourfully, seeing the lack of presence in her eyes.

“Oh, come on!” I shout, kicking the armour repeatedly, “Stop. Being. Creepy!”

Panicked and unable to do damage to her armour-clad form, I see the only skin visible is on her hands and face. An idea strikes me, an awfully bad one, but I fling my head back, driven with a moment of insanity, and then I thrust it forward again, cracking our skulls together. The sound sends a wave of sickness through me, and then the hot flow of blood trickled down my face. Sequoia blinks at me, suddenly looking awake again. Pain pulses from my forehead, mounting in rolling waves as it worsened, and I flopped in Sequoia’s hands.

“That’s not good,” Dong remarks, and then it goes black.

I am not having a good morning.

Coming to, I gaze at the trees overhead, watching the sun illuminate through the leaves. It filters through the twigs and branches, casting light through the various greens like gemstones. I feel like my head has been split open, and when I touch it, there’s sticky, hard crust along a deep gash. Great.

“Don’t touch that!” I hear Dong order, “Took me ages to make. It will hold the skin together.”

Turning my head to the side, I watch him, surprised to find him looking worriedly at me, his black beady eyes scanning my face gravely.

“How bad?” I ask, moving to sit up.

Dong helps me sit up comfortably, bringing a flask to my mouth to urge me to drink.

“Bad enough that Lady Giant thought she killed you for a moment. She’s still moping.”

Looking around, I can’t see her anywhere. I must not have been out for too long, as the light is still bright.

“Where is she?”

Dong contemplates, deflating.

“I don’t know.”

Somehow, that hurt the most. I wasn’t angry at her for being affected by the spell at all. I was concerned. Inwardly I feel betrayed by her lack of presence.

“So what happened?” I say, trying to distract myself, “Spells, wards? What was it?”

Dong points to a tree nearby, and a small purple gemstone glistens eerily from the bark. Standing, I stride to it, perplexed by how we hadn’t noticed before. It was larger than my entire face, appearing to holds its inner light and glinting something wicked. I swear as it shines light directly into my eyeballs.

“A ward then? Was it cast in Illusionist magic to hide it?”

“Yes, pretty powerful, but only enough for one person at a time. I think it targets the most physically capable, to then set them on a wild spree on the rest of their party. It’s an unusual type of ward.”

I smile sadly. Sequoia must have hated that.

Angry, I beat the ward against a rock, causing it to shatter. Dong stamps on the remains, his curly shoes bouncing with each stomp.

“Good riddance,” he pants, “When I find that Witch I’ll beat her with my shoes, that I shall!”

I crush the broken remains alongside him before a shadow falls over me. Dong and I freeze until we realise who it is. Sequoia stands over us, looking tired. There are shadows under her eyes and weariness etched onto her face that wasn’t there before. When her eyes see my face, they falter before dropping to the ground.

“Sorry,” she deadpans, fists clenched, “I was out of order. I was creepy and had no control. Your face-” she takes a deep breath, steadying herself, “I’m sorry I hurt your face.”

Staring at her, I see the glassiness of her eyes and marvel before feeling rage.

“Bitch!” I shout, jabbing a finger at her, making her flinch, “Why are you apologising for my face when I’m the one who headbutted you? I cracked my skull on yours, on purpose! It would be better if you would stop ignoring me and pay more attention to creepy stones in trees.”

Sequoia gapes at me, confused.

“I couldn’t see the creepy stone!” She insisted, “It was cast in magic.”

I stamp on the stone underfoot again, pissed I could still see the dust of its remains on the forest floor.

"So? You should have said you felt funny before you went all mean about me.”

She frowns, eyes darting to Dong with questions dancing in her eyes.

“What did I say?” She whispers, blanching when she sees me glaring.

Dong rolls his eyes and checks his nails.

“What didn’t you say? Hm... you insinuated she was a sluuuuuut!” He answers, smirking, “And then went all grabby grabby whilst openly staring at her lady apples.”

I blush.

“Hey, they’re bigger than apples,” I protested, folding my arms across my chest, “large oranges are more accurate. Anyway, you will never touch my Lady oranges after today, Miss Grabby!”

