Excerpt: Fairytales Slashed Vol. 2

The Beast – Prologue

Alcor loved the smells of a party, even if they would set his head to throbbing in a few more hours. Even when they did, he would enjoy them until exhaustion finally snatched them all away and ended the revelry by force.

For now, he basked in the sweet-sour smoke of the dragonweed someone had brought, the way it made everything too sharp, too bright. Dragonweed brought faerie sight, the saying went, for it was the reclusive faerie who knew the meaning of true decadence.

Mingled with the dragonweed was the scent of wine and ale and stronger spirits, the smell of rich food—and the smell of some of it burning, as the laughing group by the fire tossed some random bit into the flames to watch them burn.

He could also smell lust, musky and salty and sharper than even the dragonweed. He could smell it on the half-naked men collapsed on the long sofa with him, smell it on himself, smell it on the pretty little thing whose lips were wrapped around his cock.

Somewhere in the mess he could hear his father singing in his sloppy, drunken way, strong voice for once unsteady, the verses breaking off at random so he could recount the tale of his grand victory for the millionth time. The pungent scent of his black violet cologne was mingled into the mess of scents, as well.

Alcor’s own cologne was sweeter, softer, and by now mostly lost to the other scents in which he had drowned himself. He smiled in drugged contentment as a bit of dragonweed, crudely wrapped in cheap paper, was put to his lips. Pulling it in, unbothered by the bitter flavor of the smoke, he let it out slowly.

Knocking away the hand of the giver, yet another pretty boy brought in to entertain and pleasure, he pulled him into a slow, thorough kiss even as he thrust lazily into the mouth of the one between his legs.

He came with a shudder, and pushed both the boys away with a sigh. Shoving off one of the drunken fools beside him, he took over most of the sofa and stretched out languorously, lacing up his pants again only as an afterthought.

The haze of smoke and myriad other scents made him sleepy, but the dragonweed kept him from falling asleep just yet.

But even drugged he could feel eyes upon him.

Two sets of eyes, and it had not taken him long to find either that watched.

He did not know either, and did not care if they wanted to watch him—or join him, which would be amusing for at least a little while longer. The first one he had picked out of the crowd still sat where Alcor had first seen him, in a chair in the farthest corner of the room. He did not move overmuch, merely sat and sipped at some dark wine. He had long black hair, neatly tied, and his clothes were elegant and rich without being showy. Where everyone and everything else in the room seemed to move, he was still. Where all else was bright and gaudy, he was dull and somber. Handsome, but in the way a statue of a man might be handsome.

The other man was stranger still—pale gold hair, long and loose. He was slender and delicate looking, and dressed in clothes that, while respectable, were old-fashioned and close to being described as tattered. Noble, from his bearing, but one long fallen on hard times. He was quiet, but not in the same way as the first one. More…where the revelers were noisy and busy, the first man was a statue…this man…Alcor could not put his finger upon it. He seemed calm, perhaps.

He was drawn from his ponderings and as something warm and soft and pliant crawled atop him. Laughing, Alcor permitted a kiss, then pushed the eager thing away, laughing harder as the man he had shoved off the sofa took immediate advantage of his sudden lapful of pretty.

Alcor returned his gaze to the table where the pale-haired man was sitting—and saw he was now walking toward the corner where Alcor lazed.

Up close, he was far more than pretty—Alcor might actually describe him as breathtaking, even if the hair was untidy, and the clothes quite tattered indeed, and he was obviously awkward and shy and uncertain. An admirer, most likely.

He sat up and invited the pale stranger to sit, but the man only shook his head. Around them, many of the others had noticed the odd man and were watching—some covertly, some blatantly—to see what Master Alcor would do with such an out of place stranger daring enough to approach uninvited.

“My lord,” the stranger greeted, voice quiet but still somehow heard over the din. “I came to wish you a happy birthday.”

