A Harvest of Broken Stars

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Chapter 25: Brute

‘It’s horrible,’ Rayn said.

Ada and Rayn had just entered the room they had rented for the two bits Ada had pilfered from the drow’s table downstairs. The stench from cheap wine competed with those of sweat, vomit and piss for domination over the vile aroma in the small room. The fumes from an oil lamp on the small table between the two beds was by far the least unpleasant of the smells that threatened to overwhelm them.

‘You get what you pay for in life,’ Ada said, not entirely convinced by her own logic.

‘How can anyone sleep in this filth?’ Rayn asked, pointing to the torn and stained linen on the beds.

‘If you’ve had enough wine, you will sleep anywhere,’ Ada said. ‘Which will make things even worse for the next guest, of course.’

Rayn was temporarily distracted by a particularly high scream from one of the whores earning their bits in the nearby rooms. The thin walls did little to dampen the sounds of coarse laughter, squeaking beds and exaggerated groans. From the drinking hall below, they heard fighting and breaking of glass.

‘How can anyone sleep with this noise?’ Rayn said.

Despite their circumstances, Ada couldn’t help smiling at her friend’s questions. She answered in kind: ‘If you’ve had enough wine, you will sleep anywhere!’

A series of knocks, groans and screams revealed that the girl next door would soon be looking for a new client. Rayn turned away, blushing.

Ada laughed. ‘Most of them aren’t trying to sleep yet.’

Rayn sat down on the bed, sobbing. ‘I hate this place!’

Ada sat beside her and put her arm around her shoulders. ‘I know, and I’m sorry you have to experience this. We’ll leave for home at first light tomorrow. Just one more night here. It’s a terrible place, but at least we’re safe. Only fleas and lice can bother us tonight.’

Rayn soon stopped sobbing, her body gradually relaxing as she leaned against Ada. For the first time since Ada entered the apothecary in Sandcastle, there was nothing they had to do. Apart from sleep, or at least wait, until morning. Then they would be on their way. Compared to Sha’ton, Sandcastle was paradise.

Heavy steps in the hallway demanded their attention, as they stopped outside the door. After a few beats, there was a single knock on the door. There was no need for a second knock, as the first sent the door swinging inwards and slamming against the wall.

A huge figure filled the entire doorway. As he bowed to get his head under the frame, Ada recognised the ugly, scarred veteran she had seen carrying a woman up the stairs a few hours earlier. For a moment, he seemed confused until he fixed his gaze on Ada. In two steps, he stood before her, his excitement in plain sight. He grabbed her arm and lifted her from the bed.

‘I’ve been looking for you,’ he grunted and turned towards the empty bed. Keeping Ada’s arm in a firm grip, he effortlessly held the slender woman above the floor and swung her around. With his free arm, he started groping her and tugging at her clothes.

‘Hey! Get your filthy hands off me!’ Ada yelled. She was no stranger to aggressive men, but this was worse than anyone she had experienced before.

The brute laughed. ‘Yes, please yell and scream. I like that. You’re going to cry soon, for real. I like that even more.’

Ada knew the truth of that. ‘Go away! I’m not a whore!’

He laughed again, differently this time. ‘Oh, yes, you are. I’ve already paid for you. All of two bits!’

His words stunned Ada. Two bits? She hung limp, as the implications of that possibility raced through her mind. The drow? Surely not? Or would he?

‘Leave her alone!’ Rayn shouted and banged her fists against the giant’s back.

Without turning to face her, the veteran sent Rayn sprawling with a forceful backhand strike to her face. The impact sent the half-elf flying over the bed, slamming her head against the wall.

‘Rayn!’ Ada cried, twisting her upper body in a futile attempt to see past the man blocking her view.

‘You’re a pretty one,’ the brute said, his free arm pinching and squeezing her with increasing intensity.

He’s going to kill me, one way or the other. The realisation focused her mind. She went limp, allowing him to grope her and pull down her pants. Ignoring the repulsion, she felt the heat grow with her, fuelled by fear and desperation. A warm wind brushed against her face, reassuring her. Providing strength and resolve.

With a sudden movement, Ada kicked the table between the beds, causing the lamp to land at the bed they had been sitting on. The oil spilt and caught fire among the straw and linen. In beats, flames climbed up the wooden wall.

The veteran hesitated as if he was trying to figure whether this bothersome fire would prevent him from having his way with the girl.

Ada settled the issue. The fear was gone, replaced by an absolute determination. Her entire body was filled with heat, a hundred times hotter and a thousand times more pleasant than a warm bath. The surge of power was intoxicating, more than any drug or any feeling she’d ever known.

She calmly looked into his eyes as she channelled the essence of fire. Ada became fire. As easily as exhaling, she released the fire within her, consuming the brute’s torso and face in heartbeats.

There was a voice in the warm wind. Ada perceived it was pleased with her, though she could not discern the whispering words before it disappeared.

As the power drained from her body, the fire in the room intensified. Ada noticed Rayn sprawled on the floor, dangerously close to the burning bed. She quickly pulled her pants back on and dragged Rayn out of the room.

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