House of the Beast: Chapter One

Chapter One
A Slow Recovery

Bree lay on her back with her feet pressed up against a weighted board. Sweat dripped down her forehead and neck, matting her blonde hair against her sunburnt skin. She pushed as hard as she could against the board, struggling to push it up and extend her legs. Her thighs burned as if they were aflame, and her calves threatened to give beneath the strain. Froth and foam! How much did this weigh?

“Easy, Bree,” Kelestair’s gravelly voice soothed. “There is no shame in knowing your limits.”

Bree scowled. Limits? A growl escaped her throat. She was not some useless, leaky keg! She was a warrior! She was a survivor! She was a hero! She would not be beaten by –

Bree’s left leg buckled, and the weighted board hurtled down, sliding along it’s tracks into it’s starting position with a deafening crash. Bree’s legs curled up against her body, but the board’s locks prevented her from being crushed beneath its weight.

Bree screamed in frustration. “Cayden’s curse, Kel! You added more weight!”

Kelestair walked calmly across his manor’s training room. The large, gold painted room had once been a large dining area, but he had repurposed it when Bree and Roh had moved into his manor’s upper floor. Although Bree had recovered remarkably since then she was still incredibly weak, and her daily weight training helped greatly to strengthen her body.

“I did,” he replied.

Bree pulled her legs out from beneath the weighted board and rolled over, crawling out from beneath it onto the rich Qadiran rug. “How am I ever going to pass your blasted tests if you keep making them tougher?” she growled.

Kelestair pursed his lips but did not raise his voice to match her own. “That is the point of a rehabilitation program, Bree. As you accomplish the tasks and goals we have set for you, I will increase the difficulty.”

Bree pushed herself to her feet, but wobbled. Her left leg quivered beneath her, but she forced herself to stand tall. “To what end? I’m fine!”

Kelestair’s gaze fell firmly on her weakened leg. He arched an eyebrow. “So I see.”

Bree shifted her weight further onto her right leg, steadying herself. She crossed her arms, determined to ignore the aching in her thighs and calves. “I mean it, Kelestair. I’m done. You can’t keep me here forever.”

Kelestair stiffened. “I do not…” He paused, seemingly searching for the right words. “I know you will not be satisfied with a simple life in Kelmarane. You wish to be free to follow your God’s whims, as you were meant to, but you must understand that you are not ready.”

“But, I am ready! I’ve improved tenfold since you – “

Kelestair’s red eyes darkened. He pursed his lips. “Since I nursed you back to life from the brink of death? Since I healed every bone in your body? Since I fed you broths at your bedside for months?” Kelestair’s jaw muscles stiffened. “Your impatience and arrogance blind you to the needs of your body.” He sighed, once, then regained his composure. When he spoke again his voice was calm. “You should have died, Bree. There is no way a human could have survived the fall that you did. The ground broke beneath you. We pulled you from a crater. Every bone in your body was shattered. Your muscles were ripped and torn, sometimes right off of the bone. It is a miracle you survived at all, and only through hard work and the most expensive healing magics we could get our hands on, did you awaken from your coma and return to us.”

“But, I did pull through, Kelestair.”

“You did. But, standing, walking, fighting?” Kelestair pursed his lips together in frustration. “Your spine was severed! You should never have been able to move from your bed. It is a miracle you have recovered as much as you have.”

“I am a servant of Cayden Cailean. My Lord didn’t let me die.”

Kelestair sighed softly at Bree’s familiar retort. “Yes, clearly, he has blessed you, Bree, but he did not make you invincible.”

Bree opened her mouth to protest, but Kelestair silenced her with a narrowing of his eyes.

“Yes, you have worked hard, and yes, you have improved, but you were confined to a bed for half a year. You stumbled out of that hospital room as weak as a babe, and even now, with all your training and my assistance you’re barely as strong as I am.”

“You’re not weak, Kelestair.”

“I am not. But, neither am I strong. At the Battle of Thrice Hills you were more than strong, you were powerful. Before you go back to living off the Brazen Peaks and slaughtering gnolls by the tribe, you need to be so again.”

“But – ” Bree stammered.

“The weight we used today was half that of a full grown gnoll. Half.

Bree paused. Half? Was he serious? Bree sighed. Who was she kidding, of course he was serious. Kelestair never lied and he barely joked. Foul brew… Gnolls hunted in packs, and were quite cunning. How could she hope to kill the Carrion King, Gnoll King of the Brazen Peaks, if she couldn’t fight off a single gnoll when the fight came down to ground level? Was she really that weak? It had always seemed so easy to her before… Perhaps Kelestair was right. She sighed in defeat.

“I – “

“No, Bree. No more excuses. You are not ready. You will train, you will grow stronger, and eventually – when I know that my year of effort and your gods miracles will not be wasted because of your stubbornness, you may leave Kelmarane.”

Bree smirked. “I thought I was headstrong.”

The corners of Kelestair’s lips turned up slightly at the corners. “So did I.”