Alcor laughed. “Indeed, why else would you come? Are you making yourself a present, pretty? That is a gift I would accept and enjoy, unless you are as tattered as those sad clothes you wear.”

“No, my lord,” the man said quietly. “I have brought gifts, however, if you would but accept them.”

Alcor lifted one delicate brow, the pleasant buzz of the dragonweed fading beneath the peculiarities of the stranger. “The only gifts I care for are great treasure, or warm, eager flesh riding me hard. But, let us see your gifts, then.”

The man licked his lips, and held out a small wooden box that Alcor had not noticed until that moment. It was made of some dark, reddish wood, carved with figures and shapes that he could not quite distinguish in the smoke-hazed light.

Wondering if perhaps there was some great joke at the end of all this, he took the box with an amused grin. He fumbled briefly with the catch, the gold gleaming brightly and somehow hard to grasp—or perhaps that was the dragonweed.

At last he managed a victory, however, and flipped it open. He had half-expected to find some perverse toy, something he could make full use of after stripping the stranger bare and spreading the man over his lap, something to tease and torment before finally giving the stranger his cock.

What he saw, however, he could make no sense of.

Three objects, each more amusing than the last.

The first was a dagger made of silver, with a hilt of gold and sapphires. It almost seemed to glow, and he thought he saw markings in the blade itself, but when he looked more closely he saw only silver.

“Loyalty,” the stranger said quietly.

Alcor laughed and cast the dagger aside, then picked up the next object—a small crystal bottle with a delicate stopper, filled with some clear liquid. He could not tell if it was the content or the crystal which sparkled.

“Protection,” the stranger said.

“Oh, yes,” Alcor said with another laugh. “Perfume to protect me. These are not treasures.”

He threw the crystal bottle over his shoulder, uncaring as to where it landed, and picked up the last object in the box.

A single rose, of a deep, rich red. The color was beautiful, to be sure, but a rose was a rose. Alcor yawned.

“Love,” the man said. “I would give you all three, if you would accept them, instead of…” He motioned to the room, the occupants, the gaudy displays of wealth and decadence.

Alcor let the rose fall to the floor. “I can find trinkets anywhere, pretty, but thank you anyway.”

The man frowned. “I know they seem but humble trifles, and my timing is poor…but they are more than they seem, and they are offered out of love.”

Alcor laughed again, and reached out to snag the man, draw him down and close. He smelled like honeysuckle, though Alcor was surprised he could smell it at all. “Love, pretty? Love is for fools and fairytales. Do I look a simpleton to you? If you are not going to offer me pleasure, then I have no need of you. Take yourself off, and give your love to someone foolish enough to take that bait. You are pretty, but not that pretty.”

Then he let the man go, roughly enough that he stumbled and fell down awkwardly on his ass. Around Alcor everyone roared with laughter, calling out their own jibes and taunts before slowly returning to their smoking and drinking and fucking.

When Alcor looked up again, the pale-haired stranger was gone.

The wooden box still lay on his lap, and Alcor tossed it aside in favor of drawing up the eager little thing he had rejected before, shoving the boys face to his crotch, making it clear what he was meant to do with that delicate, pink mouth.

Before anything could come of it, however, the boy was shoved aside and Alcor was yanked roughly to his feet. He bellowed in outrage—but stopped short as he met cold, violet eyes. The dark-haired man. “W-who are you?”

The dark-haired man said nothing, merely tightened his grip on Alcor’s hair and dragged him away from the sofa, across the room to where Alcor’s father had bent a dark-haired boy over a table and was fucking him enthusiastically.

His father stopped when he saw Alcor and the dark-haired man. Alcor tried to speak, but the man twisted his fist, pulling hard at Alcor’s hair, making him cry out—and the he felt the cold, sharp point of a dagger at his throat.

Alcor’s father pulled out of the boy and cast him roughly aside, absently refastening his pants. “What is the meaning of this?”

