The Heartless Dead: Chapter Four

Chapter Four
A Day in the Life

Kelestair’s gravelly voice echoed down the hospital’s hallways. His tone was professional, but he spoke slowly. Santon didn’t always bring him the smartest children. “And that is the last of Our Lady of Light. I hope you have enjoyed your tour.” He curled his lips up as high as he could, into a semblance of a smile. It felt strange. More like a sneer, really. Still, it often eased the fear his devilish visage evoked in others.

The little girl before him nodded once. She was incredibly pale, with hair the colour of pitch. She was small for her age and stood only as tall as Kelestair’s hip. The skin around her eyes was dark and had a greenish tinge to it. The remnants of a healing bruise.

Santon smiled. “Zym, would you excuse us for a moment?”

The little girl nodded.

“Come on, Kel.”

Kelestair raised an eyebrow, but followed Santon to a nearby office.

Santon let his smile drop. “I’d like you to give her a full tour.”

“I have.”

“You didn’t show her everything.”

Kelestair narrowed his eyes. “I showed her everything on the tour. What else do you want her to see?”


The corners of Kelestair’s lips tilted down, into a slight frown. “That is not possible.”

Santon smiled. “Everything you would allow an apprentice to see, then.”

“An apprentice?” Kelestair mused. “Of what? The child showed no interest in the healing arts, or any of the wards.”

“You didn’t show her everything.”

“I showed her everything that a child is allowed to see.”

Santon smirked. “So don’t think of her as a child.”

Kelestair narrowed his eyes. “Tell me why you brought this… Zym before me, Santon. She is not like the others.”

Santon nodded. “No, she’s not. I want you to mentor her.”

“You have brought me some of your Junior Protectors to mentor before and I have left them in capable hands. But, this child shows no desire to be taught medicine. I will not burden my employees with her.”

Santon sighed. “I don’t want you to find her a mentor, Kel. I want you to mentor her.”

Kelestair scoffed. “I have enough demands on my time.”

“Just give her a chance.”

“She shows no promise, and has no desire to learn.”

Santon smirked. “You didn’t show her anything she’s interested in.”

“I have shown her everything!”

“Take her to the morgue.”

Kelestair’s eyes widened. “She is a child. She has no place among the dead.”

“Zym watched her mother die from a wasting disease and her father’s not what I would call a good role model.”

Kelestair nodded. “Her bruises are his handiwork, then?”

“What else are father’s for?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Kelestair stated dryly.

Santon chuckled. “And I would?” His face turned somber. “I’ve seen her when she thinks no one is looking, Kel. She watches things. People, the other kids, animals. It’s like she’s trying to figure out how to be like them, but can’t seem to get it right. She’s awkward and gives the other kids the creeps.”

“And you think showing her the morgue will help her come to terms with her mother’s death?”

“I think it will give her a new life.”

“Seeing a corpse won’t give her closure.”

Santon smiled. “I think you will give her a new life.”

“I am not a miracle worker.”

“She found a wounded animal, the other day.”

“I have no time to train animal doctors, Santon.”

“She didn’t heal it. She didn’t even call for help. She just sat there, crouched over the wounded fennec until it’s last breath. She watched it die.”

Kelestair raised an eyebrow. “How long did it take?”

Santon frowned. “An hour.”

Kelestair paused, lost in thought.

“Look, Kel, I’ll be honest with you. Zym’s obsessed with death. Right now, she’s watching things die, but who knows what she’ll do tomorrow? I don’t want one of my Junior Protector’s torturing lizards in the pesh fields for kicks.”

“Perhaps one of the funeral directors will take her under their wing.”

Santon sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Just… Take her to the morgue. Let her watch an autopsy.”

“I will not apprentice a child to the morgue.”

“I don’t want her mentored by a death doctor, I want her mentored by you!”

Kelestair’s eye widened. “You… You would entrust a child to my care?” He shook his head. “No, Santon, I don’t… I am not…” He struggled to find the right words.

“Trust me, Kel. You’re the person – the only person – I trust to make a citizen out of her.”

Kelestair paused. His red eyes were dark. Torn.

Santon smiled. “Give her a chance, Kel. I think you’ll be perfect for each other.”

