Bree was dreaming.
There were voices. Lots of voices. Familiar voices.
Brotis was speaking to her –
Scratch that. It was a nightmare…
At least Brotis was talking about something enjoyable. Perhaps it wasn’t a nightmare after all. She could put up with Brotis if she came bearing wine. Of course, Brotis was more likely to give her a knife in the back than anything else.
“No! …wouldn’t have! She’s stronger…” Brotis’ voice was hoarse and phlegmy. She was letting her native accent show through. She must be upset.
Bree tried to move again, but couldn’t. She was tired. So tired! Why did she want to move at all?
The voices tugged at Bree’s consciousness.
Running, Brotis had said. Running?
Why was she running?
It must have been important. She hated running…
Perhaps it was a dare? Did she have something to prove?
She had worked so hard, and run so far because…
Cayden’s Curse! The gnolls!
Bree struggled again, willing her body to move. It was heavy. Unresponsive. Like her limbs had been turned to stone.
A voice she didn’t recognize spoke. “She needs to rest. Your presence will only wear her out.”
“No!” yelled Brotis. “Something is wrong! I need to speak to her!”
“She’s unconscious! She can’t speak to anyone!”
“She’ll speak to me.”
Bree tried to nod. Twitch her limbs. Something! Anything to show she was listening! But her limbs wouldn’t obey. She tried to growl in frustration, but even that failed.
“She passed out from the heat, dehydration and exhaustion. She won’t be able to speak for days! Especially if you keep ordering the boys to force-feed her wine while I’m out!”
Bree’s frustration grew. She needed to talk to someone! Anyone! Brotis!
Bree heard the sound of steel being drawn. “Listen to me you stubborn, old fool! You will let me in or I will paint this room with the fluids from your more sensitive parts.”
The man sputtered stupidly.
Brotis! “Brotis!” It came out a croak, but it was enough. The healer crashed into something across the room and a pair of smooth, perfumed hands gripped her shoulders.
“Tell me what did this to you, Bree. Tell me what’s coming.”
Bree? She had called her Bree. Not Poison. Not Witch.
She moved her mouth, trying to force it to speak, but nothing happened. No sounds came out.
“Get ahold of yourself. Here.”
Bree felt a wineskin being pressed against her lips. She drank greedily. The wine within hit her throat and sent shivers down her entire back. It tasted so good! Invigorating. Tipped tankard, how she had missed this!
“The stubborn, old pig wouldn’t let me bring you your liquor. The fools.”
Bree drank until the wine from the bag trickled to a stop.
“They say you were overcome with thirst and heat like some wilting flower. Don’t you dare give me some poor excuse like that. You’ll make us both look bad.”
Bree opened her eyes a crack. The sunlight stung and she squeezed them closed again.
“I know something’s coming. I can feel it in my bones. Now stop fainting and tell me what made you run for the Hills. These fools won’t act on my word alone.”
“Gnolls…” Bree managed to croak.
“Gnolls? How many?”
“In the wilds? No. They couldn’t be in the Peaks still, could they? You wouldn’t have run here for that. They’re coming here, then? Is that why you nearly died of heatstroke? To get here before they did?”
Brotis was either incredibly good at guessing games, or she knew Bree far better than she cared to let on. “…yes.”
“You stupid, sentimental girl.” Brotis sighed. “Rest now, Bree. We’ll need your Poison when the gnolls come through. I’ll get the town ready. Do you want Tempest?”
Bree nodded. Tempest’s presence always comforted her.
Brotis pressed her scimitar into her hands and drew the sheath off. A cooling wave washed over her. Something was forced into her other hand. She gripped it’s handle tightly. Even blind she knew what it was. Her favourite, copper tankard. It was a symbol of her devotion to her god, Cayden Cailean. Bree smiled.
“Thank… you…Br – “
“Keep it to yourself, Poison. This doesn’t change anything.”
Despite her surroundings, Bree smiled.
“I mean it,” Brotis hissed half-heartedly. “I still think you’re a bossy, witch with incredibly poor taste in men and clothing.”
Poor taste in men? Didn’t Brotis want Trevvis for herself? Wasn’t that what this had all been about?
“…Why?” Bree croaked.
“Why?” Brotis mused. “Why not? You pranced into my life with your foreign eyes and sunlight hair. You had our leader wrapped around your finger before he even laid a hand on you, which I admit spawned a good deal of professional jealousy within me. Trevvis wasn’t much to look at, but he kept us together. He kept us safe. I hadn’t had so much fun in a long time. And then he was gone in the blink of an eye, and with you.”
“I’ve lived through hard times and I was… scared they would return if things changed. And then you came, and things changed, and I hated you for it. But things didn’t get worse. They got better, in fact.” She sighed. “So, I still hate you, because that’s what I’m good at, and because a rival is better than a friend. I find it makes me work harder. Don’t you? Tell me you haven’t been running around slaughtering gnolls just for the religious fervor?” Brotis chuckled. “I know you better than that. You love your god, of course, but you also want to show me whose the better woman. You want me to want to be you, just as I want you to want to be me.” Brotis laughed again. Then fell silent. “Women are always better enemies than friends…”
“Let me give you a piece of advice, Bree. From one heartbreaker to another. Your boyfriend is dead weight. You need to learn when to cut and run.”
Bree would have scowled if she had the energy. Trevvis was a good man! She loved him! He made her happy.
Brotis chuckled lazily. “Now, I know you’re good at the cutting part. We’ve all seen your blade at work, but the running?” She laughed without mirth. “Well, as these past days have shown, running isn’t your strong suit, dear.”
Brotis stood and Bree heard her make her way across the room. A door opened. Sounds from outside drifted in.
Brotis spoke quietly from the door. Her accent was gone. She sounded just like every other native of Katapesh. “Don’t let Trevvis bring you down. That’s my job.”
This time, Bree managed to smile.
Brotis would take care of Thrice Hills for her. Brotis would wake her when the time came. For now, all she needed to do was rest.
Bree clutched Tempest tightly in one hand, and her copper tankard in the other. She slowed her breathing and drifted off to sleep with a prayer upon her lips. She dreamt of men with honey voices and women with enemies for friends.
On the floor across the room, amidst broken jars and ruined poultices, the healer of Thrice Hills opened his eyes. He didn’t care who came to visit Bree next. He’d let them in and get out of their way. Those foreign women were dangerous.