Red (5)

Bland breakfasts are the worst.

The lack of sugar. Is. Not. Helping-

There’s a fog in my head, a heavy feeling in my belly, my shoulders are stiff as rocks, and my back’s killing me. Like I’d just sink if I were thrown into a pond because I’m feeling that dense. Ugh, I wouldn’t be this wasted if I had my sleeping bag. Come to think of it, I left it with the pack outside the walls before the city got trashed.

Note to self: bring sweets and sleeping bag into future chaotic-urban-combat situations.

The heaviness lingers despite my ‘aha’ moment. I need something sweet, to dispel the fog-

“I thought yer’d be used dis’ kinda stuff by now.”
“Ya not muh mama, Nika.” I mocked.
My mentor chuckles as she gets up, but I’m too hungry and tired to argue.

I eat a spoon of plain, cold porridge. Unexciting mush. Flavorless slop. Bland pulp. Joyless gruel. Ugh. I don’t blame the citizens for running out of fruit (or everything sweet) since yesterday’s incident, but this was borderline torture. I’d rather starve, but my stomach protests.

Honestly, I’d kill for some Druid Fluid right now. Anything flavored really. So much that I don’t notice the hand on my shoulder.

“You alright, Red?”
My half-asleep glare tracks up. Amber were his eyes, and I wonder if they tasted sweet.
“Yep, Sasha definitely missed dessert for breakfast again.”
Aldor’s expression says it all; a raised eyebrow, mild concern in his gaze and a twinge on his left lip that belies amusement. Normally I find it cute, but I’m far too dense and hazed out to appreciate it. Ironic that he‘s the one who got held up and interrogated yesterday.

“Eat up, kiddo. Should keep ya goin’ for abit.”

The scent hits me before I see it. Aged, sun-dried, pruned, sweet delights crammed into bite-sized nuggets. My mouth waters as Nika drops a pouch of dates in front of me. I rip into them, letting the sugar rush take me. Ecstasy blooms in my mouth, warmth blossoming in my belly as the fog in my head lifts. A flood of clarity washes over me, my body wakes up, and I feel Al’s fingers running through my hair. A slothful smile crosses my face.

“Thanks coach.” I lazily reply with a thumbs up. Nika winks, reciprocating my gesture, and in a much more serious tone adds: “Arr’rite kids, do yer’ shoppin’ and be back ‘ere in two ‘ours. We’re leavin’ tonite, and the High Lady wans’ a word with us.”

Nika cuts off all further questions with an ‘it’ll be okay I’ll explain it later’ look before heading off. Whatever that was, I hoped arrangements for Aerin would be made given her condition.

Note to self, again: stockpile cookies, dried fruits, painkillers and healing potions.

“What happened to Aerin yesterday?”
“The curse is killing her.”
“What the hell were you guys up to while I was gone?”
“Al, we didn’t break cover after parting ways, got here and spent the last three months outside. the walls.”
“Surely you guys must have found a cure… right?”
“Lady Cylyria burnt one of her Divine Wishes trying. A bunch of Silvanus’ Clerics didn’t do better either.”
“Fuck, we knew this would happen eventually, but why now?”
To him, Aerin and Nika were more family than Hilda or Bree, his actual sisters. Funny, we left home because I sought my family, while he’s running away from his.

Al breaks the silence as he relieves me of the porridge. “On the bright side, this is an improvement from the holding cell.” His body language doesn’t change, but I can feel… no, I know that he’s repressing his frustrations right now.

“What’d they serve you?” I play along. “You know, the usual mug of water and dried crackers” he replies dryly. “Says the one wolfing down that… muck,” I counter. He makes fun of my sweet tooth while ordering a second bowl of that gunk, comparing the taste of crackers to dusty bricks…

To good times, hopefully.


“You’re clear, Aldor.” The High Lady of Berdusk lowers her hand, ending the truth spell.
“Mind telling us what’s up, Cylyria?” My man points at the glyphs that line every inch of the room, isolating it in a bubble of silence.

A concerned expression lines Cylyria’s face as she nods toward Aerin, snoozing away under a pile of blankets. She continues:

“In wake of recent events, our spies discovered some grave information pertaining to our situation. One, the ancient Red dragon once known as Vermilathrasz the Wrathful erupted from its cavern deep under the Spine of the World before devastating Mithral Hall. It then blazed a path of destruction through the Evermoors, Silverymoon, the High Forest, and the Trade Way until we put it down yesterday.”

Whatever that artifact was had to be valuable enough to incur a wrathful dragon’s pursuit halfway across the continent. Come to think of it, the only places where Al could have gotten the kind of Fae-spices used for dinner the night before were either Silverymoon or the High Forest…

I shudder.

“Two, through our combined efforts of communing with its spirit, we have discovered that the artifact of its pursuit is the Faceless Visage, a mythical mask said to grant its user the appearance, thoughts and previous memories of any beings it mimics upon use.”
“And the overgrown lizard thinks I stole it.” Aldor growls.

“Thirdly, we are operating under the assumption that the culprit responsible for the theft has assumed your identity, Aldor.”
His eyes widen, and his gait tenses as he realizes the magnitude of the statement.
“Wait, I don’t see how you can arrive at that conclusion-” Al counters.

A knot forms in my stomach as I lay out the facts:
“Al, I hate to put it this way. You stopped by Mirabar, then those aforementioned places. It only makes sense that the dragon’s rampage matches your travel path from Ravenfall.”

“Thank you, Sasha,” Lady Cylyria glances at Aerin, then continues, “We know not the culprit’s motives, but right now we must assume that it is aware of the Unmaker’s existence.”

Cylyria sighs.

“In light of recent events, my city and I are eternally in your debt. However, I’m afraid my people can no longer offer your party sanctuary, not since Hjärnel was used in the open.”

Covering up the Unmaker’s existence was the reason we laid low over the past few years, and given the whole of yesterday’s events, word of it could be spreading…

Nika’s calm voice dispels the heavy atmosphere: “Dun’ worry ’bout it, ‘Lyria. Yer’ folk were at risk, and we made a call. We’ll deal with der’ consequences.”
“At least allow me to repay your favor, old friend.” Cylyria asks.
“We were headed to the Lords’ Alliance Spring Gala in Baldur’s Gate after I arrived, so I’m hoping we can use the safehouse there for the time being.” Al offers.
“Aye, t’would buy us time ter’ figure our next move.” Nika chimes in.

“I will send word tonight.” Lady Cylyria bows her head and adds: “Same old place under the Jolly Pint, and Wag-Yu’s still running the joint. From what I heard, he’s made some neat refurbishments.”

Al and I look at each other, grateful for the short respite. Wag-Yu always meant good times, and the change of pace was something to look forward to, even if it meant more precautions. Something that even Nika could appreciate. And maybe, just maybe, someone in Baldur’s gate had the answer to our problems.

To good times.

Hopefully.


Nika walks Cylyria out of the room. Al drops himself in the armchair. I check on Aerin.

Since elves never slept, the discovery that Aerin was a loud snorer was the rude awakening this morning. Though, with the covers drawn over, they do a surprisingly good job keeping the noise in check?

‘Your friend’s gone for a walk.’ Uncle William’s telepathic voice purrs from my rucksack.

I press a hand on her shoulder. Where toned muscle should be, I feel softness instead.

“Aerin?” Nothing.
“She’s sleeping, Red. Leave her.” Aldor comments lazily.
I feel a gentle urge to look under the bed.
‘In case you’re wondering, she left that ungodly toothpick of a weapon there.’ William coos as he pulls back into the lamp.
I ignore both of them and pull open the covers. Pillows.

“AERIN’S MISSING!”



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