Kelestair stiffened, but nodded. “Very well, but I can only do so much.” He opened the door to the office and returned to the hallway. Zym stood outside of the sick ward, peering into a curtained archway. Hacking coughs sounded from within, followed by rasping, laboured breathing.

“Come on, Zym,” Santon said. “Leave the sick to their recoveries, yeah?”

Zym looked at him blankly. “I am. This patient won’t live.”

Kelestair lips formed into a grim line. “The sick enter these halls daily, and most recover enough to leave again.”

Zym shrugged. “She won’t.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Her breathing.”

“Her breathing? What is your reasoning?”

“It’s… wet? Like there’s something in her that shouldn’t be there.”

“Many illnesses bring mucous and phlegm to the throat and lungs. Perhaps she has a common cold.”

Zym shook her head. “This is… different. It’s… I can’t…” A frown creased her brow. “I don’t know how to explain my conclusion, doctor.”

Kelestair nodded. “You are right, Zym. That woman will not recover.”

Santon frowned. “Well leave the dying to their deaths, then. You’ll creep the lady out.”

Zym cast her eyes to the tiled floor. “Yes, sir.”

The corners of Kelestair’s lips turned down. “It appears I have more free time than expected, child. Would you like to continue our tour?”

Zym eyed him with suspicion. “I checked the directory. We have seen all the healing wards.”

Kelestair cocked an eyebrow. “Does that mean there is nothing left to see?”

Zym shook her head. “No, doctor.”

“Do you know what is left?”

Her black eyes met his red ones without hesitation. They glittered fiercely. “Yes, doctor.”

“Come, then. We have business in the morgue.”

“We?” Excitement crept into her voice.

“Are you not up to the task?”

“I am not afraid.”

“It is not you’re bravery I am calling into question, but your constitution. Many grown men vomit when faced with an opened corpse for the first time.”

“Is that what I will get to see?”


“Can I hold it’s heart?”

Santon suppressed a shiver, but Kelestair seemed unfazed.

“I am afraid not.”

Zym’s voice took on a tremor of disappointment. “I see.”

“The corpse we are going to examine has no heart,” he corrected. “It is missing.”

Zym’s eyes brightened. “Fascinating.”

The corners of Kelestair’s mouth turned up into a slight smile. “Isn’t it?”

Santon cleared his throat. “Yes, well, lead the way then, Kel.”

Kelestair looked up in mild surprise. “I was not aware you thought your presence was further required. You are free to return to your duties, Sheriff. I think Zym and I will get along famously.”

Santon smirked. “I thought you might.”

Zym’s stern face took on a levity he hadn’t seen in months. Her lips twitched slightly.

Santon clapped Kelestair on the shoulder. “Dinner tonight, Kel. Don’t forget.”

Kelestair nodded. “My ward and I will be happy to attend. Won’t we?”

A slight blush coloured Zym’s cheeks as a smile crept it’s way onto her bruised face. “Yes, doctor.”

Santon grinned. Zym would be alright. Kelestair would see to it.

Bree entered the Free House with a smile.

It was a large building. At a block square and five floors high, it was the fourth largest in all of Kelmarane. Over a hundred newly liberated slaves lived under its roof, recuperating from their mental and physical scars. They also received food, education, and training – everything they needed to rebuild their lives in Kelmarane.

Bree had helped build the Free House with her own hands and, though she found working within it’s sandstone walls fulfilling, she knew it was not where she was meant to be. Fortunately for her, many other like-minded individuals were drawn to the tales of Kelmarane. Freedom fighters, rebels, insurgents, Eagle Knights and even fellow followers of the Drunken Lord flocked to the Free House to lend a hand. Eventually, Bree had turned the care of her beloved haven over to a halfling she had come to know as Tiller. She had first met him in the streets of Katapesh. He had given her directions to the Dawn Gate where she signed up with Almah’s caravan. She had thought him a local, at first, but quickly found he was an Eagle Knight from her old home, Andoran, who worked with a group of halflings known as the Bellflower Network. Typically, they freed halflings from Cheliax, bus Tiller’s association with the Eagle Knights meant he worked to free everyone from everywhere.

Bree eyed the common room, looking for her black-haired, little friend.

“Well, well, well. I thought I’d find you here,” a husky woman’s voice crooned.

