Cobalt and Scarlet
The star felt terrible as the unicorn whinnied sadly, shuffling along the stony path and through the rain.
"I am sorry, girl…" the star said into the unicorn's neck. "I know you are not meant to carry passengers…"
The star decided he hated the world he fell into. It had seemed so warm and interesting from above, but the boy now knew that was not the case. The world was cold and rocky and rainy and most unfriendly. It was a world where naïve boys who wanted to take you to their sisters chained you with moonlight only to let you free. The only good thing the star could find in the world was the unicorn, the unicorn who had to carry him and his broken leg for a day and a night without food.
The star nearly cried with joy when he saw the lights of an inn. The unicorn advanced upon the structure, stopping on the path towards the door and refusing to move closer. The star hushed the unicorn sweetly, stroking her mane in encouragement. His fingers shivered in the cold.
The inn door opened, illuminating the pair with firelight. The unicorn stilled, white as the sunlight reflected from the moon.
"Oh, dear, you must be freezing!" the woman at the door said. Her voice was motherly and concerned, honeyed. "Will you come in? We have food aplenty and fire to warm you. I can prepare you a bath if that is what you wish."
"I…" the star said shakily. "I need help, my leg is broken…"
"Poor child." the woman said. "I can get my husband Boris to help you in. There is hay and water in the stables for your companion."
The woman pulled the hood of a green cloak over her head, stepping into the pelting rain. The unicorn stomped in warning as she walked towards them.
"I do not wish to touch you, noble beast." she assured her. "I do not want to scare you off. It has been many years since I have seen a unicorn… We do not get many visitors on Mount Stohess."
The unicorn pattered behind the woman to the stables. The beast went to the furthest stall in the building, lying down carefully in the straw. The star descended ungracefully, tumbling into the grass like a wet kitten.
Boris was a stern man who said nothing to the star when he picked him up. Yet he was gentle as he carried the star indoors, placing him before the blazing fire.
"Poor child." the woman said again. "Soaked and chilled to the bone with your lovely clothes drenched too. We will get them dry straight away." The woman put up a screen in front of the fire and metal washtub. She stood on the opposite side of the screen as her husband assisted the star undressing. He hung the tunic and pants near the fire to dry.
"How warm do you like your bathes?" The woman questioned.
"I don't know." The star said from the deep and empty basin. He was bare save for the topaz stone and chain. "I have never had a bath before."
"Never had a bath?" the woman gasped. "My goodness! Well, I will not make it terribly hot then…"
Boris carried a great pot from the kitchen and poured the steaming water into the bath. The star thought it was much too hot at first, but soon became tempered to it and relaxed in its warmth.
"Call if you need another pot." The woman invited. "Take as long as you like. And when you are done, I will get you some ale and roasted mushrooms.
The husband and wife left before the star could object that he did not eat such things. He then sighed, shifting deeper into the water. His broken leg rested on a stool outside the washtub.
"Are you feeling any better?" The woman asked when she returned.
"Yes, much better, thank you very much so." The star said.
"How about your heart? Does it feel better too?"
"My heart?" The star inquired. He looked over the lip of the tub, seeing the shadowed outline of the woman through the screen. Her azure dress bundled up at her feet.
"… My heart does feel happier." The star continued. "Warmer, safer."
"Good," the woman said as she nodded. "Lets get it burning bright inside of you."
"I am sure with your care it will burn like the sun."
The woman laughed merrily. "What manners! Thank you, dear. Thank you."
She then tossed a fluffy robe over the screen. "Your clothes will be wet for a while now, so this is for you to wear when you wish to leave. No hurry, just call when you need me." She exited the room, pleased as she said, "A good, strong heart…"
The star decided there were other good things in this world, such as bathes and hearth fires. The outside might be dreadful and cold, but the bath was warm and loving.
Boris helped him out of the tub when he asked, bundling up the star in the warm robe. The gemstone was again hidden beneath clothing. The man aided the star over to the dinner table and sat him upon a wooden bench. Two blue-metal knives rested beside a plate of meat.