“A life for a life,” the dark-haired man said, and drew the dagger lightly across Alcor’s throat, drawing a thin thread of blood. It trickled hot and sticky down Alcor’s throat, though he felt completely cold and entirely too sober. “You took my family and my friends—now I will take yours.”

“You—” His father made a choked, garbled sound, his lunge across the table turning into a clumsy, awkward slump. “Who—”

Alcor could practically feel the dark-haired man grin, swearing as the knife at his throat cut a little deeper. “Next time, make certain we are all dead.”

“Filthy dark fae,” his father gasped out, but the anger in it sounded somehow weak and pathetic, as if his strength was being leached away.

“Indeed,” the dark-haired man said coolly. “You were warned not to leave us in peace. Your wife and daughter have already suffered. They died slowly, and their screams…” The smile was back in his voice. “Sweet.”

“Bastard!” his father gasped out, obviously struggling to move against some force keeping him in place.

“No,” the dark-haired faerie said. “I am, or was, a true prince. Now I will make all of you pay for your selfish, greedy ways. Did you enjoy the castle you stole from me? I hope you did, because that will it make all the sweeter when you burn with it.”

Only then did Alcor realize the smoke he was smelling was entirely too strong; only then did he realize the haze in the room was not right for dragonweed.

He could see in his father’s face that he had only just realized too.

And only at that moment did the screaming begin.

Then the world turned into a hideous nightmare, as smoke turned into flame and the smell of burning food and dragonweed became the scent of burning flesh. Screaming and shouting and sobbing filled the air as people began to realize what was wrong, as they tried to escape and found they could not. One by one they fell victim to the fire that quickly consumed the room. Alcor tried to close his eyes, but could not—he could do nothing but stand there and watch everyone in the room burn alive.

When he started screaming, he did not know, but he screamed until when his voice no longer worked, when smoke and ash seared it, ruined it. Smoke burned his eyes, and he could feel the fire—and yet not feel it, not quite.

Eventually, it seemed only they three were still alive.

Then his father started burning, and Alcor found he could still scream.

When nothing remained of his father, Alcor felt cold steel at his throat—and then he mercifully felt nothing more.

 

The Wizard’s Tower

Amara’s house was much the same as it had been the last time Roark had visited. It had been five years ago, back when she and his brother had been married, a year before he took it into his head to join the ranks of the king’s soldiers.

He’d made it to Lieutenant Colonel in those four years, a position he’d nearly lost to come out here. Amara’s letter had been frantic, though, and she as not a woman prone to bouts of hysteria. His superior’s snide dismissal of the events she wrote about had only reconciled Roark all the more to the possibility of losing his place.

The house was dark now—little surprise, given the late hour. Roark bypassed the house, loathe to drag Amara from her bed before he had to. Not to mention that he’d been riding hard for two weeks and he’d really just take the one trip to the stable and then go to the house, rather than stopping at the house first.

Wind chimes clamored as he rode past the front of the house. One of his wedding presents, though Kiran had thought it a frivolous, useless gift. Amara had liked them, at least, and Kiran had better appreciated his other gift of a second plow horse for the farm.

Reaching the stable, Roark slid from the saddle, biting back a groan at the way his ass ached. Didn’t matter how much training you had, Roark thought, grumbling a bit under his breath as he fumbled in the dark for a lantern. Two weeks of riding would make anyone sore.

And smell of horse.

Hopefully there was a bath in his near future, though it might not be worth it if he needed to go take on a wizard first thing tomorrow.

Finally, he managed to find the lantern he was looking for, nearly knocking it over in the process. It took him another minute to dig out his matches and light the damn thing.

The stable looked much the same as it had before, too. Three stalls, two stuffed full of giant plow horses. There were a few large metal contraptions that Roark only vaguely recognized and various bits of tack and harnessing hung neatly along one wall. The hay loft above was stuffed overfull with hay, bits and chunks hanging down over the edges and sticking into the air. The empty stall was at the far end of the stable, and thankfully it looked intact and clean. At least, as clean as a stable stall could look in the dim light cast by a single lantern in the dead of night.