Bree cringed. That was definitely not Tiller. “Careful, Undrella. We keep track of the souls who pass through this House. We’d notice if anyone goes missing.”

Undrella laughed. Her voice was thick with condescension. “We? Oh, Bree, when do you do anything around this town?”

Bree frowned. “I do more than you, at least, harpy.” She turned, and saw Undrella in the company of two children in the uniforms of the Junior Protectors. One was the shy girl who she had met at the town gates. What was her name? Rue? Row? She couldn’t remember. The other was a boy named Ali who had been at the Free House for three months.

“Do you?” Undrella asked pointedly.

“What are you doing here?”

“I came to bring two of our young Protectors home.”

“And Santon trusted you to do that?”

“I don’t bite.”

Bree scoffed. She eyed the children carefully. They seemed alright, although the girl was as skittish as a doe. “Run along,” she said to them.

They didn’t move a muscle.

Undrella smiled. “Junior Protectors,” she announced. “Dismissed!”

The children saluted her. Ali scurried off to find his father, but the girl seemed to wander aimlessly. Did she have no one to come home to?

“What are you really doing here, harpy?”

“I told you. I was bringing the kids home. Contrary to your prejudices, I have been known to do a good deed, here and there. Or haven’t you heard the news on the streets?”

Bree laughed. “Jank’s as far in the Sheriff’s pocket as the Sheriff is in yours.”

Undrella smiled. “You always were a skeptic.”

“You always were a liar.”

“And you are bad at reading people.”

“I think you’ll find a lot has changed on that count.”

Undrella smiled lazily. “And what do you sense about me now?”

Bree opened her eyes to the auras around her and saw – nothing. No tainted auras, no foul scent. Nothing evil drifted off of Undrella at all. Was she..? Had she truly… turned good? Repented? Was it possible? Her? A harpy?

Bree frowned. “I don’t know what tricks you have up your sleeve – “

Undrella laughed. She held her arms out before her. “I’m not wearing sleeves, dear.”

“What do you want?”

“I’ve been looking for you.”

“What for?”

“Well, it’s certainly not for your enjoyable company.”

“Then what?” Bree spat.

“I came to invite you to dinner.”

“I’m not on the menu.”

“Unfortunate,” Undrella breathed wistfully.

“I’m serious. And no one else here is, either.”

Undrella frowned. “We’re having a family dinner tonight.”


“Yes, family. I’m sure you understand the concept, even if you don’t have one of your own.”

Bree’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

Undrella’s frown softened. “Santon bade me invite you if I saw you, and so I have. Attend, or don’t. Sarenrae knows I don’t want your company.”

“So why invite me? Surely you can sing a fine lie to Santon. Or does your voice hurt?”

Undrella locked eyes with Bree. “I have changed,” she stated.

Bree searched her copper orbs for signs of falsehood, but found none. “That remains to be seen.”

Undrella frowned. “Dinner’s at dusk. Don’t be late.” Undrella stalked out of the Free House.

“Worried I won’t spring whatever trap you’ve cooked up for me?”

“It’s bad manners,” Undrella called over her shoulder.

Bree scowled. She hated that harpy!

What kind of game was she playing? The last time Bree had seen her she had wreaked of evil. It’s miasma hung about her like a cloak, and tendrils drifted off of her in rivulets, polluting the air around her. Still, she had sensed nothing foul upon her today. What kind of magic had that wretch gotten her hands on that could mask her deeds from Bree’s holy sight? It had only been a few weeks, hadn’t it? Surely her transformation couldn’t be genuine! It had only been… Well, perhaps it had been a while. More than a while. Nine months. Froth and foam, had it been that long? That was enough time to bring life into this world, but was it enough time to scour ones soul of evil? Could it even be done?

Bree sighed.

“What kind of greeting is that for an old friend?”

Bree grinned. She turned and crouched down, wrapping the speaker in a hearty hug. “Tiller!”

Tiller laughed. His messy, black hair tickled her nose. It smelt of bellflowers.

“That’s more like it, lass.”

Bree pulled back and looked into the wily halflings brown eyes. “Did you get the camels I sent?”

“Aye. And a fine price their goods fetched. It’s more than enough to keep us hip deep in livestock and grains for months. You’ve done right by us.”

