A Lover Scorned
By morning Bree had finally stopped crying. She lay there, on the floor of her room, dejected. Hollow. Empty.
Santon slept soundly in the doorway. Kelestair sat in the corner, watching her silently.
Eventually he spoke. “We will move on to Kelmarane without you, today.”
Bree shook her head. “No,” she croaked. Her throat felt like she had scrubbed it down with sand. “I’ll come.”
“You may be a liability.”
“I won’t be.”
Kelestair paused. “It is understandable to remain behind. No one would think less of you.”
Bree sat up. She eyed Kelestair fiercely. “I’m not staying here. You’re not leaving without me.”
Kelestair nodded slowly. He rose to his feet. Husk waddled into the room awkwardly.
“Prepare yourself, then,” Kelestair said. “I will rouse our comrade for breakfast.” He nodded at Husk. Husk reached his cruel looking beak down to Santon’s ear and squawked loudly.
Santon cried out and jumped to his feet.
“Come,” Kelestair said simply. “The time for rest is over.”
Beneath her red-rimmed, aching eyes and chapped lips, Bree smiled. The time for mourning had passed. There was work to be done.
Breakfast turned out to be a heavy affair. Potatoes and chicken with gigantic eggs on the side, each as big as Bree’s torso. Hadrah and Hadrod fed them happily, lingering to chat with the new face.
“And how large his horns are!” Hadrah whispered to her husband when she thought she was out of earshot. “Did you see his eyes? Like a – “
“Devil’s! Or at least I’d imagine so. Never seen one myself, have I dear?”
Kelestair ignored the couple and kept his eyes glued to his breakfast. Husk ate at the table beside him.
Bree found herself ravenous. All that crying had made her work up an appetite and by the time she was done she had eaten at least enough for three. Only Husk ate more. The bird was a beast!
They finished just as Trevvis arrived. His friends stood behind him. Brotis wore a large smile plainly upon her face. Kallien looked disgruntled. Trevvis looked oddly sad. Perhaps he regretted what he had done.
“Time to go,” Kelestair stated. “We have much to accomplish today.”
Santon nodded. “Yeah, let’s go. Bree?”
Bree rose from her seat without a word. Trevvis opened his mouth to speak and she quickly looked to the ground. Tears welled up in her eyes. She couldn’t talk to him now. She wasn’t ready.
“Star Flower,” he said softly, “I – “
“I can’t talk now, Trevvis,” Bree cut in. She never raised her eyes from the floor.
“But, Star Flower, just – “
Trevvis reached out a finger, placed it under her chin, and raised her face upwards. His eyes were determined, but sad. They were as rimmed in red as her own. He had been crying.
“Talk to me when you get back, Star Flower. Please. I’ll be waiting for you.”
Santon wrapped his arm around Bree’s shoulders. “Come on, Bree, it’s time to go.”
Trevvis’ eyes narrowed. Bree let herself be led away.
Kelmarane was crawling with gnolls. Twice as many patrols walked the streets as the previous days. They were far more alert. Attentive. They were looking for Kelestair.
Though she didn’t fear the gnolls, there were definitely too many to be trifled with. They would have to be clever. Careful.
“There,” Kelestair said. He pointed at one of the two buildings on the outskirts of the town which backed onto the river. “No gnolls have approached that building. It would be a good place to start.”
“If might have something worse than gnolls inside,” Santon replied.
Kelestair shrugged. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, the gnolls are not patrolling that far away from the heights. It is a good place to start.”
Bree nodded. “We would be close enough to get a better look at the town, at least.”
“If Felliped escaped it would be as good a place as any to hide.”
Santon nodded and then smiled. “Ladies first?”
Bree drew Tempest. A comforting chill surrounded her. A familiar, patchy mould drifted up her arm. Bree nodded grimly. She was not afraid. She crept forward, keeping to the underbrush as best as she could. Despite what Santon had said, he was right beside her. Kelestair took the rear and Husk flew above, circling lazily in the skies.
They approached the building without difficulty. A faint singing drifted out from it’s windows.
Someone was inside. A woman, by the sounds of it. Rather talented but –
Santon stood up, straight, and smiled. “What a beautiful song.”