Stripping the saddle and tack off his horse, Roark tossed it and his bags into a corner. He gave the mare a quick brush-down, muttering promises to do a better job in the morning. Then he led her down the stable towards the empty stall, wishing he could just bed down out here rather than face the walk to the house.

The stall wasn’t empty.

It was too dark to tell whether the curled-up figure in the corner of the stall was male or female, old or young—but he did know that Amara and Kiran had no help that lived on the farm and if that had changed, Amara would’ve mentioned it. Besides, any proper guest would be quartered at the house.

Roark straightened, leveling a dark look at the man—woman? He still couldn’t tell—and growled, “What do you think you’re doing?”

The man—no woman was that straight-hipped, no matter how narrow they were—shot up from his crouch, giving Roark a wide-eyed look. He couldn’t distinguish much else of the man in the darkness, just the narrowness of him and the eyes, wide and quickly darting around like he expected Roark to draw a weapon and run him through.

Tempting, but he’d left his sword with his bags on the other side of the stable.

“I asked a question, boy,” Roark said, letting his voice drop an octave or two. He wasn’t really prepared for the man to bolt at him, but the reflexes he’d had drilled into him kicked in and he moved more quickly than he should’ve been capable of at the moment, catching the man—definitely a man—around the waist and pinning him to the wall of the stable stall.

He didn’t fight Roark, just froze, slumping dejectedly. Roark rolled his eyes, fisting his hand in the man’s collar and pulling him away from the wall.

“Let’s have no jack-rabbiting now,” Roark said, putting a touch of menace into his voice. He wouldn’t be up to a chase if the man actually managed to make a break for it, and he didn’t like the idea of just turning him loose to prey on some other farm.

But what to do with him the rest of the night, Roark wondered, all but dragging the man out of the stall. His horse immediately wandered in, and Roark shut the gate behind her, ignoring the interested snuffles she and the closer plow horse were exchanging.

He’d tie the man down, leave him in the stables, and worry about him in the morning, Roark decided. If he managed to get away in the night, well, that was one less worry Roark had to deal with. That would work.

Forcing the man towards the light, Roark fumbled down from its hook a thick, knotted rope. The squatter made a few, half-hearted attempts to struggle, but Roark ignored the attempts with ease, binding the man to one of the support beams for the hayloft.

It was still difficult to pick out anything other than wide eyes and a wild, ragged mop of hair, but Roark wasn’t too concerned, tugging the knots tighter and keeping a up a grumbled monologue about squatters and delinquents and the harsh penalties they faced in the capital and how, if the squatter were lucky, Roark would be in a better mood after a full night’s rest.

The squatter settled—apparently quite cowed—and Roark finished settling his horse, giving her some food and water. He left the saddle and other gear to be taken care of the next day—perhaps that was a task he could set the squatter to. Scooping up his bags, he headed towards the house, looking forward to a decent bed and hopefully a few decent meals before he went to find Kiran and kill the evil wizard.

*~*~*

There was a light lit near the back of the house—where the kitchen was, unless Roark was misremembering. Heading that way, Roark nearly stumbled a few times in the dark, tired and unfamiliar with the path.

Likely the racket in the stable had woken Amara. Maybe she’d put something together for him to eat—now that he was off the horse, he was actually feeling hungry.

That was enough to buoy Roark the rest of the way to the house. Knocking quietly on the screen door that kept the bugs out but let the cool night air in, he paused a brief moment before letting himself in.

Amara was indeed the source of the light. She’d lit two candles, one set on the tiny kitchen table and one in the sill of a rear-facing window. She was dressed in a simple house robe, her dark hair tied messily back with a ribbon of nondescript color. She looked tired, and Roark almost felt sorry for not stopping to camp this last night and arriving tomorrow. Almost, except that Kiran was still missing and the less time he wasted, the better.

