“Ah, yes. That’s the one,” Marnius said as the innkeeper heaved the massive morningstar onto the bar. Ethnila watched the half-ogre lift the weapon up to examine it. Despite the heavy rain falling outside, he had insisted they take a detour to stay at this particular inn.
She still hadn’t gotten used to the sight of him, and could only imagine the impression he gave strangers. Especially in a region such as this, where the Church of Light was so prevalent. It was the contrast between his physique, tall as a small giant and hulking to match, and his kind demeanor; between his coarse grayish-yellow hide with its lack of even eyebrows and the fine blue robes of a ranking Church official.
For as warm and gentle his personality, his appearance was fearsome and mighty. Yet everywhere they went, he was met by strangers with friendly smiles and welcoming expressions. Even when dressed plainly. A villager seeing her defensive response on first seeing him had told her ‘half-ogres are just really big halflings.’
A comment that had told her nothing.
Her gaze wandered out the window, up to the ominous clouds above. It was her first storm since coming here, and the charge in the air reminded her of home. Another battle in the endless war of the Furies was about to begin, and no doubt plenty of thunder would spill down to pelt the region as it bore witness.
“Why hello there, purdy laydee.” The man plopped himself down across the table from her, forcing her attention back to the room. “Those’re sum pretty strange clothes you’ve got there. Must get pretty hot even in a storm like this, huh?”
Ethnila glanced at her outfit. She hadn’t really considered the differences with local styles. Her cloak was thicker and made from fur-lined leather as opposed to cloth or wool. The crown of her hat a little taller and not rounded. Other than that, the cut of her leather armor and wool garments were functional enough to fit anywhere. If anything it was the practicality of them that made them stand out against the gaudy attire of the region.
“Not from ‘round here, right?”
She looked at the obviously drunk man with even less interest than her blank expression conveyed.
“Where ya from?”
“Daenna. As in daemon hunter.”
The man, his mind sluggish from inebriation, opened his mouth to speak before her words finally sank in. His eyes wide, he slurred out what likely was meant as an apology and stumbled off toward his comrades.
“So that’s why witch hunters are chaste,” Marnius smiled at her as he seated himself at the table.
Ethnila threw him a bored glance, then nodded at the window. “This storm feels like the ones back home.”
“Aye, there is something unnat-” Marinus reply was cut off when the inn’s door slammed open.
A woman was standing in the doorway, her chestnut hair and torn clothing drenched with rain and her hands dark with blood. She was clearly distressed, almost frantic, but the lack of wounds on her meant the blood was another’s.
Upon their return to the inn with Imaerla, the priest had ordered a warm bath for Loriana but she refused to leave the room. She kept pacing at the foot of the bed, unable to tear her gaze from Imaerla’s unconscious form.
Marnius, as the priest had introduced himself, looked over at her with a friendly, but firm, expression. She wasn’t helping anything by staying here, she knew as much, but how could she go anywhere? Imaerla had probably saved her life by taking that blade.
“You will not do her any good if you fall ill as well,” Ethnila, the stone-faced compatriot of the man, said at length. Her voice held about as much compassion as her blank expression, but that didn’t make her any less right.
Reluctantly, Loriana removed herself from the room to make her way to the bath, which turned out to be just across the hall.
After draping her soaked clothes near the exposed chimney, she sank into the welcome embrace of the still somewhat hot water. She tried to relax, but her thoughts kept circling back to the only friend she could remember.
What would she do without Imaerla? She couldn’t even keep herself company, having no memories of who she was. She’d be completely lost…
As she lay in the tub staring out the window in silence she could hear something, voices just barely audible through the door. Straining to hear, she managed to make out pieces of a conversation between the two she had trusted to care for Imaerla.
“…more insidious than…curse.” Marnius’ voice was low, as if he feared being overheard. “…her neck…Urmor as the Midnight’s Kiss…Night Kings…geas…vile blood magic…lift the spell…” He let the sentence trail off into silence.
“What?” Ethnila prompted at length.
“She will become a revenant,” he concluded. “A perversion of herself, mindlessly driven by whatever commands are woven into the curse.”
“I don’t suppose we could just burn her?” Ethnila’s voice was so matter-of-fact that it sent a chill down Loriana’s spine despite the warmth of the bath.
“As a last resort, maybe. I do not know what happens to sylvan spirits after death,” Marnius said. “But until she dies, I intend to do what I can to lift the curse rather than find out.”
‘Until she dies…?’ Loriana mouthed the words with terror, barely hearing Ethnila ask the same question.
“The blood rot has set in too far. There is nothing I can do except ease her passing,” Marnius sounded genuinely burdened. “I am an inquisitor, not a hospitaler.”
Loriana’s heart felt so heavy she feared it would drag her under the water and drown her. At least then she wouldn’t be alone.