Sequoia stares at me and then at my breasts.

“Oranges,” she nods, before looking sad, “Long lost oranges...May we meet in my dreams.”

I glare at her.

"No dreams!”

She looks like she wants to argue, but I stand on a tree stump and press my finger to her lips to silence her. I mean to tell her all sexual privileges are gone, to take away simply because she hurt my feelings, but I peer into her purple eyes. They looked hungry again, yearning. She presses a kiss to the finger meant to silence her, and the sensation sends a flutter to my nether regions. When she sees me falter she smiles, her sadness and surprise slowly turning into amusement. She steps in closer, her lips at my ear. The breath I feel against my skin makes me prickle with desire.

“I won’t touch you unless you ask,” she whispers and then leans back, “But I am sorry. For scaring you and... assaulting your bosom with my eyes.”

Unable to move, I stare, suddenly wanting to jump her again. I grind the stone underfoot again, hoping its effects were long gone, and I step off the tree stump, trying to look collected. I feel nowhere near collected, but with a slight ruffle of my hair, and adjustment of my clothing, I could pretend.

We press through the woods, a Goblin, a Giant and me. I’m currently sporting a huge gash across my forehead, and apparently, I’m a Dragon set to doom the Kingdom. I still haven’t wrapped my head around that. I can’t even protect myself without knocking myself out first.

“You need to learn to defend yourself,” Sequoia says flatly, mimicking my thoughts, “I thought you could use knives and magic.”

I pout, feeling bitter.

“I can use knives and magic, I just didn’t want to use them on you,” I retort sourly, feeling called out, “But if you do want to bleed, and give full consent, maybe I can arrange that for you.”

I had meant to sound sarcastic, but Sequoia nods firmly, looking impressed. She pats me on the shoulder.

“Yes, you have my full consent to make me bleed, cut or use magic against me should you need to in the future for your protection.”

Dong and I stare at her, unsure if it was a joke or a serious statement. When she carries on walking, oblivious to our confusion, we turn our stares to each other. Being an Army Commander to the Queen has made her lose her senses. We hurry to catch up to Sequoia, as her long legs don’t know the meaning of maintaining a slow pace, and we skirt the edges of the forest, looking in on the Aouren Estate once again.

As expected, the Orcs were making camp outside the gates, their little tents billowing with smoke from their fires. I can hear laughter and shouting. The gates were being overlooked by dutiful guards still, and occasionally a snarky exchange would commence between guards and Orcs. I strain to listen over the sound of the wind searing into my ears. It’s cold, a chill coming in from the sea, and it forces my cheeks into numbness. Silently, Sequoia drops her fur cloak onto my shoulders. When I look at her. She remains focused on the gates, looking calm and stoic.

“How long is the shoreline?” Dong asks, eyes glinting, “Where does the Witch walk from?”

Sequoia hums in thought, her gaze far away in the distance, calling upon memories of the Witch. She moves slowly, hunched beneath the tree canopy, her footsteps quiet.

“She comes directly from the main road,” she muses out loud, pointing, “She wears a cloak with a low hood, long boots and carries a basket of goods to sell.”

We stare in the direction she’s pointing, mystified.

“And what’s up there?” Dong asks.

Sequoia frowns deeply, turning to us sheepishly.

“The road leads to the forest, leading away from the shore, and the shore ends at a little rocky patch by the bridge.”

We all groan, but then a thought flickers across my mind, fast like lightning.

“But why have a protection ward in the forest if the lighthouse is over there?”

Sequoia and Dong look at me.

“You think it’s closer than we suspected?” Sequoia enquires.

I nod, looking back towards the trees before looking up towards the sky. There was an odd feeling looking up. Birds were swooping and circling a point but never went into the centre of the circle. I watch them a moment, thinking about lighthouses until it struck me.

“It’s a tower,” I exclaimed, heading back into the trees, “The ward must have been close to it, deterring us from coming closer.”

They follow behind me, and I push forward, searching for where Sequoia eye-fucked me within an inch of my life.

“But wouldn’t the ward break the Illusionist spell once broken?” Sequoia asks from behind.

“Sometimes we are blind because our minds tell us we are,” Dong answers simply and then groans, “and Pig isn’t here. Isn’t that peculiar?”