Bree frowned. “I should have brought back more.”

“I did notice there was no lively merchandise among the shipments.”

Bree’s frown deepened. He meant that she had brought back no slaves. Tiller was so used to talking in code while in Katapesh, he found it hard to drop the habit even among friendly ears. It made Bree’s blood run hot with anger. Cayden’s Curse upon the bloody Pactmasters for enslaving even a free man’s mouth!

“Did the merchandise die along the way?”

Bree shook her head. “No. The Circle killed them when they heard I was coming.”

Tiller’s eyes widened. “All?”

Bree nodded. “It’s all my fault. If I had been more – “

Tiller’s eyes grew as unyielding as stone. “No. You’ve freed more slaves than I can count.”

“But, I failed them,” she rasped.

“You tried to save them.”

“And failed.”

Tiller sighed. “Don’t blame yourself for the deeds of another. Once you do you’ll never wash the guilt from your heart or the blood from your hands.”

Bree nodded.

“We can only control what we do. And trust me when I say, you do good, Bree. Every day. I see it. Others see it. And our dear, Drunken Lord sees it.”

“You think so?”

Tiller nodded. “I do. Now get to work. The kitchen could use some help.”

Bree laughed. “The kitchen? Do I look like a scullery maid?”

“I told you, we’re up to our hips in livestock! Plus, another Tiller brought in a shipment of live ones. We’re welcoming eight freed souls tonight!”

Bree smiled. A Tiller was actually a title, not a name. It referred to a member of the Bellflower Network who helped slaves escape their bondage and find a safe place to lay low. At least five had come to use the Free House as a base in the past months.

“I have dinner at Santon’s tonight.”

“Well, lucky for you our celebration runs a little later than dinner.”

Bree smiled. “It’s at Cayden’s Hall, then?”

Tiller winked. “You’ll come join our revelry?”

Bree laughed. Cayden’s Hall was a local tavern dedicated to Cayden Cailean, god of alcohol, parties and freedom. It was run by the Claisant family, a third generation group of brewers and freedom fighters, and was the closest thing devotees of her god had to a church.

“Of course I’ll worship with you! Besides, I haven’t visited the Claisant’s since the last time I came home.”

“I’ll make sure they know you’re coming.” He winked. “Then they’ll crack open the good kegs.”

When Bree and Trevvis arrived Santon’s place was bursting with energy. In the time Bree had been away it had changed from a small building with a holding cell to a rather large home. The furniture was worn, but cared for, it’s floors were polished to a glistening shine and lively portraits hung from the walls. Some featured the homeowners – Santon and Undrella – but most were of friends, family and the Junior Protectors. The most prominent faced the entryway, and took up nearly a whole wall. It showed a jolly looking half-orc with kind eyes. His large, lower fangs protruded from his mouth in an almost comical fashion, though Bree was certain he would look fierce if he frowned. The name Chochy was engraved on a plaque below the painting, though Bree had never heard of him.

Laughter drifted down the hallway, so Bree and Trevvis worked their way further into the home. A massive table had been set up in the middle of the den and trios of misshapen candles clearly shaped by a child’s hand burned on every available surface. Five children dashed around the house waving small wooden swords. Kit lingered over them and though she berated them for being immature it was clear she longed to join their games. Bree smiled. She could hardly remember a time she was so carefree.

The shy, mousy girl whose name Bree couldn’t recall froze when their eyes met. She blushed furiously, passed her toy sword off to one of the boys then sat down beside Kit on a nearby settee.

Trevvis laughed.

Bree frowned. What kinds of stories had this girl heard of her? Was she so intimidating she scared the fun right out of children?

“Bree!” Santon bellowed as he wrapped her in a friendly embrace. Trevvis’ grip on her hand tightened possessively. “You’re just in time.”

Undrella waltzed into the room carrying a massive tray of roasted goat. “Dinner!” she crooned.

“Food!” one of the young boys shrieked. He dashed off to the kitchen and returned a moment later carrying a heaping bowl of lentils.

A flurry of activity followed as the rest of the food was brought out and the guests all struggled to find a seat.