Bree grabbed his for his arm but missed. “Get down!”
Santon ignored her and walked right up to the building’s front door. Kelestair raised an eyebrow at him, but followed.
Bitter brew! Santon was going to get them all killed! What was wrong with him?
“Santon!” Bree hissed. “Wait.”
But he didn’t. He strolled right up to the front door and knocked.
“Come in,” the voice sang.
Santon stepped into the building. Kelestair followed him, a few paces behind.
“Froth and foam!” Bree cursed. She dashed to the building and entered directly behind Kelestair. What was wrong with them?
The building was rather large and entirely one room. It was filled with all kinds of cauldrons and beakers, many of which contained strangely coloured bubbling liquids. The place stunk and caused her nose to burn and her eyes to water.
A winged woman stood beside the largest cauldron, stirring it as she sung to herself. Her skin was bronze, though her shoulders, lower arms and lower legs were covered in dull, brown, soot-stained feathers. Her features were sharp, and bird-like, but she was undoubtedly a humanoid. In place of nails she had black, cruel looking claws, and her feet ended in a bird’s talons. She wore a thick, leather apron, stained blue and black in places. She smiled, revealing sharp teeth. She was a harpy.
Bree opened her mind to the aura’s around her. The bird woman radiated evil. So did some of her concoctions. Bree frowned and tightened her grip on Tempest.
Santon walked up to the harpy and smiled. “What’s a beauty like you doing in this flea-ridden town?”
Oh, gods! They had walked right into the clutches of a harpy – beasts known for devouring travellers and eating their bones – and Santon had decided to hit on her? Bree gagged.
The harpy smiled and stopped her singing. “Mmm,” she groaned. “It’s just a place to set up my lab, my pet.”
Santon smiled and puffed out his chest.
Bree crept closer to Kelestair and whispered into his ear. “She’s evil.”
Kelestair didn’t respond.
The harpy stepped closer to Santon. “You’re here to kill us all, aren’t you?”
Santon nodded dumbly.
Foul brew! Bree couldn’t believe it. The fool!
“I don’t like the gnolls,” the harpy said with a sly smile. “But, they leave me be and so I let them be.”
“Santon,” Bree hissed.
He ignored her and the harpy continued. “Their leader is powerful. I could tell you all about him, if you like. Would you like that, my pet?”
Bree frowned. “Why would you do that?” she asked.
The harpy never looked at her, only at Santon. She raised a wicked looking claw and drew it along Santon’s chin. “He is cruel to me,” she pouted. “I want you to kill him for me.” She batted her crusty eyelashes at Santon. “But it would put me in great danger if I just sent you off to face him without testing you first. Wouldn’t it, my pet?”
“Why?” Bree asked with suspicion.
“If you find him without much trouble he’ll know I had a hand in it. I need to make sure that if you face him, you can kill him. My lover has quite the temper.”
The harpy nodded and pouted at Santon. She batted her eyelashes again. “There is a snake. A rather large snake. It lairs in the collapsing building across the river. I want you to bring me it’s head, for my brew. If you do, I’ll betray my lover for you.”
Santon nodded and puffed out his chest. “I’ll do it!” he answered without a second thought.
Bree frowned. What had this harpy done to her friends? Worse yet, what was she planning for them?
Santon turned and stalked out of the building without another word. Kelestair nodded at the harpy and then turned as well.
Bree lingered behind. She could attack it. The harpy would fight back, of course, perhaps shriek loud enough to summon aid.
No. Best to stay with her comrades. She needed to figure out what was wrong with them. They could face her when they were all prepared. But, what if she called reinforcements as soon as they left her? Bree shook her head.
The harpy finally looked at her. She smiled, raised her hand, and waved farewell.
Oh, by Cayden’s name, how she wanted to slice that sly smile right from her ugly face! But she wouldn’t. She wasn’t sure if she could take the harpy on her own and, for the first time, she wasn’t sure Santon would help.
No. Bree couldn’t take the harpy out on her own and the harpy knew it.
Bree scowled and followed her friends out of the building. She wasn’t sure what the harpy really was planning, but she was sure she wouldn’t like it. She had to stop Santon before he walked right into a trap.