Glancing around, I realise he’s right and wondered at what point he had disappeared on us.

“It’s because he’s too stupid to be tricked. He probably saw it and went to investigate. ”

Sure enough, we see Pig circling in the distance, nose trained to the ground and tail wafting slowly in concentration. When he hears us approach he gets excited, his teeth revealed in a large toothy grin.

Sequoia moves in front of me, her axe at the ready. As Dong fussed over Pig, I watch Sequoia walk, the width of her shoulders large and dependable. She goes directly to where Pig had been sniffing, nudging rocks and leaves aside with her feet.

“There’s nothing underfoot,” she mutters, raising a hand to lean on a tree, “It’s pretty...wait.”

I go to her, wondering what had her sounding so perplexed. She was running her hand up and down the bark of the tree, staring at it, looking away, and then staring at it again. Dong makes a noise of frustration.

“Out with it! What’s up with the fucking tree?”

Sequoia looks at us and then laughs gruffly.

“That’s the thing,” she smiles, “It’s not a tree.”

She moves, trailing her hands across the bark, beginning to look quite demented. I touch the tree quickly and realise what Sequoia had been puzzling at. Instead of rough bark, it felt like cool stone under my fingertips. Yet, it looks like a tree.

“It’s the tower,” Sequoia tells me, grasping my hand, “and I’ve found the door.”

She pulls my hand to a different part of the tree, and I gasp at the feel of a door. I could feel the cool metal of the handle and the keyhole. I ran my hands up and down the door, still seeing the tree but feeling...door.

“It is the tower,” I whisper to myself, intrigued.

I grasp the handle but saw my hand grasping a gnarly branch. Slowly, I turned it, and as soon as a click sounded, the tree disappeared. I jump backwards, not having expected the sudden change. The tower is large and old, made of stone that looked fit to crumble. Slim slits of windows streak up the length of the tower in various places, and the birds circle the turret of the tower, flying around the thinnest point. Sequoia places a hand on my shoulder, steadying me before nudging the door open with her boot. It lets out a wailing creak, disturbing a few birds in the trees, and we peer into the dark, candlelit passage.

“That was...unexpected,” Dong mutters, scratching his head, “It’s no lighthouse.”

I shake my head, staring at the pinnacle where the birds are. The tower is old and still overlooks the shore. Just further back than expected.

“Maybe it used to be one,” I say simply, stepping forward.

Sequoia stops me, moving to take my place.

“You stay behind me,” she orders, “Dong and Pig can take the rear.”

Dong sighs.

“I’ve not been asked to do that for a while,” he sniffs, standing behind me, “I have less action than a corpse. At least they have maggots visiting them. What do I get? A Giant and a Dragon...couldn’t have been Prince, oh no. That would have been too good for Mr Dong.”

Sequoia shakes her head, trying to pay him no notice. She enters the tower, her axe gleaming from the candles.

It smells like wet wood and dust inside. There’s a cold smell, damp, and every step feels far too loud. Even Pig, dumb and dense as he is, remains quiet as he walks behind us. Stairs illuminated by a torch lay in front, draped in layers of fine webs. I shiver at the idea of touching them and follow Sequoia nervously, one hand grasping the back of her cloak as she walks.

“Don’t suppose this Witch ever came across as friendly?” Dong whispers, sounding far away.

Sequoia pauses at the top of the spiral stairs, looking into the darkness.

“I never met her. She’s exceptionally beautiful with red lipstick,” she answers, moving onto the first floor, “Ardwen and Arla said she has red eyes.”

I pause, as Vampires are known to have red eyes, not Witches. Glancing around the tower again, with the webs, dust and shadows, I feel my skin start to creep.

“There’s a door over there with a light on inside,” Sequoia states.

She’s moving before I can voice my concerns, turning into a Giant shadow as she moves into the darkness. I grasp Dong’s arm, nervous.

“Red eyes,” I tell him, my nerves making my voice breathy, “Do you think she’s a Vampire?”

He nods his black eyes pools of darkness. “I think she might be. Explains how she got so experienced with Illusionist magic. She’s had years to practice.”