Bree tried her best to walk steadily to the nearby table, but ended up limping. “Don’t say a word!” she growled over her shoulder. She poured herself a glass of water and drank greedily.

A knock sounded at the training room’s door.

Kelestair glanced at Bree for permission, and she nodded.

“Enter,” Kelestair called.

The large, pointed arch, wooden door swung open silently and Roh skipped in. Her blue eyes were bright and her mousy brown hair was tied back in a simple plait. She wore the red and gold livery of Kelmarane’s law enforcement.

“Junior Protector Roh, reporting with a message, for Dr. Kelestair and Knight Protector Bree.”

Bree smiled as Roh saluted her. The Junior Protectors were an organization overseen by the Sheriff which gave the young children of Kelmarane an outlet for their energy. They ran messages, cleaned monuments, enforced minor laws and performed other odd jobs. It was a stepping stone into working in law enforcement and the justice halls. The group’s members were highly respected for their efforts.

Roh, herself, was an orphan that Bree had saved from the clutches of a brute of a gnoll known as Al’Vohr and his hunters. She had adopted Roh only four months ago, but already she had come to love her dearly.

“Report,” Kelestair responded seriously.

“Mayor Roveshki requests your presence at the Battle Market with all due haste.”

Kelestair nodded once. “Message received. You are dismissed, Junior Protector Roh.”

“Ignore him, Roh,” Bree cut in. “What does Almah want?”

Roh smiled and dropped her salute. “You, Dr. Kelestair, and Sheriff Santon.”

“All of us? It’s not more tedious paperwork, is it? If I have to sign any more tax slips or building permits I’ll go mad.”

Roh shook her head and smiled coyly. “I wasn’t there the entire time, but Eli was. He said that a Priest of Sarenrae wandered into town this morning asking for the ‘people in power,’ but when Mayor Roveshki and Lord Garavel arrived he turned them away, asking for the ones with real power.” Roh giggled. “By the time I arrived to deliver your summons Mayor Roveshki’s cheeks were pink!”

Bree laughed. Mayor Almah Roveshki was a merchant princess born and raised in Katapesh. She was an expert at hiding her feelings. If her cheeks coloured even slightly, she must be furious!

“And a priest of Sarenrae?” Kelestair enquired.

Roh nodded.

“He is not an Agent of the Pactmasters?”

Bree frowned. The Pactmasters were the rulers of Katapesh – both the city and the country. Although Bree was loathe to admit it, the land that their town of Kelmarane was founded on technically belonged to the Pactmasters. She, Santon, Kelestair, and Almah had founded the town themselves, and instituted their own laws. Laws contrary in many ways to those that the Pactmasters had set forth. But trade was the lifeblood of Katapesh and Kelmarane was a successful settlement in an unsettled region. Many new trade routes had been opened because of their success. So far this had protected Kelmarane from the Pactmasters ire, but they often received agents bearing messages and missives, ordering the Mayor, or the town founders to cede ownership of the town willingly, before the Azure Guard are sent to ensure their loyalty. Bree had every intention of fighting the Pactmasters and their agents to the death, if need be, before she allowed slavery to sully her free town, but she couldn’t help but wonder how many citizens and merchants traveling through Kelmarane were actually spies on the Pactmasters payroll.

Roh shook her head. “Not this time. He was spotted entering town from the north.”

Bree’s eyes widened. The north was an inhospitable stretch of jagged peaks and canyons known as the Brazen Peaks which were once overrun by hundreds of gnolls. Bree had put an end to all but one of the tribes, ensuring the area’s safety from intelligent predators, but gnolls weren’t the only dangers in the north. Lions, jackals, and monstrously sized scorpions were the most common predators found in the area, but blood-sucking lizards known as chupacabra were also present in large numbers, as were rocs, griffins and harpies. Those who did not tread carefully in the Brazen Peaks did not live long. This man was no simple priest.

“He came from the Brazen Peaks?”

Roh nodded vigorously and a satisfied smile spread across her face. “I knew that would catch your interest!”

Kelestair pursed his lips. “Do not let your thoughts get ahead of you, Bree. Remember your limits. Whatever news this man brings cannot cause you to abandon your training.”

Bree rolled her eyes. “You can’t stop me from thinking, you know. This is a free town. I made it that way.”

Kelestair sighed softly causing Roh to giggle.

“They’re waiting for you,” she added after a moment. “Can I tell them you’re coming?”

Bree smiled. “Of course, Roh. The Doctor and I will be along shortly.”

Kelestair frowned. “You have not yet performed your cool-down exercises and – “

Bree interrupted him with a laugh of her own. “I’m going, Kelestair. Now. Are you coming, or are you going to let me walk all the way across town without supervision?”

Kelestair opened his mouth to reply, but Bree cut him off again. “What if I get a cramp and fall off the Pinnacle? All of your hard work could be wasted.”

“I suppose the walk from Our Lady of Light could be considered your cool down, just this once.”

Bree smiled in triumph. “I thought you might agree.”

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