"So, the snake wants breakfast?" Eveth heard Dren ask as she returned, closing the door to the room shut behind her. “Like a piece of bread?”
"The Great One requests you humans provide him a meal." The foreign accent replied, Imra's words almost blended together. “If you cannot answer his questions, then tribute must be offered.”
Eveth had found her absence had been used as a chance for conversation.
It was almost as if the boy lacked some innate and basic instinct for long-term survival. Dren always found dangerous things interesting. He was sitting across from Imra at the table, guard down and lips already flapping away.
“Can monsters even eat human food? Is that healthy? Won’t it get sick?" Dren continued, tying the last of his leather armor pieces into place. “I knew a Tamer who had a Fire-cat once, and he told me that human food made it sick.”
"The Great One will not get sick." Eveth saw Imra’s hood twitch.
The movement, Eveth realized, was Imra’s ears.
"But what if it does? I don't want us to feed your Basilisk anything it can't stomach- what if it throws up? Can snakes throw up?"
“The Great One says he can, but he won’t.”
“But what if he does?” Dren stressed the word as he turned towards the Elf seated at the room’s table. Eveth watched as the eyes beneath the hood narrowed. “What then?”
"Then all within this city will die a terrible and painful death." Imra replied bluntly. “Or worse.”
“Alright! That’s enough.” Eveth loudly interrupted as she dropped the wicker basket onto the table between the two. “I’ve gotten us breakfast as requested, Gods or mere mortals notwithstanding.” She pulled up her own seat at the table as Dren gave her a hearty grin.
“Thank you Eveth.” He nodded as he eagerly retrieved a small loaf of bread, “I’m starving.”
“Hm…” Imra did the same, only with more of a grimace than a smile. She grimaced at the contents of the basket before taking her own loaf. With a finger, she slowly picked at a portion of obvious mold, displeasure more than clear.
“It’s all they have here, and I wasn’t about to go out on the street just yet.” Eveth explained. “We’re almost in the slums, there’s not much in the way of quality.”
“So, it seems.” Imra replied, voice slurring the words. Casually she took a bite, chewing it carefully. She didn’t make further protest.
Eveth decided to take that as a good sign.
“Any news from downstairs?” Dren asked, swallowing the last of his own meal. “Or is it still too early to tell?” The boy grabbed a second piece of bread, buffing it on his fraying leather armor. “Imra says she could smell smoke, but I don’t smell anything.”
“Well, there’s talk,” Eveth replied carefully, leaning back in her seat, eyes scanning the room until settling on the small coil of blue resting beneath the shelter of Imra's cloak. “Lots of talk, but the day’s still young and it might not be related. All anyone downstairs could agree on was that the Royal Guard were out in the streets last night, and there were some more fires.”
“Well… that’s good.” Dren replied between chewing, almost as if voicing a question- but not quite. “Guards will catch the bad guys.” He did it again, almost a question.
“I forget how young you are sometimes.” Eveth rubbed at her forehead, before reaching down to take her choice of the remaining pieces of bread. “At the very least, it seems like there was trouble last night. More buildings were burned, and apparently not all in the slums. Some of the smaller trade offices, a few shops, maybe some others.”
“Near the Guild?”
“All over the city.” Eveth replied with a shrug. “But no one I spoke with seemed to be able to tell me much."
"All over, huh?" Dren replied, mouth full of bread. "I guess people are more wound up this time of year."
"Not surprising, considering how close this is to Festival.”
“Ah, Festival. I remember last season. The parades, the dancing, the food…” Dren trailed off, expression thoughtful- if slightly gluttonous, as he chewed. “I don’t suppose they’ll have candied Appal this year?”
“Maybe for the rich.”
“Just the rich?”
“All the trees are dead, now.”
“Oh.” Dren swallowed, “That’s right.”
The conversation lulled as they ate, Dren slowing on his second piece, before pocketing the last half of it. Eveth watched as the youth stared at Imra across the table. The Elf was carefully ripping her piece of bread into smaller portions, dropping them on the table for her Basilisk to bite and swallow.
Like little flashes of blue-scaled lighting, it did so with somewhat alarming precision.
“Can your pet really eat human food like that?” Dren finally asked, curiosity getting the better of his nervousness. “I’ve never seen a monster eat human food.”
“For the final time, human: the Great One is not a pet.” Beneath her hood, Eveth saw Imra’s ears twitch again as she refused to do so much as look in the boy’s direction. "He is a God."