He sniffs and then pauses before sniffing again.

“Did you put perfume on?”

I shake my head before smelling it too. The smell is rich with velvety notes of vanilla and musk. It’s sexy, deep and sensual, and it coaxes my senses like a lullaby. I turn to look behind Dong, seeing Pig staring happily at a tall, slender woman. I pull Dong behind me, feeling my blood run cold as I see the ruby lips curve into a smile.

“Visitors?” She asks, her voice like smoke and liquor, “Oh, I do love uninvited visitors!”

She claps once, the abrupt sound making me jump, and suddenly the space lights up.

She’s striking, that’s for sure. Her hair is a cascade of black waves, glossy and long, and her skin is iridescent and pale. She stands so still I could have sworn she was carved from white marble until, of course, her red eyes blinked.

“We have questions,” I say in a rush, nervous, “about the forest.”

There’s a glint of recognition that flashes through her eyes before she sighs heavily. I swallow thickly, taking in the tight leathers, black bodice and the swell of her breasts threatening to escape from the top of her bodice. My eyes bulged, unsure where to look. Into the eyes that scared me, or the boobs that brazenly called my attention.

Dong jumps and smacks me in the head.

“Don’t stare,” he hisses and then faces her, “We have reason to believe you know why the forest has an unusual amount of sex happening under the full moon.”

She scoffs, her smooth beautiful face contorting.

“Because of course, the creepy Vampire Witch knows about that!”

I stare, unsure whether to agree or not. She seems aware of her unusual eerie ways, but I didn’t quite know how to respond to her. Whilst I puzzled over how to answer, Sequoia comes from beside me, her axe gleaming. The Vampire Witch raises an arched eyebrow at this before rolling her eyes.

“I am behind the spell cast upon the woods, but it was an experimental mistake,” she said darkly, “It was originally a spell meant to function as a love potion, rendering people too in love to notice the tower...instead it makes people bonk.”

Sequoia cocks her head intrigued.

“So you left the spell as it was, despite it being wrong?”

The Vampire Witch huffed, obviously vexed.

“I’ve been trying to fix it for an entire year. It just gets worse every time I try to sort it.”

I relax a little, contemplating how strange the spell must be to get worse and worse in terms of making the creatures of the forest hornier. Dong taps a long finger to his chin before eyeing her.

“Was it meant to deter people or creatures?” He asks, a frown deep on his brow.

She tilts her chin up, slightly cockily to save face. Her eyes glitter with malice.

“As a Vampire Witch, I’ve been training for over a hundred years. I think I’d know how to cast a spell towards the right target,” she retorts, hands-on-hips, “And I think I have far more experience than a mere Goblin, thank you very much!”

Dong smiles, his pointed teeth suddenly giving his usual joyful rounded face a creepy expression.

“I’m seven hundred and forty-six, you’re nothing but a child to me,” he tells her, “Where’s your mentor? Who’s old and mad enough to take on a Vampire Witch unable to cast a simple love spell?”

Her lips curl back in a half snarl, half-smile, and she prickles in annoyance. Casting a look between us, she drums her fingers on the wrought-iron of the stairs hand railing, her lips pursed.

“Tielo Eastern,” she says in a short, clipped tone, “For two years now.”

“And where is he?” Dong insists.

She twists her lips into an ugly red grimace.

“Research,” she answers, before sighing, “Master Eastern doesn’t know about this yet. I’m expecting him back any day now...I might lose this apprenticeship.”

With a sharp look towards the door Sequoia had moved towards before, she nods at it, her red eyes flashing.

“If the old fart Goblin wishes to help, he may, but I doubt he can remember his foot from his anus,” she says sourly, striding past us.

She marched past Sequoia and her raised axe without care, striding with a sway to her hips I had never mastered. Dong follows her, bubbling with rage.

“I remember where my foot is, and I have reason to shove it up your anus, you snivelling weasel turd!”

Sequoia looks at me silently, questions in her eyes that she didn’t wish to speak, and I shrugged. I didn’t have a clue at this rate. Everything felt random and discombobulated.