Bree and Trevvis sat at one end of the table while Santon and Undrella sat at the other. Haleen, the slave girl Bree had saved on Santon’s behalf last year while he fought Kardswann, sat beside Santon. She smiled at him joyfully. Bree had originally thought them lovers, but it turned out Haleen was his elder sister. Other than their beauty and dark hair, they looked nothing alike.

Utarchus, Trevvis’ friend and a member of Kelmarane’s Militia, sat beside Haleen. He cradled her hand in his lap and stroked it gently. His other arm rested around Kit, the fiery haired Junior Protector. Her companion, the mousy girl, sat beside her, directly next to Bree. She held her hands in her lap and twiddled her fingers nervously.

The other side of the table was lined with the rest of the children, Jank and Kelestair. Jank sat amidst the kids who talked excitedly with him while Kelestair talked quietly with the young girl beside him about proper table manners and etiquette. She seemed to be hanging on his every word and obviously took his instructions quite seriously. Bree rolled her eyes. The youth in this town spent far too much time looking up to certain ‘heroes’ and not nearly enough time having fun.

Santon clanged his fork on a ridiculously expensive looking wineglass. The chattering around the table fell quiet.

“I know we’re a little unorthodox,” he began with a boyish grin. “But as far as I’m concerned everyone here is my family and Undrella and I are thrilled that you joined us today.”

A few of the children – and Jank – beamed up at him in awe. What was he to them? A hero, a role model or a father? Most of the children here were orphans. Santon must be to them, what Norn had been for her. Bree suppressed a frown. He was hardly what Bree would consider a good father figure.

“Bree,” Santon continued. “I cracked out the good wine tonight to make sure you’d show up, and I’m pleased to see it worked.” He chuckled. “We’re happy to have you home with us for as long as you stay.” He nodded at Trevvis. “Welcome back. And now, I believe my irritating elder sister,” Santon eyed Haleen mischievously. “Has some wonderful news for us.”

Haleen smiled. “Utarchus and I have pledged ourselves to one another! We hope to be wed in few months and would love for all of you to attend.”

A few of the kids at the table hooted. Jank waved his arms in a flurry of jingling bells and frantic applause. Trevvis smacked his hand on the tabletop enthusiastically. Kelestair clapped politely and the young girl beside him followed suit.

“Also!” Haleen called over the din. “We have officially adopted Kit into our family!”

Kit’s jaw dropped. The kids began hooting again. A blush spread across Kit’s face followed by a brilliant smile. She threw herself at Haleen and Utarchus and hugged them tightly.

Bree smiled sadly. How different would life have been for her, if she had found a loving home so young?

“Well?” Santon asked. “Any other big news tonight, before we dig into the food?” He cast his glance around the room.

The boy sitting next to Undrella raised his arm. “I brewed a potion today!” he exclaimed.

“Successfully?” Santon asked.

The boy nodded vigorously. “Uh-huh! It tasted funny, but it worked! My hair was purple for three whole hours!”

Santon laughed.

Undrella smiled indulgently at the boy. “It was wonderful, Eli. If you keep practicing I might even let you help me fill the Infusium this weekend.”

“Really?” he exclaimed.

Undrella nodded.

Santon smiled. “I’m glad your mentoring is going so well.”

One of the other children piped up. “I caught a frog today!”

“You did?”

“Uh-huh! But he wanted to get away, so I let him go.”

“I helped a lady cross the street!” another child called out.

“You did not!”

“I did too!”

The young girl beside Kelestair looked up at him. He his nodded horned head once. He cleared his throat and the room fell silent around him. “I have taken on Zym as my ward.”

“Ward?” one of the children whispered. “What’s that?”

“It’s a place they take sick people,” his companion muttered.

“No, you fool!” Eli cut in, “It means he’s going to mentor her.”

“It means,” Kelestair announced. “That although Zym is still a Junior Protector and will attend to her evening duties as such, she is now my responsibility. A part of my…family.” He paused, tasting the unfamiliar word upon his tongue. “I am her guardian. She will be moved into my estate immediately and has already begun an apprenticeship under me.”

A few of the kids nodded. Family, at least, they understood.

“That is, of course,” Kelestair continued with a quirked eyebrow. “If the Sheriff provides his consent?”