“Hello, Amara,” Roark said quietly, wincing because he hadn’t meant to sound so weary. “How’re you holding up?”

Amara smiled unhappily. “Well enough, given the circumstances. Thank you for coming, Roark. No one else would.”

“He’s my brother,” Roark said, then, because that sounded bad. “And you’re like a sister to me.”

Amara smiled a little more wholeheartedly at that, gesturing for him to sit. “Are you hungry?” she asked, already turning towards the cupboards lining the walls behind her without his answer. But then, she was married to Kiran, so obviously she knew it was a rhetorical question.

“I could eat a horse,” Roark said, dropping his bags by the door. “Oh, that reminds me. In case you head out to the stable before I do in the morning,” Roark began, gingerly settling into one of the chairs tucked close around the table. It was squeezed into the corner by the door, with only two of the chairs actually able to be pulled out to sit in. “There was a man lurking in one of the horse stalls —”

“Cos?” Amara asked, turning on her heel to face him with a sharp-eyed look. “Roark, if you harmed one hair on that poor boy’s head —”

“You knew he was out there?” Roark asked, cutting her off. “Why the hell is he out in the stable?”

“He won’t sleep inside,” Amara said impatiently, favoring Roark with a suspicious scowl. “What did you do to him?”

“Scared him some,” Roark admitted, getting back to his feet. He’d probably better untie the man if he wasn’t actually a squatter. “Nothing permanent.”

“Yeah?” Amara challenged, jabbing a spoon at him. “Where are you going then?”

“To apologize,” Roark said, giving her a grin. Amara obviously didn’t buy it if the look she was giving him was any indication, but Roark just opened the back door, prepared to make a run for it if he had to.

“Roark,” Amara said, still frowning. She let the spoon drop, though, and favored him with a frown. “Don’t scare him any more. He’s mostly mute, so if he doesn’t say anything, don’t take it out on him.”

“Okay,” Roark agreed, and wasn’t that just great? He’d only just reached Amara’s and already he’d manhandled, tied up, and scared witless the mostly mute charity case who lived in the stable. Though at that, what the hell did mostly mute mean anyway? Either he was or he wasn’t—there wasn’t a whole lot of gray for something like that.

Maybe he spoke in grunts or something. That certainly explained why he hadn’t replied to anything Roark had asked—well, demanded more like—of him.

Roark stumbled a bit down the path back to the stable, a little annoyed at having to make a return trip already. But it wasn’t at all right to leave the man tied up, not if he had Amara’s blessing to be there. Still, Roark didn’t quite trust it—he’d have to find out whether the man was playing it straight and he really was that scared and mute, or if he was just playing up to Amara’s sympathies and taking advantage of a woman whose husband was missing.

Letting himself into the stable, Roark winced—he’d been absent-minded enough to leave the lantern burning. Stepping fully through the door, Roark immediately stopped, frowning in consternation at he support beam he’d tied Cos to

The man wasn’t there. The ropes were piled haphazardly at the base of the beam, coiled and apparently fully knotted.

Probably a knife, Roark decided, calling himself an idiot for not checking. Though at least it meant he had slightly less to apologize for. He’d better clean up the rope now, though, in case Amara came out in the morning and noticed it. He didn’t want to lose his eating privileges.

There was no sign of Cos, minus a wide scattering of hay littering the floor around the ladder to the hayloft. Roark didn’t bother trying to rustle Cos down—he could make whatever apologies he decided to make in the morning.

Crossing the stable quickly, Roark grabbed a coil of rope from the floor, tugging it up and looping it around his arm—until it stopped, and Roark frowned, because the rope was still intact. It wasn’t cut, so either the man was a ghost or a fantastic contortionist.