We join Dong and the Vampire Witch in what looks like a large lofty study. Bookcases line the walls from floor to ceiling, crammed with thick volumes with old crumbling spines. She clears a desk cluttered with notes and books before sitting back in the chair and resting her feet on the desk. She eyes Pig warily, watching as he circles a corner and then sits, tongue lolling out.

“My name is Dena Redgrim. I came to study with Master Eastern two years ago, and he entrusted me to guard the tower and continue my research. However, I got overly excited and fucked up the day after he left. All I have to go on are my original notes, the original spell, and every variant I’ve made since that has made the situation much, much worse.”

Dena looks at us, frustration plain on her face.

“If I don’t fix this, he’ll get rid of me.”

Dong whistles.

“I’d say he should get rid of you anyway. Without the fact you’ve tripled the local deer population and made troll deer a thing, you’re not capable. Your books aren’t even in alphabetical order.”

Dena rolls her eyes and ignores him, her eyes falling on me.

“What about you? You have big amounts of magical energy. Do you know what to do?”

I grimace, not liking her red eyes trained on me, but I tried to think of a solution. Magic and spells aren’t my forte as such, but Muriel used to talk about it a lot. She would read books at every opportunity and recite them at whatever chance she got.

“Maybe,” I began slowly, “instead of trying to undo the spell, we should aim to subdue it. Make it less horny and more...huggy?”

Dena’s eyes blazed, and she licked the rouge of her lips, not looking amused.

“Huggy?” She asks sharply, staring at me.

I nod sheepishly.

“Maybe one element of the spell was disproportionate?” Sequoia offers, setting her axe down, “Or that you didn’t fully grasp what ‘love’ means, and that’s why it’s resulted in sex.”

The room goes quiet yet loud with the thrum of thoughts spiralling. Dena’s eye twitched, her gaze brewing with rage. Standing abruptly, she strides over to a bookcase and selects a thick volume, plucking the item with minimal effort. She tosses it to Sequoia, who catches it one-handed without even looking.

“I know what love is,” she hisses, teeth bared, “but I don’t have the most lovable personality. I use my sex appeal to get anywhere, and it’s useless. It’s useless overall. It doesn’t keep people around, or gain you respect, or fulfil me or anything. But...I know what love is. I feel it.”

She pounds her fist to her chest to make a point, eyes wild.

“I feel it. I just don’t know how to get it in return.”

Sequoia stares at her solemnly before her eyes flicker to me, resting. I shift uncomfortably, knowing where her thoughts were drifting, and I try to turn my attention to Dena, who was now stood trembling, her fists balled up and her face scrunched as she fought back tears.

“I can’t make him love me,” she whispers, wiping her eyes, “It’s like he doesn’t see my beauty, curves or feminine charms. To him, I’m just an apprentice, and that is all.”

Dong raises an eyebrow.

“You’re in love with Tielo Eastern?”

She nods.

“If the spell for the forest had worked as intended, I would have made a smaller one. A hint of suggestion type of spell, just to have him look at me for a moment as a woman.”

I reel at that, flabbergasted at the notion. To cast a spell to make someone else like you more, even fleetingly? It doesn’t sit well with me.

“But that’s...not consent,” I tell her, moving towards her and grasping her hands, “Love is sometimes one-sided or needs time, patience and nurturing. Then, sometimes, it will just not be mutual, and you’ll have to leave that alone. Spells of love or sex aren’t the way to go.”

Her red eyes are wide as they stare into mine before they move over my head and towards the door. Her eyes widen and then drop to the floor. Her hands tighten on mine, trembling.

“Why are there shagging creatures throughout the forest, Dena?”

I turn, staring up at the large man in the doorway. He’s slightly shorter than Sequoia, and perhaps twice as beefy, with long ropes of hair, elfin ears and dark, ebony skin. His amber eyes glitter from the candlelight but remain on Dena. She looks like she wishes to turn inside out to avoid his stare, and I don’t blame her. His eyes aren’t fire or flame but smouldering red coals reflecting heat. They gaze endlessly, pointed and knowledgeable.

“The increased deer population, Dena,” he states, demanding an answer, “I require an answer as to why there are so many deer.”

Dena finally raises her head, eyes glossy and impossibly sad.

“Because I fucked up.”

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