Santon chuckled. “Of course, Kel! And speaking of mentors,” Santon cast his eyes at Bree. She frowned. This would be nothing but trouble.

“I told you there was someone I wanted you to meet, Bree.” He gestured at the shy child beside her. “This is Roh.”

The girl fidgeted nervously.

“You may not remember, but you and the Claisant’s saved her from Al’Vohr and his hunters a few months back.”

Bree suppressed a frown. Al’Vohr? She recalled him, of course. He and his gnoll hunters devoured roc eggs in an effort to turn themselves into flind. Still, she didn’t remember this child in the least. Was there even a child among those she had saved that day? Bree’s mind worked frantically. She always tried to keep track of the slaves she freed, but the month that she had taken down Al’Vohr had been busy. She had also broken up three minor slave rings and attacked the Wyrmslave Tribe.

The girl’s twitching increased.

Bree nodded. “Of course I remember you, Roh,” she lied. “Tiller told me you and Kit did a fine job delivering the camels to him.”

Roh looked up at her shyly. Excitement sparkled in her eyes.

Santon smiled. “I told you she’d remember you,” he said encouragingly. He winked at Bree as he continued. “The Junior Protectors have been visiting a lot of businesses and shops lately. We’re trying to find each of them trades and activities that they find interesting. Just this week the kids tried their hands at a chandler’s shop.”

Well that explained the misshapen candles everywhere! Bree smiled politely and reached for her wineglass.

“I’d like you to take Roh under your wing.”

Bree choked, sending white wine spraying across the table. The kids shrieked, Santon smiled and Roh blushed furiously.

When Bree recovered she glared dangerously at Santon. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Santon cocked his head in disappointment. “I think it is.”

“And I think you’re wrong.”

Roh pushed her chair out from the table with a whimper and dashed outside.

Santon frowned.

Bree shook her head. “No, Santon.”

The kids around the table shuffled nervously.

“Give her a chance.”

“I’m never here!” Bree exclaimed defensively. “When do you expect me to mentor a kid?”

“Whenever you can.”

“I’m busy!”

“Then make time.”

“My quest is important! You know that! I can’t just put it aside for some kid!”

Santon scowled. “I thought you of all people would understand how important this is!”

“Babysitting?” Bree exclaimed. “You think you can tie me to this town and keep me here if you saddle me with a kid?”

Santon shook his head. “This isn’t about you, this is about her. Roh isn’t just some kid, Bree. She’s a girl who needs guidance from someone she looks up to.”

“Send her to the Claisant’s.”

“And have her wait tables in a bar?”

“Then send her to Tiller.”

“She lives with Tiller.”

“Then – “

“I’m asking you, Bree. It’s you who saved her, you that she looks up to, and you that could break her out of the little shell she’s built around herself.”

Bree scoffed.

“I know you! And I know her! You can help her.”

“I’d be a horrible mentor.”

“Just give her a chance!”

Bree downed the rest of her wine. “No.”

“You’re such a stubborn – “

Bree frowned. “Good thing I’m not a mentor, then. I wouldn’t want to make someone turn out like me.” She turned and stalked out of the room.

“She’s not trying to be like you. She is you! I thought you’d care enough to help her out, at least. I guess Norn skipped your lessons on charity to teach you about vengeance.” Santon’s words cut Bree like a blade. She slammed the door behind her, stepped out onto the doorstep and screamed.

“I’m sorry,” a soft voice whimpered.

Bree turned to find Roh huddled in the flower beds. A few tears glistened on her cheeks.

Bree shook her head and sat down beside the child in the dirt. “It’s not you, Roh. It’s me.”

Roh sniffled and wiped her eyes, determined to hide her pain.

“I’m never here. Do you understand? I can’t mentor you because I’m rarely in town.”

Roh nodded.

“I’m always out hunting down slavers and freeing people like you.”

Roh nodded again.

“And when I am here I only stay long enough to sharpen my blades before I head out again.”

Roh nodded a third time, but Bree could tell her words were having little effect on the despondent child.

“Look, Roh. I like you. I really do. But I can’t mentor you. I can’t mentor anyone.” She sighed. “What would I show you, anyway?” she spat. Bitterness crept into her voice. “How to kill a gnoll? How to defang something without chipping the teeth?”

