Jeff let out a low groan at the thumping pain in his temples and opened one bloodshot eye to try get his bearings. It took him a few moments before he tried the other and a few more to realise something was wrong. Genevieve sat on the floor in front of him with a bump on her head the size and colour of a plum, as well as a black eye and what looked like a broken nose.
“Where were you?”
A cold, sobering shiver ran down his spine and he pushed himself up to sit on the edge of the bed. Wondering distantly if he’d done something in his drunken stupor that had caused the bruises on her face. Desperate to remember the later part of his evening he croaked.
“What, what happened?”
“Where were you? Last night, where did you go when you woke up?”
Jeff blinked a few times and said.
“Because, I mean, I can’t really smell you right now.’
She gestured at her nose and made a choked sniffing noise,
’but you look incredibly hungover. And when some guys broke into our room, attacked me and stole Bertie, you were nowhere to be seen.”
Genevieve got to her feet to stand over him.
“And to make it even better, when you got back from, where ever it was you were, you didn’t even notice something was wrong. Just crawled back into the bed where I was bleeding into my pillow.”
Her eyes had begun to sparkle with rage-filled tears and all Jeff could do in reply was look down and away as shame flooded through him mixed with a heavy-set sense of regret and the blur of the night before. She watched him for a minute, waiting to see what he’d do or say. Realising that he wasn’t going to do either she shook her head.
“I should never have come with you on this bloody adventure. I had a good thing going where I was and ever since I met you things have been going wrong. Ghouls or witch zombies attacking, dragons, dragon eggs, and now this! … Look at me when I’m talking to you!”
Her voice came like an explosion and Jeff snapped his head up to attention.
“You want to know the part that bothers me the most?”
He thought for a moment about saying something but didn’t, and she leaned in closer so he could see her face and the damage done to it.
“I’m lucky that all they did was beat me up, because once they got the drop on me, they could have done anything. Lucky me they were just thugs.”
Another wave of shame washed over him, but this time he stopped himself from looking away and tried to own it, face it and admit to himself that he deserved to feel as bad as he did, for whatever good it would do.
“I… I’m so sorry. What, actually happened?”
She almost rolled her eyes but winced in pain as she tried.
“Typical, still not answering my questions, where were you?”
The muscles in Jeff’s jaw tightened and he said quietly.
“At the bar down the street, drinking.”
She nodded for a moment then shook her head.
“Yeah, yeah no, I’m leaving, and I’m taking the buggy.”
He got up to follow her across the room and he realised that she’d already packed her stuff.
“Wait, wait what happened? I’m sorry I wasn’t here, I really deeply am, but please, what happened?”
She whirled on him, still furious.
“I’ll tell you what happened. While you were out trying to feel normal, some guys broke into our room, beat the shit out of me and stole Bertie.’
She stopped for an instant as a blurred memory pushed its way forward in her mind.
’Oh yeah, and I was told to tell the wizard that Frank sends his regards.”
She paused in her anger as she saw Jeff’s entire posture change.
“What did you just say?”
A bolt of fear now ran through her as she remembered the look on the face of the highwayman, and thought that maybe wizard was a step too far, but she was still furious.
“Frank sends his regards.”
Jeff’s eyes grew distant and his shoulders sagged so much that he slumped down into a sitting position on the ground. Before she could stop herself, Genevieve said.
“What’s the matter? Who’s Frank?”
He ran his hands through his tangled hair and his eyes grew very sad.
“My brother, my brother who broke the other two eggs. My brother who has apparently not given up on his misguided pursuit of glory.”
He then swore and slipped the rest of the way to be lying on his back on the ground.
“Genevieve I’m so sorry, I genuinely am, I never wanted you to get hurt, or for any of this to happen really. I just, I just couldn’t do nothing and never thought my family would do anything like this. I still can’t believe that they have, but I trust you far more than them so, I guess, it must be true. I understand that you want to leave because I want to leave too. I’m not going to stop you.”
She stepped into his field of vision to looked down at him and her voice came out much softer than it had been a moment earlier.
“But what are you going to do?”
He let out a sigh and focused his vision.
“Clear my hangover, then go find my brother, pray that he hasn’t broken Bertie and get to the bottom of all this. Hope tells me that Bertie is still alive, Gods only know for how much longer. But if I can, I’ll get him back and continue the quest. If not… I don’t know, maybe I’ll go see the ancient red dragon anyway, let it get justice for everything I’ve done.”
Genevieve let out a long sigh and crouched down next to him, running her hand through his hair.
“Gods damn you. I might still be furious with you, and I really am, but I won’t make you face this on your own, and I still want to help Bertie.”
He smiled sadly.
“Thank you, but I’ve already let you down so completely, and now it’s becoming a very messy family matter. I honestly don’t know what to do. I can find them without a problem but don’t know what to do when I get there.”
They looked at each other for a long moment and eventually he said, almost pleadingly,
“I can’t kill my brother. I just, just can’t. He’s a prick and a bastard but he’s still my brother. I want him to be better than he is.”
She let out another sigh and said firmly,
“I don’t know, but let’s find out together.”
She then slapped him on the forehead and stood up quickly.
“Now get up, get yourself sorted out and let’s go. Time is running and Bertie might not have that much of it left.”