"Make yourself comfortable, dinner will be ready shortly." The innkeeper woman gladdened. She took a knife in each hand, running them against each other as if preparing to carve the meats. She put the smaller knife down.
"Service!" a great voice shouted from outside the inn. "Food! Ale! Fire! Where is the stable boy?"
A wind pushed against the inn, the fire flickering with it.
The innkeeper and the daughter looked to the woman, waiting. An expression pinched her blue eyes in distaste.
"It can wait for a little while." She said as she put down the cleaver. "You are not going anywhere with that broken limb, right, child?"
"Unfortunately not." the star said. He showed a cheery smile. "You are such a wonderful caregiver… I do not know how I could repay you."
"There is no need for that now." The woman replied, fiddling with the handle of one of the knives irritably. "There will be plenty of time to discuss it when these people are attended to."
The star continued to smile. His false grin dropped when the family turned away, his eyes gaining a critical and suspicious edge. He saw the eagerness in which the woman assisted him, how she hungrily watched, how close she put the knife to him. The details in his head swirled, waiting to be pieced together.
Annie did not know she was a terrible liar.
Eren brushed the chill from the horses. The inn appeared to have no stable-hand, leaving the job of tending to the horses to him. Erwin promised to send out a warm mug of tea to him.
The inn was the most wonderful thing Eren had seen since his entrance into the land of Faerie. Although, through his joy, he felt a wrongness. His sense of knowing where things were and how far they were did not register the inn, as if it never was or never could be. Yet he was aware of the star, not far away, his presence glowing and known.
Eren did not know what he would say to the star. One part of him wanted to snap at the boy for scurrying off, another part wanted to express how relieved he was that the star was safe. The horse at the end of the row of stalls bumped into the wall.
Eren was cleaning off the horse brush when his tea came, carried by a maiden with long and knarled hair. He did not see her face or hear her voice before she put down the mug and left to rejoin the others at the inn.
The horse at the end snorted suddenly. It began to bang a hoof against the door, scraping at the wood.
"Easy, boy," Eren said. The horse appeared to whinny hotly at that. "Easy… I will see if the innkeeper has some warm oats and bran."
The stall door shattered, a long ivory horn swooping forward. Eren instantly recognized it as the star's unicorn, still cut along its flanks and healing. The boy dove out the beast's way as she charged. The unicorn slid to a halt before the tea mug. Her horn lowered, skimming the surface of the liquid. The tea began to bubble sickly green bubbles, hissing evilly. The scene reminded Eren of some folklore or fairytale that he had heard, one that said a unicorn's horn detected contagion.
"Poison?" Eren asked, jumping to stand. The unicorn removed her horn, raising her head to stare into the boy's eyes truthfully. A flutter of dreadful panic seized his heart.
"The star…" He gaped, the wind hushing his volume to a whisper.
Eren bolted towards the door. A shred of sense crossed his fearful mind, causing him to pause. He took action upon his thought and ruffled into his pockets. He found the copper leaf stuck to the remaining candle wax. He freed the leaf from the wax, raising it to his ear. He listened as the beech leaf whispered and knew exactly what to do.
"Would you like a cup of wine?" The innkeeper woman asked as Erwin hung up his cloak, elevating the bottle for viewing.
The man gave the woman a polite smile and tip of the head. "If you do not mind warming it by the fire I shall take a glass, thank you. My traveling companion in the stables wishes for a mug of warm tea as well."
The daughter bowed, making off to the kitchen to fill his request.
"I will have your best room." Erwin told his host and hostess as he warmed himself by the fire. "How are your beds? Is the straw freshly changed? Are there hearths in the bedrooms? I see there is a washtub here. I will have a bath later if there is a pot of steaming water ready."
The star saw the woman hunch slightly, her anger rising. She spoke smoothly. "A pot of water can be arranged. The beds are good and straw fresh. I can build up a fire in our best room for you and your companion."