Roh looked up at Bree and shook her head. “How to defend myself. How to defend my – the families around me.”

Bree’s mismatched eyes met Roh’s. “You live in a safe place now. You don’t need to learn how to fight.”

“But… What if it’s not always safe?”

“There’s other people here to protect you. Santon, Haleen, Utarchus.”

“I don’t want other people to protect me.”

“You’re too young to fight.”

“What happens when the heroes everyone relies on aren’t here anymore?”

“They’ll always be here,” Bree lied.

“You aren’t.”

“I’m not a hero. I’m a killer.”

“You’re a person, just like them.”

Bree laughed. “I suppose I am.”

“I want to learn to be strong.”

Bree shook her head. “Strength doesn’t always come from violence.”

“Please?” Roh asked.

“No. You’re too young.”

Roh sighed. “How old were you when you first learned to fight?”

“I was… young. Too young.”

“My age?”

Bree frowned. “Yes.”

“What makes you so different from me?”

“I had to fight. You don’t.”

“No one has to fight.”

Bree nodded.

“Please,” she begged.

Bree shook her head. Froth and foam this girl was stubborn! “No.”

Roh began to shake. “I just… I need to take the nightmares away,” she rasped. “Please! I don’t want to be afraid anymore! I don’t want to be helpless!”

Bree wrapped the child in her arms. “I’m sorry, Roh. But I don’t know how to make the nightmares stop.”

Roh’s small frame heaved against her. Sobs wracked her body.

Bree patted her mousy brown hair. “I wish I could, but I – ” She frowned. How could she tell a child so young that after a decade she still dreamt of her Mother’s murder? That the torments inflicted upon Roh by the gnolls would never stop hurting? “I… I tried to drown my nightmares away with alcohol. I wasn’t much older than you, then. But it… It didn’t work. I still hear my Mother’s screams in the night.”

Roh sniffled loudly. “Then… how do you..?”

Bree smiled sadly. “I found faith, Roh. And Cayden Cailean found me.” She patted her on the back. “Come on, let’s got back in to eat.”

Roh sniffed and wiped her eyes.

“Afterwards I’m going to worship at Cayden’s Hall. You’re welcome to come with me.”

Roh looked up at Bree with such excitement that Bree felt her heartbreak for the child.

“No, Roh. I’m not going to mentor you.”

Roh’s eyes dimmed. She nodded in resignation.

“But,” Bree continued. “I will take you to the people who I think should. If anyone can help you find your way it’ll be the Claisant’s.”

Bree left Santon’s home well past sunset with Trevvis and Roh in tow. Kelestair and his ward, Zym, walked alongside them. They took Zym home first – it was to be her last night in the Junior Protector’s barracks and she had plenty of packing left to do. Roh had been determined to stay with Bree, but Kelestair had insisted she return to her room as well. It was far too late for children to be up at all, never mind visiting taverns. Roh had not been pleased.

As they neared the turn off for the hospital Kelestair pulled Bree to the side.

“You intend to drink tonight, yes?” he whispered into her ear.

His warm breath sent a chill down her neck. “Of course,” she managed to stutter. “We’re worshipping.”

“And your boyfriend will be accompanying you?” The way his tongue rolled on the word boyfriend seemed almost dangerous. Was he jealous? Angry? He and Trevvis had never gotten along…

“Yes,” she sighed. “Why the sudden interest?”

Kelestair stiffened. “As a doctor, I need to remind you that your boyfriend is a recovering alcoholic. If you hope to see him stop abusing your gods holy draught then I suggest you stop allowing him to… worship with you.”

Bree frowned. Kelestair was right. Trevvis would never give up the booze if she kept dangling it in front of him. She sighed. Kelestair apparently took it as a sign of her hesitation.

“I am sorry, but I thought devotees of the Drunken God frowned upon the misuse of his gifts. I did not think Trevvis would be welcome in Cayden’s Hall at this time.”

Bree shook her head. “No, you’re right. I just… How do I even tell him to – “

“Tell me what, Star Flower? That you’re sending me home alone while you head out to worship with your friend?”

Bree froze, stunned at the venom in his voice.

“As a doctor, I believe it – “

Trevvis spat at Kelestair’s feet. “I know what you’re up to, freak!” he yelled. His eyes were dark with fury and fear. “Stay away from my woman!”

