Savage Ep. 9
Before any of them knew it, Hazel lunged onto Velius, knocking the wind from him, throttling him with her claws. The vicious foxkin had her paws clamped down around the monk's neck, strangling the life from him. It took both Fayre and Portia's combined strength to pry the mad foxkin off.
Once distanced, Portia stood guard over Hazel, her muscular paws clamped down on the foxkin's arms, retaining the madwoman and her sudden, unprovoked blood lust. Velius, meanwhile, lay on the ground propped up by a single elbow, while he gasped for air. Fayre was immediately at his side, tending to him.
“What the hell are you thinking, bitch?” Portia raged at her prisoner. Hazel, unabashed, continued to twist and squirm in her grip. Portia's claws clamped on tighter, drawing blood, holding her fast, but still Hazel persisted. She hissed and growled like a beast, slashing the air before her, casting a look of ice daggers toward the silent monk.
Velius, on the other hand, only looked back bewildered and confused, wondering what, precisely, he had just walked himself into the middle of.
“Calm down, Hazel!” cried Fayre, pleading. Two silent tears were mussing her fur as she shouted. “He's a friend! Please don't hurt him!”
Hazel ignored her, pulling against Portia's unrelenting grip, raving all the while.
“Hazel!” shouted Fayre, desperately, through tears now streaming. “Please! Stop! Just, stop it!”
“You'd better listen to her,” Portia warned through gritted teeth. The frail little foxkin was putting up more of a fight than Portia would have expected.
Hazel twisted suddenly, turning nearly all the way around. Her arms, so small and nimble, finally slipped out of Portia's grip. The wild foxkin bounded away quickly, standing on all four paws and growling harshly. She shot each of them a hostile look, teeth bared.
Fayre gripped Velius tightly, weeping openly, calling out to Hazel over and over again, her voice painful to hear in it's desperation. Her cries, however, fell to deaf ears.
Portia, intent to regain a hold of the situation, charged the foxkin. She leapt aside once more, growled deeply at Portia, then took off into the wilderness.
Portia let her go, staring off after her as she bolted away on all fours, so like a wild animal. She looked on with her face contorted in frustration.
Fayre, meanwhile, was clinging to Velius desperately, her loud keening wracking her body back and forth. She looked a bit like a wild creature, herself.
Portia assumed control, pulling Fayre away from Velius so that they could embrace. Fayre cried into her fur for another few moments while Portia comforted her, running a paw down the fur trailing the back of her head. With a cringe of shame, she realized that she still had droplets of Hazel's blood drying on her fur.
A short while later, Fayre had calmed down a bit. She looked up at her bigger sister with tear-filled eyes.
“Why did she do that?” Fayre demanded in a rasping voice.
“I don't know,” Portia responded honestly, meeting her sister's gaze. Her own eyes remained dry.
“She was supposed to be part of our family!” Fayre cried, tears forming anew. She looked toward the ground, then a moment later said in a much calmer voice, “she was supposed to be my new sister.”
Portia caught Velius' gaze, who had fully recovered and was now standing nearby. His look was full of unspoken concern and sadness. It was apparent that the monk worried about the young felinekin.
So, he had become family to her, Portia analyzed. She should have expected as much from her younger sister after what happened to their old master and his manor. And Felhaan, too. His death must have been especially hard for her because, besides herself, the mousekin was the only other family she had ever had. Fayre was young yet, and such loses grieved her terribly, likely to leave a lasting injury.
Portia believed that now, in her arms, Fayre mourned as much for them as for her 'new sister,' whom, outside of rescuing from certain death, they really didn't know at all.
And so Portia let her have her cry. In the end, she would be better off for it.
“I miss them, too,” Portia admitted in a whisper, her lips close to her sister's triangular ear. Fayre instantly knew of whom she was referring to, and nodded her silent acknowledgment. With fresh memories of her former friend and master assailing her mind, her tears started anew, moistening Portia's fur. All the emotions bottled up or dismissed came back in a flood, her mask of strength and pride, made to imitate her sister, had been shattered.
A good while later, with Fayre once more calm and quiet, Portia looked up to see that Velius had gone missing. Getting up slowly, Portia helped Fayre to her feet, and while supporting her, the two walked slowly back to their camp.
Once there, the two sisters discovered that Fayre's tumbled wood pile had been harvested, and that a cooking fire had been prepared. The last of Velius' salted venison had been cooked, and three final portions of hardening bread and cheese had been laid out.
The two felinekin, silent as the unspeaking monk, gathered around the fire and ate.
The three would do no further traveling that day.
“I never liked her from the beginning,” Portia announced at random. The three were lounging around the dying campfire, staying awake but groggy as a chorus of stars began to draw into existence overhead. The sun had set some while earlier, threating to devour the camp in shadow if not for the calming light of the low fire.
Several hours had passed since Hazel's sudden, inexplicable exit, yet it still pressed heavily on each of their minds.
Velius, across the fire from her, caught Portia's gaze with a slight nod. Outwardly, he seemed to agree with her, but inwardly Velius suspected that Portia disliked everyone upon first encountering them. Such had certainly been the case when they had first ran into each other on the road.