Pulling the rope until he could reach the knots, Roark slowly began to untie them, his tired fingers fumbling a bit in the dark. They came free after a few minutes, and, grumbling about unexpected guests and contortionist feats, Roark chucked the rope towards the far corner of the stable.

He was twice as hungry now, stomping out into the dark. Then he paused, turned back, and blew out the lantern. No sense adding to Amara’s troubles by burning down the stable. He stumbled a little less this trip to the back of the house, though it was probably more dumb luck than learning the way.

Amara had a plate of food and a severe expression waiting for him, but Roark just smiled at her as he let himself into the kitchen.

“He was asleep, I think,” Roark said, lying through his teeth. He didn’t doubt Cos had been wide awake in the loft, listening to every move he’d made. “In the loft.”

Amara sighed, her severe expression melting away. She would make a good mother with that look. Roark could recall how cowed he and Kiran had been whenever their mother had leveled a similar look on them.

“Eat, Roark,” Amara ordered, pointing him towards the table where a plate had been heaped with food and a tankard filled with something he hopped was the delicious beer she brewed.

“So where did you pick him up?” Roark asked casually, sitting himself down and hoping he wasn’t opening himself up to her temper again.

“I didn’t, really,” Amara said, fidgeting about the kitchen putting things away. “He showed up not long after the wizard’s fortress fell.”

Roark nearly inhaled the piece of meat he was swallowing. Amara turned away from the counter, back towards the table. She raised her eyebrows in concerned inquiry, but Roark just waved her off.

“I’m fine,” he coughed out after a moment, then cleared his throat loudly. He swallowed a mouthful of the beer to sooth his throat—and it was wonderful, better than any Roark had gotten since Amara and Kiran had wed. “The fortress fell? When?”

“You didn’t get my last letter, then,” Amara said, frowning at the inadequacies of the post. Roark just shook his head and stabbed another chunk of meat. Amara sighed, then fetched herself a pint of beer. Roark continued to eat steadily, waiting patiently for Amara to sit down and explain.

“About a week back,” Amara began, curling her fingers around her glass and idly drumming her fingers against the sides. “There was a loud noise, louder than thunder. The sky was clear in any case. No one could figure out where it came from and no one really wanted to go inquiring of the wizard if everything was all right.”

Roark nodded, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. He wasn’t too impressed by any of these villagers—to not notice for years, maybe decades, that an evil wizard was slowly going through their ranks and kidnapping people for nefarious reasons. Then, when they did realize, to cower in fear and not send so much as a single letter for help.

“So your stable boy is from the fortress?” Roark guessed, then shoveled the last of the food on his plate into his mouth.

“He hasn’t said as much, but it makes sense,” Amara said. Her eyes closed briefly and then she forced a smile. “Some others came back, too. A day or two after the fortress fell.”

Not Kiran. She didn’t have to say it, not when Kiran’s absence was so obvious and her smiles still didn’t reach her eyes.

“Didn’t you say he only took villagers?” Roark asked. Why was the mostly mute man hiding out in Amara’s stable instead of returning to his own home?

“He’s not a villager,” Amara said firmly, obviously guessing what Roark was thinking. She narrowed her eyes at him, looking displeased that Roark had brought Cos up again. But that was better than her dwelling on Kiran’s absence. “I don’t recognize him. I think—he might’ve been in there a long time, Roark. Or he might’ve just been passing through—a wanderer or something.”

“Right,” Roark muttered, unconvinced. Or he was a passerby who was taking advantage of the situation for free food and lodging.

“I’ll check out the fortress tomorrow, see what I can find,” Roark said, swallowing another mouthful of beer.

“Lehan’s organizing a small party to go up at some point,” Amara said, rolling her eyes and not sounding too impressed by this. “They said they were waiting a few days to see if anyone showed up with knowledge of the fortress.”

“No one who’s come back knows anything?” Roark asked, frowning. At the very least they should be able to tell where they got out—where the other victims, if they were alive, would be.