"Good," Erwin said, checking that his cloak was secure on the hook beside the fire. A tunic and pants dripped beside it.
Erwin looked towards the table, seeing the blond boy huddled in a robe much too large for him.
"Another inn mate? It does not surprise me with this weather."
A crash came from the stable, along with the sound of disturbed horses.
"The thunder must be bothering your steeds." The woman said. Erwin nodded.
The man then went to sit beside the boy at the table. He was silent for several moments. He then turned to the boy, meeting his eyes.
"You…" he began. "You, you are the one with my father's topaz. You carry the Power of Phoenixwing."
The star's iron-grey eyes flashed. Then, lowly, "I cannot give it to you unless you ask for it."
The innkeeper woman came between the two parties. "Now, now, I will not have you bothering other guests." She scolded, standing behind the bench. Erwin could see the fleshy red birthmark on her neck when she leaned so close. He could also see the thick knife in her hand.
He recognized the object, the blue metal, from the scrolls in the vaults of Mount Maria. They were ancient things, otherworldly things, things only designed to kill.
The front door flew open, wind howling.
"Erwin!" Eren shouted, dashing in. "They tried to poison me!"
Erwin reacted by grabbing for the sword on his belt. He was not quick enough, however, as a stinging pain ripped across his throat.
Eren saw the blue blood spray like a fountain and stain the star with its dark cobalt color.
The star yelped and dropped to the floor.
"Get the other!" The woman screamed to her husband and daughter.
The pair reacted immediately, running towards Eren. Eren threw himself out of harm's way, hearing the clopping of the unicorn as she entered the inn.
The beast kicked the daughter in the head as she reared up, spearing the husband with her sharp horn.
"Stupid," the woman muttered. She closed in on the unicorn tossing the bodies aside, knife in hand, dark blood crusting her dress in patches. "Stupid, stupid, stupid…"
Eren crawled towards the fireplace. He molded the remaining wax of Hannes' candle into a stout tube shape. He encased the cylinder in a strip of cloth.
"This better work, Rico," he hissed softly, reaching the fire. The star scooted beside him.
"What is happening?" he whispered, voice strained. Blue ichor streamed down his face, changing the yellow of his hair to deep blue. He hardly seemed to notice.
Before Eren could answer, the unicorn shrieked in agony, scarlet blood flailing from her face and neck. The knife was flicked of its blood as the unicorn fell, crashing to the floor. The weight of the beast jostled Erwin, causing him to gulp a final, wet breath. He saw the noblest of beasts fall as his vision faded.
"There," the woman said simply, turning upon the pair beside the fire. "I will have to gamble that things will go much smoother now. The burning heart of a star at peace is so much better than the flickering heart of a frightened star. Still… Better than no heart at all."
Her smile was terrifying as she advanced upon them, knife raised for the attack. Before Eren knew what he was doing or how he was going to do it, he collected the other knife from the table, shoving it into the shoulder of the woman. Eren saw the utter shock frozen on her face. He pounced back as the woman screamed, swinging her knife. The other perched in her shoulder. The wound began to steam.
"Bastard!" She wailed. The smeared blood on her face highlighted the fury in her eyes.
"Stand." Eren told the star, voice oddly level.
"Stand or we die now!"
Eren lifted the star with his arm and the boy clung to his side, balancing on his feet. Eren thrush the candle into the fire, the flames engulfing his hand. The necromancer watched in horror.
The burning was unbearable. Eren whipped out his roasted hand as the nib of wick caught, tears rolling down his face.
"Walk, and don't let go of me."
And suddenly the inn was gone.
The anguish cries of the woman echoed in their ears as they stumbled along, the star awkward with his steps.
They passed the salty and slick walls of underground caves, and then they were traveling across white sand dunes, and finally they reached the crests of the clouds, silver with the moonlight.
The last useable fiber of the cloth strip burned away.
The bubbling wax on Eren's raw hand was excruciating, causing him to drop to his knees, and the star along with him. The last of the wax dripped through the clouds.