“But she had been kind to us,” Fayre analyzed, her voice distant as her mind was lost in thought. “Why would she react to Velius like that?”
“Seems apparent to me,” Portia replied quickly. She scowled as she thought back on the day. “Either she's even more inept than Mute Boy, or she rather didn't care for one of the qualities that makes him different.”
“Portia!” Fayre chastised, more frustrated than ever that she would insistently refer to Velius in such a way, especially after what he had done for them.
Velius, however, caught her gaze with a slight shake of his head. He raised a single hand as if to say, never you mind her, it is fine.
Unperturbed by this exchange, Portia continued. “Frankly, I think it's the former option. But I can't ignore the fact that Velius has one distinctive quality that neither of us possess, setting him apart.”
“What?” Fayre blinked repeatedly, genuinely curious and eager to hear what her older sister had to say. She was such a naive creature some times.
“He's a he.”
“Well, what does that have to do with anything?” Fayre asked, stupidly. Portia, who loved her sister dearly, wondered if she had ever been so mentally incapable when she was Fayre's age.
But before Portia could reply, it was in fact Velius, pulling forth quill and parchment from his pack, that answered Fayre's question for her.
The girl showed signs of abuse, Velius said to them, through written word. I suspect her former master treated her roughly. Thus, she has grown a hatred toward all men.
“But that's not fair!” Fayre cried out, hurt by the injustice of it. “You had nothing to do with that!”
Velius merely shrugged. Unable to receive the answer she wanted, Fayre turned, pleading, to Portia.
“That can't be it, right? It can't be!”
“As much as I hate to admit it,” Portia answered slowly, choosing each word so as to reduce the damage to her sister, “we had it easy. In Narghast's manor, we were cared for and treated fairly. Other masters... usually hurt their slaves, torturing them for the sick pleasure of it. They don't care what effect it might have on the slave.”
“But what did her master do to her to make her hate all men?” Fayre pleaded.
Portia looked right at Velius, searching him desperately for an appropriate reply to her younger sister's inquiry. The silent monk, in the meantime, had averted his gaze, with both hands held up in surrender. It was clear that he wanted no part in this exchange.
Shooting Velius an icy look, cursing him for his unwillingness to help, Portia could only look back at her younger sister, who looked back with wide, pleading eyes.
Portia sighed heavily, putting paw to forehead before returning an answer to her question.
“Bad things. Very bad things, to women, you see.”
“But why only women?”
“Because men are pigs!” Portia shot back, startling Fayre, causing her to start. “They work solely on the baser of instincts, desiring only the same few things over and over again, demanding what they want, when they want it! Men are vile, disgusting, self-centered swine!”
Promptly after her rant, during which her voice escalated higher than intended, Portia looked over at Velius, who stared back impassive and impartial, and amended herself.
“With few exceptions.”
Fayre was persistent. “But that doesn't really answer my,”
“Enough of that for tonight!” Portia roared, silencing her sister. “It is late, and we have other, more pressing concerns.” Turning to Velius, she continued. “Mute Boy, you lead us out here, I presume you have a plan?”
Velius did have one, of sorts. Once more through written word, he explained that they should head north, cutting through wilderness, to the nearby town of Raestall. It was little more than a fur and food trading post, where word of their escape would be slower to permeate. It was also the nearest settled establishment, and any Savages who might have escaped the explosions of Stonetide might hole up there, avoiding the larger cities to the west and south.
Additionally, my food stores have run dry, Velius continued. I had not planned on feeding so many so soon. I will need to resupply.
“Sounds like as good a plan as any,” Portia commented once the parchment had been handed around. “Once we have our bearings, we might be able to develop a sound, long-term solution. I'd rather be blasted to the nine hells then remain on the run all my life.”
“The Slavers won't find us there, will they?” Fayre asked, concerned.
“They'll likely be looking for us,” Portia answered truthfully, looking back across the dying fire toward Velius. “So we'll camp out in the wilderness outside of town, and only one of us will head in at a time. We'll assume fake identities, cover ourselves with our cloaks, and not cause trouble. We'll be in and out before they know it.”
Fayre nodded her agreement, rubbing her eyes as she did so. She yawned hugely, as if punctuating the late hour. Velius also nodded, though less confidently; he seemed to have his doubts.
Regardless, they halted the conversation there for the night. Velius buried the remaining flames while the two felinekin laid down upon the grass.
Velius sat a short distance away, leaned up against a tree, watching and listening to the night. The stars were in full play on this cloudless night, the moon just past quarter. An owl hooted in the distance, likely the very same owl that Velius used to hear through the open window of his bedchamber inside the monastery. It was a very nostalgic memory, making him long once more for the days of unspoiled innocence in a nonpartisan monastery.
It was as he thought about the older days, not so very long ago, that Velius caught sleep, listening to the silent snores of the traveling sisters.
And just beyond their little clearing, sleepless and watchful, a creature stirred; a pair of eyes watched them from behind obscuring foliage.