“Alright- alright.” Raising his hands, Dren made a gesture of peace. “I was just asking. It’s just a rare thing is all. Maybe a lot of nobles find taming a monster to be like some exotic hobby, but the church doesn’t allow it, and most people can’t afford to take on taming anyways. Is it different with Elves?”
“Elves do not tame. We bind, or we serve.”
Eveth chewed the stale bite of bread she’d managed to tear off, mindful of her teeth as she watched Imra continue to drop portions onto the table. One by one they disappeared. Blue scales flashing out and retreating into the shadows beneath Imra’s cloak. What really caught her eye was the faint glimmer of mana in use, almost invisible beside the Elf’s face: a regular rhythm of water magic forming and reforming in a silent rotation.
Was it… practicing?
“Really, Elves don’t tame at all?”
“No, that is a human thing.”
“But I’ve heard people some famous Tamers claim they have Elven blood. That's why they can be as good as they are, because of their ancestry.”
At the mention, Imra stopped ripping the bread and set the remaining portion on the table as she looked up at the boy. Eveth saw her expression sour from mild displeasure to something much- much worse. For once in his life, she was thankful Dren knew when to stopped talking.
She decided that was as good a time as any. Painfully, Eveth swallowed and cleared her throat.
“Listen, Imra. I’m going to go and get us some help.” She let the statement hang as the Elf’s eyes turned in her direction: the dangerous expression on Imra’s face was only partly offset by the Basilisk’s clumsy attempt to swallow the bread she’d left it whole.
“You will go alone?” Imra asked, looking down to watch the creature as well.
“Yes.” Eveth couldn’t help but watch as the snake gave up unhinging its jaw and changed tactics- smacking the bread with some form of rapidly cast water magic, before trying once more. “I’ll find Alem, and after that, we’ll try to report what happened to the Guard.”
This time, it appeared that the Basilisk was somewhat successful in swallowing its inanimate prey, though the bread seemed… soggier. Slowly, it seemed to work the food down, before puffing out a small spark of green flame. Across the table, Dren flinched.
“So… you will go alone,” Imra motioned to herself, and then towards Dren. “You will go, without us?”
“Yes.” Eveth replied, nodding. “If anyone’s looking for us, they’re looking for us together. Alone, I won’t stand out.”
“Ah, like a scout.” Imra nodded approvingly before shaking her head. “Shame, this is not allowed.”
“What?” Eveth blinked.
“A good plan, but not allowed.” Imra repeated, almost apologetically. “The Great One does not allow you.”
“Allow me?” Eveth leaned back from the table. “I need permission?”
“Yes, and you lack permission.” Imra shrugged. “So, it is done.”
“I…” Eveth stared at the Elf blankly. “Since when do I need permission?”
“You have a debt of life.” Imra lifted a hand up, motion as if hoisting something into the air. “Your life is the Great One’s now.” She explained, gesturing upwards before forming a fist to her chest. “It is an honor, especially for a human.” She nodded.
“I… see…” Eveth glanced in Dren’s direction in hopes of some sort of explanation, uncertain. The boy shook his head with a frown, providing nothing of value. “And if I choose to try and leave anyway?”
“I will stop you.” Imra replied with a wide grin, laying her hands carefully across the table, leaning inward. “With great violence.” She added almost eagerly, before the snake around her neck hissed.
“Not with great violence.” She corrected.
“Imra, listen… I think you may be misunderstanding how a Guild functions.” Eveth carefully reached for her staff, as she continued. “I’ll admit that both Dren and I owe you greatly for your help yesterday, but we're not bound to follow your orders. The Farstrider Guild is a team, and in the rare occasion anyone's ordering people around- it's Varar, or Alem.”
“It is not a difficult concept. The Great One chose you, now you owe him.” Imra replied, folding her arms. “He healed you, gave life in death. You have heavy debt.”
“I won’t argue that you got rid of our attackers, but I was under the impression that it was mostly Dren who healed me.” Eveth replied as she stood up, turning towards the youth. “That’s how I remember it Imra, you just finished what he couldn’t: got me back on my feet.”
The boy shook his head, obviously uncomfortable. Eveth paused.
“I couldn’t get it all done in time.” Dren spoke quietly. “I got rid of the poison, and I had started on the wound itself- but then I had to raise a barrier behind us. They wouldn’t stop attacking- I wanted to go back, I knew I had to, but they wouldn’t stop…”
Dren looked sick just thinking about it.