Kelestair’s eyes hardened. His lips set themselves firmly in a grim line. “I spoke out as a doctor on your behalf, Trevvis. I only care to – “

“Don’t give me that crap, devil! You’ve watched her steps since you first laid eyes on her!”

“I assure you, I have no hidden intentions.”

Trevvis laughed bitterly.

Bree raised her palm and slapped him firmly in the cheek.

He spat a gob of blood on the ground. “You side with him, then?”

Bree shook her head. “What’s happened to you, Trevvis?”

“It’s not me, it’s him! Can’t you see? Everyone’s trying to get between us!”

“No, Trevvis! It’s you! You’re getting between us! You’re what’s holding us back! Your drinking and your jealousy and your anger!”

“Star Flower, it’s them not me!”

“No! It is your continued abuse of my God and his tenants! You are drowning yourself in the drink and it’s poisoning you! It’s poisoning us! Can’t you see that – “

Trevvis seized Bree by the back of the head and pulled her mouth down roughly to his. He forced his tongue into her mouth. It was savage and raw and… wrong.

Bree bit his tongue, causing him to reel back, but his hand was tangled in her hair. She shrieked in pain as he pulled her with him.

“You’re mine, Star Flower,” he grunted.

“Let go of me, Trevvis, before you do something you’ll regret.”

“You’re coming home with me.”

“She told you to let her go,” Kelestair cut in. His voice was dark. Dangerous.

Trevvis sneered. “She’s not your woman, she’s mine.”

“No one owns her,” Kelestair replied sternly.

Bree grabbed Trevvis by the wrist and twisted, causing his grip to loosen on her hair. He cursed. Bree slipped out from under his hand. “Go home, Trevvis. And don’t turn to the bottle. Think about what it’s doing to us.”

Clarity returned to Trevvis’ eyes. His remorse was palpable. “Star Flower, I’m so sorry, I – ”
“I said, go home.”

He nodded slowly. “I understand, Star Flower. Just… Just come home after, yeah? I need you to… get through this. I can’t do it alone.”

Bree sighed. What a fine night this was turning out to be! Some celebration.

“Please, Star Flower.”

“Of course, Trevvis. No go home.”

He walked away from her slowly, peering back every few steps in the hopes that she’d change her mind.

“I apologize, Bree.” Kelestair stated. His lips were turned down slightly in a frown and his eyes were troubled. “I did not mean to cause friction between the two of you. But, I consider addictions a sickness and – “

Bree smiled sadly. “You have nothing to be sorry for. It’s Trevvis who should feel remorse. He shouldn’t have said those things to you.”

Kelestair nodded. “I am accustomed to prejudice.”

“You shouldn’t have to be.”

The corners of Kelestair’s lips tilted up. “That make’s little difference.”

“It should.”

He shrugged. “It has made me the man I am today.”

Trevvis finally passed out of sight.

Kelestair bowed to Bree deeply. “My sincerest apologies for being a source of turmoil in your life. Goodnight, Bree. May your…” he paused and seemed to contemplate his next words. “May your tankard be ever full.”

Bree smiled. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Kelestair cocked an eyebrow. “Home?”

“Oh, no you’re not! You lost me my date! You’ll have to escort me in his stead.”

“You… want me to worship with you?”

Bree smiled. “I’m sure the Dawnflower will forgive you just this once. Besides, I hear my God has even tried to woo yours on occasion. That practically makes us family.”

The corners of Kelestair’s lips tilted down. “I had not heard that.”

Bree laughed. “Come on. Cayden’s Hall is this way.” She took Kelestair’s hand in her own and pulled.

He stiffened at her touch.

“You don’t want to come?”

“It’s not that, I… It’s just…” Kelestair stumbled over a response. “I don’t… I’ve never… partaken of your god’s holy draught.”

Bree’s eyes bulged. “You’ve never drank before?”

“Yes, well… I prefer to keep my wits about me.”

Bree smiled fiendishly. “Well, there is a first time for everything, Doctor.” She pulled on his hand again and this time he followed. “And since it is your first time,” she continued. “I regret to inform you that you are about to kiss your wits goodbye.”

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