(Part 26) For a complete list of this series, please go here.
Twyla stood over Locke throughout most of the night. It pained her to see him like this, battered and bloody. Locke's continued to breathe with shallow, ragged breaths. He startled Twyla a few times when his breathing all but stopped, causing his sides to heave and buck until he gulped for air. Each time this occurred, she looked frightfully at the couch, not wanting Aerissa to wake up in a panic.
Noting the morning light starting to stream in through the windows of the inn, Twyla placed her bony hands gently upon Locke's shoulder and hindquarter. Twyla bowed her head, murmuring the same prayer she had recited shortly after Aerissa went to sleep. Twyla turned her hands over, palms up, staring blankly at them. She no longer possessed the power of the Light, but she hoped the prayer would still help heal him. Cursing her skeletal hands, she shoved them into the pocket of her apron and shuffled into the kitchen to start breakfast for the inn's patrons.
Aerissa woke up to the smell of freshly baked spice bread and spider sausage. Aerissa's mouth watered at the tantalizing aroma. She couldn't remember the last time she had something to eat. Her stomach growled in response as she sat up, slipping her boots back on.
The kitchen door creaked open far enough for Twyla to stick her head out. “Food be out back. Ya need ta eat, Rissy.” The door swung shut as Twyla ducked back into the kitchen. Aerissa could hear the back door open and shut.
Aerissa rubbed her stomach and went straight to the table where Locke laid. His breathing seemed fairly even, but he still did not open his eyes. Aerissa squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her palms to her temples as she tried to connect with his mind.
Her thoughts probed darkness. It felt empty and lonely inside her head. Her eyes welled up with tears again as she gently stroked his furry head.
“Please get better, Locke. I'm sorry, we shouldn't- I shouldn't have left. This would have never happened if I stayed…” Aerissa gingerly ran her fingers along his side, trying not to tangle her fingers into his blood clotted fur.
Aerissa stayed by his side for a few more moments. She struggled to regain her composure before going to breakfast. As she stepped outside, she was stunned by the heavy silence that hung over Tranquillien. It was as though the entire village mourned for Locke. The guards that marched past nodded solemnly in her direction. Everyone seemed to go about their business, yet with an eye and an ear out for any news of Locke's condition.
Aerissa smiled weakly, hugging her arms to her chest briefly before going around to the back of the inn. The mood was much the same there. There were only a couple tables with benches out here, which did not provide adequate seating for all of the patrons. Many of them milled about, leaning against the inn, standing in clusters, or kneeling in the dirt as they ate their breakfast.
When they looked up and saw Aerissa, a seat was cleared for her on the bench without anyone exchanging a word. Aerissa sat down reluctantly and took a serving of bread and sausage. Everyone continued eating in silence. The sound of chewing filled Aerissa's ears.
After Aerissa finished her meal, she continued to sit at the bench, unsure what to do with herself. Resting her forehead in her hands, she stared at her empty plate. A couple tear drops splattered onto the plate, mixing in with the bread crumbs. Aerissa closed her eyes, grasping her hair between her fingers.
The apothecary approached the makeshift dining area, her robes swishing about. “Where'sss the elf?” she hissed, scanning the patrons.
Aerissa raised her head, turning towards the apothecary. “I'm h-here. Do you have news? Miss…”
Aerissa started to stand up as the apothecary glided over to her. “I need more ssssamples.” She flicked her forefinger against an empty vial. “Thedra.”
“More samples?” Aerissa knitted her brow in confusion.
“Plagued blood sssamples. I need more. He'sss got an infection.” Apothecary Thedra nodded curtly, thrusting the empty vial at Aerissa.
“I-I don't understand, Miss …Thedra?” Aerissa stammered, taking the vial. She held it up to the sunlight, examining it.
“Get me blood sssamples. From creaturesss, plagued onesss.” She waved her arms, gesturing at the woods, the sleeves of her robe flapping in the wind.
Aerissa continued to stare at the apothecary, puzzled.
Thedra let out a heavy sigh. “I'm almossst out. I need plagued blood to make a ssserum to sssave the big cat.” She tapped her foot impatiently.
“Oh… oh! I'll get to it. Although, I'm not used to hunting alone…” Aerissa trailed off as she carefully placed the empty vial in her sidepack.
Satisfied, Apothecary Thedra turned sharply on her heel. Her robes wooshed about her legs as she spun around and marched back to her laboratory station. “Quickly!” she called over her shoulder.
Aerissa slouched at the table. She didn't want to hunt alone, but she had to.
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