“You see?” Imra stood up to join Eveth, motioning towards the snake now resting on the table. “You have debt. Besides, going alone? Weak humans like you are easy prey.”
“Weak? I’m a Mage, that’s the complete opposite of weak-” Eveth blinked again as Imra’s hand tapped against her chest.
That was the second time she’d seen, or more accurately: hadn't seen, the Elf do something like this. Motion which closed distance, jarringly quick.
Imra's fingers pressed on her sternum, just enough for Eveth to know they were there. Just enough to know that the Elf could have done something worse.
“Strong but weak.” Imra's accent toyed with the words, as she poked Eveth’s sternum. “Not alone, not allowed.”
“I am not violent.” Imra turned back to the snake. “This is play.”
“Well, this isn’t up for negotiation.” Eveth said, stepping back to thump her staff against the floor as she pushed Imra’s hand aside. “Those people who attacked us yesterday clearly didn’t do it on a whim, and the ones attacking Dren got away. They know who we are."
"So, if we go together we might as well paint a sign on our backs.” Eveth shook her head. "We were specifically targeted, understand? I think they were looking for people from the Guild."
“Let them come, then." Imra shrugged. "We will deal with them.”
“And if they don’t play fair? If they decide not to fight at all and shoot us with a [Silent Strike] from a crossbow on the rooftop?” Eveth asked. “What then?"
"The Great One will protect us."
"You've got to be..." Eveth bit her tongue. "Listen: Dren is no fighter, he’s a healer! And you? Maybe you could fight, but in broad-daylight I can't think of anyone who might stand out more. The second you let your hood down, anyone looking for you is going to know.”
“The Great One will heal me.” Imra shrugged. "I do not fear death."
“Sss…” The Basilisk added.
“It would be better if we avoid that entirely.” Eveth stood her ground. “I know the city. I go alone, I go unnoticed. I get Alem and the others in the Guild, and we work out the details we need to sort this out. You can stay with Dren here where it’s relatively safe until I come back.”
“No, the Great One will not allow this.”
“And if I say I’m going anyways?” Eveth demanded, letting the staff come between them. “What then?”
“Then, I will make you stay.” Imra replied, lips pulling back far enough to bare teeth as she eyed the staff in Eveth’s hands. “You will not enjoy it.”
The would-be confrontation stopped.
Imra backed away with a frown as the Basilisk on the table slowly moved until it had settled almost like a mediator, between them.
“Sssss…” Its tongue flicked, and the ice along Eveth’s hands dissipated into vapor. Carefully, the snake lifted its body up, as if trying to make itself look larger.
“What is it doing?” Eveth warily eyed the serpent.
The snake stared back at her, tongue flicking again before turning towards Imra. The Elf watched, before finally nodding. As if completely indifferent, Imra dropped her stance and took a seat at the table: any chance of combat dismissed.
“Is… that it?” Eveth asked. “All that, and you’re just letting me go?”
“The Great One says we will compromise.” Imra replied, folding her legs on the chair into a form of relaxed meditation. “I will stay. You will go. It is decided.”
“Good…” Eveth nodded slowly. “Thank you Imra.” She let one hand off the staff to pull up the hood of her cloak. “I’ll return with help as soon as I’m able. Alone I doubt anyone will recognize me, but I’ll take the safest route I can.”
“Alone?” Imra smiled as she leaned back in her seat, eyes closed. “You will not be alone.”
With an abrupt motion, Dren skidded back in his seat- coughing on another snuck bite of bread which wasn’t quite swallowed, as beside him, the Basilisk moved. Blue scales a blur, it crossed in front of him and slipped down on the table's leg, crossing the floor with astounding speed. Eveth barely had time to take another step back before it lunged.
She knew that she'd probably made a noise then.
In all likelihood, it was a sound that didn’t befit someone of her discipline: something between a scream and a gasp. Perhaps even a shriek.
“I will watch the boy. We will stay here.” Imra stated, as the Basilisk twisted about her ankle, then leg, and then up further. Past her waist, past her chest, before finally settling about her neck. “You will go, it is settled.”
Eveth watched Dren's eyes widen like saucers, and saw Imra’s lips twist into a smile.
“Shit.” Eveth whispered.
“Ssss.” The snake whispered back.