“They’re —” Amara hesitated, glancing down at the table for a moment. “None of them are quite right anymore, Roark. Their minds—they’re missing memories, they remember things that never happened to them—Carry doesn’t remember her husband. They don’t remember much, and Cos —” Amara paused, blinking a few times before continuing. “Cos is the only man among them.”

“Are you sure he’s a man?” Roark asked, not really thinking before he voiced the question. Amara shot him a withering look, but didn’t bother to answer. “But that suggests Cos was kept with the women and that the men were kept someplace separate—maybe somewhere they couldn’t escape from when whatever happened went down.”

“Right,” Amara said, sounding unconvinced. “Cos is awfully small. The men who were—taken, they were all big, strong—like Kiran.”

“They probably required more secure quarters then,” Roark said sensibly. “Anyway, I’ll check it out tomorrow. The sooner we sort this out, the better.”

“Do you want to join Lehan’s group?” Amara asked, her lip curling a bit. Roark scoffed quietly.

“They’ve had a week. If they want to join me, they’ll have to catch up,” Roark declared. Amara nodded, smiling a bit.

“I’ll send Lehan a note after you leave,” Amara said. “He can follow you up the mountain if he likes.”

“Sounds good to me,” Roark said, grinning a little vindictively—he wasn’t opposed to being less than courteous to one of the villagers who was delaying Kiran’s rescue.

“I’ll make up some gear for you—will your horse be rested enough or should I ask to borrow the mayor’s fancy stallion?” Amara asked as she stood. She drained her glass and started clearing their dishes.

“Make up gear for two,” Roark said, standing up himself. “My horse should be fine. I’ll take it slow up the mountain, since it’ll take more than one day to get there.”

“For two?” Amara asked, frowning and pushing back her messy hair. “None of the farm hands will go with you, and I can’t bring Harro up the mountain.”

“I’m bringing your stable hand,” Roark said, yawning jaw-crackingly wide. “He might be able to help once we’re there.”

“Roark, that poor boy has been through enough without you scaring him witless and then dragging him back to the very place he was held captive!” Amara said, slamming down the glass she still held. It made an awfully loud crash, startling both Amara and Roark. Deep in the house, baby Harro started to cry.

Roark winced as Amara swept past him and out of the room, muttering a soft curse under her breath as she went to tend to her son.

Sighing, Roark ran a hand over his face. He was exhausted and tomorrow he got to gallivant up the mountainside and deal with an unknown, possibly dangerous situation, with a scared refugee of the fortress at his side.

Worst case, Roark could always use him as a human shield, right?

Harro’s crying stopped, Roark noted as he navigated the cramped kitchen to the doorway Amara had disappeared through. Hopefully she wouldn’t press the point of his taking Cos until the morning—Roark wanted nothing more than to collapse and sleep now.

Amara nearly ran into him, coming out of a room to his right. She steadied herself by quickly planting a hand on his chest, but just as quickly she regained her balance and pulled away.

“The guest room is made up for you,” was all she said, stepping back so Roark could pass. “The one you stayed in for the wedding.”

“I can find it,” Roark said confidently. “Good night, Amara.”

“Good night,” she replied.

Roark turned back to the kitchen, intending to grab his bags and one of the candles before heading upstairs. Amara’s voice stopped him a few steps into the kitchen. “And we’ll talk more about this nonsense idea of you bringing Cos in the morning.”

“Make up two kits,” Roark said, only halfway turning back towards her. “If he won’t go, no harm done.”

Amara hesitated, and then said, “Fine. Sleep well, Roark.”

Roark muttered a half-hearted reply and headed back to retrieve his bag and the candle. With any luck, it would only be a matter of rescuing the men who’d disappeared. The wizard was hopefully dead, and it would be a wonderfully ironic twist if the he’d been done in by one of his own spells. Then all Roark would need to do was find Kiran and bring him home.

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